Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hasn’t quite reached the last stage of mad, red, and nude online over YouTube moderation, but he’s getting there, per a Monday report by the Associated Press.
Last week, YouTube removed a video of a panel discussion hosted last month by DeSantis, former White House coronavirus adviser and “herd immunity” truther Dr. Scott Atlas, and other covid-19 pandemic contrarians. According to the Tampa Bay Times, various members of the panel gave advice contradicting the weight of scientific evidence and recommendations by health authorities. Dr. Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University told DeSantis children don’t need to wear masks in school for “their own protection and they don’t need it for protecting other people, either,” with Stanford Medical School’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya adding it was “developmentally inappropriate.”
Those doctors, along with fellow panelist Dr. Sunetra Gupta, were the three authors of the “Great Barrington Declaration,” a 2020 letter that called for only the “vulnerable” to be protected from exposure to the novel coronavirus. Their plan instead demanded authorities adopt a sort of shock therapy approach in which they allow all those “not vulnerable” to “immediately ... resume life as normal,” in the hopes that a massive percentage (perhaps the vast majority) of the U.S. population would get sick and subsequently develop immunity. The letter was near-unanimously denounced by the scientific community and public health experts, which pointed out flaws such as the possibility of countless unnecessary deaths and that young adults are not actually anywhere close to being invulnerable to the virus. Similarly, their stance on masks is not scientific, goes against CDC guidance, and seems more rooted in the politically motivated insistence of Republican politicians such as DeSantis and Donald Trump that the pandemic has been overblown.
In a statement to the Times, a YouTube spokesperson said it had taken down the video because it “contradicts the consensus of local and global health authorities,” and the segment on masks violated its policies on “COVID-19 medical misinformation.” The spokesperson added, “Our policies apply to everyone, and focus on content regardless of the speaker or channel.”
The Republican Party over the course of the past few years eagerly adjusted to the era of Trump and his former Twitter account by elevating an obsession with social media moderation policies to the level of national crisis. DeSantis, under whose tenure the Florida state government adopted a laissez-faire approach to dealing with the pandemic that local health authorities scrambled to compensate for, believes the removal of his panel video is just like George Orwell’s 1984. So much like 1984, in fact, that he was able to hold another panel with the same doctors on Monday. Like the prior roundtable, according to the Herald Tribune, the event did not feature any panelists who disagreed with each other despite DeSantis demanding a “freer exchange of ideas.”
“What we’re really witnessing is Orwellian,” DeSantis told reporters, according to the Tribune. “It’s a Big Tech, corporate media collusion. And the end result is that the narrative is always right. Well, I don’t think that’s what the American people want.”
“... You don’t think there are people in the state of Florida concerned about censorship?” DeSantis added. “Or seeing how massive companies are controlling the terms of debate on some of the most important issues facing our country and the world?”
Per the Tribune:
The panelists also referred to “large amounts of deaths in the United States and across the world,” referring not to the 560,000 deaths in the U.S. and more than 34,000 in Florida from coronavirus but instead the mental effects of lockdowns.
Panelists mostly ignored the deaths and continued aftereffects from coronavirus in both older and younger populations to focus on what they called the “catastrophic consequences” of lockdowns and other restrictions.
According to the Associated Press, DeSantis also accused YouTube and its parent company Google of being “enforcers of a narrative, a big tech council of censors in service of the ruling elite.” The GOP, barring a brief stint where then-Gov. Charlie Crist left the party to run as an Independent, has maintained an ironclad grip on Florida’s governorship and state legislature since 1999.
Atlas, whose reckless disregard of scientific evidence while working in the White House earned him the condemnation of dozens of his former colleagues at Stanford University Medical School, took the opportunity to ramble about “trust”—namely, that people shouldn’t trust public health experts.
“The question is very much what you said here, governor,” Atlas said, per the Tribune. “Who do we trust? Where is the trust and expertise now? Experts have not just failed, they have failed to admit they failed. ... You [the public] should look at people who have been consistent in what they’ve said, who have cited the data, not just emotion and uncertainty.”
“Then, you’ve got to make some conclusions about how you want to live your life,” Atlas added.
DeSantis and Republican legislators have supported a raft of bills that would force social media companies to give a months’ notice to users before banning their accounts or removing their posts, as well as fine them up to $100,000 daily for “deplatforming” a candidate for statewide office. Actual legal experts on free speech have noted the proposals are riddled with blatantly unconstitutional provisions that, if passed, would almost certainly be thrown out by federal courts.
According to the AP, DeSantis took the opportunity at the roundtable on Monday to tout Florida health department statistics showing 40% of Floridian adults (7.2 million) have received at least one shot of a covid-19 vaccine. He didn’t mention that only 6.5% of recipients were Black, despite Black people making up 17.5% of Florida’s population.