Either by their own comments, or their invitation of skeptics to hearings, some Republican state leaders have taken up the dangerous banner of misinformation regarding Covid-19. Now the argument rages as to how to address the spread of false facts.
Although statements made online can and have been refuted by the platforms on which they were posted, the fine line between free speech and censorship remains an issue. An example of this can be seen in a video testimony from the Ohio House of Representatives posted to Youtube in late February of this year. The video, which featured a witness’s claim that COVID-19 is not killing children (which is false), was taken down by Youtube on the basis that it “violated its community standards against the spread of misinformation”. However, upon the video’s removal, pushback was seen from people like Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology project who said YouTube went too far. In his statement recorded by the Associated Press Wizner insisted that, “When we’re talking about testimony that occurred at a public hearing, the far better response would be counterspeech, maybe in the form of fact-checking or labeling, rather than this attempt to flush it down the memory hole,”
The note of rejecting cancel culture is a valid argument adopted by many. Yet what can be done when the other side is not allowed to counter misinformation? In a discussion surrounding an extended pause on youth contact sports in Michigan’s House Oversight Committee, there was a distinct lack of state health officials or other virus experts present. Instead, Jayme McElvany, a virus skeptic, was given a platform front and center, where he proceeded to question mask mandates and the science behind state COVID-19 data. When faced with these imbalances, Wizner continued to assert that highlighting, not suppression needed to be implemented so that people could be directed to the facts. A risk of this method, recognized by Republican, Rep. Sabi Kumar from Tennessee, is that legislation may get through that enforces “an anti-vaccine attitude.”
With overwhelming medical evidence supporting the dangers of Covid-19, and the necessity of vaccination and mask mandates there is no question that the benefits of such measures outweigh the risks. However, how to deal with misinformation is still a question that is up in the air, and may continue to be a debate for quite some time.