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How Twitter Cut Off a Reasoned Discussion of the COVID Response

Three more takeaways (7-9) as the story gets deeper — and of greater concern to those who believe that a free flow of information makes for a healthier society

First, last January, John West reflected at Evolution News and Science Today about the rise of totalitarian science, as shown by the way COVID was managed:

The COVID era also has seen a dramatic rise of censorship in the name of science. We are told continuously now that “misinformation” or “disinformation” must be stopped. No decent person favors the spread of “misinformation.” But who is to judge what constitutes “misinformation”? Those warning of “misinformation” seem to assume that existing elites are always right, and so they should be in charge of determining what is true or false. But anyone conversant with the history of science or government knows that this claim can’t hold up to scrutiny. Neither elite scientists nor government officials have a monopoly on the truth. Truth often arises from dissenters. That’s why we have free speech in the first place.

We are also told that allowing free speech about COVID and related policies is too dangerous to permit. But the claim that speech is too dangerous to permit is always the go-to argument for totalitarians. If they had their way, we wouldn’t have free speech about anything.

Yes, there is misinformation in public discussions of COVID and many other topics. Some of it comes from private parties. Some of it comes from government officials. But the way to combat such misinformation is by adding speech, not suppressing it…

But COVID-19 has raised the lobbying for suppression to a whole new level. The President and the Surgeon General are now actively pressuring journalists and tech companies to censor messages disfavored by the government. Taxpayer-funded NPR has all but urged medical licensing boards to strip medical licenses from doctors who offer dissenting opinions about COVID and its treatments. According to the Washington Post, the former head of the NIH, Francis Collins, believes we should “identify those who are purposefully spreading false information online and bring them to justice.” …

Lost in current debates is the fact that much so-called “misinformation” targeted for suppression actually represents legitimate differences of opinion held by scientists and policy experts. Other pieces of so-called “misinformation” are in reality true facts that those in charge would rather not be forced to address.

John West, “#5 Story of 2022: The Rise of Totalitarian Science” at Evolution News and Science Today (originally January 31, 2022/republished December 28, 2022)

Later in the year, of course, Elon Musk bought Twitter and recruited independent journalists to break open and publish the now-famous Twitter files.

7. Here’s what John West suspected but could not have known: The most recent data dumps are Twitter files #9 (Matt Taibbi, December 24, 2022) and Twitter files #10 (David Zweig, December 26, 2022) dealing respectively with how Twitter worked with many government agencies to suppress opposition to their policies and especially suppressed dissent — no matter how reasoned or evidence-based — from Covid policy.

From #9: “The government was in constant contact not just with Twitter but with virtually every major tech firm.”These included Facebook, Microsoft, Verizon, Reddit, even Pinterest, and many others.”

And from #10:

8. How Twitter rigged the COVID debate, with government help, is an important part of the story:

The United States government pressured Twitter to elevate certain content and suppress other content about Covid-19 and the pandemic. Internal emails that I viewed at Twitter showed that both the Trump and Biden administrations directly pressed Twitter executives to moderate the platform’s content according to their wishes…

In July 2021, then-U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released a 22-page advisory concerning what the World Health Organization referred to as an “infodemic,” and called on social media platforms to do more to shut down “misformation.”

“We are asking them to step up,” Murthy said. “We can’t wait longer for them to take aggressive action.”

That’s the message the White House had already taken directly to Twitter executives in private channels. One of the Biden administration’s first meeting requests was about Covid, with a focus on “anti-vaxxer accounts,” according to a meeting summary by Lauren Culbertson, Twitter’s Head of U.S. Public Policy.

David Zweig, “How Twitter Rigged the Covid Debate” at The Free Press (December 26, 2022)

Zweig identifies three problems: 1) Twitter’s bots are not sophisticated enough for what the government wanted. They snagged “dolphins” (experts) as well as “cheap fish” (trolls). 2) Also, remote workers in, for example, the Philippines were being asked to police medical information for which they were not personally qualified. 3) Twitter execs were heavily biased toward establishment dogma: “Inevitably, dissident yet legitimate content was labeled as misinformation, and the accounts of doctors and others were suspended both for tweeting opinions and demonstrably true information.” Unfortunately, many in our society today would like to make that approach the rule rather than the exception.

Musk, who should know, says there’s more to come:

9. This is a story that the legacy mainstream media (MSM) is not covering, mainly because — as noted here earlier — they now represent and speak for the government and, even more, a progressive elite that sees little wrong with authoritarianism. Broader public trust in the MSM has declined dramatically in recent decades, in part for that reason.

Some think that Musk plans to disrupt the MSM even more by purchasing Substack, a growing news platform for independent journalists who manage subscriptions to their own work:

Substack is a different model for sharing information than the legacy media offers and would be in direct competition with it. Stay tuned!

Key takeaways 1–3 are here.

Three more key takeaways (4–6) from the Twitter Files and their fallout The FBI responds to the Twitter files: “Conspiracy theorists” are feeding the public “misinformation.” This isn’t helping the FBI’s reputation. The mainstream media react to censorship at last (but only of its own precious little stars) and there is new information about how badly Twitter was run in the past.


Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she has published two books on the topic: Faith@Science and By Design or by Chance? She has written for publications such as The Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, and Canadian Living. She is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul. She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

How Twitter Cut Off a Reasoned Discussion of the COVID Response