Twitter seems to have revoked its COVID-19 medical misinformation policy as of yesterday morning. The formal announcement actually dates to last week, but until yesterday, the policy itself remained visible. Now the link to it bounces back to the Help Center page. Did Elon Musk order this to spite Apple after they threatened to disallow the Twitter app from the App Store? Or has Elon Musk come to believe that the narrative that policy clearly supported, is not valid?
Reportage and observations on Twitter and elsewhere
Some reportage became available early Tuesday morning (November 29). CNN Business had an article out at 7:12 a.m. EST. Then The Times of India came out with their report at 7:15 p.m. IST, which corresponds to 8:45 a.m. EST. (India Standard Time is five hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time, with a half-hour offset. Eastern Standard Time, of course, is five hours behind UTC.) CNN Business took a gloom-and-doom tone, but The Times of India noted that the pandemic has been waning anyway.
The two reports do have valuable information on the history of the enforcement of this particular Twitter Rule. The policy operated between July 2020 and September 2022. Statistics on enforcement include 11,230 account suspensions, 11.72 million account “challenges,” and almost 100,000 tweet removals. The U.S. Surgeon General cited this policy as a model for all social media platforms to follow.
But on Monday evening, users noticed an addendum to the policy page saying:
Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 misleading information policy.
Today the policy page literally resolves to the overall Help Center page. That can only mean some administrator has deleted it. This “transparency page” link carries the above quote. The Wayback Machine carried a snapshot of the page as recently as November 26.
What did the policy actually say?
The Wayback Machine November 26 snapshot dates the most recent update of the policy at December of 2021. According to it, Twitter would hold a tweet in violation for presenting, as fact, a claim that the Trust and Safety Team deemed:
- “demonstrably false or misleading, based on widely available, authoritative sources;” and
- “likely to impact public safety or cause serious harm.”
Any such tweet would incur a strike against the account – or two if Trust and Safety deemed it “severely harmful.” Strikes would incur the following actions:
- 1 strike: No account-level action
- 2 strikes: 12-hour account lock
- 3 strikes: 12-hour account lock
- 4 strikes: 7-day account lock
- 5 or more strikes: Permanent suspension
Locks and suspensions were technically subject to an appeals process.
Reliable statistics on the enforcement of this policy are not available. But STAT News, on November 1, found enforcement “uneven.” They cited:
- An Oxford University study claiming to find misleading tweets that Twitter should have removed or labeled, but didn’t, and
- A Washington Post article alleging that Twitter locked the accounts of several medical professionals by mistake.
What Twitter held in violation
Twitter only gave examples of violative content, thus clearly implying that false or misleading information meant whatever Trust and Safety said it meant, any time they said it. Here are some examples:
- “Masks cause hypoxia or bacterial pneumonia, and/or don’t help you anyway.”
- Promoting “unapproved treatments.”
- “Vaccines will make you sick, spread the virus, or bring you greater harm than the virus itself.”
- “The mRNA vaccines change your genes.”
- “Those who get the jab, shed the virus to others.”
- Any claim that contradicted “health authorities.”
But the policy held this kind of content not in violation:
- Presenting a claim as a matter of opinion or as satire,
- A campaign against an official recommendation, on grounds other than what Twitter deemed false or misleading (e.g., on general principle),
- Contradicting someone else’s “false or misleading” statement,
- A report of one’s own personal experience (but would sharing another’s experience be violative? The policy didn’t say.), and
- Public debate about the science and research on the virus.
Why might the policy have fallen?
Note that the policy dates from December of 2021. CNAV holds the opinion that the policy was obsolete even after that revision. Some authorities were expressing concern about myocarditis (inflammation of the muscle of the heart) after the mRNA vaccine last summer.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) added a warning about this side effect to package inserts for both preparations. They did this the day after Christmas, in the very month of the latest Twitter policy revision. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted this fact sheet about myocarditis after the mRNA vaccines in September of 2022. It includes a link to their “ongoing study” of myocarditis in such patients. Nevertheless The Algorithm ground on, with an apparent strike happening to at least one account:
But now the policy page is gone, and the “transparency page” link would seem to make the non-enforcement retroactive.
And what does Elon Musk say?
Actually Elon Musk has always faulted quarantine policies. In a Tesla earnings call in April of 2020, he said this about lockdowns:
I would call it, “forcibly imprisoning people in their homes’ against all their Constitutional rights, in my opinion, and breaking people’s freedoms in ways that are horrible and wrong and not why people came to America or built this country” It’s an outrage.
He says he’s had the disease twice – and it doesn’t seem to have slowed him down. In a September 2020 podcast interview with Kara Swisher, he said he would not take the jab. He didn’t consider himself at risk for serious harm from the virus. And he dismissed the narrative that “following policy saves lives,” by saying:
So perhaps taking down the medical misinformation policy was part of Elon Musk’s outrage against lockdowns. Or perhaps he has read about that “long-term FDA study” and decided that The Narrative needs a second look. Perhaps the Algorithm putting a strike on the “Died Suddenly” account made him decide: “This ends here and now.” Or perhaps he wanted to stick a thumb into Apple’s eye after they threatened him. Whatever made him act, Twitter no longer has a “medical misinformation policy.”
Twitter becomes, as far as CNAV can tell, the first social-media platform to ditch its medical misinformation policy. Facebook still has one, and so does YouTube. The rest, apparently, never had one. Gab Social explicitly disavows anything like a misinformation policy on anything.
Surely everyone will watch all the social media platforms, to see whether anyone follows Twitter’s lead (or does the opposite). Worth noting is that Elon Musk has plans for Twitter to emulate:
- Facebook, with its capacity for longer posts, and
- YouTube, with its capacity to handle larger and longer videos as uploadable resources.
At time of writing, no other social media platform has said a word about the Twitter policy change. Almost no medical professionals have – except Dr. Simone Gold, head of America’s Frontline Doctors.
Reactions to this message run about fifty-fifty pro and con. Time and events might settle the debate – or not.
And what of those 11,230 suspended accounts? The General Amnesty should take care of most of them. Then the world will see what happens, moving forward.
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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