Threads, Mark Zuckerberg’s rival to X (formerly Twitter), has temporarily restricted certain words as part of its efforts to refine its “safety and integrity” policy, which is designed to curb the spread of “disinformation.”
Threads, often referred to as the “Twitter killer” app, has recently faced criticism for its decision to block searches related to terms such as “coronavirus,” “Covid,” and other pandemic-related inquiries.
Threads was launched in early July and rolled out its search feature a week ago to users in the United States, Canada, Mexico, India, and the United Kingdom.
But in developments now far too familiar to users, the rollout includes censorship of “misinformation.” Meta explains that searches for “potentially sensitive content” are temporarily blocked.
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On Tuesday, a search conducted by the New York Post for terms related to COVID yielded a pop-up link directing users to the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This decision to censor search terms related to COVID has raised concerns among public health officials, especially considering the recent surge in cases and hospitalizations driven by a new variant.
Likewise, a search conducted by CNN on the Threads app for terms such as “coronavirus,” “Covid,” “long Covid,” and “Covid-19” returned a blank page with the message: “No results.” Similar searches for “vaccine” and “vaccinations” also failed to yield any results, and users were redirected to the CDC.
This move by the tech giant to restrict coronavirus-related searches on its platform coincides with the United States grappling with a recent surge in Covid-19 hospitalizations.
Lucky Tran, the director of science communication at Columbia University, voiced concerns over Threads’ censorship, creating an inability for public health workers to communicate vital information about COVID protections.
Julia Doubleday, who oversees outreach at the World Health Network, voiced similar concerns. “Social media serves as a crucial lifeline for patients. Long Covid patients have succumbed to organ failure, infections, cardiac events, and more, and social media is one of the platforms where they can exchange critical information.”
Meta claims that in the future, it will restore searches for the blocked keywords once they are “confident in the quality of the results.”
Meta has not fully disclosed which other keyword searches may currently yield no results, but words like “gore,” “sex,” “porn,” and “nude” are blocked as well.
MRC Free Speech America has been keeping a record of COVID-19 censorship. According to a study conducted in 2022, there were more than 800 instances of COVID-19 censorship on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, spanning from March 17, 2020, to February 3, 2022.
Recent reports have shed light on situations in which Threads has taken steps to suppress factually accurate stories that could be viewed as unfavorable to the Biden administration. Users report instances of sharing authentic photos depicting Hunter Biden engaged in illicit activities, including drug use, that were flagged.
A user named Draiano recently shared their experience of encountering censorship on Threads. They claimed that their posts, which aimed to expose alleged corruption within the Biden administration, were flagged for censorship. These actions have sparked inquiries into whether the platform genuinely upholds the principles of free expression or if it, like other Meta sites, silences specific political perspectives.
Additionally, Threads has faced scrutiny over its data tracking practices, prompting questions from users. Like many other social media platforms, Threads gathers user data for a range of purposes, including personalized advertising. However, the scope and openness of the app’s data collection have raised privacy issues for some users concerned about how their information could potentially be misused or mishandled.
With over a million downloads in the first week of its launch, Threads initially enjoyed a successful introduction. Last month, however, there was an 85% decline in the amount of time users are spending on the site.
It seems Zuckerberg just can’t resist launching yet another platform for controlling content even after his previous social media empires were exposed for the same tyranny.