Political society

Royal Society: Don’t censor misinformation; It makes things worse

A leading scientific organization, the Royal Society (the British equivalent of the National Academy of Sciences), has published a report discourage social media censorship, with particular reference to the COVID-19[female[feminine pandemic:

The Royal Society, the UK’s science academy, published a study on online science and health misinformation on Wednesday, investigating its root causes and brainstorming possible solutions. Scientists have concluded that censoring content considered disinformation is often harmful and contrary to the principles of scientific research…

The report found that online censorship risks pushing misinformation underground and out of major social media platforms, where it is less likely to be exposed to opposing views. Censorship also risks removing or deleting content that may be true or helpful to the evolution of scientific understanding of certain concepts.

Ailan EvansDon’t censor disinformation on social media, say leading scientists” at The flow (January 19, 2022)

The Royal Society report seeks to establish a rational basis for public trust In science:

Although misinformation is not a new problem – and uncertainty and debate are an integral part of science – the internet has dramatically amplified the speed and scale at which poor quality information can spread.

The report highlights how online misinformation about scientific issues, such as climate change or vaccine safety, can harm individuals and society. He points out that censoring or removing inaccurate, misleading and false content, whether shared unintentionally or deliberately, is not a magic bullet and can undermine the scientific process and public trust. Instead, the focus should be on building resilience against harmful misinformation among the population and promoting a “healthy” online information environment…

NewsThe online information environment” at Royal Society (January 19, 2022)

The press release adds,

“At the start of the pandemic, science was too often portrayed as absolute and somehow not to be trusted when correcting itself, but this prompting and testing of received wisdom is an integral part of the advancement of science and society.

“It is important to keep this in mind as we seek to limit the harm of scientific misinformation to society. Repressing claims outside the consensus may seem desirable, but it can hamper the scientific process and force genuinely malicious content to hide.

NewsThe online information environment” at Royal Society (January 19, 2022)

here is the open access report.

The position of the Royal Society is wise. On the one hand, terms like “disinformation” (and “fake news”) have become manipulative artistic terms, to justify the repression of unpopular (but not disproved or even rebuttable) views. Trust in science, as they point out, should be rational confident, attentive to evidence and aware of the possibility that strong opinions may be wrong.

But there is another factor to consider. If we look at – for example – the COVID news vortex, the difficulty is that a lot of information that was later thought to need to be corrected was actually provided by official sources, not by conspiracy sites or social media.

When fake news comes straight from the top

➤ Take the case of the best epidemiologist Antoine Fauci. A freelance writer started keep track of his rapid changes of opinion:

“To begin, we need to focus on Dr. Fauci’s perspective on the virus itself and its risk to the United States. In late January 2020, Fauci said COVID was a ‘very, very low risk to the United States,'” Holden wrote. “I think it goes without saying that his perspective has since evolved.”

“One big and obvious area of ​​reversal is around the benefits of wearing a mask. Dr. Fauci initially said the masks weren’t effective and publicly encouraged Americans not to buy them (advice he doesn’t regret). Now even vaccinated people have to wear masks,” Holden wrote alongside images from various headlines showing changing positions on the masks.

Brian FloodContradictions of Fauci, CDC throughout COVID pandemic outlined in viral Twitter thread” at FoxNews (July 29, 2021)

These are not the only examples.

➤ Official sources, including Dr. Fauci, have sometimes tried to persuade the public that the claim that the COVID virus originated from a Level 4 virus lab in Wuhan was just a conspiracy theory. But for anyone know the circumstances, there was no reason to discard the idea. If there was a conspiracy, it was on the part of major respected institutions:

From almost the time the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in the city of Wuhan, the Washington and London medical research establishment has insisted the virus arose naturally. Only conspiracy theorists, they said, would support the idea that the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Now a series of uncovered emails – the most recent being a batch viewed by the House Oversight and Reform Committee and mentioned in its Letter of January 11, 2022– makes it seem increasingly likely that there was, in fact, a conspiracy, its aim being to suppress the idea that the virus emerged from research funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Diseases diseases (NIAID), led by Anthony Fauci. The latest emails do not prove such a plot, but they do make it more plausible, for two reasons: because the expert virologists in them present such strong arguments to believe that the virus had characteristics manufactured in the laboratory and because of the entirely political reaction to this bombshell from Francis Collins, then director of the National Institutes of Health.

Nicholas WadeA conspiracy of Covid origin?” at city ​​newspaper (January 23, 2022)

Yet soon after, the chief virologist suddenly proclaimed a different view:

In a Feb. 4, 2020 email, he derided ideas of a lab leak as “crazy theories” that “are about the fact that this virus is somehow designed with intent and it’s not is clearly not the case”.

Nicholas WadeA conspiracy of Covid origin?” at city ​​newspaper (January 23, 2022)

But Wade notes,

A striking feature of the excerpts published in the committee’s January 11, 2022 letter is that virologists had little doubt that the virus bore the fingerprints of manipulation.

Nicholas WadeA conspiracy of Covid origin?” at city ​​newspaper (January 23, 2022)

The rest of his article details how the United States became involved in the research on Wuhan.

But for the rest of us, the key question should be: in this atmosphere, do we really want Big Tech companies to decide what constitutes a “nutcase” theory, and then censor information currently unpopular with the public? government ?

➤ It’s not just COVID that’s dominating the news where this sort of thing is happening. Recently, a court reporter from the venerable National Public Radio (NPR) appears to have published a false public report regarding face masks in the United States Supreme Court. the Claimdirected by Nina Totenberg of NPR – apparently relying on a single anonymous source – was that Mr. Justice Gorsuch had not masked up despite Mrs. Justice Sotomayor’s concerns about COVID, leading her to telecommute instead of sit on the bench.

This led to a wave of denunciations of Mr Justice Gorsuch on social media, as one would expect. The only problem is that the claim apparently was not true. Not only did the two judges involved deny the story, but the Chief Justice, Mr Justice Roberts, also discredited the story.

Relying on a single, anonymous source is the kind of thing one would expect from an ignorable Facebook page or disreputable blog. So if NPR turns out to do that, there’s definitely something unfair about targeting a social media account with far less reach and prominence.

There is no a priori reason to believe that censorship targets are chosen simply because they are particularly bad or dangerous. Politicized situations just don’t work that way.

The foundations of a totalitarian state?

Given the current state of public anxiety about COVID-19[FEMALE[FEMININE the consequences of attempts to control “disinformation” could lay the foundations for a totalitarian state. Consider the results of a recent survey:

Nearly half (48%) of Democratic voters believe federal and state governments should be able to fine or jail people who publicly question the effectiveness of existing COVID-19 vaccines on social media, television, radio or in online or digital publications. Only 27% of all voters — including just 14% Republicans and 18% unaffiliated voters — favor criminalizing vaccine critics.

PoliticsCOVID-19: Democratic voters support tough measures against unvaccinated” at Rasmussen reports (January 13, 2022)

Yet if we look at the actual history of official pronouncements on anything to do with COVID, the proposal backed by these respondents would simply ensure that, if the government once again proves it wrong about something, anyone who talks about it would be subject to fines or imprisonment. And this is the signature of a totalitarian state.

You can also read:

Are media gag orders fair in an internet world? Editor Michael Cook says no, based on Pell Down Under sex abuse case. New ways must be found to ensure that a jury is not prejudiced. The gag order prevented well-informed Australian media from reporting on the questionable conduct of the trial while overseas media reveled in the sensationalism.