Facebook bows to anti-science activists, shuts down ‘We Love GMOs and Vaccines’

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“Science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths.”                                 –Karl Popper                                                                                                                            

After two and a half years and reaching 70,000 organic likes, We Love GMOs and Vaccines has been removed from Facebook. Here is what you get when you go to our page now:Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 7.54.06 PM

I am a middle school teacher in Annapolis, MD, who has become concerned about the turn against science on critically important issues, such as vaccines and agricultural biotechnology. The Facebook site grew into something I never imagined. I found myself being invited to happy hours with University of Florida plant scientist Kevin Folta, to the United Nations to meet with the Cornell Alliance for Science Fellows and even to a tour of Monsanto in St. Louis. More importantly I made personal friends with people all over the world, both online and off.

[To read how science communicators are reacting to this latest example of anti-GMO and anti-vaccine censorship, visit the GLP story: Science communicators condemn Facebook’s censorship of pro-science “We Love GMOs and Vaccines”]

NOTE: In an unprecedented move, Facebook has now restored the site, accessible here. Usually Facebook takes one month or more before even considering whether to restore a censored site.

The time spent with the page was not without some stress. My criticism of the anti-biotechnology movement has caused some absolutely terrible people to try and silence me. I almost threw in the towel when people began tweeting and emailing my school system about me. These people view the criticism often used on my Facebook page as “harassment” of their leaders and followers–and they have attacked the site and me viciously. For example, Ena Valikov, a veterinarian, is known for trolling science focused sites, personally attacking scientists and science communicators who do not agree with her extremist views on GMOs and other issues.

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GMWatch, a virulently anti-GMO group (profiled here by the Genetic Literacy Project, for which I sometimes contribute), launched a particularly vicious campaign against me and the site last December after I reported on the antics of Nassim Taleb, black swan economist turned anti-GMO scare preacher.

Encouragement from my local community helped me keep my cool. This small group of online bullies certainly made me reflect on things, but definitely not the way those attacking me probably intended. You see for them to spend so much time and effort on this harassment must have meant I was effective. Otherwise they would have just ignored me.

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But it would not be until several weeks ago when I felt that my work and that of a small team of volunteers was really being threatened. I was alerted to a post that appeared in a dark pit of Facebook, Vaccine Resistance Movement, which is the go-to source for vaccine deniers convinced of an international corporate and government conspiracy to poison children. Dr. Joseph Mercola, who runs one of the most popular websites peddling ‘natural medicine–he is described by the Encyclopedia of American Loons as “a frighteningly popular alternative medicine guru and (more or less) cult leader- posted a request to this group of nearly 25,000 activists to report our Facebook page for “investigation.”

Mercola seemed to take issue with an image I posted of Dr. Jeff Bradstreet, a Christian preacher turned alternative medicine guru best known for his  promotion of homeopathy and other forms of medical quackery. He promoted misinformation on how to deal with autism, leading to an untold number of children being harmed. Bradstreet’s body was found dead under mysterious circumstances in 2015, which led to an exchange on VRM.

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Since making that post I have been having a very constructive dialog with Dr. Mercola’s girlfriend Erin Elizabeth of Health Nut News. We have all cooled off, but unfortunately some people have not. Anti-vaccine hotheads began a coordinated effort to destroy what we have built. Facebook has adopted the precautionary principle, and the anti-science mob knows from experience how to manipulate the system.

Dr. David Gorski, a surgical oncologist and one of the country’s most respected science communicators as founder of the Science-Based Medicine blog, has previously written on how rabid anti-science activists have learned how to manipulate Facebook’s algorithms to censor science advocates: “when members of the Stop the Australian Vaccination Network were targeted by what was then called the Australian Vaccination Network for complaints against them on Facebook. Facebook, through its automated reporting algorithms, would then issue 12-hour, 24-hour, or even longer bans against pro-vaccine advocates.”

The page was unpublished four times over a three week period before finally being deleted. A Facebook representative on the phone explained that when enough people report a page or a post in a short period of time, Facebook automatically removes it. This technique isn’t just being used by the anti-science movement, but also by oppressive regimes around the world to stifle dissent. The Verge reported on how these tactics are employed by the Vietnamese government to silence journalists and activists.

It is utter insanity that Facebook allows these gangs of thugs to act as judge, jury and “executioner”. I understand that Facebook wants to keep a reputation for a “safe” environment, but allowing  keyboard renegades free reign stifles freedom of expression, which is what has made the Internet so great.

11801991_10206241892582488_2108632182_nContrary to Mercola’s claim that I “make a living out of insulting” anti-vaccers, We Love GMOs and Vaccines is just a hobby. I have so far not received a dime from anyone for any of my writing or memes. As a teacher it was fun to be able to teach without having to worry about what parents or a principal thought of me. If Facebook does not restore it, maybe I will just focus on the Americans For Science podcast and writing for other outlets.

But this isn’t just about me. Our audience of more than 70,000 was an essential part of an online network of pages sharing information with each other. Facebook posts rely on engagement. Without larger pages sharing articles and memes, most people will never see most of what is posted. Shutting down my page is like having a bulb go out on a traditional string of Christmas lights, where all the pages that follow mine go in the dark as well.

And that is what this is really about. The anti-vaccers and anti-GMOers and other groups who not only defy science but attack those who promote independent thinking are not satisfied with just trying to block on the pages of science communicators, they are intent on preventing everyone else–you–from seeing independent information as well. In history class I teach of great wars fought against tyrants who do just that.

Stephan Neidenbach is a middle school teacher in living in Annapolis,
MD. He holds a BS in business administration from Salisbury University and a MS in Instructional Technology from University of Maryland University College. He started and runs the Facebook group We Love GMOs and Vaccines, follow him on twitter @welovegv.

 

  • That Atheist Show

    I shared and saved many memes from WLGV on the page for this account. Many supporters will carry on your work!

  • Steve Cochran

    As a vaccine, GMO, and carbon climate theory skeptic, I join you in condemning Facebook censorship.

    • Aequitarum Custos

      Regardless of your stances which I strongly disagree with, I equally strongly agree with you on the Facebook censorship issue.

  • Rob Bright

    How hilarious and fitting that you go and attack critics of biotechnology, and then complain about being attacked back! (The hypocrisy of you antiscience practitioners of scientism is palpable…)

    • Rob

      You consider the use of fraud to silence opponents roughly equivalent to reasoned criticism?

  • Kay Jay Day

    This headline is loaded, misleading and worse than useless. You have told readers that FB decided to “bow down”, implying the situation is decided and there is nothing that can be done. The reality is the FB reporting algorithm can and has been exploited, so the mechanism needs to be altered. That is actually something we can ask for. If we knew that was what is going on. Which anyone reading this silly headline would not know.
    Headlines are not normally written by the authors, so i don’t blame Stephen. I call on GLP to rewrite this headline: less click-baity hyperbole and more reality.

    • Rob

      Surely Facebook has the ability to override that system on a case-by-case basis. Regardless of the abuse, they didn’t do anything to prevent the deletion even after the page was suspended and restored four times in one week.

      • Kay Jay Day

        Rob, the point is that FB does NOT have that ability. Should it? Yeah! But my point is the misleading headline is not going to help, it will hurt.
        “Exploitation of FB Reporting Algorithm Shuts Down WLGMO&V” is accurate and lets the audience know what the problem is. “Facebook bows to anti-science activists, shuts down ‘We Love GMOs and Vaccines’” is not just inaccurate click-bait, it does not let the readers know there is a problem and a solution.

        • Rob

          You’re right. I was under the impression that they hadn’t restored the page, but it seems I was wrong.

        • Rob

          Aaaaaand it just got pulled down again. Even if they don’t have that ability, at this point they’re guilty through negligence.

  • Sally Blackmore

    Good riddance to bad rubbish. Now if the GLP would just get shut down.

    • Rob

      You sure do like the idea of silencing people you disagree with.

      • Sally Blackmore

        I sure do when they are giving out bad information that could hurt people. Why wouldn’t I? That’s just logic.

        • Rob

          If that were really true you’d be able to provide convincing evidence and it wouldn’t be necessary. People who try to silence their opponents are rarely in the right.

        • Derek Schinke

          What information they give hurts people?

  • Wackes Seppi
  • Patriot Baker

    Good luck to you. I’m not on FB because I think it’s corrupt – silencing of speech you disagree with is definitely frightening, and it seems to be happening more all the time.

  • Kimberly Weninger

    I don’t see where it’s missing. Still churning out lies on facebook.