A new installment of the Twitter Files released Monday alleges that a coronavirus vaccine manufacturer pressured Twitter into censoring accounts that were pushing companies to share the intellectual property and patents associated with the vaccines so low-cost generic versions could be made.
The Intercept reported that BioNTech, which developed Pfizer’s vaccine, and the German government allegedly warned the social media company of upcoming pressure campaigns targeting the companies.
“The authorities are warning about ‘serious consequences’ of the action, i.e. posts and a flood of comments ‘that may violate TOS’ as well as the ‘takeover of user accounts’ are to be expected,” Nina Morschhaeuser, a lobbyist for Twitter, said in an email. “Especially the personal accounts of the management of the vaccine manufacturers are said to be targeted. Accordingly, fake accounts could also be set up.”
Pfizer and Moderna’s lobbying group, BIO, did flag tweets that contained genuine misinformation, like claiming that vaccines contained microchips. BIO also provided $1,275,000 to establish a campaign called “Stronger” that helped Twitter create content moderation bots and select which public health accounts got verification. Some content that was targeted did appear to be misinformation, according to The Intercept reporter Lee Fang, who covered the latest installment of the Twitter Files.
“But others Stronger lobbied Twitter on were more of a grey area, like vaccine passports & vaccine mandates, policies that coerce vaccination,” Fang wrote.
11. Many of the tweets the BIO-funded campaign focused on were truly unhinged misinfo, like claims that vaccines include microchips. But others Stronger lobbied Twitter on were more of a grey area, like vaccine passports & vaccine mandates, policies that coerce vaccination. pic.twitter.com/Xb9gcMxOLL
— Lee Fang (@lhfang) January 16, 2023
Morschhaeuser allegedly forwarded requests to the company asking them to “hide” activist tweets targeting BioNTech’s account over a period of two days.
She also allegedly asked Twitter to shield accounts belonging to Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca from activists and to monitor hashtags on the platform like “#PeoplesVaccine.”
The report acknowledges that it is not clear the extent to which Twitter complied with the requests.
“It’s not clear what actions Twitter ultimately took on this particular request,” Fang added. “Several Twitter employees noted in subsequent messages that none of this activism constituted abuse. But the company continued monitoring tweets.”
The report criticized the nations where the vaccines were first developed for “hoard[ing]” supplies during the initial days when the vaccine became available, claiming that they “forced” the “developing world” to wait for vaccines.
“For more than two years, a global movement has been speaking out against pharmaceutical greed and demanding that everyone, everywhere has the tools to combat pandemics,” said Maaza Seyoum, a campaigner for the People’s Vaccine Alliance. “Whatever nasty tricks companies and governments pull, we cannot and will not be silenced.”
This report has been updated to include additional information.