Censorship in the Time of Corona

Last week, a coterie of the biggest tech platforms announced that they would be teaming up to combat misinformation about coronavirus and the Covid-19 illness it causes. We’re from Google and we’re here to help — the most terrifying words in the English language.

Sure enough over the weekend, blogging site Medium “helpfully” removed a longform post by an armchair epidemiologist who was a bit too optimistic in interpreting COVID-19 data.

The underlying data was correct – it was his opinion that was wrong.

The post (which now reappears on Zerohedge, whose Twitter account was also helpfully banned for COVID-19 misinformation) concludes that school closings and stay-at-home measures do more harm than good, and that we should all calm down and stop the hysteria.

Look, I sympathize with cities like New York where hospitals are inundated and they really need everyone to comply and shelter in place. At the same time, censorship doesn’t work. Half of Americans already distrust media coverage of coronavirus; censoring alternative viewpoints is only going to make that worse. When you censor someone, they instantly go from armchair epidemiologist to SILENCED WHISTLEBLOWER.

Censorship is the ultimate vindication that you’ve spoken truth to power. Remember that Google diversity memo? The author was fired after publicly criticizing the company’s reverse-discrimination efforts. After the fallout, James Damore took to Twitter using the handle @Fired4Truth and republished his document at Fired4Truth.com. No, Damore wasn’t fired for telling the truth – he was fired for causing a PR nightmare. But just as everyone is the hero in their own story, every censored voice is the silenced truthseeker in his own narrative.

If your spouse asks you whether her dress makes her look fat and you answer truthfully, you’ll be sleeping on the couch for the next two weeks. And no, you weren’t banished for “truth” – even though it might feel that way! – you were banished for causing marital discord.

And so, the Evidence-Over-Hysteria post wasn’t removed for factual (in)correctness, it was removed because it racked up several million pageviews and encouraged people to question mandatory shelter-in-place orders. Instead of censoring disruptive posts, it might be worth pondering why people are so skeptical of prevailing narratives in the first place.

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