The online competition between pro- and anti-vaccination views

This article describes research into the spread of anti-vaccination ideas on social media:
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2281-1

I heard about it from this NPR story:

I’d be interested to hear what people on this Forum think about social media companies (like Facebook and Twitter) removing links to false and misleading information. Do you think social media companies should remove such misinformation from their sites for the good of the public, or do you fear that such removals could lead to censorship of ideas, which could be to the detriment of other values, like freedom of speech and religious freedom?

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I think they should remove them. Especially when our intelligence communities tell us that much of the disinformation is being produced by Russian operatives and being used in a targeted way to disrupt our society.

This is from last April: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/04/09/in-the-united-states-russian-trolls-are-peddling-measles-disinformation-on-twitter/

Here’s an academic study on how bots and trolls erode consensus on vaccines: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6137759/

Here’s an article about how what we know Russia did in the 2016 election cycle is affecting and could potentially affect the 2020 election cycle: https://www.futurity.org/russian-trolls-vaccine-disinformation-2322202/

So, given that another state is involved in targeted attempts to undermine our government, health institutions, and elections, I think this is far more complex than just “freedom of speech” or “censorship.” And I think for national security and pro-democracy reasons, Twitter and Facebook have an obligation to fight back, so to speak, against “information warfare.”

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Someone shared this with the office the other day. :sweat_smile:

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That’s a great question. Conspiracy theorists say that taking these down suppresses our constitutional freedoms, and tend to make martyrs out of themselves when that happens. On the other hand, anti-vaccine propaganda does kill people.

When it results in deaths, I’m inclined to agree with censorship. I still hesitate, though.

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I didn’t think the conversation was about censorship at all, since that has to be done by a government. But even if this could be called “censorship,” the points made by @Christy are compelling and (to me, I must emphasize) have little do to with whether the lies “result in deaths.” What’s happening here is not disagreement. It’s deliberate manipulation of human minds using information (misinformation), with nakedly malicious intent.

My preference would be for Americans to grow brains, by valuing education and by being discerning about the existence of viral mind-plagues (which include most religions), so that obvious nonsense wouldn’t be so damaging. But huge tech companies have IMO a clear obligation to control the malicious use of their technologies. And so do governments.

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I kind of think they should, but I also do fear that it would lead to censorship of ideas and would raise huge problems for freedom of speech and religious freedom. The problem is who gets to decide? I have had atheists argue to me that religions are dangerous. What if they decide that religious ideas are just as dangerous as anti-vax sentiments or something like that? It doesn’t comfort me that we have the constitution because it seems like people are ready to throw that over.

However, I’ve seen bots/trolls as Christy described on different threads and it was frightening to watch them as they posted.

In short, I’m conflicted. :slight_smile:

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