Some neat rejoinders to the modern-day McCarthyism of the Left

John Kane-Berman writes on Elizabeth Warren's call for Facebook to ban "climate disinformation"

How about that? Several media outlets are outraged at the announcement last month by Facebook that it will remove “dangerous” material put up by “anarchist groups that support violent acts amidst protests”. Previously it had removed material put up by right-wing groups, but now media outlets which supported that ban are denouncing Mark Zuckerberg for the “false equivalence” of equating anti-fa “violence” with rightist violence.

The self-styled “anti-fascist” groups and their supporters, insistent on preventing the dissemination of viewpoints at odds with their own, obviously don’t like the taste of their own medicine. If Mr Zuckerberg is to be consistent, all discussion about “climate change” may now also have to be banned from Facebook if those who believe in man-made climate change succeed in persuading him to purge the opinions of those who are sceptical about it.

Last month, in a letter dated 15th July, Elizabeth Warren, a one-time Democratic presidential hopeful, and three other American senators wrote to Mr Zuckerberg urging him to ban all “climate disinformation” from Facebook. Senator Warren is the latest in a long line of climate-change believers who seek to suppress the arguments of their opponents rather than embark upon the more difficult task of trying to refute them.

Ms Warren is especially keen to stop dissemination of material published by the CO2 Coalition, an organisation whose mission includes seeking to “strengthen the understanding of the role of science in addressing complex public policy issues like climate change”. She accuses the coalition of having “falsely claimed” that “extreme weather events in recent years have not happened more often or with greater intensity” than in the past.

There is of course plenty of evidence to support the coalition’s argument. But that is not the point, which is rather that Ms Warren and her three colleagues are demanding of Mr Zuckerberg that he blacklist arguments and opinions with which they disagree. Their letter thus tells him that it is “imperative” that his company “take immediate steps to combat the spread of climate disinformation on its social media platforms”.

Referring to reports that Facebook has exempted “climate disinformation” from “fact-checking” by “deeming it ‘opinion’”, they contend in their letter to Mr Zuckerberg that “the climate crisis and environmental degradation are not matters of opinion” but “existential threats that hurt communities and economies throughout the world, including and especially black communities and other communities of colour”.

Ms Warren and her three fellow-senators seem to be worried that what they call “climate denialism” may be making an impact. Such “denialism”, they argue, “particularly if amplified on social media channels such as Facebook and its subsidiaries, puts action on climate change at risk.”

This is evidently because “research has shown that the concerted effort to discredit the scientific consensus over man-made global warming shows no sign of weakening, with findings that climate deniers have been remarkably successful in confusing public opinion and delaying decisive action”. They receive “considerable media attention and enjoy access to key Washington power brokers”.        

Accordingly, Facebook should “immediately acknowledge in its fact-checking process that the climate crisis is not a matter of opinion”. It must “act to close all loopholes that allow climate disinformation to spread on its platform”.

Ms Warren’s letter to Mr Zuckerberg promoted a rejoinder from one of the targets of her attack, the CO2 coalition. Writing to her on 28th August, the coalition’s executive director, Caleb Rossiter, said that she had got some of her own “facts” wrong.

She had thus informed Mr Zuckerberg that a report in 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had “found that human activities have already caused about 1 degree celsius of global warming above pre-industrial levels”. However, wrote Dr Rossiter, the IPCC “is confident only a quarter of the 1 degree – half of the half degree increase since 1950 – came from human activities rather than natural processes”. 

Dr Rossiter also informed her that “there is no absolutely no evidence that “communities of colour” would be disproportionately affected by the “climate crisis” of which she had written to Mr Zuckerberg. And he warned her against “ad hominem” attacks in which she called people “climate change deniers” without “saying precisely which facts they are denying”.      

Dr Rossiter’s letter to Ms Warren took the form of a letter from a professor to a student commenting on an assignment handed in for a graduate course. He awarded her a “temporary D”, and asked that she “take a fair look at the actual data and analysis on this complex matter of climate modelling before submitting it again”.

He added: “It troubles me that our Democratic Party, long the protector of the First Amendment right of freedom of speech and of our inherent right of freedom of thought, and rightly celebrated for its battle against the cancel culture of Senator Joseph McCarthy, is moving towards addressing ideas it disputes by silencing them.”          

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by clicking here or sending an SMS with your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.