Facebook’s Book-Banning Blueprint
June 6, 2021
I missed this May 7th editorial in the WSJ by the Editorial Board. It is thought provoking.
There’s a lot of wrongs here. Yeah, I don’t think Facebook should throttle open discussion. The WSJ was wrong to characterize Koonin as a truth teller - they have no basis for that conclusion. Koonin’s wrong for not including in his book rebuttal to his claims.
My wish is that Facebook goes away. It won’t because the cat is now out of the bag. But it exacerbates bad trends such as polarization and depression. Pick up the darn phone and call someone to find out how they are doing.
Before I sound like I am completely out of the 1950s, a Facebook-lite — something like Craigslist — would be ok if I were king. Something that allowed you to stay in touch with people and groups you choose. No ads, no newsfeed. Facebook is an evil monster in my biased opinion.
The WSJ editorial: The company throttles a Journal review on climate science.
Amazon this year started its foray into politicized book-banning, pulling a three-year-old book on transgender policy by a conservative think-tanker from its web store.Facebook doesn’t sell books, but it can suppress their distribution when they conflict with a political agenda. The social-media giant now appears to be throttling a Wall Street Journal review of a book on climate science by physicist Steven Koonin, the former top scientist at the Obama Energy Department and provost of the California Institute of Technology. Facebook uses so-called fact-checkers to tell it which news articles to suppress. The project has gone far beyond curbing viral hoaxes or dangerous misinformation and aims to limit scientific debate. In March Facebook flagged a Journal op-ed by Johns Hopkins surgeon Marty Makary on the pace at which Americans would develop herd immunity to Covid-19. The company now targets the Journal’s book review based on a gazillion-word post on a site called Climate Feedback with the headline, “Wall Street Journal article repeats multiple incorrect and misleading claims made in Steven Koonin’s new book ‘Unsettled.’” Mr. Koonin, whose careful book draws extensively on existing scholarship, may respond on the merits in a different forum. Suffice it to say here that many of the “fact check” claims relied on by Facebook don’t contradict the underlying material, but instead argue with its perceived implications. The fact-check attacks Mr. Koonin’s book for saying the “net economic impact of human-induced climate change will be minimal through at least the end of this century.” Minimal is in the eyes of the beholder, but the U.S. National Climate Assessment predicted America’s climate costs in 2090 at about $500 billion per year—a fraction of the recent Covid stimulus in an economy that could be four times as large. ADVERTISEMENT The fact-check on the statement that “global crop yields are rising, not falling” retorts that “while global crop yields are rising, this does not constitute evidence that climate change is not adversely affecting agriculture.” OK, but that’s an argument, not a fact-check. By the way, would articles that imply declining crop yields be slapped with warning labels? We doubt it. The censorship only goes in one direction. Climate Feedback’s comment on a line from the review about “the number and severity of droughts” does not identify any falsehood, but instead claims, “it doesn’t really make sense to make blanket statements regarding overall global drought trends.” Maybe it doesn’t make sense for Facebook to restrict the reach of legitimate scientific argument and competing interpretations of data. Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and left-wing interests have been pressing Facebook to implement more censorship of climate-related discussion, which can help soften opposition to the Democratic majority’s Green New Deal priorities. The damages of such tech abuses to democracy are far-reaching. If reviewers can’t engage thoughtful if provocative books even by leading scientists without their pieces being throttled on social media, then those books won’t sell. Facebook is demonstrating a new blueprint to force inconvenient books out of the marketplace. If this continues, the marketplace, and perhaps the courts and political system, will have to find a way to respond.