Our civilization has entered the digital age. The technological realm has become pervasive, and we can hardly escape it in our daily interactions. But can we trust those steering the ship? As each day brings new insight into the fraudulent use of personal data, breaches of privacy, and attempts to filter our perception, we need to be more aware than ever. With today’s hasty technological development, few people stop to examine how these changes will affect our privacy, liberty, or our ability to control our own lives. Each week, Liberty Nation’s You’re Never Alone will catch you up on the facts you need to know.
This week we look at social media censorship of controversial topics and the pressure from lawmakers to eliminate fake news, as well as an update on the U.S. “Race to 5G.”
Social Media Pressured to Suppress Anti-Vaccine Content
Following on from LN’s report on the Washington state vaccine controversy, Facebook has expressed its willingness to remove anti-vaccine content from its network. While most mainstream figures and media outlets have accepted the notion that vaccinations are 100% beneficial, the “anti-vax” minority has apparently congregated into a community on the social media site. With measles making somewhat of a comeback among uninoculated youths across the U.S., Facebook has been under pressure to stamp down on skeptical content, which is often classed as “fake news.” Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, the spokeswoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics, met with Facebook staff to ask that something be done:
“Facebook should prioritize dealing with the threat to human health when falsehoods and misinformation are shared. This isn’t just self-harm, it’s community harm. Parents deserve the truth. If they are being served up something that is not true it will likely increase their levels of anxiety and fear and potentially change their uptake of vaccines, which is dangerous.”
National lawmakers are also putting internet service providers under pressure to censor anti-vaccine speech. On February 14, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) sent letters to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai; suggesting that if parents read such messages, it “could cause them to disregard the advice of their children’s physicians and public health experts and decline to follow the recommended vaccination schedule.” He continues, “Repetition of information, even if false, can often be mistaken for accuracy, and exposure to anti-vaccine content via social media may negatively shape user attitudes towards vaccination.”
So, will these networks succumb to this pressure? Facebook has already responded that it is “exploring additional measures to best combat the problem,” and that strategies could include “reducing or removing this type of content from recommendations, including Groups You Should Join, and demoting it in search results, while also ensuring that higher quality and more authoritative information is available.”
Obviously, parents are incapable of making an informed decision for themselves, when faced with more than one option, according to Schiff’s – and Facebook’s – logic.
U.K. lawmakers have also released a February 18 report calling for state regulation on fake news and calling Facebook as “digital gangsters” for failing to stamp down on it harshly enough.
YouTube Censors Conspiracy Theories
“I was pleased to see YouTube’s [a Google subsidiary] recent announcement that it will no longer recommend videos that violate its community guidelines, such as conspiracy theories or medically inaccurate videos, and encourage further action to be taken related to vaccine misinformation,” wrote Schiff in his letter to Pichai. The representative’s eagerness to censor any idea or speech that he personally deems harmful brings us to another story of tech tyranny.
YouTube did recently move to suppress “conspiracy theory” content, harkening back to the 2018 Alex Jones blanket ban that outraged those who value free speech. On January 25, the site announced that it would be cracking down on content that violates its community guidelines, by “reducing recommendations of borderline content and content that could misinform users in harmful ways—such as videos promoting a phony miracle cure for a serious illness, claiming the earth is flat or making blatantly false claims about historic events like 9/11.”
Only one narrative is allowed on any of these events, you see. All unapproved interpretations must be buried, or else “fake news” might change your mind. But who gets to decide what content could misinform users?
Remember boys and girls, it’s not a conspiracy when you’re right & with all the obvious holes it seemed logical to question this disgusting hoax.
This didn’t age well at all!
Is Trump Jr. pushing a Jussie Smollett conspiracy theory? https://t.co/LFFdAos0q0
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 17, 2019
The decision echoes a November 2018 announcement by Mark Zuckerberg that Facebook would be working to reduce recommendations to “sensationalist and provocative content” which can “undermine the quality of public discourse and lead to polarization.” Controversy and disagreement are never desirable in a world that prefers to keep a numb population nodding along to one easily constrained story – something that is now being brought under control after the early “wild west” days of the internet that attracted so many.
Now that 2019 is well underway, 5G – the next generation of wireless internet transmission – is set to be rolled out in earnest across the U.S. While previous wireless technology operated on microwave radiation, 5G uses millimeter waves (MMW), and the science surrounding the health effects of MMWs is controversial, to say the least.
The first 5G-capable smartphone is expected to be the Motorola Moto Z3, exclusive to Verizon. A report submitted to the FCC includes an interesting detail, however. The Moto Z3 will seek to minimize users’ exposure to MMWs turning them off when in proximity to the user: “Capacitive and proximity sensors are used to disable transmission from a given mm-wave antenna array module when a user may be located in close proximity to the module and in a direction in which the module may transmit.” A little concerning when the industry keeps trying to convince us that MMRs are completely safe – but without providing the evidence.
On February 6, the Senate Committee for Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing on the 5G rollout, and the tone of the meeting can be summed up in the opening remarks of ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-WA), who stated: “I’m all in for 5G.” While the meeting was largely focused on how to most speedily and securely run the “race to 5G”, one lone voice – that of Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) – questioned the technology, pointing out the lack of research that has been done to measure the effects of MMWs on the human body. Blumenthal has been a vocal critic of the untested push to install 5G transmitters across the country, and this most recent hearing was no exception:
Sometimes awareness is as good as a cure. If your social media accounts simply aren’t giving you the recommendations to explore topics you are interested in, it is simply up to the individual to decide what they want to learn about and actively seek it out via searches on these or other websites – or, one could even make a trip to the library!
5G is coming, with government and industry support behind it. Is it a boon or a danger? The only way to make up your mind is to do the research. You can find out if and when 5G is set to be installed in your area by contacting the major telecom providers.
That’s all for this week from You’re Not Alone. Check back in next Monday to find out what’s happening in the digital realm and how it impacts you.