Twitter on Sunday took action against a post from Scott Atlas, a White House coronavirus task force official who had claimed that masks are not effective at stopping the spread of covid-19.
“Masks work? NO,” Atlas wrote on Saturday, before going on to falsely claim that the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not back their use. That tweet has now been replaced by a notice saying it was removed because it violates Twitter’s rules, which prohibit sharing potentially harmful misinformation about the coronavirus. A follow-up tweet that Atlas posted, saying that masks should be worn “when close to others” and social distancing is an appropriate precaution for other scenarios, can still be viewed on the site.
Atlas told the Associated Press in an email that he did not understand Twitter’s decision to penalize him and felt it amounted to censorship. He said he had intended to emphasize that broad mask mandates were not effective by pointing to places like Los Angeles County and Miami-Dade County where large numbers of infections have been reported despite mandatory mask-wearing.
Public health experts have repeatedly stated that masks play a crucial role in reducing transmission, but they are most effective when paired with other measures like social distancing and hand-washing. The CDC states that masks are particularly important in instances when people do not know they are infected, and should be worn “when around people not living in your household and particularly where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations.”
In the wake of reports that false information about the coronavirus has been allowed to spread unchecked through social media, Twitter has deleted posts shared by President Trump and other high-profile officials that contain inaccurate or misleading claims.
Atlas, who joined the White House in August, has also pushed the Trump administration to adopt a controversial “herd immunity” approach to the pandemic. A neuroradiologist by training, he does not have a background in epidemiology or infectious diseases.