The video is of a March 18 roundtable discussion in Tallahassee the governor hosted with panelists - radiologist and former White House adviser Scott Atlas, Harvard University biostatistician Martin Kulldorff, Oxford University epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta, and Stanford Medical School economist Jay Bhattacharya - who have publicly spoken against lockdowns and other measures enacted to reduce the spread of the virus. The video shared by news station WSTB Tampa Bay was taken down Wednesday because it violated a policy related to "COVID-19 medical misinformation," according to platform spokeswoman Elena Hernandez.
"We removed this 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," Hernandez wrote in a statement shared with The Washington Post.
At one point during the hour-and-45-minute discussion, DeSantis asks panelists about enforcing mask-wearing for children, which the scientists dispute is effective to prevent the spread of the virus, despite recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization that children wear masks. The CDC advises mask-wearing for children 2 and up, and the WHO recommends masks for children 12 and above.
"Children should not wear face masks," Kulldorff said in response to DeSantis's question. "They don't need it for their own protection, and they don't need it for protecting other people either."
"I think it's developmentally inappropriate and it just doesn't help on the disease spread," Bhattacharya added about mask-wearing for children. "I think it's absolutely not the right thing to do."
In a statement shared with The Washington Post on Friday, DeSantis's spokesman Cody McCloud called the video's removal "another blatant example of Big Tech attempting to silence those who disagree with their woke corporate agenda," arguing that the panelists' academic affiliations qualify them to speak about the crisis.
"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," McCloud wrote.
After social media platforms were blamed for allowing misinformation to fester amid the 2016 election, the tech giants have cracked down on falsehoods about the coronavirus pandemic, fueling calls for stricter regulations of these companies from conservatives, including DeSantis, who view the scrutiny as overreaching. A video of Atlas was removed by the platform before while he was an adviser to former president Donald Trump, prompting him to compare his plight to those who live in "Third World countries."
Reactions from Florida politicians largely split along party lines. The state's top elected Democrat, Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried, tweeted "we should find a governor who doesn't get banned from @YouTube for endangering children with conspiracies." Sen. Marco Rubio warned of "unelected gatekeepers of the public square."
The removal of the video was first reported by the American Institute for Economic Research, the libertarian think tank behind the Great Barrington Declaration, a controversial letter co-signed by three of the panelists that endorses herd immunity. Although the online document claimed that thousands of doctors and scientists had signed it, Britain's Sky News documented some transparently fake signatories, including "Dr. Person Fakename."
Despite YouTube's decision to yank the video, the discussion can still be viewed on Florida Channel, a state-funded live-streaming service.
One of the panelists, Bhattacharya, told The Post that he thought YouTube's decision was "censorship" and "contrary to American democratic norms of free expression."
In an email, Bhattacharya wrote that he viewed the discussion as a "policy forum" and raised objections to mask-wearing based on evidence that masks could hinder a child's ability to learn and interact with others.
The other panelists did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday evening, but Kulldorff tweeted a link to a Wall Street Journal editorial, which decried the removal, saying it "should not matter" if the information panelists were presenting was false because the discussion "offers a window into the thinking of the Governor and people who influence him."
Published : April 10, 2021
By : The Washington Post · Meryl Kornfield