Opinion | If you’re on Facebook, by now you probably know that it has long ceased to be a social media platform where you can post freely without the threat of censorship. This is particularly true if you post something related to vaccines and vaccine policy or law that may not conform 100 percent to mainstream medicine views and politically correct agendas. Anything you post that Facebook’s invisible team of “fact checkers” deem to be inaccurate or dangerous is open to frank censorship.
Alternatively, it may be something the Facebook police merely believe could bruise the sensitivities of those owning, operating and regulating content on the largest social media platform on the Internet (2.45 billion users).1
You never know what the Facebook police might find offensive, so I’ve made it a point to be careful about what I post to guard against my Facebook account being suspended or eliminated altogether. You cannot imagine how many people have said to me, “I’m in Facebook prison right now” or “Yeah, my Facebook page got deleted.”
I have been extra careful about what I post to Facebook since Dec. 3, 2020 when the social media giant announced that it would start more strictly enforcing removal of information that it judges to be “misinformation” about COVID-19 vaccines.2 3 4 In a blog post by Facebook’s Head of Health Kang-Xing Jin titled “Removing False Claims About COVID-19 Vaccines,” Jin wrote:
Given the recent news that COVID-19 vaccines will soon be rolling out around the world, over the coming weeks we will start removing false claims about these vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts on Facebook and Instagram. This is another way that we are applying our policy to remove misinformation about the virus that could lead to imminent physical harm. This could include false claims about the safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects of the vaccines.4
Jin added, “We will also remove conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines that we know today are false: like specific populations are being used without their consent to test the vaccine’s safety.”4
Fair enough, I thought. I’ll try and stick to the facts and reference medical journal articles and mainline media outlets and avoid focusing on controversial grey areas or posting anything that could even remotely be judged by the Facebook police to be COVID-19 vaccine misinformation not based on verifiable facts.
NY Times Reports on Boston Doctor’s Anaphylactic Reaction to COVID-19 Vaccine
On Christmas day, The New York Times published an article by Katherine J. Wu titled “Boston Doctor Reports Serious Allergic Reaction After Getting Moderna’s Covid Vaccine.” The article was about a physician in Boston, Massachusetts who suffered a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) just minutes after receiving Moderna’s experimental mRNA-1273 for COVID-19 on Dec. 24. The doctor, Hossein Sadrzadeh, is a geriatric oncologist at Boston Medical Center.5
In a statement, the hospital said Dr. Sadrzadeh “felt he was developing an allergic reaction and was allowed to self-administer his personal EpiPen. He was taken to the Emergency Department, evaluated, treated, observed and discharged. He is doing well today.”5
It was reported that Dr. Sadrzadeh had a history of a severe allergy to shellfish but decided to get the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine after a recommendation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that people with severe allergies or a history of anaphylactic reactions can still get the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.4 The CDC states on its website that, “These persons may still receive mRNA COVID-19 vaccination, but they should be counseled about the unknown risks of developing a severe allergic reaction and balance these risks against the benefits of vaccination.”6
Wu’s article in The New York Times was a simple news account. No editorializing. Nothing but the facts: A doctor was given a COVID-19 vaccine and within minutes suffered an anaphylactic reaction. He felt dizzy and faint, his heart began racing (150 beats per minute), his tongue “prickled and went numb,” he was “drenched in a cold sweat” and his blood pressure “plummeted.”5
Wu wrote, “His immune system, he realized, was in revolt.” She reported that Dr. Sadrzadeh said, “It was the same anaphylactic reaction that I experience with shellfish.”5
Dr. Sadrzadeh was taken to the emergency room, treated, monitored and then sent home.5
That was it. I posted The New York Times article on Facebook and thought nothing more of it. On Dec. 27, I received the following notice from Facebook:
Your post goes against our Community Standards. See options.
Facebook Blocks NY Times Article
So I clicked on See options and it took me to another page showing my post of the article by The New York Times with a message from Facebook saying,”Only you and the group admins can see this post.” My post had apparently reached 529 people before the Facebook police caught up with it and decided to block it.
Full disclosure: This is not the first time something I’ve posted has been blocked by Facebook and it probably won’t be the last, so another block isn’t surprising to me. I was anticipating more aggressive censorship by Facebook on topics related to the pandemic coronavirus since its announcement on Dec. 23. But even I was taken aback by the flagging of the Wu piece. One wonders how far Facebook intends to go to censor factual news and information about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 vaccines.
What exactly are these so-called “community standards” that Facebook keeps talking about, and how were they formulated? Somehow, you don’t get a sense that the Facebook “community” had much of a say in the censorship process being used by a social media platform that lists its first company principle as:
Give People a Voice—People deserve to be heard and to have a voice—even when that means defending the right of people we disagree with.7
Note: This commentary provides referenced information and perspective on a topic related to vaccine science, policy, law or ethics being discussed in public forums and by U.S. lawmakers. The websites of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) provide information and perspective of federal agencies responsible for vaccine research, development, regulation and policymaking.Click here to view References:
1 Kellogg K. The 7 Biggest Social Media Sites in 2020. Search Engine Journal Feb. 3, 2020.
2 Brito C. Facebook will remove misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. CBS News Dec. 3, 2020.
3 Jin KX. Removing False Claims About COVID-19 Vaccines. Facebook Dec. 3, 2020.
4 Needleman SE. Facebook to Remove Covid-19 Vaccine Misinformation From Platforms. The Wall Street Journal Dec. 3, 2020.
5 Wu KJ. Boston Doctor Reports Serious Allergic Reaction After Getting Moderna’s Covid Vaccine. The New York Times Dec. 25, 2020.
6 Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines Currently Authorized in the United States. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dec. 20, 2020.
7 About Facebook Company: Our Principles. Facebook.