In response to YouTube pulling down a video of Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ recent meeting with controversial scientists, the Governor brought the panelists back together to combat what he described as censorship at the hands of Big Tech.
On Wednesday, YouTube removed a video of DeSantis’ March roundtable, hosted by WTSP Tampa Bay. Drs. Scott Atlas, Jay Bhattacharya and Martin Kulldorff were in Tallahassee for that event, teleconferenced via Zoom, a news conference that harangued YouTube for suppressing contrarian views.
“It was disappointing to see it, but I’m glad that we’re back,” DeSantis said. “We’re not going to be silenced. We’re going to make sure that folks get to hear from some of the great experts in the country and also be able to actually hear what the data has revealed over the past year.”
In a statement last week, YouTube spokeswoman Elena Hernandez said the video hosting site has clear policies around COVID-19 medical misinformation to support users’ health and safety. She added that YouTube removed the 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.”
YouTube and its parent company, Google, stifle debate and short-circuit scientific inquiry, DeSantis said. Meanwhile, the platform also hosts conspiracy theory videos.
“Google/YouTube has not been, throughout this pandemic, repositories of truth and scientific inquiry, but instead have acted as enforcers of a narrative, a Big Tech council of censors in service of the ruling elite,” DeSantis said.
On numerous occasions, he noted that YouTube retains videos from more than a year ago of Dr. Anthony Fauci, now President Joe Biden‘s chief medical adviser, suggesting masks won’t help the pandemic. However, Hernandez said the platform will sometimes allow videos that otherwise violate their policies “if they contain sufficient educational, documentary, scientific or artistic context.”
The Big Tech and New York-based corporate media “collusion” has selectively censored videos, DeSantis added, calling it “Orwellian.”
The video removed Wednesday was hosted by an NBC News affiliate.
Monday’s news conference comes ahead of a vote in the Florida House expected this week on a bill (HB 7013) to prevent social media deplatforming. The Senate version (SB 7072) awaits its final committee hearing before going to the Senate floor.
DeSantis acknowledged that legislation, one of his stated priorities, might not have applied to the removed video.
“Apart from even this instance, people have provided some ideas,” DeSantis said. “We’ve kicked a lot of different things around, so we may have some ability to ask for some more teeth in the bill.”
The trio of scientists has joined DeSantis on other occasions, most recently during that March meeting. Atlas visited Florida in August, back when he was still a member of the Trump administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force. Bhattacharya and Kulldorff were among the experts called on during a roundtable the next month.
The roundtables have included attacks against lockdowns, mask mandates, school closures and more. However, they have supported taking vaccines to help society return to normal.
“Let’s hear the arguments, see the evidence that YouTube used to decide this was misinformation,” Bhattacharya said.
The panel also focused on the importance of dissenting opinions, particularly in science.
“Science is dependent on free exchange of ideas and has been for 300 years now,” Kulldorff said. “If this continues, this kind of attitude with censoring certain scientific views, then I think we have reached the end of 300 years of enlightenment.”
Atlas, a neuroradiologist and Stanford University professor in the school’s conservative Hoover Institute, said the suppression of ideas also exists on college campuses.
“This kind of thing that has happened to me, personally, but also others, doesn’t just stop the scientific truths from being arrived at,” Atlas said. “It stops excellent people from being willing to state what they believe, to be willing to serve in the government, to be willing to help the country.”
Democrats criticized how DeSantis repeatedly turns to dissenting voices to elevate “wedge issues” during the pandemic. During a morning press call, House Democratic Co-Leader Evan Jenne questioned the use of seeking epidemiological advice from Atlas before joking that reporters were about to watch a YouTube video that would eventually be taken down.
“I am sure that Dr. Scott Atlas, if I needed a radiologist, he would probably be near the top of my list,” Jenne said. “The problem is we’re talking about epidemiology and virology, two things which he has no degree in whatsoever.”
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a possible contender to challenge DeSantis for the Governor’s Mansion next year, called DeSantis and his priorities out of touch with what people are going through.
“This Governor’s unhinged, dangerous rhetoric on COVID-19 continued today, elevating fringe conspiracy theories and once again repeating the claim that children don’t need to take the simple, common-sense precaution of wearing a mask — a claim so reckless, YouTube banned it last time,” she said.