The United States has always prided itself in being a free nation. Throughout the country’s history, that concept of freedom has always been fiercely and painstakingly defended to ensure we can say, think, and live how we want even if others don’t agree.
Recently, however, internet giants like Amazon, Google, and Facebook have been accused of censoring controversial ‘anti-vaccine’ content after receiving pressure from politicians and public health officials trying to silence growing dissidence in the country…
A Heated Debate
For years, health experts, politicians, and the public have debated about vaccines and their safety. In 2019, that debate has only become more heated as internet platforms and marketplaces like Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, and Amazon have come under more pressure to crack down on ‘misinformation’.
An Open Letter
In early March of 2019, California Rep. Adam Schiff pressured Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos when he published an open letter asking him to stop allowing anti-vaccination content and products to appear and be distributed through the massive online store.
“Amazon is surfacing and recommending products and content that discourage parents from vaccinating their children, a direct threat to public health, and reversing progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases,” Schiff wrote in his letter, which he shared online.
Terms Of Service
“Does content which provides medically inaccurate information about vaccines violate your terms of service?” Schiff wrote in the letter alluding to Amazon’s Prime Video content policy guidelines that says it will ban ‘content that promotes, endorses, or incites the viewer to engage in dangerous or harmful acts.’
Not long after, Amazon removed several ‘anti-vax’ videos like Man-Made Epidemic, Vaxxed, and Shoot ‘Em Up from streaming through Amazon Prime Video. Schiff also wrote similar letters to Google, which owns YouTube, as well as Facebook.
The online giants responded similarly to pressure from politicians. Shortly after receiving the letter, YouTube banned advertising on anti-vaccination videos and added an information panel about vaccine hesitancy next to those videos.
Youtube has also announced that the site is working to down-rank videos containing conspiracy theories, which anti-vaccination content is often categorized as so that people won’t be able as exposed to the content. Facebook has announced they are currently working to make changes to “reduce the distribution of health-related misinformation on Facebook.”
Specifically, Facebook has announced they would downrank any content they classify as vaccine misinformation on the social media platform and reject any advertising that spread more vaccine ‘hoaxes’. Executives from the company also told Bloomberg News that they are even thinking about deleting pages of people and businesses that disagree with the government’s stance on vaccinations.
In early March 2019, Amazon continued their crackdown on vaccine conspiracies in response to even more pressure on the company by removing several books, including Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism and Fight Autism and Win, from their marketplace.
Both titles detailed alternative methods to ‘heal’ or ‘cure’ children with Autism, a developmental disorder that still has no official cure. In Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism, author Kerri Rivera touts chlorine dioxide, a form of bleach, as a ‘Miracle Mineral Solution’ that can cure autism.
An Unproven Therapy
Fight Autism and Win advises parents to treat and cure autism through an unproven treatment called chelation, which is an antidote for mercury exposure. Part of the reason the book was banned from Amazon was the fact that chelation therapy is unproven for autism and may cause serious side effects like kidney damage.
“During our review process, we found that the subject matter of your book is in violation of our content guidelines,” Larry Cook, an anti-vaccine activist who is also an Amazon shop owner, received in a message after titles were removed from his shop.
Stock Up While You Can
“As a result, we cannot offer this book for sale,” the message said. “This title by Kerri Rivera has been on Amazon for SIX YEARS, and TODAY Amazon pulled it,” Cook wrote in his newsletter. “Friends, seriously, stock up on books and DVDs right now, while you can!”
Just The Beginning
While Amazon only removed a few titles and products from their site, many believe that this is just the beginning of widescale censorship across all the internet giants to silence anyone who doesn’t agree with the government on vaccine safety.
A Slippery Slope
The danger in that, however, is that censorship of one topic or idea can quickly lead to censorship of any person and any idea that goes against the government’s rules or interests. There is also an issue with how sites like Amazon intend to censor their content in a balanced way.
Deciding The Truth
“It’s always going to come down to somebody saying, ‘I know it when I see it,'” Joseph Uscinski, an associate professor at the University of Miami, told Newsweek. “If we want to put Amazon or any other company in charge of what’s true, we’re not going to like the results.”
A Subjective Definition
“Because if a standard is laid out evenly, it’s going to exclude a lot of things we believe are true,” Uscinski added about the controversial subject. Part of the issue is that what is considered a ‘conspiracy’ or ‘controversial’ is subjective and constantly changing.
What Is A Conspiracy
According to Uscinski, Amazon and other internet giants will have trouble determining what is misinformation. For example, the concept that the Earth is round was once a conspiracy while the majority believed the world was flat. Now the opposite is true.
A Can Of Worms
The associate professor and author also questioned whether all content on medical self-treatments like vitamin and herbal supplementation will be banned as well. “Once you open this can of worms, you realize there’s a lot of worms,” Uscinski said.
Where Does The Line Get Drawn
While Vaccination proponents see this step as a win, many others around the country and expressing their concerns as Amazon also banned another controversial book, Mohammed’s Koran: Why Muslims Kill for Islam. The main concern is that anything considered ‘controversial’ will be at risk of being banned.