On Thursday, Twitter announced a new policy for dealing with misinformation during a period of crisis, establishing new standards for gating or blocking the promotion of certain tweets if they are seen as spreading misinformation.
“Content moderation is more than just leaving up or taking down content,” explained Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, in a blog post detailing the new policy, “and we’ve expanded the range of actions we may take to ensure they’re proportionate to the severity of the potential harm.”
The internet is full of viral half-truths, honest mistakes, outright lies, and other unreliable information. But in many cases, you can cut through the chaos by following a few simple rules.
The new policy puts particular scrutiny on false reporting of events, false allegations involving weapons or use of force, or broader misinformation regarding atrocities or international response.
Hoax tweets and other misinformation regularly go viral during emergencies, as users rush to share unverified information. The sheer speed of events makes it difficult to implement normal verification or fact-checking systems, creating a significant challenge for moderators.
Under the new policy, tweets classified as misinformation will not necessarily be deleted or banned; instead, Twitter will add a warning label requiring users to click a button before the tweet can be displayed (similar to the existing labels for explicit imagery). The tweets will also be blocked from algorithmic promotion.
The stronger standards are meant to be limited to specific events. Twitter will initially apply the policy to content concerning the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the company expects to apply the rules to all emerging crises going forward. For the purposes of the policy, crisis is defined as “situations in which there is a widespread threat to life, physical safety, health, or basic subsistence.”
The policy comes at a delicate time for Twitter, with the company’s approved sale to Elon Musk in a confusing limbo. Musk has pledged to scale back moderation systems at the company in favor of a maximalist view of free speech. But with Musk claiming the deal is on hold pending a bot investigation, it’s unclear when or how his ideas will be implemented.