The Twitter Files: Part 11 – How Twitter Rigged The COVID Debate
New Twitter files allege platform suppressed medical opinions, information on COVID
WASHINGTON (TND) — Journalist David Zweig started a new chapter in the “Twitter Files” saga Monday with a thread of tweets examining the social media platforms’ alleged errors in trying to curb the spread of misinformation during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Zweig reported the story in conjunction with The Free Press, the right-of-center media company founded by ousted New York Times editor (and fellow “Twitter Files” writer) Bari Weiss.
This thread shifts the focus on the “Twitter Files” – a series of information drops of previously private and internal communications from the company made available to a select group by owner Elon Musk – from its recent series hurling allegations of wrongdoing and censorship collusion between Twitter and the FBI, as well as the federal law enforcement and intelligence communities writ large. Previous entries included a trilogy diving into discussions at Twitter in the lead up to the ban on former President Trump’s account in the wake of the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as well as Twitter’s handling of the New York Post’s article on Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Zweig divided his narrative into two parts Monday: the first focusing on alleged pressure from the Biden White House on Twitter to moderate or ban certain “anti-vaxxer” accounts; the second breaks down how the social media platform moderated content from voices that sought to disrupt the established wisdom on pandemic response.
“In the summer of 2021, President Biden said social media companies were ‘killing people’ for allowing vaccine misinformation,” writes Zweig in a tweet. “Berenson was suspended hours after Biden’s comments, and kicked off the platform the following month.” He notes that Berenson then sued Twitter, during which legal process internal documents revealed that the White House had asked company officials about kicking him off the platform. “They had only one really tough question about why Alex Berenson hasn’t been kicked off the platform,” wrote a Twitter employee in a Slack channel. “Otherwise their questions were pointed but fair.” Zweig then points out that Lauren Culbertson, Twitter’s Head of U.S. Public Policy, wrote in a summary of White House meetings with the White House during December 2022, members of the Biden team were “very angry in nature” as they were dissatisfied with the company’s handling of and lack of action on several accounts.
This point has been a common thread in the “Twitter Files,” between authors like Matt Taibbi, Michael Shellenberger and now, Zweig, as The National Desk has previously reported. They frequently cite instances of government requests, especially ones that come from a place of frustration, as examples of overreach or censorship by the government and therefore major proof of wrongdoing and possible violations of the First Amendment. What the “Twitter Files” fails to contextualize in those claims is that Twitter never had to follow the FBI or Biden White House’s requests for moderation, nor do users on their platform have a right to say whatever they want. As a private company, Twitter is not bound by free speech and does not have to continue to allow voices and statements that it finds violate its policies.
Zweig then expands this argument of alleged overreach by Twitter when it comes to COVID by looking at how the social media platform handled moderating contents and accounts that challenged the recommended guidelines for dealing with the novel coronavirus as laid out by the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization and others.
He starts by breaking down the – very potentially real – problems with Twitter’s strategy, which lied in the strategy – and its implementation – itself. “There were three serious problems with Twitter’s process,” wrote Zweig. “First, much of the content moderation was conducted by bots, trained on machine learning and AI – impressive in their engineering, yet still too crude for such nuanced work.”
On the note of nuance, he follows up with the second broad area of failure. This revolved around the company hiring contractors in locations like the Philippines who did not have the proper training to handle the science-heavy tweets around COVID. “They were given decision trees to aid in the process, but tasking non experts to adjudicate tweets on complex topics like myocarditis and mask efficacy data was destined for a significant error rate,” he reports.
While those kinds of missteps could definitely lead to botched attempts to moderate content in a balanced and fair way, Zweig continues by alleging that the personal outlooks and opinions of Twitter’s employees, which bent towards “establishment dogmas,” informed the AI and the final decisions that led to purported censorship. “The buck stopped with higher level employees at Twitter who chose the inputs for the bots and decision trees, and subjectively decided escalated cases and suspensions. As it is with all people and institutions, there was individual and collective bias.”
Zweig then cites examples from a handful specific accounts where he claims the social media company went out of its way to censor “legitimate” information, data and expert opinions on COVID-19 that deviated from the norm of the global medical community.
He leads off with the case of Dr. Martin Kulldorff, a Swedish-born biostatistician who was then a professor of medicine at Harvard’s Medical School. Kulldorff co-authored the “Great Barrington Declaration” with three other medical professors, advocating for an end to lockdowns and a herd immunity approach to addressing COVID-19. One of Kulldorff’s tweets from March 2021, saying those with prior infection and children do not need to be vaccinated, was flagged with a label calling the information “misleading.” He was banned the next month.
Zweig alleges that this was overstep by Twitter as Kulldorff was offering an “expert opinion” on COVID strategy shared by “numerous other countries” – though he fails to cite a single country with that outlook. However, experts agree that the protection from natural antibodies gained as a result of COVID infection do not last indefinitely (granted neither do vaccines, hence why booster shots are needed), which is concerning for his lassiez-faire attitude towards immunization.
Furthermore, the “Great Barrington Declaration” he co-authored was immediately decried in the highest terms across the medical community. “Not only is there no proof of lasting immunity to SARS-CoV-2 following natural infection, but the strategy would place an unacceptable burden on healthcare workers, as well as the economy,” wrote Dr. Deepti Gurdasani of Queen Mary University of London, in an open letter signed by 80 medical researchers to The Lancet, one of the most prestigious academic journals in the world.
The head of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that strategies like those Kulldorf advocated for are “scientifically and ethically problematic.” “Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic,” he said in a press briefing a week after the declaration was published.
Zweig then cites the tweets of a “self-proclaimed public health fact checker” with 18,000 followers that were also flagged as misinformation. The fact checker admits on her website that she had just started to keep track of COVID data in May 2020 and that she does not have any formal training in epidemiology.
The last major example he cites is when Twitter labeled a tweet by physician Euzebiusz Jamrozik as “misinformation.” Jamrozik shared a graph from a 2022 study that tracks the number of cardiac arrests among participants in the study (ages 16-39) following their receipt of a COVID mRNA vaccine. While Zweig alleges this as wrongdoing because a physician was sharing the results of a published study, he neglected to say that the study was about the under 40 population of Israel and the study furthermore stated that it did not establish “causal relationships between” vaccines and heart attacks.
In a follow-up tweet Monday, Musk said there was “Much more to The Twitter Files: Covid Editon than this introductory thread.” He promised a follow up piece coming next week to feature “leading doctors & researchers from Harvard, Stanford & other institutions.”
So it seems, the “Twitter Files” are winding up for 2022.
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THE TWITTER FILES: HOW TWITTER RIGGED THE COVID DEBATE
– By censoring info that was true but inconvenient to U.S. govt. policy
– By discrediting doctors and other experts who disagreed
– By suppressing ordinary users, including some sharing the CDC’s *own data*
2. So far the Twitter Files have focused on evidence of Twitter’s secret blacklists; how the company functioned as a kind of subsidiary of the FBI; and how execs rewrote the platform’s rules to accommodate their own political desires.
3. What we have yet to cover is Covid. This reporting, for The Free Press,
, is one piece of that important story.
4. The United States government pressured Twitter and other social media platforms to elevate certain content and suppress other content about Covid-19.
5. Internal files at Twitter that I viewed while on assignment for
showed that both the Trump and Biden administrations directly pressed Twitter executives to moderate the platform’s pandemic content according to their wishes.
6. At the onset of the pandemic, according to meeting notes, the Trump admin was especially concerned about panic buying. They came looking for “help from the tech companies to combat misinformation” about “runs on grocery stores.” But . . . there were runs on grocery stores.
Latest ‘Twitter Files’ alleges rigged COVID debate
Tom Dempsey, Devan Markham
(NewsNation) — The tenth installment of the “Twitter Files” document dumps contains information alleging that the U.S. government was involved in COVID-19 content moderation on the social media service. The documents are part of Twitter owner Elon Musk’s effort to document how the company was run before he took over. Journalist David Zweig, who posted the new Twitter thread, accused the U.S. government under both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden of pressuring Twitter to elevate specific information about the coronavirus and suppress other content. Zweig described how Trump’s team remained concerned about panic buying during the onset of the pandemic and how they approached Twitter looking for “help from the tech companies to combat misinformation” about “runs on grocery stores.”
But there were runs on grocery stores, Zweig said. He argued that pressure continued to grow from the White House under the Biden administration and it allegedly tried to influence the platform to stop misinformation about the vaccine. “With COVID, this bias bent heavily toward establishment dogmas,” Zweig tweeted.
Due to the alleged growing pressure, Zweig said Twitter used bots and overseas contractors to monitor content, believing this led to legitimate data being labeled as misinformation and other accounts being suspended for posting data or opinions that went against the government’s own narrative. Zweig used a Harvard Medical School epidemiologist as an example, saying that Dr. Martin Kulldorff’s tweet containing his “expert opinion” on vaccines was allegedly at odds with U.S. public health authorities and led to his tweet being labeled as “Misleading” by Twitter. In response, all replies and likes for the post were shut off by the social media giant.
“But Kulldorff’s statement was an expert’s opinion—one which also happened to be in line with vaccine policies in numerous other countries. Yet it was deemed ‘false information’ by Twitter moderators merely because it differed from CDC guidelines,” Zweig tweeted. Toward the end of the thread, Zweig alleged tweets that differed from the government’s view were subject to moderation. “Information that challenged that view, such as showing harms of vaccines, or that could be perceived as downplaying the risks of COVID, especially to children, was subject to moderation, and even suppression. No matter whether such views were correct or adopted abroad,” Zweig tweeted.
The Twitter Files: Part 11 – How Twitter Rigged The COVID Debate
The latest Twitter Files investigative report has dropped, this time from author and journalist David Zweig. In this edition, Zweig unveils Twitter and the U.S. Government’s efforts to censor info that was true but inconvenient to government policy, discredit doctors and other experts who disagreed, and suppress ordinary users, including some sharing the CDC’s own data.
“The United States government pressured Twitter and other social media platforms to elevate certain content and suppress other content about Covid-19,” Zweig tweeted. “Internal files at Twitter that I viewed while on assignment for @thefp showed that both the Trump and Biden administrations directly pressed Twitter executives to moderate the platform’s pandemic content according to their wishes.”
Check out Zweig’s investigation below: