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Twitter attempts to tackle COVID-related vaccine misinformation (2020)

Summary: Following on its efforts in tamping down on election-related misinformation, Twitter's latest moderation efforts target misleading posts about COVID and the coronavirus.

Despite being months into a global pandemic, there has been a lack of clear, consistent communication from all levels of government in the United States, which has given conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccination activists plenty of room to ply their dubious trades. Twitter is hoping to reduce exposure to tweets containing misleading information as the nation continues to deal with multiple COVID outbreaks.

Since early in the pandemic, Twitter had been aggressive in moderating misleading content regarding how the virus spreads, unproven remedies and treatments, and other health related info. Its new policy expands on that, mainly to focus on false information and conspiracy theories regarding vaccines.

 

Twitter won't be limiting itself to applying warnings to tweets with dubious content. The platform will force users to delete tweets that don't comply with its expanded code of conduct. Added to restrictions on misinformation about the spread of the disease and its morbidity rates are bans on false claims about immunization safety or COVID's dangers.

 

Decisions for Twitter:

  • If there are actual stories of harm or side effects from vaccines, how will Twitter distinguish those reports from the conspiracy theories?
  • Who will Twitter consider to be trusted sources for determining which information is factual, and which are conspiracy theories?
  • Is there an effective way to teach users that they are sharing false information, rather than simply banning them?

Questions and policy implications to consider:

  • Does moderating COVID conspiracy theories inadvertently lend "credence" to conspiracy theorists?
  • Does more direct moderation of certain content invite even more Congressional scrutiny and calls for direct government regulation?
  • Will human moderation help mitigate possible collateral damage to "good faith" users who aren't aware they're spreading misinformation?

Resolution: Twitter's expanded ban on misinformation is crafted to specifically target conspiracy theories about vaccinations or the disease's existence. The site will use a combination of AI and human moderators to determine whether flagged tweets should be labeled as questionable or removed entirely. Repeat violators can expect to have their accounts suspended or deleted.

The company also suggests that in early 2021 it will likely expand this fight against vaccine misinformation by placing warnings or labels on content that is unsubstantiated, disputed, or without necessary context.

Written by The Copia Institute, December 2020

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