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SAN FRANCISCO (ChurchMilitant.com) - Twitter has announced that as of next week, it will ban what it deems "misleading information" on COVID-19 vaccines and permanently suspend accounts that persistently violate its new policy.
The draconian crackdown on vaccine dissenters follows a deal by social media giants Twitter, Facebook and Google with the British government to tackle so-called vaccine disinformation on the Wuhan virus vaccine.
While Twitter internationally issued its censorship diktat Wednesday, its head of U.K. Public Policy Katy Minshall revealed that the Big Tech's "COVID misinformation policies" had already been introduced in March.
"As we've doubled down on tech, our automated systems have challenged millions of accounts which were targeting discussions around COVID-19 with spammy or manipulative behaviors," Minshall said in a U.K. government statement.
Speaking to Church Militant, top British businessman and aviation magnate Simon Dolan remarked that this was "the beginning of the end."
"Key of course is, who gets to decide what is misinformation? Twitter? The owners of Twitter? Certainly no one transparent or anyone elected," asserted Dolan, a key figure behind the anti-lockdown movement in Britain.
Dolan, who has taken the fight against lockdown measures to Britain's Supreme Court, conceded that "there is an argument to say that Twitter, being a private company, and that of course is true — we are all free to use the platform or not."
"However, most people are not that sophisticated," Dolan explained. "They choose their news source and stick to it — that news source then becomes their worldview. That worldview will then be manipulated in whatever way Twitter (or Google, or Facebook, etc.) want. That is scary."
The U.K. government disclosed that its Counter Disinformation Unit had been "developing a picture of the extent, scope and reach of disinformation and working with online platforms to ensure appropriate action is taken" throughout the pandemic.
"The unit has observed a range of false narratives about coronavirus vaccines across multiple platforms, including widespread misuse of scientific findings and baseless claims challenging the safety of vaccines or plans for their deployment," it warned.
Facebook has now threatened Church Militant with "reduced distribution and other restrictions because of repeated sharing of false news," after it exposed the dubious trials conducted on the COVID vaccine.
Church Militant's vaccine stories were sourced from peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals including the prestigious British Medical Journal.
Rebecca Stimson, Facebook's head of U.K. public policy, warned that material that "discourage(s) people from getting a vaccine are banned."
"We remove harmful misinformation about COVID-19 and put warning labels over posts marked as false by third-party fact-checkers," she added.
Britain's Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden said he "welcomed this new commitment from social media giants not to profit from or promote flagged anti-vax content, given that making money from this dangerous content would be wrong."
Dowden did not clarify how individuals on social media were profiting from sharing (mis)information on the COVID vaccines.
In May, U.S. President Donald Trump passed an executive order on social media giants "preventing online censorship."
"It is the policy of the United States that large online platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, as the critical means of promoting the free flow of speech and ideas today, should not restrict protected speech," the executive order stated.
While "online platforms are invoking inconsistent, irrational and groundless justifications to censor or otherwise restrict Americans' speech here at home, several online platforms are profiting from and promoting the aggression and disinformation spread by foreign governments like China," the order added.
Academics have challenged the assumptions of Twitter and the U.K. government regarding the effectiveness of social media in misleading people with misinformation.
A study by Emilia Niemiec from Uppsala University's Center for Research Ethics and Bioethics, Sweden, on "COVID-19 and Misinformation" asks if censorship of social media is a remedy to the spread of medical misinformation.
Niemiec explains how categories like "harmful and dangerous content" applied by social media giants are "implicitly vague and leave plenty of room to (sic) interpretation. Indeed, an analysis of content banned on social networks suggests that the moderation is often politically biased."
She argues: "The removal of misinformation related to medical topics such as COVID-19 may seem to belong to a different category — not political, but rather one of science, where information can be objectively judged based on scientific evidence. At a closer look, however, this does not seem to be the case."
Niemiec raises the question of who defines what constitutes misinformation and if such judgments are reliable. She notes that the World Health Organization, which itself has made mistakes in handling epidemics, is cited by social media giants as one of the authoritative sources in determining the reliability of Wuhan virus information.
Noting the disagreement among medical researchers on the coronavirus pandemic, Niemiec contends that censorship of information on social media could actually lead to limiting the understanding of the topic and informing public debate.
"The fact that social media platforms are provided and operated by private companies, which are interested primarily in making profit, and the implications of this fact may be worth to consider," she concludes.
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