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Free speech and the anti-vaxxer movement

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Free speech and the anti-vaxxer movement

Put aside, for the briefest of moments, whatever you believe about vaccines. I’m not going to try to convince you one way or the other about vaccinating children and the alleged health risks posed by vaccines. I’m not even going to get into the debate about whether or not parents should be compelled to have their children vaccinated. I want to talk about free speech (technically, freedom of thought) and whether or not human adults can be trusted with making their own choices.

I’ve done my own research about the science in favor and against the anti-vaxxer movement. I made my decision based on this information. What my decision was isn’t relevant for this discussion. The point that needs to be first considered is the fact that there is data is out there for people to read. The videos are there for people to watch. The opinions are available for people to digest.

But that may not be the case for long. Those opposed to the anti-vaxxer movement are urging everyone from tech companies to the federal government to the United Nations to essentially outlaw any information that does not conform with the majority opinion. Much of these efforts are driven by the pharmaceutical industries themselves, but most is driven by concerned citizens who believe parents should not have a choice about their children’s healthcare as it pertains to vaccines. Their argument is a good one: When anti-vaxxers put their own children at risk, they put other people’s children at risk. This is a textbook argument about one person’s rights impeding on another person’s rights.

The counter argument is that if vaccines are so effective, then there’s no reason for those who have their children vaccinated to worry about being exposed to children who are not vaccinated. Again, it’s a good argument.

And that’s the point. There are good arguments on both sides when it comes to rights. The science is heavily weighted towards favoring vaccinations, but that doesn’t mean the science that talks of risks of vaccinations should be stifled.

As is usually the case, I am referring specifically to freedom of thought rather than freedom of speech, since technically there’s no freedom of speech issue here with private companies banning anti-vaxxer information. They are private companies, and while they inappropriately enjoy certain protections as content platforms while simultaneously invoking their privilege as content aggregators, the bottom line remains the same: thoughts are being suppressed because they’re considered dangerous by some.

This isn’t a 1st Amendment issue because as of right now, the government isn’t involved in the suppression as far as we know. That means the battle over whether or not information from anti-vaxxers should be shareable on social media, searchable on Google, and discussion-worthy on mainstream news outlets is becoming a series of oversteps on the part of the companies helping with suppression. This should concern everyone regardless of their choices and beliefs regarding vaccinations.

Those who have followed this topic over the past few months are likely aware Google and Facebook, among others, have embraced certain types of policies with varying levels of transparency behind them in an effort to make anti-vaxxer information as inaccessible as possible. Those opinions are quashed now and the crackdown hasn’t even reached its apex. Now, GoFundMe is no longer allowing fundraisers for anti-vaxxer organizations on their platform, either.

It’s extremely important to understand this point: I would rather a government say vaccinations are mandatory than for the “information czars” of social media and search engines to quash ideas that are unpopular with the majority. That’s not an opinion swayed by my personal perspectives on vaccinations; I’d feel this way whether I was a Big Pharma lawyer or Charlie Sheen. But we’re adults. We can discern information and should be allowed to do so. Some will choose wisely. Others will not. It’s not the responsibility of tech companies or governments to tell us which information is too dangerous for our petty little minds to access.

Just give us the facts and let us make up our own minds.

When government says vaccinations are mandatory, there’s recourse for those against them. When Facebook, Google, or GoFundMe think anti-vaxxer advocates are worth hiding or removing altogether from their platforms, there’s no recourse.


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