NYC COVID-19 ‘Misinformation Response Unit’ Advised Big Tech What to Censor: Report

February 16th, 2023 2:10 PM

The New York City Health Department reportedly ran a censorship unit during the COVID-19 pandemic and the health commissioner pressured tech platforms to censor so-called “misinformation.” 

Reclaim the Net reported that the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene “set up a ‘Misinformation Response Unit’ to monitor” so-called  “‘dangerous misinformation’ posted on social media, non-US sites, and non-English media in the US.” The unit specifically targeted supposed COVID-19 vaccine “misinformation,” and reportedly recruited more than “100 partners” to deliver positive messaging surrounding the COVID-19 vaccinations and to discourage alleged “vaccine hesitancy.”

NEJM Catalyst reported approvingly that the Unit could “rapidly identify messages” with alleged “misinformation” and thus could encourage COVID-19 vaccination and squelch alternative speech.

Reclaim the Net also obtained a 2021 letter from New York City health commissioner Dave A. Chokshi to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey pushing them to censor. He urged “vigorous” measures and asked that the companies “take immediate action to stop the spread of fraudulent and inaccurate information about COVID-19 vaccines.”

Chokshi even provided Facebook and Twitter specific censorship recommendations. “Consistently and promptly remove all misinformation regarding COVID-19 vaccines from your platforms and ban any user that repeatedly posts misinformation, including the Dirty Dozen,” Chokshi pontificated. “[R]edesign the algorithms used by your platforms to avoid amplifying misinformation, particularly among non-English languages.”

He also advised the tech platforms to, “provide greater transparency to [their] data to allow health departments to better identify, track and understand the spread of misinformation, and amplify messaging from trusted public health experts and local partners.”

Public Good Projects, a public health nonprofit and one of the NYC Health Department partners, reportedly received money from a lobbying group that represents COVID-19 vaccine developers Moderna and Pfizer. The nonprofit also sent Twitter weekly lists of posts to be censored, according to Reclaim the Net. Public Good Projects even reportedly trained “microinfluencers” on pro-COVID-19 vaccine messages.

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