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Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Twitter removing tweets with COVID-19 misinformation that could cause physical harm

But the company said it cannot take action on every tweet.

Twitter removing tweets with COVID-19 misinformation that could cause physical harm

Twitter has emphasised that while it attempts to curb any misinformation about COVID-19, it is unable to take "enforcement action on every tweet". 

"As we communicated last week, COVID-19 is affecting our content moderation capacities in unique ways, and we're adjusting to meet the challenge. Right now, we're focused on content that has the highest potential of directly causing physical harm," the company tweeted.

The social media giant listed in a blog post some of the specific content it considers to be "violative and particularly harmful" and would require removal.

Twitter said content that should be removed includes recommendations that go against health authority guidance, such as social distancing not being effective; descriptions of harmful treatments or protection measures which are known to be ineffective, like drinking bleach to cure COVID-19; specific claims that incite people to action and cause widespread panic; false or misleading claims on how to differentiate between COVID-19 and a different disease; and claims that specific groups or nationalities are more susceptible to COVID-19.

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Excluded from this list are official government accounts engaging in conversation about the origins of the virus and global public conversation about potential emergent treatments unless there is a "clear incitement to take a harmful physical action", Twitter said. 

Moving forward, the company will keep its "enforcement guidance under close review and are consulting with medical professionals on any update we may need to make as things continue to evolve". 

As part of its efforts to curb COVID-19 misinformation, the company said it would also increase its use of machine learning and automation to track potentially abusive and manipulative content. 

"We want to be clear: while we work to ensure our systems are consistent, they can sometimes lack the context that our teams bring, and this may result in us making mistakes," Twitter said. 

"As a result, we will not permanently suspend any accounts based solely on our automated enforcement systems. Instead, we will continue to look for opportunities to build in human review checks where they will be most impactful."

The rules set out by Twitter align with the guidelines it released last month to tackle the use of deepfakes to deceive people.

At the time, Twitter said it would remove manipulated media, including deepfakes, but only if the content was likely to cause harm, such as threats to the physical safety of a group or person, or if the tweet creates a risk of mass violence or widespread civil unrest. 

The harm threshold also applies to stalking, content that aims to silence someone, voter suppression, and intimidation.

Twitter banned together with Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, and YouTube last week in promising to fight fraud and curb misinformation on their platforms regarding COVID-19.

In a joint statement, the seven social networks said they were now coordinating and working together with each other and government healthcare agencies across the world in tackling COVID-19-related misinformation.

"We're helping millions of people stay connected while also jointly combating fraud and misinformation about the virus, elevating authoritative content on our platforms, and sharing critical updates in coordination with government healthcare agencies around the world," the companies said.

Twitter on Monday withdrew its revenue and operating income outlook for the first quarter of 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on advertiser demand.  

Twitter had a "strong start" to the year, Twitter CFO Ned Segal said in a statement. However, he added, the global pandemic "has impacted Twitter's advertising revenue globally more significantly in the last few weeks." 

Twitter plans to report its first-quarter results on April 30.