YouTube is facing backlash for removing a video interview of two California doctors who argued that coronavirus shutdowns have gone too far, after the streaming video platform said it would not allow content that ‘disputes the efficacy of local health authority guidance.’
The nearly hour-long video, which was taken down on Monday, features Drs. Dan Erickson and Artin Massihi, who run a private urgent-care clinic in Bakersfield, California.
Although the doctors rely in part on faulty statistical analysis to make their arguments, their contention that stay-at-home orders are doing more harm than good drew a massive audience, garnering more than 5 million views before the video was removed by YouTube.
They argue that the mortality rate for coronavirus is minuscule, in their analysis, and that lockdowns are disruptive to normal healthcare provision and the functioning of healthy immune systems.
The doctors also share anecdotes, which they say come from colleagues in hospitals, claiming that there is pressure to add COVID-19 as a cause of death to unrelated fatalities to artificially boost the death toll.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, an increasingly outspoken critic of lockdowns, shared the video on Twitter before it was taken down, adding the comment, ‘Docs make good points.’
It comes as social media giants Facebook and Twitter are also coming under increasing scrutiny for removing posts that they say contain health misinformation or calls to break stay-at-home orders.
Drs. Dan Erickson and Artin Massihi, who run a private urgent-care clinic in Bakersfield, California, held a nearly hour-long press conference on April 22
Tesla CEO Elon Musk touted the video before YouTube removed it from the platform
The video’s removal from YouTube drew vocal protests and accusations of censorship.
‘This. Is. Censorship. On what is arguably the most important media platform in the United States,’ tweeted Alex Berenson, a former New York Times reporter who has emerged as one of the strongest skeptics of the lockdowns.
In a blistering opening monologue on Tuesday night, Fox News host Tucker Carlson also railed against the ‘ludicrous’ measures by big tech companies to control what they call misinformation during the pandemic.
‘When this is all over, it’s likely we’ll look back on this moment, what YouTube just did, as a turning point in the way we live in this country, a sharp break with 250 years of law and custom,’ Carlson said.
‘The doctor’s video was produced by a local television channel. It was, in fact a mainstream news story,’ Carlson continued. ‘The only justification for taking it down was that the physicians on-screen had reached different conclusions than the people currently in charge.’
Last week, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki told CNN that ‘anything that would go against World Health Organization recommendations would be a violation of our policy.’
‘Consider that for a moment,’ Carlson responded. ‘As a matter of science, it’s ludicrous. Like everyone else involved in global pandemic policy, the WHO has been wrong in its recommendations. In January, WHO told us that coronavirus could not spread from person-to-person. In March, they told us that face masks didn’t work. Those are lies and they were welcome on Google’s platforms.’
Former CNN producer Steve Krakauer said in his Fourth Watch media newsletter that this was an ‘egregious censorship effort on the part of YouTube’ that should make all journalists concerned.
He added: ‘YouTube can take down this video, of course. But should they? Absolutely not.
‘These doctors weren’t calling for people to cough on other citizens. They weren’t even questioning whether injecting disinfectant might be a good idea.
‘They were using data to suggest a Sweden model of eased lockdown may be effective. That’s not damaging to the public to watch.’
Alex Berenson, a former New York Times reporter who has emerged as one of the strongest skeptics of the lockdowns, harshly criticized YouTube for removing the video
In a blistering opening monologue on Tuesday night, Fox News host Tucker Carlson also railed against the ‘ludicrous’ measures tech companies are taking to remove information
It comes as the debate over reopening intensifies, with many states moving to ease restriction
In a statement to DailyMail.com, a YouTube spokesperson said: ‘We quickly remove flagged content that violate our Community Guidelines, including content that explicitly disputes the efficacy of local healthy authority recommended guidance on social distancing that may lead others to act against that guidance.’
‘However, content that provides sufficient educational, documentary, scientific or artistic (EDSA) context is allowed — for example, news coverage of this interview with additional context,’ the statement continued.
‘From the very beginning of the pandemic, we’ve had clear policies against COVID-19 misinformation and are committed to continue providing timely and helpful information at this critical time,’ the company added.
YouTube points out that news coverage of the doctors’ press conference, which adds commentary and analysis, is still allowed on the platform.
The doctors in the video, Erickson and Massihi, co-owners of Accelerated Urgent Care, which offers Bakersfield’s only private walk-in COVID-19 testing site.
In the video, which is a recording of a press conference that the duo held on April 22, the doctors said 12 percent of Californians tested for coronavirus so far have had a positive result.
They used that figure to extrapolate an estimate that millions in the state have already contracted the virus, and thus speculate that its mortality rate is much lower that believed.
The doctors speculate that coronavirus has a case fatality rate of 0.03 percent, or roughly one-third of the mortality rate of the common flu.
Experts point out that the coronavirus testing the doctors refer to was not random, and was administered mainly to people who had symptoms or believed that they had been exposed. Randomized antibody testing in New York suggests a case fatality rate of 0.5 to 0.8 percent, or five to eight times higher than the flu.
The doctors in the video (above) ‘used methods that are ludicrous to get results that are completely implausible’ said one infections disease expert
Dr. Carl Bergstrom, a University of Washington biologist who specializes in infectious disease modeling, likened their extrapolations to ‘estimating the average height of Americans from the players on an NBA court.’
‘They’ve used methods that are ludicrous to get results that are completely implausible,’ Bergstrom said.
In a rare statement late Monday, the American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine declared they ’emphatically condemn the recent opinions released by Dr. Daniel Erickson and Dr. Artin Messihi.’
‘These reckless and untested musings do not speak for medical societies and are inconsistent with current science and epidemiology regarding COVID-19,’ the group continued.
‘As owners of local urgent care clinics, it appears these two individuals are releasing biased, non-peer reviewed data to advance their personal financial interests without regard for the public’s health.’
The two doctors tout their support for President Donald Trump, leading some to accuse them of political motivation in their remarks.
Critics of the doctors also point out that non-coronavirus visits to urgent care clinics, such as they one that they own, are down sharply down in the shutdowns, suggesting they may have a financial motive for calling for the restrictions to end.
While criticism of YouTube for removing controversial videos has mostly come from political conservatives, the left has hammered the company for not removing videos fast enough.
Virginia Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat, blasted YouTube on Tuesday over videos promoting a conspiracy theory that accused a US Army reservist in Virginia of being the source of the outbreak in Wuhan, China.
Warner’s office reached out to YouTube on Monday asking why the company hadn’t taken down all the videos targeting the woman, CNN reported.
‘It’s clear that the blanket grant of immunity for sites like YouTube has resulted in platforms that are too big and unresponsive to the harms they promote,’ Warner said, saying Congress need to act.