Freedom of expression, Transparency and Accountability
On SEPTEMBER 23, 2020, the press reports, that YouTube deleted accounts of the ‘Querdenker’ (Lateral Thinkers). With the onset of the pandemic ‘Querdenken’ had been spreading conspiracy myths about Covid-19 by accusing the media and politicians of lying about the coronavirus pandemic. In many German cities, ‘Querdenker’ organised demonstrations, ignoring the rules of the government.
Only a week before, Facebook also erased nearly 150 accounts, pages and groups linked with Germany’s right wing anti vax movement ‘Querdenker’. The clampdown included both Facebook’s own platform and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. The company blocked domains linked with the movement from being shared. Accounts of Querdenken founder Michael Ballweg have also been affected, DW reported.
Social media have fundamentally changed how we find and evaluate knowledge. Profit-driven algorithms opened up new forms of communication within closed groups and the self-affirming ‘curation’ of visible content. ‘Querdenker’ use social media, YouTube, Facebook and other channels to share myths and spread misinformation about the pandemic to the public. The campaign against measures to combat the pandemic has revealed the widespread extent of misconceptions about vaccines and mask effectiveness across political camps. YouTube and Facebook have created self-affirming sub-publics on their platforms, with far-reaching consequences for democratic discourse.
YouTube worked with international and local health organizations and experts to develop new guidelines that went into effect recently. The guidelines determine how YouTube now handles false claims about vaccinations and are based on medical consensus and the testimony of health authorities, according to the platform. YouTube emphasizes that the guidelines only apply to approved vaccines that health authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO) would recognize as safe and effective.
YouTube states, ‘YouTube doesn’t allow content that poses a serious risk of egregious harm by spreading medical misinformation about currently administered vaccines that are approved and confirmed to be safe and effective by local health authorities and by the World Health Organization (WHO). This is limited to content that contradicts local health authorities’ or the WHO’s guidance on vaccine safety, efficacy, and ingredients.’ more
Facebook’s head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher states: Coordinated social harm campaigns typically involve networks of primarily authentic users who organize to systematically violate our policies to cause harm on or off our platform. We already remove violating content and accounts under our Community Standards, including for incitement to violence; bullying and harassment; or harmful health misinformation. more
Demonstrator and bee activist Vincent von Volkmer with a “Free The Bee” sign during the demonstration on August 29, 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic in Berlin, near the Brandenburg Gate. Photo: Tanja Herrmann, Creative Commons
Freedom of expression
Freedom of expression extends to even abstruse ideas and democracy thrives on dissent and criticism of the powerful. So, everyone faces a dilemma when it comes to disinformation and the mobilisation on the on the basis of lies, myths and ‘alternative facts’.
‘However, those who claim that the Federal Republic has become a dictatorship and rant about putting virologists on trial at popular tribunals have already stepped beyond the bounds of democratic discourse,’ Simon Teune (2021) finds and proposes to start with setting the boundaries straight by marking down the limits of democratic discourse. At the same time the breach of individuals on limits during demonstrations should not automatically reflect on the whole movement. Although, ‘when protestors at “Querdenken” demonstrations compare themselves with the Jews persecuted and murdered under the Nazi regime, this trivialization should be clearly identified as secondary anti-Semitism. When climate change sceptics misrepresent scientific findings, it is important that we do not let their statements stand as simply “controversial opinions.”‘… However, when violent rhetoric and conspiracy narratives take centre-stage at demonstrations, other participants who fail to distance themselves create a social resonance space for anti-democratic rhetoric.’ More
Freedom of expression is high held and needs to be guarded in democracies. Rules by big American tech companies, as Google to which YouTube belongs, and Facebook should not be allowed to set out rules and take actions to limit the freedom of expression and act as censors. The governments of democratic countries, the EU, the German government, need(s) to take action and not leave censoring and what generally can be published to be decided by private American tech companies. Indeed, this would endanger democracies.
YouTube Vaccine misinformation policy: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/11161123
Facebook policy: https://about.fb.com/news/2021/09/removing-new-types-of-harmful-networks/
DW Deutsche Welle: https://www.dw.com/en/facebook-deletes-accounts-of-german-anti-lockdown-group/a-59206831
Joseph de Weck, Germany’s Lateral Thinkers, Unite, Foreign Policy, https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/09/23/germanys-lateral-thinkers-unite/
Jeet Heer, The Nation, Facebook Remains a Threat to Democracy, https://www.thenation.com/article/society/facebook-regulation-democracy-australia/
Simon Teune, 2021, The Information War. Misinformation as a Resource for Political Mobilization, https://www.iass-potsdam.de/en/blog/2021/04/information-war-misinformation-resource-political-mobilization