Gov. Ron DeSantis invites same panel of doctors who had been censored: ‘We are not going to be silenced’

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis held a roundtable discussion with doctors on public health on April 12, 2021. Credit: Screenshot from DeSantis' Facebook.

Following a recent public health discussion in March that was removed last week from YouTube, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the same panel of doctors and epidemiologists on Monday slammed the video-sharing platform for its decision to censor information challenging safety measures to combat COVID-19.

“Science in particular needs to have dissenting views. I am glad we are back; we are not going to be silenced,” DeSantis said in Monday’s panel discussion  in Tallahassee featuring Dr. Scott Atlas, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya and Dr. Martin Kulldorff.

The information from the panel’s previous public health roundtable violated YouTube policy, therefore, the video was removed Friday from the social media platform because the participants were spreading “COVID-19 medical misinformation,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

“We’ve seen attempts to stifle debate, censor and take down,” DeSantis said Monday. “So, I guess it has implications of how people view medical experts. I don’t think the anti-lockdown stuff should have been censored.” The governor was referencing the March roundtable medical discussion relating to lockdowns that keep residents largely in their homes.

The March 18 roundtable discussion featured a lineup of doctors who touted the Republican governor’s handling of the pandemic, suggesting that face masks are not necessary for schoolchildren and lockdowns did more harm than good.

That said, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday said that Michigan’s situation is dire enough to shut down the state because of the rising number of infections, according to the New York Times. The CDC said that vaccines would not necessarily be the answer to slow the spread, according to the Times.

In Florida, the March 18 medical panel members with DeSantis also claimed a face mask mandate was proven ineffective in preventing COVID-19 outbreaks. Though YouTube censored that roundtable, it is still available on the Florida Channel.

DeSantis on Monday is now raising concerns about big tech companies’ ability to remove content and whether it poses a threat to freedom of speech.

But social platforms, such as YouTube, have the freedom under law to set its own policies related to managing content, said Virginia Hamrick, staff attorney at the First Amendment Foundation.

“It’s my understanding that the video was removed pursuant to YouTube’s policies,” Hamrick said in an email Monday to the Florida Phoenix.

“YouTube, as a private online platform, can moderate content on its site. Just as the government cannot prohibit speech of individuals and private companies, the government cannot compel speech. YouTube and other platforms can decide what speech appears on their websites.”

Doctors on the panel this Monday said censorship is harmful to the public and touted the DeSantis administration’s decision to buck lockdowns and keep schools and businesses open even as COVID-19 cases surged in the state.

“There’s nothing more dangerous than being able to censor what is said in a country, because then you are simply not ever going to even hear the truth,” said Dr. Scott Atlas, who previously served as an advisor under the Donald Trump administration.

“I have been personally censored on YouTube,” he added.

Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, professor of medicine at Stanford University, said, “censorship is not consistent with American norms.”

“I think censorship is an enormous mistake,” he said. He added that “good public health messaging” should center around vaccines allowing people to live their lives with “less fear.”

Meanwhile, DeSantis had come under fire when he issued an executive order in March that revoked fines against people and businesses disregarding safety measures such as wearing face coverings.

As previously reported by the Phoenix, local governments, particularly in hard-hit South Florida, initially imposed mask mandates and other restrictions on businesses to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s only Democratic elected official, said in a written statement:

“This governor’s unhinged, dangerous rhetoric on COVID-19 continued today, elevating fringe conspiracy theories and once again repeating the claim that children don’t need to take the simple, common-sense precaution of wearing a mask – a claim so reckless, YouTube banned it last time.

Over the course of a year in which 2 million Floridians have been sickened, 34,000 have died, and 1 million have lost jobs, this Governor has blamed everyone including the media, Hispanic farmworkers, China, and ‘Big Tech,’ while taking no responsibility for hiding data, silencing critics, and lying to Floridians.”