To stand out even in conspiracy-addled MAGA land as a dangerous nutcase is no small feat. But Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson has proven himself up to the challenge, second only to Donald Trump when it comes to spouting deranged bullshit about the 2020 election, the January 6 insurrection, and the coronavirus pandemic. And, like the former president, Johnson’s peddling of lies and conspiracies has earned him a social media ban—at least temporarily.
Over the weekend, YouTube announced that it has suspended Johnson’s account for one week after he posted a video to his account promoting COVID treatments that the Food and Drug Administration has deemed unsafe and ineffective. “We removed the video in accordance with our COVID-19 medical misinformation policies, which don’t allow content that encourages people to use Hydroxychloroquine or Ivermectin to treat or prevent the virus,” the social media company said Friday, after locking the Republican’s account.
Per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the video that got Johnson busted featured comments he made in a June 3 appearance before the Milwaukee Press Club, in which he said the federal government was “not only ignoring but working against robust research” favoring “cheap, generic drugs to be repurposed for early treatment of COVID.” Like Trump, Johnson has frequently promoted hydroxychloroquine as a COVID treatment, though the FDA revoked its emergency use authorization last summer and has said that studies have not shown it to be safe or effective at treating the virus.
YouTube said the video violated its COVID misinformation policy, which forbids content that “contradicts local health authorities’ or the World Health Organization’s medical information about COVID-19.” But to Johnson, who was outraged by the slap on the wrist, it was an example of “censorship” by Big Tech. “How many lives will be lost as a result?” Johnson tweeted. “How many lives could have been saved with a free exchange of medical ideas?”
Yes, think of all the lives that will be lost because Johnson can’t encourage people to take unsafe and ineffective drugs on YouTube for a week. His grounding will surely get a lot of play on the right, which tends to treat stuff like this as an Orwellian assault on free speech. “When it comes to COVID, I have personal experience with censorship and suppression that I believe has cost tens of thousands of Americans their lives,” Johnson said in remarks Friday.
But Johnson has not appeared to have much trouble publicizing his conspiracy theories about COVID and the actually safe, actually effective vaccines. Ditto for his lies about the 2020 election and the deadly pro-Trump attack on Capitol Hill in January, which he downplayed during a Fox News interview Sunday. “They weren’t rioting,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t look like an armed insurrection when you have people that breach the Capitol—and I don’t condone it—but they’re staying within the roped lines in the Rotunda. That’s not what an armed insurrection would look like.”
That “jovial” protest, as Johnson described it, resulted in five deaths and numerous injuries, and got Trump permanently banned from Twitter and booted off Facebook until at least 2023. Though his foray into blogging failed, he and allies like Jason Miller, who just joined an unnamed tech startup as CEO, have long fantasized about creating their own social media platform—perhaps one more accommodating of Ron Johnson’s unsolicited medical advice.
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