Free speech in a pandemic: Congress wrestles with drawing a line | #socialmedia


When Twitter recently banned a former New York Times journalist dubbed “the pandemic’s wrongest man,” many of his critics cheered. But others, including some who oppose his views, raised concerns about a world in which private corporations – taking their cues from mainstream media and government officials – can silence dissenters in today’s digital public square.

Over the past year and a half, Alex Berenson grew his Twitter base to some 344,000 followers by pillorying public health officials’ approach to the pandemic. Like many Twitter pundits, he was irreverent and provocative. But he also frequently accompanied his assertions with screenshots of data, charts, and scientific studies. 

His supporters lauded him for highlighting inconvenient truths that few others were raising. Many scientists, journalists, and health officials, however, criticized him for cherry-picking scientific data to advance questionable or even dangerous narratives, especially his claims that COVID-19 vaccines were not nearly as safe or effective as touted.

Why We Wrote This

The pandemic has raised the stakes in a yearslong debate over free speech and social media. Many want Big Tech to do more to protect citizens in the name of public health. Others see a dangerous form of censorship.

Twitter sided with Mr. Berenson’s critics on Aug. 28, permanently suspending his account after he tweeted that COVID-19 vaccines are at best “a therapeutic with a limited window of efficacy and terrible side effect profile.” The company cited repeated violation of its COVID-19 misinformation policies, and removed all his tweets from public view. Mr. Berenson is now writing mainly on Substack, where tens of thousands of his Twitter followers have migrated – many offering to contribute to his legal fees if he sues Twitter.

“I am up against basically the entire media, legacy and social, and the federal government,” says Mr. Berenson in an emailed comment, “and the only answer they had to the questions I raised was to cut off my access to a platform designed for free speech?

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