New Twitter policy aims to pierce fog of war misinformation | Business

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Twitter is stepping up its fight against misinformation with a new policy targeting posts that spread potentially dangerous false stories. The change is part of a broader effort to promote accurate information in times of conflict or crisis.

Starting Thursday, the platform will no longer automatically recommend or highlight posts that make misleading claims about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including material that mischaracterizes conditions in conflict zones or makes false allegations of war crimes or atrocities against civilians.

As part of its new “crisis misinformation policy,” Twitter will also flag debunked claims about ongoing humanitarian crises, the San Francisco-based company said. Users will not be able to like, forward, or reply to posts that violate the new rules.

The changes make Twitter the latest social platform to deal with the misinformation, propaganda and rumors that have proliferated since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. This misinformation ranges from rumors spread by well-meaning users to Kremlin propaganda amplified by Russian diplomats or fake accounts and networks linked to Russian intelligence.

“We saw that both sides exchanged information that could be misleading and/or deceptive,” said Yoel Roth, head of security and integrity at Twitter, who detailed the new policy for reporters. “Our policy does not distinguish between the different combatants. Instead, we focus on misinformation that could be dangerous, regardless of where it comes from.”

The new policy will complement existing Twitter rules that prohibit digitally manipulated media, false claims about elections and voting, and health misinformation, including disproved claims about COVID-19 and vaccines.

But it could also clash with the views of Tesla billionaire Elon Musk, who has agreed to pay $44 billion to take over Twitter with the goal of making it a “free speech” haven. Musk didn’t address many cases of what that would mean in practice, although he did say that Twitter should only remove posts that break the law, which, literally, would prevent any action against most misinformation, personal attacks, and harassment. He has also criticized the algorithms used by Twitter and other social platforms to recommend certain posts to individuals.

The policy was formulated broadly to cover misinformation during other conflicts, natural disasters, humanitarian crises, or “any situation where there is a widespread threat to health and safety,” Roth said.

Twitter said it will rely on a variety of credible sources to determine when a post is misleading. These sources include humanitarian groups, conflict monitors and journalists.

A senior Ukrainian cybersecurity official, Victor Zhora, welcomed Twitter’s new vetting policy, saying it’s up to the global community to “find appropriate approaches to prevent the seeding of misinformation on social networks.”

Although results have been mixed, Twitter’s efforts to combat misinformation about the Ukraine conflict have outperformed other platforms that have taken a more reserved approach, such as Telegram, which is popular in Eastern Europe.

Asked specifically about the Telegram platform, where the Russian government’s disinformation is rife, but also where Ukraine’s leaders are reaching a wide audience, Zhora said the question was “tricky but very important.” That’s because the kind of misinformation that’s been circulating unreservedly on Telegram “to some extent led to this war.”

Since the start of the Russian invasion in February, social media platforms like Twitter and Meta, owners of Facebook and Instagram, have tried to stem a rise in war-related misinformation by flagging posts from Russian state-controlled media and diplomats. They’ve also de-emphasised some material so that it no longer shows up in searches or auto-recommendations.

Emerson Brooking, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab and an expert on social media and disinformation, said the conflict in Ukraine shows how easily misinformation can spread online during a conflict and that platforms need to respond.

“This is a conflict that has played out on the internet and has resulted in extraordinarily rapid changes in technology policy,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report from Boston.

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