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Saturday, August 6, 2016

Censorship or Consequences?

On today's episode of Degrassi Junior High, a tempest is brewing at the Social Skeptic table over the removal of a Facebook page called We Love GMOs and Vaccines.

The page owner, Stephan Neidenbach is claiming his page has been censored via Facebook reporting. There is no way to know exactly who made reports or how many people made them. It seems the page was removed and then restored a few times prior to Facebook finally deleting it due to the number of reports.

This has led to a concerted attempt to get Facebook to restore the page under the assumption that it's being 'censored'.

Steven Novella from Skeptic's Guide and Science Based Medicine has come to the defense of WLGV in a new blog post.

Recently the Facebook page, We Love GMOs and Vaccines, was permanently taken down by Facebook and its founder, Stephan Neidenbach, was banned from Facebook for 30 days. What offense did he commit to warrant such draconian treatment? None. He was simply using a Facebook page to promote a pro-science and skeptical attitude toward GMOs and vaccines, specifically to counter the gross misinformation about these technologies by anti-science fringe groups.

If you are going to defend someone and write a piece supporting them, best do some homework first and make sure that support is well placed. Shall we, then?

Is WLGV really some innocent babe in the woods, just trying to promote 'a pro-science and skeptical attitude'? Mr. Neidenbach has already accurately described his own behavior leading up to the removal of his Facebook page here in this now deleted blog titled dramatically; 'The Image That Brought The Queen of Anti-Vaxxers to Her Knees'. Lucky for us, it's in an online archive and you may view it in its entirety here.

This is regarding Erin Elizabeth, (girlfriend of Dr. Joseph Mercola) who runs a Facebook page called Erin at Health Nut News. Stephan describes how he attempted to 'bait her into action' with this insensitive meme making light of the suicide of Dr. Jeff Bradstreet.

Again, a day before the blog post was published Neidenbach is seen here bragging on Twitter about baiting Erin Elizabeth to Steven Novella's Science Based Medicine co-contributor David Gorski (@gorskon):

Note too, that Neidenbach references how he got around having his personal account put in time out:

"The image was unpublished by Facebook some time over night. Fortunately I used an alternate account to post the image, so my personal one was not put in time out by the Facebook “bots”."

He admits to using a sockpuppet account so he would not have to face the consequences for posting content that would be reported for violating Facebook community standards (the Bradstreet meme). This sounds like someone who knows full well what he is doing.

At some point after this the WLGV page was removed, presumed by WLGV admins to be by followers of Erin at Health Nut News. This led to one page admin asking for help from Kevin Folta.

Kevin advised them not to retaliate, and ended up having a dialogue with Erin Elizabeth. It resulted in Folta publishing a chastising blog post about the incident.

At first, it seemed as though the WLGV admins were taking his advice regarding frivolous reporting.

But it didn't last long.

Now, as far as Novella's claim that Neidenbach was 'simply using a Facebook page to promote a pro-science and skeptical attitude toward GMOs and vaccines', I present to you a sampling of WLGV posts made in between sharing other SSkeptic blogs and links to American Council on Science and Health and Forbes articles:

Making autism a punchline

Accusing sick people of faking for attention

In case you thought the first one wasn't clear...

Comparing people to Stalin and Hitler

Page Admin encouraging fraudulent negative reviews in GMOLOL

And on WLGV

A new grocery store opens near you. What do you do? Destroy them, of course!

Did he even step foot in the store? Who knows...

Targeting Laura Krantz who wrote about Calsetous Juma's ties to industry in the Boston Globe.

Still here? Great, there's more!

Comparing GMO labels to Holocaust badges?
Targeting Joseph Norman, postdoc at NECSI and co-author of the Precautionary Principle (with application the the Genetic Modification of Organisms)
Trolling the online Lyme community.
Edited to add the location in addition to the full name of organic farmer and Etsy shop Farm Fairy Crafts. WLGV doxxed them multiple times on Facebook as well as on Twitter.

The idea that WLGV was much of a science communication page to begin with, is a hard stretch of the imagination. They encouraged trolling and going after pages they did not like with negative reviews, and they frequently made personal attacks on people that the page creator, Neidenbach disagreed with. He even went so far as to create a 'Derp of the Month' series on the WLGV website to target individuals he does not like.

Joan's response can be found here on her Facebook page.

After Joan's daughter defended her mother on twitter, Neidenbach complained that Facebook had 'censored' him.

"The daughter of a quack peddling a juice diet to cure cancer, who I wrote about last week decided to take to Twitter in an attempt to “report” me. Apparently she finds it offensive that I called out her mom for encouraging people to starve themselves free of cancer. Since many groups hostile to science have a habit of attacking teachers, I made the graphic above as a hyperbole. The Zuckerberg bots just saw the flags and put me on a three day Facebook time out and removed the image."

None of this is science communication, clearly. So let's just put that to bed right now.

However, is this truly censorship as is being claimed?

Facebook is a free service - when you sign up, you agree to their set terms of service and community standards. Any violation of community standards will be removed. Facebook relies solely on reports to bring content in violation to their attention.

If WLGV were in violation of these standards or not was up to Facebook to decide - and decide they did as part of the agreement entered into by both parties. And whether or not there was a coordinated effort to report the page, one can begin to see that the page incited this type of back and forth. It really should come as no surprise to them that people eventually got tired of being a punching bag for the amusement of the page admins and their followers.

Despite this pattern of behavior, the SSkeptics are out in full force defending the honor of their club members, all in the name of free speech and science. At the moment there have been several articles written aside from Steven Novella's mentioned at the start.

Kevin Folta: 'Silencing Unpopular Thought with Swarm Complaints',
Genetic Literacy Project hosted two: Science Communicators Condemn Facebook's Censorship of Pro-Science "We Love GMOs and Vaccines" and Stephan Neidenbach's account: Facebook bows to anti-science activists, shuts down ‘We Love GMOs and Vaccines’

Erin Elizabeth who had her page removed shortly after WLGV was deleted gives her account here: The Trolls Took My Page Down, We Won't Be Silenced and This is How to Get My Page Back Up 

In response to Health Nut News's removal, both WLGV and Chow Babe have unpublished their pages in protest of the situation.

Look, your Facebook page was removed. Your brother's scooter was not trashed by Hubie Pyatt, Mr. Pyatt did not try to molest you in the office, and you are not an 80's movie character - no matter how bad you want to be.

Fair is fair! (Except on Facebook, kids.)

Not that I blame you for trying. But, maybe instead of all this drama of reporting pages, unpublishing pages, shouting censorship! with righteous indignation and grandstanding, perhaps people could oh, I don't know, start acting their age and be accountable for their online behavior?

Maybe if you have a page that says you 'love' something, you should promote that love instead of promoting hate for people who don't love the same exact things, the same exact way you do?

I know that's too much to ask for a lot of people, just like being sure that you if you are going to defend someone publicly that you first be sure they are not actually a bunch of immature cyberbullies who played a stupid game and are now stomping their feet crying because they don't like the consequences of their own behavior.


  1. The thing that really gets my goat about some of these so-called "Skeptic" pages is that they are hostile to actual neutrally stated dissent from their party line. They are anything but actual skeptics. They also will ban you for dissenting, while their party followers act like attack dogs and are toxic and abusive but never get banned for that. It's like they actually want toxic behavior to do their propaganda work for them. They are training grounds for propagandists and some people even do that for free surprisingly. I am afraid for the world.

    1. Well stated. I have seen the same behavior countless times.

    2. Well yes, because every sane persone with some level of intelligence will try to ell you you are stupid for doing stupid things.

  2. Thank you for writing this. We need more of this and to expose the liars who pose as "skeptics" or as "science" when it's more of a propaganda than anything else.

    1. Liars? No, we try to expose the REAL liars. Those who do their propaganda to actually earn money and cheat people. Homeopathics (some may thing they are doing a good thinkg though), all those "natural" supplemets sellers. They are the ones with conflicts of interest. But do listen to them if you want, spend your money and be sick anyway. I dont get payed to promote accurate scientific and benefitial methods of curing illnesses. So I will get tired at some point, just like the rest of us "skeptics" who are trying to persuade dumb people with brain behind a propaganda wall to think, nefore they buy they useless sugar pill, or pay for a magical curing only to die with cancer anyway.

  3. Offensive to anti-vaxxers/GMOs? - Obviously. But offensive does not mean intimidatory. Whereas anti-vaxxers/GMOs getting all their mates to do a mass objection and get the site taken down is clearly intimidatory and bullying.

    While I expect I share similar views to Stephan Neidenbach (aka pro-GMO, pro-vaccine maybe he is pro-nuclear too!) I don't actually "like" sites like his that simply trash opposing views without clear explanations as to why.

    After-all, the elements you posted above from his site are hardly likely to swing over opposing viewpoints. But that's just my viewpoint.


    Being offensive is not a crime. Neither should it be. (It's just not very productive.)

    So whats next? Are Cults (including anti-GMO and anti-vaxxer cults) now to be free from criticism? Simply because they can get their cronies to get the sites blocked?

    Are extreme (or even non extreme) political partys going to be able to block satire or objection because it might hurt their feelings?

    This is a slippery slope. When sites like Facebook buckle in the face of organised zealotry we should all be worried.

    I dare say given 5 minutes you or I could find half a dozen half baked sites promoting lies and disinformation about any branch of science/medicine/technology/politics you care to mention.

    So who is going to be the (self-appointed) gate-keeper for these?

    Should we take them all down? Simply because we could organise a campaign against them and get the host to do as we say because we shout louder?

    If you find material offensive ask yourself why. Maybe there is a good reason. Maybe it is because your current viewpoint needs challenging.

    And if your viewpoint isn't challenged - then just hit that little x on the tab and kill the browser page.

    1. This was not about simply being offensive or insensitive. The page was targeting private individuals, encouraging negative reviews of other pages, and publishing personal information about people for the purpose of harassing them. Crying censorship when you have a well established pattern of abuse, in direct conflict with the terms of service you agreed to, because people report you for it is pretty weak. Plus, the page is back up now, so it looks like Facebook didn't even permanently delete them.

    2. This page, or many of it's members, encouraged negative reviews for the same reason you'd negatively review a movie you found distasteful or a restaurant where you were given poor service. That's what a review system is for. To distinguish the good from the bad. If you're advocating quackery which endangers other people, you deserve every negative review you get. And the "personal information" you speak of mainly concerns businesses or such organisations the public figures have a vested interest in, i.e., pointing out when someone is trashing one product while promoting another product, produced by a company that so happens to be co-owned by them. Neither of these would constitute "abuse".

    3. Negative reviews are fine if you've used the businesses services or bought their products. The problem is when people who are reviewing a business that have never had dealings with them just because they don't agree with a particular topic. I've never seen Bad Santa, therefore I have no business reviewing the film. I've never eaten at a Sonic Drive In, therefore I have no reason to review them. Giving them a negative review would constitute defamation. Personal information I spoke of here was the full name and physical location of a (very) small business owner and their spouse, not what you are describing.

    4. The difference between a movie and purported health product (or stance/lifestle etc) is, one is judged on opinion and personal enjoyment while the other is judged on scientific merit. Just as a mechanic does not need to have personally driven a car to declare it unsafe, reviewers do not have to have personally tried out a businesses's products/services to declare the business's claims scientifically unsound.

      Business location is a given if you're talking about business owners. If you're openly operating a business, it's location is publicly available and the page merely draws peoples attention to something that is already publicly known. Why don't you post a link to the "disclosure" in question if you want to discuss it further?

    5. Once again, having an opinion is not the same as giving a fraudulent review.

      "Judge William Petty wrote that the negative reviews in question were not protected by the First Amendment because "If the reviewer was never a customer of the business, then the review is not an opinion; instead, the review is based on a false statement of fact ... And 'there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact.'""


      If a business is an online business, then no, the location is not a given. I already have documented one of the occasions (there were many) where an Etsy store's owners personal info was being divulged on social media in my blog post above. NONE of the info given was publicly known about the owners. The name of one of them was found in the meta-data of a letter she composed because through a moderator, she was asked to respond to the WLGV page owner over a disagreement on Twitter. He took it upon himself to reveal her name and location publicly numerous times. Twitter removed the content. Facebook has not, despite the fact that neither of the owners have a Facebook account, nor do they wish to.

    6. The Judge's comments were specific to a case where the reviewer claimed something happened during a contract, when no contract existed in the first place.

      This is different from reviews criticizing the underpinning science of a product or business.

      It's the difference between claims of fictitious events and criticisms of underlying principles. Surely, as a self-proclaimed "critical thinker" you should be able to differentiate the two.

      And you claim the Etsy store owner's location was divulged, implying something along the lines of an address or such being made publicly available, yet you never actually say to what level of specificity this exposure was, nor do you offer any concrete evidence of this. What's under those Black Rectangles? It could be anything for all we know.

    7. Last time. If you are a not a customer, giving a company a one star review is considered fraud. That is completely different than having an opinion regarding the company, its products or services.

      I'm not about to dox someone because you cast doubt over what was said. I already specified the information that was revealed. I'm choosing to keep their private information private. Why I would do such a thing shouldn't be hard to figure out.

  4. I do disagree with some of the cherry-picked examples here, particularly telling people to go to other pages and give bad reviews. That being said, this blog post did indeed cherry pick WLGV's posts, as there is plenty of science news and explanations for why he is so bothered by the anti-science crowd. It's dishonest of the writer to pretend that all the page does all day is attack people.

    1. Pointing out a pattern of abuse is not the same as cherry picking or saying 'all the page does all day is attack people.' Nowhere have I claimed this. Posting a few science news pieces in between memes and trolling isn't enough to make one a legitimate 'science website' as the page bills itself.

      Thanks for stopping by, and realizing that encouraging negative reviews is not how one communicates science.

  5. None of the things you shared are examples of violations of FB's ToS. The people Stephan has criticized are public individuals by any reasonable judgement so they are not "private individuals" for the purposes of the ToS. They are fair game for public ridicule.

    You guys regularly photoshop images of people like Folta or Senapathy on your anti-GMO pages but I don't see any self-policing of that on your side.

    Sorry, this was a swing and a miss.

    1. 'None of the things you shared are examples of violations of FB's TOS.' Facebook sure thought so.

      'The people Stephan has criticized are public individuals by any reasonable judgement so they are not "private individuals" for the purposes of the ToS. They are fair game for public ridicule.' Food Babe may fall under that category, however Joan Shields, her daughter, Tracy Hernandez, Ena Valikov, Farm Fairy Crafts owners and many others are not.

      'You guys regularly photoshop images of people like Folta or Senapathy on your anti-GMO pages but I don't see any self-policing of that on your side.' Not only is this a 'tu quoque' logical fallacy, but doesn't it contradict your previous statement that public individuals are fair game for public ridicule?

      Thanks for stopping by!