Twitter: Sorry for Putting Covid-19 Misinformation Labels on Your ‘Oxygen’ Tweets

Twitter: Sorry for Putting Covid-19 Misinformation Labels on Your ‘Oxygen’ Tweets
To sign up for our daily newsletter covering the latest news, features and reviews, head HERE. For a running feed of all our stories, follow us on Twitter HERE. Or you can bookmark the Gizmodo Australia homepage to visit whenever you need a news fix.

It’s not always easy to do the right thing in tech, and it can lead to some embarrassing (and funny) mistakes. Just ask Twitter.

As you all probably know, Twitter has been trying to vaccine).

This Group Got Tech Twitter Hyped on an App That Doesn’t Exist to Raise Money for BLM Charities

Leveraging FOMO to get people to donate to meaningful causes is the best thing to come out of 2020 yet.

Read more

In recent weeks, Twitter has begun adding these labels to tweets that link the rollout of 5G to the spread of covid-19, a topic that has prompted multiple conspiracy theories. Some conspiracy theorists, for example, claim that radiation from 5G towers weakens immune systems and makes people more susceptible to getting covid-19. There is no scientific evidence to support this. However, misinformation about 5G towers has led people to burn mobile phone towers in the UK.

Flagging tweets that spit out 5G coronavirus conspiracy theories sounds like a good thing, right? No doubt about that, except when the filtering system you use gets confused.

Many Twitter users noticed on Friday that Twitter was apparently sticking labels on any tweet that mentioned “5G,” “oxygen,” and “frequency” for some strange reason, even if those tweets were not about harmful 5G conspiracy theories. The label links to a Twitter Moment titled “No, 5G isn’t causing coronavirus,” and includes information from reputable sources debunking the claims.

The end result, of course, was Twitter users posting endless combinations with the words to see if their tweets would get flagged. These types of tweets were obviously not meant to be harmful and were just an attempt to have fun, but Twitter’s filter didn’t have a way of knowing that.

When it comes to why Twitter singled out “oxygen” and “frequency,” the folks at The Week theorise that it’s probably because of a conspiracy theory that claims that 5G is a dangerous frequency that sucks the oxygen out of the atmosphere, thereby disrupting our bodies’ normal functions. This is, of course, false. Twitter hasn’t confirmed that this is the reason why its system started flagging the tweets.

Nonetheless, it’s important to note that this type of “moderation by algorithm” can lead to other issues.

“One of the flaws of attempting moderation at scale by algorithm, a problem that has no bearing on 5G, is that it lets tech companies suck the oxygen out of efforts at reform & regulation, as they shrug & turn ‘we tried one thing with code and it did not work’ into ‘can’t be done,’” defence technology writer Kelsey D. Atherton pointed out in a tweet, which also got slapped with a covid-19 misinformation label.

Trump Administration: Social Media Platforms Need to Police Calls for Violence That Aren’t the President’s

The Trump administration, home to some of the most prominent voices that cry wolf about supposed politically biased censorship online, is calling on some of the biggest names in tech and social media to crack down on how users post about ongoing racial-justice protests.

Read more

As the day went on, Twitter eventually stopped labelling the tweets with the keywords we mentioned. A Twitter spokesperson told Motherboard this weekend that the company’s algorithm is “imperfect and constantly changing” based on what’s happening on Twitter. The spokeswoman added that Twitter prioritised over-labelling to err on the side of caution and reduce harm while providing the necessary context.

“In the last few weeks, you may have seen tweets with labels linking to additional info about covid-19. Not all of those tweets had potentially misleading content associating covid-19 and 5G. We apologise for any confusion and we’re working to improve our labelling process,” Twitter Support tweeted on Saturday. “As we improve this process to be more precise, our goal is to show fewer labels on unrelated tweets.”