The online competition between pro- and anti-vaccination views

This article describes research into the spread of anti-vaccination ideas on social media:

I heard about it from this NPR story:

I’d be interested to hear what people on this Forum think about social media companies (like Facebook and Twitter) removing links to false and misleading information. Do you think social media companies should remove such misinformation from their sites for the good of the public, or do you fear that such removals could lead to censorship of ideas, which could be to the detriment of other values, like freedom of speech and religious freedom?


Well on the one hand they’re private companies, they can do what they want as they’re not (obviously) legally obliged to give anyone a platform to spread whatever ideas they want.

Of course it’s easy for me to say as I’m not anti-vaccination. I imagine if they started censoring against views I hold I’d boycott them even if that left me with no alternative social media to use. But this then brings up another problem, which is I can easily imagine that someone comes up with an alternative “anti-vaccination facebook”-company, that allows all the magnetic cranks to congregate and isolate themselves even further in their pseudoscience bubbles, completely sheltered and isolated from any criticism or dis-confirming evidence.

In the end, I really don’t have the answer as I can’t predict the long-term outcomes of these forces and policies. Overall I think social media have been to the detriment of society. Whatever goods are served by being able to stay in “live” contact with people appears to me considerably out-weighed by the ability of all the worst elements of society to assemble and spread their nonsense as loudly as possible. But it’s here now and isn’t going away, so what do we do?

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I don’t see censorship as an issue. If groups like facebook remove some posts, that counts as editorial control rather than as censorship. I’ll note that as one of the moderators of this forum (i.e. PS), you are exerting editorial control in your moderation actions.

The bigger problem for social media removing posts, is that this might give the misleading impression that all misinformation has been removed.

I see the real problem as the use of anonymity. And the real solution would be to require that people have a verifiable identity before they are allowed to post. I’m not suggesting that they must post under their real name. Rather, when they use an anonymous ID, it should be possible for them the be unmasked, perhaps by a court order with some stringent requirements for unmasking.

As we presently see them, social media potentially make everyone a sniper shooting from an armored pillbox. And society cannot work that way. We need some mild social pressure to inhibit the worst of online behavior.


Yes, that could be one outcome, which is interesting to think about. Some of that probably already happens on websites that promote vaccine skepticism (apart from social media platforms). If the hypothesis posed in that Nature article is correct, though, it might be “safer” to have misinformation groups isolated, in that they would be less able to confuse and pull undecided people into believing false information.

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Having seen some of the ideas that are being promoted are not merely false but actually dangerous - such as use of disinfectant or that wearing masks is more dangerous than not - I have no objection to companies removing them from their own platforms, and in fact encourage them to do so, just as I would encourage them to remove false information that encourages terrorism or otherwise endangers lives.

This is not censorship. Censorship is preventing people from voicing their ideas using their own facilities.