With COVID-19 vaccinations now underway around the world, Twitter has announced that it's updating its approach to how it combats vaccine misinformation, in order to help ensure optimal take-up, and get society back to normal as quickly as possible.
As explained by Twitter:
"In the context of a global pandemic, vaccine misinformation presents a significant and growing public health challenge - and we all have a role to play. We are focused on mitigating misleading information that presents the biggest potential harm to people's health and wellbeing. Twitter has an important role to play as a place for good faith public debate and discussion around these critical public health matters."
Don't know that I would describe Twitter as a place for 'good faith public debate', but the key point is still relevant - as health authorities plan for the staged implementation of the COVID-19 vaccine, misinformation online could potentially derail that process, in various ways, which will then delay recovery efforts, and stop us emerging from the months-long tunnel that's been 2020.
To address this, Twitter says that it will ramp up its existing rules around COVID-19 misinformation. Twitter already prompts users to remove tweets which contain general misinformation about the virus, and/or misleading statements about treatments and cures.
From next week, Twitter will take this a step further.
"Moving forward, we're expanding the policy and may require people to remove Tweets which advance harmful false or misleading narratives about COVID-19 vaccinations, including:
- False claims that suggest immunizations and vaccines are used to intentionally cause harm to or control populations, including statements about vaccines that invoke a deliberate conspiracy;
- False claims which have been widely debunked about the adverse impacts or effects of receiving vaccinations; or
- False claims that COVID-19 is not real or not serious, and therefore that vaccinations are unnecessary."
That could see a lot more tweets come under scrutiny, so Twitter's definitely setting itself a task.
In addition to this, beginning early in the new year, Twitter will also start placing warnings on Tweets "that advance unsubstantiated rumors, disputed claims, as well as incomplete or out-of-context information about vaccines".
So no more Bill Gates, mircrochip, 5G conspiracy comments - which makes perfect sense, given what's at stake. But again, that will cover a lot of tweets.
Social media misinformation remains a huge element of concern in the next stage of the COVID-19 battle, with health authorities warning that it could take much longer to recover from the mitigation efforts due to rising "anti-science bias", which could see many refusing the vaccine. The more that do, the more risk remains - and while, eventually, enough people will be vaccinated to counter those who opt-out, bars, sporting venues, concerts - all of these things can't re-open until there's a level of take-up within each community.
Hopefully, the vocal opposition to the vaccine is not representative of real-world response, which will facilitate faster recovery, but slowing the spread of misinformation will be another key element in alleviating concerns.
Health officials in each region are independently approving the vaccines based on their testing protocols, so the public can rest assured that the treatments will be safe when administered.
Facebook announced that it's also cracking down on vaccine misinformation earlier in the month.