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A Twitter spokesperson said that a tweet on Thursday from Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk that children were “essentially immune” to the coronavirus did not violate the social media platform's new policies about discussion of the disease, despite the fact that it contradicted information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This is the first high-profile test of Twitter's new rules, which were put in place Monday to stem the spread of harmful disinformation about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, on the site.
On Thursday, after hours of deliberating the merits of using his companies’ resources to build ventilators for the public health crisis and closing down Tesla’s factories, Musk took time to answer his followers' questions on Twitter, during which he cast doubt on predictions about the virus’s potential spread.
Earlier this month, he tweeted that “the coronavirus is dumb.” In a series of tweets on Thursday, he seemed to double down, predicting that there would be no new cases in the US by the end of April, in part because children were safe from the virus.
“Kids are essentially immune, but elderly with existing conditions are vulnerable,” he tweeted. “Family gatherings with close contact between kids & grandparents probably most risky.”
While the CDC notes that children are not at a higher risk for COVID-19, it reports that some children and infants have been affected by the disease, even though adults make up the majority of cases. It’s said in public guidelines that “there is much more to be learned about how the disease impacts children.” Early research has shown that infants in China have been highly susceptible to infection.
“The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar in children and adults,” the CDC said on a public FAQ page. “However, children with confirmed COVID-19 have generally presented with mild symptoms.”
On Monday, Twitter’s own policy used misinformation around children and the coronavirus as a specific example of a violation of its new policies. Under its guidelines, users would be asked to remove posts that included the “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.’”
A Twitter spokesperson declined to explain the company’s decision on Musk’s tweet beyond saying it wasn’t a violation. Musk is one of Twitter’s most popular users, with more than 32 million followers. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has cited Musk as one of his favorite people on the platform and invited the Tesla chief to speak at a Twitter all-hands meeting earlier this year.
Musk has previously used his large platform on Twitter to declare that Tesla was going private, bully government regulators, and call a British cave rescuer “a pedo guy.” This month, the billionaire has been using it to cast doubt on the response to the global pandemic, which so far has infected more than 242,000 people and killed more than 9,800 globally.