For years, right-leaning news and opinion sites have been waging a war for exposure. As big tech companies gained a larger and larger monopoly over the flow of information, censorship became the norm, and things accelerated as these companies saw it as part of their civic duty to ensure Donald Trump wasn’t re-elected in 2020. One of the worst examples involved factual reporting on Hunter Biden that was directly suppressed.
The problems go beyond just the blockbuster stories, though. Facebook also uses its “fact-checkers” to relentlessly crack down on the daily discussion of things like global warming and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These attacks on freedom of expression happen behind the scenes and put sites between a rock and a hard place. Do they possibly blow up a large portion of their traffic over a single article? Or do they make the changes demanded by the social media overlords and live to fight another day? Anyone claiming that’s an easy decision has never run a business and had people who count on them for an income.
Katie Pavlich at Townhall explains exactly how this system works in a new piece where she calls out Facebook’s anti-science censorship.
At Townhall, we wrote about The Wall Street Journal’s recent review of “Unsettled” and highlighted Koonin’s argument that the science on climate change isn’t settled. Because of this, Climate Feedback, an arm of Science Feedback, rated the story as “partly false” and argued we were repeating false information from Koonin’s book and The Wall Street Journal piece. Facebook then slowed the reach of our post as a punishment for the rating, which suppressed and censored the story. If the post does happen to pop up in your feed, it will be accompanied by a “partly false” label and a link to Science Feedback’s “fact-check.” And anyone who dares to try and share the story themselves is prompted to reconsider and review Science Feedback’s “additional reporting” on the topic before hitting “post.”
“The Townhall article repeats several misleading and false claims regarding climate change that appear in Steven Koonin’s book ‘Unsettled,'” Science Feedback said in response to our appeal. “The Townhall article doesn’t provide any indication or additional context to readers that explains these claims are inconsistent with the current scientific evidence.”
The attempt to crack down on absolutely any debate over climate change or the effects of climate change is chilling. We’ve seen aspects of climate science turn out to be false for decades. After all, science is not a religious text but an ever-evolving knowledge base that is continually refined by objective data and testing of that data. The problem here isn’t that Facebook would choose to take a different view, but that they refuse to even allow the discussion of other views which could have credence as we march forward into the future. By Facebook’s standards, we should all still believe the earth is flat because that was the consensus at one point in time.
But the problems with Facebook’s science fact-checking go further than one topic. Take the issue of COVID-19 and what the best mitigation mechanisms were and are. For many months we’ve had objective data that shows mask mandates are highly questionable in practice. We’ve even had the CDC itself endorse a study which found only a 1% difference in infections between mask-mandated and non-mask-mandated areas. While some will claim that study wasn’t looking at the efficacy of masks themselves, the fact is that non-mask-mandated areas clearly would have had less mask adherence by their populations. Therefore, the data is still extremely compelling. Dismissing it outright or censoring those who noted what it could possibly mean is simply wrong. Further, any comparison of states with wildly different mitigation efforts will show wildly inconsistent results, with many locked down and masked up states doing far worse than those with more lax guidelines.
While I might think all of what I listed above is fairly conclusive, the issue isn’t that Facebook won’t endorse my viewpoint. Rather, the issue is that Facebook has sought to actively suppress it and label it false, not based on conclusive data they themselves hold, but based simply on blind appeals to authority. As the recent battle over masking after vaccination has shown, just because a government bureaucracy says something does not mean they are speaking on behalf of “the science.” In fact, the CDC’s sudden flip-flop on masks for the vaccinated shows that any government body should be assumed to be operating under some level of political influence. The science did not change in the last two weeks in regards to the efficacy of the vaccine and the lack of necessity of mask-wearing. What changed was the political dynamics surrounding the topic.
Lastly, I want to note that there are serious consequences to social media giants insisting that only one position is worthy of consideration while crushing all dissent. For example, how many people died needlessly because of early lockdowns when science now clearly shows that being outdoors is one of the safest places someone can be? How many people died due to an absolute obsession with mask-wearing that may have caused a lack of social distancing, with people believing a mask was more effective than it is? We’ll never truly know, but when you make one thing the be-all-end-all and suppress any counter discussion, that has consequences.
What Facebook and other social media sites have done and continue to do isn’t just counter to the freedom of expression the internet is supposed to support, it’s also dangerous. Science is not a religion, and it should not be treated as such. Counter-viewpoints based on data should be welcomed, not suppressed with algorithms and arbitrary judgments. Readers do not need to be infantilized to the point where legitimate discussions are crushed for “their protection.”