As disinformation related to COVID-19 is spreading faster than the virus itself, the microblogging platform Twitter feels that its work has never been more critical and its service has never been in higher demand than ever before globally, including in India.
The power of a uniquely open service during a public health emergency is crystal clear, says Mahima Kaul, Director, Public Policy, India and South Asia at Twitter, adding that they are continuing to review the rules in the context of COVID-19 and considering ways in which they may need to evolve to account for new behaviors.
Since introducing its updated policies on March 18, Twitter has removed more than 2,400 tweets containing misleading and potentially harmful content.
“Our automated systems have challenged more than 3.4 million accounts targeting manipulative discussions around COVID-19. We will continue to use both technology and our teams to help us identify and stop spammy behavior and accounts,” Kaul told IANS.
Twitter has received a positive response to its efforts in curbing COVID-19 related fake news and misinformation in India.
The efforts include an events page dedicated to COVID-19 information called “Coronavirus Tweets from Indian authorities”, which is essentially a timeline of tweets from verified Indian officials and bodies such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi (@narendramodi), Health Minister Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan), the official Citizen Engagement Platform of the Government of Indian (@mygovindia, Press Information Bureau (@PIB_India) and other state and Central ministers, as well as public health agencies.
“Every account holder in India can see this page on the top of their home timeline. If someone has their settings set to Hindi, then they will see the same page with Hindi Tweets. The timeline also lets people track developments around the latest social distancing and healthcare information,” informed Kaul.
The platform recently onboarded the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (@MoHFW_INDIA) to Twitter Seva to help Indians with a speedy resolution to their health-related queries.
“This public service is allowing the Ministry to communicate effectively and at scale with the public, especially in crisis situations like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The dedicated account @CovidIndiaSeva establishes a direct channel between the Government and citizens to provide access to authoritative health and public information,” Kaul elaborated.
She said that Twitter India is regularly working with trusted partners, including public health authorities, researchers, NGOs, and governments to keep improving its fight against COVID-19.
“To tackle misinformation related to COVID-19, we have broadened our definition of harm and expanded our safety rules to address content that goes directly against guidance from authoritative sources with the intent to influence people into acting against recommended guidance,” said Kaul.
The company has also increased its use of machine learning and automation to take a wide range of actions on potentially abusive and manipulative content.
“Additionally, we’re continuing to review and require the removal of Tweets that do not follow the Twitter Rules – half of which we catch before they’re ever reported to us. We continue to remain vigilant,” Kaul added.
Twitter is releasing a new endpoint into Twitter Developer Labs to enable approved developers and researchers to study the public conversation about COVID-19 in real-time.
Tweets by people on the service will be made available to researchers and developers for free.
According to Kaul, the data will help research the spread of the disease, understand the spread of misinformation, crisis management, emergency response, and communication within communities.
“As we’ve said on many occasions, our approach to protecting the public conversation is never static. That’s particularly relevant in these unprecedented times. We intend to review our thinking daily and will ensure we’re sharing updates on any new clarifications to our rules or major changes to how we’re enforcing them,” Kaul told IANS.