Almost half a millenium has passed since the physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei was put on trial by order of Pope Urban VIII. One would think a history lesson dating back five centuries would be long remembered; however, based on social media actions today, it clearly is not.
Galileo was tried in 1633 for adhering to a belief contrary to that taught by the Catholic Church. While he believed in heliocentrism – i.e., the astronomical model that viewed the Earth and other planets as rotating around a sun situated in the center of the universe – the church believed in geocentrism – i.e., a model viewing the Earth as immovable and sitting at the center of the universe around which the sun and planets rotated. To teach otherwise was heresy.
The church was incensed by Galileo’s refusal to accept its orthodoxy, especially since this was the second time he was being taken to task for it. In 1616, the astronomer had been forbidden from holding his heliocentric belief. At his 1633 trial, Galileo tried to argue his writings were not intended to be an expression of his belief but merely intended to introduce evidence aimed at stimulating a discussion on the matter. Galileo had not helped his case by previously calling the pope a dummy.
Although astronomers had known for centuries the Earth rotated around the sun, church officials pontificated that the scriptures indicated otherwise and, therefore, could not be disputed. Galileo was found guilty of heresy and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. It would take a few more centuries before the Catholic Church acknowledged that Galileo was right.
Despite the church’s ban on teaching heliocentrism, schools of the era believed it should be taught along with geocentrism – and did so. As to when the church changed its view, the best answer is “when it had to.” While the exact date by which this happened is debated, a date certain is 1822 when a college of cardinals convened to discuss the matter, letting followers know teaching the heliocentric model of the universe was now permissible. Of course, that decision had little impact outside of the church as educators – at least back then – were smart enough to recognize a flawed ideology and made their own decision independently to educate students on both beliefs. But, by the 19th century, the theory of geocentrism had gone the way of the dinosaur.
As COVID-19 reared its ugly head in the U.S. in early 2020, some discussion over the internet began surfacing that suggested the originating source for the virus may have been China’s Wuhan lab. As did the church with Galileo, social media immediately shut down any discussion targeting this topic. The social media powers-that-be decided any such claim was purely conspiratorial in nature. Whenever President Donald Trump referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese flu” or “China virus,” he was berated by Democrats for doing so. Social media quickly jumped onboard the anti-Trump/pro-China bandwagon, censoring any linkage between the virus and China.
In the 17th century, the Catholic Church had the influence social media have today, monitoring discussions and censoring any discourse they deemed contrary to their beliefs. And, like the church discovered in 1822, social media now seem to recognize that they too were wrong. As more and more independent authorities have refocused on the probability that the original source for COVID-19 may well have been China’s Wuhan lab, the mainstream and social media both now seem to have changed their tune – COVID-19’s linkage to China no longer constitutes heresy.
We are a society that, supposedly, treasures debate on issues, allowing arguments on both sides to be heard so that truth can prevail. When a single authority claims it has the right to decide what can and cannot be posted on social media, it directs the conversation, doing little to stimulate it to ensure the truth comes to light.
Issues are seldom black and white, yet social media, based on their own beliefs, are outrageously choosing to make it such. As such, social media’s exposure on the issue of COVID-19’s source of origin has been the equivalent of airing the church’s geocentric theory while keeping Galileo’s heliocentric theory under wraps. The social media ban was imposed in February, before the Biden administration suggested there may be merit to the Wuhan lab claim. The socials’ failure to allow any civil discourse to further explore the issue bought China more time to dispose of evidence.
Then, on May 26, Facebook made the following announcement, “In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made from our apps.” Apparently, being a social media carrier means never having to say you are sorry.
The Catholic Church proved selfishly obstinate in taking almost two centuries after Galileo’s trial to bestow the right upon believers to recognize an astronomical truth. Social media, emboldened by its own sense of power, has proven selfishly obstinate in censoring alternative viewpoints, such as the Wuhan lab being a possible originating source of COVID-19, basically because they are conservative in nature. Continuing the ban against mentioning Wuhan would have forced social media, as it did the church at Galileo’s trial, to support a viewpoint known to be unsupportable by the facts. Thus, like the church, social media only changed their view about Wuhan “when they had to.”
Social media could save themselves a lot of future embarrassment from their censorship being overcome by truth simply by recognizing they lack the ability to determine, with absolute certainty, what is fact and what is fiction. They need to allow readers to make that determination for themselves.
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