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Online ‘Anti-Vax’ Campaigns and COVID-19: Censorship is Not the Solution

A piece by Dr. Rich Armitage of the Division of Epidemiology & Public Health, University of Nottingham, discusses the many negative and even counter-productive effects that may result from steps taken by the UK government and social media platforms to "combat disinformation."

Armitage is clearly pro-vaccination, but as he observes,

Firstly, many people have legitimate concerns around the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines due to factors including the speed of their development, the underrepresentation of ethnic minority groups in clinical trials and the unknown longevity of their immunological effects. The public must feel freely able to voice these concerns, raise challenging questions and expect transparent replies from trusted institutions. An unintended effect of shutting down anti-vax groups may be to silence those with legitimate questions for fear of shame or ridicule and lead them to harbour greater suspicion of public health authorities...

He goes on to observe two additional points: that such censorship policies and laws infringe upon the right to free speech; and "depending on the breadth of the definition imposed", such policies may suppress "both the mere voicing of concern for vaccine safety and the intentional distribution of dangerous falsities," a result that leaves the public less safe:

Governments will be without the substantial resources required to identify all online anti-vax campaigns and thus will be forced to handover decision-making powers to social media platforms themselves. This is unlikely to be an optimal strategy for the delivery of public health messaging

Read the whole thing.