Charlie Gard family accuses Twitter of "censoring" their account

Has Twitter taken sides in the Charlie Gard controversy, or has its automated filters become inadvertently triggered over its popularity? The Mirror reports that Gard’s parents have had to launch a new Twitter account due to interference with its messaging from the platform, which they call “censoring.” The change comes at a critical time, as the UK’s National Health Service continues to dither on when — and whether — they will pull the plug on the baby:

Charlie Gard’s family claims ‘Twitter is censoring’ their page set up to campaign for the terminally ill 10-month-old. …

The Twitter account fell short of stating exactly what material they believe had been blocked from social media.

The claims sparked an angry backlash from social media users who accused Twitter of being “disgraceful” and “anti-life”.

It’s not the first time that charge has been leveled at Twitter. The pro-life group Live Action accused the social-media platform of blocking its ads a little over a week ago. Twitter informed them that they could no longer advertise with pictures of ultrasounds or criticisms of Planned Parenthood, which they argued violated the platform’s terms of service:

The Washington Times obtained emails showing examples of tweets that were deemed unacceptable by Twitter ad bots and members of the Twitter sales team.

One tweet, sent from Ms. Rose’s personal account Jan. 18, said Planned Parenthood is “about abortion, not women’s health care.” It included a short, all-text video questioning the extent of Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion health care services. …

Other tweets that ran afoul of Twitter’s ad policy include a video fact-checking Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards, a map of the United States showing the availability of women’s health care centers not affiliated with Planned ParenthoodMs. Rose saying a child has a right to life, and Ms. Rose quoting Thomas Jefferson, Live Action said.

Twitter’s e-mailed responses to Live Action’s protest made it clear that the platform intended on basing access on content rather than behavior, Lila Rose said:

In order to restore Live Action’s eligibility to advertise, a member of Twitter’s sales team said, the pro-life group must “remove current and past sensitive content from your website and Twitter feed” or “create a new Twitter handle for marketing/advertising efforts that drives to a new website that does not include content that violates our policy.”

Ms. Rose called those choices “outright Orwellian.”

Live Action can run ads — but first you have to delete all tweets that, effectively, criticize Planned Parenthood, show images of preborn children or ultrasound images, that talk about the abortion procedure or link to investigative footage,” she said. “And you have to create a new Live Action website that doesn’t include any of that content, either, in order to reactive your ability to run ads on your account.”

With that as context, it’s not difficult to imagine that Twitter is imposing content-based restrictions on the Gard family, too. They deny it, however, and as the Mirror notes, there hasn’t been an indication of what the account was prevented from doing. It seems highly unlikely, however, that a family in these dire straits would choose this particular moment to pick a fight with a social-media platform it desperately needs to save the child’s life without having a very good reason to do do.

Speaking of Orwellian, how about this final sentence at the end of the Mirror article?

Great Ormond Street Hospital have allowed Connie Yates and Chris Gard a few more days to say goodbye to their son.

The NHS has “allowed” the parents to have their son live. How generous of them. That may be an indication, however, that the avalanche of bad publicity has the British government looking for a way out. Theresa May told the House of Commons that she’s open to a reasonable offer to exercise some “discretion” on whether to allow the parents to get their child out of the hospital. May expressed confidence that Great Ormond Street Hospital would be open to reasonable suggestions:

The family’s local MP, Labour’s Seema Malhotra, used PMQs to say that while the chances of the US treatment helping Charlie were low, doctors could say within three months whether he was responding.

Talking about the possibility of Charlie being sent to the US, Malhotra asked May: “Would the prime minister do all she can to bring the appropriate people together to try and make this happen?”

Saying her thoughts were with the infant and his family, May said she could “fully understand and appreciate that any parent in these circumstances would want to do everything possible and explore every option for their seriously ill child”.

The prime minister added: “But I also know that no doctor ever wants to be placed in the terrible position where they have to take such heartbreaking decisions.

“The honourable lady referred to the fact that we have that court process here. I’m confident that Great Ormond Street hospital have and will always consider any offers on new information that has come forward, with consideration of the wellbeing of a desperately ill child.”

Ahem. Had the hospital and the NHS been open to reasonable solutions, they would have allowed the parents to take Charlie to the US for experimental treatment using the private funds they raised for that purpose. Furthermore, the Vatican’s children hospital has offered to take over the case and let Charlie’s parents direct the medical approach, but thus far the UK has yet to take them up on that offer, either. If the hospital really was ready to “consider any offers,” they wouldn’t have forced the case into court in the first place.

So far, the hospital has not taken Charlie off of life support. According to the (new) Twitter feed for the family, they will stage a rally in London tomorrow to put more pressure on May and the NHS. Perhaps it might create some second thoughts for Twitter, too.