Twitter to start removing misinformation about Covid-19

Josh Peachey's picture
by Josh Peachey

Twitter has said it will remove tweets that spread dangerous misinformation about Covid-19.

Until now, Twitter has focused on providing accurate information to combat misinformation, partnering with the NHS to help push users towards legitimate sources of information.

After weeks of criticism that its policies on misinformation weren't strong enough, it will be applying a new definition of harm to target content that “goes directly against guidance from authoritative sources of global and local public health information”.

In contrast to Facebook, Twitter doesn't directly allow users to flag misinformation. The company has no policies for removing false tweets, and only added extra rules two weeks ago to halt any attempt by advertisers to “opportunistically use the Covid-19 outbreak to target inappropriate ads”.

Twitter’s decision to classify Covid-19 misinformation as harmful means that its policy is now similar to Facebook's, which has justified removing content considered to be “harmful misinformation”.

According to Twitter's Matt Derella and Vijaya Gadde, the following previously-permitted content will now be removed under the site’s rules:

  • Denial of health authority recommendations “with the intent to influence people into acting against recommended guidance”, like encouraging people not to socially distance themselves.
  • Description of treatments that are not immediately harmful but are known to be ineffective, even if made in jest, “such as ‘coronavirus is not heat-resistant - walking outside is enough to disinfect you” or “use aromatherapy and essential oils to prevent Covid-19.”
  • Description of harmful treatments such as “drinking bleach will cure Covid-19”.
  • Specific and unverified claims that incite people to action and cause widespread panic, such as: “The National Guard just announced that no more shipments of food will be arriving for 2 months - run to the grocery store ASAP and buy everything!”
  • Claims that specific groups or nationalities are never susceptible, or are more susceptible, to Covid-19.
  • False or misleading claims on how to differentiate between Covid-19 and a different disease, and if that information attempts to definitively diagnose someone, such as “if you have a wet cough, it’s not coronavirus - but a dry cough is” or “you’ll feel like you’re drowning in snot if you have coronavirus - it’s not a normal runny nose”.