Almost two months ago, the New York Post ran an op-ed by Steven Mosher in which he argued that the wet market theory of how the novel coronavirus got loose didn’t make sense for a variety of reasons. Prominent among them was the fact that there was no record of the market actually selling bats. (That seems to be the current consensus as to where the virus first made the jump from animals to people.)
As an alternate suggestion, Mosher proposed that the virus might have escaped from China’s only Level 4 biohazard laboratory, perhaps not coincidentally also located in Wuhan, only a few miles from the market in question and right in the middle of the original outbreak zone. Note that Mosher didn’t say this theory had been proven, but only that it would make sense and was probably more likely. This wasn’t a news story. It was an opinion piece.
Unfortunately, as soon as people started sharing the column on Facebook, the social media giant began clamping down on it. References to the column were flagged with a “False Information” alert, informing readers that this conclusion had been “checked by independent fact-checkers.” With that, Mosher’s opinion piece was effectively censored by one of the world’s largest social media platforms.
Now, of course, we’ve learned that our own government is looking into whether the virus escaped the lab in Wuhan and it’s quickly becoming the new consensus opinion. And this week the New York Post took Facebook to task for their sloppy, censorial work. They also point out that the “independent fact-checkers” involved were far from independent. Further, Chinese labs have a proven record of letting dangerous viruses escape in the past.
How, exactly, did Facebook determine that Mosher’s reasoned arguments constituted “False information”? Well, in fact, it didn’t so determine: Rather, it was an “independent fact-checker.”
And who did this fact checker rely on for their opinion? As reporter Sharyl Attkisson notes, one expert consulted had a clear conflict of interest: She has regularly worked with Wuhan’s researchers, and even done her own experiments there. Danielle E. Anderson, assistant professor, Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, personally attested to the lab’s “strict control and containment measures.”
Anderson did admit, however, that Mosher was correct when he mentioned that SARS did twice escape a Beijing research lab in 2004.
Facebook finally unblocked Mosher’s article on Friday, removing the “False Information” flag, while making no mention of the fact that they had clearly been wrong about this for more than seven weeks. By now, of course, the op-ed has fallen far down the memory hole for most readers, with tons of new virus-related content pushing it well off the page.
But it’s worth considering that this isn’t necessarily a case of simple incompetence on Facebook’s part, as the Post suggests it might be. When seeking out an “expert” to investigate this theory, out of all of the doctors in the world, how would you randomly select one who had actually worked with and at that lab for years and who was clearly willing to carry water for the CCP? And when the Chinese were unable to prevent SARS from escaping their labs (twice!), why would the prevailing opinion be that they were suddenly buttoned-down tightly?
Far more likely is the scenario where Facebook began the process from a position of not wanting to believe anything negative about the Chinese government and sought out an “expert” that would support such a view. After all, President Trump had already begun criticizing the Chinese for their handling of the outbreak and we couldn’t have people going around and sharing opinion pieces suggesting he might have been correct to do so. That’s not how journalism works in the 21st century, folks.