Skeptical Raptor's Blog hunting pseudoscience in the internet jungle

Facebook bans then unbans a pro-vaccine group


Facebook-banFacebook can be a wonderful tool for disseminating information. Checking out high school photos. Keeping in contact with family members who you don’t see enough. But in the end, I have had always had mixed feelings about it. I think people think that posting a meme about Republican liars or Walmart’s pay practices is really going to make a difference. I come from the era when we actually protested by protesting in public. We sat out in cold winter snows to listen to speakers rail on about wars and the incompetent Chancellor of the University. Change was made by action.

But if used properly, Facebook gives us a social outlet for real scientific ideas. Many of us have used several Facebook groups to discuss the scientific merits of vaccines, GMO’s and evolution. Some of the groups just involve themselves in discussing the science. And then there are others that mock, ridicule and belittle the lies and ignorance of the anti-science world with all of the contempt that can be mustered. One of those groups, the Anti Vax Wall of Shame (AVWoS), prided itself on its denigration of vaccine deniers, whatever their form. 

Unfortunately, Facebook, in its often arbitrary and ridiculous method of policing itself, this morning decided to ban AVWoS. It’s reasoning was thus:

The group “Anti Vax Wall of Shame” has been removed because it violated our Terms of Use. Among other things, groups that are hateful, threatening, or obscene are not allowed. We also take down groups that attack an individual or group, or advertise a product or service. Continued misuse of Facebook’s features could result in your account being disabled.

In addition, all of the administrators of the group were blocked for 24 hours to 30 days. Those blocks were quite arbitrary and ridiculous. Of course, Facebook should remove groups that are hateful, threatening, or obscene. Now there is probably a line where it’s hard to tell whether something is hateful or threatening or not. But AVWoS was hardly hateful, threatening or obscene. AVWoS had one purpose–to thoroughly mock the anti-science, lying, ignorant views of vaccine refusers who wants to end vaccination which will have one results–harming of innocent children. 

No one can be sure what prompted this banning, but the assumption is, based on numerous reports, that the antivaccination world was gaming the Facebook censors and doing everything they can to get this pro-science groups banned forever. To be perfectly honest, I have never file a report to Facebook about the antivaccination groups, even when they pass out horrific medical advice, advocate violence against those who are “pro-vaccine) (wanting to bring their guns to the houses of pro-vaccine participants, threatening rapes of pro-vaxxers, making offensive homophobic comments about several pro-vaccine writers, along with other reprehensible behavior). 

One of the administrators of the AVWoS group,  Allison Hagood, co-author of Your Baby’s Best Shot: Why Vaccines Are Safe and Save Lives, decided to stand up to Facebook’s arbitrary decision and wrote this appeal to Facebook:

There is nothing hateful, threatening, or obscene about the group “Anti Vax Wall of Shame.” The fact that you have removed this indicates that you have been receiving fraudulent reports from the anti-vaccine movement, who are on record as coordinating and planning massive campaigns of such fraudulent reports in an attempt to censor those of us who recognize established science in this area. Several stories have been written about these campaigns:

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/abusing-the-algorithm-using-facebook-reporting-to-censor-debate/

http://reasonablehank.com/2013/12/31/meryl-dorey-and-her-anti-vaccine-organisation-abusing-facebooks-reporting-mechanism-with-spite/

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/facebooks-reporting-algorithm-abused-by-antivaccinationists-to-silence-pro-science-advocates/

http://www.sabreakingnews.co.za/2014/01/02/anti-vaccine-group-abuses-facebooks-algorithm-to-censor-a-debate/

http://www.danbuzzard.net/journal/anti-vaxxers-ramp-up-censorship-campaign.html

http://za.news.yahoo.com/anti-vaccine-group-abuses-facebook-algorithm-censor-debate-123721143.html

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2014/01/02/antivaccinationists-abuse-reporting-algorithms-to-silence-pro-vaccine-skeptics-on-facebook/

By removing this group, and giving the administrators of this group bans, you are actively participating in the censorship of science and rational thought, and pandering to the perpetrators of censorship and fraud.

I demand a response from an actual human, and not an algorithm.

Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law, one of the leading legal experts on vaccination in the USA, and who had had to put up with vicious anti-Semitic attacks from many members of the antivaccination gangs, has observed some of the gaming of the censoring algorithm at Facebook (because probably no living breathing person is involved in any of the censoring). She wrote an article in the English language Times of Israel , “Abusing the Algorithm: Using Facebook Reporting to Censor Debate“) reported the following:

In an attempt to silence pro-vaccine voices on Facebook, they (Australian Vaccine Network, one of the most notorious antivaccination groups on Facebook) went back over old posts and reported for harassment any comment that mentioned one person’s name specifically. Under Facebook’s algorithm, apparently, mentioning someone’s name means that if the comment is reported it can be seen as violating community standards. Which is particularly ironic, since many commentators, when replying to questions or comments from an individual, would use that individual’s name out of courtesy.

Reiss also said, in Liz Ditz’s article today about Facebook’s censoring of AVWoS, 

To understand the need for the Anti-vax Wall of Shame, and why it is not harassment, you need to understand two features of the fight against anti-vaccine misinformation. The first is that anti-vaccine sites censor debate. So if they encourage people not to vaccinate their children against polio or tetanus – leaving those children at risk – based on misinformation, you cannot correct that misinformation on the page: they will ban and block you. The second feature is that anti-vaccine activists, lacking facts on their side, regularly engage in personal attacks.

What you can see is that the vaccine deniers, who utterly lack any evidence to support their beliefs, must resort to lies, censorship and fear. It is a typical choice if you’re on the morally bankrupt side of the discussion about keeping children healthy–you don’t want people to know the real science, the real consensus about vaccines. You just want to develop a fascist thought control, abusing Facebook’s rather arcane, secret, and frankly dumb rules about what constitutes appropriate or inappropriate activities. But through Facebook’s actions, the side of the discussion (it isn’t a debate, because the vaccine deniers gang just ignore evidence and science) that uses real science, uses rational thought, and uses intelligence is being squashed, while the liars and their lies, i.e. antivaccine groups, can go on ACTUALLY harming children. This is messed up.

Gratefully, after withering complaints from numerous people, Facebook, at around 12:54 PST rescinded the ban of the group, but not of the administrators. It’s illogical to keep the administrators locked up, but not the group page (so, that means no admins can do anything, like delete comments that are actually obscene, or hateful, or threatening).

At least the antivaccination thugs have failed to silence the scientific facts. For now. 

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