While selfish and egotistical free speech "advocates" are running around lamenting introduction of the laws aimed at combating online misinformation, I thought it would be quite useful to sideline their paranoia for a moment and remind everybody of a vivid example of very real - not imaginary - consequences of the falsehoods that today spread like wildfire through the internet.
Not only are thousands of people contracting infectious diseases across the West - with scores of fatalities recorded already - due to anti-vaxxer propaganda disseminated across countless "healthy living" websites but they are exposed to great numbers of modern day snake oil salesmen promising them all sorts of "miracles" - from increasing penis size to curing cancer.
Many already fall prey to the latter - with fatal consequences - and one of their most well-known victims was none other than the business maverick who gave the world Apple - Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs died on October 5, 2011, succumbing to pancreatic cancer which had been discovered almost exactly 8 years earlier. Millions of people around the world expressed their grief over the loss of the man who created the most popular of the IT companies that shaped the world of modern technology - Apple.
He was not only a visionary businessman but also - and perhaps surprisingly - a lifelong hippie fascinated by mysticism, spiritualism and an unending array of weird diets. He had traveled to India in search of a guru whose books influenced him before the age of 20. He engaged in prolonged fasts or strict regimens prescribing a single type of food or a single fruit to be consumed for weeks on end. He even believed - to the dismay of his colleagues - that by doing so he did not have to shower regularly.
Jobs was convinced that he could simply will things into being - a trait very valuable in business, where perseverance is often critical - but, as it turned out, potentially fatal elsewhere.
Though, it need not have to be.
Like many people, Jobs was diagnosed with cancer by accident. His urologist - treating him earlier for a different illness - asked him to take a CAT scan of his kidneys which showed a shadow on his pancreas. Jobs had initially ignored her suggestions to do a pancreatic study but relented as she persisted in her pleas.
It turned out to be a tumor.
Luckily for Apple's CEO, it was early stage and a type that doesn't normally grow quickly, so his chances of a recovery were very high. Unfortunately, to the horror of his doctors, family and friends, he rejected having a surgery - which was the only way to treat it - as Walther Isaacson wrote in his biography of Jobs:
"Specifically, he kept to a strict vegan diet, with large quantities of fresh carrot and fruit juices. To that regimen he added acupuncture, a variety of herbal remedies, and occasionally a few other treatments he found on the Internet or by consulting people around the country, including a psychic. For a while he was under the sway of a doctor who operated a natural healing clinic in southern California that stressed the use of organic herbs, juice fasts, frequent bowel cleansings, hydrotherapy, and the expression of all negative feelings."
Jobs had ignored sound medical advice and stuck to what miracle peddlers convinced him to do for 9 months when a follow up diagnosis revealed that his cancer had grown. Only then he gave in and underwent a surgery during which his doctors discovered that the disease had already spread into his liver.
In the following years he would undergo a series of treatments, suffer great pain and gradually declining weight, as his body was effectively eating itself due to hormonal imbalances resulting from his illness. In 2009 he came to the brink and in the last minute was able to secure a liver transplant - but during that procedure more metastases were discovered. You can read the full story of his struggles here.
In the end, he would extend his life for further two years, until his death in 2011, at the age of 56.
Apple's founder did not have to suffer and die so early. It happened solely because his appetite to seek different ways of living led him into the arms of con-men and snake oil salesmen, promising better, healthier, higher living - misleading him into taking choices that would eventually claim his life instead of saving it.
Millions of people fall prey to these falsehoods every day - those practicing juicing or vegan diets to treat various diseases, multitudes abstaining from gluten (when most do not suffer from a celiac disease), others paying good money to get on "detox" diets or "healthy living" retreats, or those who today decline to have their children vaccinated and contribute to revival of deadly diseases defeated in the past.
Peddlers of these and other falsehoods prey on honest, even if naive, people for their own benefit, much like cancerous cells grow and destroy the healthy organism they attack.
If we have no laws and tools allowing us to limit their growth, they will keep their expansion, impacting everything from our daily lives to how our countries are governed, gradually turning societies into hosts for their parasitic ideas.
We cannot just close our eyes and pretend it's not happening because, ultimately, we may reach a point of no return, losing all that we and the past generations have worked for - prosperity, security and good health.
Just like Steve Jobs did by putting his treatment off for too long, believing in feel-good lies nobody stepped in to stop in time.