Twitter’s General Manager Jay Sullivan testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee to discuss the impact of social media on homeland security, and during questioning from senators, he said that Twitter’s “Covid misinformation policy only looked at information that was demonstrably and widely believed” to be false.
For Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, this raised alarm bells. Johnson had been censored on Twitter for sharing information that was not only not false, but based on data from a government agency, VAERS. VAERS, the Vaccine Adverse Effects Reporting System, is a voluntary reporting system where Americans can report their first-hand accounts of vaccine side effects. After the roll-out of the mRNA Covid vaccine, many accounts were reported.
Johnson shared a tweet on January 3, 2022, showing a “drug adverse effect comparison” with information from VAERS, including from the FDA and CDC. That tweet was slapped with a “misleading” label that reads: “Learn why health officials consider COVID-19 vaccines safe for more people.” The tweet cannot be shared due to that label.
Johnson is requesting information and material concerning the development and implementation of those policies and his own censorship on the platform.
Johnson sent the request for “information and material concerning the development and implementation of those policies.
“Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) testified before a Senate Committee in November 2021 that the United States has the ‘most robust vaccine safety system we have ever had in this country.’
“In October 2020, before the vaccines for COVID-19 were approved, CDC’s Dr. Tom Shimabukuro said, ‘VAERS [the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System] is the national passive surveillance or spontaneous reporting system that is co-managed by CDC and FDA. VAERS can rapidly detect safety signals and can detect rare adverse events.'”
Yet when Johnson cited this data, he, along with so many Americans who shared information from VAERS, were censored. Fact-checkers came after news outlets that reported on VAERS, saying that the information contained in their databases was a voluntary reporting system only and could not be fully trusted as it could not be fully vetted. VAERS, however, is the system the government uses for reporting as well.
“VAERS traditionally has provided the initial data on the safety profile of new vaccines when they are introduced,” Shimabukuro had said. “For COVID, vaccine reports will be processed within one to five business days, depending on the seriousness of the report. CDC and FDA receive updated datasets daily, and data mining runs are planned to be conducted every one to two weeks. So this is an example of the timeliness and responsiveness of VAERS going back to H1N1.”
“Given the fact that our public health officials have highlighted how VAERS could serve as a useful tool in tracking the safety profile of vaccines,” Johnson said, “I examined and compared government data on the number of adverse events reports associated with COVID-19 vaccines, medications used to treat both COVID-19, and non-COVID-19 medications. I combined the government data and put it into a chart. I tweeted the chart on January 3, 2022.5 Twitter labeled it ‘misleading’ and blocked all replies, shares, or likes for the tweet.6 I have reproduced the censored tweet below.
Johnson asks Sullivan why Twitter would censor this information during the hearing. “I wasn’t at the company at the time,” Sullivan said, “but what I can tell you is that we want robust discussion on the platform of any issue. A COVID misinformation policy was developed that seemed to me, and again I don’t develop it, but it seemed quite narrow to me.”
Johnson posed several questions, saying “In light of Mr. Sullivan’s inability to articulate why Twitter censored government data from my Twitter account, I request the following information and material:
“Has Twitter worked with U.S. health authorities in the development of its COVID-19 misinformation policies? If yes, please provide
“The complete list of U.S. health agencies Twitter worked with on the development of its COVID-19 misinformation policies;
“The names and titles of each official at each of the federal health agencies that Twitter worked with on the development of its COVID-19 misinformation policies; and
“All communications with any employee of a federal health agency referring or relating to the development, implementation, or application, of Twitter’s COVID-19 misinformation policies from January 2020 to the present.”
“Mr. Sullivan testified that Twitter’s ‘COVID misinformation policy only looked at information that was demonstrably and widely believed’ to be false. Please explain what is ‘demonstrably’ false about my tweet in January 2022 reproducing government data from our public health agencies?”
Johnson demands that Sullivan “provide all documents and communications, internal and external of Twitter, referring or relating to Twitter’s application of its COVID-19 misinformation” for his Twitter page specifically.
Twitter’s Covid misinformation policy states that “You may not use Twitter’s services to share false or misleading information about COVID-19 which may lead to harm.”