“Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed for ever. Sooner or later they were bound to get you. The mind should develop a blind spot whenever a dangerous thought presented itself. The process should be automatic, instinctive. Crimestop, they called it in Newspeak.” George Orwell “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”
In Orwell’s book, the Thinkpol (Thought Police) were responsible for the detection and elimination of thoughtcrime, and for the social control by way of audio-visual surveillance and offender profiling. Thoughtcrime described beliefs that are contrary to accepted norms of society.
Has Facebook become the new virus Thought Police?
Facebook will begin showing notifications to users who have interacted with posts that contain “harmful” coronavirus misinformation, the company announced on Thursday, in an aggressive new move to address the spread of false information about Covid-19.
The new policy applies only to misinformation that Facebook considers likely to contribute to “imminent physical harm”, such as false claims about “cures” or statements that physical distancing is not effective. Facebook’s policy has been to remove those posts from the platform. Users who liked, shared, commented or reacted with an emoji to such posts before they were deleted will see a message in their news feed directing them to a “myth busters” page maintained by the WHO.
“Once a piece of content is rated false by fact-checkers, we reduce its distribution and show warning labels with more context. Based on one fact-check, we’re able to kick off similarity detection methods that identify duplicates of debunked stories. For example, during the month of March, we displayed warnings on about 40 million posts related to COVID-19 on Facebook, based on around 4,000 articles by our independent fact-checking partners.”
Meanwhile Facebook has refused to send blatant misinformation in political ads, including those from Donald Trump, to fact-checkers. Or virus misinformation from our president.
And over in the UK, posting anti-vaccine propaganda on social media could become a criminal offence – even if those promoting it believe the pseudoscience, the UK’s new criminal Law Commissioner has said.
In her first interview since taking up the role, Penney Lewis, revealed she is considering whether laws should be amended to “lower the threshold” of criminality for posting false information online that endangers lives.
She cited anti-vaccination posts and people advocating cancer patients treat themselves with laetrile, an apricot extract, instead of chemotherapy as areas where lives could be endangered.
The former King’s College professor said: “If their purpose is actually not to [cause annoyance or anxiety], but they think they are doing the right thing by posting false information about a vaccine, for example, then should there be a recklessness-based fault element or even a lower [criminal] threshold?
“So where they’ve really not done their homework and they’ve been negligent in the way they have spread this false information or disseminated it. I think we need to look into whether there is a role [for criminal law] in relation to false health information.”