This week, Instagram closed down the account of Robert Kennedy, Jr., a lifelong environmental advocate and Democrat. Kennedy is a former senior attorney for the NRDC. His Instagram account had almost a million followers. This move by one of the big tech giants (Facebook owns Instagram) comes on the heels of the Capitol Riot, and the similar lockdown of the accounts of folks who incited the riot from the other side of the political spectrum. These moves have raised concern among free speech advocates about censorship.
As a media company, we have a keen interest in censorship and free speech. As a company focused on helping to stop our one and only planet from becoming uninhabitable, we also have a keen interest in the influence that environmentalists have.
Kennedy was not responsible for violence at the Capitol. His crime in the eyes of Instagram was spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. Kennedy is a vocal anti-vaxxer, and without dipping our toes into that mess, suffice to say that there is enough concern out there about making sure people get vaccinated against COVID that Instagram took what some might call an extraordinary step of permanently deleting Kennedy’s account to remove his bullhorn.
One thing I have learned over the course of my career is to stay in my lane. I know climate change. I know clean tech. I do not know enough about many other topics to try to pose as an expert in them. The problem is when a public personality decides to do this, whether their intentions are good or not, they can do real harm. The problem becomes exacerbated as was shown by a WaPo expose that showed a Republican SuperPAC paying social media influencers, some of them 15 years old, to echo the sentiments of people like Kennedy and cast doubt on public health specialists who, at the time, were not supporting the then Republican president’s assessment of the danger of COVID.
No epidemiologist has an Instagram following like Kennedy’s, so regardless of the issue (here, whether vaccines are good or bad), the problem is that the noise drowns out more qualified opinions.
Coming back to the issues we know well, it does make me wonder whether Instagram will delete the accounts of vocal climate denialists at some point, and whether I’d support that move or not.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. And just to be clear, I’d like to hear your opinions not about vaccines or public health, but just about censorship in general by the tech giants and the potential that climate denialists will one day also have their voices silenced, and whether you feel that’s a good thing or not.