Thursday, December 15, 2022

Twitter Files Confirm Censorship of the Great Barrington Declaration

Users have suspected Twitter of engaging in “shadowbanning” and suppressing the visibility of user accounts for years, even though the social media giant has adamantly denied the practice.

Yesterday (Dec 8 2022), using the information provided by Twitter under direction from new Chief Executive Elon Musk, journalist Bari Weiss, released a Twitter thread confirming these suspicions. Twitter secretly suppressed accounts, operated a “search blacklist,” and blocked certain content from trending, Weiss’ thread confirms. In response, Musk tweeted that Twitter plans to release software that will provide users with more clarity regarding shadowbanning.

Victims of Twitter’s practices include Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, Stanford professor of medicine and co-author of the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD). Weiss’s thread and The Twitter Files confirm what we’ve long suspected. Seeking to prop up Anthony Fauci and the lockdown policies he promoted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Twitter (and other Big Tech companies) intentionally blacklisted, censored, suppressed, and targeted the GBD and its signers.

Within Twitter, the Strategic Response Team—Global Escalation Team, or SRT-GET, worked on hundreds of cases daily, actively filtering the visibility of select accounts.

For high-profile accounts, the “Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support,” team, known as “SIP-PES” would secretly make censorship decisions. The SIP-PES team comprised high-profile executives such as the Head of Legal, Policy, and Trust, Vijaya Gadde, Global Head of Trust & Safety, Yoel Roth, and former CEOs Jack Dorsey and Parag Agrawal.

In addition to Weiss, Twitter’s new leadership granted journalist Matt Taibbi access to its files. Below, Taibbi illustrates how Twitter deleted tweets at the behest of the Biden Presidential campaign.

Still unfolding in this investigation is the role of government officials in pressuring Twitter to engage in censorship over the COVID-19 pandemic. As revealed by a lawsuit earlier this year, internal company Slack messages show that Andy Slavitt, a former official on Joe Biden’s pandemic task force, met with Twitter officials and pressured them to restrict the account of COVID gadfly Alex Berenson. Slavitt also , delivered an ominous warning to executives at Facebook that the company would find itself in the White House’s crosshairs if it did not step up its efforts to restrict what the task force deemed to be “COVID misinformation.”

We now have conclusive evidence that public officials pressure private companies to do the dirty work of censorship. We have yet to discover, and may never know, how far the political involvement in social media censorship went, and which officials were given the power to silence. An ongoing lawsuit by the Attorneys General of Missouri and Louisiana is currently seeking to get to the bottom of those questions. Just two weeks ago, they obtained a court-ordered deposition from Anthony Fauci, in which they grilled him over similar suppressive tactics. Fauci proved evasive, invoking the “I don’t recall” line 174 times, but was caught in a lie about his direct personal involvement in the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) efforts to smear and discredit the GBD’s authors as “fringe epidemiologists.”

GBD co-author Jay Bhattacharya was slapped with a secret “Trends Blacklist” tag by Twitter executives at some point after his account was created in September 2021, Weiss’s thread confirms. The blacklist tag effectively suppressed Bhattacharya’s tweets by preventing them from going viral or being picked up by Twitter’s trends algorithm. By all appearances, one or more persons on the company’s SIP-PES team made the decision to suppress scientifically grounded dissent against lockdowns.

Given the history surrounding social media giants, government officials, and the GBD, Battacharya’s shadowbanning is not surprising. Unfortunately, neither Weiss nor Taibii’s thread indicates why Twitter took such actions against Dr. Battacharya, a respected Stanford Professor.

What we do know is that Twitter’s actions are consistent with other social media censorship of the declaration, its authors, and supporters. Posts referencing the GBD were removed from popular Reddit threads such as r/COVID-19 and r/Coronavirus, and large online communities with millions of members. Google also played a role. In the week after the GBD’s release in October 2020, Google’s news site search algorithms suppressed mainstream coverage of the document by outlets such as Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.

Instead, it steered news searches for “Great Barrington Declaration” toward anti-GBD hit pieces in fringe venues such as the Byline Times, a blog featuring 9/11 conspiracy theorist Nafeez Ahmed. Google algorithms reportedly prioritized an anti-GBD political editorial in Wired Magazine that Anthony Fauci also mined for his own anti-GBD talking points in the press.

These acts of censorship occurred at a time when government officials were working hard behind the scenes to discredit the GBD and its authors. Most notably, NIAID director Anthony Fauci and NIH director Francis Collins collaborated to wage a “devastating published take down” campaign against the GBD, labeling it “nonsense” or “misinformation.”

Fauci and Collins’ actions are public information in emails first discovered through a Freedom of Information Act inquiry from AIER last winter. The Fauci-Collins emails made national news and became the subject of a Senate hearing in January 2021, where Senator Rand Paul grilled the White House’s COVID advisor over his involvement in the “take down” order.

Last week, Anthony Fauci denied any involvement in coordinating attacks on the GBD under deposition by the Missouri Attorney General. He claims that he was too busy to do so. His emails reveal a different story, though. Fauci expressed his agreement with Collins’ directive, and colluded with Deborah Birx to preempt discussion of the GBD at a White House COVID task force meeting. At some point, Fauci even directed his Chief of Staff Greg Folkers to assemble a list of anti-GBD political editorials, evidently to be parrotted back to the news media during interviews about the GBD. We still don’t know the full extent of Fauci’s efforts, because the NIH heavily redacted several pages of the requested records. But his involvement in the “take down” is undeniable.

Given the nature of Fauci’s smears, lies, and demeanor towards those who question his policy prescriptions, it is time to fully open up the public record at the NIH. It is time to scrutinize the decisions they made during COVID-19, including decisions to politicize science and suppress dissenting viewpoints.

We know that Twitter worked with the Biden campaign to suppress tweets. We know that top Biden administration officials pressured Twitter, Facebook, and presumably other companies to penalize dissenting viewpoints on COVID-19 policy, including lockdowns. We also know that Fauci, former White House Chief Medical Advisor, will leverage the media to undermine his perceived opponents and lie about it under oath. We know.

Private companies are free to censor user speech on their platforms, but when top government officials pressure them to take these actions, that crosses a different line.

Thanks to Musk releasing the Twitter files to Weiss and Taibbi, we have more insight into Twitter’s internal censorship policies. Unfortunately, until the NIH releases more information, the Twitter Files raise more questions than answers.


With Passenger Mask Mandate Gone, Flight Turbulence Stats Improve Markedly

The friendly skies too often resembled “season’s beatings” shopping brawls during the pandemic, as the number of arguments and even fistfights surged on-board. Viral videos of the flight-and-fight mayhem frequently had a common denominator – the federal government’s mask requirement.

So it may come as little surprise that disruptions on commercial domestic flights have plummeted by 74% since the Biden administration’s mask mandate was overturned by a federal judge in April. The current rate is 1.7 unruly passengers per 10,000 flights, down from 6.4 per 10,000 in February.

But laws and rules created during the pandemic continue to spur federal investigations of passengers, while the federal government has spent untold sums in a legal battle to re-establish its authority, including the power to once again impose mask mandates.

Unions, meanwhile, are seeking stricter measures to give flight attendants more power on the plane.

To date this year, there have been 2,178 reports of unruly passengers, according to the FAA, compared with 87 over roughly the same period in 2019.

Incidents under investigation, which jumped from 183 in 2020 to 1,099 in 2021, have dropped by nearly 40% since a federal judge found the mandate exceeded the rule-making authority of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The U.S. Department of Justice, however, continues to challenge the ruling of U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizell, a Trump nominee. A hearing in the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals is scheduled for January.

Leslie Manookian, president of the Health Freedom Defense Fund, which filed the lawsuit that overturned the CDC’s mask mandate, sees authoritarian impulses driving the continuing litigation.

“Most administrations of the last 10 to 20 years have sought this kind of power,” she said, likening COVID-era measures to the Patriot Act passed after the 9/11 attacks, which vastly increased the ability of government to surveil the public.

“It’s not just the Biden administration,” Manookian said. “It’s about increasing the power of the federal government as well as people who are not elected, and it’s not a partisan issue. They all want more power and are getting it through these emergencies.”

The CDC asked the DOJ, which represents government agencies, to appeal the travel mask decision shortly after it was handed down. The FAA and the DOJ did not respond to questions from RealClearInvestigations.

The legal struggle proceeds as a new peer-reviewed study adds to skepticism about the effectiveness of mask use in general. (In any case, passenger planes are required to have advanced air filtration.)

In a recent deposition in state-led litigation against alleged federal censorship, Dr. Anthony Fauci, retiring director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, couldn't name any studies showing mask effectiveness, according to Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt.

The CDC issued the directive on orders from President Biden on his first day in office in January 2021. The rule was a formal extension of what airlines imposed in 2020 under pressure from flight attendant unions.

Within six months of the federal mask mandate, 85% of all alleged transgressions in the air were related to mask-wearing, with the federal government and a spokesman for the union-backed American Airlines flight attendants declaring that the policy they insisted on had created a situation “out of control.”

The mask ruling on appeal now has 34 amicus filings, or statements from parties who claim an interest in the outcome of the case. Among those filing in support of the federal government are the American Medical Association and a group of 251 public health and legal officials and various professional public health associations, many of whom have been public about the importance of government’s role in controlling the pandemic.

Filing in support of Manookian’s group are the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and a group of 338 flight attendants, pilots, and other airline workers from every major airline and most budget airlines. Several of the pilots in the filing are part of a group that sued the CDC in March, also noting that the mandate overstepped the CDC’s authority.

During the pandemic, the airlines became ground zero for the battle between individuals who sought to determine their own safety measures and the dictating model that was imposed by the government. The result was a series of highly publicized confrontations.

The mandate was so vastly unpopular that many flight attendants again began taking self-defense courses in preparation of doing battle with passengers. Flight attendant unions urged that voluntary training implemented in the wake of 9/11, including measures to thwart a terrorist-style assault, be made compulsory.

In March 2021, the FAA declared a “zero tolerance” policy for alleged disorderly passengers in a threatening announcement. The agency also imposed a new rule beefing up enforcement of alleged in-air infractions, insisting it would pursue legal action against anyone alleged to have violated the agency’s conduct rules.

“The rule was changed and what you have now is a greater percentage of cases that are making it all the way through to being fined that we never saw before,” said William McGee, who spent seven years in flight operations management and is now a senior fellow for aviation for the American Economic Liberties Project.

McGee said that while there is no room for violent behavior by passengers, there are “fundamental rights that include innocent until proven guilty. Some rules now are more like being on the high seas.”




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