Written by Lee Fang on Jan 16, 2023
1. New piece from the TWITTER FILES. How the pharmaceutical industry lobbied social media to shape content around vaccine policy. The push included direct pressure from Pfizer partner BioNTech to censor activists demanding low-cost generic vaccines for low-income countries.
2. In 2020, it was clear that the pandemic would require rapid innovation. Early on, there was a push to make the solution equitable: an international partnership to share ideas, technology, new forms of medicine to rapidly solve this crisis.
3. But global drug giants saw the crisis as an opportunity for unprecedented profit. Behind closed doors, pharma launched a massive lobbying blitz to crush any effort to share patents/IP for new covid-related medicine, including therapeutics and vaccines.
4. BIO, the lobby group that represents biopharma, including Moderna & Pfizer, wrote to the newly elected Biden admin, demanding the U.S. gov sanction any country attempting to violate patent rights and create generic low cost covid medicine or vaccines.
5. That brings us to Twitter. The global lobbying blitz includes direct pressure on social media. BioNTech, which developed Pfizer’s vaccine, reached out to Twitter to request that Twitter directly censor users tweeting at them to ask for generic low-cost vaccines.
6. Twitter’s reps responded quickly to the pharma request, which was also backed by the German government. A lobbyist in Europe asked the content moderation team to monitor the accounts of Pfizer, AstraZeneca & of activist hashtags like #peoplesvaccine
8. It’s not clear what actions Twitter ultimately took on this particular request. Several Twitter employees noted in subsequent messages that none of this activism constituted abuse. But the company continued monitoring tweets.
9. In a separate push, Pfizer & Moderna’s lobbying group, BIO, fully funded a special content moderation campaign designed by a contractor called Public Good Projects, which worked w/Twitter to set content moderation rules around covid “misinformation.”
10. BIO provided $1,275,000 to the campaign, part of which is revealed through tax forms. The PGP campaign, called “Stronger,” helped Twitter create content moderation bots, select which public health accounts got verification, helped crowdsource content takedowns.
11. Many of the tweets the BIO-funded campaign focused on were truly unhinged misinfo, like claims that vaccines include microchips. But others Stronger lobbied Twitter on were more of a grey area, like vaccine passports & vaccine mandates, policies that coerce vaccination.
12. The Moderna/Pfizer-funded campaign included direct regular emails with lists of tweets to takedown & others to verify. Here’s an example of those types of emails that went straight to Twitter’s lobbyists and content moderators. Many focused on @zerohedge, which was suspended.
13. Notably, this massive push to censor and label covid misinfo never applied to drug companies. When big pharma wildly exaggerated the risks of creating low-cost generic covid vaccines, Stronger did nothing. The rules applied only to critics of industry.
14. Here is my reported piece w/more detail. I was given some access to Twitter emails. I signed/agreed to nothing, Twitter had no input into anything I did or wrote. The searches were carried out by a Twitter attorney, so what I saw could be limited.
15. Thanks @davidzweig and @lwoodhouse for help, and look for more Twitter reporting from @mtaibbi, @ShellenbergerMD, @bariweiss/ @TheFP and others. You can find me on Substack here