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Shadow Ban: Stanford Professor Jay Bhattacharya Was Reportedly Targeted by Twitter for His Anti-Covid Lockdown Views

Shadow Ban: Stanford Professor Jay Bhattacharya Was Reportedly Targeted by Twitter for His Anti-Covid Lockdown Views

  • The revelation was made in a scoop by a former New York Times journalist who said the social media platform limited the distribution and recommendation of tweets.

Jay Bhattacharya, a health policy professor at Stanford University, who opposed Covid-19 lockdowns, was among individuals placed on a “Trends Blacklist,” the second installment of the “Twitter Files” has revealed. Released on Dec. 8 by journalist Bari Weiss, it highlights cases where Twitter limited the distribution and recommendation of tweets. She posted the results of her investigation on the social media platform. 

Teams of Twitter employees reportedly build blacklists to prevent disfavored tweets from trending, and actively limit the visibility of entire accounts or even trending topics, she wrote. 

Focusing on specific cases, Weiss shared a screenshot of Bhattacharya’s recent Twitter history to show Twitter suppressed his opinions on the Covid-19 lockdown. She also named conservative activists Charlie Kirk and Chaya Raichik, who operates the Libsoftiktok account.

Twitter executives and employees refer to “shadow banning” as “Visibility Filtering” or “VF,” Weiss tweeted. In 2018, Twitter’s Vijaya Gadde (then Head of Legal Policy and Trust) and Kayvon Beykpour (Head of Product) denied that Twitter ever deliberately downgraded or ‘shadow banned’ any accounts, she claimed.

According to Weiss, the teams working to minimize certain accounts or topics were backed up by a top-level Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support team, where the CEO and top legal advisors would decide sensitive cases of censorship, that included Gadde and former CEOs Jack Dorsey and his successor Parag Agrawal.

Bhattacharya posted on Twitter as well after Weiss’ revelations. “Still trying to process my emotions on learning that @twitter blacklisted me. The thought that will keep me up tonight: censorship of scientific discussion permitted policies like school closures & a generation of children were hurt.”

In an earlier tweet, he said he is “curious about what role the government played in Twitter’s suppression of covid policy discussion. We will see with time, I suppose.”

Weiss and journalists Matt Taibbi have been handed collection of documents from Twitter. The first installment of the investigation detailed how Twitter handled a controversial decision, three weeks before the 2020 presidential election, to limit access to an article about the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop after the New York Post reported on its contents. 

The files are being released just over a month after Musk acquired the social media company, Axios reported, adding that the new owner has framed it as “an effort to show that his predecessors at Twitter engaged in censorship” In a tweet after Weiss posted her data, Musk tweeted that Twitter is working on a software update that will show your true account status, so you know clearly if you’ve been shadowbanned, the reason why and how to appeal.”

In an interview with Fox News host Laura Ingram on Dec. 8, Bhattacharya said Twitter went “too far” with its “censorship.” He said that if there was an “open scientific discussion,” lockdowns could be lifted much easier. He accused Twitter of harming science, children and the American public, and his civil rights. “It is a direct violation of the first amendment and every American should be outraged.” 

Had he been given a platform to put forth his views, Bhattacharya told Ingram that the scenario could’ve been entirely different. “All the small businesses could’ve stayed open, all the kids that wouldn’t have to be depressed and suicidal, all the learning loss that could’ve been avoided.” 

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He accused Silicon Valley leaders, especially those who advise the government on content management of going too far. “It is one thing to suppress violent threats against people but then to turn around and decide that they are going to suppress discussions about basic scientific policy,” he told Ingram. He said he “wasn’t saying anything that was threatening people other than maybe Tony Fauci, not physically just his ideas.” According to him “the censorship led to the tremendously bad policies we had against covid and the failures we have seen in the last three years.” 

He is involved in a lawsuit filed by Louisiana and Missouri against the federal government and the Biden Administration for colluding with social media companies to censor speech. He told Ingram that they have uncovered “tremendous evidence that there were federal agencies that were directing media companies what to censor and even whom to censor.” If that’s actually the case and if this blacklisting was directed by the government against American citizens, that is a direct violation of their rights.” 

Bhattacharya is a Professor of Health Policy at Stanford University and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economics Research. He directs Stanford’s Center for Demography and Economics of Health and Aging. His recent research focuses on the epidemiology of COVID-19 as well as an evaluation of policy responses to the epidemic. His broader research interests encompass the implications of population aging for future population health and medical spending in developed countries, the measurement of physician performance tied to physician payment by insurers, and the role played by biomedical innovation on health. He has published 135 articles in top peer-reviewed scientific journals in medicine, economics, health policy, epidemiology, statistics, law, and public health among other fields. He holds an M.D. and Ph.D. in economics, both earned at Stanford University.

Bhattacharya came under fire during the pandemic after co-authoring the Great Barrington Declaration, which was an open letter signed by thousands of doctors and scientists in 2020 denouncing lockdowns as harmful. Bhattacharya was joined by Harvard professor of medicine Dr. Martin Kulldorff and Oxford professor Dr. Sunetra Gupta in co-authoring the document. The declaration was quickly denounced by other health leaders, including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, who slammed the call for herd immunity in the document as “nonsense and very dangerous,” The New York Post reported at the time. 

At the Academic Freedom Conference at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business last month, he spoke about life after the Great Barrington Declaration. He told the audience that he “received death threats, hate mail and questions on where he receives funding,” the Post said. “The purpose of the one-page document was aimed at telling the public that there was not a scientific consensus in favor of lockdown, that in fact many epidemiologists, many doctors, many other people – prominent people – disagreed with the consensus,” Bhattacharya said during his 10-minute talk at the conference, according to the Post. “We have a high clerisy that declares from on high what is true and what is not true,” he said, commenting on the current political and social landscape. 

In an Aug. 26, 2021 article in the UK’s Sunday Express Bhattacharya wrote in favor of ending the lockdowns and learning to leave with the virus. “Epidemiologists can track cases using population sampling and surveillance systems as they like, but there is no further need for lockdown, quarantines and fear. Learning to live with Covid…means a return of public health to a holistic vision that extends beyond infection control.”

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