Twitter said it will no longer enforce its longstanding Covid misinformation policy, yet another sign of how Elon Musk plans to transform the social media company he bought a month ago.
In 2020, Twitter developed an extensive set of rules that sought to prohibit “harmful misinformation” about the virus and its vaccines.
Between January 2020 and September 2022, Twitter suspended more than 11,000 accounts for breaking Covid misinformation rules and removed almost 100,000 pieces of content that violated those rules, according to statistics published by Twitter. The policy received acclaim from medical professionals: In an advisory to technology platforms, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy cited Twitter’s rules as an example of what companies should do to combat misinformation.
Twitter did not appear to formally announce the rule change. Instead, some Twitter users Monday night spotted a note added to the page on Twitter’s website that outlines its Covid policy.
“Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 misleading information policy,” the note read.
Musk has promised to restore many previously banned Twitter accounts as soon as this week. It is possible that among the restored accounts will be some of the 11,000 banned under Twitter’s former Covid misinformation rules.
The Twitter, Tesla and SpaceX CEO tested the limits of Twitter’s previous policy in the early days of the pandemic. In March and April 2020, Musk used the social network to downplay the magnitude of the crisis and express frustration with how the pandemic had been handled. He repeatedly urged the end of the stay-at-home policies, despite public health officials’ insistence at the time that social distancing remained necessary to avoid a wave of infections that could overwhelm hospitals.
On a Tesla earnings call with Wall Street analysts in April 2020, Musk went off script to rail against Covid policies.
“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,” Musk said on the call. “It’s an outrage.”
Musk says he has twice had Covid. Despite his skepticism of public health policy, he has said he supports vaccination, even if he doesn’t believe the shots should be mandated. Still, he said in a New York Times podcast interview with technology journalist Kara Swisher in September 2020 that he would not get vaccinated because, “I’m not at risk for Covid, nor are my kids.”
When Swisher confronted Musk with the possibility that many people could die if they didn’t follow public health recommendations, he replied bluntly: “Everybody dies.”