Twitter helped manipulate the COVID-19 debate by relenting to government pressure and censoring content related to the virus, according to the latest "Twitter Files" release.
Reporter David Zweig on Monday morning took to Twitter to post about COVID-19-related actions by the social media platform before billionaire Elon Musk assumed control.
"The United States government pressured Twitter and other social media platforms to elevate certain content and suppress other content about Covid-19," Zweig tweeted.
The reporter cited numerous examples, including how Twitter suspended journalist Alex Berenson hours after President Joe Biden, in the summer of 2021, said social media companies were "killing people" for allowing vaccine misinformation.
"Berenson sued (and then settled with) Twitter. In the legal process Twitter was compelled to release certain internal communications, which showed direct White House pressure on the company to take action on Berenson," Zweig tweeted.
A recent summary of meetings with the White House by Lauren Culbertson, Twitter's head of U.S. public policy, said the Biden team "was 'very angry' that Twitter had not been more aggressive in deplatforming multiple accounts. They wanted Twitter to do more," Zweig tweeted.
"In my review of internal files, I found countless instances of tweets labeled as 'misleading' or taken down entirely, sometimes triggering account suspensions, simply because they veered from CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance or differed from establishment views," Zweig tweeted.
Zweig said Twitter "did suppress views — many from doctors and scientific experts — that conflicted with the official positions of the White House. As a result, legitimate findings and questions that would have expanded the public debate went missing."
That included some experts' opinions, despite being in line with vaccine policies in numerous other countries, being labeled "false information" because they differed from the CDC guidelines.
Zweig said that internal files he viewed showed that both the Trump and Biden administrations pressed Twitter executives and other social media platforms to moderate pandemic content.
"At the onset of the pandemic, according to meeting notes, the Trump admin was especially concerned about panic buying," Zweig tweeted. "They came looking for 'help from the tech companies to combat misinformation' about 'runs on grocery stores.' But … there were runs on grocery stores."
Zweig said there were three serious problems with Twitter's COVID-19 content oversight:
- Much of the content moderation was conducted by bots.
- Non-expert contractors, in places such as the Philippines, also moderated content.
- The buck stopped with higher level employees, exhibiting individual and collective bias.
Zweig referenced one incident in which Jim Baker, at the time Twitter's deputy general counsel, asked why then-President Donald Trump telling people to not be afraid of COVID-19 wasn't a violation of the platform's misinformation policy.
"Yoel Roth, Twitter's former head of trust & safety, had to explain that optimism wasn't misinformation," Zweig tweeted.
Zweig's 40 posts on Monday morning concluded with an obvious question.
"What might this pandemic and its aftermath have looked like if there had been a more open debate on Twitter and other social media platforms — not to mention the mainstream press — about the origins of Covid, about lockdowns, about the true risks of Covid in kids, and much more?" Zweig tweeted.
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