Twitter files on COVID show government pressure to silence dissent

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It’s a confirmation of something that anyone willing to look would have seen the past several years: Twitter suppressed content during the pandemic based on politics.

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The latest edition of the Twitter Files, the release of internal information by new owner Elon Musk, shows that the company often did this at the behest of the Trump and Biden administrations.

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Independent journalist David Zweig, writing for The Free Press, has detailed how the suppression worked and why it is so disturbing. At this point, there has been no release of information showing the Trudeau government took similar steps in Canada, but what happened south of the border had an impact on the discussion of COVID and how we reacted to it in this country.

The Trump administration reached out to Twitter and other social media and tech companies to clamp down on what they deemed misinformation, including claims that there were runs on grocery stores. The problem is, as Zweig pointed out, there were runs on grocery stores and plenty of products — from toilet paper to hand sanitizer and some foods — were disappearing off the shelves.

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The Biden administration had other concerns, shutting down Twitter accounts that strayed from the official party line.

They demanded to know why journalist Alex Berenson had not been removed from Twitter, an action the company eventually did take. It wasn’t just people like Berenson who were easily dismissed as “anti-vaxxers” but also academic experts who disagreed with the orthodoxy set by federal agencies.

Dr. Martin Kulldorff, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, had some of his posts labelled as misinformation and false information simply for disagreeing with CDC guidelines. A reader had asked Kulldorff, on Twitter, whether everyone, including children, needed to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“No. Thinking everyone must be vaccinated is as scientifically flawed and thinking no one should,” Kulldorff replied. “COVID vaccines are important for older high-risk people, and their caretakers. Those with prior natural infection do not need it. Nor children.”

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There is nothing radical in what Kulldorff stated; it’s a view widely held in the medical community even if it disagrees with official government policy, but this view was suppressed because it didn’t toe the line.

It would be fascinating to see what, if anything, the Canadian government did to try and crack down on those with differing opinions on COVID. Did they put pressure on Twitter? On Facebook? On traditional media companies?

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The fact is, there wasn’t much need to put pressure on traditional media companies, which seemed determined to quash any view they disagreed with. In this country, the media, which often portrays itself as standing up to authority, mostly demanded government’s take more power for themselves, impose ever stricter lockdowns and mandates.

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Anyone, media figure or expert analyst — including several doctors — were portrayed as radicals for objecting to lockdowns without evidence or mandates that violated civil liberties. Even as governments began to relax restrictions, it was often reporters and prominent voices in the media demanding they keep restrictions in place or strengthen them.

Rarely were there demands for evidence that the measures being taken were effective or backed up by science. The federal government especially wasn’t scrutinized on their measures.

Getting insight into the efforts of Canadian governments – federal and provincial – to control the narrative would be fascinating. Like what we can now see south of the border, it would likely go well beyond Twitter and go well beyond what we would consider acceptable.

Which voices, medical or otherwise, did governments in Canada attempt to silence?

That is something I hope we can see soon, perhaps in a Canadian version of the Twitter Files.

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