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Twitter to add labels on questionable virus info: 'Get the facts about COVID-19'

The new feature is the latest in a series of moves by social media and other tech companies to try to curb the spread of bad medical advice.

Twitter said Monday it would begin adding labels to some tweets that include misinformation, beginning with tweets about the coronavirus pandemic but eventually about other topics, too, as conspiracy theories have continued to spread on social media.

The warnings will give people a link to "get the facts about COVID-19," for example, or will say that some of the content in a tweet "conflicts with guidance from public health experts," according to screenshots of the labels provided by the company.

Twitter won't necessarily be taking down more tweets than it has been, but in some cases users might need an extra click to see a tweet. Users may also be presented with context from the World Health Organization or other medical experts, the company said.

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The new feature is the latest in a series of moves by social media and other tech companies to try to curb the spread of bad medical advice, hoaxes and misinformation as the coronavirus tests their long-held commitment to try to remain neutral in online debates.

Twitter

Facebook has for years put fact-checking material in its news feed to warn users about false information, although how effective those measures have been is in dispute.

But the move represents something new for Twitter.

"These labels are a way for us to provide further context," Yoel Roth, head of site integrity at Twitter, said on a conference call with reporters.

He said the labels would allow users to come to their own judgments with more information without being heavy-handed. "We are not fact-checking every piece of content on Twitter and have heard clearly that's not what people want us to do," he said.

Nick Pickles, Twitter's director of public policy strategy, said the company hoped to increase media literacy skills with the change.

Last week, a video from a discredited scientist promoting a hodgepodge of conspiracy theories about the coronavirus spread rapidly online, including through promotion on Twitter. Twitter issued an "unsafe" warning on at least one tweet about the video before announcing the new feature Monday, and it blocked a handful of hashtags from trending.

Roth said tweets with conspiracy theories on the origin of the coronavirus would be the sort that might be labeled with context.

Twitter has already been removing information that directly contradicts medical advice about the pandemic, going so far as to order the president of Brazil to remove a video from his account.

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Twitter said it would look for misleading tweets on its own, as well as work without outside experts to watch for misinformation that may be spreading quickly.

The company said its response would depend on two factors: the extent to which the information has been confirmed as false and the potential for harm offline. Only statements that are confirmed as false and have a propensity for severe harm will be removed, Twitter said.