There’s no denying that social media platforms engage in ideologically motivated censorship. Late last year, Instagram prevented its users from tagging the highly esteemed Cochrane Collaboration in posts, allegedly because Cochrane spread COVID “misinformation.” Facebook threatened to ban an agricultural scientist for correcting activist nonsense about pesticides, and prevented users from sharing information about a potential “lab-leak” origin for SARS-CoV-2, even if it came from reputable commentators and peer-reviewed journals.
Twitter actually banned one user under pressure from the Biden Administration, though a court order forced the platform to reinstate his account. The controversy has grown so intense that the British Medical Journal has complained multiple times about tech giants aiding efforts to silence scientists.
Warning: sensitive content ahead?
ACSH evaded the scrutiny of social media hall monitors throughout the pandemic. Unfortunately, our hot streak ended recently when Twitter appended a warning to one of my stories just minutes after it was posted. Users could still access Will Fat Acceptance Find a New Home on ‘The Bachelor’? from our profile, though the tweet was hidden from view until they clicked through the warning. The platform’s justification was vague and unhelpful:
We want to do a good job flagging Tweets in real time, so we use a review team and automation to flag sensitive content — like nudity, sensitive content, violence, gore, or hateful symbols.
“If you accidentally Tweeted sensitive content,” the notice added, “you can delete the Tweet.” What this “sensitive content” may have been wasn’t specified. We appealed the warning, explaining that the article contained no “nudity, sensitive content, violence, gore, or hateful symbols,” just arguments based on data published in peer-review sources. We’ve yet to hear back from Twitter.
The warning itself isn’t all that troubling. In fact, I’d like to thank Twitter for giving me an opportunity to draw more attention to two issues I care deeply about: nutrition and free speech.
I’ve written many times about my weight-loss experience. Shedding my excess pounds was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it was worth the trouble. I get to take my young son fishing and play catch with him as he grows up, without worrying that I’ll prematurely drop dead of a heart attack.
Had the “fat acceptance” movement been a sizable cultural force 10 years ago, I may not have found the motivation to change my lifestyle. That realization drives me to regularly blow the whistle on activist groups and journalists who perpetuate the lie that obesity is a victim status instead of a preventable health condition that kills people. Twitter’s attempt to keep this information from its users is dangerous. I daresay it even violates the company’s “misinformation” policy:
We define misleading content (‘misinformation’) as claims that have been confirmed to be false by external, subject-matter experts or include information that is shared in a deceptive or confusing manner [emphasis in original].
Fair enough. I stipulated in my story that obesity is dangerous, preventable, and treatable. I further argued that people who acknowledge these basic medical facts are not being cruel, they’re being honest. Are there any subject-matter experts who agree with me? How about the CDC:
Obesity is a common, serious, and costly chronic disease of adults and children … To reverse the obesity epidemic, community efforts should focus on supporting healthy eating and active living in a variety of settings.
What about the UK’s National Health Service? They’re quite blunt on the matter:
While there are some rare genetic conditions that can cause obesity … there’s no reason why most people cannot lose weight … It may be true that certain genetic traits inherited from your parents – such as having a large appetite – may make losing weight more difficult, but it certainly does not make it impossible.
If someone is promoting misinformation and ignoring the experts here, it sure isn’t me. Twitter is putting ideological boilerplate on a pedestal at the expense of uncontroversial science. But who am I to judge? If Twitter wants to be known as a company that suppresses factual information for the sake of political expediency, more power to them.
The silver lining is that both the offending story and this follow-up piece will garner a wider audience because of Twitter’s antics. Whichever intern or algorithm spotted “insensitive” content in the original article has my gratitude.