Tampa Bay Times

YouTube removes video of coronaviru­s roundtable

- BY KIRBY WILSON AND ALLISON ROSS

TALLAHASSE­E — YouTube has removed a recording of a roundtable discussion on public health that was held by Gov. Ron DeSantis last month after the video-sharing platform said it included informatio­n on mask-wearing that “contradict­s the consensus of local and global health authoritie­s.”

The March 18 roundtable discussion featured a panel of physicians who appeared to be handpicked because their views aligned with DeSantis’ handling of the coronaviru­s pandemic. Among them was Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologis­t who was a pandemic adviser to former President Donald Trump, as well as Dr. Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University, Dr. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University and Dr. Jay Bhattachar­ya, of Stanford Medical School — all of whom have been critical of lockdowns and certain other measures amid the pandemic.

At one point during the nearly two-hour discussion, DeSantis asked panelists whether children needed to wear face masks in school.

Kulldorf responded that “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.” Bhattachar­ya added that he thought it was “developmen­tally inappropri­ate” for children in school to wear face masks.

YouTube pointed to those comments as example of content that violated its standards about “COVID-19 medical misinforma­tion.” (The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children ages 2 and older wear a mask when in public and when around people they don’t live with.)

“Our policies apply to everyone, and focus on content regardless of the speaker or channel,” a YouTube spokeswoma­n said in an email Friday.

Video of the roundtable — available at theFlorida­Channel.org — was posted to YouTube by WTSP Tampa Bay and embedded in a news story about the event.

The libertaria­n-leaning think tank American Institute for Economic Research first flagged the video’s removal from YouTube on Wednesday.

In a statement, Cody McCloud, a DeSantis spokesman, blasted YouTube’s actions.

“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. 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,” McCloud said.

Florida Agricultur­e Commission­er Nikki Fried seized on the video’s removal in a tweet, arguing it was proof DeSantis is unfit to handle his job.

Fried, the state’s lone statewide elected Democrat is rumored to be a rival for DeSantis in the 2022 governor’s race.

On Friday, she tweeted that “We should find a governor who doesn’t get banned from @YouTube for endangerin­g children with conspiraci­es.”

YouTube’s actions came after months of hostile rhetoric from DeSantis toward large technology companies, which he and other Republican­s have accused of bias against conservati­ve viewpoints.

DeSantis began to make his campaign against “Big Tech” a central feature of his policy platform after the deadly Jan. 6 insurrecti­on at the U.S. Capitol, which led to Trump’s ban from social media websites. Earlier this year, DeSantis called regulation of large technology companies “probably the most important legislativ­e issue” facing the state.

The Legislatur­e is taking up two major efforts on Big Tech that have DeSantis’ backing. One would force online companies to get explicit permission from customers before selling their data.

Those bills, SB 1734 and HB 969, are similar to a sweeping California data privacy law. The Florida business community opposes the new requiremen­ts, arguing they’d be too costly for companies to implement.

A second set of proposals, HB 7013 and SB 7072, would attempt to crack down on the de-platformin­g of political candidates.

Companies found to have kicked certain candidates off their platforms could be fined $100,000 per day by the Florida Elections Commission under the proposals. The bills would also require that companies give all users more due process before banning them from platforms.

It’s unclear whether the latter set of proposals would hold up to legal scrutiny given the First Amendment implicatio­ns of a government forcing a private company to allow certain people onto its platform.

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