Viewpoint: Cracking down on misinformation may increase harm

Although misinformation has plagued social media and the internet throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, completely censoring it could cause more harm than good, journalist Conor Friedersdorf wrote in The Atlantic on March 7. 

Social media giants such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have taken differing approaches to restricting misinformation and prefacing any falsities with government verified information. However, Mr. Friedersdorf gives four reasons why neither government entities nor corporations should impose tight restrictions on misinformation:

  1. Discussion of vaccines can increase scientific trust. Trust in vaccinations can be at its peak when all relevant information — including dissenting opinions — are available. Quashing other opinions on the vaccine can cause those who are wary of it to become even more so, as they may feel their opinions being censored, Mr. Friedersdorf argues.

  2. Defining misinformation is difficult and often subjective. As scientific consensus continues to evolve alongside the coronavirus, some advice has also changed, making managing what counts as misinformation challenging.

  3. When free speech is restricted, those with dissenting opinions can become louder and make themselves into virtual martyrs, increasing their fame and adding followers to their band. 

  4. The evidence on how much misinformation influences people's medical decisions is inconclusive, Mr. Friedersdorf argues. Although misinformation is worth fighting for its own sake, he argues that "restricting discourse based on mere circumstantial evidence of harm is an authoritarian standard."

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