Twitter has removed several tweets by prominent accounts that made misleading claims about the novel coronavirus pandemic, as the company says it’s following a “zero-tolerance approach to platform manipulation and any other attempts to abuse our service at this critical juncture.”
A Twitter spokesperson says the platform removed three posts by David Clarke, who tweets under the handle @SheriffClarke, because the tweets violated its policy against encouraging self-harm. All three of the tweets in question referred to the pandemic in some way, as noted by Jared Holt at watchdog site Right Wing Watch.
In one, Clarke linked to an article about bars and restaurants being ordered to close because of the novel coronavirus and added “Time to RISE UP and push back. Bars and restaurants should defy the order. Let people decide if they want to go out.” In another, he encouraged people to “get back to reasonableness” and “stop buying toilet paper,” and a third removed tweet suggested people “take to the streets.”
A March 4th blog post outlines Twitter’s policies “to protect the public conversation around Covid-19,” which includes a search prompt that delivers information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other government health organizations and a ban on ads that “opportunistically use the COVID-19 outbreak to target inappropriate ads.”
Twitter says it has not seen a significant coordinated platform manipulation around novel coronavirus issues, but plenty of individual Twitter accounts with high follower counts have been criticized for adding to the confusion. Actress Alyssa Milano tweeted out a later-removed image with incorrect information about protecting against contracting the virus.
Some accounts have posted coronavirus information of a more malicious nature, however. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) called out “blatant misinformation” in a tweet by programmer and businessman John McAfee, since deleted, in which McAfee incorrectly claimed that “Coronavirus cannot attack black people because it is a Chinese virus.”
.@twitter & @jack, what exactly are you doing about this type of blatant misinformation? By allowing these lies to spread, you are COMPLICIT in any harm that may be suffered by members of my community as a result.
To my constituents, coronavirus DOES NOT DISCRIMINATE. Be safe. https://t.co/EOYGMRFwxz
— Bobby L. Rush (@RepBobbyRush) March 13, 2020
A Twitter spokesperson did not have information about why McAfee’s tweet was deleted, but navigating to the tweet now brings up an error message: “This Tweet is no longer available because it violated the Twitter Rules.” McAfee’s account was still active as of Monday afternoon.
Rush wrote a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking what they were doing to prevent the spread of inaccurate information during the novel coronavirus outbreak, seeking answers about what each is doing “to prevent misinformation from spreading” and “to ensure that race-based targeting and harassment are not allowed to propagate” on their respective platforms.
Rush’s spokesperson said, “Both companies have acknowledged receipt of the letter and are currently working on a formal response.”