Barely over a week ago, Georgia Congresswoman and maniac Marjorie Taylor Greene had her personal Twitter account permanently banned for spreading misinformation about COVID-19 after she falsely claimed that coronavirus vaccines are causing “an extremely high” number of deaths. (Her official Congressional account remains active.) Now, seeking new avenues to do the thing that’s made her famous, she’s leaning more heavily on her verified Instagram account, using it on Sunday to promote ivermectin, a (still) bogus cure for COVID.
In her post, Greene implied that she’s taking ivermectin herself, writing, “In foreign countries, you can walk in a pharmacy and buy Ivermectin over the counter without a prescription like I did, and it has saved many lives.” She also added, “[T]he government can’t mandate a vaccine if there are treatments for covid, and early treatment of Ivermectin and monoclonal antibodies is a CURE in most cases. Withholding these treatments is murder, and I believe the government is responsible.”
A couple things are going on here. Greene is promoting the common anti-vaccine canard that vaccine mandates are illegal because other, less-invasive cures exist for COVID. (One version of the lie, for instance, claimed this fall that Japan had “dropped” its vaccine rollout, switched to ivermectin and ended the pandemic overnight, none of which of course happened.) The Supreme Court is in the midst of hearing challenges to two parts of the Biden administration’s proposed vaccine mandate, but vaccine mandates broadly have been legal since 1905, after the Jacobson v. Massachusetts ruling.
But promoting ivermectin, specifically, has become a way for pundits and politicians to signal where they stand, even as the drug—an anti-parasitic which is effective for a variety of conditions in humans and animals—continues to have no proven use in treating or preventing COVID-19, according to the best available evidence we currently have. (Indeed, several much-vaunted papers claiming ivermectin’s efficacy in treating COVID have been retracted for garbling their data or in some cases discredited for what the science writer and epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz has argued persuasively looks a lot like outright fraud.)
Still, ivermectin, like hydroxychloroquine before it, has become emblematic for COVID skeptics, a signifier of all the supposed “miracle” cures that the government and pharmaceutical industry are ignoring because vaccine mandates will make them rich or allow them to impose their tyrannical view of a totalitarian one-world government. Promoting ivermectin is a neat hat trick, allowing people like Greene to signal their opposition to vaccines, the federal government (an irony, in her case, considering where she works), mandates, social distancing, and, indeed, taking COVID seriously at all. Greene, in one of her previous strikes on Twitter, falsely tweeted over the summer that COVID is “not dangerous” to people who aren’t obese or under 65. Ivermectin has entered what the author and professor Michael Barkun once called “the realm of stigmatized knowledge,” meaning that its supporters regard it as infallible despite—indeed, really, because of—its lack of support from mainstream scientific researchers, public health bodies, and everyone else who typically tells us what we can factually believe, based on evidence. Once something become stigmatized knowledge, a certain type of person will in fact be more likely to believe it, seeing it as an example of something that’s being deliberately withheld from the public by evil, power-mad institutions bent on our enslavement.
Greene’s promotion of bad COVID-19 information also presents a particularly prickly and much argued-about challenge for social media platforms and journalists covering how they work. As a public official, she has a wide reach, and virtually everything she says is newsworthy; the fact that she uses her perch to relentlessly strew bullshit across the landscape is newsworthy too. In the New York Times recently, opinion writer Jay Caspian Kang argued that Greene should be allowed to keep her social media accounts, arguing that the bans serve as little more than image-burnishing PR for companies like Twitter, and indeed, the banned people themselves, “who immediately get to paint themselves as martyrs.” (Greene sent out a press release after her banning, writing, “Twitter is an enemy to America and can’t handle the truth. That’s fine, I’ll show America we don’t need them and it’s time to defeat our enemies. They can’t successfully complete a Communist revolution when people tell the truth.” The release also, predictably, ended with more self-promotion: It urged everyone to “follow her on GETTR, Telegram, and Gab immediately to continue to hear the truth about the Communist revolution in America.” )
But promoting ivermectin as a cure for COVID is also precisely the place where speech arguably crosses a line into direct harm. Describing the drug as a “cure,” in the same breath as monoclonal antibodies, an effective but often hard-to-access early treatment for COVID, could be directly lethal for those who choose to follow her advice. In September, New Mexico state health officials reported that two people, a 38-year-old and a 79-year-old, died after taking ivermectin for COVID. There are other examples: In September, NPR reported, poison control centers across the country reported a surge in ivermectin overdose calls from people self-medicating with the drug. In October, the New England Journal of Medicine reported on a group of Oregon ivermectin overdoses, finding that six people were hospitalized, four with gastrointestinal distress, three with “confusion,” two with ataxia, two with hypotension and one with seizures. (All six lived.)
There’s little real doubt that Greene, like Trump before her, will continue to use every avenue available to her to spread bad information, and that social media companies and the public will continue arguing about when and how much to limit her reach. And as the debate continues, Greene will stay ahead of it; on Monday morning, she was at it again, falsely claiming that COVID has a 99% survival rate and calling for an end to mask and vaccine mandates. The most effective way to deal with a dedicated internet troll is nearly always to ignore them; what to do when the troll helps run the federal government is a question for which there appears to be no good answer.
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