The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) is suing U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA). The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Jan. 20, 2020 by the AAPS and Katarina Verrelli, alleges that Rep. Schiff abused the federal government’s authority when he wrote Amazon, Facebook and Google last year to “deplatform or discredit what Schiff asserted to be inaccurate information on vaccines.”1
In the complaint against Rep. Schiff, the AAPS argues, “The First Amendment protects the rights of free speech and association. Included within the right of free speech is a right to receive information from willing speakers. Under the First Amendment, Americans have the right to hear all sides of every issue and to make their own judgments about those issues without government interference or limitations. Content-based restrictions on speech are presumptively unconstitutional, and courts analyze such restrictions under strict scrutiny.”1
“The internet is supposed to provide free access to information to people of different opinions,” said AAPS Executive Director Jane Orient, MD.1
In letters sent to the CEOs of Facebook and Google on Feb. 14, 2019, Rep. Schiff wrote: “As a Member of Congress who is deeply concerned about declining vaccination rates, I am requesting additional information on the steps that you currently take to provide medically accurate information on vaccinations to your users, and to encourage you to consider additional steps you can take to address this growing problem.”2
Rep. Schiff added: “I was pleased to see YouTube’s recent announcement that it will no longer recommend videos that violate its community guidelines, such as conspiracy theories or medically inaccurate videos, and encourage further action to be taken related to vaccine misinformation.”2
On Mar. 1, 2019, Rep. Schiff wrote a similar letter to the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, saying: “As the largest online marketplace in the world, Amazon is in a unique position to shape consumption. The algorithms which power social media platforms and Amazon’s recommendations are not designed to distinguish quality information from misinformation or misleading information and, as a result, harmful anti-vaccine messages have been able to thrive and spread. The consequences are particularly troubling for public health issues.”3
He added: “I am concerned by the report that Amazon accepts paid advertising that contains deliberate misinformation about vaccines; promoting these advertisements as suggested content ahead of intended search results. Every online platform, including Amazon, must act responsibly and ensure that they do not contribute to this growing public health catastrophe.”3
According to the AAPS, within 24 hours of Rep. Schiff’s letter to Bezos, Amazon removed the videos Vaxxed and Shoot ’Em Up: the Truth About Vaccines from its “platform for streaming videos, depriving members of the public of convenient access.”1
“On Facebook, a search for an AAPS article on vaccines, which previously would lead directly to the AAPS article, now produces search results containing links to the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” said the AAPS. “Visits to the AAPS website have declined significantly since March 2019, both in absolute terms and relative to the decline that would result from a story’s losing its recency.”1
“AAPS is not ‘anti-vaccine,’ but rather supports informed consent, based on an understanding of the full range of medical, legal, and economic considerations relevant to vaccination and any other medical intervention, which inevitably involves risks as well as benefits,” noted Dr. Orient.1
1 Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Rep. Adam Schiff Sued by Physicians for Censoring Vaccine Debate. Jan. 15, 2020.
2 Press Release. Schiff Sends Letter to Google, Facebook Regarding Anti-Vaccine Misinformation. Congressman Adam Schiff Feb. 14, 2019.
3 Press Release. Schiff Sends Letter to Amazon CEO Regarding Anti-Vaccine Misinformation. Congressman Adam Schiff Mar. 1, 2019.
4 Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Board of Directors.
5 GlobeNewswire. Court Rules ObamaCare Individual Mandate Unconstitutional, Reports Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS). ForexTV.com Dec. 19, 2019.