Notes on the Twitter Files (10)

David Zweig posted a tenth set of Twitter Files in a 41-part thread yesterday. This set is addressed to Twitter’s moderation of Covid issues. Zweig summarized his findings in the first of his 41 tweets.

In his concluding Tweet Zweig announced that he has posted an expanded version of the thread at The Free Press, Bari Weiss’s new site. Zweig’s expanded column version of the thread is published as “How Twitter rigged the the Covid debate.” Weiss introduced the column with this comment:

David has spent three years reporting on Covid—specifically the underlying science, or lack thereof, behind many of our nation’s policies. For years he had noticed and criticized a bias not only in the mainstream media’s coverage of the pandemic, but also in the way it was presented on platforms like Twitter. We couldn’t think of anyone better to tackle this story.

In this case the Twitter thread is relatively short, easily accessible, and accompanied by a column in conventional form illustrated with key tweets. Once again, I urge interested readers to take the material in with your own eyes.

None of Zweig’s revelations comes as a surprise. The work flies under the banner of misinformation/disinformation. Going back to the annus horribilis of 2020, Twitter acted as an arm of American political and public health authorities. Dr. Fauci, he was the science, so to speak. Jumping ahead to the Biden era, Zweig’s column strikes a familiar note:

When the Biden administration took over, its agenda for the American people can be summed up as: Be very afraid of Covid and do exactly what we say to stay safe.

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.

Alex Berenson had to go:

By the summer of 2021, the day after Murthy’s memo, Biden announced publicly that social media companies were “killing people” by allowing misinformation about vaccines. Just hours later, Twitter locked Berenson out of his account, and then permanently suspended him the next month. Berenson sued Twitter. He ultimately settled with the company, and is now back on the platform. As part of the lawsuit, Twitter was compelled to provide certain internal communications. They revealed that the White House had directly met with Twitter employees and pressured them to take action on Berenson.

The summary of meetings by Culbertson, emailed to colleagues in December 2022, adds new evidence of the White House’s pressure campaign, and illustrates how it tried to directly influence what content was allowed on Twitter.

It wasn’t just Berenson. Harvard epidemiologist Martin Kulldorff had to be suppressed. Dr. Andrew Bostrom had to be suppressed. Opinions out of line with the political and public health authorities had to be suppressed.

The work of suppression was conducted by crude bots, Twitter staff, and a Philippine customer service desk (my description, not Zweig’s). Here we have a moment of laughter is the best medicine — better than the medicine delivered by the authorities, anyway. Referring to the Philippine contractors, Zweig writes:

They were given decision trees to aid in their process, but tasking non-experts to adjudicate tweets on complex topics like myocarditis and mask efficacy data was destined for a significant error rate. The notion that remote workers, sitting in distant cube farms, were going to police medical information to this granular degree is absurd on its face.

We can identify. Hey, we’ve all been there.

Let us pause here for a good example.

Here we have a cameo by former FBI general counsel/Twitter deputy general counsel Jim Baker, responding to President Trump’s tweet counseling against fear of Covid.

Toward the end of his thread Zweig poses the critical question.

Zweig concludes his column with these thoughts:

Throughout the pandemic, Twitter repeatedly propped up the official government line that prioritizing mitigation over other concerns was the best approach to the pandemic. Information that challenged that view—for example, that pointed out the low risk children faced from the virus, or that raised questions about vaccine safety or effectiveness—was subject to moderation and suppression.

This isn’t simply the story of the power of Big Tech or of the legacy press to shape our debate—though it is most certainly that.

In the end it is equally the story of children across the country who were prevented from attending school, especially kids from underprivileged backgrounds who are now miles behind their more well-off peers in math and English. It’s the story of the people who died alone. It’s the story of the small businesses that shuttered. It’s even the story of the perpetually-masked 20-year-olds in the heart of San Francisco for whom there has never been a return to normal.

If Twitter had allowed the kind of open forum for debate that it claimed to believe in, could any of this have turned out differently?

As we figured out long ago, it’s not about science. It’s not about public health. It’s all about control.

Notice: All comments are subject to moderation. Our comments are intended to be a forum for civil discourse bearing on the subject under discussion. Commenters who stray beyond the bounds of civility or employ what we deem gratuitous vulgarity in a comment — including, but not limited to, “s***,” “f***,” “a*******,” or one of their many variants — will be banned without further notice in the sole discretion of the site moderator.