An absolutely remarkable revelation, this, which will, it can safely be said, get very little (actually, that’s too generous, try: Zero) attention elsewhere in the Irish media:
Many think social media companies only censored "vaccine misinformation." But a recently-released email shows Facebook reassuring the White House that they were censoring "often-true content” that "does not contain actionable misinformation" but was "discouraging vaccines." pic.twitter.com/u2McUIviaM
— Michael Shellenberger (@ShellenbergerMD) January 11, 2023
In some ways, it’s a hard revelation to write about, being as it is on the one hand entirely shocking, and on the other hand, also entirely unsurprising.
Shocking, because, well: Here we have evidence – irrefutable evidence – of one of the world’s largest social media companies confirming to the White House that it was working to advance a policy goal of the US administration (mass vaccination) by actively suppressing information that was true, but unhelpful to the cause.
Because Facebook is a global company, and because the US Government was not alone in pursuing a policy of mass public vaccination, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Facebook was not implementing the same content moderation policy in places like Ireland, and the rest of Europe.
Shocking, too, because it exposes the dangers of the political obsession with “misinformation” and “fake news online” for what it is: Not an obsession with ensuring that the public receives accurate information, but an obsession with ensuring that the public receives information which reinforces the worldview and policy objectives of politicians. In this case, for example, we can clearly see that “misinformation” does not mean “false information” – it means “information which might lead a person to make a decision other than that the Government would prefer that they make”.
And yet, unsurprising, because it follows the general course of elite attitudes to social media, dating back to 2016.
In that year, readers will recall, the English-speaking world suffered two major shocks: The election of Donald Trump, and the decision of the UK electorate to leave the European Union. The whole and entire purpose of the focus on “online misinformation” is to ensure that such a thing never happens again.
The basic idea, adopted by liberals and progressives in the aftermath of those two shocks, was that the flow of information to voters had been interrupted and corrupted by untrustworthy sources. The purpose of the media, according to much of the media itself, is not just to tell you the news, but to interpret the news for you.
So, for example, in the current context in Ireland, protests about immigration may be reported, but only if those protests are also interpreted: The fact that protests are taking place is of secondary importance to telling the public that these protests are orchestrated by very bad people, with very dangerous far right views. This is why you rarely see interviews with the protesters themselves: They are not to be permitted to explain their own views or reasoning – instead, those must be explained for them, in the way least likely to win them any additional support.
In the context of the covid vaccines, this kind of interference becomes even less surprising: Once the great and the good decided that the vaccines were essential, and that they provided the fastest way out of the pandemic, any dissenting views – whether those views were based on false conspiracy theory or well-reasoned concern – became a problem. After all, if your policy goal is to get everyone vaccinated, then it does not really matter if resistance to that idea is based on a nonsense idea, or on a reasoned concern – it is equally problematic either way.
The easiest thing to do becomes to use the same rhetorical trick we now see being implemented to deal with immigration protests – toss everyone in together, and pick the worst example as a reason for taking firm action.
And so, a local person with a genuine concern about a refugee facility is treated exactly the same as a much-too-online activist who believes refugees are UN soldiers coming to sterilize the male population. And scientists raising legitimate questions about vaccine efficacy are treated the same as a loopy Californian who believes the jabs contain alien mind-control technology.
It is easier simply to crush all dissent, and promote the liberal, progressive, offical view, than it is to differentiate between genuine misinformation, and fact based arguments which counter the official view.
This was always going to happen, once the basic idea of regulating misinformation came into vogue. And because it has happened, it has, ironically, undermined public trust in the authorities even further. Because only a blind man or woman could miss the efforts that are now gone to in order to delegitimize and suppress criticism on topics where the establishment would rather there were none, and the extent to which the media has become a willing participant in that process.
On facebook, underneath this post, there will be an official message from facebook urging you to seek out trustworthy vaccine information.
But where can you find it, when facebook themselves admit that they took every effort to stop you from finding information that is true?