Twitter blocks article promoting ‘chickenpox parties’ to stop the coronavirus

  • >> Michael Levenson, The New York Times
    Published: 2020-03-26 13:06:01 BdST

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Outside Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, Sept 19, 2019. The New York Times

Twitter on Wednesday temporarily locked the account of a conservative website after it promoted an article suggesting that the medical community should consider intentionally infecting people with the coronavirus at “chickenpox parties” to help slow the spread of the virus.

The article, titled, “How Medical ‘Chickenpox Parties’ Could Turn The Tide Of The Wuhan Virus,” argued that a “controlled voluntary infection” programme could allow young people to return to work after contracting and recovering from the virus.

Such a strategy, the article stated, could promote “herd immunity” and help save the economy.

Many figures on the right have expressed concern about the toll on the economy from prolonged social distancing and from the closing of businesses. President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he would “love to have the country opened up, and just raring to go, by Easter,” a timeline that top health professionals said was far too soon.

Twitter said the article posted by the conservative website, The Federalist, as well as a tweet about it, violated the company’s rules, which ban content that flouts the recommendations of public health officials on the coronavirus.

The company’s policy requires the removal of tweets that encourage people to disregard social distancing guidelines or that describe “harmful treatments or protection measures which are known to be ineffective.”

The action comes as misinformation about the virus has spread rapidly on social media, frustrating companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter that have worked aggressively to stop the promotion of “miracle cures” and other false information.

The Federalist promoted the article to its more than 230,000 followers with a tweet that read it was “time to think outside the box.”

Twitter then locked The Federalist’s account until the tweet was removed. The article was still posted on The Federalist’s website as of Wednesday night.

Benjamin Domenech, the publisher of The Federalist, and Mollie Hemingway, a senior editor, did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment Wednesday.

Dr Douglas A Perednia, who wrote the article, said he disagreed with Twitter’s action.

“I don’t think they read the article,” he said. “They may be reacting to the headline, but they’re not reading the article itself.”

Perednia, of Portland, Oregon, described himself as a recently retired medical internist who also trained in dermatology.

Perednia’s article was published a day after Gov Andy Beshear of Kentucky announced that a young person in that state had tested positive for the virus after attending a “coronavirus party” held in defiance of social distancing guidelines.

Perednia’s article suggested “allowing people at low risk for severe complications to deliberately contract COVID-19 in a socially and medically responsible way so they become immune to the disease.”

Such a strategy, the article stated, “could be a powerful tool for both suppressing the Wuhan coronavirus and saving the economy.”

“It could reduce the danger of passing COVID-19 to vulnerable populations, drastically reduce the amount of social isolation needed, reopen businesses and even help achieve the level of ‘herd immunity’ needed to stop the spread of the disease within the population” Perednia wrote.

Some medical professionals strongly disagreed.

Dr Arthur L Caplan, a medical ethicist at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, said that so little was known about who was truly at low-risk for infection and why that such a programme could lead to a surge in deaths.

“It is dangerous and irresponsible,” he said. “To run around saying, ‘I’m going to take a lethal virus and deliberately infect you to build your immunity’ not only makes no medical sense, it gets pretty close to advising homicide.”

Dr Andrew A Lover, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, called the article “exceedingly ill-advised, and not evidence-based in any way shape or form.”

But some doctors said it might be worth exploring strategies other than social distancing to combat the spread of the pandemic.

Dr Daniel J Morgan, a professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said he would not endorse intentionally infecting people, but added that it was worth considering ways to increase herd immunity while protecting vulnerable patients.

“I think that we do need to be open-minded about all potential ideas if we don’t see a great effect from social distancing,” he said. “What do we during the next phase of this?”

© 2020 New York Times News Service