By Rob Verkerk PhD1 and Paraschiva Florescu2
1 Founder, Alliance for Natural Health; executive & scientific director, ANH Intl and USA
2 Mission Facilitator, ANH Intl

X (formerly Twitter), under Elon Musk's leadership, is close to releasing an update that will alert users of its platform if their account is being shadowbanned, and if so, the reason why, and how to appeal against the restrictions. But for many users of social media—the vast majority of people on the planet as it happens— shadowbanning is a concept they’ve yet to learn about, let alone recognise how it affects the way they make health-related decisions that could be, quite literally, a matter of life or death.

WHO controls our access to information

If the World Health Organization (WHO) has anything to do with it we will lose our right to make decisions about our own health in the event of any threats to public health (real, manufactured or imagined) whether related to viruses, a climate emergency, or whatever the WHO decides is a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

>>> Find out more about the WHO's plans for supremacy over human health

The impact of those plans is already affecting how we access information to make health-related decisions on a daily basis as we experience more and more censorship on social media platforms, both overt (think deplatforming) and covert (shadowbanning), which ramped up exponentially during the covid ‘pandemic’ era.

A little recognised, insidious form of censorship, referred to colloquially as ‘shadowbanning’ given it’s subtle, secretive and lacking in transparency — as if it were lurking in the shadows, empowers social media platforms to shift public opinion in ‘required’ directions by suppressing alternative views and opinions.

Such tactics rapidly increased during covid to prevent dissenters, such as those targeted by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) in its Disinformation Dozen report, which included Robert F Kennedy Jnr and an array of well known practitioners and educators in the natural health field, such as Drs Joseph Mercola, Sherri Tenpenny and Christiane Northrup, from having their content seen by the masses.

Social media is one of the most important ways in which the public receives information today. The last couple of decades has seen vast numbers of people, especially the younger members of our species, cultivate new and ever more intimate relationships with technology. Among these, there is one relationship that stands out from all others. It is the enraptured relationship so many have developed with their mobile (cellular) phone, and the communication and media systems they offer. It can become so important, it can eclipse in importance the direct, real-world relationship people have with other humans.

Once hooked, addicted or dependent, privately operated social media platforms then have immense power to control how people think or behave by moderating the information that they make available to individual users. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) now means information can be individualised according to a person’s specific profile, leanings or interests.

We no longer live in a world that values freedom of speech and freedom of expression. This makes it even harder to know how the information we do receive is being controlled by the world’s new information puppet masters. This is particularly problematic for the younger generation who’ve never been exposed to a free press or free media and have been conditioned by distorted media and propaganda.

Censorship in the shadows 

Social media providers have the power to ‘punish’ anyone who publishes content that’s not in line with an 'accepted' narrative. At it's worst, a user's entire page or channel along with, often years worth of content, can disappear in a nanosecond, never to be seen again.  

Deplatforming is the ultimate and very overt tool for moderating content. Its existence is understandable given the potential for groups to use social media to share information that might incite extreme speech, terrorism, violence, racism or other socially unacceptable behaviours. Other channels might be removed because they’re engaged in fraudulent activities or impersonating famous people. This is a type of ‘hard-action censorship’.

The issue now is what other forms of speech should or might be disallowed, and are the social media companies the ones who should be deciding? From a laissez-faire, free enterprise position, it might be hard to argue against the social media barons being stewards over the content on their own platforms. If you don’t like their rules, more often than not steered by governments and other bad actors, you can always go elsewhere.

But, as is so often the case, it’s not that simple. The situation is complicated by the oligopoly that is Big Social, the lead players including Alphabet/Google, Facebook/Instagram, Tiktok, WeChat — and of course X, now under the control of Musk who claims to be committed to free speech.    

Should we accept that such organisations are going to have all the knowledge required to make assessments on the value or otherwise of every medical treatment or disease prevention solution out there? That, in our view, would be an impossible task for any national or international organisation of this type.

It looks ever more likely that information regarded as ‘medical mis- and disinformation’ will be subject less to ‘hard-action censorship’ and more to ‘soft-action censorship’. This latter type is more covert than overt as there is no clear and visible content takedown or account suspension.

The term, shadowbanning, is still so much in the shadows, the Merriam-Webster dictionary fails to recognise it. However, if we backtrack for a second and take a look at 2022’s Merriam-Webster Dictionary Word of the Year, we find the term gaslighting, which is closely related to shadowbanning being linked to a global system of psychological and behavioural manipulation. Merriam-Webster defines gaslighting as “psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator”. There are three elements in this definition that are key: the involvement of ‘psychological’ manipulation, the process of questioning reality, and the end result of confusion/uncertainty and instability.

In the absence of a definition of ‘shadowban’ from Merriam-Webster, we must go to the Wisconsin Senate Bill 582 2021, which defines it as follows:

“'Shadow ban' means to limit or eliminate the exposure of a user, or content or material posted by a user, to other users of the social media Internet site through any means, regardless of whether the action is determined by an individual or an algorithm, and regardless of whether the action is readily apparent to a user."

Could it be that the combination of gaslighting and shadowbanning provide the world’s puppetmasters with a perfect combination of tools to control the public’s perception of the world and subsequent decision-making on matters affecting our health?  

The intrepid rise of AI provides Big Social with the tools required to make shadowbans work in ways that would be impossible if managed by human content moderators.  

The practice is so shadowy in nature – service providers often try to deny this practice even exists. This leaves ‘victims’ of it wondering whether their content has been deliberately deprioritised because the content doesn’t align with the social media provider’s chosen values, or if other users are genuinely not interested in it. This leaves account holders confused and doubting whether their content is doing well – leading to the mix of manipulation, questioning reality and confusion. See the link with gaslighting?

But the shadowban algorithms respond very differently to different issues and to different channels. Take Russell Brand, for example, with currently 6.7M subscribers on YouTube. He certainly hasn’t been deplatformed, but is he being shadowbanned? He routinely speaks out on issues that have been dismissed as ‘conspiracy theories’ in the past, such as his recent video profiling Lee Fang and Jack Poulson’s fantastic exposée, ‘Moderna is spying on you’, published on UnHerd.

What none of us are privy to is how channels like Russell Brand’s appear to the populace at large. Could it be that those of us who are already open to his content and subscribed, readily see his posts, they being offered to us as suggested videos? Yet those who have toed the establishment’s narrative might struggle to find this same content without a proactive search on Brand’s channel? 

The selection process by which some users are allowed on mainstream social media platforms, even if they’re not being actively promoted, and others not, are hidden from public view. We might speculate that social media platforms may choose to leave some dissenting voices relatively alone to give the impression that free speech remains alive and well.

The secretive nature of shadowbanning leads to distrust, not just in what we see and hear, but also in each other, causing further separation and isolation of individuals and communities.

It's not just a theory

The impact of shadowbans on some channels is undeniable. Some two months back, US chiropractor, keto diet and intermittent fasting educator, Dr Eric Berg, with 11.2 million subscribers on YouTube, noted a drastic decrease in new views and page traffic following the passage of YouTube’s new medical misinformation policy. Is keto and intermittent really so controversial that it demands throttling back visibility of such content? Has the NIH or the WHO viewed it as a no-go area, in the same manner as with ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine? [Side note: on this point, the public was not informed that recognition of the effectiveness of either of these drugs would have compromised the ability for covid-19 genetic vaccines to receive emergency authorisation].

The blatant example of Dr Berg stimulated us to create our Free Speech 4 Health campaign that is currently in development.

How does the framing or manipulation of information that induces predictable choices and behaviours work? Typically it relies on an approach that is developed by behavioural psychologists who have spent their lifetime trying to understand the complex processes involved with human decision-making and behaviour. They are routinely commissioned by health authorities to do such work, something that was exposed in the case of the Scientific Pandemic Insights group on Behaviours (SPI-B), a subset of England's Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE), commissioned by the UK Cabinet Office.

Social media platforms justify their content moderation techniques as necessary to deal with ‘dangerous misinformation’ being shared by those who are now referred to as conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, climate deniers, covid deniers and of course, far right extremists. An article in the Washington Post states that “while the term may be imprecise and sometimes misused, most social media companies now employ moderation techniques that limit people’s megaphones without telling them including supressing what companies call ‘borderline’ content”. This lack of transparency poses a problem from a legal perspective as it prevents appeal, contestation and due process. The EU Digital Services Act, which came into force in August of this year, prohibits ‘shadowbanning’ in Recital 55 with the exception of “high-volume deceptive commercial content".

Paddy Leerssen, a researcher at the University of Amsterdam, Institute for Information Law describes shadowbanning as giving a “false impression that content is still online whereas in fact nobody else can see it”. Because shadowbanning is so insidious, subtle and opaque, and because of the continued denial of its existence, we argue that it is a form of gaslighting with an array of harmful effects on our rights to free speech and access to information and ultimately on our health as individuals and as a society.

Consequences: beyond access to information

Shadowbanning doesn’t just prevent us from accessing a wide-range of information that allows us to make our own informed decisions about a range of issues. It can also affect our health and quality of life if we are denied health-promoting, disease risk reducing or life-saving information that just happens to compete with Big Pharma interests, that are among the key players which have, over the last 70 or so years, been the most powerful influence over medical practice and health policy.

It seems one of the main drivers of the new system of control over medical information, which was proposed via the Nobel Prize Summit in Washington DC about which we wrote earlier this year, is to steer and nudge our decisions to benefit Big Pharma, Big Social, Big Tech and Big Government's agendas.

This process has another unfortunate impact: it also threatens the very scientific method on which humans have relied for centuries, by excluding dissenting voices and preventing discourse and open debate.

Shadowbanning and behaviours that threaten our right to free speech keep us polarised, destabilised and set us against each other. They create taboos out of information that's at odds with the accepted narrative – and prevent the public from being able to grapple with the complexity and uncertainty over important subjects like how we should best manage our health, elect democratic governments or respond to conflicts or war, including the current wars in Gaza and Ukraine.

This polarisation reduces people's tolerance for our differences, making it more likely that someone with a differing opinion will be labelled, attacked and ostracised, than welcomed into a discussion over a cup of tea. Our increasing intolerance of different views is contributing to ever greater levels of social isolation, family and community breakdown and an inability to find likeminded people — one's tribe, that's so integral to thriving as a human being. 

Taking action

Change happens not in complacency, but in action. Here’s what we can do to combat shadowbanning:

  • Create awareness of the practice of shadowbanning, how it works and what its consequences might be when applied to so-called 'medical misinformation' and health issues. We're currently working on a video to facilitate this
  • Lobby Google, Youtube, Facebook - yes, and even X - and force them to be transparent about the algorithms and other processes they use to moderate content. We're going to need your help on this once we have the video ready
  • Lobby politicians to get them to help manage Big Social's oligopolies in ways that make sure they don't compromise citizens' health by depriving us of, or manipulating, information in ways that no longer allows the public to receive a fair representation of different approaches of health management
  • Petition for platforms such as Youtube to change their 'medical misinformation' policies so that health information isn’t limited to approved text from national authorities and the WHO
  • Share this article far and wide to so others can learn about shadowbanning
  • Use alternative video sharing platforms such as Rumble or Odyssey and support alternative platforms of information sharing such as Substack that practice transparency and encourage freedom of speech.


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