Social Media – Who Decides What Is ‘Misinformation’?

This week’s blog is written by David Osborn (@SafeDavid3).

In the past week an incident has caused me to ponder who controls what is considered misinformation on social media. A blog written by an expert colleague (Dr Evonne Curran – @EvonneTCurran) was taken down by LinkedIn as representing “misinformation” (Figure 1). The blog summarised the evidence that covid is airborne and questioned the droplet narrative being evidence-based.

Figure 1: Feedback from LinkedIn

The fact that covid-19 is airborne is not a new finding. For instance, it has been confirmed by two of the highest authorities in the UK as well as the World Health Organization (WHO). The UK evidence comes from eminent scientists giving evidence to MPs at Parliamentary Select Committees:

1) Sir Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer, England (5/3/2020):

 “All viral infections that have a very strong force of transmission and that are airborne have the capacity to travel worldwide once they have got started. The UK will not be immune to that, and I do not think that anyone sensible expects that it will be.”

For transcript click here.

2) Prof Andrew Curran CBE, Chief Scientific Advisor, Health and Safety Executive (26/10/2021).

Q2525  “We provided evidence to show that that airborne route was very important right back in April 2020.”

Q2499  “Airborne transmission of small particles is absolutely critically important.”

Q2500  “We think the airborne route has become more important and is clearly, if pushed, the most critical.”

For transcript click here:

Even the WHO now admits covid is airborne and that they were wrong to have stated otherwise. Upon her retirement in November 2022 their Chief Scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, expressed her deep regret that they didn’t acknowledge the airborne route of transmission much earlier in the pandemic. Her parting words were:

We were not forcefully saying ‘This is an airborne virus’. I regret that we didn’t do this much, much earlier”.

For report click here

So let us consider the underlying principles behind the detection and prevention of “misinformation”. This is actually an excellent policy and, in principle, I wholeheartedly support it. There are far too many messages appearing on social media which “spread false or misleading information as if it were factual”, ranging from the mischievous to the darned right dangerous. It is quite right that social media organisations have a duty to monitor for such messages and take decisive action when they find them.

However, with that duty comes an equally important responsibility to ensure they don’t mistake good, truthful and scientifically-sound information for ‘misinformation’, label it as such and suppress it. An even greater responsibility is that social media organisations must not allow themselves to be persuaded that something is ‘misinformation’ for political or similar reasons. Of course one can only speculate whether that happened in this instance. We would never expect the decision-makers in LinkedIn to admit to this unless, perhaps, under oath in a Courtroom or (more likely) being compelled by law to give truthful witness evidence at a Public Inquiry…

By the same token, the LinkedIn decision-makers have a responsibility to make some ‘due diligence’ checks to verify that the persons upon whom they rely to determine whether something is ‘information’ or ‘misinformation’ (a) are competent to make that judgment and (b) have no underlying motive to protect their own personal interests e.g. attempting to shield themselves from culpability for some catastrophic mistake or error of judgement they, themselves, have made.

So let us again consider the definition of ‘misinformation’: “Spreading false or misleading information as if it were factual” and examine what has happened here in a little more detail – see Box 1.

Box 1: What seems to have happened with the LinkedIn post

1) A report has been uploaded to the LinkedIn by, shall we call them “the submitter”, and this report has been circulated within the LinkedIn community.

2) The report somehow came to the attention of LinkedIn scrutineers, presumably either by:
• having just discovered it by their own observations; or
• it has been flagged automatically by some “exception report”; or
• someone (either acting as an individual or representing an organisation) has complained about it. This seems the most likely scenario.

3) The scrutineer makes no prior contact with the submitter, no attempt to discuss the issue with the submitter and perhaps even ask them to voluntarily take the report down themselves or amend it to more acceptable content. Instead, without a ‘by-your-leave’ they just remove it, showing little courtesy to the submitter (who is, after all, a professional person and a member of their community, therefore deserving at least a modicum of respect).

4) The submitter is informed the report has been taken down for one of two reasons, it:
a. contained “false information” (presenting untrue facts as if they were true); and/or
b. “directly contradicts guidance from leading global health organisations (e.g. WHO) and public health authorities (e.g. UK Health Security Agency [UK-HSA]” – formerly Public Health England).

The submitter was not informed by the LinkedIn scrutineer which of these criteria applied (or whether they both did) so let us consider these two criteria in turn.

Criterion A: Contained “false information”

It seems the scrutineer was unable to identify any “false information” (as defined) or he/she would surely have communicated the exact nature of this to the submitter. After all (to quote their own website) LinkedIn’s members are professional people who deserve to be treated with respect and civility. The submitter of this report has a right to be treated by LinkedIn with respect and civility which, in this context, means having the offending statements within the report highlighted to them and the “true” information (as perceived by the scrutineer) explained to them in a civil and courteous manner. This would then enable the submitter to make an informed appeal against the decision (during which time it would not be unreasonable to keep the alleged false information offline). But none of this happened. LinkedIn personnel themselves need to abide by the same code of conduct relating to respect, dignity and civility expected of their members.

In the report LinkedIn have taken down, the author presents information in a clear, cogently laid out manner which collates information published by respected scientists. So far as I can see there is not one single fact in that paper which is not properly supported and evidenced. I hereby challenge the LinkedIn scrutineer(s) (or those persons behind the scenes who are advising them this is ‘misinformation’) to come out into the open from behind the cloak of anonymity and identify any single fact presented in the report which is false and/or misleading. I invite them to respond, either by submitting comments below the blog or preferably contacting the website owner (Dr Twycross – @alitwy) to arrange a zoom/teams meeting with interested parties who oppose their unjust censorship of this report. Failure to do so will be interpreted to acknowledgement and acceptance that there are, in fact, no false or misleading facts in the report and they accept them all as being true.

Criterion B: Contradicting global and public health guidance

Given the nature of the report in question, this is most likely the nub of the matter.

So first let us consider the global position (WHO). The main thrust of the report which LinkedIn have ‘pulled’ is to evidence the fact that Covid-19 is transmissible via the airborne route. I don’t think I need say any more than this is clearly 100% in accord with the WHO position as stated by their Chief Scientist.

Next let us consider the position of the UK-HSA. One of the key features of the report LinkedIn removed is that it addresses head-on the dichotomy between droplet and airborne transmission of covid-19. In the closing paragraph of her letter to the Covid Airborne Protection Alliance (which represents the interests of over 65,000 health and social care workers) Professor Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor of UK-has, makes it abundantly clear that the “strict dichotomy between droplet and airborne transmission is no longer useful”. So, when a report comes along which has been prepared by competent and professional Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) practitioner which compares and contrasts the evidence for droplet vs airborne transmission, what is the problem?! Why is whoever is ‘pulling LinkedIn’s strings’ so averse to this discussion they feel the need to suppress free speech and healthy discussion on the matter to the extent of censorship, when the Chief Medical Advisor (CMA) herself clearly believes both transmission routes are relevant and need to be taken into account? The fact the report finds no evidence to support droplet transmission compared with plenty of evidence to support airborne transmission should be a matter of interest for those responsible for producing national guidance – not something they run scared from and seek to suppress.

Although earlier in this blog I presented the views of high-ranking scientists about how covid-19 can transmit through the air, let’s just look at a couple of images which help to reinforce this point in layperson’s terms.

Study 1: Airborne transmission demonstrated experimentally with hamsters

Air was passed from infected hamster into a chamber where the airborne virus was detected on nutrient plates (Figure 2). The experiment was set up so only airborne aerosols could pass into the chamber, not droplets.

Figure 2: Airborne transmission demonstrated with hamsters

Study 2: Airborne transmission demonstrated experimentally with ferrets

Air was passed from an infected ferret through pipework consisting of 4 right-angle bends in such a way that droplets could not possibly reach the animal in the upper cage – which did catch the disease from the airborne virus (Figure 3). This is irrefutable evidence that the disease is airborne.

Figure 3: Airborne transmission demonstrated with ferrets

The key question is therefore: Why did LinkedIn claim the blog contained misinformation? Even the most cynical of us couldn’t fail to be perplexed by this suppression of factually correct evidence by a social media company particularly as the assertions in the blog were well supported by robust evidence.

Given the UK and other Governments’ apparent inability to admit covid is airborne, and the refusal of LinkedIn to reinstate the report, a logical conclusion is that there is political influence in deciding what constitutes misinformation. This conjecture is supported by the fact that, despite being challenged on numerous occasions, Governments around the world, along with their IPC advisers, continue to perpetuate the myth that covid is over and life needs to return to pre-pandemic norms despite soaring cases and the highest ever level of hospital-acquired covid-19 infections. This is evident from a recent publication from Public Health Scotland (Figure 4) which, once again, ignores current evidence. Note the shaded text where the authors still cling to the droplet/surfaces dogma, with no mention whatsoever of airborne being significant. The phrase “transmission is thought to occur through droplets” demonstrates a disturbing lack of certainty which the public and healthcare workers have a right to expect from Government-appointed experts three years into a pandemic. You really would think they’d know by now!

Figure 4: Recent publication from Public Health Scotland

I am not saying we should never listen to other people’s viewpoints or alternative scientific ideas. However, when there is indisputable evidence one hypothesis is right and none to support the alternative theory then surely there is only one logical conclusion? In the same way people once thought the world was flat and we now have evidence this isn’t the case, there is robust evidence that covid is airborne and none at all to support the idea that it is transmitted by droplets.  Given this, it is frankly outrageous and incomprehensible that information confirming airborne transmission of covid-19 should be taken down by a social media company as “misinformation”. Has the time come to take a stand and highlight the possibility of possible political meddling with what is considered to be ‘misinformation’. If not now, when?

For those interested in learning more about UK Experts’ view on the subject of airborne transmission, Independent Sage are running an online session on airborne transmission at 1.30pm (UK time) on 20th January 2023 which can be accessed via their YouTube channel.

Author: Alison Twycross PhD RN

Chair - Supporting Healthcare Heroes UK; Editor-in-Chief - Evidence Based Nursing; Former Deputy Dean and Professor of Children’s Nursing

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