Should social media have taken down the America’s Frontline Doctors press conference video?
- Hydroxychloroquine is an immunotherapy drug that’s been in use for 60+ years and has a proven efficacy in the treatment of malaria, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis.
- The CDC reviewed the latest science and affirms that cloth face coverings are critical against fighting COVID-19, particularly when used universally within communities.
- The FDA, WHO, and Oxford University warn against the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat hospitalized patients with COVID-19. Side effects include serious heart rhythm problems and other safety issues, including blood and lymph system disorders, kidney injuries, and liver problems and failure. These side effects are not unique, however, to Hydroxychloroquine and are applied to various other FDA-approved medical treatments.
- America’s Frontline Doctors promote the idea that 'The virus has a cure, it's called hydroxychloroquine, zinc, and Zithromax… You don't need masks. There is a cure. I know they don't want to open schools. No, you don't need people to be locked down. There is prevention and there is a cure.'
- The AFD video was broadcast on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter by right-wing online platform Breitbart. It was viewed over 17 million times on Facebook and was also shared on Twitter by Donald Trump.
- The three social media platforms removed the video in light of their “COVID-19 misinformation policies.”
Twitter's mission statement claims they give 'everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers,' and to dedicate efforts toward promoting 'a free and global conversation.' That commitment fell short this week when the social media giant joined Facebook and YouTube in pulling a video posted by 'America's Frontline Doctors,' which shared disputed claims about treatments for the COVID-19 virus.
Mission statements provide a clear definition of a company's values and offerings. Twitter's evokes the idea of an enabler of communication while increasingly it strives to serve as a political and social gatekeeper or a referee. A similar dynamic at Facebook also runs against their mission statement that envisions social media, giving 'people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.'
A century ago, Justice Holmes asserted, 'the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market [of values and ideas].' Journalism schools picked up on the concept and called it the 'marketplace of ideas.' Better free expression judge the validity of arguments over top-down force from authorities above. This concept especially serves as the case when practicing physicians share their experience with patients suffering in the pandemic. Additionally, it serves as the foundation of our free and civil society, entrusting the people with the right to speak and choose what to believe.
Though social media companies have the right to pick and choose, they risk undermining their missions and losing credibility when they pick and choose.
Given the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, any information including possible cures that haven’t been backed by studies can’t be distributed and endorsed. The video of the American Frontline Doctors supports the use of Hydroxychloroquine, a “cure for Covid-19.” Donald Trump, on his twitter, shared this idea. Social media platforms had every right to remove this video because the claims were not backed by scientific studies that specifically tested its use to treat COVID-19.
In a study by Oxford University that tested over 11,000 patients suffering from COVID-19, the results stated, “there is no beneficial effect of hydroxychloroquine in patients hospitalised with Covid-19.” Because this is an issue of speech and its freedoms within social media, one could argue Trump was within his right to distribute the video. In a world where the video is backed by science, this is true. Given he is the trusted government entity for his followers, this is no longer an issue of freedom of speech, but the practice of perpetuation of a propagandist agenda.
The real harm lies in its actionable ramifications both in use of the drug and the assumption that other safe practices are no longer necessary. The former is seen in a study by the New England Journal of Medicine that cites its use as a risk to unusual heart rhythms and higher liver-enzyme levels. The latter is already seen in its importance in several studies that show a direct correlation of face-covering mandates and COVID-19 spread.
The video endorses unsafe practice during a pandemic, and the only way to mitigate this harmful information from affecting the ramifications of this virus was to remove the video itself.