19 Comments

On the rare occasions that I have written about vaccine ‘concern’ groups, my interests have been with the accuracy of their claims and how readers who are uncertain about the science can recognise inaccurate claims.

A related element is if the source is trustworthy.

Sometimes this is easier to deal with as you don’t need to grapple with the details of the science, but simply understand the group’s actions and aims.

My aim is to alert readers of the IAS what the ‘page rules’ in the end of the IAS Facebook ‘About’ page are setting out to do and why these rules show the IAS is not worth your trust.[1]

Realistically this article will probably be mostly read by my usual readers, but hopefully a few who have read the IAS page will consider what I have to offer. Don’t feel shy about writing and offering your thoughts. (Politely, of course!)

The thoughts offered below equally apply to other forums.

How trustworthy is a group that has prevented discussion, deleted comments pointing out their errors and didn’t correct their errors after having the errors explained to them?

Do you think that offering a discussion forum moderated to ensure the discussion is slanted to the group’s views by blocking discussion of differing evidence or views or pointing out errors aids developing an informed choice, in a trustworthy way?

This is how the New Zealand lobby group the Immunisation Awareness Society aim to run their Facebook page, stated in their own words.

Why the IAS got feedback in the first place

The reason the IAS have been getting sometimes firmly-worded feedback in recent months is because of the IAS’ decision to push their material into others’ Facebook pages through the Facebook sponsored post advertising scheme – some who found these advertisements pushed to their pages choose to express their feelings.

Fair game, right? – consumers should be able complain about advertising they don’t like. The IAS can’t complain about that: it was the IAS’ actions that drew the feedback.

If the IAS doesn’t like this feedback, surely the solution is simple: stop promoting IAS posts on others’ Facebook pages.

The IAS objects to ‘pro-vaccine’ views being presented on their page, for example: ‘We will not allow the pro-vaccine group to dominate the discussion.

People wrote objecting to having views they strongly disagree with being pushed, unasked, into their Facebook pages by the IAS.

Do you agree that the IAS cannot have this both ways, that doing that would be asking for a double standard, and that this has nothing to do with trolling. It has to do with IAS’ decision to advertise it’s posts by pushing them into other’s pages.

Many businesses (and organisations) have recognised Facebook’s new sponsored post scheme as needing care: I’ve tried to briefly outline one reason why in Footnote 2, that people understandably object to having material they don’t like on what they consider ‘their’ space, unasked for.

(As an aside, was the IAS Facebook advertising effort was done with the consent of members?: I presume it is using their money.)

Trolling or not

The IAS Facebook page is pitching an article by anonymous member of IAS on trolls and trolling.

That article leaves out that, with a few exceptions, the comments to the IAS page were not trolling, that people were blocked regardless of if they were trolling or not.

The IAS shut down complaints about the IAS’ advertising and fair (and mostly often polite) corrections of inaccuracies in the IAS articles.

A number of writers were clearly expressing objections to the IAS pushing their material onto the reader’s Facebook page.

Some offered straight-forward, polite, information pointing out the inaccuracies in the IAS articles, such as these two examples:

Most of the these comments are no longer present because the IAS blocked these people. When users are blocked from a Facebook page, all their comments disappear. Should you trust a group that removes polite, informative comments like these?

A few writers, later, wrote more in line with what might be considered trolling – but the IAS deleted all the non-trolling comments too.

As I explained to IAS over a week ago (see comments), “Trolling is usually baiting to try create arguments. Presenting information is not trolling.” Similarly, expressing objections to pushing materials on others’ sites is not trolling.

The IAS has not been “bucking the trolls off the bridge by taking a zero tolerance stance to them” — it has been kicking off any- and everyone.

How much trust can you place in a group that says one thing, but leaves out what they were actually doing?

The IAS say they want to ensure discussion cannot take place

The IAS has set up ‘page rules[3] (their term) for their Facebook page that aim to shut down discussion and ensure they have the ‘last word’:

We will not allow the pro-vaccine group to dominate the discussion. Individuals who want to express a positive opinion about vaccination are limited to one post per thread. People who violate this rule will be banned.

By insisting people whose views they don’t agree with can only have one comment the IAS are ensuring no discussion can take place. No conversation or dialogue can take place if people are limited to one comment.

The IAS are also ensuring that they ‘have the last word’, that they can put up replies that the person cannot reply to. That‘s quite hypocritical, don’t you think?

How trustworthy is a group that sets rules to ensure they have the last word?

How trustworthy is a group that sets up a discussion forum in such as way that they can overrule any evidence contrary to their own, no matter how good that evidence might be? (The IAS has already, many times, deleted politely written information pointing out errors in their claims?)

Confusion over what ‘informed choice’ means

I’m under the impression IAS organisers are confusing difference meanings of ‘informed choice’ and are conflating one with the other.

There is wanting to present their opinion.

There is, differently, offering to present information to aid others in coming to an informed decision.

Both fair enough in themselves, but:

The former presents a point of view.

The latter requires that all ‘sides’ be presented equally and neutrally.

How trustworthy is a group that confuses these two?

Using a heavy hand to ensure discussion takes a particular path is contrary to assisting others in coming to an informed decision. Heavy-handed moderation does not facilitate ‘an informed decision making process’: it discourages honest and open examination of what they present.

How trustworthy is that?

Restricting access to New Zealand

As a brief aside about one thing that as far as I know IAS have not announced, at least to their Facebook page. I have been told the IAS have placed their Facebook page on a ‘regional block’ and that this means users outside of New Zealand cannot see their page.

Did the IAS inform their followers of this change? (Or ask them if it were what they wanted?)

Final thoughts

I would encourage readers (and followers) of IAS to think what this comment policy says about the trustworthiness of the group.

Shutting down and controlling discussion in the way the IAS page rules want shows an unwillingness to actually consider material, to be open to reading where they might have erred and learn from it, an unwillingness to let their readers have an informed decision making process. (As an example, how trustworthy is a group who, having had easy-to-understand errors pointed out to them, delete the comments politely explaining the error and do not correct their errors?[4])

I don’t care much either way about the IAS commenting policy myself. I am not able to comment there after all, so it makes no practical difference to me.[5] (I can assure you I have not trolled there.) If you like, I don’t have a dog in this fight.

I would like to think you will want the places you get information from to be trustworthy and that thinking about that is worth a little time.

Feel free to talk about it in the comments.

(First-time comments need manual approval before they appear. This will usually take me at most a few hours; my apologies in advance if I’m slow getting to your comment. The blog is set up this way to prevent spam. Racy advertising from dubious sources, that sort of thing. If you want my comment policy, it’s at the end of my About page.)

Footnotes

Update: I’ve added two examples of polite, informative comments that the IAS removed.

Michael Edmonds wrote recently here on The Hypocrisy of the Immunisation “Awareness” Society. Some of the comments there might illustrate some of the issues with the IAS comment moderation.

Now I’ve got this out of the way, hopefully I can move on to genomics, molecular biology and that sort of thing…!

1.

My aim here is not to shut down or ‘silence’ the IAS. However much I consider their views to be poorly informed, they’re entitled to talk ‘whatever’ amongst themselves. Free speech and all that.

Having said that, I see nothing much wrong with tackling views presented in public, and reasons for those views. If you express things in public you have to accept any criticism that comes of it.

I’m less keen on being harsh to IAS readers or followers, who mostly are just being taking what is presented without appreciating how misleading it might be. Better, I think, to help these people see what is right.

I could object to false claims in advertising material, but that’s a story for another day (if ever).

2.

Facebook presents posts as ‘status report’ along a timeline.

Late last year the IAS started paid advertisements of their posts. One of their members would write a piece on their website. Their Facebook page would highlight it in a status report. That status report would then be pushed into others’ timeline through Facebook’s sponsored post advertising scheme.

Despite this, I don’t think this is the key reason they attracted negative feedback.

My reading of it is that Facebook readers felt outraged that the were receiving pseudoscientific, poor, and I think many would say dangerous, ‘medical advice’ on their Facebook timelines unasked for.

There have been quite a number of negative views expressed about Facebook’s sponsored post scheme, some suggesting it is poorly thought-out.

One aspect is that users of computer software prefer to be in control, particularly over what they consider ‘theirs’.

Facebook users have widely criticised Facebook’s sponsored post scheme, pointing out in particular while they they might tolerate advertising in the sidebar (common in many on-line sites), pushing material into their timeline is pushing it into space they consider they own.

Many business and organisations will recognise this as a scenario to be treated with care. I, for one, will not be advertising my computational biology business this way.

As an aside, I don’t think it helps matters that, to my reading, the IAS missives push, if not are straight-forwardly in breach of, both the Facebook and the New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority guidelines, but let’s put that aside (for now at least). The immediate point here is just that if you advertise, people will object if they dislike the advertising.

3.

Here are the full IAS ‘page rules’ at the time of writing:

Page Rules:

The IAS welcomes and encourages a variety of points of view on our page. Our main objective is to promote and encourage people to make informed decisions about vaccination. People who vaccinate are welcome to comment; however, we will not permit anyone to advocate for any form of forced vaccination. Speaking in favor of school mandates, employment mandates, even advocating shunning of those who refuse vaccines are unacceptable behaviors.

We will not allow the pro-vaccine group to dominate the discussion. Individuals who want to express a positive opinion about vaccination are limited to one post per thread. People who violate this rule will be banned.

Trolls with or without one or multiple fake profile(s) commenting for the sake of harassment will be banned.

We also ask that all participants practice a reasonable level of courtesy. This includes focusing on the topic, not the individual, and refraining from name-calling and other unpleasantness. For ease of conversation, avoid excessive use of caps.

In an ideal world, these rules would not have to be made, but due to continued abuse on our page, we have had to resort to this.

Thank you for your understanding.

- Team IAS

4.

I could relate a clear example from the press release the IAS paid Facebook to promote late last year, but this post is pushing 2000 words already! (Yes, I know Orac writes 4000+ words. I have in the past too. Heck I even have a 4000+ word reply to former IAS spokesperson Michelle Rudgley that I haven’t even published!)

5.

Having said that, currently a good number of people are blocked for reasons outside of the ‘page rules’ they have laid down. Perhaps it’d be wise of the IAS to start over and allow everyone to write under a level playing field.


Other articles on Code for life:

A vaccine discussion forum (open to all, run by people within New Zealand with expertise in immunology)

Sources for medical information for non-medics and non-scientists (a resource page)

Fact or fallacy, a survey of immunisation statements in the print media (the media unfortunately get things wrong, which can be confusing if you’re new to the topic)

The Panic Virus (a review of a book examining parents’ concerns about vaccines)

Thoughts on, and for, those trying to choose to vaccinate or not (Some thoughts on some aspects of parent trying to find sound information. Just as my article asks how trustworthy is the IAS, the research described in this article asks how trustworthy are articles in the media.)

Immunisation then and now (a peek a history)

Rubella, not a benign disease if experienced during early pregnancy (including rubella in New Zealand)