The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

YouTube removed Trump adviser’s video for misinformation. He compared it to ‘Third World’ censorship.

Scott Atlas, neuroradiologist and fellow at Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution, made controversial statements about lockdowns and school reopenings. (Video: The Washington Post)
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Trump administration pandemic adviser Scott Atlas is accusing YouTube of censorship akin to that of “Third World countries,” after the video platform yanked an interview featuring Atlas sharing a number of controversial views on the novel coronavirus.

YouTube late last week pulled the video featuring a Hoover Institution interview with Atlas, a neuroradiologist and senior adviser to the White House coronavirus task force. During the interview Atlas expounded on his positions for fully opening up the economy, questioned universal social distancing measures and detailed the economic impact of stay-at-home orders.

Atlas, who is not an epidemiologist or virologist, has sparked concern among health officials for promoting the debatable herd immunity strategy, though he said he has never advised the president to pursue allowing the spread of covid-19 across the country.

Atlas railed against YouTube’s actions in a Wednesday interview with Fox News’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” claiming that the company was censoring science and preventing people to choose for themselves what’s true.

“We’re sort of teetering on the edge of what’s done in Third World countries — the countries we used to be proudly distinguished from” he told Carlson. “We ought to be able to accept differences in science and go forward and prove it.”

Conservative-leaning publications such as the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, the National Review and the Federalist also criticized YouTube’s removal of Atlas’s interview and likened it to censorship.

Ivy Choi, a spokesperson for YouTube, said in a statement that the social media platform has worked hard to prevent misinformation about covid-19 since the start of the outbreak and has established policies to keep misleading knowledge at bay.

“After careful review, we removed this video for violating these policies, for disputing existing international and local health authority guidance by falsely stating that a certain age group cannot transmit the virus,” she said.

Atlas and the White House didn’t immediately return requests for comment from The Washington Post.

YouTube is one of a growing list of social media companies trying to prevent false information from spreading on their sites, after coming under fire for the wave of misinformation before the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook and Instagram have also flagged a Tuesday night segment of the Fox News program “Tucker Carlson Tonight” that features Li-Meng Yan, a virologist from China who claims to have evidence the novel coronavirus was created in a lab by the Chinese Communist Party. Yan’s claim is based on a theory that has for months been met with broad skepticism by the scientific community.

After “Tucker Carlson Tonight” shared the videos on Facebook and Instagram with the chryon “Chinese whistleblower to Tucker: This virus was made in a lab & I can prove it,” the platforms placed a disclaimer screen over the video flagging it as misinformation.

Twitter has also suspended Yan’s personal account, but it did not flag the video of her segment shared by Carlson’s verified Twitter account.

The pages for “Tucker Carlson Tonight” acknowledged the disclaimer, updating its status on the Tuesday video to read, “Facebook is trying its best to censor this video” and said it would address the issue on Wednesday’s program.

Yan claimed in her appearance Tuesday that the novel coronavirus “actually is not from nature; it is a man-made virus created in the lab” and described herself as a target the Chinese Communist Party wants “disappeared.”

On Monday, Yan, who says she worked at the University of Hong Kong, uploaded a report she co-authored to an open-source repository; the report has not been through a peer-review process, which is considered the gold standard for evaluating scientific research. The report was published by the Rule of Law Society and the Rule of Law Foundation, a pair of New York-based nonprofit groups aimed at investigating corruption by Chinese Communist officials that are linked to Chinese businessman Guo Wengui and former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon.

Yan’s claims echo ones made by Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both of whom have raised the possibility that the Chinese military concocted the virus in a lab. Though the claim is largely discounted by scientists, it gained momentum among some Trump allies after a July report that U.S. officials in 2018 visited China’s virology lab in Wuhan and warned the U.S. State Department about the lack of adequately trained staff members in the lab. Wuhan later became the epicenter of the outbreak.

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