Facebook has finally announced that it would no longer allow advertisements that include misinformation about vaccines.
It has also promised to diminish (not prevent, mind you) the reach of anti-vax groups that spread anti-vaccine misinformation.
It’s a move that should have made me happy, but it didn’t.
Instead, it caused me to reflect upon the fact that, between the internet writ large and the specific amoral development of social media platforms, society has weaponized the worst of human nature and that Facebook’s token effort is too little, and far too late.
Let’s face it.
The internet is a largely unregulated wasteland where conspiracy theories have thrived, including the ones that say that vaccines have been knowingly dispensed by big pharma despite their causing autism (they don’t).
And while Facebook’s move might shut down some of the money streams of that particularly harmful nonsense, the conspiracy will continue to be propagated by thousands of websites and believed and reposted by ill-informed moms and dads everywhere.
Other ridiculous, sometimes harmful, websites will continue as well. There are sites that promote the belief that the Holocaust is a fraud, that the Earth is hollow and populated by lizard people, that climate change is a hoax, that school mass shootings are staged, and that disco was the epitome of musical achievement.
On Dec. 4, 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch, a 28-year-old man from Salisbury, North Carolina, fired three shots from an AR-15-style rifle, into Comet Ping Pong. The pizza restaurant had been alleged, online, to be a front for a child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton.
While many would argue that an unrestricted internet is a reflection of our fundamental freedom of speech, I struggle to square that with “Best Gore,” a site that posts graphic videos of people having their heads and appendages removed, or the pro-anorexia and bulimia site that advises young people to starve themselves to death.
The instant message apps that we all have on our phones are daily being used to harass and intimidate and a recent study found that we are more than 70 per cent more likely to re-post false information than the truth.
We used to be better than this.
We used to value the truth, didn’t revel in the ignorance expressed by others, and we repudiated those who spread lies.
We used to respect and strive for intelligence; we didn’t sneer at those who knew more than we did – we admired them and sought their guidance.
As a result, we built great things and cured disease and reached for the stars. And we didn’t sit, staring at our devices, during those precious hours with our children.
Bill Gates once described the internet as the town square for a global village. It’s up to us to ensure that it’s not a village square where incivility and stupidity are tolerated and where the thoughts of hateful village idiots are unquestioningly embraced.