Congressman Bill Posey Takes on Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook Censorship of Discussion of Vaccine Risk

Congressman Posey: Thank you madam chair and ranking member McHenry for holding this very  informative hearing For many of us Facebook is the reality in our business and our personal lives. I communicate with my constituents as well as my friends through the platform daily many benefits accrue from the service yet in the midst these great benefits great challenges have emerged and I want to welcome you to this hearing Mr. Zuckerberg.

I believe Facebook is a great innovation that as much potential for good that we welcomed an innovation together with the controversies that have spawned unfortunately some in politics and the media see their role as cajoling Facebook to censor its users speech. In April I wrote to you that I was disappointed at Facebook would consider restricting free speech rights to communicate the risk associated with vaccinations – and I support vaccinations of children and adults.

But I also support open and frank communication of the risk of vaccination every person should make vaccination decisions with full information in recognition of the uncertainties the risk of vaccinations. The federal government has created a vaccination trust fund that has paid out over four billion dollars to compensate those who have been injured by vaccinations. There’s no more clear or persuasive statement about the risk associated with vaccinations then the existence and the payment record at that fund. From time to time medical research has established case and context of specific risks associated with vaccinations. I wrote you when another member of the House made claims that the risk of vaccination should not exist and that Facebook should police communications related to vaccination risk. Today you testified you believed in giving people a voice.

Mr. Zuckerberg, is Facebook able to assure us that it will support users fair and open discussions and communications related to the risk as well as the benefits of vaccinations?

Mark Zuckerberg: Congressman thanks for the question we do care deeply about giving people of voice and freedom of expression. Those are some of the founding values of the company. At the same time we also hear consistently from our community that people want us to stop the spread of misinformation. So what we do is we try to focus on on misinformation that has the potential to lead to physical harm or imminent harm and that can include especially misleading health advice. There was a hoax that was going viral a number of months back that those are saying…

Congressman Posey: Look for this subject because our time is very limited. Are you 100% confident that vaccines pose no risk of injury to any person is planet?

Mark Zuckerberg: Congressman, I don’t think it would be possible for anyone to be a hundred percent confident, but my understanding of the scientific consensus is that it is important that people get their vaccines.

Congressman Posey: But you said your platform you want to you believe in giving people a voice. Shouldn’t somebody have the opportunity to express an opinion different from yours? I mean over four billion dollars has been paid out by the fund to thousands of people. Don’t you think people should be able to have information to make an informed choice?

Mark Zuckerberg: Congressman I do, and that’s why we don’t stop people from posting on their page something that’s wrong but if someone wants to post vaccine anti-vaccination content, or if they want to join a group where people are discussing that content we don’t prevent them from doing that but what we do is we don’t go out of our way to make sure that our group recommendation systems try to show people or encouraged people to join those groups. We discourage that.

Congressman Posey: Okay, well how do you discourage that?

Mark Zuckerberg: Well, there are a number of different tactics, for example if someone is typing into the search results into the search box something that that might lead to anti-vax content we don’t recommend anti-vax searches to them. If you type in the name of a group exactly you can you can get the group, we’re not gonna hide it, we’re not going to prevent you from joining it. But we’re not going to recommend or go out of our way to show people content that would encourage people to join those groups but people can share that content.

Congressman Posey: Many people harmed by this policy are in fact parents with disabled children, and I don’t think we or you should be so quick to turn our backs on them. If you look at the statistics, I think you’re making a bad mistake.

My time is expired I yield back thank you.

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14 thoughts on “Congressman Bill Posey Takes on Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook Censorship of Discussion of Vaccine Risk

  1. Ugh. He’s so full of crap. They’re not just “not going out of their way way to make sure that our group recommendation systems try to show people or encouraged people to join those groups.” They’re actively deleting people’s content, and attaching ridiculous, biased “fact check” articles to posted links. (I don’t even care if something posted IS biased; posting something equally biased in another direction doesn’t “correct” it.) Even if private groups people have made a point to join ON PURPOSE, we can’t see the content people share without having that other crap attached to it.

    1. Congressman Posey has done so much good work on challenging the vax status quo. I’m glad he challenged Zuckerberg, but wish he had gone further and challenged Zuckerberg’s assumption that vaccine-critical content is misinformation and that consensus necessarily equals good science. That said, I find the little messages from Facebook to be pretty innocuous and much easier to ignore than pop-up and video ads.

      1. I don’t mind them so much on the main feed, but I find them quite annoying in a group. Many groups are themed on purpose, so people come looking specifically for the information members are posting — which is distracted from much more heavily by those “add-ons” in the group feed than in the main feed.

        I totally agree with you on other point, and think it’s one we need to REALLY push back on. There’s a court precedent about vaccines from many years ago where the justices stated, among other things, that “what everyone knows the court must also know.” (I might have that quote a little off, but it’s pretty close to that.) I consider that extremely problematic. “The court” should not “know” anything that not demonstrated via evidence. “What everyone knows” is really a form of hearsay, and it has no business in a court case.

        The social media companies need to be honest about the fact that what they’re opposing is not “misinformation” — they couldn’t care less if it’s accurate or not — it’s “socially unacceptable information.” And that’s exactly what I’ll be calling it.

  2. It seems Zuckerberg forgot to mention the gatekeeping they’re doing. I got into a discussion about this on my own FB wall, and a friend mentioned a group — that I happen to be in — that she’d gone to check out, and she posted a screenshot for me of where it had a note saying the group talks about vaccinations and how before joining the group the reader should visit the CDC and get all their questions answered.

    And THEN she clicked to try to actually join the group and it *popped up* a window for her that gave the same message and tried to send her to the CDC without joining. (First link, CDC; second link, “join”; third link, “cancel.”)

    You have to fight your way past “go see the CDC for answers first/instead” notices before you can actually get into a group that talks vaccines.

    1. Yes, I would agree that Mr. Zuckerberg apparently was not forthright with respect to the exent to which FB has dampened discussions of vaccine risk, shadowbanning, etc. They get their “facts” from the CDC… and we all know the value of that information is nil regarding the reality of risk. Honest is the best policy, and it’s time for the US Gov’t to come clean and drop their denialist agenda.

  3. I would like your comments, but I would need to join wordpress. So far, I’ve managed to avoid it.

    “what everyone knows the court must also know”

    I take this in the opposite way as you. That the court needs to know what happens to people, meaning first-hand experiences. But I don’t know what was meant by it.

    By “add-ons” in the group feed, do you mean the fact-checker messages? Yeah, those are annoying.

    I love this:

    “The social media companies need to be honest about the fact that what they’re opposing is not ‘misinformation’ — they couldn’t care less if it’s accurate or not — it’s “socially unacceptable information.” And that’s exactly what I’ll be calling it.”

    May I quote you?

    I’ve never seen the message that tries to send you to the CDC after you click to join. Obnoxious!

    1. Feel free to quote me.

      “What everyone knows the court must also know,” in context, meant that if, for instance, “everyone knows vaccines are safe and effective,” the court should treat that as established fact and not require any actual evidence. If I recall correctly, the context was smallpox vaccination, and allowing forced vaccination because “everyone knows” the vaccines were beneficial and necessary. (That’s all very legally imprecise wording. But that’s the practical gist of the court precedent.)

    1. “Those offers, in the main, seem to have had no purpose except to state the general theory of those of the medical profession who attach little or no value to vaccination as a means of preventing the spread of smallpox, or who think that vaccination causes other diseases of the body. What everybody knows, the court must know, and therefore the state court judicially knew, as this court knows, that an opposite theory accords with the common belief and is maintained by high medical authority.” (There’s further context a bit farther “up-thread,” as it were, in the decision, which also reiterates that the defendant’s evidence was considered essentially useless, as it was to be measured against “common knowledge” — which basically boils down to, “we don’t care what proof you might have that this vaccine isn’t as effective as claimed or might cause other issues; if the accepted belief is that is is and it doesn’t, that court will accept that as truth.” 🙁

      https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/197/11/

      1. Thank you, Titus2Homemaker. How depressing that it’s the same situation today. Has any progress been made at all? Legislative attorneys in OR are telling reps and senators it’s legal and constitutional to remove personal (religious and philosophical) exemptions to vaccines. Many legislators are attorneys, and courts go with precedence, authority, and consensus. Some legislators are doctors, and doctors go with protocols. The consensus needs to change. Lawsuits have been won, but they’ve not been publicized widely. The mainstream press needs to do its job.

      2. I’d love to see that whole precedent challenged, on the basis that current scientific consensus can’t reasonably be assumed to reflect current scientific evidence/knowledge. There are so many examples of instances where it took 20-30 years for new knowledge to be reflected in the “common knowledge” pool that it’s ridiculous. I stumbled across something earlier this week, actually, that said there’s a study showing it takes, on average, 17 years for new medical evidence to be incorporated into common practice. I haven’t had a chance to look at the actual study myself yet.

        But I don’t know how one would go about getting the court to even LOOK AT that precedent, other than bringing a new lawsuit over mandates — and I have a hard time imagining anyone who actually pushed that lawsuit thinking to address that angle.

      3. Is it this one? A lit review of 23 studies that quantified the time lag between research and practice:

        Morris, Z.S., Wooding, S., & Grant, J. (2011). The answer is 17 years, what is the question: Understanding time lags in translational research. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 104, 510 –520. https://doi.org/10.1258/jrsm.2011.110180

      4. I’m going to guess yes. The reference I saw to the study in an article turned out to have the wrong link.

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