One of the concepts that has been repeatedly invoked by Big Tech media companies and governments to justify the suppression and invalidation of information and perspectives they disagree with or disapprove of, is that of “misinformation” or “misleading, false and/or harmful information.” This concept has been employed by Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, and national health authorities either to delegitimate or silence views they deem to be false or harmful to the public interest. But the concept of misinformation is very slippery indeed.
At first sight, it has an air of scientific rigour and objectivity to it. The person who uses it immediately assumes a position of epistemic and possibly moral superiority with respect to the accused. After all, if I accuse you of peddling “misinformation,” that means that I must be more “scientific,” more knowledgeable, and more in touch with the “facts” than you. If I have to silence or reprimand you for sharing “misinformation,” I am acting disinterestedly: protecting ordinary citizens who might be taken in by your misinformed statements.
The rhetorical power of concepts like “misinformation,” “misleading information,” and “harmful information” is undeniable. It seems like the sort of judgment that is completely neutral with respect to competing ideological and political perspectives. After all, isn’t it just based on incontestable scientific “facts”?
Let us admit, for the sake of argument, that there are some statements that can reasonably be considered to constitute “misinformation” - for example, the statement that drinking lots of tea will cure severe cases of Covid-19. These sorts of cut-and-dry cases might make us inclined to think that the concept is unproblematic.
But scratch beneath the surface, and it quickly becomes clear that the category of “misinformation” is infinitely malleable and very easily weaponised for political and ideological purposes. In practice, the fact that a censor deems a statement to constitute “misinformation” tells us very little indeed about the intrinsic scientific or moral merits of the statement. But it does tell us a lot about the censor’s own political and scientific worldview.
Concepts like misinformation and “misleading information” have been weaponised for political and ideological purposes that have little or nothing to do with the advance of scientific knowledge.
This is obvious, if we consider how they have actually been used. For example, for a long time, Facebook slammed every statement connecting SARS-CoV-2 to a lab in Wuhan as erroneous or misleading - even though high-level scientific experts viewed the lab leak hypothesis as highly plausible. Then, when the political wind changed, and Facebook heard people like Dr Fauci admit the lab leak hypothesis could not be ruled out, they embarrassingly reversed themselves and stopped censoring that particular opinion.
Consider the types of opinion Youtube and Facebook have flagged or censored as “misinformation.” A Harvard medic, Dr Martin Kulldorff, was censored by Youtube for suggesting that children did not need to be masked; tweets that suggest that natural immunity could protect someone against Covid-19 are tagged by Twitter as “misleading”; people who raise doubts about the wisdom of vaccinating children have their Twitter accounts locked or suspended.
These sorts of opinions may be contested by some members of the political and scientific community, but it would be absurd to equate the utterance of a contested opinion with the sharing of “misinformation.” The concept of misinformation, used in this way, essentially loses any distinctive meaning, translating into “anything that could prompt public controversy and dispute.”
Misinformation has become a convenient rhetorical weapon for legitimating a particular political agenda. That this is so can be seen from the fact that the charge of misinformation is consistently levelled against those who question a narrative embraced by the censor, and not against those who support the censor’s worldview. Indeed, what we have seen consistently over the past year and a half is that any statement, no matter how false or absurd, that lines up with the goals and narratives of Big Pharma and Big Tech, is virtually exempt from any charge of misinformation.
For example, Twitter aggressively censors opinions that question Covid vaccination campaigns or support the development and use of cheap and safe pharmaceutical treatments for Covid-19, yet they happily turn a blind eye to false claims advanced on behalf of their own political and scientific opinions.
Consider the following egregious case of misinformation on Twitter: The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) tweeted out a picture of a horse and a statement associating Ivermectin with horse medication, to discredit claims that Ivermectin, a human drug in use for over 20 years, could be re-purposed to treat Covid-19. Both the FDA and Twitter know perfectly well that Ivermectin is a drug with both human and veterinary uses. Yet that FDA tweet was not tagged or censored, in spite of being obviously misleading in its content.
Other false and/or misleading claims that have been given a free pass by Twitter and Youtube are: gross exaggerations of the dangers Covid-19 poses for young and health individuals; the misleading and arguably fraudulent use of PCR “case” data known to include a significant number of false positives; false statements denying that people die as a result of taking Covid vaccines, in spite of clear evidence of a significant number of post-vaccine deaths in official vaccine adverse event databases; the constant equation of “death from” and “death with” Covid-19, resulting in significant distortions of the data; and plenty of defamatory claims about critics of Covid vaccination policies, including the claim that they are all “anti-vaxxers.”
All of these claims are “false or misleading,” yet Big Tech giants turn a blind eye to them. Why? Because they swim in the same direction as the narrative they are determined to push through. Do not be fooled: “misinformation” is not a politically neutral, scientific criterion of correctness, but a powerful tool of political propaganda and persuasion.