WASHINGTON — YouTube has banned the pro-life group LifeSiteNews for alleged misinformation about COVID-19, prompting concerns about censorship and free debate.
One ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center did not agree with LifeSiteNews’ presentation of the science and ethics involved in the COVID-19 vaccines, but he defended the organization’s presence on YouTube, which receives over 2 billion logged-in users each month.
“The National Catholic Bioethics Center condemns the arbitrary decision of YouTube to censor content simply because they find it disagreeable or in opposition to their own political views,” Edward Furton, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA Feb. 11.
“YouTube is not staffed by scientists, but by engineers and technicians who understand little to nothing about scientific matters. Far worse, they favor a liberal ideology that supports abortion not only here at home but throughout the world. They believe that there is a universal right to kill the unborn. Such a view revokes their claim to moral superiority over others.”
Furton stressed the importance of hearing multiple views.
“Censorship by big tech is one of the greatest threats to the principles of democracy that we have seen in decades. This is done solely for the purpose of controlling information and preventing the free discussion of ideas among their fellow citizens,” he told CNA. “Unfortunately, this will become increasingly common until our political leaders gather up the courage to enact legislation that will protect the free expression of ideas.”
Google, YouTube’s owner, later said it had banned LifeSiteNews for violating its COVID-19 misinformation policy, including “content that promotes prevention methods that contradict local health authorities or WHO.” Channels that receive three strikes in a 90-day period will be permanently removed, a Google spokesperson told Daily Caller News Foundation.
Speaking to CNA before this statement, LifeSiteNews editor-in-chief John-Henry Westen said the site did not receive “a specific reason for the deletion of the account” and the removal of the account meant it has no access to see the flagged video or to appeal the decision.
He said the removal from YouTube “hurts.” LifeSiteNews’ channel had over 300,000 subscribers, an average of over 50,000 views on its main show, and some shows that reached over 2 million viewers.
LifeSiteNews is not an officially Catholic publication. It grew out of the Canada-based Campaign Life Coalition and now has separate organizations in the U.S. and Canada.
While most Catholic authorities have emphasized the dangers of the pandemic and the moral permissibility of using COVID-19 vaccines if they use material of morally compromised origins, LifeSiteNews has published some opinion and commentary that questions the pandemic and the use of the vaccines.
In December, LifeSiteNews said YouTube deleted its video “in which a prominent Canadian physician protested the ‘unfounded public hysteria’ over COVID-19.”
That video concerned pathologist Roger Hodkinson, whom LifeSiteNews claimed was the former chairman of the Royal College of Physicians of Canada Examination Committee in Pathology. In a phone call during a public meeting in Edmonton, Hodkinson claimed COVID-19 is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated” and “just another bad flu.”
However, the Associated Press in a Dec. 2 factcheck said Hodkinson has never been chairman of the group. While Hodkinson claimed “masks were utterly useless,” with “no evidence” for their effectiveness, their use is recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which cites multiple studies in a scientific brief last updated Nov. 20.
YouTube later put a strike on a LifeSiteNews video of Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, in which he said he would “never take the unethical COVID vaccine.” In January, YouTube flagged LifeSiteNews for a video with the headline “The unborn babies used for vaccine development were alive at tissue extraction.”
Westen told CNA, “Our best guess is that the channel was taken down for our frank and factual discussion of the controversy around abortion-tainted medicines and vaccines. The origins of these vaccines and their association with abortion is acknowledged by the vast majority of scientists. Prior strikes were given for speaking the truth about COVID lockdowns and the presence of aborted fetal cells in the vaccines.”
“It is widely known that the COVID-19 vaccine has, directly and indirectly, relied on cells taken from aborted babies,” said Westen.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a Dec. 11 statement said that Catholics can ethically take two of the three available COVID-19 vaccines, those produced by Pfizer and Moderna. They were developed with only a “remote connection” to “morally compromised” cell lines during the testing phase, as is common in many modern medicines.
The vaccine produced by AstraZeneca “should be avoided if there are alternatives available,” said the bishops, as this vaccine is “more morally compromised.” However, they said it is even morally permissible in some circumstances to receive this “more morally compromised” AstraZeneca vaccine, developed in close connection with aborted cell lines. They emphasized that Catholics cannot allow the pandemic to “desensitize” or “weaken our determination” to oppose the evil of abortion.
The concern centers on the use of the cell line HEK293, derived from a human embryonic kidney. In 1972, a female child was aborted in the Netherlands, and cells were originally extracted and developed from her kidney. Cells from the HEK293 line have been commonly used in biologic research since the late 1970s.
Westen claimed LifeSiteNews’ sources are sound.
“We have quoted a variety of bioethicists who are at the top of their fields,” he told CNA. “Three leading churchmen who have been exposing the truth about COVID-19 on our site are Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, and Bishop Joseph Strickland.”
LifeSiteNews was banned from Twitter for its reporting on a Canadian transgender activist who is biologically male but identifies as a woman. Westen said the website would endure.
“Just like when we were barred from Twitter for calling a biological male a male, we will continue to speak the truth and will not give in to the threats of Big Tech and the censors who wish to remove inconvenient truths form the public square,” Westen told CNA. “We are also taking legal steps too of course, so we would appreciate prayers and any support.”
Last month, Catholic World Report was suspended from Twitter after it posted a link to a Catholic News Agency story hosted on its own website. The Twitter post, citing the CNA story, described a Biden appointee as a biological male who identifies as a transgender woman. Twitter later said the suspension was in error.
As for Google’s misinformation policy, it also bans “videos claiming that the COVID-19 vaccine will contain fetal tissue.” It also bars content that disputes the efficacy of health authorities’ guidance on “physical distancing or self-isolation measures to reduce transmission of COVID-19.”
LifeSiteNews syndicates material from Children’s Health Defense, founded by vaccine critic Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Kennedy was banned from the Facebook-owned Instagram Feb. 10 for “repeatedly sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines,” a Facebook spokesperson said. The social media giant announced a new plan to combat vaccine misinformation on Feb. 8, CNN reports.
A Feb. 5 LifeSiteNews story said that Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God, a Benedictine Prioress and host of a show on LifeSiteNews, had been “censored by YouTube after posting a video on the dangers of Covid-19 vaccines.” YouTube on Feb. 4 had removed a video on her own channel in which she contended that Covid-19 was “being used to control the population with lies.”
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