Let the sun’s free speech disinfect disinformation about Covid – The Gisborne Herald
Posted on September 11, 2021 at 5:50 p.m.
by Jonathan Ayling
The development of vaccines within 12 months of the emergence of Covid-19 is of historical significance, but it has come at a time when many have lost faith in traditional institutions and authorities.
Some are convinced that mass vaccination is the last element alongside measures such as mask warrants and blockades to implement a global totalitarian conspiracy. Others laugh aloud at the notion and eagerly found a way to skip the line to acquire a vaccine. In the middle, many just have questions they want answered before they get the shot. Not everyone who has doubts is pewter-hatted boors – maybe just worried about how quickly the vaccine was developed or the motives of the big drug companies.
Whatever your position, it should be obvious that shaming the other party into complying is a desperate expectation. While I have to get the vaccine myself, many smart and educated people are now falling into the vaccine-hesitant camp. Ending their concerns does not allow them to change their minds or improve public health. The good news is that sunlight is the best disinfectant – free speech defeats bad ideas because we learn why they are bad.
Access to information is crucial during a pandemic. The Kiwis have taken to news and social media to better understand this new enemy and better understand how to protect themselves. But alongside verified information, they were bombarded with stories from both sides that either misinformed or misinformed them.
It has long been said that freedom of expression enables the discovery of the truth through a fierce competition of ideas. In a free market for ideas, each idea has the opportunity to be viewed in relation to the others. Individuals are then free to form their own opinion, thus facilitating the search for the truth. But should disinformation be allowed to enter the market? Surely by its very nature it sends us in the opposite direction that we would like to continue in our search for truth.
Fair enough, but if we decide that disinformation should not be allowed in the market, how do we decide? Who decides ? Should the government censor anything potentially false? Suppressing the flow of information forces the government to act more and more like the Chinese or Russian regimes. Not only is this something that anyone who enjoys living in a free society naturally resists, but it’s counterproductive in winning the war of ideas. Measures to censor bad news only reassure the conspirators that their “deep state” worldview is correct.
In addition, the government does not always do things right (or more particularly, is sometimes slow to internalize new information). As recently as last week, Yale researcher Dr Anne Wylie told Nine To Noon: “The Prime Minister is saying things that are just plain wrong when it comes to saliva testing, hence the misinformation in the world. within government prevails. I would tend to say that i) even a well-meaning government is not infallible; (ii) Since vaccine hesitants are often suspicious of the government, measures to control disinformation can do more harm than good; especially since eradicating bad information (especially on social media) is much more difficult than eradicating a virus – and damn it, do we know how difficult it is.
If the end goal is to get as many people as possible to get vaccinated, then we need to end the stigma and the silence of those who are not on board. Persuading the hesitant vaccine by reason and evidence will do much more to maximize the benefits of vaccination for our communities than ostracism and silence.
■ Jonathan Ayling is the spokesperson for the Free Speech Union.