Skeptic News: Social Media Cleansing

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Social Media Cleansing

It's been a very busy few weeks for me of Birthdays, training, events, and Christmas tree decoration. My irrational rage at people who erect festive trinket dust collectors before December 1st has abated, only to be replaced by incredulity over people who are 'decorating' their routers with faraday cages to protect themselves from 5G.

Jess Macfarlane

Social Cleansing

Business insider finds that YouTube’s algorithms are still sucking people deep down into whirlpools of misinformation, however, anti-vaccination messages aren’t among those messages.

Unfortunately, those same algorithms aren’t smart enough to detect the baby in the soiled bathwater, and seem to be defenestrating the lot, blocking misinformation as well as videos debunking anti-vaccination misinformation. YouTuber Stephen Woodford was one who found himself scooped up in the cleansing. He recently posted a video to his YouTube channel Rationality Rules called ‘The Covid-5G Conspiracy – Debunked’. It was taken down and he was sent a letter explaining why. Woodford made the letter he received from YouTube public, highlighting the reasoning given; “we think it violates our medical misinformation policy”. You can see Woodford’s response here

It has to be acknowledged that the sheer volume of misinformation being uploaded couldn’t possibly be interrogated without the assistance of code, but given the vast resources available to the platform, one wonders if they couldn’t afford to spend more money on humans to vet content to mitigate against counterproductive issues like this. 

It is concerning that this cleansing of conspiracies is also quieting skeptical voices on the platform. As Woodford himself said, “Well, I’ve got the message. Don’t expose conspiracy theories, don’t expose medical misinformation”.

Doubt is your friend - Survey published a survey looking at New Zealanders perceptions of misinformation. One finding was “The majority of New Zealanders surveyed agree that disinformation has the ability to greatly influence someone’s opinion (91 percent), but far less (53 percent) acknowledge that disinformation could influence them.” This hubris is something we need to work on. That belief that it can’t happen to you is the very reason wrong ideas may be lurking untouched and untested in your belief system.

Stolen Identity Keto pill Scam


The ABC News website published a story about a keto pill scam using a famous (in Australia) NZ born TV Doctor (Dr Brad McKay) to promote their nonsense without his knowledge. Dr McKay was not happy with the fact they had stolen his identity to promote their products, but is still struggling to get the posts removed as Facebook has given him the equivalent of a sorry-about-that shrug and taken no action. He has approached multiple authorities and agencies in Australia but (at the time of writing) is still waiting to hear back from them.

Dr McKay made his position clear when he said that when it comes to buying health products online "What you see is not what you get, and they can be extremely harmful to your health… I would never endorse or promote products like this." 

The article urges the reader to read the fine print and has some great advice about how to avoid scams including:

  • Check who owns the website

  • Be skeptical of positive reviews – anecdotes are not evidence!

  • Do the claims seem too good to be true? – then they probably aren’t.

  • Check if they are trying to sell you something – are they explaining a problem they can sell you the solution for?

Understand the wool

Understanding marketing tactics is a good way to learn how to be more skeptical about them. Knowledge can help you take off that wool you didn’t know had been pulled over your eyes, and see the truth behind the lies, and hopefully be able to make a better decision about where and how to spend your hard earned cash.


One tactic marketing teams use is to publish ‘white papers’. These don’t directly sell you products, but supposedly provide impartial facts and figures around an issue or problem and draw conclusions, all while subtly pointing you in the general direction of the type of product they are trying to sell.

An example might be if you search in google for “why do I have headaches nz” where the top search result is a snippet from Southern Cross Health Insurance, with a number of helpful causes of headaches. What are they trying to sell you? Insurance. Further down in the search results, a website from a well -known brand of head-ache pill, again with helpful information. What are they trying to sell you? Their pills. Are they the best pills out there? Could there be other reasons for your headaches? The best person to talk to is always going to be your GP, not someone trying to sell you something.

Along pseudoscience lines I found a white paper on homeopathy for dairy farming – the Homeopathic Handbook for Dairy Farming. A solution to the problem - how do I keep my herd healthy, but a solution that funnels consumers to a product that is pure pseudoscience, built on the idea that like cures like, that dilution makes a remedy more powerful.

What’s the harm in homeopathy being used on livestock? Just as it is in humans, delaying evidence-based treatments can prolong suffering and cause real harm. Some conditions will go away by themselves, but others need early intervention.

Stay skeptical!

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