Twitter Files: Pharmaceutical Industry Lobbied Company to Censor Opposing Narratives Around Vaccines

Jack Dorsey and Twitter employees

Elon Musk’s Twitter released another batch of internal discussions on Monday, which revealed how the pharmaceutical industry lobbied social media to reinforce their own narratives and censor the public conversation around coronavirus vaccines and vaccine policies.

“The push included direct pressure from Pfizer partner BioNTech to censor activists demanding low-cost generic vaccines for low-income countries,” wrote Lee Fang, a journalist at the Intercept, who published the latest batch of Twitter Files on Monday.

Fang went on to say that while there was a push early on for “an international partnership to share ideas, technology, new forms of medicine” to solve the Chinese coronavirus crisis, “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,” Fang explained.

After Joe Biden was elected, “BIO, the lobby group that represents biopharma, including Moderna & Pfizer,” wrote to the new administration “demanding the U.S. gov sanction any country attempting to violate patent rights and create generic low cost covid medicine or vaccines,” the journalist said.

“That brings us to Twitter,” Fang continued. “The global lobbying blitz includes direct pressure on social media.”

The journalist disclosed that “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.”

Twitter “responded quickly to the pharma request, which was also backed by the German government,” Fang revealed, sharing screenshots of email correspondence.

Nina Morschhaeuser, a lobbyist for Twitter in Europe, even asked the social media company’s content moderation team to monitor the accounts for Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and of activist hashtags like #peoplesvaccine

“We got contacted by Biontech as well as the German Federal Office for Information Security for an online campaign targeting the pharmaceutical companies developing the COVID-19 vaccine,” Morschhaeuser wrote in a December 2020 email.

“Expected hashtags include #JoinCTAP and #PeoplesVaccine,” Morschhaeuser added. “The authorities are warning about ‘serious consequences’ of the action, i.e. posts and a flood of comments ‘that may violate TOS’ as well a the ‘takeover of user accounts’ are to be expected.”

Fang explained that the potential “fake accounts” that Twitter monitored for protesting Pfizer were actually real people. In one example, Terry, a 74-year-old retired bricklayer in the UK, had his tweets monitored by the social media giant.

In a separate push, Pfizer and Moderna’s lobbying group, BIO, “fully funded a special content moderation campaign” that worked with Twitter to set content moderation rules around so-called coronavirus “misinformation,” Fang added.

The BIO-funded campaign focused on targeting tweets from accounts that expressed concern over potential vaccine passports, vaccine mandates, and policies that coerce people to get the jab.

The Pfizer/Moderna-funded campaign even involved direct regular emails with lists of tweets to take down, as well as accounts to verify, Fang said, adding that “many” lobbyists had focused on Zero Hedge’s Twitter account, which was ultimately suspended.

Lobbyists also complained about people opposed to coronavirus vaccines citing a New York Times article to bolster their arguments.

“People opposed to vaccines are capitalizing on the NYT article about the CDC withholding vaccine information,” lobbyists lamented in an email.

“Another heavily trending article details a German health insurance company official who says their reports of healthcare visits for vaccine side effects do not match official reports of adverse events and that official reports may be severely undercounted,” the lobbyists further complained.

In concluding his Twitter Files thread, Fang also pointed out that “this massive push to censor and label” alleged coronavirus misinformation “never applied to drug companies.”

“When big pharma wildly exaggerated the risks of creating low-cost generic COVID vaccines, Stronger [the Pfizer/Moderna-funded campaign] did nothing,” Fang added. “The rules applied only to critics of industry.”

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.