Social media companies shoot the messenger to stamp out purported COVID misinformation

"We need a bunch of group-thinking ideologues with limited scientific experience to police scientific disputes!" medical professor sarcastically writes of Big Tech censorship.

Published: January 3, 2022 8:01pm

Updated: January 3, 2022 10:41pm

In their quest to purge purported COVID-19 misinformation from their platforms, social media companies are now shooting the messengers.

One of those messengers is suggesting he'll take his tens of millions of listeners to a different social media platform in response to the censorship.

Twitter suspended a news clipping service for sharing a video of Rep. Andy Biggs on the Fox News program "The Ingraham Angle," demanding that Grabien Media delete the tweet for violating its "misleading and potentially harmful information" policy.

The Arizona Republican claimed "Big Pharma" wasn't interested in COVID "therapeutics" such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin because of "economic interests," according to the tweet, which Twitter removed even as Grabien Media filed an appeal.

"Obviously, in this case, quoting an elected leader on an issue that matters to everyone is important and newsworthy, regardless of whether you agree," Grabien founder Tom Elliott tweeted Friday, sharing the Twitter notice he received.

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Given his previous experience appealing a Twitter suspension for a "joke" about the late Gen. (ret.) Colin Powell, "I have no confidence in Twitter doing the right thing and acknowledging this tweet did not violate its terms & conditions," he said. 

As of Monday morning, Twitter had not responded to his Grabien appeal, said Elliott. "How long does it take to verify that Twitter's rules don’t prohibit journalism?" he wrote.

Grabien didn't respond to a request from Just the News to explain any previous conflicts with Twitter and how much it relies on Twitter for traffic. The clip is still on its own website.

Biggs retweeted Elliott's disclosure about the suspension. "Anyone surprised that Twitter wants to silence criticism of Big Pharma?" the congressman wrote. His office didn't respond to queries asking whether other news organizations had been suspended for reporting what Biggs said, and whether the congressman had experienced similar conflict with Twitter.

Twitter didn't answer whether reporting on a public official's views on COVID-related matters is always at risk of earning a strike in Twitter's system and possible suspension, or what distinguished Grabien's tweet from a mainstream news organization reporting what Biggs said.

Society of Professional Journalists President Rebecca Aguilar told Just the News she didn't know enough about the Grabien situation to say whether SPJ was concerned that reporting what public figures say could be grounds for Twitter suspension. 

The News Leaders Association, the merger of the American Society of News Editors and the Associated Press Media Editors, didn't respond to a request for comment.

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YouTube removed full episodes of Joe Rogan's podcast, posted by third parties, with mRNA vaccine pioneer-turned-critic Robert Malone and cardiologist Peter McCullough, formerly vice chief of internal medicine at Baylor University Medical Center. 

The page for the Malone video says it violated YouTube's "community guidelines," which include COVID medical misinformation but not copyright takedown requests. The uploader posted the video on a different platform as a backup.

(Spotify holds the exclusive rights to Rogan's podcast. A different full-length video with more than 100,000 views removed by YouTube has a copyright takedown notice.)

GOP Rep. Troy Nehls of Texas responded by submitting the transcript of Malone's interview to the Congressional Record and posting it on Nehls' official website. "Twitter and YouTube are once again proving that they don't work for their users but for big Pharma, big media, and the elites," he wrote.

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McCullough originally tweeted a YouTube video of his interview last month. Both the tweet and video are now gone, though McCullough's Twitter account remains live

Sharing a clip from that interview, however, got conservative author Melissa Tate suspended by Twitter. Her account, with nearly half a million followers, remains suspended more than two weeks later.

Fact-checker Health Feedback claimed that interview included "multiple false and unsubstantiated claims" about COVID vaccines and the pandemic.

YouTube does not appear to be uniformly removing videos that summarize Rogan's interviews with the two controversial figures. Physician Zubin Damania, who goes by "ZDoggMD" on social media, explained McCullough's claims in a critical analysis with more than half a million views.

The Google-owned company didn't respond to requests from Just the News to clarify what in the videos violated its community guidelines.

Twitter permanently suspended Malone's account Wednesday, two days before his Rogan interview, citing misleading COVID information. 

"I've been contacted by multiple lawyers looking at filing a suit," Malone told Rogan, referring to former New York Times journalist Alex Berenson's lawsuit against Twitter for permanently suspending his account after he tweeted COVID vaccines don't stop reinfection or transmission.

The social media company also permanently suspended Georgia GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's personal account on Sunday, also for repeated violations of what it calls its COVID-19 "misinformation policy."

"Twitter is blatantly showing it's [sic] true colors," Rep. Biggs tweeted the same day. "And at this point, it should be considered a badge of honor to get kicked off. I stand behind Trump and MTG!" 

Texas GOP Rep. Chip Roy also shared a graph he learned about from Greene, showing the unprecedented number of side effects from COVID-19 vaccines, relative to previous vaccines, reported to the federal government's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

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Hours after Greene's suspension, Rogan used Twitter to promote his account on GETTR, the social media platform founded by former President Trump advisor Jason Miller. 

The first archived version of Rogan's verified GETTR page is from mid-September, and it quickly drew 8 million followers — more than his Twitter following — without any posts. It now shows posts predating Rogan's claim on the page, suggesting he imported his tweet archive.

"Just in case s--- over at Twitter gets even dumber, I’m here now as well," Rogan wrote on GETTR Sunday.

University of California San Francisco medical professor Vinay Prasad summed up the argument for social media regulation of COVID-19 debates in a sarcastic blog post Monday:

"We need a bunch of group-thinking ideologues with limited scientific experience and scant publications who work for big technology companies and live in coastal cities to police scientific disputes! Of course we do, what could go wrong!"

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