Even in this age of rage and delirium, a claim being made on the Internet is breathtaking. Videos are circulating on social media that claim that taking the Covid-19 vaccines makes you legally “transhuman” and therefore you have no rights guaranteed under the Constitution. What is impressive about this demonstrably false claim is that it is based on a purported holding of the Supreme Court. The viral story has been cited as an example of “disinformation” that supports calls for greater governmental or corporate censorship. However, it is a prime example to prove the opposite: how free speech can correct bad speech. There is no need to censor rather than expose such lunacy. Vaccines will clearly not make you transhuman but censorship will certainly make you less free.
The great Justice Louis Brandeis famously declared that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants” in a 1913 Harper’s Weekly article, entitled “What Publicity Can Do.” For free speech advocates, it is the defining principle in the fight against forms of censorship by the government or corporations. A good example is the transhuman vaccination claims being advanced on social media.
Some TikTok videos claiming that vaccines include microchips have been found to be hoaxes or intended jokes. One circulating on TikTok makes the claim that the Supreme Court has ruled that vaccinated people are now transhuman and outside the protections of the Constitution. Some conspiracy theories are so labored or contorted that they become fascinating. I expect that many are circulating the video as humorous while others are taking it seriously. It has led to various sites censoring the video or flagging the falsehood.
Some sites referenced the specific case:
The references are to the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. We previously discussed that case in which the Court unanimously ruled against the Utah company on a patent claim.
The patent by Myriad Genetics claimed genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) that it found correlate with increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. The company was trying to stop other companies from offering the test at a lower cost.
Justice Clarence Thomas drew a bright line, writing that “A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated.” Thomas saw the question in simple terms: “It is undisputed that Myriad did not create or alter any of the genetic information encoded in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.” Notably, the Court acknowledged that the company “found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention. Groundbreaking, innovative, or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy the [patent law] inquiry.” There was interest in how the Court would define the applicability of patent law to synthesized DNA, or “complementary DNA,” or cDNA. Yet in a footnote the Court expressly stated that it was not ruling or indicating that even cDNA is specifically entitled to a composition patent.
That would seem a rather curious basis for declaring vaccinated people to now be legally transhuman. Here is how it works.
People are claiming that mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 alter DNA. Once “altered, humans can be patented and have their rights taken away.” The problem is that the vaccines do not rewrite one’s genetic makeup. Moreover, the opinion states the opposite. It not only does not deal with such vaccines but it states that anything found in nature, including people, cannot be patented.
This lingering claim was sent to me recently as an example of the type of disinformation found on the Internet. However, I do not believe that it is a good example supporting the calls for corporate censorship. A new poll shows roughly half of the public supporting not just corporate censorship but government censorship of anything deemed “misinformation.”
Yet, this is an example where the falsity of the information should be evident on its face or can be confirmed with the most cursory search of the Internet. People regularly engage in speech that is based on false or misleading representations in every area of public discourse. Rather than invite governmental or corporate censorship, free speech allows such claims to be refuted or rebutted.
This is why I have described myself as an Internet Originalist:
The alternative is “internet originalism” — no censorship. If social media companies returned to their original roles, there would be no slippery slope of political bias or opportunism; they would assume the same status as telephone companies. We do not need companies to protect us from harmful or “misleading” thoughts. The solution to bad speech is more speech, not approved speech.
If Pelosi demanded that Verizon or Sprint interrupt calls to stop people saying false or misleading things, the public would be outraged. Twitter serves the same communicative function between consenting parties; it simply allows thousands of people to participate in such digital exchanges. Those people do not sign up to exchange thoughts only to have Dorsey or some other internet overlord monitor their conversations and “protect” them from errant or harmful thoughts.
The danger of the rising levels of censorship is far greater than the dangers of such absurd claims of the law or science — or in this case both. Anyone who would simply accept such a video as demonstrably true was predisposed to such looney conclusions. We cannot protect against willful blindness. Moreover, censorship will not give such people the ability to see such fallacies. What we can do is to maximize the free discourse and expression on the Internet to allow free speech itself to be the ultimate disinfectant of disinformation.