The new rule is the latest in a wave of censorship-friendly policies that tech companies are rolling out on their sites to combat the push-back against leftist dogma and Chinese propaganda that have been pervasive among fearmongering media.
The hype over the virus has largely dissipated as questions over the economic impact weigh against the plateauing death toll—which some contend has been largely overinflated.
Facebook and Google, which owns YouTube, have already put similar systems in place amid much criticism of their overzealous inclination toward false-positives—stories that either their human sources or algorithm’s may censor even without being able to substantiate claims of misinformation..
The debate is particularly vexing as the tech companies seek to have it both ways: Claiming that their platforms should enjoy private free-speech benefits without the sort of regulations that other broadcast media face, while also angling for the same privileges as broadcast media.
Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of site integrity, sought to tamp-down the expectations, acknowledging the challenges that the company would face in policing users’ speech. “We will not be able to take enforcement action on every tweet with incomplete or disputed information about COVID-19.”
Roth claimed Monday the platform has historically applied a “lighter touch” when enforcing similar policies on misleading tweets but said the company is working to improve the technology around the labels.
In February, Twitter said it would add warning labels to doctored or manipulated photos and videos after a recording of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was slowed down to make it appear as though she slurred her words.
But even with obviously fake videos, such as one showing Joe Biden lolling his tongue and grinning that was shared by President Donald Trump, the company has since used the label only twice, in part because of technical glitches.
The Biden campaign has not been shy about working the refs while still deploying its own misleadingly-edited videos.
Because of the complexities involved in making partisan judgments, particularly on one of Trump’s favorite communication outlets, Twitter has avoided adding any warning labels to politicians’ tweets.
Even some that violate its heavy-handed civilian policies but are deemed in the “public interest” under a policy the company announced in June 2019.
Under the newest COVID-19 rules, Twitter will decide which tweets are labeled—only taking down posts if they are harmful.
Politicians’ tweets will be subject to the notices, which will be available in roughly 40 languages.
Some of the questionable tweets will run with a label underneath that directs users to a link with additional information about COVID-19.
Other tweets might be covered entirely by a warning label alerting users that “some or all of the content shared in this tweet conflict with guidance from public health experts regarding COVID-19.”
Twitter won’t directly fact check or call tweets false on the site, said Nick Pickles, the company’s global senior strategist for public policy. The warning labels might send users to curated tweets, public health websites or news articles.
“People don’t want us to play the role of deciding for them what’s true and what’s not true but they do want people to play a much stronger role providing context,” Pickles said.
The notices, which could start appearing as soon as today, could also apply retroactively to past tweets.
The dilemma is similar to one taken by tech rival Facebook, which has said it doesn’t want to be an “arbiter of the truth” but has arranged for third-party fact checkers to review falsehoods on its site, including the left-leaning The Associated Press.
Its fact-checking has long come under scrutiny, but the reliance on coronavirus-related information from the controversial and embattled World Health Organization has added further fuel in the current crisis.
Trump announced that he was cutting off U.S. funding for the UN-backed WHO, which initially carried water for China in its cover-up of the virus during its early outbreak, only to pivot to the other extreme by funding a study by Imperial College London that claimed millions would die if drastic action wasn’t taken.
Growing evidence now points to the questions over the virus’s origin, which may have come from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where such testing on strains of coronavirus and their effects on bats is known to have been taking place.
Skeptics and contrarians who question the scope of the virus and the effectiveness of social-distancing measures also have been targets of the virtue-signaling Silicon Valley corporations.
For several weeks already, Twitter has been actively removing what it claims are bogus coronavirus cures and assertions that social distancing or face masks do not curb the virus’ spread.
Twitter says it also will continue to take down COVID-19 tweets that pose a threat to the safety of a person or group, along with attempts to incite mass violence or widespread civil unrest, even as a the movement to protest totalitarian government regulations has continued to grow via online sites.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press