A right-wing radio host and Fox News personality attempted to gin up more conspiracy theories about former United States President Barack Obama by misrepresenting what he claimed was a prescription given to Obama.
Mark Levin posted a photograph on Twitter on July 11 2020, showing a prescription for the anti-malarial drug Malarone (proguanil and atovaquone), calling it “Obama’s hydroxychloroquine from 2008.”
The origin of the photograph and whether it is even genuine remains unclear. However, atovaquone and proguanil are not the same medications as hydroxychloroquine, and Levin’s claim that Obama took it in 2008 — even assuming, despite Levin’s career of pushing disinformation and propaganda, that this claim was made in good faith — is misleading at best. As the New York Times reported in 2014, Obama and other White House officials were prescribed Malarone that June prior to visiting Myanmar. Suggesting that Obama took it to ward off COVID-19 would also be false because the disease was not reported until December 2019, years after Obama left office.
As Levin’s post spread, it came under criticism not only for its inaccuracy, but for suggesting that he had obtained private health information related to Obama and violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountabilty Act (HIPAA) by posting the photograph. The tech site Paubox reported in June 2020 that Twitter itself is not HIPAA-compliant, because it has not signed the requisite agreement:
A business associate is a person or company that performs certain functions or activities that involve the use or disclosure of protected health information (PHI) for a covered entity.
If a business associate handles, stores, or in any way uses PHI for a covered entity, then a business associate agreement (BAA) must be in place. A BAA is a written contract between a covered entity and a business associate and is required by law for HIPAA compliance.
The site’s terms of service state:
You are responsible for your use of the Services and for any Content you provide, including compliance with applicable laws, rules, and regulations. You should only provide Content that you are comfortable sharing with others.
However, its policy on the use of personal information states:
You may not publish or post other people’s private information without their express authorization and permission. We also prohibit threatening to expose private information or incentivizing others to do so.
According to Twitter, posting “biometric data or medical records” would constitute a violation of the policy. Since Levin posted what he claims is information belonging to Obama, we contacted Twitter seeking comment.
United States President Donald Trump and other right-wing figures have promoted hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19, but several studies have cast doubt on its ability to treat patients who have contracted the virus. The Food and Drug Administration has cautioned against its use outside clinical trial settings.