US Covid vaccine sceptic sues Twitter in Dublin for defamation

Fox News regular Alex Berenson claims he was defamed after tweet labelled ‘misleading’

American author and commentator Alex Berenson, a Covid-19 vaccine sceptic, is suing Twitter for defamation in the Irish High Court for labelling one of his tweets about the effectiveness of vaccines as "misleading".

Mr Berenson, a vocal critic of Covid-19 vaccines and government measures to suppress the virus, issued legal proceedings on Tuesday against two of Twitter's companies, a US-based company and the Dublin-based Twitter International Unlimited Company.

The independent journalist, a former reporter with the New York Times, is already suing Twitter in the US through a San Francisco-based federal court after Twitter banned him for describing Covid vaccines as an advance therapeutic with risky side effects.

That case is seen as a test case for how Twitter handles content moderation after its €42 billion takeover by billionaire Elon Musk who wants to make it "an inclusive arena for free speech".

Mr Berenson is a regular contributor on right-wing US television network Fox News and had more than 340,000 followers on Twitter. He is claiming in his Irish legal action that he was defamed by Twitter after the internet giant labelled a tweet he posted on August 29th, 2021 as “misleading”.

He claims that public statements the internet company released to international media outlets after he was kicked off Twitter defamed him by implying that he used his account to repeatedly publish misinformation about Covid-19 in breach of the company’s misinformation rules.

In his August 2021 tweet Mr Berenson said of the Covid-19 vaccine: “It doesn’t stop infection. Or transmission. Don’t think of it as a vaccine. Think of it – at best – as a therapeutic with a limited window of efficacy and terrible side effect profile that must be dosed in advance of illness.”

Twitter later permanently suspended his account and published a statement on the account saying: “Account suspended – Twitter suspends accounts which violate the Twitter rules.”

In a follow-up statement the company told US media outlets: “The account you reference has been permanently suspended for repeated violations of our Covid-19 misinformation rules.”

‘New age of censorship’

Mr Berenson argues through High Court records filed by KRW Law, the Belfast law firm that represents him, that Twitter defamed him in this statement.

A spokeswoman for Twitter’s Dublin companies declined to comment.

The American journalist is a long-time critic of mask-wearing, pandemic lockdowns and vaccine mandates. He claimed in an opinion article he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the pandemic had caused a “new age of censorship and suppression”.

The Government, the National Public Health Emergency Team and the HSE have repeatedly said that vaccination against Covid-19 has helped reduce cases of serious illness from the virus.

They have pointed to the fact that unvaccinated people have accounted for a higher proportion of hospitalisations and admissions to intensive care units in the State since vaccinations began.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has previously acknowledged that vaccines do not prevent infection or transmission but offer strong protection against serious disease.

The State’s medicines regulator, the Health Products Regulatory Authority, has received 19,869 reports of suspected side effects, or just 0.18 per cent of almost 11 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the State, according to its latest report published in March.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent