German Council Reprimands Vaccine Makers for Censorship Attempts Revealed in Twitter Files
Twitter Files revealed that Pfizer partner BioNTech attempted to censor activists fighting for low-cost generic vaccines.
The German Council for Public Relations, a standards-setting body, has officially reprimanded Pfizer partner BioNTech over the company’s attempts to censor criticism of the company on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
BioNTech had reached out to Twitter executives in 2020 to suppress tweets from activists critical of the pharmaceutical industry’s refusal to share intellectual property and allow the creation of generic, low-cost vaccines to treat the COVID-19 virus.
I revealed the attempted censorship in January of this year as part of my ongoing Twitter Files reporting.
Emails from Twitter’s archives show that BioNTech closely communicated with Nina Morschhaeuser, a Twitter lobbyist in Berlin to monitor and potentially “hide” comments from voices seeking a special waiver of World Trade Organization rules governing IP and patent rights.
Twitter executives circulated the request and discussed ways to silence pharmaceutical critics by flagging posts for violating the company’s terms of service.
At the time, activists around the world were calling on the major drug companies to temporarily share the rights around various medications used to treat the coronavirus. In response, the drug industry lashed out, coordinating a global lobbying push to block any WTO rule that might stifle industry profits.
German Council for Public Relations, in its warning to BioNTech, noted that the firm appeared to be violating the transparency requirements and evading public debate.
In response to the German Council statement, activists are demanding more information about the drug lobby’s push to shape the public debate.
“It’s chilling that big pharma corporations believed they could use their vast resources to shut down the demands of campaigners, who simply wanted Covid-19 vaccine technology to be shared widely,” said Tim Bierley, a campaigner at Global Justice Now.
“Pharmaceutical companies must realize that they cannot shut down criticism when they fail to supply lifesaving medical technologies like COVID-19 vaccines to lower income countries,” said Mohga Kamal-Yanni, the public policy co-lead for the People’s Vaccine Alliance.
“The companies must publish their full interactions for public scrutiny,” Kamal-Yanni added, in a statement.
The extent and depth of the pharmaceutical industry’s reach into social media to shape the contours of public discussion around coronavirus-related policy is still unfolding.
The Judiciary Committee, citing my reporting, sent a document request to Albert Bourla, the chief executive of Pfizer, demanding more information about the company's attempts to influence online debate during the pandemic. The request was sent on July 18th.