Free speech advocates call YouTube’s removal of coronavirus-related video ‘egregious censorship effort’

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Free speech advocates are furious that YouTube removed a viral video of two California doctors questioning the threat level of the coronavirus.

The doctors, Dan Erickson and Artin Massihi, have made the argument that the mortality rate of the coronavirus is similar to the flu and, therefore, shelter-in-place orders are overblown. The doctors also called for businesses to reopen but were hit with criticism and attempts to debunk their claims.

ABC’s affiliate, 23ABC News, posted the video and later noted that YouTube removed it, citing it violated “community guidelines.” During the report, 23ABC News reporter Bayan Wang asked a law professor, “With over one billion users, and as a haven for expressions, is YouTube considered a public forum that should uphold freedom of speech?”

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The professor told 23ABC News that it’s easy to make the argument that YouTube should be considered a public forum and allow free speech, but Wang pointed out that a federal court previously ruled the First Amendment shouldn’t dictate how YouTube monitors content. The situation enraged First Amendment advocates.

“YouTube's removal of a local news outlet's viral doctors video should concern all journalists,” Fourth Watch editor and founder Steve Krakauer wrote in his media newsletter about what he called an “egregious censorship effort on the part of YouTube.”

Krakauer said he believes “speech should be allowed and not punished unless it is explicitly calling for harm” and social media platforms should be “called out” when they defy that principle.

Krakauer said that YouTube’s logic behind removing the video should “send a chill down the spine of every journalist who respects the First Amendment” and “every citizen who wants to use social platforms that don't insert their own biases into what they deem as ban-worthy.”

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The video accumulated over 5.4 million views before it was removed from YouTube.

“YouTube can take down this video, of course. But should they? Absolutely not,” Krakauer wrote. “These doctors weren't calling for people to cough on other citizens. They weren't even questioning whether injecting disinfectant might be a good idea. They were using data to suggest a Sweden model of eased lockdown may be effective. That's not damaging to the public to watch.”

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson said that “not everyone” agreed with the video, which he said was “fair,” but blasted YouTube for removing it.

“People have different opinions,” Carlson said. “More informed debate is exactly what we need to make wise decisions going forward, but unfortunately for all of us, informed debate is exactly what the authorities don’t want. They want unquestioned obedience, so they’re cracking down on free expression.”

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Carlson pointed out that the video wasn’t illegal, pornographic or libelous.

“The only justification for taking it down was that the two physicians on screen had reached different conclusions from the people currently in charge,” Carlson said.

YouTube removed a controversial viral video of two California doctors questioning the perceived threat of the coronavirus.

YouTube removed a controversial viral video of two California doctors questioning the perceived threat of the coronavirus. (Getty Images)

Dr. Erickson took the situation in stride, telling 23ABC News, “Anytime you push against the grain, you are going to have people who don't like it."

YouTube offered a lengthy explanation when reached by Fox News.

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“We quickly remove flagged content that violate our Community Guidelines, including content that explicitly disputes the efficacy of local healthy authority recommended guidance on social distancing that may lead others to act against that guidance," a YouTube spokesperson said. "However, content that provides sufficient educational, documentary, scientific or artistic (EDSA) context is allowed -- for example, news coverage of this interview with additional context. From the very beginning of the pandemic, we’ve had clear policies against COVID-19 misinformation and are committed to continue providing timely and helpful information at this critical time.”

Earlier this month, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki raised eyebrows when she announced plans to remove any content deemed “problematic” by the tech giant.

“Anything that is medically unsubstantiated, so people saying, like, ‘Take Vitamin C… take turmeric, those cure you,’ those are examples of things that would be a violation of our policy. Anything that would go against World Health Organization recommendations would be a violation of our policy,” Wojcicki told CNN.

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Others blasted YouTube on Twitter for removing the video of Dr. Erickson and Dr. Massihi:

Fox News’ Alex Pfeiffer contributed to this report.