Last week, YouTube removed a roundtable meeting of controversial health policy experts led by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over misinformation surrounding mask-wearing. But on Monday, flouting YouTube's guidelines, DeSantis held another discussion inviting back those very same experts.
DeSantis said that YouTube's original decision to take down the Mar. 18 panel was an attempt to stifle free speech, his outcry part of a larger push against Big Tech which many on the right feel systematically censors conservative voices.
"Google/YouTube has not been throughout this pandemic repositories of truth and scientific inquiry, but have instead acted (as) enforcers of a narrative, a big tech council of censors in service of the ruling elite," DeSantis said during a press conference with Atlas.
The video's removal was first discovered by libertarian think tank American Institute for Economic Research.
A spokeswoman for YouTube told the Washington Post that the video was removed because "it contradicts the consensus of local and global health authorities regarding the efficacy of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19."
As part of its rationale, YouTube specifically cited several instances in which the panelists condemned mask-wearing for children, which despite public health guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, they argued was ineffective in limiting the spread of the virus.
"Children should not wear face masks," argued Harvard University biostatistician Martin Kulldorff. "They don't need it for their own protection, and they don't need it for protecting other people either."
Other participants included Oxford University epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta and Stanford Medical School economist Jay Bhattacharya –– both of whom have disputed the efficacy of lockdowns and other public health precautions –– and Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist and an adviser to former President Trump who now works as a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Last year, Stanford faculty came together to demur Atla's rejection of mask mandates and other COVID-19 public health measures, accusing him of "promot[ing] a view of COVID-19 that contradicts medical science," according to the Orlando Sentinel.
During their discussion, the panelists also rejected the efficacy of contact tracing, school closures. One panelist called vaccine passports the "new vaccine Jim Crow."
Central to the panel's purpose was promoting the notion of "immunity through infection," according to Orlando Sentinel, which calls for lifting all COVD-related restrictions and letting the virus run its course for low-risk Americans under 60. The idea was first posited in the Great Barrington Declaration, a joint letter consigned by three of the panelists.
Last year, 80 researchers wrote a joint letter in the esteemed medical journal the Lancet to unilaterally condemn the practice as "a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence."
Amy Jewett, a professor of political science, told the Orlando Sentinel that DeSantis is boosting his national profile by flouting COVID restrictions, perhaps making him a key contender in the 2024 race by likening himself to the former President.
"It's hard to tell what issues will be most important in voters' minds when we get down the road more than two years," Jewett said. "But in the present, it certainly continues to raise Gov. DeSantis' profile nationally [...] He's certainly one of the most well-known Republican governors in the country right now. And a lot of Republicans seem to like what he's saying and what he's doing."