TIME is Pushing Vaccinations by Calling on Facebook to Ban Anti-Vaxxer Pages
Those who are fans of the lost art of integrity in journalism as well as distinguished critical discourse may remember a past that included TIME Magazine as a champion in these arenas. Whether it was or not is up for debate, but today’s version of the magazine is lacking in integrity and utterly failing in the critical discourse department.
An article this week by Editor at Large Jeffrey Kluger calls on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as well as Twitter CEO Dick Costolo to “shut the anti-vaxxers down.”
Let’s put aside a few different potential issues with this right up front. Costolo rightfully asserts that he’s not calling for an anti-free speech attack on the First Amendment which does not cover the prerogatives of a private or public company from enforcing policy as they see fit. If Facebook wants to ban pages about My Little Pony, they absolutely have the right to do so just as My Little Pony fans have the right to delete their Facebook accounts.
We’ll also put aside the topic of the dangers associated with vaccines. Most scientists and doctors say that generally there are no substantial dangers with vaccines. That debate is raging in other places but it’s not the real issue here. The issue is the ability to have the debate in the first place. With that said, Kluger did make an interesting note in an article he published in 2012:
The death of the Chinese bus driver is likely the influenza equivalent of the case of Hannah Poling, the now 13 year old girl who developed autism in 2000 after receiving an atypically large cluster of nine vaccines in an atypically short stretch. Ah-ha! the Jenny McCarthys of the word said, vaccines do cause autism. In this exceedingly unusual case, they apparently did contribute to the girl’s condition — but only because she suffered from an uncommon mitochondrial disorder that, in the presence of such a big vaccine dosing, led to developmental damage. The larger link between the inoculations and autism remains completely nonexistent.
With science and free speech out of the way, let’s discuss the real issue with what Kluger is suggesting. It’s unfair to attack his journalistic integrity because it’s an opinion piece. However, even in the realm of editorials, one expects a true journalist to make factual arguments and draw intelligent conclusions based upon a complete picture of the data rather than through convenient selection of tidbits that support the argument. Let’s examine one of Kluger’s arguments:
It’s worth wondering if Facebook would consider a page arguing that HIV does not cause AIDS and that therefore condoms are not necessary a threat to public safety.
We’ll put aside the fact that it’s a grammatically incorrect sentence. People write things that make them sound stupid all the time; I’m often guilty of this. What’s important about this particular portion of the article, as well as several others, is that he’s trying to draw a connection to absurdity. He believes the anti-vaxxers are absurd, so he’s trying to associate them with others he feels are equally absurd. The problem with this argument is that there is no substantial demographic that believes HIV does not cause AIDS. The reason that the anti-vaxxer movement is a topic in the first place is because a growing segment of the population is either fearful of the effects of vaccines and GMOs, or they’re fearful of the possibility of a mandate relieving parents of the choice.
The comparisons and accusations he makes in the article are clever journalistic magic tricks.
Now, let’s discuss the need for opinion pieces to compel critical discourse. The sheer fact that he’s calling for social media sites to pull the plug on anti-vaxxer pages is an attack on the fabric of critical discourse in the first place. In essence, he’s saying that his side has already won the argument and the dissenters must not be allowed to discuss their perspectives on public forums like social media. He feels that there are enough stupid people who could fall for the anti-vaxxer argument, so he’s doing his duty of protecting them from their own ignorance and the ignorance of those who might be able to convince them.
He invokes the “conspiracy theory” label, another magic trick used by the media and politicians to instantly discredit an opinion. Very few people want to be pictured wearing tinfoil hats, so invoking the phrase and lumping people together with 9/11 truthers or fake moon landers is standard operating practice for weak journalists and desperate politicians. Kluger is not a weak journalist and TIME is not a weak publication, so either they got lazy or they don’t want to stand behind the one thing they claim is squarely on their side: facts.
America has at its core a propensity to grow through debate and discussion. We have tools for this that are much more powerful than anything we’ve had in the past, particularly social media. Kluger should view an anti-vaxxer Facebook page as an opportunity to debate his views and spread what he considers truth to those who need to hear it most. To call for an abolition of these pages is a petty attempt at containment.
If he has all of the facts on his side as he claims, he should welcome the chance to educate people and engage in critical discourse. Personally, I would welcome a public discussion on the topic. He may be surprised to find that some of us aren’t like Jenny McCarthy, that not all of us are searching for Elvis in a Montana cabin, and that some of us have valid arguments. Of course, he wouldn’t want to have a discussion with someone like me. He’d rather just shut the Facebook pages down and call it a day.