More damage than excellent? Twitter has a hard time to identify deceptive COVID-19 tweets


Revealed: The Secrets our Clients Used to Earn $3 Billion

Twitter has actually been utilizing labels to direct users to credible details about COVID-19.

Image by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET

For the most updated news and details about the coronavirus pandemic, check out the WHO site.

Automated innovation that Twitter started utilizing this month to identify tweets consisting of coronavirus false information is making errors, raising issues about the business’s dependence on expert system to evaluate material.

On May 11, Twitter started labeling tweets that spread out a conspiracy theory about 5G triggering the coronavirus. Authorities think the incorrect theory triggered some individuals to set fires to cell towers. 

Twitter will get rid of deceptive tweets that motivate individuals to participate in habits such as damaging cell towers. Other tweets that do not prompt the exact same level of damage however consist of incorrect or disputed claims must get a label that directs users to relied on details. The label checks out “Get the facts about COVID-19” and takes users to a page with curated tweets that expose the 5G coronavirus conspiracy theory.


Twitter’s innovation, however, has actually made ratings of errors, using labels to tweets that refute the conspiracy theory and supply precise details. Tweets that consist of links to newspaper article from Reuters, BBC, Wired and Voice of America about the 5G coronavirus conspiracy theory have actually been identified. In one case, Twitter used the label to tweets that shared a page the business itself had actually released entitled “No, 5G isn’t causing coronavirus.” Tweets with words such as 5G, coronavirus, COVID-19 or hashtags #5Gcoronavirus have actually likewise been wrongly identified. 

Experts state the mislabeled tweets might puzzle users, particularly if they do not click the label. Since Twitter does not alert users when their tweets get identified, they likely will not understand their tweets have actually been flagged. Twitter likewise does not provide users a method to appeal its examination of their posts. 

“Arguably, labeling incorrectly does more harm than not labeling because then people come to rely on that and they come to trust it,” stated Hany Farid, a computer technology teacher at University of California, Berkeley. “Once you get it wrong, a couple hours go by and it’s over.”

Making errors

Twitter decreased to state the number of 5G-coronavirus tweets have actually been identified or supply an approximated mistake rate. The business stated its Trust and Safety group is tracking identified coronavirus-related tweets. The mislabeled tweets recognized by CNET have not been repaired. The business stated its automated systems are brand-new and will enhance gradually.

“We are building and testing new tools so we can scale our application of these labels appropriately. There will be mistakes along the way,” a Twitter representative stated in a declaration. “We appreciate your patience as we work to get this right, but this is why we are taking an iterative approach, so that we can learn and make adjustments along the way.”


The business is identifying tweets about the 5G coronavirus conspiracy theory initially, however prepares to deal with other scams.

With 166 million monetizable day-to-day active users, Twitter deals with a substantial small amounts obstacle due to the fact that of the wave of tweets that stream over the website. The business stated its automated tools assist employees evaluate reports more effectively by emerging material that’s more than likely to trigger damage, assisting them to focus on which tweets to evaluate initially. 

Twitter’s technique to coronavirus false information resembles Facebook’s efforts to fight unreliable material, though the world’s biggest social media network relies more on human customers. Facebook deals with more than 60 third-party truth checkers worldwide who evaluate the precision of posts. If a fact-checker rates a post as incorrect, Facebook will show a caution notification and reveal the material lower in an individual’s News Feed to lower its spread. Twitter is instantly identifying material without a human evaluation initially. 

UC Berkeley’s Farid stated he isn’t amazed that Twitter’s automatic system is making mistakes. 

“The difference between a headline with a conspiracy theory and one debunking it is very subtle,” he stated. “It’s literally the word ‘not’ and you need full blown language understanding, which we don’t have today.”

Instead, he stated, Twitter might do something about it versus users who are spreading out coronavirus false information and have a a great deal of fans. Researchers at Oxford University launched a research study in April that revealed prominent social networks users such as political leaders, stars or other public figures shared about 20 percent of incorrect claims however produced 69 percent of the overall social networks engagement.

Now playing:
Watch this:

How to spot fake news


Fooling Twitter’s automated system

Some Twitter users are also testing the system by tweeting the words 5G and coronavirus, flooding the site with more incorrectly labeled tweets.


Ian Alexander, a 33-year-old YouTuber who posts videos about tech, said he spotted the new label on a tweet on May 11 that had nothing to do with the coronavirus 5G conspiracy theory. He decided to test Twitter’s system by tweeting “If you type in 5G, COVID-19 or Coronavirus in a tweet.. this will show up underneath it…” The label automatically popped up on the tweet.

Labeling tweets, Alexander said “may be more harmful than good” because somebody might just see the notice on their timeline without clicking through.

Other tweets with misleading coronavirus information are slipping through the cracks. Actress Fran Drescher, who has more than 260,000 followers, tweeted on May 12: “I can’t believe all the commercials for 5G . Gr8 4cancer, harming birds, bees &mor viruses like Corona. Dial it bac.” A tweet from another user included remarks from Judy Mikovits, who is featured in “Plandemic,” a viral video containing coronavirus conspiracy theories, stating she believes 5G plays a part in the coronavirus pandemic. Both tweets didn’t have a label. (CNET isn’t linking to these tweets because they contain false information.)

Other social networks say they’ve had success with labeling false content. In March, Facebook displayed warning labels on about 40 million posts about COVID-19. When people saw those warning labels, they didn’t go on to view the inaccurate content about 95% of the time, according to Facebook.

Still, a study by MIT found that labeling false news could result in users believing stories that hadn’t gotten labels even if they contained misinformation. The MIT researchers call this phenomenon the “implied truth effect.” 

David Rand, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, who co-authored the study, said one potential solution is for companies to ask social media users to rate content as trustworthy or untrustworthy.

“Not only would it help inform the algorithms,” Rand said, “but also it makes people more discerning in their own sharing because it just kind of nudges them to think about accuracy.”

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.