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Why Aren't Social Media Companies Policing Pandemic Denialism?

Why aren't these sites targeting virus denialists?
Why Aren't Social Media Companies Policing Pandemic Denialism?
Image from: Screen Shot

High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens apologized, at least:

After Vanessa Hudgens went live on Instagram on Monday, her comments about the coronavirus went viral — the bad kind of viral. Presumably in response to a question about the outbreak lasting into the summer, Hudgens said, “Yeah, til July sounds like a bunch of bulls—, I’m sorry. It’s a virus, I get it. I respect it.”

“But at the same time, like, even if everybody gets it — like, yeah, people are gonna die. Which is terrible. But, like, inevitable? I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t be doing this right now,” she said with a laugh.

On Tuesday, Hudgens posted an Instagram story responding to the backlash....

“Hey, guys,” Hudgens said. “Yesterday I did an Instagram Live, and I realized today that some of my comments are being taken out of context. It’s a crazy time. It’s a crazy, crazy time! And I am at home and in lockdown, and that’s what I hope that’s what you guys are doing, too — in full quarantine! And staying safe and sane. Yeah, I don’t take this situation lightly by any means. I am home. So stay inside, y’all.”

Later on Twitter, she offered an actual apology, calling her comments “insensitive,” and saying the response has been “a huge wake-up call.”

Hudgens is chastened. These guys? Not so much:

In a 27,000-member private Facebook group for first responders who support President Donald Trump, firefighters and paramedics have posted thousands of comments in recent weeks downplaying the coronavirus pandemic that they are responsible for helping to handle.

Posts in the group, which is called IAFF Union Firefighters for Trump and has been endorsed by Trump, scoffed at the seriousness of the virus, echoing false assertions by Trump and his allies comparing it to the seasonal flu. “Every election year has a disease,” read one meme, purporting to be written on a doctor’s office whiteboard. “This is a viral-pneumonia being hyped as The Black Plague before an election.”

... “I believe this is all by design,” wrote a Texas firefighter whose identity was corroborated by ProPublica. “Democrats have wanted to slow down and even kill the economy. It’s the only hope they have of beating Trump. Sad and disgusting the depths of shit the Democrats will descend to in order to gain power.”

... The group’s founder, Kelly Hallman, told ProPublica he doesn’t speak for everyone who posts, but he can understand why many emergency professionals share his skepticism about the coronavirus. He said previous outbreaks such as SARS, the H1N1 “swine flu” and Ebola didn’t prompt such a big response, and he thinks the reason is politics.

“There’s never been this much hoopla given to the other things,” Hallman said. “They’re doing it to crash the economy and make Trump look bad.”

The government shouldn't censor speech, but social media companies are private -- they can ban whomever and whatever they want. Or they can sanction speech on the platforms they own in other ways. Twitter, for instance, will put you in a twelve-hour lockout for a tweet it deems beyond the pale. It happened to me for a joke I admit was tasteless, a response to this tweet:

Was that "abuse and harassment," as Twitter described it? I don't think so, but to get back into my account, I took it down.

Why aren't these sites targeting virus denialists? Will Facebook go after those firefighters? (Facebook became more willing to ban some hate speech a while back but still allows Holocaust denial.)

And what about this right-wing rabble-rouser?

Forgive me if I think this is a tad more dangerous than my joke. Maybe at least a twelve-hour suspension for some of this denialism, @jack Dorsey?

Published with permission of No More Mr. Nice Blog

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