YouTube censors Florida governor
Tech giant labels a pandemic discussion with scientists as misinformation
Google-owned YouTube has once again banned a video featuring an elected official.
In January, following the U.S. Capitol riot, the video streaming website removed videos of former President Donald Trump addressing the attack and claiming he had won the election. This time, rather than accusations of voter fraud, the offending content featured a medical discussion on whether schools should require children to wear masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
A Tampa Bay, Fla., news station embedded footage in one of its reports from a March 18 roundtable discussion of COVID-19 best practices moderated by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The panel consisted of several highly credentialed medical doctors, including Harvard biostatistician Martin Kulldorff, Oxford epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta, Stanford health economist and infectious disease specialist Jay Bhattacharya, and Stanford radiologist and former White House adviser Scott Atlas.
Kulldorff, Bhattacharya, and Gupta wrote a petition called the Great Barrington Declaration that called for a more moderate approach to COVID-19 prevention than most states and countries took. More than 56,000 scientists and doctors signed the declaration, which also received broad criticism from clinicians who supported strict lockdowns.
In the video, DeSantis asked the panelists if they felt the evidence merited requiring children to wear masks to prevent the spread of the disease. All of them responded that it didn’t.
“Children should not wear face masks, no,” Kulldorff said. “They don’t need it for their own protection and they don’t need it for protecting other people, either.” Bhattacharya called it “developmentally inappropriate” and said it is “absolutely not the right thing to do.” And Atlas argued that there is “no scientific rationale or logic” for requiring kids to cover their faces in classrooms.
These opinions, which contradict U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines that children 2 and older should wear masks in public, apparently triggered the video’s removal, first flagged Wednesday by the libertarian think tank American Institute for Economic Research.
Citing “clear policies around COVID-19 medical misinformation to support the health and safety of our users,” YouTube spokeswoman Elena Hernandez said the company removed the video because it “included content that contradicts the consensus of local and global health authorities regarding the efficacy of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
DeSantis press secretary Cody McCloud blasted the decision, saying in a statement, “Good public health policy should include a variety of scientific and technical expertise, and YouTube’s decision to remove this video suppresses productive dialogue of these complex issues.” He described the purge as another example of Big Tech censorship of ideas that contradict corporate agendas.
Political intervention may play a bigger role in which videos remain on the platform than executives’ personal views, though.
In recent months, Democrats have ratcheted up pressure on YouTube to censor content they find objectionable. In November, Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Gary Peters of Michigan, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota urged the video streaming site to police and remove videos related to election outcomes more aggressively. The group pushed YouTube to commit to “removing content containing false or misleading information” regarding elections.
Then, in March, a House subcommittee called on Google CEO Sundar Pichai to testify in answer to accusations his company allowed “misinformation to spread, intensifying national crises with real-life, grim consequences for public health and safety.” The Energy and Commerce committee’s news release announcing the hearing included a statement most private businesses would find ominous: “Industry self-regulation has failed. We must begin the work of changing incentives driving social media companies to allow and even promote misinformation and disinformation.”