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Speech Reduction Act

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eye on the news

Speech Reduction Act

New documents reveal the federal government’s role in Twitter’s censorship decisions. September 1, 2022
The Social Order
Politics and law

Last month, Covid vaccine skeptic Alex Berenson was allowed back on Twitter after being “permanently” suspended for allegedly violating the platform’s Covid-19 “misinformation” policy. Remarkably, Twitter acknowledged that his tweets “should have not led” to his suspension.

Now, new internal Twitter documents publicized by Berenson reveal that the Biden administration likely played a pivotal role in his suspension. As a Twitter employee reported on the company’s internal Slack messaging system, the company faced “one really tough question about why Alex Berenson hasn’t been kicked off from the platform” in an April 2021 White House meeting. Another employee reported that Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to President Biden’s Covid response team, claimed that he had seen evidence indicating that Berenson was “the epicenter of disinfo that radiated outwards to the persuadable public.”

In the summer of 2021, the federal government repeatedly pressured social media platforms to ramp up efforts to crack down on Covid “misinformation.” On July 16, 2021, Biden claimed that social-media companies were “killing people” by failing to censor Covid misinformation. A few hours after Biden’s comment, Twitter suspended Berenson’s account for the first time. The next month, Twitter banned him after he tweeted about the vaccine’s inability to stop transmission and infection over the long-term and its side-effect profile.

Berenson, who now plans to sue the White House after his recent legal success against Twitter, is the most prominent victim of social-media companies’ heavy-handed policies, but many distinguished scientists with far less public and financial support have faced similar fates.

Tracy Beth Hoeg, a consultant epidemiologist for Florida’s Department of Health, has faced sanctions for warning about post-vaccine myocarditis in young men. In June 2021, for example, Twitter labeled “misleading” one of her tweets that stated—citing data published by the CDC—that post-vaccine myocarditis rates were “above baseline.” This past April, Twitter suspended Hoeg for merely criticizing the platform’s decision to add a “misleading” tag to an Oxford bioethicist’s tweet that directly quoted a peer-reviewed Israeli study finding a correlation between mass vaccination and acute cardiac events. Twitter reinstated Hoeg to the platform weeks later, but has offered no rationale for her initial suspension.

Anish Koka, owner of a top cardiology clinic in Philadelphia, encountered a similar situation earlier this month for simply tweeting a link to Sanjay Verma’s “exhaustive review” of post-vaccine myocarditis (Verma is an interventional cardiologist, with 17 years of experience). Twitter suspended Koka for “violating the policy on spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to Covid-19.” Twitter reinstated Koka’s account a few days later, after he decided that deleting the tweet would be more productive than trying to protest the decision behind the scenes.

Andrew Bostom, a research physician and former professor at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School, remains barred from Twitter and is threatening legal action. Twitter initially suspended him in June for tweeting a peer-reviewed study that found a temporary reduction in sperm count after vaccination. “Alex Berenson’s lawyer intervened and Twitter was forced to acknowledge their error,” he stated in an email interview. His reinstatement was short-lived, though, as Twitter accused him of violating its misinformation policy again by tweeting references to scientific analyses of data concerning vaccine use in adults and children.

In many other cases, social-media platforms have reprimanded scientists merely for asking questions about vaccines or for quoting peer-reviewed studies. But even more troubling than the platforms’ evident bias against dissent from the mainstream public-health narrative is the federal government’s attempt, as seen in Berenson’s case, to set the parameters for acceptable scientific debate.

Photo by AMY OSBORNE/AFP via Getty Images

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