Twitter says Elon Musk's tweets advocating against expert COVID-19 guidance don't violate its rules

Darrell Etherington

Twitter has said that tweets posted early Tuesday morning by Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk that irresponsibly call for restrictions put in place to defend against the spread of COVID-19 don't violate its guidelines around inaccurate or disputed information about the coronavirus that could cause harm. Musk tweeted a series of things on Tuesday, including an endorsement of a controversial Wall Street Journal op-ed with the caption "Give people their freedom back!"

A Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch that these tweets, which also include an urging to "FREE AMERICA NOW," are "not currently in violation of the Twitter rules. According to the company, it has said previously that it's not enforcing punitive or corrective action on each instance of tweets about COVID-19 that don't provide a full picture or that appear to contain info that's disputed by other sources.

Twitter says that it has removed over 2,400 Tweets since March 18 when it implemented its new policy, and that its automated filtering systems have addressed in some way or another as many as 3.4 million accounts which seemed to be spamming or providing manipulative info regarding COVID-19 discussions. Thus far, however, some of the most influential sources of have not been subject to punitive or corrective action under the policy.

President Trump's tweets calling to "liberate" states, for instance, which bear a content and formatting similarity to the new tweets by Musk, have not been removed or disputed by the social network, and Twitter provided a similar statement about those missives not currently violating its rules.

Trump and Musk represent some of the most influential Twitter users, with 78.9 million and 33.3 minion users respectively, so their voices have outweighed impact on the community and public discourse relative to spam or automated misinformation accounts. In both cases, these messages indirectly seek to encourage the curtailing or disruption of social distancing, isolation and quarantine measures, even as the U.S. surged past 1 million diagnosed cases this week, with many more likely undiagnosed and therefore unaccounted for in the total.

States are already beginning to ease restrictions, and seeing resurgences in case numbers. Some more rural states that previously seemed less impacted are seeing spikes, even as they began to partially reopen, including Iowa. Leading experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. federal coronavirus task force have warned against the consequences of relaxing rules too soon, and the WHO and CDC are still warning of the impact of opening up too soon as well.