MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

On 20 February 2021, I published on my blog a comment on a new study of an Ayurvedic remedy for COVID-19. The study was in my view suspect, and I expressed this as follows:

I have the following concerns or questions about this trial:

  • Why do the authors call it a pilot study? A pilot study is merely for testing the feasibility of a trial design and is not meant to yield definitive efficacy results.
  • The authors state that the patients were asymptomatic yet in the discussion they claim they were asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.
  • Some of the effect sizes reported here are extraordinary and seem almost too good to be true.
  • The claim of no adverse effect is implausible; even placebos would cause perceived adverse effects in a percentage of patients.
  • If the study is solid and withstands the scrutiny of the raw data, it is of huge relevance for public health. So, why did the authors publish it in PHYTOMEDICINE, a relatively minor and little-known journal?

An article in The Economic Times’ reported this:

Patanjali Ayurved released what it called the first “evidence-based” medicine for Covid-19 on Friday. It claimed it has been “recognised by the WHO (World Health Organization) as an ayurvedic medicine for corona”. Patanjali promoter, yoga guru Baba Ramdev, released a scientific research paper in this regard at the launch, presided over by Union health minister Harsh Vardhan and transport minister Nitin Gadkari. The Ayurveda products maker said it has received a certification from the Ayush ministry. “Coronil has received the Certificate of Pharmaceutical Product (CoPP) from the Ayush section of Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) as per the WHO certification scheme,” it said in a statement. Under the CoPP, Coronil can be exported to 158 countries, the company said, adding that based on the presented data, the ministry has recognised Coronil as medicine for “supporting measure in Covid-19”.

Am I the only one who fears that something is not entirely kosher about the study? (This is an honest question, and I would be pleased to receive answers from my readers)

What happened next is most puzzling. After putting it on Facebook several times, I got banned for 72 hours from posting this article or anything else on Facebook. When this period had elapsed, I put the article in question again on Facebook. Subsequently, I was banned again but this time for 7 days. Facebook gave the following explanation:

You can’t post or comment for 7 days

This is because your previous posts didn’t follow our Community Standards.

No one else can see these posts.

1 Mar

Your post goes against our Community Standards on misinformation that could cause physical harm

We usually offer the chance to request a review, and follow up if we’ve gotten decisions wrong.

We have fewer reviewers available at the moment because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. We’re trying hard to prioritise reviewing content with the most potential for harm.

This means that we may not be able to follow up with you, though your feedback helps us do better in the future.

Thank you for understanding.

On Twitter, the hype had begun even before its text was available. Priti Gandhi, for instance, tweeted:

Yet another feather in India’s cap!! 1st evidence-based, CoPP-WHO GMP certified medicine for Covid-19 released today. Congratulations to @yogrishiramdev ji, @Ach_Balkrishna ji & the team of scie…

EDZARDERNST.COM An RCT on the efficacy of ayurvedic treatment on asymptomatic COVID-19 patients

________________________________

As I did not feel I had broken any rules, I protested against the bans each time. When the 2nd ban was over, I posted my article yet again and, sure enough, yesterday I got banned again, this time for 30 days. Here is how they let me know:

You can’t post or comment for 30 days

This is because you previously posted something that didn’t follow our Community Standards.

This post goes against our standards on misinformation that could cause physical harm, so only you can see it.

Learn more about updates to our standards. On Twitter, the hype had begun even before its text was available. Priti Gandhi, for instance, tweeted: Yet another feather in India’s cap!! 1st evidence-based, CoPP-WHO GMP certified medicine for Covid-19 released today. Congratulations to @yogrishiramdev ji, @Ach_Balkrishna ji & the team of scie…

EDZARDERNST.COM An RCT on the efficacy of ayurvedic treatment on asymptomatic COVID-19 patients

____________________________

As the reason for the ban always seems to be the Ayurvedic study, I suspect that some party interested in the product is behind the complaints that lead to the bans. I find it extraordinary that I can be banned repeatedly without having done anything wrong and without my objections ever being considered.

Has anyone else experienced similar things?
Can anyone shed more light on this mysterious story?
Is there anything I can do, except for objecting, which I have now done thrice?

23 Responses to My strange battle with Facebook

  • I wonder if the story would be of interest to the wider media – “Facebook gags academic discussion”.

  • Dear Edzard,
    this is a grave incident indeed. You should write a letter describing the case to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which in December 2020 filed a lawsuit against Facebook for “anticompetitive conduct and unfair methods of competition”. Copy of the letter should, of course, be sent to Facebook UK and Facebook USA.
    Best Greetings
    Dr. Hanjo Lehmann, Berlin, Germany

  • This shows that the ‘reviewers/moderators ‘ that Facebook uses are incapable of critical analysis!. They fail to distinguish between a claim and a discussion started about the claim. This will lead longterm to disaster and loss of free speech. However based on the sort of people who use Facebook, I think that sadly the Facebook users in general would fail to read anything with critical analysis either.

    I have had a similar experience – on a charity website for Scoliosis whose remit is to provide advice for patients I posted about the ‘problems’ people were having with underlying medical conditions not being considered for the Covid Vaccine. A lively debate ensued but the usual people who cannot follow logic or argument properly jumped in with ‘non- sequitur’ etc. There was no invective or bullying involved just shared experience and worry but also ‘dross’. The admin turned off posting with no explanation? It is starting to be that all discussion is now taboo unless it involves ‘sending hugs’

  • I believe the old Monty Python line “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition” applies.

    It looks like Facebook, twitter, (Instagram?), are censoring just about anything that might seem controversial in a US setting or which gets a lot of complaints. I suspect the latter is what happened to you, Doctor. Both media probably got bombarded with irate e-mails or whatever, denouncing you.

  • Professor,

    You are caught in a classic content moderation trap. Facebook is incentivized to minimize the spread of misinformation on its platform for political reasons. Because content moderation at scale is fiendishly difficult, if not impossible, even critical discussions about the topic in question will be punished, because Facebook doesn’t actually have the capability to determine the context of a post (and, likely, never will).

    Mike Masnick from Techdirt has written about this extensively: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20191111/23032743367/masnicks-impossibility-theorem-content-moderation-scale-is-impossible-to-do-well.shtml

  • ” I find it extraordinary that I can be banned repeatedly without having done anything wrong and without my objections ever being considered.

    Has anyone else experienced similar things?
    Can anyone shed more light on this mysterious story?
    Is there anything I can do, except for objecting, which I have now done thrice?”

    Edzard , you didn’t get so worked up when FB did this to Trump. In fact you kind of applauded their actions.
    https://edzardernst.com/?s=trump
    https://www.bing.com/search?q=facebook+suspends+trump&cvid=6704c68974884f6682591c67a21ba6ab&pglt=547&FORM=ANNTA1&PC=ASJS

    I am not saying he or you was right or wrong , only that free speech should be applied to all.

  • I suspect it’s a Bot at work.

  • Yes, I’ve had the same disconcerting experience with FB … charged with violating “community standards.” The offense for which I was put on probation for a full year?

    In a thread that I started by posting photos of a trip to Bali in which there were quite a few of a trance dance I saw in Denpasar in 1977, in the comments I pointed out Roman Polanski in one of those pictures. An expat I know replied that he had seen Polanski in one of the hotels to which I added that Bali was a destination for many artists and actors, adding that one of the more interesting ones was Charlie Chaplin. I posted a link to a 1932 home movie he made in which a woman appeared bare-breasted. Apparently, I violated the nipple rule and was sentenced to one year probation.

    My objections went right into their bit-bucket despite pointing out that Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, also hanging out in Bali during the 30’s and who made the film Trance and Dance in Bali (1952) … they TOO would have been victims of the nipple rule and violation of … er … “community standards.” So, at least we’re in good company 🙃

    ~TEO.

  • It’s funny! The best reviewer od CAM is Mr. Ernst. I don’t now…Who are the reviewers of Facebook? What evidencie they are?

  • Prof,
    The reality is that Facebook is in its death throes and is unlikely to survive for even another five years. It goes from one scandal to another.

    I, for one, will be happy to see it in a casket. Zuckerberg has demonstrated he is incapable of controlling this monster and there is nothing altruistic about it.

  • One cannot have a principle and a compromise at the same time: either there is free speech or not.

    When a society chooses force over of reason, ”…the murderer wins over the pickpocket and that society vanishes in spread of ruins and slaughter.”

  • It is called politics, one side has been eating their own for 3 yrs now. Some of us love the animosity and cancel culture that side has developed. Ironic is a word I admire, lately. Also, free speech does not apply to a private entity, Facebook is not the government in US.

  • It s probably just an attack of the FB bots. No human may have even looked at it. The bot saw Ayurveda & Covid19 and its artificial Un-intelligence said “We cant allow that.

    You are getting a taste of what all of us trying to post things that dont fit the CDC/WHO narrative. Welcome to the club. Now shut up and get in line.

  • Facebook seems to be more likely to ban science than bigotry, scams, pseudoscience and violent threats.
    Most pro-science folks I know on FB have had at least suspension for either posting facts or for trivial name calling.

    • Daniel Pyron commented on My strange battle with Facebook said

      “Facebook seems to be more likely to ban science than bigotry, scams, pseudoscience and violent threats.”

      Absolutely, it’s the who-is-to-guard-the-guards problem.

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