Civility

I know that I should stay off social media, other than maybe the autism-recovery groups I enjoy.

I definitely know that I should refrain from taking the bait when people post uninformed opinions on topics about which I have, well, more informed opinions.

If you read this blog, you probably have thoughts about vaccines. I do. I’ve posted about the link that I think exists between vaccines and the symptoms of autoimmune disorders, symptoms like “autism.” It’s such a controversial topic. I try to read as much about vaccines, on both sides of the issue, as my schedule allows.

Which makes me ripe for a bad Facebook experience. I made the mistake of responding to a post by a guy I knew well in college and now know only through Facebook.

This Facebooker, the guy I know, posted an opinion piece deriding “anti-vaxx” celebrities. (“Anti-vaxx” was used in the posted piece. It’s not my term. I don’t think raising efficacy or complications concerns, or questioning ingredients, is necessarily “anti-” vaccinations). Beneath the link to the opinion piece, the Facebooker said something like, “It is a sad commentary on our society when people are willing to accept celebrity ‘opinion’ over scientific fact.” He then went on to compare “anti-vaxxers” to people who deny evolution or global climate change.

Within the comment thread under his post, the Facebooker asserted, without citation, that “any link between vaccines and autism has been scientifically disproven.”

Best course for me to take in such a situation: turn off Facebook and walk away.

Course I did take, this one time: I commented. I wrote:

“Can you point me to the study that you are referencing? I’m not advocating one way or the other. I am aware of studies suggesting the absence of a link, and of studies noting that vaccinations can cause neuro-disruptions. But I’m not aware of any study that compares autism rates in vaccinated versus unvaccinated populations.”

Then, lest anyone think I have a connection to autism (we’re not public about Martin’s diagnosis), I added:

“I am concerned about this topic because at age 12 I was very sick with measles, despite having been twice vaccinated against it.”

What did I want to achieve by commenting? I don’t know. I was frustrated. The Facebooker’s comment made no sense, empirically or otherwise. We cannot “scientifically disprove” a link between any two occurrences; the most we can do is, while attempting to control for other variables, demonstrate that the occurrences arise no more often in conjunction than they do independently. In the case of autism and vaccines, I know, that rigorous work has not been done. This Facebooker was carelessly spouting an untruth.

In seconds, without thought or ceremony, he responded: “There. Is. No. Fucking. LINK. NONE. STOP.”

And I, shocked, wrote: “Um, okay. That sounds scientific.”

Most of this is likely not verbatim. I recall, exactly, his comment, “There. Is. No. Fucking. LINK. NONE. STOP”—periods, explicative, and all. As for the rest, I am recreating the conversation. Immediately after I wrote, “Um, okay. That sounds scientific,” the Facebooker deleted the link and the comment thread, and replaced it with this status update:

“You’re not going to spoil my happy today. Period.”

Under that “spoil my happy” status came this comment thread:

Random commentator: “Oh, see now… someone’s going to try!”

Facebooker I know: “Already has. Why do you think I posted it? What it comes down to is this. To the world: As much as you are obviously in love with your own opinions, I DON’T CARE!!!!!! You may not care about my opinions either. That’s fine. No skin off my nose. BUT I DON’T CARE!!!!!!!!!”

Random commentator: “Ah, see, I almost had a sarcastic comment for your last post.”

Facebooker I know: “I swear to God, you could post that 1+1=2 and there’s going to be someone who argues with you. Not having it.”

Wow, right? This Facebooker, as I said, is a guy I knew in college. I’ve seen him once since college, when he was in New York a year or two ago, and we had a nice lunch to catch up. No prior animosity. Nothing. That explosive reaction resulted, as far as I know, 100% from my question about “scientific disproof” of a connection between vaccines and autism.

I commented no more. Instead, I took my boldest Facebook action ever. I stopped “following” the guy. I didn’t go so far as to unfriend him. Unfriending just isn’t in my nature. But now that I’ve stopped following him, his posts no longer appear in my news feed.

It’s justified. Around when Demi Moore was separating from Ashton Kutcher, this Facebooker posted a picture purporting to show cellulite on Demi’s legs and chastising her for not spending enough time on a treadmill. As if women don’t have enough trouble with body image! Demi Moore weighs, like, 70 pounds. Then, during the 2012 NFL referee lockout, when the league used less-experienced substitutes, this Facebooker complained about a game by posting something like, “These replacement refs are really ‘special,’ and I don’t mean that in a good way.” You see the problem there: He’s implying that the referees have special needs, which is “bad” and appropriate for ridicule. The way I see it, the vaccine incident was strike three, and this Facebooker is out. Or at least un-followed.

There’s a real shame in this story. In the original “anti-vaxxers” link and comments—the thread that the Facebooker deleted because he was “not having” any “argument”—there was a comment from a third-party who self-identified as a person with autism. She wrote something like, “Even if there were a link between vaccines and autism, people who abstain are suggesting that they would rather lose a child to preventable disease than have a child like me.” I would have appreciated the opportunity to follow up and engage that person further.

No such luck. Some topics, it seems, are just no longer available for discussion.