RationalWiki on face masks

by Viliam4 min read15th Jan 202129 comments

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Covid-19
Personal Blog

Thinking about freedom of speech and the latest "purges" on social networks, my thoughts are like this: I prefer freedom of speech even for people like homeopaths and anti-vaxers, not because I consider their opinions to be inherently valuable, but because a decision algorithm that would ban them, would probably also have banned Ignác Semmelweis two centuries ago.

Then I thought again and realized I don't actually need such an old example. A decision algorithm that would today ban people who say "COVID-19 is just a flu" would have one year ago banned people who advised wearing face masks, wouldn't it?

 

And then I was like: I wonder how RationalWiki approached the topic of face masks... you know, a year ago. Clicking on their history and searching for "mask" -- between February 24th and April 21st, the only mentions of "mask" on the "COVID-19 pandemic" page were:

  • A "DON'T PANIC" button at the top of the page, subtitled: "Helpful advice on social media stories about COVID-19 from Douglas Adams… and from professional epidemiologists." with reference linking an article called: How to prepare for coronavirus in the U.S. (Spoiler: Not sick? No need to wear a mask.).
  • A paragraph on Hal Turner's exaggeration of COVID-19 impact on China, ending with: "For believers of this nonsense, Hal is happy to direct you to vendors for surgical masks (that in reality will not be helpful against this virus) [note 4] and MREs.". The footnote said: "Most experts believe that common surgical masks will not do any good for preventing this particular virus. The virus may even be too small in size for heavier duty N95 respirators to filter it out effectively." and linked an article called: People are racing to buy face masks amid the coronavirus outbreak, but they probably won't protect you from illness.

The following edit updated the section containing criticism of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, concluding with: "Journalists noted that he neither wore a face mask (even though he was seen coughing on several occasions) nor gloves, precautions which other world leaders have taken."

Not sure if that implies that masks are okay when you are already infected, or that masks are bad for plebs but you are supposed to wear them if you are a world leader, or perhaps that if you are a bad guy then either wearing or not wearing the mask is a thing to be condemned.

 

On May 19th, a short edit finally added the correct information, mentioning also: "Many people can carry this virus and spread it to others without even realizing they are infected. This means that in order to effectively mitigate the virus, you must assume that everyone is potentially infected, including yourself, and treat them as such. Hence the need for masks and social distancing in any public spaces."

Later the topic of face masks was expanded, and finally also become a separate article. As of now, face masks are safely on the right side of history; RationalWiki reminds us that "the more conservative media one watched, the more one refused to embrace social distancing and mask wearing" and that "between 4,244 and 12,202 excess deaths could be attributed specifically to Trump's pronouncements regarding mask wearing (not his policies per se)." because "intial disease response (lockdowns and mask wearing) is critical in reducing total deaths".

If you wonder whether there was any self-reflection (not necessarily including an estimated death count) about RationalWiki's own participation in the "face masks won't protect you" meme, don't worry; "evidence was compelling that masks actually were very effective" only by May 2020. By the way, the links mentioned at the beginning are still there on the page. I guess consistency is a hobgoblin of lesser minds.

Ironically, by the time RationalWiki was still on the "face masks won't protect you" bandwagon, they also congratulated themselves on the talk page: "I believe the article is already of high enough quality to skip bronze entirely and jump straight to silver. Any objections?" "I second the motion." (That didn't happen, though; the article is still rated as "bronze-level". But at least, it contains a link to an article called: Colloidal silver has not been shown effective against new virus from China. Indeed.)

 

Meta: The reason I wrote this is to make for myself an easy-to-share link for "so what exactly is your objection against RationalWiki's way of reasoning?". The short version is that it is easy (though, sadly, far from everyone's choice) to support reason after it already got the approval of authorities and mainstream... and then it is tempting to leverage thus gained trust of your readers against the ideas you don't like... which may, sometimes, include the reasonable ones before they become mainstream (such as wearing a face mask to protect yourself from an airborne disease). To put it more bluntly, you believe it is the reason you follow, but it's more like public acceptance of the ideas.

It is nice to also have some easy-to-understand data that support this opinion.

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I have mixed feelings about this post. LW was right on masks early - and for foreseeable, principled reasons - and I think that that's important. OTOH, this post gives off a "let's sneer at outgroup" vibe, which feels icky to me. I've also been concerned by the rise in politics-related content recently. 

This might just point to me changing my feed's visibility settings, but I wanted to note my concern.

I agree both with you and jimrandomh. I originally started writing this as a shortform, but then I got carried away and it became too long for shortform, so I posted it as an article. I agree that this doesn't belong to the frontpage, and perhaps to LW in general, regardless of how much karma it may get (although the karma of course makes me happy, as a reflection of the fact that my text made someone else happy).

The outgroup in my opinion completely deserves the sneer, for reasons explained in Matthew 26:52. LW is not the right place to put it. I don't have a personal blog currently, and this seemed worth writing somewhere. Apologies to everyone who feels bad about it; I will not do this often.

This is indeed one of the things the Frontpage vs Personal Blog distinction is meant to handle; people are attracted to Criticize The Outgroup and Interpersonal Conflict posts, in ways they wouldn't endorse given a bit of distance and which don't seem to be reliably handled through the karma system.

I've also been concerned by the rise in politics-related content recently.

Thank you, I've now noticed I'm getting in more and more ideologically charged discussions in this site lately. I'm certain I'm not the only one who's pushing toward adding ideological charge in at least most of these, but I realised I should hold myself to stricter standards for what I write if I notice I'm in a sensible area.

I'm a bit confused about the "purges" you are referring to. The last unprecedented episode regarding Trump was related to norms about hate speech and inciting people to break the law, not about scientific accuracy. Ordinary people were getting banned for those reasons long before, so I'm not sure if you are talking about that or some other purge I'm not aware of. I'm not sure the example from RationalWiki can be representative of a trend on other social networks.

 

If you are referring to the last unprecedented episode, it's also worth noting the most obvious and blatant forms of hate speech have been banned in the countries that had the most problems with them (such as Italy and Germany) for decades now. 

These restriction have in no way spread to anything else, it seems that being tolerant of everything save the worse forms of intolerance is a pretty good Schelling point. 

I always interpreted these restrictions as natural extension of laws people never saw as problematic. Freedom of speech doesn't really allows you to fabricate horrible rumours about me, or to try persuade someone to assault me. It is commonly understood that such behaviours are wrong and that I'm allowed to denounce who did such things to the authorities to protect myself. Why should it be different for groups?

I admit I am worried about the slippery slope, which is often considered to be a bad argument. The exceptional treatment, you first try with the worst scumbags, because there most people will support you. Later, by analogy and precedent, you proceed towards lesser scumbags, and then finally it becomes normal for ordinary people. At least this is how the story goes; I don't know if this is empirically true.

I also worry that by the coordinated removal of Trump, tech monopolies sent a strong signal to all politicians, that they are capable and willing to do it again, if necessary. (Kinda like by throwing the first nuke you send the "I have nukes and I am not afraid to use them" signal to the whole world, and no one is going to forget that ever again.) Will it have a chilling effect e.g. on politicians who were toying with the idea of applying the antitrust law to these companies? Would you as a politician pick a fight with someone who can remove you from the sight of your voters literally overnight? Until now, you could have reasoned "well, if platform X removed me, I would certainly tell my voters about that on platform Y, some of them would as a result move from X to Y, so it would not be in X's financial interest, yay free market and competition", but now you know that if such thing happened, it would be coordinated across platforms... and the few platforms who wouldn't join, would in turn find themselves in trouble. (And that's just the overt bans. What about coordinated shadowbans? Coordinated removal of positive mentions, and promoting of negative mentions on the front pages?) Influence is not just about what you do, but also about what the others don't do because they are afraid of what you might do in return.

I guess what I am trying to say is that from a larger perspective, I see this as a shift of power: away from elected politicians, towards colluding social media monopolies. People applaud, because the first nuke landed on Trump. Okay, cool. Who is next? And next? Who decides? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

As I said, this ban seemed like a pretty good Schelling point. "Don't organise riots using our private service, thank you very much". I've never really seen in history a democracy turning into a dictatorships due to slippery slopes like these (if one has an example please provide it) usually the power shift happens first, and then the dictatorship and secret police might start with the easiest target first, but the corruption of the core principles always came first.

Edit: I guess the Schelling point only works if 1) it's a stricter standard politicians are held to 2) there is a clear way to define riots from protests. A Schelling point stating that if you're a politician you can't say "great, do it again" when a protest you sponsored turned violent seem to work fine, one that goes "random people or activist said to protest, in the last protest there were episodes of violence, thus we banned him for inciting people to riot and be violent" is clearly more sketchy. I guess I feel safer on social medias pulling this stuff on politicians rather than ordinary people because politicians are a lot harder to silence, and unfairness toward them would be a lot more easy to notice. 

But as I mentioned, ordinary people were being banned for praising episodes of violence long before this, so we jumped that point already. 

To me, it makes a lot of sense that politicians should be held to stricter standards of ordinary people anyway, since their words have a lot more weight and we saw again and again that people go crazy if they are just left free to say whatever it suits them. End of the edit.

 

If the social medias didn't ban Trump once he got this far, well.. that also would have set a precedent, one that, as an Italian, rings a lot more alarm bells to me. Because then any politician can try something like this, and this is exactly how we got fascism the first time. 

I mean, if we want to talk about Slippery slopes, a president openly refusing to accept elections and calling for a popular march on the government is jumping headfirst down one, rather than taking a small step. A fence had to be built, since freedom of expression used this way destroys freedom pretty fast once the process starts and the right factors are in place. 

Also, suppose the platforms then tried to coordinate on a ban of a less... well, obvious target. The politicians would not miss it and would immediately coordinate to have them back down, the offended party would call every resource it has if threatened this way, and it's likely that even the enemy party would join in on the effort, I'd expect them to be able to figure out the next obvious steps if they don't. 

Why would social medias even want such a war with powerful figures who can reduce their profit and that the ban of costs them users and backlash every time? 

So all in all, not banning Trump was a move a lot more dangerous for slippery slopes.

 

And that's just the overt bans. What about coordinated shadowbans? Coordinated removal of positive mentions, and promoting of negative mentions on the front pages?

This worries me a lot more. In all of this, I'd hardly ever say that the social medias platforms are the good guys. 

However, this strategy is a lot more effective if people aren't worrying about the overt bans. If you want to control society and power from the shadows, the last thing you worry is people suddenly becoming all worried on how you do things and who you grant access to. 

So I see the Trump ban as something Twitter was forced into by the circumstances, likely to avoid politicians and sponsors wanting to regulate what you can say on the "evil, fascist ridden social media platforms" themselves. 

How exactly social medias choose to promote and don't promote content has been worrying me for a while already. Sadly, normal information medias do it too. Free informations isn't really as free as people would hope, people, ideas, politicians and corporations have been facilitated or impeded in reaching the public with sketchy reasons for decades now, very few people noticed. 

You might want to have a look at research on media accountability and the propaganda model. If you have heard the controversies on it, I'd jump ahead and agree that Norman and Chomsky made questionable decisions in their research on it, but the model validity has still been proven beyond doubt and research from other authors confirmed it again. I confirmed it myself in a research for my master thesis.

 

On a side note: I think the whole slippery slow threat for democracy has been set as an argument inside the American culture during the cold war, where everything too "lefty" was argued to be a slippery slope for communism, often with "first the government steps into business a bit, then they take your home and then bam, you are a starving soviet peasant". I've heard this reasoning more times than I could count, but it's not at all how the communist revolution, or the fascist revolutions happened.

It might also be than in Europe the ban on fascism and such has long been in place so nobody worries about it turning some other ways, but there seems to be a cultural component on how worried people are toward the excesses of freedom of speech vs the dangers of limiting freedom of speech. 

 

Second Edit: I had a nagging suspicions I was doing something wrong in this reply. After thinking about it, I feel I've focused too much on the "banning Trump, right or wrong" side of the question.

I guess what I am trying to say is that from a larger perspective, I see this as a shift of power: away from elected politicians, towards colluding social media monopolies. People applaud, because the first nuke landed on Trump. Okay, cool. Who is next? And next? Who decides? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? 

This is really a good point. 

I still think politicians aren't the ones at risk here, and that letting excesses slide is more dangerous than stopping them, but as social medias start taking on themselves the role of "guardians" of their content, there should be a lot of focus on the decision processes involved, there should be a lot of caution in how this problem is managed (a "shoot first, ask later" as Youtube did with copyright issues and monetisation would be a disaster), and there should be a lot more transparency in how these companies generally do stuff since they basically have to power to shape society as they desire.

This feels to me as the key point of the issue, the key point to be discussed, rather than the too abstract "freedom of speech vs censorship" and the too specific "banning Trump right or wrong". 

The key question in your post seemed to be regarding how scientific controversies, where evidence is pointing away from consensus, should be handled by these platforms, which was more on the level that I think should be discussed, I've accidentally moved the focus away from that first by asking about which examples you were thinking of. Then we moved further from it, I think.

 

I guess a policy I kinda see as okay on the specific issue of factual accuracy is kinda like 

  • Flagging is better than censoring. Use the first if it seems it can be enough.
  • While in an emergency, posts contradicting official authorities guidelines are flagged as such. (The CDC wasn't likely being stupid about masks, if people knew masks would have made them safer from day one then there would have been more deaths, not fewer, because masks would have not been available where they'd have saved most lives. Scientific consensus is rarely wrong, and if the official authorities aren't following it the problem is much bigger than a social network policy can hope to fix. Once or twice you'd accidentally flag people being right, but science doesn't move forward by arguing on social networks during times of emergencies, and on average you'd flag a lot more vaccine deniers than rationalists).
  • While not in an emergency, follow a cautionary principle that limits censorship and flagging to the most extreme cases. Use it only where the false information is proven as false beyond doubt, and the risk it represents for the public is severe.
  • Keep the decision process as transparent and public as possible.

 

I feel this guideline is still too lax to hold back most forms of political fake news, which are a huge problem. But if you try to regulate something that can be that capillary, abuses become exponentially more likely, so I don't think I can think up an effective policy if I haven't studied the problem in a lot more details.

The policy for banning users that incite to violence, racism or stuff is a different subject yet, but I guess it should still follow a cautionary principle to limit censorship.

Thank you for the comment!

Specifically, I strongly agree that flagging is an underused tool in debate moderation.

if people knew masks would have made them safer from day one then there would have been more deaths, not fewer, because masks would have not been available where they'd have saved most lives.

In Slovakia in March 2020, people spontaneously started wearing masks in public despite authorities telling them not to. People started making masks at home, and selling them to their neighbors. A week after the pandemic became a common knowledge here, my wife bought the first dozen masks made of cloth from some lady in neighborhood who advertised them on Facebook. The authorities then changed their minds, and masks became mandatory. So we were fully masked already in March, and there was no shortage. On internet I found a project where volunteers with 3D printers shared recipes for transparent face shields, and donated the printed ones to hospitals. Between March and July, less than 30 people out of 5 500 000 died of covid. (Then we completely screwed up in autumn.)

It was quite surreal watching the rest of internet argue how nothing can be done, and our only choices are letting the sick and elderly die, or destroy the entire economy, because a mask that isn't N95 looted from a hospital is certainly useless (and somehow there is no way to ramp up their production).

So, I remain firmly convinced that discouraging people from wearing masks caused deaths. In short term, by making the pandemic spread faster. In long term, by undermining public trusts in experts.

So, I remain firmly convinced that discouraging people from wearing masks caused deaths. In short term, by making the pandemic spread faster. In long term, by undermining public trusts in experts.

 

It might be I guess... I'm starting to wonder if my memories about the "no mask" period are how most people lived it.

 

The way it happened for me was that in Italy masks quickly started to go sold out. People started making masks at home here too, I don't trust my memories 100% but I think that in a week or so most people I saw outside were wearing one. 

The narration I remember being pushed by experts was "if you aren't elderly or at risk in other ways you don't need one" so I think the attempt was to make sure the few masks available were getting to the most vulnerable citizens... but it might have been that they were just worrying about panic and fistfights breaking out on pharmacies or something, consequences that would "look bad" or weaken the perception of how well the government was handling things. Then again, if people started to panic it's hard to tell before how serious the consequences would be.

I think the shift toward "wear a mask" here was done gradually and quickly as more masks were being produced, but as I said I wouldn't trust my memories too much.  

A problem with my memories is that I remember interpreting the mask message that was being pushed as... ambivalent from day one. 

I'm sure I hadn't read Lesswrong opinions on it, but I remember clearly I had concluded from the start that masks had to help reduce the spread of the virus because they would reduce how far you'd breathe. I guess I figured the experts would be able to realise it, so this ought to be an attempt to slow down the starting panic rush toward masks. 

A lot of people instead apparently polarised and started arguing against masks because the far right had jumped onboard the "Chinese virus" bandwagon, but at the time I was avoiding any mention of the virus I could because I got fed up with it (I had recently finished a long work about how medias weren't focusing enough on news about global warming but coverage was improving at last, seeing this attention for a virus that even in the worst possible case of "hundreds of millions of people get infected" would kill significantly less people annoyed me a great deal. Not a rational reaction from my end, but I couldn't help it) and I was just checking a couple sites for the number of infections and RT, avoiding people and wearing what I could on my face, so I think I missed most of the confusion about it.

 

Thinking through it now, my guess is that instructions on how to make a mask at home or what to use as a quick fix would have likely contained the pandemic more and prevented more deaths. 

But if people panicked the wrong way the pandemic would have spread faster. 

Governments pushed the "don't panic" button by habitude and didn't really tried to see through the issue. 

In hindsight I guess they should have tried a different way to keep the calm, I think they underestimated how widespread the pandemic would become. Back then the call was harder (but I don't think they really weighted it rationally).

 

I wouldn't be able to estimate the "undermining public trusts in experts" damages. 

I attributed the Slovak reaction to cultural experience from socialism. Like, when the authorities told you: "comrades, do not panic, there is no shortage of toilet paper", you knew you had to run immediately to the nearest shop and stock up, because in the evening it will already be sold out. So when the authorities told us not to buy face masks... :D

People also stocked up with disinfectants. (I don't remember whether authorities mentioned these, or it was just common sense.) This seemed more tricky, because making disinfectants at home... well, you could burn some strong alcohol, you wouldn't even have to worry about toxicity if you do not intend to drink it; and some people actually did this (I think there was a guy in Czechia who started mass-producing alcohol-as-disinfectant, got into legal trouble, there was a public outrage and he was pardoned)... anyway, what happened was that shelves were empty for two or three weeks, and then the shops resupplied.

Which again makes me think that if there is a risk of panic and shortage, you might want it to happen sooner rather than later, so that the market has enough time to adapt before the worst happens. As a government, you could even contribute to the shortage, by buying tons of stuff... and later redistributing it to the places of greatest need: sell it to hospitals for the original price, thus shielding them from shortage and price hikes.

I remember clearly I had concluded from the start that masks had to help reduce the spread of the virus because they would reduce how far you'd breathe.

My reasoning was: people in Asia seem to have more experience with this type of situation, and they wear masks; case closed. Also, this song (note: February 2020; English version made in April).

But yes, common sense also seemed on the side of wearing the masks. Like, maybe they won't filter all viruses, but at least they should filter some. I guess you needed a "gears model" of infection, so you knew it was not "one particle or millions of particles, you are doomed either way" but rather "fewer particles = smaller chance of infection (and smaller expected damage)". This probably wasn't obvious to most people; I have doctors in my family so I knew.

Thinking through it now, my guess is that instructions on how to make a mask at home or what to use as a quick fix would have likely contained the pandemic more and prevented more deaths.

Definitely. This is one of the things that public television is supposed to exist for, isn't it?

People also stocked up with disinfectants. (I don't remember whether authorities mentioned these, or it was just common sense.) This seemed more tricky, because making disinfectants at home... well, you couldburn some strong alcohol, you wouldn't even have to worry about toxicity if you do not intend to drink it;

This one they handled better, I'm 99% sure that the government started to hand out instructions on how to make disinfectants at home the minute people started trying doing it on their own... I guess it fits my hunch of "prevent flashy, showy bad consequences" as a decisional process, since people self procuring x-degree chemical burns would make the news fast.

 

Which again makes me think that if there is a risk of panic and shortage, you might want it to happen sooner rather than later, so that the market has enough time to adapt before the worst happens. 

I think I disagree on this one. The market starts producing as soon as it suspects there might be panic and shortage, I don't think that shops running out are actually needed for industries getting the message. But once shortages start to happen, people go crazy and start stockpiling more, so you get a random family owning more disinfectant than what they'll consume in the next three years and a lot of families without. Then the behaviour spreads more and more, people worry what might run out next and so on.

As a government, you could even contribute to the shortage, by buying tons of stuff... and later redistributing it to the places of greatest need: sell it to hospitals for the original price, thus shielding them from shortage and price hikes.

I guess any politician would say "no" just by the thought of the backlash in consensus from the population. The party who's playing opposition can jump on the "soviet requisitions" bandwagons and pitch the government as an adversary of the people, fighting them on the product they absolutely need to survive.

Even leaving political games aside... I think it would have backfired. The governments back then had the difficult task of convincing people to concede them more authority on their lives and follow restrictions, "sanity dictatorship" has become a rallying cry for protests already. Stuff like this would have made people revolt from day one.  

The market starts producing as soon as it suspects there might be panic and shortage, I don't think that shops running out are actually needed for industries getting the message.

There is also uncertainty, and the producers don't want to oversupply. Starting the panic "collapses" the uncertainty. If some families are going to buy 3 years worth of disinfectants, I want the market to know this, not as a possibility, but as a fact. So that the result is that some families have 3 years worth of disinfectant, and the remaining families have enough.

I agree with the political backlash. Doing the right thing on object level may be a mistake on political level. When you do something, you become responsible for everything that happens, and in situation of pandemic, all outcomes are bad, so the optimal political strategy is probably to stay in background until the situation gets really bad, and then come and save the day. One does not get political points for preventing problems. (After Slovakia successfully defeated covid during spring, many people concluded that it was just a hoax and that all measures were unnecessary. This probably contributed to the reluctance of government to do anything when the numbers started growing exponentially in autumn.)

Your point would be correct if the recent bans were about hate speech and calls to violence. The claim that recent bans were solely about hate speech and calls to violence however is factually incorrect and therefore your point is wrong. The most popular banned topic of discussion is the validity of the 2020 election, an epistemological question. Very nonviolent and non-hatey figures such as Ron Paul are banned without any stated reasons.

Facebook seems to have undone Rob Paul ban, and explained it as a mistake. Given that Ron Paul lamented he had received no warning about violations of the community standards before the ban, it seems likely it wasn't a deliberated and approved move, since they haven't acted this way before and if they wanted to start a fight for power with politicians they'd start with cases where their decision for the ban is as defensible as possible. 

Shooting the moderated figures would turn everyone against the social medias and they'd lose the power struggle fast. My most likely guess for what happened is an employee taking a shot against a figure he personally hated, and given the risk of backlash I'd expect Facebook to put in place a system against the risk of this happening again.

If you can quote me the other figures like Rob Paul and there are no explanations, or too many "accidental ban" explanations, then there would be more reasons to worry, I guess.

I 100% agree that I'd rather see this sites err on the side of caution than on the site of ban, and that such weird "mistakes" can be made is rather worrying. 

 

Refuting the validity of an election, starting before it happens, in a total lack of proofs, while you are the losing party of this election... eh. I'd hardly see it as a purely epistemological question. 

However, Twitter blocked the statements made by Trump as part of their "fact checking" policy, and banned his profile on a totally different motivation, how he addressed the rioters in supportive ways and the hints of doing it again in the future. https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/suspension.html

I can't really see social medias wanting to risk a fight this harsh with politicians for reasons like factual accuracy (Which worries me as a theme, but the alternative is leaving a giant fascism-shaped door wide open for taking our society.) also because every time they ban someone popular their profits go down. 

All in all, I'm believing the stated reasons and I see no evidence they'd have banned him anyway if he just disputed the election results in a more... let's say peaceful way. (Which is still attempting to subvert the government and a horrible thing to do).

 

I'd also say that the traditional information medias have long taken on themselves the power to interpret, comment, and refute news. What Twitter did calling Trump on such fake statements is hardly an unprecedented move. Any journalist that wouldn't have done the same would be hardly doing his job, and we'd see society being a lot worse off if they didn't. 

I know social medias aren't journalists, but if they provide information channels to the masses, there has to be a way to prevent powerful people from just systematically lying about everything with no contradictions. You get dictatorship a lot faster this way, it's basically how it gets on power every time (this isn't a claim that Trump is a fascist, just that we'd get one soon eventually).

Facebook seems to have undone Rob Paul ban, and explained it as a mistake. Given that Ron Paul lamented he had received no warning about violations of the community standards before the ban, it seems likely it wasn't a deliberated and approved move, since they haven't acted this way before and if they wanted to start a fight for power with politicians they'd start with cases where their decision for the ban is as defensible as possible. 

Part of the problem is that facebook has a lot of moderators who can just ban people. Ron Paul is strong enough to complain and get a decision reversed but average people who get banned by a random moderator can't. 

Part of the problem is that facebook has a lot of moderators who can just ban people. Ron Paul is strong enough to complain and get a decision reversed but average people who get banned by a random moderator can't. 

I agree it's a big problem, the inability of average people to complain worries me as well. 

I think Facebook should elaborate a strict guideline for its moderators, hold them accountable on how they decide and keep track on how they acted in the past, rewarding accuracy and punishing "interpretations". For such a big organisation it wouldn't really be excusable to leave moderators free to interpret the norms as the average forum would.

This would likely help a bit, if a moderator thinks he's acting properly when he's shooting down people belonging to the "enemy and obviously wrong" faction then things would turn sour really fast. 

If the solution doesn't do the trick and there are still too many "mistakes" then some other way to implement controls on the decision system would be needed.

[+][comment deleted]1y 2

Ever read history? Censorship has a really bad track record. I'm puzzled at why some people think it'll be for the greater good this time.

If some potentially powerful ideas were suppressed successfully, we wouldn't know about them, would we? Seeing only the cases where censorship failed, we may underestimate its impact.

Second, ideas can be killed without being completely erased. For example, you can read on Wikipedia about the Cathar religion, but how many active Cathars do you know? The crusade was a success.

Third, driving an idea into underground can harm its development. If posts are getting deleted, you can't have the three levels of response (can't find a link now, but the idea is that quality debate requires at least: someone stating a hypothesis, an opponent refuting it, the original author explaining why the refutation was wrong, and the opponent explaining why the author's objection was wrong). If adherents can't build their reputations, it is hard to distinguish in a debate between actual believers, trolls, and false flag operations; there is no common knowledge of what the idea actually is (so everyone is free to replace it with a strawman).

Here you go: four layers of intellectual conversation.

Would be good to have it as a tag/wiki page

All your points are correct, but they explain why censorship can be successful, which I don't doubt. My point was that it ends up not being for the greater good.

Because they've always thought it was for the greater good before.

Thinking about freedom of speech and the latest "purges" on social networks, my thoughts are like this: I prefer freedom of speech even for people like homeopaths and anti-vaxers, not because I consider their opinions to be inherently valuable, but because a decision algorithm that would ban them, would probably also have banned Ignác Semmelweis two centuries ago.
Then I thought again and realized I don't actually need such an old example. A decision algorithm that would today ban people who say "COVID-19 is just a flu" would have one year ago banned people who advised wearing face masks, wouldn't it?

You make claims about decision algorithms in general which:

a) only apply to a specific decision algorithm (such as "Rational"Wiki's, to the extent that there is such a thing) or

b) only apply to a class of decision algorithms ('trust authority' + [some definition of authority]).

"Decision algorithm" was here my metaphor for humans. Like a rulebook for human censors, who themselves are smart and educated, although not extremely.

In a hypothetical situation where a government would officially appoint censors, or if the social networks would decide to optimize for something other than low costs. In a hypothetical situation, where this would be relatively high-status job... I mean, you'd have the power to shape the public discourse, and that is no small thing; give it a decent salary and many university-educated people would compete for it. But you wouldn't hire the smartest ones, because they have a better use of their skills; you wouldn't want to hire people with contrarian ideas; and to censor the overwhelming amounts of text online, you would need to hire lot of people, so you couldn't afford to be too picky even if your budget was unlimited.

The average censor, if such job existed today, would realistically be some bored bureaucrat, who doesn't give a fuck about ideas, and just applies rules mechanically, trying to cover his ass. But an idealized censor would be a smart and educated person, passionately opposing pseudoscience... kinda like I imagine the people who write on RationalWiki, except maybe less politically mindkilled. And with a button that would allow them to delete content anywhere online. And I wondered what would happen as a consequence.

Yes, RationalWiki are collectively shallow+glib 'believe Science' snarkists.

Maybe we shouldn't (and a decision algorithm shouldn’t) put absolute (binary) limits on free speech, but should just reduce the exposure of ideas that have no scientific basis. Banning homeopathic information or research for example might mean that we miss out on a new discovery that we can’t measure today. “Turning down the volume” or reducing the ability to transmit ideas that have been proved (at least based on our current knowledge) to be scientifically invalid will stop people being fooled and wasting their money, or worse putting their health at risk. Similarly requiring proof or evidence for any scientifically-based argument would at least stop charlatans and con-artists for whom the truth is just getting in the way of them making a fast buck. Finally I want to reference Karl popper’s paradox of tolerance, which states that if a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant. In other words, there have to be limits on freedoms of speech. It’s not ok to shout “fire” in a theatre, nor is it ok to encourage your followers to subvert democracy by attempting an insurrection, to take a relevant recent example.

What do you mean with  the phrases "scientific basis" and "scientifically invalid"? How are the terms operationalized?

It’s not ok to shout “fire” in a theatre,

Unless there is a fire.

Unless there's another reason,

that isn't on this list.