07 February 2020

Speech Or Silence: Facebook Will Now Decide For You

I begin by reiterating a truth I have stated numerous times, and yet must state again: Free Speech is not merely a legal right, but a moral imperative.

We have a moral duty to speak out on things that matter. We have a moral duty to listen when others speak out. We have a moral duty to ensure others can be heard. This is a duty we owe ourselves, for if we do not speak out, if we do not listen, if we do not enable others to be heard, we have no hope of ever having all the information we need to make good decisions about our lives and our communities.

We must have Free Speech or we can not ever be a Free People. This is the order of things.

Yet, in the wake of the most significant global public health crisis since SARS in 2003, one with the potential to become the worst pandemic since the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918, the social media giants Facebook and Twitter have taken it upon themselves to ensure that Free Speech is the one thing we can never have. When it comes to the Wuhan Coronavirus (officially titled 2019-nCoV), they will decide what we can see, what we can year, and what we can think.

ZeroHedge Banned From Twitter

On January 31, Twitter permanently banned alternative media site and news aggregator ZeroHedge. The presumed reason for the ban stems from an article appearing on Buzzfeed claiming that ZeroHedge was responsible for "doxing"--revealing the personal identity of someone--a Chinese scientist potentially involved with weaponizing the Wuhan Coronavirus.
A popular pro-Trump website has released the personal information of a scientist from Wuhan, China, falsely accusing them of creating the coronavirus as a bioweapon, in a plot it said is the real-life version of the video game Resident Evil.
First and foremost, we must address a key defect of the Buzzfeed article: it is false from start to finish. ZeroHedge did not "falsely accuse" anyone, and the scientist discussed in the relevant ZeroHedge article is someone whose name, information, and academic credentials are public knowledge--meaning it is impossible for him to be doxed.

The ZeroHedge article began as follows:
In light of growing speculation, most of it within less than official circles, that the official theory for the spread of the Coronavirus epidemic, namely because someone ate bat soup at a Wuhan seafood and animal market is a fabricated farce, and that the real reason behind the viral spread is because a weaponized version of the coronavirus (one which may have originally been obtained from Canada), was released by Wuhan's Institute of Virology (accidentally or not), a top, level-4 biohazard lab which was studying "the world's most dangerous pathogens", perhaps it would be a good idea for the same Wuhan Institute of Virology to remove the following "help wanted" notice, posted on November 18, 2019, according to which the institute is seeking to hire one or two post-doc fellows, who will use "bats to research the molecular mechanism that allows Ebola and SARS-associated coronaviruses to lie dormant for a long time without causing diseases."
As of today, February 7, this posting is still online at the Institute's web site. Further, this page, should it disappear from the Institute's website, has been archived numerous times. A translation of the page, using Google's translation engine, matches the text quoted by ZeroHedge--and this translation has also been archived multiple times.

ZeroHedge goes on to point out the posting is for the lab of one Dr. Peng Zhou, who heads the Institute's Bat Virus Infection program:
Why is this notable? Because as it turns out, this is a job posting for the lab of Dr. Peng Zhou (周鹏), Ph.D., a researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and Leader of the Bat Virus Infection and Immunization Group
ZeroHedge goes on to cite Dr. Peng's CV from the Institute Website.

ZeroHedge's summary reads like this:
  1. One of China's top virology and immunology experts was and still works at China's top-rated biohazard lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which some have affectionately called the real Umbrella Corp.
  2. Since 2009, Peng has been the leading Chinese scientist researching the immune mechanism of bats carrying and transmitting lethal viruses in the world.
  3. His primary field of study is researching how and why bats can be infected with some of the most nightmarish viruses in the world including Ebola, SARS and Coronavirus, and not get sick.
  4. He was genetically engineering various immune pathways (such as the STING pathway in bats) to make the bats more or less susceptible to infection, in the process potentially creating a highly resistant mutant superbug.
  5. As part of his studies, Peng also researched mutant Coronavirus strains that overcame the natural immunity of some bats; these are "superbug" Coronavirus strains, which are not resistant to any natural immune pathway, and now appear to be out in the wild.
  6. As of mid-November, his lab was actively hiring inexperienced post-docs to help conduct his research into super-Coronaviruses and bat infections.
  7. Peng's work on virology and bat immunology has received support from the National "You Qing" Fund, the pilot project of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the major project of the Ministry of Science and Technology. 
In short, ZeroHedge made no accusations, documented every factual assertion about Dr. Peng, cited publicly available information, and noted that his specialty and area of current research was coincidentally directly relevant to the Wuhan Coronavirus epidemic.

ZeroHedge did not dox. ZeroHedge did not accuse. ZeroHedge did not make any claims without evidence. Yet for this, and on what appears to be little more than this steaming pile of Fake News from BuzzFeed, their Twitter account was permanently banned.

That is censorship. That is the suppression of relevant discussion and meaningful information. That is a violation of First Amendment norms, and the laws permitting Twitter to engage in such unethical behavior with impunity, the "safe harbor" provision of the Communications Decency Act, are unconstitutional.

Facebook Google, And Twitter Pledge To Be The Coronavirus Thought Police

At the same time Twitter was banning ZeroHedge, Facebook was actively scrubbing what it proclaimed to be coronavirus "misinformation". 
Facebook Inc (FB.O) said it will take down misinformation about China’s fast-spreading coronavirus, in a rare departure from its usual approach to dubious health content that is presenting a fresh challenge for social media companies.
Not wishing to be left out, Twitter and Google quickly joined Facebook's censorship efforts.
Twitter and Google have also stepped up efforts this week to guide their users to verified sources on the subject.
What this means in reality is that content discussing which cities and provinces within China are now under quarantine is banned from Facebook. I can attest to this personally, as a posting I made to social media earlier to a Chinese media site discussing the quarantine would not post to my Facebook page, even though other content posted just fine.
A subsequent post of a translation of a Chinese language page of the Epoch Times detailing how Taiwanese businesses would looking to shift supply chains away from China due to the Wuhan Coronavirus was also prohibited by Facebook.  Neither post can in any way be termed "misinformation". Rather, both relate to substantive aspects of the Wuhan Coronavirus story as a whole. 

It hardly bears mentioning that knowing which cities are under quarantine and the state of China-based global supply chains are important information and not only deserve to be discussed, but need to be discussed.  Just don't discuss these things on Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg takes a dim view of people wish to be informed, and wish to share information.

Must Big Tech Save Us From Ourselves?

The legacy media, true to its sycophantic self, is of course the apologist for this censorious behavior. The Verge describes the coronavirus epidemic as an "epistemic crises", because people are sharing (gasp!) information on an equal basis:
One result of a world in which everyone has more or less equal access to publishing tools has been what’s sometimes called an epistemic crisis: a scenario in which large groups of people muddle along with very different understandings of reality, undermining the ability of elected officials to govern. This might be particularly scary during a catastrophe, when citizens are relying upon their government for accurate and potentially life-saving information. If you can’t trust official government announcements — or you are misled into thinking that an official-sounding hoax is real — catastrophes might begin compounding upon one another.
Note the convenient claim of government trustworthiness, offered up without a hint of irony. Never mind that the WHO is disseminating demonstrably false information about the virus. Never mind that the WHO dithered for a week after Wuhan was quarantined before declaring a global emergency. Never mind that the CDC persists in perpetuating the disproven narrative that Wuhan Coronavirus emerged in a "wet" meat market. Never mind that even the legacy media has had to consider the possibilities and ramifications of Beijing lying to the world about the extent of the epidemic.

On what basis can any government claim to be intrinsically trustworthy on this or any other topic? 

On what basis can any reporting be considered reliable when it hinges this unmerited presumption of trust in government? 

On what basis can any information be accepted at face value when the probability within academic media is that peer-reviewed studies are most likely untrue or inaccurate?

Trust cannot be claimed by any one. Trust cannot be claimed by the Big Tech social media giants. Trust cannot be claimed by the legacy media. Trust cannot be claimed by the alternative media. Trust cannot be claimed by A Voice Of Liberty--I link to sources liberally throughout all of my columns for the simple reason that I must earn the reader's trust by showing my sources along with my reasonings.

Trust most assuredly cannot be claimed by government. Given the litany of government "epic fails" of recent years, the notion that government has any sort of intrinsic claim on knowing what is and is not reliable or accurate information would be laughable if the stakes in an epidemic were not quite literally life and death.

Not only is Big Tech not obligated to save us from ourselves by protecting us from "misinformation", Big Tech simply cannot achieve that goal of protection no matter how focused, no matter how determined, no matter how well intentioned its efforts are. Especially in a fast-moving crisis such as an epidemic outbreak of disease, no one can possibly know what is good information in any given moment. Even disease statistics are almost impossible to maintain with accuracy; post one set of numbers and in a few moments the numbers will change.

Do Not Trust Big Tech Or Big Government. Trust Yourself Instead

As I have repeatedly encouraged all readers of this blog, do not trust. Verify instead. Take the time to read, and research, and ask questions. Do not accept bland assurances and empty talking-point rhetoric. Do not accept that you cannot understand information, or that you need someone else to interpret data for you. 

Most of all, never accept that you must be "protected" from facts. Facts are only dangerous to those who want to keep them away from you. Facts are never a liability, and always an asset, As noted author Robert A. Heinlein famously observed:

Forget about narratives. Focus on the facts. Against plague and pestilence, the facts are your only defense.

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