"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Evelyn Beatrice Hall
The last year has seen some aggressive moves by many of the technological giants in silencing certain voices and ideas, such as Facebook banning Mike Adams, a decision I wrote about with mixed thoughts and feelings, and Google moving to alter their its search algorithms last June, all but annihilating search traffic to alternative health sites.
COVID-19 has heightened information, divided opinions, and raised emotions far beyond what they were a year ago. Health information has become divided, not just ideologically, but also politically, in this new reality. Now, the tech giants are moving to further censor dissenting views. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki quoted that the platform would delete any videos that go against guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO), and they have deleted thousands of videos. Facebook and Twitter have also moved to update their policies to “limit the spread of misinformation,” while Facebook (along with YouTube) has deleted Plandemic, a problematic conspiracy-theory laden video, from its platform. Do I wish that Plandemic didn’t exist? Sure. Do I think censorship is the right response? No.
If you do not currently subscribe to and follow Dr. Peter Attia, I recommend you do so. I’ve been mulling these thoughts over in my head the last several weeks, and was inspired to put “put pen to paper,”, so to speak, after he touched on this in a newsletter sent out on May 24th, the day before I am writing this. Dr. Attia is a great source of balanced information, one of few resources that has been spoken of positively from both some in the Alt Med crowd AND by some of those from the traditional “skeptical crowd” like the “Skeptical Cardiologist” and “ZDogg MD.” . In the highly dichotomous reality of medical and health science communication, this is no easy feat. In the article that spurned me to write this short piece,. Dr. Attia wrote about the importance of “red teams,”, the need to have opposing views to improve and strengthen positions.
This brings me to my next point: There are countless dissenting views regarding how to best deal with COVID-19. If STAT news, along with the major print media outlets, are all confident in publishing opinion pieces from renowned experts, such as pProfessor’s from top institutions and noted vaccine experts such as Dr. Paul Offit, which that criticize official messaging from the WHO, CDC, etc., then how do the tech giants justify silencing opposing views? This censorship is dangerous, and will lead to even more conspiracy theories.
Do I believe this is some sort of conspiracy? No, I truly do not. I believe the people running these tech giants are concerned about the damage that their platforms are doing for truthful education and are overstepping in their attempts to rectify it. This, in and of itself, is dangerous. If we accept this now, we are accepting this fate later. Instead, tech giants should reach out to official organizations to film rebuttals of the most widely viewed misinformation, tagging the rebuttal onto the video or post that is in question. They could, I’m sure, quite easily “suggest” these hypothetical videos to users who had previously viewed the “misinformation” videos. Of course, this would come at a higher cost, and effort, than silencing those they disagree with. We need to loudly ask them, is laziness or cost effectiveness an acceptable excuse to engage in censorship? We need to press the leadership of the tech giants on if they care about doing the right thing, or if they are pre-emptively trying to reduce their legal liability.
If tech giants can silence individuals they disagree with out of a stated “greater good,”, then it will not be long until the government moves to do the same: something that governments in the U.S. and Canada have already done with publicly funded science, for example when Stephen Harper’s Conservative gGovernment restricted government- employed scientists from speaking “unapproved narratives” to the public or media.
We need to ask ourselves: Is the removal of fear, and the removal of the intellectual challenge of assessing positions critically in an emotionally heightened time, truly such a benefit that we are willing to lose our freedom of thought, expression, and speech? I vote no. Then again, I have never shiey’d away from a fight, or calling out what is wrong in the world. For me, COVID-19 misinformation is just “another day at the office.” For others, it may be a matter of life and death.