Mar 20, 2020 - Technology

Twitter lets Musk's coronavirus misinformation stand

headshot
Photo of Elon Musk smiling and pointing his finger

When Elon Musk tweeted Thursday that "kids are essentially immune" from COVID-19, it seemed a pretty clear cut violation of a new coronavirus misinformation policy Twitter had put in place the day before. That statement was literally the example the platform cited to describe what would not be allowed under the new rules, but the company nonetheless decided not to remove the tweet from the Tesla founder.

Why it matters: People have already heard mixed messages about the virus, including dismissive comments from Musk himself, and misinformation can only worsen the pandemic.

Here's what Twitter said to explain what kinds of messages its new rules forbid:

Denial of established scientific facts about transmission during the incubation period or transmission guidance from global and local health authorities, such as “COVID-19 does not infect children because we haven’t seen any cases of children being sick.”
— Twitter

Here's what Musk tweeted:

Kids are essentially immune, but elderly with existing conditions are vulnerable. Family gatherings with close contact between kids & grandparents probably most risky.
— Elon Musk

What they're saying: Twitter says it concluded Musk's tweet wasn't "definitive.""

We reviewed the Tweets, and they don't violate our rules at this time. Please continue to share anything you think we should take a closer look at — we'll continue to rely on trusted partners, such as health authorities, to flag content that is harmful."
— Twitter, in a statement to Axios

The medical community, meanwhile, has been clear that kids can catch the disease and transmit it, even if they are less likely to show symptoms or become seriously ill themselves.

"Children may play a major role in community-based viral transmission," a pair of pediatricians wrote in a note accompanying the largest-yet study of the role of children and COVID-19, which was published this week in Pediatrics.

Flashback: Musk has been downplaying the threat of the virus for some time, tweeting on March 6 that "the coronavirus panic is dumb," and has made other comments since suggesting the virus worries were overblown.

  • He has also been in the news for offering to make ventilators in Tesla plants, but he tweeted Thursday that "We’re working on ventilators, even though I think there will not be a shortage by the time we can make enough to matter."

Meanwhile: Just as Twitter was allowing Musk's comments to stand, Facebook was webcasting CEO Mark Zuckerberg's interview with Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Go deeper