Zuckerberg Quashes Dissent About Social Distancing on Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg

If you are among the thousands of Americans who advocate for the reopening of the economy of your state from lockdown measures by governors, and you also believe social distancing guidelines are not the best health policy to attack the Chinese coronavirus, then Mark Zuckerberg thinks you should be censored on Facebook.

That’s what came out of an interview the social media CEO gave George Stephanopoulos of ABC News on Monday’s “Good Morning America,” in which Zuckerberg said he had an army of “fact-checkers” at the ready to censor what his teams deem as “harmful misinformation.”

“How do you deal with the fact that Facebook is now being used to organize a lot of these protests to defy social distancing, and defy the social distancing guidelines in the states?” Stephanopoulos asked. “If someone is trying to organize something like that, does that qualify as harmful information?”

“Certainly, someone saying that that social distancing is not effective to stop the spread of coronavirus, we do classify that as harmful misinformation and we take that down immediately,” said Zuckerberg.

To be fair, Zuckerberg answered the question he was asked by Stephanopoulos, which for the most part misrepresented (surprise!) the various grassroots efforts to restart economic activity. The groups that have formed on Facebook (at least the ones that have attracted significant followings) have advocated for their states to get back to business, but to also follow wise health practices to stem the virus – including in most cases maintaining social distancing as much as possible.

For example the Reopen NC group, which claims 130,000 wannabe members (Facebook limited them to 60,000), directed participants to “stay with your car” and “maintain social distancing expectations” for its first rally last Tuesday (another is planned for today) in Raleigh. Reopen Minnesota says, “All of us want to save the most vulnerable in society. And all of us are willing to do our part…Have an adult conversation with us. And let’s find a way to open Minnesota up for business in a safe and responsible way.” Not exactly “defiant.”

Activists who want the national economy reopened, for the sake of the health and security of tens of millions of Americans who have been forced out of work, still also want to fight the virus. But, as President Trump tweeted weeks ago, “We cannot let the cure be worse than the disease,” which has become the case. Inevitably some professions require compromise of the CDC’s social distancing guidelines, but other measures can be employed to mitigate exposure to the virus – such as wearing of masks and gloves, and frequent hand-washing.

But Zuckerberg told Stephanopoulos that disseminating information against social distancing is categorized as “harmful misinformation” and is subject to censorship by Facebook. While undoubtedly that is the prevalent view endorsed by many (if not most) health professionals, some perspectives by qualified experts differ on how to fight the Wuhan virus.

The counter to “social distancing” to reduce the virus’s threat is “herd immunity,” in which the more the infection is spread throughout the population, the more antibodies are built up in people, and thus the life of the disease is shortened because the virus has fewer hosts to attack. A few medical experts have proposed that approach in the media in recent weeks.

One is Knut Wittkowski, former head of the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research Design at the Rockefeller University in New York City, who told WND.com, “What happens is if you [social distance], you also prolong, to widen it, and it takes more time, and I don’t see a good reason for a respiratory disease to stay in the population longer than necessary.”

Others who have endorsed a “herd immunity” approach include Dr. David Katz, the founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Connecticut, who told Fox News the development of immunity is essential in the absence of a vaccine, which is a long way off.

“[I]f all you do is flatten the curve (with social distancing), you don’t prevent deaths or severe cases,” he said. “You just change the dates. We don’t want to do that.”

Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston who didn’t advocate against social distancing, nonetheless warned, “In the absence of robust herd immunity at the population level, we have some risk of a second wave of the epidemic.”

Dr. Sara Kayat, a physician in the U.K., said, “By initiating social distancing measures, fewer people will get infected, which of course is the aim. However, this does then mean that our herd immunity rate will take longer to be achieved naturally. As a result, when we come out of social distancing measures, there will be a minimal background immunity, and our numbers of acutely infected will spike again.”

And Steve Templeton, an Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the Indiana University School of Medicine-Terre Haute, said the availability of new information and data about the virus’s behavior and spread could shift public health tactics.

“The current mitigation strategies were not enacted to prevent spread of the infection, only to delay it,” he wrote in a commentary for the Tribune-Star of Terre Haute. “Thus, quarantining of healthy people only ensures that a susceptible population remains to transmit the disease to older, more vulnerable people. Therefore, another surge of cases and deaths might occur in the coming months if mitigation policies are relaxed.

“However, at some point, as individuals become immune to COVID-19 due to exposure and infection, the nation moves closer to true herd immunity, and an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. Young, healthy people could instead be viewed as protective assets instead of disease-spreading liabilities.”

Even Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who strongly supports social distancing, has acknowledged the benefits of herd immunity.

“The people who are infected, there is no doubt … that if you recover from an infection, you have an immunity that will protect you with the same particular pathogen, in this case, the coronavirus,” he told CNN.

But those alternate views – well reasoned from qualified medical experts – are worthy of censorship according to the CEO of Facebook, which counts among its “fact-checkers” a researcher who conducted projects with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Communist Chinese lab that is suspected of being the virus’s source.

“I can personally attest to the strict control and containment measures implemented while working there,” said Danielle Anderson, an assistant professor at Duke University’s medical school and Facebook “fact-checker.” “The staff at WIV are incredibly competent, hardworking, and are excellent scientists with superb track records.”

Sounds like Zuckerberg prefers the world’s experts on censorship to judge who has the right to speak on Facebook with authority on deadly viruses.