|Photo of William Shatner courtesy of Splash News|
Four days ago, William Shatner tweeted his support for the group Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks purports to be an organization that represents autistic people, but is near-universally derided and loathed by actual autistic people.
Why? For starters:
- For an organization that positions itself as speaking on autism issues Autism Speaks took ten years to appoint any autistic people as board members that can even influence policy, and this is after the sole autistic member of the board who was in an advisory position only resigned in frustration after not being listened to
- A paltry 3% of AS' operating budget goes to actually supporting autistic people
- They're responsible for contributing to the fear-mongering perception that autistic people are nothing but drains and burdens on family members and society... like, for example producing and airing a video once where a mother fantasized about how she'd be better off killing her autistic kid... in front of her autistic kid.
- As if all of the above wasn't bad enough, Autism Speaks only recently rejected their anti-vaccination (anti-vaxx) roots-- and the link between vaccination and autism have been debunked for nearly 20 years.
Allies and autistic twitter users alike reached out to Shatner after his initial tweet, joining the in progress #actuallyautistic hashtag to outline why Autism Speaks was not a good organization. Shatner told those reaching out to him they should "go start [your] own charity" and blocking them. Others then tweeted that autistic people actually already had-- the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. Shatner repeatedly accused ASAN's founder of misrepresenting his words and that ASAN was only interested in attacking Autism Speaks. He then block ASAN's founder on twitter along with the co-authors of Neurotribes, when they tried reaching out to him. Shatner instead talked about being attacked, harrassed for voicing his opinion, that tweeting support for Autism Speaks meant he was contributing to freedom of choice... but it got even worse.
Shatner dug himself even deeper into spreading misinformation. When Dr Neil Gorski reached out to Shatner, outlining Autism Speaks' history as an anti-vaxx organization, what happened next made everything worse. As outlined in Slate:
With that, millions of followers were treated to a hit piece about Gorski hosted by TruthWiki. It’s hard to overstate the unreliability of TruthWiki, a haphazard collection of conspiracy theories and pseudoscientific nonsense riddled with typos and bizarre assertions. The exercise section, for instance, includes only two entries: “Natural Help for Diabetes” and “Deepak Chopra’s Eye Exercises.” When Science-Based Medicine objected to Shatner’s tweet, he posted another set of links discrediting Gorski, this time to the websites Newstarget (motto: “Obliterating Your Safe Spaces With Truth Bombs”) and NaturalNews, which is run by Mike Adams, aka “the Health Ranger”—who also founded TruthWiki.
“All on Google,” he added after them, as if that certified their authenticity.
If William Shatner has no compunctions about using his influence as a celebrity and Twitter user with 2.5 million followers to promote causes, then he should also recognize that he bears the responsibility for what can happen when he spreads misinformation and refuses to listen to people that are actually affected the cause he claims to advance.