Physicians association sues US congressman, cites 'reputational injury,' after website visits drop

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons is suing U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff for asking social media platforms to remove inaccurate vaccine information, saying his request amounts to censorship of free speech.

The plaintiffs, who include Katarina Verrelli, a New York state resident who says she suffered from limitations on access to vaccine information on Facebook and Pinterest, filed the suit Jan. 15 in a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The suit alleges that Rep. Schiff, D-Calif., contacted Google, Facebook, and Amazon in February and March last year, asking them to remove what he saw as inaccurate information about vaccines. He also posted letters and news releases on the U.S. House's official website.

Soon after, Amazon removed two popular videos from its platform that opposed vaccination.

The association argues that these moves have resulted in a significant drop in visits to its website that houses vaccine information. It claims that searching for a vaccination article by the association on Facebook now leads users to search results containing links to the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health and the CDC.

Twitter now includes a disclaimer above search results for an article by the association on vaccine mandates. The disclaimer urges users to visit the HHS website for the "best information on vaccination."

The association says that this implies that information that is not on an official government website is less credible.

"Defendant Schiff inflicted a reputational injury on AAPS by simplistically labeling all speech on vaccinations as either 'pro-vaccination' or 'antivaccination' with the latter meaning 'anti-science' or simply unintelligent and uneducated and somehow unworthy of public access," the plaintiffs said in the suit. "In creating that arbitrary binary divide, defendant Schiff ignores all the valid medical, economic and legal points in AAPS's speech on vaccines."

The association alleges that Rep. Schiff's conduct has been unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs are suing for monetary damages and seek to force Rep. Schiff to remove the letters and news releases posted to the House.gov website and any personal websites and social media.

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons is a nonprofit membership organization representing physicians in all specialtiesnationwide.

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