Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Elon Musk scraps Twitter's Covid misinformation policy that censored tweets questioning vaccines and lab leak origin theory

Twitter has dropped its COVID-19 misinformation policy as part of new owner Elon Musk's pro-free speech agenda for the platform.

Last night, some Twitter users noticed that the change had been implemented on November 23. They had seen a post on the 'transparency' page of the company's website which said: 'Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 misinformation policy.'

Twitter developed the rules in 2020 to filter out 'harmful misinformation' about COVID and vaccines. They were able to censor and label tweets deemed to contain misleading information that the company considered posed considerable harm to public health.

Between January 2020 and September 2022, Twitter suspended more than 11,200 accounts for breaking their policy as well as removing nearly 100,000 pieces of content.

It comes as Musk vowed to soon reinstate previously banned Twitter accounts which could include some of the 11,000 suspended under the previous coronavirus rules.

The platform had labeled one of Trump's tweets about coronavirus in the past but the policy has now been outlawed
The platform had labeled one of Trump's tweets about coronavirus in the past but the policy has now been outlawed

Upon his multi-billion-dollar takeover of Twitter, Mr Musk billed the social media giant as a bastion for free speech. He wanted to reduce content moderation on the site due to this, something that critics warned would lead to a spike in abuse, harassment and other harmful behavior.

He has also voiced his plans to reinstate some of the most controversial accounts, calling for 'general amnesty.'

Prominent figures on the platform who had been banned in the past for violating Twitter's anti-misinformation policy have since been reinstated, including Georgia far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green.

Rep Green attacked the platform's decision to freeze her account last January, tweeting from her congressional account: 'I'm the only Member of Congress the unelected big tech oligarchs permanently banned... On January 2, 2022, they violated my freedom of speech and ability to campaign & fundraise crying 'covid misinformation.''

The reason for the major policy change as well as its quiet debut remain unclear. The billionaire has proven a staunch opponent of draconian social distancing measures and vaccine mandates over the past couple of years.

Mr Musk backed an anti-vaccine mandate protest , writing 'Canadian truckers' rule, in response to a January demonstration.

In September 2020, Mr Musk said that he would decline the Covid vaccine because 'I'm not at risk for Covid, nor are my kids.' He has since been vaccinated against Covid.

The billionaire also urged for an end to early 'fascist' isolation practices that he said in April 2020 constituted ''forcibly imprisoning people in their homes' against all their Constitutional rights.'

Since Mr Musk's takeover, Twitter has seen a spike in transphobic, antisemitic, racist, and otherwise offensive speech.

His decision to outlaw the coronavirus misleading information policy comes as America is still seeing 305,000 cases and 2,600 deaths a week, according to the CDC.

He has also made a huge number of other changes at Twitter to misinformation policies and procedures.

One change announced days ago was that suspended Twitter accounts will be offered an 'amnesty' from this week after a poll revealed a landslide of users support the move.

The Twitter CEO, who completed a $44 billion takeover in October, said accounts for users will be restored as long as they have not broken the law or spammed people on the social media site.

The declaration opens up the possibility that thousands of suspended accounts will be immediately reinstated. It has not been revealed if there will be a vetting process before the reactivation or if there will be a mass reactivation.

Musk has already restored Donald Trump, Kanye West, Andrew Tate, Jordan Peterson and Marjorie Taylor Green's accounts. It is likely that he could also reinstate other controversial Twitter accounts including figures such as Steve Bannon, Wiley and Katie Hopkins.

According to a report from Bloomberg, Mr Musk has also dramatically reduced the size of the team devoted to tackling child sexual exploitation on the platform.

The report suggests that the team of specialists that review and escalate reports of child sexual exploitation has more been halved.

Last week, Mr Musk tweeted that 'removing child exploitation is priority £1'.

And earlier this month, in another change, Musk fired Twitter contractors responsible for battling misinformation on the site. The social media giant fired its contractors that track hate and other harmful content.

Musk said on Oct. 29 he would set up a content moderation council with 'widely diverse viewpoints'.

Meanwhile, in the early days after Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion in late October and dismissed its board of directors and top executives, the billionaire Tesla CEO sought to assure civil rights groups and advertisers that the platform could continue tamping down hate.

Musk's decision to drop the Covid-19 misinformation policy has materialized after he came under fire previously for expressing controversial opinions on vaccines and coronavirus. He said in 2020 that fears of the virus were 'dumb' and falsely claimed that children were 'essentially immune' before branding lockdowns 'fascist.'

But he backtracked in 2021, saying on Twitter: 'I do support vaccines in general and covid vaccines specifically' and said that 'rare' allergic reactions can be 'easily addressed.'

He wrote: 'To be clear, I do support vaccines in general & covid vaccines specifically. The science is unequivocal.

'In very rare cases, there is an allergic reaction, but this is easily addressed with an EpiPen.'

He had previously stirred up concerns about vaccine safety when he suggested that the second dose could be harmful.

Musk was replying to a post someone had shared about their parents' refusing to get the vaccine 'based on stuff they saw on Facebook.'

He appeared to add fuel to the so-called 'Facebook brainwashing effect' cited by the social media user when he raised concerns about 'quite a few negative reactions' to the second shot.

It came after the lab leak was censored and denounced by Twitter as a possible cause for how the coronavirus pandemic started- but is now one of the leading theories.


Bombshell as two Australians WIN their Supreme Court case over Covid fines - and it means as many as 45,000 penalties could be struck down

Thousands of Covid-19 fines worth millions of dollars could be ruled invalid after two Sydneysiders won a landmark test case in the New South Wales Supreme Court.

The man and woman claimed their infringement notices were issued in such vague terms they could not be legally enforced and would be difficult, if not impossible, to challenge in front of a magistrate.

On Tuesday morning, barrister David Kell SC for the Commissioner of Police told the Supreme Court the pair's Covid penalty notices would no longer be enforced.

'These two notices do not sufficiently state or describe the offences in general terms,' Mr Kell said.

The two claimants, Brenden Beame and Teal Els, will have their fines refunded. A fine issued to a third claimant, Rohan Pank, had already been repaid.

The ruling could set a precedent that sees many of more than 45,000 unpaid penalty notices for Covid-related public health order breaches in NSW withdrawn.

Kate Richardson SC, for the claimants, said there were 32,648 fines - totalling almost $33million - issued for the same reason as that given to Mr Beame so 'in all likelihood' they too would be declared legally invalid if challenged.

She has asked Justice Dina Yehia to publish detailed reasons for the fines being declared invalid to make it 'absolutely plain' why they were withdrawn.

'This is a case that has ramifications beyond Ms Els and Mr Beame,' Ms Richardson said.

Ms Els was fined $3,000 for unlawfully participating in an outdoor public gathering.

A class action in NSW could now go ahead and similar law suits would likely be pursued in other states. There were 19,000 fines handed out in Victoria for breaches of Covid lockdown laws, and tens of thousands across the rest of Australia.

Redfern Legal Centre ran the case against the NSW Police Commissioner and Commissioner of Fines Administration on behalf of Mr Beame and Ms Els.

Mr Pank had his $1,000 fine withdrawn in July after the administrative law court action was launched.

When the matter was before in court in July it was heard if the claims succeeded fines worth millions of dollars issued across NSW could be invalidated.




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