Video of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and a panel of scientists apparently trading in Covid-19 misinformation has been pulled from YouTube.
The video of DeSantis’ roundtable discussion last month at the state Capitol in Tallahassee was removed on Wednesday because it violated the social media platform’s standards, YouTube spokesperson Elena Hernandez said.
It had been embedded in a Tampa-area TV station's news story and it's removal was flagged by the American Institute for Economic Research, a "free market" think tank based in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
“YouTube has clear policies around Covid-19 medical misinformation to support the health and safety of our users,” Hernandez said in a statement. “We removed AIER’s 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.”
Hernandez said YouTube only allows videos “that otherwise violate our policies to remain on the platform if they contain sufficient educational, documentary, scientific or artistic context.”
“Our policies apply to everyone and focus on content regardless of the speaker or channel,” Hernandez said.
DeSantis's press secretary Cody McCloud called YouTube's move "another blatant example of Big Tech attempting to silence those who disagree with their woke corporate agenda."
"YouTube claimed they removed the video because 'it contradicts the consensus of local and global health authorities,' yet this roundtable was led by world-renowned doctors and epidemiologists from Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, all of whom are eminently qualified to speak on the global health crisis," McCloud said. "Good public health policy should include a variety of scientific and technical expertise, and YouTube’s decision to remove this video suppresses productive dialogue of these complex issues."
Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University, one of the scientists on the panel, said this "was a policy forum, in which it is appropriate to consider both the benefits and costs of a policy (child masking) when making judgments and recommendations."
"YouTube’s censorship of our discussion is contrary to American democratic norms of free expression," the professor said in an email. "It is also a violation of basic standards of scientific conduct, which stand in opposition to unreasoned silencing of contrary views and require the free exchange of ideas."
Earlier, AIER editorial director Jeffrey A. Tucker insisted in an article Wednesday on the think tank’s website that YouTube censored DeSantis and the scientists and called it “the latest attack on public health information.”
Many public health experts, however, have accused Bhattacharya and the other scientists on the panel with DeSantis — former Trump White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Scott Atlas; epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta; and Dr. Martin Kulldorff — of spreading public health misinformation. NBC News has also reached out to Tucker, Atlas, Gupta and Kulldorff for comment.
NBC News did not see the video before it was removed. Tucker first reported its removal.
But based on a transcript provided by YouTube, it appears the participants ran afoul of the platform’s standards when DeSantis asked whether children in school should be wearing masks and Kulldorff replied, “Uh, children should not wear face masks, no. They don’t need it for their own protection, and they don’t need it for protecting other people either.”
Less than a minute later, Bhattacharya chimed-in, saying that mask-wearing “is developmentally inappropriate and it just doesn’t help on the disease spread.”
“There’s no scientific rationale or logic to have children wear masks in school,” Atlas said six minutes later.
That language also appears in the transcript posted by Tucker with his article.
Those claims run counter to the recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which advises that “people age 2 and older should wear masks in public settings and when around people who don’t live in their household.”
The World Health Organization recommendations are a bit looser for younger children, but kids age 12 and over “should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults.”
All the scientists in the video but Atlas are signatories to The Great Barrington Declaration, which was sponsored by AIER and which opposed lockdowns and argued that society would build herd immunity against Covid-19 if all but people over age 70 “resume life as normal.”
Atlas, who is a radiologist, not an epidemiologist, was especially critical of mask wearing to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Many of the world’s leading scientists denounced The Great Barrington Declaration as a “dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence.” And later, then-President Donald Trump’s CDC chief, Dr. Robert Redfield, was overhead by NBC saying of Atlas, “Everything he says is false.”
The Trump administration embraced that thinking, as did DeSantis, who was criticized by public health experts for being slow to shut the state down and for reopening the state too soon. Most of the Covid-19 deaths and cases were recorded in Florida after DeSantis visited Trump in the White House last April and prematurely, as it turned out, declared victory over the virus.
As of Friday, Florida had reported more than 2 million Covid-19 infections and nearly 35,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest NBC News numbers. It also has the tenth highest Covid-19 infection rate in the country, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.
DeSantis in the AIER transcript agreed with his panelists that lockdowns were ineffective at stopping the pandemic, saying "there’s really not a lot of positive to balance it out when you compare the severe lockdown states to other states which weren’t locked down or other countries like Sweden, which had adopted a different approach."
Sweden initially opposed lockdowns but began imposing restrictions about six months ago after the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths soared, especially in comparison with its Scandinavian neighbors.