- Twitter announced that coronavirus-related misinformation that creates what the company considers “widespread panic” will be banned from the platform.
- Conservatives are crying foul, with some suggesting the company’s move is problematic given the platform’s unwillingness to nix examples of the World Health Organization and China distributing virus-related misinformation.
- The updated policy also came as Twitter is relying on automation to moderate the platform for misinformation, a move that some analysts worry could lead to the company mistakenly hammering users for posting content that is not misinformation.
Conservatives are asking why Twitter is targeting claims that cause “widespread panic” while turning a blind eye to the false information emanating from China and the World Health Organization.
They are also skeptical of the company’s reliance on automated algorithms.
Twitter updated its policies Wednesday governing misinformation to include nixing unverified claims that cause “widespread panic” or encourage people to burn fifth generation mobile service towers out of concern that they are carrying coronavirus. Conservatives say the update is too vague and could potentially hit many people who are not promoting misinformation.
“Twitter can pursue a political agenda and ban outlets like Zero Hedge and War Room for speculating about COVID’s origin in a lab in Wuhan,” Rachel Bovard, senior adviser at the Internet Accountability Project, told the Daily Caller News Foundation before citing a Washington Post report noting that the State Department warned the virus might have come from a lab in Wuhan, China.
Meanwhile, the platform takes “zero action against actual government sponsored, communist propaganda, and suffers zero consequences for any of it,” Bovard added.
She mentioned Zero Hedge, an online outlet that Twitter banned for speculating that the virus leaked from a lab.
Twitter’s policy update came after numerous Chinese officials distributed misinformation related to the virus on the platform. It also came amid a report Thursday from network analysis firm Graphika saying that Twitter is replete with virus misinformation from right-wing circles. (RELATED: Here’s Twitter’s Plan To Create A World Where Censoring Conservatives Is Unnecessary)
Lijian Zhao, deputy director of China’s Foreign Ministry Information Department, falsely said in a March tweet that the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was arrested amid the Trump administration’s handling of the virus. Twitter has reiterated to the DCNF that Zhao’s tweet does not violate the company’s policies against COVID-19 misinformation.
Zhao also said the U.S. Army somehow introduced coronavirus into China.
“When did Patient Zero appear in the United States? How many people are infected? What is the name of the hospital? It may be that the US military brought the epidemic to Wuhan. America needs to be transparent!” he wrote in the same tweet.
Twitter has not removed the tweet.
The first case of COVID-19 is believed to have appeared in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. It has since spread to 36 other countries and territories, reaching a global death toll of more than 150,000, according to the CDC‘s numbers. The virus is credited with killing roughly 50,000 citizens in the United States.
Bovard is not the only conservative raising alarms about what she said is Twitter’s deference to China. (RELATED: Chinese Official Blames US For Introducing Coronavirus To Wuhan, Says US ‘Owes Us An Explanation’)
“I don’t blame them for wanting to shut down people who want to burn down 5G towers,” Dan Gainor, vice president at the Media Research Center’s TechWatch, Business and Culture, told the DCNF. “But the stuff that can lead to widespread disorder is basically any protest in the world. If you want to protest Russia in Russia, Twitter is on Russia’s side.”
Gainor criticized Twitter for not pushing back on the WHO, which repeated a claim from China that coronavirus was not contagious among humans.
“Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China,” the WHO wrote in a Jan. 14 tweet.
Twitter’s rule update is so “deliberately vague that you can shut down any content at any time,” Gainor said, expressing a common complaint leveled against the platform.
Such ambiguity makes it virtually impossible to orchestrate a demonstration, as any protest could cause “widespread panic,” he added.
Analysts say a recent change in how Twitter moderates its platform could harm conservatives. Twitter’s decision to move toward artificial intelligence moderation during the health crisis is reasonable considering the company’s desire to keep employees safe, according to Emily Marie Williams, an artificial intelligence analyst based in California.
“[T]hey may find the situation too convenient and therefore never stop using full AI; especially if users can be ‘trained’ to accept the new condition,” Williams told the DCNF in March after suggesting Twitter is likely willing to deal with numerous false positives that hit conservatives who did not knowingly distribute misinformation regarding the virus.
“We’ve expanded our policies to ensure we’re mitigating people’s exposure to risk, including taking action on medical misinformation that could cause physical harm,” a Twitter spokeswoman said in a statement to the DCNF without providing a reason for speaking anonymously.
She also reiterated Twitter’s rules on misinformation without addressing the problem of relying chiefly on algorithms rather than moderators.
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