Pharmacists came up with censorship of tweets

By mid-December 2020, Nina Morscheuser, a Twitter lobbyist in Europe, sent an email to her colleagues with a dire warning. The pharmaceutical company BioEntech, in conjunction with the German government, contacted him with information about an upcoming “campaign targeting pharmaceutical companies developing a Covid-19 vaccine,” he wrote.

“Authorities are warning of ‘serious consequences’ of this move, such as a flood of posts and comments ‘that may violate the terms of service,’ as well as ‘hacking of user accounts,'” Morschhaeuser wrote. “Personal accounts of vaccine manufacturer executives are specifically targeted. Also, fake accounts may be created.”

Concerns related to the launch of an international campaign to force the pharmaceutical industry to share intellectual property and patents related to the development of a vaccine against Covid-19. The availability of patents, in turn, would allow countries worldwide to quickly develop generic vaccines and other low-cost drugs to combat epidemics.

While alerting Twitter’s integrity and security teams, Morschhaeuser forwarded an email from BioEntech spokeswoman Jesmina Alatovic asking Twitter to “hide” activist tweets directed at her company’s account for two days.

Morschhaeuser advised Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca accounts to monitor and secure company profiles He requested monitoring of the hashtags #PeoplesVaccine and #JoinCTAP – the English acronym of the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Technology Access Group, promoted by developing countries to accelerate vaccine development through research sharing and manufacturing capacity. Morschhaeuser noted that the group Global Justice Now is leading action on networks through an online petition.

We don’t know how much action Twitter has taken on BioNTech’s request. In response to Morschhaeuser’s question, many Twitter employees chimed in, debating what action they might or might not take. Sue Fern Teo, a member of Twitter’s security team, said a quick scan of the activists’ campaign did not indicate a violation of the terms of service and asked for more examples “to get a better idea of ​​content that may violate our policies.”

Either way, it shows the extent to which pharmaceutical giants have engaged in a global lobbying offensive to secure corporate dominance of the immunizers that have been central to the fight against the pandemic. Ultimately, the campaign to share the vaccine formula against Covid-19 failed.

And stop in the way The company’s new billionaire owner, Elon Musk, gained access to the Twitter emails in December 2022 after disclosing the material to several reporters. This is the second report from these files. The first focused on the Pentagon’s network of fake Twitter accounts used to spread US versions of operations in the Middle East.

During the investigation, Twitter did not provide unrestricted access to company information. Instead, it allows us to make requests handled by a lawyer, which means details may not be complete. We do not agree with any terms of use documents and we try to authenticate and make them relevant. The documents included in this story were written by The Intercept, not Twitter, as part of our privacy policy.

Twitter did not respond to our request for comment on the matter. In response to the report, BioEntech’s Alatovic emphasized that the company “takes its responsibility seriously and is investing in solutions to improve people’s health, regardless of their income.”

A spokeswoman for Germany’s Information Security Office — the cybersecurity agency that Morschhaeuser said contacted Twitter on behalf of BioNTech — emailed The Intercept after the story broke that the agency had activated a “cybersecurity alert” due to concerns about the extent of the People’s Vaccine campaign. A “DDoS attack.” The agency also said the warning was “independent of any content or political orientation of online campaigns as intended”.

By November, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism released a wide-ranging report showing that pharmaceutical companies have gone too far to stifle efforts to share patents and intellectual property related to the pandemic, including threats from leaders in Belgium, Colombia and Indonesia. Intercept lobbied extensively to prevent the United States from supporting the World Trade Organization (WTO) declaration of an intellectual property waiver on the development of a vaccine against Covid-19, a necessary mechanism for the rapid development of generic drugs. Epidemic related. The German press also reported on BioEntech’s aggressive efforts to gain the support of the German government against the final WTO waiver of intellectual property.

In May 2021, the Biden administration announced its support for an intellectual property waiver, reversing its and the Trump administration’s positions that favored generic manufacturing. This would make the United States one of the largest developed countries to support the idea, in an alliance led by India and South Africa. But internal disputes in the WTO and strong opposition from other developed countries hindered the effective progress of the initiative.

A largely successful crackdown on generic vaccine manufacturing has led to an unprecedented explosion in biopharmaceutical profits. Pfizer and BioNTech are expected to generate a staggering $37 billion in 2021 revenue from their mRNA vaccine, making it one of the most profitable drugs of all time.
Moderna, which is expected to earn $17.7 billion from vaccine sales in 2021, recently announced plans to raise the price of doses by 400%.

The high cost of the vaccine and the concentration of intellectual property, in 2021, led to stockpiling of supplies in the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Japan and other rich countries, while most countries in the developing world waited until next year for additional doses.

‘Trying to stifle digital dissent in a pandemic, when tweets are the only form of protest, is ill-advised’.

“For more than two years, a global movement has been speaking out against pharmaceutical greed and demanding that everyone around the world have the tools to fight the epidemic,” said Maja Seyoum, an activist with the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

“Regardless of the evil tactics of companies and governments,” he added, “we cannot and will not remain silent.”

Director of Global Justice Now, Nick Dearden, noted that at the time of BioEntech’s censorship request, much of the world was under lockdown rules, making digital forms of protest even more important to influence public policy.

“Trying to suppress digital dissent during a pandemic, when tweets and emails are the only means of protest available to people confined to their homes, is deeply sinister,” he said.

Headquarters of biopharmaceutical company BioEntech, September 18, 2020 in Mainz, Germany.

The headquarters of biopharmaceutical company BioEntech on September 18, 2020 in Mainz, Germany.

Photo: Ian Schreiber/Getty Images

Application of BioNTech This was not the only channel through which vaccine makers sought to shape Twitter’s content moderation efforts.

The “Powerful” campaign, run by Public Good Projects – a nonprofit public health organization – regularly communicates with Twitter about its moderation of pandemic-related content. The company has worked closely with the San Francisco social media giant to support the creation of bots to censor vaccine misinformation. The company sometimes sends direct requests to Twitter with a list of accounts to censor and verify.

Internal Twitter emails show regular correspondence between a Public Good Projects account executive and multiple Twitter employees, including Todd O’Boyle, a lobbyist at the company who served as a point of contact with the Biden administration. Content control requests were submitted throughout 2021 and into early 2022.

The entire campaign, as well as new tax documents, show that the actions were entirely funded by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), a lobby group for the vaccine industry. BIO, backed by companies like Moderna and Pfizer, funded the powerful campaign with $1.2 million. The initiative includes tools for the public to report content for moderation on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Many of the tweets reported by Stronger contained false information, including claims that the vaccine contained microchips and was designed to kill people. But others were in the gray area on vaccination policy – ​​where there is reasonable debate, such as requests to label or remove critical content from vaccine passports and government decisions to make vaccination mandatory.

A tweet Condemned by the BIO-funded moderation question: “If a vaccinated person and an unvaccinated person have nearly the same ability to carry, shed and transmit the virus, especially in its delta form, then implementing a vaccine passport in case of spread What makes the difference? virus?”

Public health experts and civil liberties advocates hotly debated the constitutionality of such vaccine passports, an idea that was eventually scrapped by US authorities.

Joe Smither, chief executive of the Public Good Project, which oversees the Stronger campaign, said his organization’s work is a sincere effort to combat misinformation. “BIO paid and said, ‘You’re planning a pro-vaccine effort against misinformation. We will give you 500 thousand dollars [por ano]Without asking anything,'” Smyser said.

Many pharmaceutical lobbyists have exaggerated the dangers of sharing vaccine technology. PhRMA, for example, is another pharmaceutical lobby group. A false claim has been made Twitter said any attempt to allow a generic vaccine against Covid-19 would threaten the 4.4 million jobs maintained by the US pharmaceutical industry.

We asked Smyser if his group has ever denounced any material distributed by the pharmaceutical lobby as “misleading.”

He agreed that the policy debate was important, and that if pharma companies were spreading misinformation, any citizen of the world “should be aware of that,” but his organization never condemned or focused on any content from the pharma industry.

“I can understand why someone would be skeptical, because as a researcher it’s important where your money comes from,” Schmiser said. However, he argued: “My job is how do people know where to get vaccinated? And how do I encourage them to get vaccinated? That was it.”

In a December 2020 email exchange discussing how to monitor BioNTech and respond to vaccine equity campaigns labeled “spam” for possible violations of Twitter policy, Twitter Germany spokesperson Holger Kersting sent several links to potentially violating tweets.

Two of them Tweet They come from an account by Terry Brough, a retired stonemason who lived in a small town near Liverpool, England. The messages demanded that the chief executives of Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca share vaccine technology with “poor countries”.

Inquiring, Brough reacted with surprise that his messages were being monitored for potentially false content.

“I’m 74 years old and still alive,” laughed Bro. “I have been a mason all my life like my father. I am not Che Guevara, but I was once an activist, trade unionist and socialist. I just posted a tweet. I really wish I could do more.”

Translation: Richard Romanoff