“A win,” Simone Gold exulted recently on Twitter, “for free speech and medical freedom!”
Gold is the founder of America’s Frontline Doctors, a pseudo-medical organization devoted to spreading bad information about COVID and vaccines. Her good mood was due to a brief statement by Twitter that it will no longer enforce its policy against misleading information about COVID-19.
“This policy was used to silence people across the world who questioned the media narrative surrounding the virus and treatment options,” Gold declared. (In a separate drama, Gold is being sued by the organization and its current president; they allege she’s trying to re-seize control of AFLDS and has misappropriated company funds. Meanwhile, Gold has continued to hold herself out as the company’s rightful president on Twitter and in press releases.)
Gold was not alone in celebrating; several major players in the COVID disinformation sphere have been openly thrilled by the policy change. They included journalist-turned-COVID troll Alex Berenson, who tweeted, “This is the most consequential win for free speech yet. Thanks @elonmusk.” Robert F. Kennedy Jr., founder of the major anti-vaccine organization Children’s Health Defense, also seemed pleased; he tweeted a link to an Epoch Times story about the change. Meanwhile, extremely noisy right-wing Youtuber Steven Crowder tweeted, “Now that Twitter stopped enforcing its COVID ‘misinformation’ policies, I can finally tell you that the vaccine doesn't work, masks are useless, & the lockdowns did more harm than good. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.”
That general sentiment was echoed by a number of right-wing figures: that Musk had created an exhilarating freedom of discussion. In a thread about the supposed dangers of flu shots, professor-turned-podcaster and vaccine skeptic Bret Weinstein tweeted, “We can now discuss topics like this openly on Twitter because @elonmusk has suspended the absurd “Covid Misinformation” policy.
That change is both principled and buisness savvy. In a world where truth can only be voiced on Twitter, Twitter wins.”
The timing and rollout of the COVID misinformation policy rollback, though, did present a bit of a mystery. Elon Musk’s chaotic takeover of Twitter has led to several major policy changes that he has proudly trumpeted, including the shambolic rollout of Twitter Blue and the broad reinstatement of accounts previously banned for violating the company’s policies. (Those included the personal account of Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was permanently suspended in January for violating the company’s COVID misinformation policy.) Musk has also claimed he’ll expose Twitter’s “free speech suppression,” another announcement that excited the broader conspiracyverse.
But the COVID misinformation policy was rolled out more quietly, with no official announcement beyond the note posted on Twitter’s company “transparency” section of their website. It’s unclear how the decision was reached or if Musk was directly behind it. (Musk has espoused COVID and vaccine skepticism in the past, but more recently tweeted, “To be clear, I do support vaccines in general & covid vaccines specifically. The science is unequivocal.”)
No one at Twitter immediately responded to a request for comment from Motherboard. Thousands of employees have quit the company or been laid off following Musk’s takeover, and it’s unclear if the company still has a functioning communications department.