Banning anti-vax hashtags is more dangerous than the anti-vax message

anti vaxx instagram post

Anti-vaxxers might be a thorn in the side of science and commonsense but Instagram’s move to block hashtags being used to spread “verifiably false” information about vaccinations should not be celebrated. Censorship is never the answer even when you disagree with what is being said.

Instagram says it won’t take action against people or accounts identified as anti-vaxxers but will go after hashtags. It already blocks hashtags like #vaccinescauseautism, #vaccinescauseaids and #vaccinesarepoison. This is censorship and treats anti-vaxxers way too seriously. It’s exactly what they need to feed their paranoid, conspiracy-theorist world view.

Measles is a tiny threat. Why isn’t Instagram banning climate change denial and misinformation? The Earth has raised over one degree Celsius since the start of the industrial revolution. This is the hottest it has been for over 11,000 years. Co2 emissions and deforestation are the causes and it is the biggest threat humanity has ever faced. Yet Instagram hashtags #climatechangeisfakenews and #climatechangeisahoax are rife. I’m not suggesting Instagram goes after them too, but if you start doing this to one sector of conspiracy theorists, where do you draw the line? I suggest letting everyone share their beliefs so there is a cross pollination of ideas and opinions and the internet doesn’t become a nanny police state.

I’m not some clothed anti-vaxxer. I personally think children should be vaccinated. It’s irresponsible not to as it protects the individual and the entire population from an outbreak of a preventable disease. But this is just my opinion. I’m willing to hear out other people’s opinions and don’t want them to be censored.

The crux of the issue for me is this; without hearing the counterargument people lose the ability to judge ideas that oppose their own beliefs. We end up in an echo chamber and humanity suffers for being shallow and unenlightened, and in the long run more likely to believe fake news because it hasn’t developed the tools to weed out the nonsense. If we are to have the free internet we need, we have to sharpen our critical thinking. We need to learn to verify things we read and recognize when a source is dubious. Other fake news on all sorts of topics will always slip through the cracks and we can't rely on algorithms to make sure we only see reliable content. If we go down that road, the internet will be a very dull place.

Instagram says it is considering showing educational pop-up messages to people who search for vaccine-related topics. This is a welcome reaction. Put the counter argument in there but put those videos alongside the anti-vaxxers hashtags.

Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights reads: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

You mightn’t agree with what anti-vaxxers have to say but their right to say it needs to be defended. If we accept this censorship today, tomorrow they could just as easily censor something you feel strongly about.