When governments and corporations are uncomfortable about online reporting from disgruntled consumers, their media minions relabel it “misinformation.” Or “disinformation.” Even “radicalization.” (Heckuva job fact-checking, Psychology Today.)
A recent Harris Poll says about half of U.S. adults “have some doubts about vaccine safety.” Taken further, a variety of citizen activists believe they are morally obligated to correct falsified government research, which metastasizes when repeated unquestioningly by 50 state health departments, agencies, physicians, trade groups and media.
Since the 1990s democratized communications technology facilitated bypassing of centralized information clusters, letting people worldwide access medical study data, FOIA’d government emails and legal testimony. Networks of parent advocates have shared information on vaccines’ adverse effects, treatments for autoimmune disorders… the kind of data collection and analysis that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control should perform, had that agency not contributed to those problems inadvertently and chosen to conceal it.
So, how have the agencies and corporations charged with improving people’s lives responded to increased consumer participation in communications sharing?
They responded with censorship. “An unprecedented attack on civil liberties and the right to dissent is being led by a new privileged ruling class whose power is not derived from aristocratic titles, wealth and political influence linked to genetic heritage and ownership of land,” summarized Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine information Center in a recent essay.
Vaccine safety censorship kicked into high gear after Rep. Adam Schiff’s March 1 letter to Amazon billionaire C.E.O. Jeff Bezos. Emboldened by such high profile support (or afraid to be labeled anti-vaccine), a number of social media sites began withdrawing service from specific members and groups. Shadow banning, aka stealth banning, partially blocks users without them being aware of it. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram do it.
Google was accused of ranking bias by natural health sites who saw site traffic suddenly drop up to 99%. Critics said the content of its search engine’s autocomplete suggestions promoted corporate agendas instead of synchronizing with the user’s requests. Google’s 2016 statement: “Our search results are a reflection of the content across the web… Autocomplete predictions are algorithmically generated based on users’ search activity and interests.”
(Note: Try searching Google using 3 words: retrovirus, vaccine, harm. That search engine may suggest rotavirus and link to CDC and WHO pages. Add -rotavirus to eliminate their suggestion.)
Deplatforming is defined as limiting or denying access to a communications venue. GoFundMe and MailChimp have started refusing service to vaccine safety advocacy groups and even traditionally peaceful natural health networks across the U.S.
Full censorship takes several forms. Unpublishing is the removal of articles or graphics; the Huffington Post has removed many of the older articles on vaccine safety that helped that site first gain national prominence.
Blacklisting – a term from 1950s McCarthyism – involves the unfair creation of target lists of people to block from receiving services or employment, to be ostracized, defamed and/or harassed. NVIC lists examples of people currently being blacklisted, including parents, doctors, research scientists, journalists, celebrities, politicians, philanthropists and members of non-governmental organizations.
The computer algorithms used to analyze written communications are simply data assessing other data. Like vaccines, they are imperfect scientific attempts to solve a complex human problem. Algorithms may fail to recognize dated historical content, or appropriately interpret language nuances. One notable example: Facebook’s censoring of the Declaration of Independence as hate speech.
Frightening times for anyone who values their First Amendment rights. These kinds of Internet media slips, interruptions and censorship reemphasize the importance of taking screen shots and backups to preserve increasingly ephemeral digital data, which could be gone in an instant without warning.
So who are some of the foot soldiers of Internet totalitarianism?
One is Renée DiResta, a government-connected technology go-to for media quotes encouraging censorship of vaccine safety advocates. Says DiResta on LinkedIn: “I like working in fast-paced environments, problem solving in situations with incomplete information.” (Which is about the worst possible approach for studying the science and politics surrounding vaccine-induced autism.) In June DiResta admitted, “Across all platforms, the dominant form of vaccine-related content is anti-vaxx.”
Not just a self-described studier of disinformation, she has also created disinformation for California’s Sen. Richard Pan. What was DiResta thinking before deciding to help Pan remove citizens’ right to refuse unwanted vaccinations?
“[I]n 2013, I had my first kid. I started looking at ... You know, you have to do that preschool thing here, you’ve got to get them on a list a year early. I didn’t want to be in a preschool with a bunch of anti-vaxxers.”
Then there’s Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine developer, who urges formation of “public-private partnership between the U.S. government and all the major stakeholders – Facebook, Amazon, Google – to look at dismantling the anti-vaccine empire.” Hotez has perplexingly stated definitively, “We know autism begins in pregnancy, long before kids see vaccines.” Yet countless before-and-after videos of vaccine-injured children clearly show post-vaccine regressive autism not present at birth.
You’d think academic journals would promote civil discourse. Instead they become extensions of government PR – issuing edicts that reinforce party line rhetoric tailor-made for global distribution by an undiscerning mass media. It’s clear that some academics criticize vaccine safety advocates without bothering to contact them or examine the evidence that informed their beliefs.
Gaslighting of autism parents – by definition twisted power plays to manipulate victims into questioning their reality – has perversely become an Internet blood sport. Bashing provides benefits. Australian Naomi Smith gained prominence for spinning the “feminization” of anti-vaccine sentiment, distantly recording the words of grieving mothers as if mounting insects on pins.
The key question underlying this social media tug-of-war over narrative control is this:
Who is telling the truth? But there is no easy answer. Communications from autism parents may understandably be fraught with emotion, which can get in the way of the facts they attempt to present. And the U.S. government has a record of not admitting errors, or only doing so decades later.
An honest person is cooperative, says certified fraud examiner Pamela Meyer. Facial features may or may not reveal honesty, but content can. A prevaricator may add too much detail, stall, or have difficulty reciting testimony out of chronological order. (As for prestigious job titles guaranteeing honesty, watch Colleen Boyle’s deadpan face as she presented her obfuscatory testimony before a Congressional committee in 2012.)
Representing vaccine critics as liars serves many purposes for government and industry:
- it saves time investigating incriminating recordings and documentation;
- it saves perpetrators’ professional reputations, money, and prevents jail time;
- it acts as a defense mechanism (“don’t ask questions, or you will get the same”)
- it postpones the discomfort of blame and the psychological processing of huge societal horrors (e.g. Chernobyl, or an ever-increasing population of chronically ill, brain-damaged children and adults);
- it absolves perpetrators of their responsibility for expressions of remorse or restitution.
Sites like Google, Facebook and YouTube are censoring material either (1) without viewing it, or (2) having have seen it, but lacking the moral conscience in act ethically on it. Some companies have set up review panels of people ostensibly to examine material for credibility, but who will watch the watchers?
Facebook’s “experts” include vaccine stakeholders with conflicts of interest. To whit: Dr. Neal Halsey, who in 2002 told The New York Times “no one did the calculation” of how much neurotoxic mercury the CDC was recommending to be injected into infants and toddlers. A similar product management void still exists today, as more and more vaccines are approved by ACIP and hundreds are currently in development. No combination studies, and no upper limits established.
Media consumers are also told to “trust us; we’re experts” by Frontline, Vox, NPR and former counterculture magazines like Rolling Stone and Mother Jones. How disillusioning to see once-pioneering rebel publications take such unhealthy glee in targeting vaccine outliers, rather than performing the kind of ballsy investigating journalism that set them apart. Nowadays, not once do their reporters ask why CDC staff are dispatched cross-country to investigate a temporary case of measles, instead of investigating reports of vaccine adverse reactions leading to lifetime disability and death.
To the parent of a vaccine-injured child, hearing pronouncements of pet theories from power-posturing “experts” amounts to useless busywork. So little study of biological sciences, or concern for failing social systems. So little listening about the impacts of vaccine injury, and no compassion for victims. All this polarizing talk, talk, talk is a waste of time, energy and bandwidth better devoted to research on diagnosis, treatment and prevention before autism rates increase even more than the disastrous 1 in 36.
What do “anti-vaxers” and “refusers” and the “vaccine hesitant” want?
For a start:
- Research on vaccine injuries, development of medical treatments for them, and prioritizing prevention of adverse reactions;
- Investigation and prosecution of government and industry employees who commit vaccine data fraud that results in consumers’ injuries and deaths;
- Elimination of vaccine mandates that violate civil rights and deprive consumers of informed choice.
Reasonable requests, all. But first, a civil dialogue must be established. For example, in a March Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed Penn State College of Medicine humanities chair Bernice L. Hausman suggested reframing vaccine attitudes and arguments less argumentatively. Hausman acknowledged the Temple University students vaccinated with MMR who came down with mumps. (Yet her article references the latest rotten Hviid study from Denmark.)
A May National Public Radio policy advisory took baby steps toward breaking down its negative stereotyping of vaccine safety advocates:
“[A]void the use of the terms "anti-vax" and "anti-vaxxer." These labels are often inaccurate and too inclusive… There is a spectrum of views here that we need to represent fairly.”
The authors said “vaccine hesitant" or "vaccine resistant" have less “pejorative weight.” However NPR, too, has yet to produce any deep-dive investigations into CDC data fraud.
A timely new book comes out this October by investigative journalist David Kirby, titled When They Come For You: How Police and Government Are Trampling Our Liberties - and How to Take Them Back. The book “shows how citizens fought back against violations of their constitutional rights to free speech and privacy by acts of federal, state and local agencies.” The book discusses Constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech under the First Amendment:
“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….”
On June 29 disenchanted Wiki co-founder Larry Sanger posted his own “Declaration of Digital Independence”:
“Humanity has been contemptuously used by vast digital empires. Thus it is now necessary to replace these empires with decentralized networks of independent individuals, as in the first decades of the Internet.”
What can you do to push back against censorship and protect your First Amendment rights to freedom of speech?
- Participate in your democracy. Snap your family and friends out of their apathy about the politics of Internet communications. Every citizen deserves the right to suggest sensible policy changes based on real-life experiences with vaccines, acknowledging the limitations of laboratory experiments.
- Boycott Google. Use other search engines like DuckDuckGo. Find other email providers, such as AOL or Yahoo!. Go back to using MapQuest.
- Consider boycotting Amazon. Shop at local retailers. If you stay, write reviews of the books that matter to you.
- As for Facebook and Twitter, make a stand. Point out the hypocrisy of those platforms’ forms of censorship.
- Sign up on Yellist, a social media platform “for Communicators and Free People Worldwide.” Fittingly on July 4 Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. of Children's Health Defense(CHD) invited everyone concerned about censorship to join Yellist, “a new type of social media platform for media-rich conversations and video uploading.” Kennedy says freedom of thought is "a founding principle of our democracy and part of what defines us as Americans."
Censorship “tends to be the last resort of the ideologically arrogant and intellectually lazy,” said Omid Malekan, author of a book on blockchain technology. “Censorship is a form of power, and power tends to corrupt its practitioners, regardless of their ideology.” Malekan suggests allowing free speech and letting the free market sort it out. Certainly victims of vaccine adverse reactions and their families are entitled to having the judicial system sort it out – with a judge, jury, discovery, and honest scientific experts.
People who shut out unpleasant facts doom themselves to a life of limitations and lies. The people we entrust with maintaining our communications infrastructures must not be allowed to abuse their power to silence that which they do not want to hear. Free speech is not only our right… it is our responsibility.
Nancy Hokkanen is a Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.