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Meta, “Fact" checking, and the Illusion of Objectivity


On April 18th, I posted a YouTube interview that I conducted with Karin Austin of the John Mack Institute (JMI), as part of an interview series I am hosting titled “A Phenomenology of the Phenomenon.” This series uses the tools of phenomenology as a discussion board for UAP studies, and includes interviews with notable scholars as well as experiencers. I personally find it morally wrong to discuss a method that is based on rigorously examining first person conscious experience without including the very people who have had such experiences in the conversation. Thus, part of the series as I conceptualized it has always been that it would include input from both scholars as well as experiencers of UAP encounters, including but not limited to, abduction accounts.


SUAPS director Michael Cifone has kindly allowed these discussions to take place through SUAPS and to be posted to the SUAPS YouTube channel, while clarifying that SUAPS itself does not take a particular stand on the ontology of abduction accounts, but they do allow discussion of such experiences as long as the discussions are framed in a scholarly manner. I am grateful to him that he has helped create a space, both through SUAPS as an organization as well as the SUAPS YouTube channel, for such discussions to take place. It is true that ufology and discussion of eyewitness accounts has long suffered from lack of scholarly rigor and methodological soundness, which has overall lent to the discrediting of UAP studies as a serious academic pursuit. The conversations I am hosting are part of an effort to change that and take these experiences seriously while at the same time keeping our critical thinking skills engaged. I was proud of the interview I conducted with Karin and grateful to her for coming on to share her experiences, which take courage to recount in a public venue.


When I went to share the interview on Facebook, I was informed by Meta that the video had been flagged by a third party fact checking site for “spreading false information” and thus if I shared the video, I would be penalized by not having my content show up as often in algorithms. When I clicked on the fact checking site to understand what, exactly, had been labeled as “false information,” the site was entirely in Chinese, and thus, I could not even get a full understanding of what had been deemed false. I can take a reasonable guess—Karin had recounted her lived conscious experience of physical contact with non-human intelligences, including the experience of being introduced to her alleged hybrid child. Apparently, a third party “fact” checking site finds it within their authority to deem her communication of her experiences “false information.”


Karin’s experiences do indeed violate the prevailing social ontology and are extremely difficult to reconcile with mainstream understandings of the world and the universe. That alone does not make them “false.” It’s unclear to me what it even means for a conscious experience to be “false” – Karin is not lying nor putting on a hoax. In the interview we suspend judgment on what the ultimate ontology of her experiences is, however, she expresses confidence that aspects of these experiences took place in normal waking consciousness in physical reality as we currently define it. Again, this does not attribute a particular source or ontology to them, it just describes the modality of conscious experience (sensory perception) as it manifested in her lived reality. She is far from the only witness to report such an experience, and we ignore this testimony at our own peril. The fact that it doesn’t make complete sense within our current assumptions or understandings about the universe does not make it “false.” Indeed, it may mean that we need to expand or revise our frameworks in ways that can make sense of such experiences in a meaningful way.


“Fact” checking sites put on an illusion of objectivity, but they see through a lens as much as anyone else. As Native American scholar and scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer states in Braiding Sweetgrass, “We are all a product of our worldviews, even scientists who claim pure objectivity” (63). A worldview is brought to the table, one in which any mention of encounters with non-human intelligences must obviously be false, no matter how many people report experiences to the contrary, or how credible the witnesses are. While abduction accounts are not verifiable in the traditional terms of the scientific method as they are not observable and repeatable under controlled conditions, and the physical evidence of such accounts is often subtle and does not meet the thresholds of scientific proof, the scientific method is not the sole or ultimate authority in determining the boundaries of the true and the real. Moreover, determining what accounts do and do not get taken seriously inevitably involves value judgments and assumptions about how the world is. This does not mean that we do not introduce any criteria for identifying a credible witness, nor does it mean that “anything goes” in terms of accepting witness testimony at face value. Indeed, within the very interview that has been deemed guilty of spreading “false information,” Karin discusses the indicators that Dr. Mack himself used to determine a witness credible or not, such as the presence of appropriate affect, ulterior motives, and realistic understanding of the unbelievability of the information they were conveying.


Physical verifiability is certainly one way for something to be considered true. It is also not the sole way, and Indigenous American cultures, for example, have long relied on particular, lived experience of nature, as well as the oral tradition as the primary means of producing and verifying knowledge (See for example, Blackfoot Physics, Power and Place Equals Personality, or Red Earth, White Lies). Oral and written testimony has, to varying degrees, played a role in determining the boundaries of truth and knowledge in essentially every society, and our current legal system relies heavily on individual experiences as legal evidence. It is also noteworthy that many cultures consider the imaginal or daimonic realms as more real than physical reality.


Further problems emerge with the fact that we have turned over truth determining authority to a mega-corporation like Meta, that has obvious financial interests and vested interest in presenting information for its own ends. Social media is privately owned and run but plays a large role in how information is shared and communicated in the digital age. That Facebook or Instagram can and does determine what content is “true” and what content gets featured in algorithms with no transparent process and an ambiguous appeal process is highly problematic, to say the least. The rampant discussion about “fake news” and the ability to produce AI generated and doctored videos has indeed increased a need for some kind of process of verification in terms of identifying and flagging obviously fabricated content. However the processes of determination proceeded with little public debate, transparency about how truth claims are assessed, or scholarly rigor in determining what counts as “false information.” The “fact” checkers have spoken.


I have no easy answers to the issue of the malicious spreading of obviously fabricated content, but the allowing of third-party fact checking sites as well as corporations like Meta to flag and penalize a video that discusses lived experiences in a scholarly context seems like no answer at all to me. There is simply no easy separation of facts and values; it is an illusion of the rationalist mind that these things can be parsed out so easily. One’s worldview and value system influences one’s methods for determining what counts as factual, and consequently a large domain of human experiences are denied legitimate and meaningful representation in public discourse. Close encounters are by no means the first extraordinary experiences to suffer such a fate.


Phenomenology (and frankly, philosophy more broadly) requires we look at all of what appears, no matter how far from the current consensus reality such an exploration takes us. The UAP phenomenon and experiencer testimony often take us quite far from our current boundaries and parameters of sense-making. But the only way out is through; and the only way to potentially get to the heart of the UAP mystery is to employ all of our tools (including the scientific method, but introducing other frameworks of analysis as well) to the full scope of the enigma—and this includes the testimony of abductees.

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Great work on the interview and the follow up article calling out Meta’s behaviour. Unfortunately all the rationalist arguments in the world count for little against a deliberate policy. It doesn’t matter how well reasoned or framed your information is, if it falls into a certain category - it will be censored. Whether that means algorithm suppression, tagging as false or otherwise, it’s not an oversight or poor interpretation of the content. It’s by design and every social media or search platform is aligned to these “standards”. If you want a fair shake you will have to go outside of these restricted avenues, although with the majority of mainstream media and academia disinterested that leaves few options. They have us…

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Kim, it is appalling to see that your top-notch interview with Karin Austin has brought out the censorship dogs. Your critical comments about this move are exceptionally well-stated and reasoned, with it special emphasis on how prevailing social ontology cannot even allow discoure about something that supposedly cannot "be." Reminds me of how late 18th century European scientists regarded those who claimed that meteorites feel from the sky---as crazy, because everyone knows that stones cannot fall from the heavens. Is there no appeal proces available here? Keep up the good work, Kim!

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Many reservations about phenomenology and its application to UAP, witnesses, and Experiencers, but, for all that, I wonder if the spontaneous social illegitimacy of the experience of Experiencers might not place them, in your view, within the purview of Critical Phenomenology, which examines lived experience in a radically fine-grained manner to bring to light the difference of experience of subjects belonging to marginalized communities, or if, at least, this development in the field might not offer methodological insights by analogy?

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Thanks Kimberley for the great essay and wonderful interview with Karin Austin. Phenomenology, with its intellectual rigor and bracketing/suspension of judgement, can hopefully be a bridge that allows the dominant scientific-materialist worldview of UAP to consider experiencer data (testimony). It is really such an untapped wealth of information.

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Kimberly: I appreciate your use of the phenomenological method which brackets out making objective judgments about ontological status. My way of putting it is to look at both the subject and the object in an account. This is the phenomenon: how it appears to some person or culture. You are correct, I think, in insisting that abduction accounts are an indispensible part of the UFO phenomenon. Ted Peters.

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