Here's how Twitter shields public conversations vs COVID-19 misinformation

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 29 2021 06:47 PM

Here's how Twitter shields public conversations vs COVID-19 misinformation 1
Twitter marks contents with misleading content. Screengrab

MANILA - Twitter is actively elevating credible content and getting rid of misinformation on the platform as more users engage in public conversations about vaccines and the COVID-19 pandemic, an official of the social media giant told ABS-CBN News.

Just like other technology companies in the social media and internet space, misinformation is one of the biggest challenges faced by the platform today, Twitter Southeast Asia Managing Director Arvinder Gujral told ABS-CBN News.

"Misinformation is the biggest one because that’s where it all starts. We’re making sure that the right kind of information is there," Gujral said. 

He said misleading information presents potential harm to people's health and well-being. Twitter ensures that credible health information are seen first by users, Gujral said.

In 2020, a dedicated search front was launched "so people can see the right information" right away, he said. With this feature, the most credible information is shown when a user searches for COVID-19 or COVID-19 vaccine contents.

The feature is available in over 80 countries worldwide, including the Philippines, which is among Twitter's global top markets, Gujral said.

Here's how Twitter shields public conversations vs COVID-19 misinformation 2
COVID-19 search page on Twitter. Screengrab

Tweets containing misleading information about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines are also being labeled to curb their spread.

Users also receive alerts suggesting to read an article first before retweeting to ensure the quality of conversations that are being distributed on the platform.

Like Facebook, the platform also removes misinformation for content that violates its policies under the guidance of its strike system. 

According to a Twitter blogpost in March 2021, it has removed over 8,400 Tweets and challenged 11.5 million accounts worldwide.

"So if a particular handle is found at fault multiple times we have the strike rule and after a certain amount of strikes that account will be permanently suspended," Gujral said.

The strike system suspends accounts based on the number of violations as follows:

  • 1 strike: no account-level suspension
  • 2 strikes: 12-hour account lock
  • 3 strikes: 12-hour account lock
  • 4 strikes: 7-day account lock
  • 5 strikers: permanent suspension

Twitter may require people to remove Tweets that contain false or misleading information about:

  • The nature of the virus, such as how it spreads within communities
  • The efficacy and/or safety of preventative measures, treatments, or other precautions to mitigate or treat the disease
  • Official regulations, restrictions, or exemptions pertaining to health advisories
  • The prevalence or risk of infection or death

In its expanded guidelines, the following are also considered for removal:

  • 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
  • False claims that COVID-19 is not real or not serious, and therefore that vaccinations are unnecessary

Grounds for temporary and permanent suspensions are on its COVID-19 misinformation policy. Users can also file an appeal if handles were suspended.

Part of its effort to promote quality conversations is by forging partnerships with authorities in countries it operates such as the local units of the World Health Organization and the Department of Health.

Twitter is part of the Department of Health's #ChecktheFAQs campaign which aims to highlight the importance of accurate information and to encourage the public to fact-check information related to the COVID-19. 

Twitter remains extremely agile in its campaigns since the pandemic is occurring at different levels of intensity in different, Gujral said.

"The timelines are not matching… In that sense, it’s been the most difficult thing," he said.

Despite having the safeguards to protect public conversations, bad actors also continue to evolve on the platform. It's a problem faced by the entire tech industry in general, he said.

Protecting the public interest entails using technology alongside humans to identify bad actors on the platform, Gujral said.

Fraudsters took advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic as scams proliferate online and in various methods in the past year. 

Google, for example, said it has blocked or removed about 3.1 billion ads and over 99 million COVID-related ads in 2020 for violating its policies as it intensified efforts to keep users safe especially during the pandemic. 

Fraudster are also scamming people with fake vaccines. In Indonesia, 2 hackers were arrested due to an international scam where $60 million COVID-19 aid money was stolen. 


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