In another stellar move celebrating unfettered free speech in the Twitterverse, Elon Musk has jettisoned another redeeming guardrail that was keeping the rabid anti-vaxxers in check.
Three cheers for the ivermectin fans and everyone most likely to kill an elderly relative this Christmas! You can now say whatever you want on Twitter about how COVID isn't real, or that you're immune to it because you drink a shot of Windex every night with your beer.
Twitter's transparency page about COVID-19 misinformation has a new note on it saying "Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 misleading information policy."
As the Associated Press reports, the move is already being celebrated by the worst people as a "win for free speech."
Others, like epidemiologist and frequent tweeter Eric Feigl-Ding, tweeted "Bad news" in response to the move, but urged everyone in their right minds to stick around and do battle with misinformation. "Stay folks — do NOT cede the town square to them!" he wrote.
As The Verge reported in October, COVID misinformation was the biggest issue dealt with by Twitter’s Birdwatch community moderation program since its beta launch in January 2021. The program, which only went live to all US users in early October, is still in existence and is also called Community Notes — it allows users enrolled in the program to flag and fact-check other users' tweets, and it will obviously be more vital the fewer in-house moderators Twitter employs, and the more suspended accounts owned by MAGA loons get reinstated by Musk.
Meanwhile, COVID cases are on the rise again, heading for some kind of winter surge that experts have predicted won't be as bad as the last two winters' surges. Johns Hopkins University's COVID counter is seeing 38,000 new cases per day nationwide — and this is surely an undercount given at-home testing. Here in the Bay Area and California, cases are on the rise and COVID hospitalizations appear to rising fast locally and statewide. Hospitalization numbers around the Bay have returned to August levels, after dipping to lows not scene since the spring in October. Statewide, the number of COVID-positive patients in hospitals has more than doubled since November 1.
Also, barely anyone has gotten the bivalent COVID booster — which protects against current variants — and one-fifth of Americans have never been vaccinated.
But under Musk, Twitter is washing its hands of this particular guardrail against misinformation.
Paul Russo, a social media researcher and dean of the Katz School of Science and Health at Yeshiva University in New York, tells the AP, "It is 100% the responsibility of the platform to protect its users from harmful content. This is absolutely unacceptable."
The AP points out that Musk himself has spread COVID misinformation on Twitter in the last couple of years. And, early in the pandemic, he was one of those who liked to post extremely early and spurious data about the virus and its potential death toll — all in the service of reopening his Tesla factory sooner, which he went ahead and did anyway in May 2020 against the will of local authorities, ultimately leading to hundreds of COVID cases among Tesla workers.
Must be nice to be a billionaire with no fear of death and no concern for others' welfare.
Musk claimed to "love" humanity a few weeks back when he pledged — for the sake of advertising dollars, anyway — not to allow Twitter to become a "hellscape" with zero guardrails. But so far his actions have said otherwise. And with plans to reinstate thousands of banned accounts under a "general amnesty," some of which had tens of thousands of followers, it's kind of like the hellscape can't come soon enough for this guy.
Maybe the entire platform will implode before the 2024 election and we can stop worrying about all this. But remember back in 2016 when there was more "free speech" on Facebook and Twitter and Donald Trump controlled the narrative on all the airwaves? Yeah, watch out.
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images