The White House and Twitter Censorship
Social-media platforms have often censored conservatives, and sometimes in tandem with political pressure to do so. Now comes hard evidence that
after White House officials privately complained about him to Twitter employees.
Mr. Berenson has been a vocal critic of government lockdowns, mask mandates and mRNA vaccines. In our view he’s been too quick to dismiss the vaccine benefits and overstated their potential risks, which has hurt his credibility. But that’s no worse than the powers-that-be who have overstated their benefits and been too quick to dismiss their potential, if small, risks.
Those powers include Twitter’s censors and Biden Administration officials who have sought to silence public discussion about Covid vaccines and masks. Last July President Biden publicly blamed social media companies for “killing people” by not removing content that encouraged vaccine hesitancy.
Hours after Mr. Biden’s comment, Twitter locked Mr. Berenson’s account. The next month Twitter permanently banned Mr. Berenson after he tweeted that mRNA vaccines don’t “stop infection. Or transmission. Don’t think of it as a vaccine. Think of it—at best—as a therapeutic with a limited window of efficacy and terrible side effect profile that must be dosed IN ADVANCE OF ILLNESS. And we want to mandate it? Insanity.”
Mr. Berenson sued the company for, among other things, removing him in violation of its own stated policies. In settling the lawsuit last month, Twitter acknowledged it erred in banning Mr. Berenson and agreed to restore his account. As part of legal discovery, Twitter was required to produce documents involving him. Now Mr. Berenson is making some public.
On Friday he published conversations from an internal Twitter Slack channel that show White House officials had met with its employees in April 2021 and targeted Mr. Berenson. One employee noted the meeting overall went “pretty good” but “they had one really tough question about why Alex Berenson hasn’t been kicked off from the platform.”
“Any high level takeaways from the meeting? Anything we should keep an eye out for?” an employee asked. (Employee names are redacted from the documents).
“Yes, they really wanted to know about Alex Berenson,” said another comment. “[White House Covid adviser]
suggested they had seen data viz that had showed he was the epicenter of disinfo that radiated outwards to the persuadable public.”
Twitter didn’t ban Mr. Berenson until August, but its employees were clearly under White House pressure to do so. This pressure probably increased over the summer of 2021 as the Delta variant surged and waning vaccine efficacy stymied Mr. Biden’s promise to shut down the virus.
Twitter is a private company. But evidence of a direct connection between White House pressure and Twitter censorship bolsters the argument that social-media platforms can be sued as “state actors” for restricting speech in violation of the First Amendment. Courts have been reluctant, and properly so, to allow such lawsuits to proceed without evidence linking specific demands from government officials to censorship.
Mr. Berenson has now shown that White House officials sought to conscript the platform into silencing him, and perhaps others who don’t toe the White House line on Covid. Have Biden officials pressured other platforms to censor users who express contrarian views on other topics such as climate change?
The government’s response to Covid shows the importance of robust debate, since much of the official wisdom has turned out to be wrong and did great harm. Think lockdowns. A condominium of Big Tech and government is itself a hazard to public health and democracy.
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Appeared in the August 13, 2022, print edition as ‘Biden and Twitter Censorship.’