Friday, August 5, 2016

Silencing Unpopular Thought with Swarm Complaints

This story has been developing.  It started with a popular (70k member) Facebook site called We Love GMOs and Vaccines.  The site is run by Stephan Niedenbach and runs into the burning building of science ignorance.  While many of us find a softer, non-provocative touch as a way to expose the masses to science, WLGMOV pushes buttons, piles on some snark, and also shares information that is consistent with the scientific literature. 

Over the last month there have been coordinated efforts to foment action against the site.  A number of prominent social media sites provided step-by-step instructions on how to register a Facebook complaint so that the page would be withdrawn.  The results look like this:

Gloating about interruption of free speech.  Smooth move, Holly Moses. I'd never do that to you here. 

The WLGMOV site is down permanently, and Stephan is banned for 30 days. 

Here is the problem, and we see it again and again in non-scientific activist movements-- if you don't like the science, attack the scientist.  If you don't like what the science says, find a way to have it expunged. 

And shame on Facebook.   They let pages stand that target public scientists.  They let pages stand that discourage the cancer afflicted from seeking chemotherapy.  They allow borderline hate speech and dangerous ideas to thrive.  Somehow science violates your Community Standards

That's fine.  It is a marketplace of ideas, and in an enlightened society we should be able to suppress unpopular thought simply by making it unpopular through education. That's not how these folks work.  To them, science stands in the way of their beliefs and financial bottom line.

Tearing a page out of the Food Babe Vani Hari's playbook, followers are instructed explicitly on how to get an unappreciated page removed by poking the throngs of willful followers, and then arming them with the cyber pitchforks and torches they need to finish the job. 

*** Importantly ***

This is not to say that I agree with the way that WLGMOV chooses to communicate all ideas.  I too find some of the presentations of low caliber and offensive. One post recently caused me tons of personal grief with people I care about and communities I professionally serve.  That does not mean that they should be silenced. 

***  Most importantly  ***

If you are a fan of WLGMOV, a fan of science, or someone that just treasures open dialogue and free exchange of ideas-- do not ever take part in such actions, especially in retaliation. 

Instead, share the story about how free speech about science is being suppressed, and make an accounting of those that promote it. 

This kind of asymmetric cyber attack strongly sours the people that are unsure of what to believe.  Let's show them that they now lose a viewpoint because of an aggressor that felt they should not have access to that information.  Information is being withheld from them-- because it is factual.

Elevate the dialog. Teach. That's how we fix this.