Fauci’s about-face is a lesson on Big Tech overreach

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS — Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have appointed themselves the arbiters of truth on controversial matters that warrant wide debate. Recent events related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its origins ought to be enough to revoke Big Tech’s authority to limit free speech under the guise of combating “disinformation.”

In a May 2020 interview with National Geographic, America’s top pandemic expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, seemed pretty sure of the origins of COVID-19.

“If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated,” Fauci said. “Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species.”

Fauci’s statement was largely taken as gospel, and the opinion of a single individual (albeit a respected expert) was adopted as conventional wisdom. “Fauci: Evidence says coronavirus ‘could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated’ in lab,” read an ABC News headline. A CNN headline screamed: “Anthony Fauci just crushed Donald Trump’s theory on the origins of the coronavirus.”

Trump had said he’d seen evidence that the virus came from a lab in China but that he couldn’t provide further information. America’s intelligence services contradicted Trump’s assertion. “The intelligence community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified,” read a statement from the office of the director of national intelligence.

In a credibility contest between the establishment and a president known for embellishment and a less-than-rigorous treatment of information, it was a no-brainer. Case closed. Even though no actual proof had emerged from either side, gatekeepers to public debate indulged a classic logical fallacy of appeal to authority, swallowing the opinions of known authorities rather than demanding evidence.

Anyone who remained skeptical about the mainstream theory of COVID-19’s origins was labeled a conspiracy theorist, crackpot or Trump cultist. And while mainstream media conveyed what had quickly become conventional wisdom regarding the origins of the virus, the Big Tech companies running social media outlets either removed or tagged with disclaimers content that went against the consensus, labeling it disinformation or fake news.

Fast-forward a year to May 2021. “Intelligence on sick staff at Wuhan lab fuels debate on Covid-19 origin,” read the headline of a May 23 Wall Street Journal story, citing a “previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report that could add weight to growing calls for a fuller probe of whether the COVID-19 virus may have escaped from the laboratory.” Apparently, three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were admitted to a hospital in November 2019 with COVID-like symptoms.

Fauci has since moderated his views on the origins of the virus — at a “fact-checking festival,” of all places. Speaking at a Poynter Institute event, Fauci was asked whether he still believes the virus is a natural phenomenon.

“No actually,” Fauci said. “I am not convinced about that. I think we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we continue to find out to the best of our ability what happened.”

Hey, does this mean that the worker bees policing free speech for the tech giants are going to be reversing course and labeling the “natural occurrence” theory as suspicious while validating the previously censored views suggesting that COVID-19 emerged from a lab? Are they going to censor links to Fauci’s words as they’ve been doing with those endorsing the laboratory theory?

Maybe if the information gatekeepers were more insistent on rigorous debate and less interested in acting as censors protecting people from disinformation, everyone would have been prompted to ask more questions, which would have led to more answers, which would have led to a better evidence-based understanding of the pandemic instead of waiting for information to be spoon-fed. That didn’t happen, because the gatekeepers simply shut down aspects of the debate they didn’t like.

They do the same thing with other debatable issues, accusing those who question the experts in other areas — climate science, for example — of spreading disinformation. It’s hard not to think that “disinformation” has become little more than a label to discredit views that don’t fit with whatever narrative the establishment wants to peddle to the masses.

Social media was supposed to be a digital public square. These companies want to be regarded as private entities while acting like public utilities that have close proximity to power and its benefits and privileges — including the ability to dictate policy. In reality, they’re self-serving, agenda-pushing, anti-democratic enemies of open debate.