Harris today said that social media platforms should ban certain accounts and consider giving “badges” to accounts that are reputable and provide authentic information about vaccinations.
“These are matters that I want to discuss with them, but I think they’ve already shown a willingness, on occasion, to delete accounts.
“I also think that they can do more than that, I think they could use what is a very powerful platform to help signpost people … they could perhaps badge certain accounts as reputable sources of information.
I’ll get the disclaimer out of the way first: I agree with Harris on vaccines, if not much else. Getting your child vaccinated is a sensible thing to do, if you want to protect them from diseases. I confess I have never understood the conspiracy theories around the issue. Why anybody would want to risk a return of measles, or polio, or why they would risk young women dying from cervical cancer, I have never understood. Had I children, they would be vaccinated at the first possible opportunity.
The idea of state approved accounts, with state-approved badges, spreading trustworthy information about vaccines is about as dumb an idea as I have ever seen from the Minister for dumb ideas.
First, it’s not necessary. All the information people require about vaccines is already available. Second, if people do not trust that information, I would gently suggest that an “approved by Simon Harris” badge is not going to get them to change their minds.
And then of course there’s the wider, and most important, point, which is that Government Ministers do not get, in a democracy, to regulate what we say.
If somebody wishes to make the argument that girls should not be vaccinated for cervical cancer because it will encourage them to have sex at a young age, they have every right to make such an argument, even though it is, as far as I’m concerned, naïve and silly.
Further, if a parent genuinely believes that their child’s illness was caused by a vaccine, do they not have the right to say so? They may be wrong (or, who knows, in some cases they may eventually be proven right) but I would suggest a parent has the right to seek accountability if they believe their child has been harmed, and to raise awareness of what they believe the cause of that harm to be.
What the Minister is saying here is that such parents do not even have the right to speak out if they believe their own children to have been harmed by what is, after all, a policy of the state. That’s a position that Soviet Russia used to adopt on the regular – and it has no place in a free society.
Of course, and let’s get to the nub of the matter here: Harris knows all this. He also knows full well that the Health Minister of a small country on the fringes of Europe is not going to convince an American tech giant to censor information about vaccines on the internet. He’s picking a fight that he is absolutely, 100%, certain to lose.
The point of doing it is not to achieve anything meaningful about vaccines at all – it’s to raise awareness of what a tremendous chap Simon Harris is, if you’re one of those people who lies awake at night fuming about anti-vaxxers. “Look at him there”, you’re supposed to say, preferably while swooning, “standing up to those awful right-wing anti-vaccine people”.
At some point, the country might wake up to the fact that this guy has absolutely no interest in running the health department, and is interested, as George Hook said, mainly in getting likes on twitter.
It takes some neck to start blaming social media for the health of Irish Children when, as Minister for Health, you’ve more than doubled the waiting times for treatment for sick Irish children.
What an absolute dose he is.