Respiratory physician banned from Twitter for ‘COVID is airborne’ tweet

Public health

28 May 2021

Dr Matthew Knight

Medical experts and evidence-based medicine advocates have sprung to the defence of a respiratory physician who was banned from Twitter for the ‘offence’ of stating that COVID-19 is airborne pathogen.

Dr Matthew Knight (@drmknight), a Consultant Respiratory Physician at West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, UK, found that his Twitter account was suspended for a week after he said that good ventilation was essential in hotels and restaurants to prevent the transmission of airborne COVID-19.

Dr Knight, who has a clinical interest in respiratory infectious diseases including COVID-19, was told that the post violated Twitter’s rules on spreading ‘misleading and potentially harmful information ‘about COVID-19, and he would not be able to post on Twitter until he removed it.

Twitter moderators refused to accept Dr Knight’s response that the statements were based on scientific evidence. Dr Knight is an Associate Postgraduate Dean in Health Education in Cambridge a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and a memeber of the European Respiratory Society.

When news of his suspension became public, he received support from colleagues and academics such as Professor Trish Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Care at Oxford University, who said it was alarming that Twitter was labelling evidence-based statements on COVID-19 as misinformation.

Professor Catherine Noakes, an engineering academic at Leeds University with research interests in infection transmission, ventilation and building physics described the Twitter ban as “crazy”.

“Even the SAGE [expert advisory committee] papers say improving ventilation is important including in hospitality,” she said.

Others noted Twitter’s inconsistent standards in allowing people to post unscientific claims and conspiracy theories about coronavirus, and yet being quick to ban individuals who had expertise in the area.

After a week offline and making an appeal, Dr Knight was eventually able to resume posting on Twitter, despite refusing to remove the post. He stood by his statement, reaffirming that Covid is airborne, “and measures to reduce spread will be vital as we open up society.”

Ironically, Dr Knight’s suspension from Twitter occurred in the same week that the UK’s former top government advisor Dominic Cummings was tweeting prolifically about his role in the country’s botched response to the pandemic.

Professor Greenhalgh noted that following his sacking by Boris Johnson, Cummings had admitted the main mistakes made by the government were in failing to heed expert advice on the importance of airborne and asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19.

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