Facebook shuts down, then reinstates, popular low-carb support group
Social media channels and low-carb networks were abuzz this week with cries of censorship, malicious targeting, and even anti-low-carb conspiracy theories, when Facebook suddenly shut down a huge South African low-carb support group with 1.65 million followers.
After a global hue and cry, Facebook reinstated the platform some 48 hours later.
The large support group, Banting 7-day Meal Plans, was started a few years ago by Cape Town low-carb advocate Rita Venter. On her twitter feed, Venter notes “I started the group to share what helped me lose weight & get healthy.”
Banting is the common South African name for the low-carb, high fat (LCHF) or ketogenic diet. The group shared recipes, low-carb information and support, and inspiring before-and-after pictures of followers’ low-carb successes.
Did Facebook deem those success stories were too good to be true? Did an unnamed panel of scientific experts rule the group was promoting “fake news?”
No one knows. What is known is that suddenly on May 14th, without warning or explanation, Facebook de-listed the group’s platform. It disappeared from view leaving its 1.65 million followers aghast and bereft — and trying to figure out why it happened.
Venter noted on her twitter feed that it appeared her Banting 7-day Meal Plan group had been the focus of a deliberate campaign to shut them down: “We were targeted & reported 1000s of times in the last weeks for dispensing medical advice. We don’t & never have… Who’s trying to silence LCHF?”
A Twitter storm erupted, with thousands decrying the arbitrary censorship, while others supported the principle of Facebook silencing so-called “unscientific” information.
One prominent Twitter commentator, Kevin Bass, said “Facebook made the right move,” claiming the group, along with supporting low-carb eating, was also supporting anti-vaccination information.
Venter tweeted back at Bass: “We are not anti vaxxers. I have 4 adult kids all vaxxed. We are a LCHF support group. I don’t know where you got your information. It’s wrong.”
A new Banting Facebook support group was immediately started up, but hundreds of supporters also contacted Facebook to complain about the unjustified de-listing. By 5:30 pm Greenwich Mean Time on May 16th, the original group had been reinstated by Facebook. Tweeted Venter: “Fantastic news, after all the pressure and all your amazing support, Facebook has reinstated our group!!! I cannot thank you all enough for all you’ve done.”
What, however, is the larger story? Does this event signal that low-carb groups may come under the “fact-checking” review of mainstream scientists who will pass judgement on the diet’s scientific validity?
It is known that over the last few years, Facebook has come under increasing criticism and scrutiny, including getting a grilling before US Congress, that its global social media platform widely promotes “inauthentic content.” Facebook Community Standards now sets out its plan to stem the proliferation of false news, including “reducing the distribution of content rated as false by independent third-party fact-checkers.”
But who are those fact checkers who determine what is real and what is fake?
Last month, the self-proclaimed “bi-partisan” organization Science Feedback announced that it was partnering with Facebook as one of the third-party independent fact-checkers to review Facebook content. It says it uses a network of experts to review and analyze Facebook posts for scientific validity.
Who are those experts? The organization says:
Each of the reviewers contributing to our analyses holds a PhD and has recently published articles in top-tier peer-reviewed science journals.
Science Feedback describes what it will be doing to keep Facebook fact-based:
When we identify viral stories that claim to be based on science—in the fields of climate and health for the moment—we invite relevant experts to analyze the main claims in the post, image, video, or article, and publish a review of the item. We also have the ability to report items [to Facebook]… that we find to be false or misleading.
This process by unnamed “experts” should be concerning to us all.
Make no mistake, we strongly advocate for evidence-based science around low-carb diets. It is essential to what we do. We have established evidence-based policies for all our guides. We know that while there is plenty of free information available online, much of it is hard to trust. Websites are often trying to sell a specific product, a pill, or push an agenda for the people funding it. Claims must, instead, be based in good scientific evidence, and that is what we strive for.
However, many in the mainstream healthcare arena have not yet accepted the growing evidence-base behind low-carb eating to improve health outcomes. It is chilling to think that mainstream scientists might be in a position to silence groups on Facebook. Good science does not work this way — it is open to scrutiny, discussion, debate.
Fortunately, in this case, Facebook did an quick about-face. But we should be alert for signs of these sorts of disquieting actions going forward.