By Christine Sexton, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday railed against YouTube and Google for removing a video of a COVID-19 discussion he had with scientists who oppose government lockdowns, school closures and mask wearing, calling it “censorship.”
The ramped-up criticism by the Republican governor came as lawmakers try to work out details of a bill that takes aim at tech companies, an issue that DeSantis championed as one of his top priorities for this year’s legislative session.
“Science, in particular, needs to have dissenting views aired, and that’s how a lot of these breakthroughs end up happening. It’s disappointing to see it,” DeSantis said of YouTube’s decision to remove the video, a move first noticed by a libertarian think tank and then reported by the online publication The Wrap. “We are not going to be silenced. We are going to make sure folks get to hear from some of the great experts in the country and also be able to actually hear what the data has revealed over the past year.”
DeSantis’ broadside came at a Tallahassee press event where he was joined by Scott Altas, who served as a White House coronavirus adviser to former President Donald Trump; Stanford University professor Jay Bhattacharya; and Harvard Medical School Professor Martin Kulldorff.
Monday’s event was the third COVID-19 roundtable the governor has held with the trio of scientists over the past year.
YouTube removed a video of a March roundtable discussion that had been posted by television station WTSP and which also featured Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University.
During that discussion, Kulldorff said children did not need to wear masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. YouTube officials told media outlets the video was removed because of “misinformation”
DeSantis, who has become a harsh critic of medical advice coming from federal authorities, said YouTube and its parent company, Google, removed the video because they are “enforcers of a narrative” for the “ruling elite.”
“There are people out there who are more pro-lockdown but still disagree with the censorship,” the governor said. “They understand that they may disagree with the Bhattacharyas and the Guptas, but maybe someday big tech comes after their perspective, that they want to be shared. So, it’s not a road that we want to go.”
While YouTube removed the video posted by one television station, other condensed versions of the roundtable remained on the platform. The full video is also available on The Florida Channel.
As he ramps up his 2022 re-election bid, DeSantis has routinely been slashing at tech companies and the “corporate media.” Last week, he assailed the CBS news show “60 Minutes” over a story about Florida’s vaccine rollout. The moves have brought DeSantis increased attention on conservative media outlets and have helped make him a leading contender to run for president in 2024 if Trump does not try again.
DeSantis on Monday said the recent actions by YouTube underscore why the Legislature needs to take action against so-called “big tech.”
Bills under consideration by the Legislature include barring social-media companies from removing political candidates from the companies’ platforms, but the governor said his administration is working to make the bills stronger.
“We may have some ability to ask for some more teeth in the bill,” he said, adding that while the bills as written might not apply to YouTube’s removal of his COVID-19 roundtable, it is an example of unequal treatment.
Meanwhile, state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried released a statement Monday saying that the governor and his priorities are “shockingly out of touch” with the public and that his lack of leadership has exacerbated the pandemic.
Fried, a likely Democratic challenger to DeSantis next year, called his rhetoric “unhinged” and “dangerous” and said he has elevated “fringe conspiracy theories.”