Released Emails Reveal Pfizer Board Member Pressured Twitter to Censor Vaccine Criticism

In May 2021, emails revealed that Scott Gottlieb, a Pfizer board director and former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, had sought help from the social media platform Twitter to censor vaccine related tweets. This was seen as an attempt to manipulate public opinion around vaccines, which has raised concerns about pharmaceutical companies’ influence on the internet.

Gottlieb’s emails showed he had asked Twitter to take action against “vaccine misinformation”, and also proposed that censorship of these posts should be automated. This would mean Twitter using algorithms to detect and delete any posts containing phrases associated with anti-vaccination sentiment, without human intervention. The emails were sent in May 2020 when Gottlieb was part of the Vaccines Task Force at Pfizer.

The news of his request sparked outrage among the public, with many people arguing that it represented a conflict of interest since Gottlieb is a member of Pfizer’s board and therefore very likely has a personal motivation in wanting to limit access to vaccine hesitancy information online. In addition, observers have raised ethical questions about the use of automation for censorship purposes due to its potential for biased outcomes.

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