Twitter’s Covid-19 Misinformation Policy Is About Money Not Free Speech

Twitter has decided to stop promoting misinformation about Covid-19 as of the end of October. Public health professionals and social media experts are concerned that this could have severe consequences, since it may discourage vaccines or other attempts to combat the spread of the virus.

Roy S. Gutterman at Syracuse University, an associate professor of digital journalism and Tully Center for Free Speech said that “this is yet another example Elon Musk changing Twitter Policies to play to a certain audience.”

Gutterman added, “Maybe that is how Musk views free speech absolutism.” This change highlights our responsibility to be cautious about information received via social media. However, it could open up to misinformation in all forms.

Furthermore, Musk may have other motives than free speech. Rather, it could be about making Twitter profitable – especially as Musk had paid $44 billion to acquire the social media platform.

Dr. Margot Suesca is assistant professor at American University’s School of Communication. “Twitter has billions of dollar in debt. Content moderation is one of those big line items.” Musk may be a freedom-of-expression absolutist. However, he is also a man who looks at the bottom line.

The Business of Controversy

Musk could also argue that he is not merely allowing such content to flow, but may be encouraging discussion on the platform.

Jeanine Guidry from Virginia Commonwealth University, an associate professor in the Robertson School of Media and Culture noted that “Twitter” has been reinstating thousands of accounts banned over the past weeks.

Guidry stated that although not everyone was banned from spreading misinformation but that many were.

She said that these types of accounts might pick up from where they left off. “It took a relatively long time before social media platforms started moderating content in order to prevent the spread of misinformation – this is a potentially huge step backward and one that could both affect public health and safety at different levels as well as add to an increase of toxic interactions.”

These conversations will likely keep people interested and engaged. While it is unlikely that this will change people’s minds about an issue, it could lead to misinformation or disinformation spreading which could have devastating collateral consequences.

Guidry stated, “This is certainly an area to be concerned.”

Debate Open

Recent disclosures suggest that Twitter might have suppressed opinions which were contrary to its beliefs.

“With Twitter’s policy shift away from labeling posts, Elon Musk is discovering how tight the tensions are that exist between pure freedom of speech and the repercussions of misinformation,” elucidated Amy Bonebright, assistant professor of journalism at the School of Communication & Digital Content at Liberty University.

Bonebright said, “In the latest release of Musk’s ‘Twitter Files’ through journalist Bari Weiss we see that Twitter has gone so extreme with muzzling freedom speech with little to no consistency and transparency.”

Bonebright said Musk is not subject to the same free speech laws that govern the government. Bonebright added that Musk’s attempt at transparency and consistency when changing platforms is an important step. “The public will feel more welcome if they know the guidelines and have the confidence that these guidelines will be respected equally and properly.”

Others, however, believe that misinformation spreading about Covid-19 is a serious health problem.

Susca said, “This could lead to serious health problems if disinformation and misinformation are allowed swirl.” The platform could be turned back into a sewer.

Musk may still find this to be a good idea, however, as mentioned.

Susca stated, “It is only an economic decision.” I see economic decisions having health implications.

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