by Gavin Haynes
Thursday, 17
December 2020

Beware the Robespierres of Twitter

In censoring anti-vax content, the tech giant is empowering online busybodies
by Gavin Haynes
Making false claims about the adverse effect of vaccines is now banned on Twitter. Credit: Getty

The news that Twitter is to ban anti-vaxxer content has come like a thunderbolt of the entirely predictable today.

From now on, it will no longer be possible to post content that makes:

“False claims that suggest immunisations and vaccines are used to intentionally cause harm to or control populations, including statements about vaccines that invoke a deliberate conspiracy.”

“False claims that Covid is not real or not serious, and therefore that vaccinations are unnecessary.”

“False claims which have been widely debunked about the adverse impacts or effects of receiving vaccinations.” 

- Twitter

On an aesthetic level as much as any, few things are more hideous than an old school anti-vaxxer. The early-2000s, post-Andrew Wakefield wave were perhaps the first moment that internet crank culture touched what an earlier generation called Soccer Moms. A certain kind of benign health-conscious suburban fad culture met a single scientist with a dodgy dossier,  and the result was a cultural car-crash we’re still unpicking.

But Twitter’s latest ban is a wide dragnet that will be used to frame the argument only in the way that, say, a California tech company employee would see it.

Quietly, the sub-clause ‘or not serious’ is doing an almost infinite amount of work in the second of Twitter’s three rules.

What counts as serious? There are any number of people who don’t take Covid as seriously as a California tech company employee that go right up to Donald Trump.

In fact, insofar as there is debate over Covid at all, it is very seldom over its existence, and almost entirely over whether or not it is serious enough to warrant the measures imposed on us. Many of the above will make the reasonable claim that, as this disease has killed only a hundredth of those taken out by the Spanish Flu, it is demonstrably not the ‘one in a hundred year event’ that we were promised in March.

And then there are any number of objections to the way we are being presented with a take-it-or-leave it solution. Take, for instance, this sceptic:

There may be much more complexity to the “95% effective” announcement than meets the eye—or perhaps not. Only full transparency and rigorous scrutiny of the data will allow for informed decision making. The data must be made public. 
- Peter Doshi, BMJ

That’s the BMJ’s assistant editor, Peter Doshi, taken from a comment piece in the same journal, running his mouth about efficacy, on the perfectly reasonable grounds that we were not told even the basic methodology underlying a headline claim on Pfizer’s product.

Any attempt to step back from the idea that the vaccine is the total solution to all our problems now stands to be guillotined by those helpful Robespierres at Twitter.

Join the discussion

  • I am worried personally that there has not been given enough time to ascertain any side effects of the vaccination. Normally this takes years but because of the panic for solutions not to mention the trillions to be made, the time given for testing is nowhere near the normal time needed for a vaccine. That the vaccine has been indemnified by the government in case of side effects helps the drug companies but not the public. The least they can do is to make it voluntary so that those unsure remain responsible for themselves.

  • Would it not be easier and more socially useful to simply ban Twitter and Facebook. in fact isn’t this option more a social imperative

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