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Twitter tries a better alternative to censorship

Public tug-of-war platform Twitter is opting to label, rather than censor, tweets it considers misleading about the COVID-19 situation.

Twitter’s latest tweak was announced in a blog post entitled: Updating our Approach to Misleading Information. “Starting today, we’re introducing new labels and warning messages that will provide additional context and information on some Tweets containing disputed or misleading information related to COVID-19,” it said.

The disputed part is hilarious, since dispute is what characterises Twitter. What they mean is ‘disputed by sources we favour’. Whether or not something is misleading once more depends on which sources you consider to be definitive. For example Facebook has defaulted to the World Health Organisation as the unimpeachable source on all things ‘rona.

Since all decisions on accuracy are subjective, with the exception of ‘settled science’ (itself a hotly disputed concept), those in a position to make them should do so with humility and a soft touch. Sadly they all to often opt for outright censorship in the mistaken belief that will resolve whatever problems they think the banned speech creates.

Twitter is taking a more sensible approach in this case, by attaching labels to tweets it takes issue with, hyperlinked to either its own curated repository of ‘correct’ information or an external trusted source. Both will be subject to their own biases, of course, but at least outright censorship has been averted and people are being permitted to use their own judgment about what to believe.

Having said that, there is an escalating scale, including superimposing a warning, that can still lead to censorship if the tweet is considered harmful enough. Twitter is, of course, free to police its platform as it sees fit, but if it opts to censor too many marginal tweets then this sensible concession will quite rightly be viewed as window dressing and an empty gesture.


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