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Elon Musk has a 'huge responsibility' to tackle vaccine misinformation on Twitter, WHO official says

Business Insider US
SpaceX founder Elon Musk at the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, California, on October 10, 2019. PHILIP PACHECO/AFP via Getty Images
SpaceX founder Elon Musk at the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, California, on October 10, 2019. PHILIP PACHECO/AFP via Getty Images
  • Elon Musk is buying Twitter and looks set to relax its moderation rules.
  • A WHO official said Musk has a "huge responsibility" to curb vaccine misinformation.
  • Experts told Insider that Musk's takeover of Twitter could inflame misinformation on the platform.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Elon Musk will have a "huge influence" over the curbing and potential spreading of vaccine misinformation on Twitter, a World Health Organization official (WHO) said.

Musk is buying Twitter for $44 billion, pending regulatory and shareholder approval. He has said one of his aims is to promote "free speech" on the platform, and looks set to relax Twitter's rules around content moderation.

During a virtual conference on Tuesday, a reporter asked WHO officials whether having Musk in charge of Twitter could hinder its efforts to curb vaccine misinformation online.

Dr Mike Ryan, executive of WHO's Health Emergencies Programme, replied: "When anyone reaches a position in life where they have so much potential influence over the way information is shared with communities, they take on a huge responsibility and we wish Mr Musk luck with his endeavours to improve the quality of information that we all receive."

He added: "In cases like this pandemic, good information is life-saving. It's even as life-saving, and in some cases more life-saving than having a vaccine in the sense that bad information sends you to some very, very bad places."

It's not just Twitter but all social media platforms that need to address misinformation, according to Ryan.

"Good stewardship of those platforms is extremely important. It's not the business of WHO who owns or who manages those platforms," Ryan said.

Experts told Insider Elon's approach to free speech, which he defined in a tweet as "that which matches the law," could potentially inflame misinformation and hate speech on the platform.

In September 2020, Musk and his family wouldn't get the Covid-19 vaccine because he believed they weren't at risk from the virus. He later revealed in December 2021 that he and his eligible children had been vaccinated.

Musk also railed against shelter-in-place orders and questioned the legitimacy of coronavirus testing in 2020.

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