Drug company representatives pushed for censorship of coronavirus vaccine-related threads on Twitter, even with those accounts that have a minimal readership, to delay competition, according to newly released internal documents.
Medical company lobbyists from companies including Pfizer and BioNTech frequently contacted Twitter. According to Lee Fang from the Intercept, who released the files, they pushed for restriction of online campaigns related to the vaccine.
The lobbyists worked to put down an international effort to Pfizer along with other vaccine manufacturers to share intellectual property so that other businesses can reproduce the Covid-19 vaccine.
The censorship campaigns were sent regularly by the company’s policy team. Nina Morschhaeuser, head of public policy in Germany, forwarded an email from the BioNTech spokesperson who requested that Twitter “hide” activists’ tweets that targeted her company’s account over a period of two days.
The email also asked they both monitor the hashtags #joinCTAP and #peoplesvaccine, which were both used to promote the World Health Organization (WHO) program that helps spread access to vaccines in developing countries.
When a Twitter spokesperson was asked how to monitor these campaigns related to the requests provided by a pharmaceutical company, the spokesperson put together a series of Tweets that may be alleged ‘violations,’ many of which came from users not considered ‘prominent.’
Two of the Tweets listed were from Terry Brough, a British bricklayer, who had asked AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna to share their technology with poorer countries.
Brough said he was shocked to be informed his account had been targeted. “I’m actually 74 and still living,” said Brough to Fang. “I was a bricklayer all my life, just like my dad. I’m no Che Guevara, but I’ve been an activist, a trade unionist, and a socialist. And all I did was sign a tweet. I wish I could’ve done more, really.”
The email request came the same day pharmaceutical companies put in motion a campaign to prevent having to share the vaccine patents in 2020.
Prior versions of the Twitter Files have laid out the company’s communications related to content moderation with federal officials. This included efforts by some members of Congress to take down regular communications between Twitter and the FBI to take down content and remove alleged Russian misinformation and bots from the platform.
Efforts included attempts to silence users’ demands for generic vaccines
Fang’s efforts included attempts to silence any users who demanded generic vaccines be made available for low-income countries and later expanded into a broader censorship campaign to “shape content around vaccine policy.”
The email from BioNTech requesting Twitter hide activists’ Tweets was followed a day later by another email from a European lobbyist representing the pharmaceutical industry warning Twitter about a possible campaign by activists who called for low-cost vaccines on Twitter.
The lobbyist told Twitter to be on the lookout for users posting #PeoplesVaccine and other hashtags. The platform was also requested to keep an eye on the accounts owned by Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and BioNTech.