In brief

  • Twitter says it will stop the spread of misinformation about coronavirus.
  • Elon Musk has shared a supposed "cure."
  • A researcher argues the cure hasn't been proven.

Today, Twitter announced it would be censoring its platform to stop spreading fake news about  the coronavirus. But will the ban extend to Elon Musk?

Musk, co-founder of Tesla and SpaceX, has been critical of the fuss over the coronavirus pandemic. He tweeted a paper yesterday that was brought together by two Bitcoin fans, James Todaro, managing partner at Blocktown Capital, and Gregory Rigano, lawyer and inventor of blockchain platform IKU.

“Maybe worth considering chloroquine for C19,” Musk tweeted.

It almost goes without saying that the tweet was controversial.

“Two Bitcoin entrepreneurs are pushing a self-published ‘study’ claiming a cure for the virus. They haven’t done any original research, but instead have strung together lengthy quotes from other scientists, who have done very limited research,” tweeted Joan Donovan, a Shorenstein Center social media researcher. “Elon Musk tweeted their paper.”

She explained that the study was based on another study—which Musk also tweeted. Its author, Didier Raoult, appeared on Tucker Carlson, adviser to the Stanford University School of Medicine SPARK Translational Research Program, on Wednesday. He touted the anti-malaria drug as a 100% for coronavirus.

“This is dangerous because people are now tweeting about trying to get their doctors to prescribe anti-malaria drugs. Worse, thousands of people think they can cure coronavirus by drinking tonic water,” Donovan added. The drug name is similar to quinine, a compound found in tonic water. She noted that Google searches for tonic water rose suddenly following the segment on Tucker Carlson.

Donovan pointed to weaknesses in the original study, including a small sample size and limited follow-up with the patients after the cure.

Social media misinformation

But the bigger issue is misinformation about the virus. “This is health misinformation in a networked media ecosystem,” she said, adding, “The danger is in people self-dosing and causing confusion with their physicians.”

Twitter too, has recognized that this is a problem. It announced that it would be cracking down on misinformation regarding the virus. Specifically it said it would target, “Propagating false or misleading information around COVID-19 diagnostic criteria or procedures.”

And that could lead to the removal of Musk’s tweets, some say.

“Well, according to Twitter's statement on updated policies regarding disinformation during the pandemic this appears to be the exact kind of content that they promised to remove as rapidly as possible. Worth reporting and getting others to do the same,” tweeted Alexi Drew, research associate at King’s College London.

For now, the tweets remain up—and people are still searching for tonic water. One Twitter profile summed up the whole situation,“quinine isn't a covid-19 cure, and the bitcoin nutters will kill us all some other way.”