Twitter take action against distressing COVID-19 content

As our physical world is drastically affected by coronavirus (COVID-19), the pandemic is also having a significant impact on the digital sphere. Popular social media platform Twitter responds to the 'rapidly evolving situation' by updating their safety strategy.

The coronavirus outbreak has shook people across the globe. It is inevitable that misinformation and scaremongering will be spread via social media during such a widespread crisis.

Despite this, social media platforms are a fantastic way for official outlets, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), to spread crucial messages about coronavirus, like a record of the reported symptoms and how to effectively prevent it from spreading.

As Twitter explains in its company update: "we’re encouraged that our service is being used around the world to provide free, authoritative health information, and to ensure that everyone has access to the conversations they need to protect themselves and their families".

But social media is also a breeding ground for inaccurate information. Consequently, Twitter says it is enforcing the following steps to safeguard their online community from being exposed to harmful information. The new actions are as follows:

Increasing our use of machine learning and automation 

Automated enforcement systems can help to detect content that is potentially abusive or manipulative. However, Twitter will not use this information solely to decide whether an account should be suspended or not.

It will combine this method with human review stages, since this allows for context to be taken into consideration. But the use of machine learning is necessary in scaling up efforts to keep the platform as safe as possible.

Broadening our definition of harm

This guidance is a crucial step in the midst of coronavirus. For instance, Twitter will require people to remove content that goes against authoritative advice, since this type of information could reduce the effectiveness of recommendations in place to prevent the spread of the virus.

This includes tweets like "social distancing is not effective", which might encourage others to rebel against global or local health authorities.

Twitter is also monitoring against accounts who deny scientific facts and spread ineffective or harmful advice about how to prevent coronavirus. For example: “drinking bleach and ingesting colloidal silver will cure COVID-19".

The policy will order the removal of any posts that increase panic, and unnecessary public action, through false claims such as: “The National Guard just announced that no more shipments of food will be arriving for 2 months - run to the grocery store ASAP and buy everything!”.

Also, claims that specific groups and nationalities are more or less likely to have coronavirus are deemed as harmful and will be removed. For example: “avoid businesses owned by Chinese people as they are more likely to have COVID-19".

Building systems that enable our team to continue to enforce our rules remotely around the world

Twitter reassures it will increase employee support and assistance during these turbulent times. The update promises people's privacy and security will continue to be a "top priority".

Instituting a global content severity triage system

This step is to ensure the tweets that are assessed as high risk and most harmful will be responded to quickly, also reducing people's efforts to have to report them.

Executing daily quality assurance checks

Twitter will keep checks on what is happening each day, so it can take action where and when necessary. Considering the ever changing nature of this health crisis, it is crucial for social platforms to be regularly monitored, in order to reduce potential harm.

Engaging with our partners around the world

Communication is key during testing times. That's why Twitter will ensure "escalation paths remain open" so cases assessed as the most urgent can be addressed in good time.

Continuing to review the Twitter Rules in the context of COVID-19

As behaviours continue to evolve, Twitter is prepared to adapt to these changes accordingly. The update explains: "As we’ve said on many occasions, our approach to protecting the public conversation is never static. That’s particularly relevant in these unprecedented times.

We intend to review our thinking daily and will ensure we’re sharing updates here on any new clarifications to our rules or major changes to how we’re enforcing them".

The guidelines in place are paramount to protecting social media users during these uncertain times. What can we, as inhabitants of the digital age going through the pandemic, learn from this? Always be cautious of the things you read, second-guess the sources and even limit your exposure to news to reduce anxiety from information overload.