A respiratory expert awarded an MBE for his medical services during the pandemic has been blocked from Twitter after he was accused by the platform of spreading ‘misinformation and potentially harmful information’ about Covid.
Dr Matthew Knight posted a Tweet about the need for research and investment in air filters for restaurants and bars to allow the hospitality sector to safely reopen.
But his post was blocked by the platform and he was sent an email stating that the comment ‘violated Twitter’s policy on spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19‘.
Dr Knight, the executive director and co-founder of Penrose Care and a respiratory consultant at West Herts Hospitals, was then blocked from the platform.
He has since appealed the decision, but it has been upheld a second time.
The move has been slammed on social media with critics branding Twitter’s decision ‘Orwellian’ saying: ‘Censoring this could cost lives.’
The World Health Organization and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both admit the coronavirus is airborne.
It comes after months of scientific debate, but scienitists initially believed the virus was transmitted by droplets they now accept it is also airborne.
It came as Facebook was condemned for smothering free speech, after it reversed a ban on stories questioning whether the coronavirus pandemic started with a leak from a Chinese lab.
That theory had been branded a conspiracy by Facebook and liberal US media outlets, after Donald Trump suggested there may be a link, and it was banned from the network.
Dr Matthew Knight, who was awarded an MBE for his work during the Covid pandemic, posted a Tweet about the need to research and invest in air filters to make hospitality venues safer
Dr Knight has appealed the decision by Twitter, but he was sent an email from the platform’s support team announcing his appeal had also been rejected (pictured)
But the leading respiratory physician (pictured) was sent an email stating that the comment ‘violated Twitter’s policy on spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19’
Dr Knight told Mail Online: ‘I’m feeling quite hard done by, upset and confused.
‘It feels like censorship for me as I dont feel there is anything contentious with what is written.
‘I work for the NHS – I am not a political activist trying to make a point. Most of the tweets I have put out in the last year have been about keeping safe and getting tested, vaccinated, treated.
WHO AND CDC ADMIT COVID IS AIRBORNE
The World Health Organization and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this spring both said the coronavirus is airborne after months of scientific debate.
Experts have argued throughout the pandemic about whether the virus can still spread in the air after someone has breathed or coughed it out.
It was originally believed to be mainly ‘droplet transmission’, which meant the virus was transmitted when infected people breathed, spoke, coughed or sneezed and virus-carrying droplets shot across the room onto someone else and infected them. If it didn’t happen in this moment, the view was, the viruses would fall to floor and not pose much risk afterwards.
But in an update to its website in April 2021, the WHO admitted: ‘The virus can also spread in poorly ventilated and/or crowded indoor settings, where people tend to spend longer periods of time. This is because aerosols remain suspended in the air or travel farther than 1 metre.’
This was its first admission that the virus could linger in the air for a longer period of time, potentially even after the infectious person had left. This meant it could hang around in rooms or float across enclosed spaces to reach people further away.
The CDC said: ‘Transmission events have involved the presence of an infectious person exhaling virus indoors for an extended time (more than 15 minutes and in some cases hours) leading to virus concentrations in the air space sufficient to transmit infections to people more than 6 feet away, and in some cases to people who have passed through that space soon after the infectious person left.’
In an article published in The Lancet medical journal in April, GP and Oxford professor Dr Trisha Greenhalgh and colleagues said there was solid evidence the virus is airborne.
They said there had been cases of ‘long-range’ transmission in quarantine hotels, that more common infections indoors suggested the environment was key as well as social contact, that the virus still spreads in hospitals where there are strict control measures, and that studies have found the virus present in ambient air and in filters and ducts.
‘I am very much in favour of reopening the country, but it needs to be safe and studied. I have published that message on Twitter and in academic articles.
‘As far as doing stuff onTwitter I think I have always contributed to the good, so I am not going to apologise for a tweet about having clean air in a restaurant so you dont get Covid from someone else. I think that’s pretty obvious.’
Dr Knight was recently awarded an MBE for his role in the Covid pandemic response.
He led a frontline team of medical professionals to prevent hospital admissions through virtual monitoring and consultations of patients at home.
Over 10,000 virtual consultations took place via the’virtual hospital’, which cared for over 1,250 patients.
He took to Twitter on May 2019 to highlight the importance of air filters and ventilation systems in restaurants and bars.
He wrote: ‘To get hospitality working safely in the UK a significant investment is required in ventilation systems.
‘The standards should be set ASAP and funding made available. Covid is airborne (as are other infections) and ventilation vital part of prevention. Good air quality vital (sic).’
He was then sent an email from Twitter to his work email account warning him that his post had violated their policies.
He appealed the decision, but recieved another email less than a week later saying his appeal had been turned down.
Dr Knight said: ‘I seem to have reached the end of the process to appeal it. If I had tweeted something contentious I would have just deleted it and got on with life, but on point of principle I wont be censored.
‘There are other people out there putting quite nasty and horrible stuff on Twitter. I think all that seems to get by without any problems at all.
‘So you can be nasty to each other and people can express extreme views on the left or to the right and are allowed to spew that all on Twitter with complete immunity. But I want to write about clean air and I get this.’
The email from Twitter read: ‘Our support team has determined that a violation did take place, and therefore we will not overturn our decision.
‘You will not be able to access Twitter through your account due to violations of the Twitter Rules, specifically our rules around: Violating our policy on spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19.’
He has been blocked from his account in the wake of the post and failed appeals.
Dr Knight claims the only way for his account to be reinstated is for him to delete the tweet and then have displayed on his account that he ‘is a Covid misinformation spreader’ for 14 days.
The move caused outrage on social media with medical figures among the many Twitter users jumping to his defence.
Dr Kristen K. Coleman, a senior research fellow in Emerging Infectious Diseases, questioned what was ‘misleading or harmful’ about the post.
She also suggested similar scenes had taken place on Twitter before, but it is not clear who the ‘Aerosol Scientist’ she refers to is.
Dr Kristen K. Coleman, a senior research fellow in Emerging Infectious Diseases, questioned what was ‘misleading or harmful’ about the post
She appealed to Twitter to reinstate Dr Knight saying that his post contained ‘well-known facts’
Another social media user called Twitter’s actions ‘Orwellian and dangerous’
Another Twitter user also suggested it was ‘terrifying’ that ‘scientific facts’ were considered ‘misinformation’
She wrote: ‘There’s something wrong with Twitter’s censorship function. An Aerosol Scientist and a Respiratory Physician have both been blocked from accessing their accounts for ‘spreading misleading & potentially harmful information related to COVID-19’.
Dr Knight claims the only way for his account to be reinstated is for him to delete the tweet and then have displayed on his account that he ‘is a Covid misinformation spreader’ for 14 days
‘How is this misleading/harmful?’
She appealed to Twitter to reinstate Dr Knight saying that his post contained ‘well-known facts’, adding: ‘Appeals were denied, with the option to delete the tweets to regain access. The science is solid for aerosol transmission, and ventilation and air filtration reduce/prevent long-range aerosol transmission of pathogens.
‘Why is Twitter blocking these well-known facts?
‘We need to be focusing on #SafeIndoorAir, not blocking informative messages supporting it.
‘The @WHO and @CDCgov both acknowledge airborne transmission, and the topic is published in leading science and medical journals. It is not misleading or harmful information.’
Another Twitter user also suggested it was ‘terrifying’ that ‘scientific facts’ were considered ‘misinformation’.
They posted: ‘Terrifying that statements related to airborne transmission are ‘misinformation’ and somehow seen as dangerous.
‘It is a scientific fact that #COVIDisAirborne, as confirmed by WHO, CDC, UK government and every respectable body that I know. Censoring this could cost lives.’
What breaches Twitter’s Covid misinformation policy?
Twitter’s Covid misleading information policy states: ‘You may not use Twitter’s services to share false or misleading information about COVID-19 which may lead to harm.’
The policy outlines how tweets will be removed or labeled if they:
- Advance a claim of fact, expressed in definitive terms;
- Be demonstrably false or misleading, based on widely available, authoritative sources;
- And be likely to impact public safety or cause serious harm.
Twitter has been approached by Mail Online for comment.
On their website, Twitter’s Covid misinformation policy states: ‘Even as scientific understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to develop, we’ve observed the emergence of persistent conspiracy theories, alarmist rhetoric unfounded in research or credible reporting, and a wide range of unsubstantiated rumors, which left uncontextualized can prevent the public from making informed decisions regarding their health, and puts individuals, families and communities at risk.
‘This includes sharing content that may mislead people about the nature of the COVID-19 virus; the efficacy and/or safety of preventative measures, treatments, or other precautions to mitigate or treat the disease; official regulations, restrictions, or exemptions pertaining to health advisories; or the prevalence of the virus or risk of infection or death associated with COVID-19.’
It comes amid uproar after Facebook was accused of smothering free speech to cosy up to China as it scrapped its ban on posts debating whether Covid-19 could be man-made.
The move was made only after President Joe Biden ordered the CIA to probe if the virus came from a Wuhan lab.
Critics branded Facebook’s behaviour had been ‘contemptible’ and begged them to respect free speech rather than ‘ingratiating’ themselves with states such as China, which has banned the website but remains a $5billion-a-year ad market.
British Conservative MP Peter Bone told MailOnline: ‘It does seem to me that Facebook is not an open platform for people to put their views on. It is an open platform for people to put their views on as long as they agree with Facebook.’