Criticism, Censorship and Hypocrisy: A tale of We Love GMOs
We Love GMOs and Vaccines, a page boasting almost 70,000 pro-science Facebook followers, has been permanently shut down by Facebook, apparently due to the efforts of a handful of anti-vax and anti-GMO trolls.
The story begins about 20 days ago. We Love GMOs shared a few memes (one of which I personally found distasteful but that is beside the point) that got the ire of Erin Elizabeth, the author of Health Nut News, and girlfriend of Dr. Joseph Mercola. Without going into detail, both are anti-vax and anti-GMO.
This of course caused Erin Elizabeth to complain about We Love GMOs and its founder, Stephan Neidenbach. There’s nothing wrong with that, complaining is a part of a free and open dialogue. She may or may not (I have read reports but seen no screenshots) posted personal information about Mr. Neidenbach, but I’m leaning toward not at this point. Either way, her page was reported and went down for about a day. Keep in mind at no point did We Love GMOs purposefully send followers to report Erin Elizabeth’s page.
Despite that, it’s what happened. Some fans of We Love GMOs went over to Erin’s page and reported her enough times to get it banne. This is wrong, if for no other reason than it doesn’t appear she actually violated the terms of service of Facebook.
After her page went back up, she complained about the people who reported her page to Facebook. It was after this that We Love GMOs and Vaccines first went down.
The reporting system on Facebook is almost entirely automatic. If enough users report a page it is given a temporary ban. After this, if more users report a page it will be given another, longer, temporary ban. If this occurs enough times Facebook will permanently ban the page. All of this occurs automatically and rarely goes through human oversight.
Because of this, anti-science activists have taken advantage of Facebook’s automated system to silence their opponents. Some send their massive followers to report a single page. Others will create a fake accounts to report pages. Both of these actions are technically against Facebook’s terms of service but in reality are very hard to police. The end result is typically the page being attacked goes down without any human actually looking at the reports.
That’s what just happened to We Love GMOs and Vaccines:
Note that this is a different notice than the previous one:
This means that We Love GMOs and Vaccines has gone down permanently:
There are a few things to note here.
First, it appears that Erin did not send her followers to report We Love GMOs. I say appears because I have seen one screenshot, that I cannot verify, that does show Erin telling followers to report We Love GMOs but such things are easily photoshopped. To put things into context, here is a live video from Erin Elizabeth’s page:
Rather than being an attack driven by Erin Elizabeth, this appears to be the efforts of one Joan Shields, or possibly even “Penny Kilkenny:
— Penny Kilkenny (@PennyKilkenny) July 17, 2016
As an aside, Kilkenny also doxxed me on her Twitter page, which is the reason why I only make comments using the Cogito page rather than my personal profile.
Whomever the culprits are (and it’s probably a handful of very dedicated trolls rather than a mass report) it’s important to have some perspective. First, we may disagree with the anti-vax and anti-GMO crowd without resorting to unfair and intellectually dishonest attempts to silence them by reporting their pages. Second, the irony of the situation should not be lost on anyone: when anti-vaxxers are told that they are wrong they cry “censorship” (completely misapprehended the meaning of the word) yet are more than willing to abuse Facebook’s reporting algorithms to silence their detractors.
Just like Vani Hari, a.k.a. The Food Babe deleting any comment that she disagrees with and banning the commenter, these individuals don’t actually care about censorship or free speech – they only care about their speech.
This blatant hypocrisy should be pointed out as often as can be done. However we must not stoop to their level and report pages just to silence them. Instead, comment (take screenshots), and always be civil. Disagree, fine. But don’t try to silence those with whom you have disagreements. Don’t resort to useless name calling or doxxing. We’re better than that.
Finally, in the wake of We Love GMOs being shut down, several new Facebook Pages with similar names have sprung up, possibly hoping to capitalize on the hype of this story. Don’t follow those pages. Or do, it’s a free country and all, but don’t think they’re run by the people who ran We Love GMOs. Instead, follow @welovegv on Twitter or the founder, Stephen Neidenbach’s new Facebook Page.