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Making it a War: Age of Autism Kicked off Facebook

February 5, 2011

Oh happy day, right? It appears that Facebook kicked not only Age of Autism off, but any page that has that phrase in it. A small group of autistic advocates on facebook set up a series of pages (some now gone in the sweep) and an event to lobby people to report Age of Autism’s facebook page in an attempt to get it off. 

No, this is not a happy day. While I have no problem flagging posts that are hate-filled (the Bonnie Offit one was horrible), I did not lobby to have the page removed. I don’t think they should be shut up. I’m not even, as long as it isn’t threats or hate speech, in favor of censoring. 

They have the right to have a facebook page, whether I find them disagreeable or not. There are better ways to counter the damage AoA does than to attempt to silence them. Doing that just confirms their belief in conspiracy theories. On Autism Files “I love Andy” page, they’re full on out into conspiracy that the small group of autistic advocates are being paid. Of course, on that page they’re bashing Bill Gates, too, so we may not be talking about the most well-informed of folks. After all, Ginger Taylor thinks Bill Gates set all this up, Mnookin’s book and Offit’s; it’s all conspiracy, people!

You can’t do this, either. It’s already gone. I’m guessing that Facebook handled the problem by simply sweeping all “Age of Autism” pages out; the only one left I can find is one set up by the main advocate for  getting AoA off of facebook, Please Boycott Hateful Groups Like Autism Speaks/ Age of Autism etc. If Facebook is taking action across the board, then this small group should also disappear.

Some folks at the “Andy’s dreamy” page think that AoA’s page is secret now, but the two bits from Olmsted above indicate this to not be the case, as do these couple tweets:
The rhetoric varies at the Autism File’s Wakefield page (got the smartass out of my system) from stunned disbelief to the typical AoA stuff. Identifying information has been removed because this isn’t about attacking people (it should be noted some of these folks are contacting the main advocate who attempted to get AoA off of facebook).

The comments go on and can be read over at that particular facebook page. People can judge for themselves. In the great scheme of things, they’re not nearly as nasty as things were on the AoA facebook page or, for that matter, as what routinely gets posted at AoA.

Shutting the AoA facebook down  causes more problems than it solves.

It reinforces this particular group’s identity as martyrs who are victims of a global conspiracy to shut them up because they’re speaking the truth. Really, do we need to reinforce that for them? Let them speak loudly for all to see and hear. Yes, unfortunately, the research shows that merely pointing out myths make the myths more likely to be remembered as true, so there is risk here. The anti-vaccine groups do appeal to people inclined to believe that the government is an evil entity that routinely engages in wag the dog tactics. We can’t reach those people. And we don’t need to do anything that reinforces their delusional world beliefs.

We can contain that damage the anti-vaccine sites and fringe sites do, though, by working to ensure that accurate information is out there. And it’s important to note that in some cases (perhaps more than we care for) that the best way to counter the misinformation is to not refer back to it but to simply provide the accurate information with appropriate emotional anecdotes so as to engage the emotions (whether we like it or not, reason alone is not enough).

For those people who are attracted to the idea that there is someone out there willing to heal their kids despite the cost to his career and good name, we can counter Saint Andy’s appeal by having solid support systems in place so that parents don’t feel alone. We can work to better educate doctors and diagnosticians to provide more support, better information and less doomsday proclamations. Don’t send parents of newly diagnosed children home with a pamphlet and the horrible idea that their Suzie or Johnny will never leave home, never read, never have a friend, blah blah (in part because those things are unknowable in most cases and in part because it sets parents up for maladaptive coping). Send them home with the name and number of another parent who’s already been there. Send them home with information regarding support groups and blog directories and the hope that with effort and patience, Johnny and Suzie will make progress, will improve, and that their story is not set in stone. Send them home with some stories of autistic kids who were severe in their early childhood but who overcame many of the obstacles and are doing well. Tell them that no one knows how the passage of time alone will change a child’s severity level. It was not helpful to be told when Bobby was in kindergarten that the best we could hope for for him was a group home. It doesn’t matter that this  pronouncement was accurate; that the reality is he’ll always need help. We didn’t need despair. We needed to know that regardless of functional levels, we could help our son build a happy and satisfying life.

The third thing that I believe is important is to distinguish between those individuals who are actively promoting falsehoods that they reasonably know to be falsehoods and those folks who are simply repeating those falsehoods. The first group deserves harsher rhetoric, but the latter do not. Daniel Gilbert has conducted research that demonstrates that we can’t help believing what we read, see, or hear. It takes active, willful thought to reject what we hear or read, and if you aren’t aware of this, you aren’t armed and ready to constantly question and examine the information that you come across. You have to be willing to cut some slack and provide the evidence that counters the misinformation.

The most important point, though, that I feel needs to be made is that this doesn’t have to be a war, and it certainly doesn’t have to be a slash-and-burn, take-no-prisoners war, and that’s what is occurring here. On that Saint Andy page, I can see that I have nearly two dozen facebook friends who like that page. I had over five dozen friends who liked the AoA page when it was up.The woo routinely feeds across my facebook feed from facebook friends. Do I actively seek out their pages and tell them how strongly I disagree with them? No. Do I insist they de-like the pages in question or we can’t be friends? No.

I could. I could make my facebook page about only being friends with those who agree with me on arbitrary positions. That’s everyone’s right to do. And if someone really objects to my positions, it won’t hurt my feelings if I’m defriended (not much anyway; some defriendings hurt a great deal, but those tend to not be from something so cut and dried as they were into woo and I’m not). Look, on our facebook pages, we have the right to not be offended. We have options. We can hide feeds. Heck, I find all the games people play rather annoying, so I blocked it where I don’t have to see what you did in Farmville. If you need to block my feed to keep being my friend, that’s okay. I won’t know, but if I did, it would be okay.

I try to adopt an open policy on facebook that represents my position regarding the Autism Blogs Directory: inclusive. I’ve got reiki practitioners, believers in homeopathy, folks who are serious in their support of AoA and Andy. I’m okay with that. I don’t need to attack them and I don’t need to threaten them.

Age of Autism should get its facebook page back. It’d be nice if they dialed down the hateful rhetoric and the lies, but even if they don’t, it ought to be back up there. 

It’s important to make sure that in trying to counter people you don’t take on the very attributes you were challenging as being inappropriate or morally wrong. I’d have written that it’s important you don’t become your enemy, but these people are not our enemies. If we see them as enemies to be fought, then we’re right back to the war analogy and the inevitable dehumanizing of our opponents. And that is morally wrong.


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