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Twitter Quietly Kills a Major Covid Rule

TheStreet 11/30/2022 Luc Olinga
© Provided by TheStreet

The microblogging platform makes a move that reinforces the new direction of its new owner's content-management policy.

Research

The change went almost unnoticed. 

Twitter no longer will bar posts that spread misinformation related to covid-19, a move that reinforces the new direction of its content-management policy under its new owner, Elon Musk. 

The billionaire describes himself as a free-speech absolutist, which he defines to mean that everything can be said as long as the remarks do not violate the law of the country in which they are pronounced.

"Effective Nov. 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the covid-19 misleading-information policy," the company said on its transparency page. 

The announcement suggests that accounts spreading false information about the pandemic will not be penalized. 

And the move has huge financial implications for the Twitter platform.

No Explanation...

The microblogging website doesn't explain why it's making this major U-turn. But it's a big break with pre-Musk Twitter, which suspended 11,230 accounts between January 2020 and September 2022 for "harmful and misleading information to ensure that users can readily find credible information during this critical phase."

"Since introducing our covid-19 guidance last year, we have challenged 11.72 million accounts, suspended 11,230 accounts and removed over 97,674 content worldwide as of September 2022," the company said.

The change is, however, in line with the new content-management direction Musk has ordered. The billionaire also decided to restore former President Donald Trump's account, which was suspended after the events of Jan. 6, 2021, on Capitol Hill, and anti-transgender accounts. 

Musk also announced a general amnesty for all banned accounts, after having organized a related survey on the platform.

"The people have spoken," he wrote on Nov. 24. "Amnesty begins next week. Vox Populi, Vox Dei."

...But Huge Implications

The decision risks increasing the mistrust of advertisers, many of whom have suspended their advertising spots on the platform out of brand-safety concern. They fear that their brands will be associated with hateful, racist and antisemitic content and misinformation. 

Musk himself revealed on Nov. 28 that Apple  (AAPL) - Get Free Report, one of the biggest advertisers on Twitter, no longer promotes its products on the platform. Apple, which alsodistributes apps via its App Store, is also said to have threatened to expel Twitter because the iPhone maker's content policy is out of step with Musk's direction, the billionaire said. 

The risk is enormous for Musk, who spent $44 billion to acquire the social network. Advertising revenue represented 91% of Twitter's revenue in the second quarter. The group, which is no longer listed, did not publish its third-quarter results.

Twitter's decision to eliminate its pro-covid policy is in line with another position Musk has made clear: his disdain for the covid mandates. The Techno King, as he's known at Tesla, has not hesitated to tweet about his often contentious viewpoints. Some of his tweets about mandates for covid-19 protections were proved false, such stating that the virus did not affect children.

Other tweets about the pandemic were not well received, such as when he said in March 2020 that covid “panic is dumb.”

On April 30, 2020, Musk launched scathing criticism of anti-covid-19 measures during Tesla's first-quarter-earnings call.

"I should say we are a bit worried about not being able to resume production in the Bay Area, and that should be identified as a serious risk," Musk began. 

"We only have two car factories right now, one in Shanghai and one in the Bay Area, and the Bay Area produces the vast majority of our cars, all of S and X, and most of the 3 and all of the Y. 

"So, the extension of the shelter-in-place or, frankly, I would call it, forcibly imprisoning people in their homes against all their constitutional alliance, that's 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."

On May 11, 2020, a defiant Musk said in a tweet that "Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules, I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me."

But the billionaire, who has had covid-19 twice, also recently used anti-covid restrictions to delay his testimony during his battle with Twitter management when he tried to withdraw his acquisition offer. 

He canceled his Sept. 28 deposition, blaming it on "covid-exposure risk," according to court documents. He cited concerns about a Twitter attorney's possible exposure to another person who later tested positive for covid-19.

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