Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Disinformation, Fake News & Scams

ramonmercado

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Interesting interview/article.

Sebastian's mum is one of the leaders of Britain's conspiracy community. He spoke exclusively to the BBC's specialist disinformation reporter Marianna Spring about the impact that his mother is having on public health - and their relationship.

It was a sunny autumn morning when I opened up my inbox to see a message from someone called Sebastian. I recognised his distinctive surname immediately. The day before, I had been covering anti-lockdown protests in central London. Sebastian's mum, Kate Shemirani, was one of the headline speakers. A week later, the weather had turned. Drenched from a torrential downpour, I found myself sitting in a dimly-lit London basement opposite Sebastian.

He's a 21-year-old university student studying philosophy and politics. He seemed nervous - but determined. He told me he felt a duty to speak out, for the sake of public health, and for others whose loved ones may be going down a similar path. Over the course of three hours he detailed how his mum had gained a huge online following by spreading falsehoods about the pandemic. She's denied that coronavirus exists, alleges that the government is planning a mass genocide, and has compared the National Health Service to Nazi Germany. Her views - broadcast to tens of thousands of online followers and often repeated by even larger accounts - threaten to undermine critical public health messages. But for Sebastian, it was also an intensely personal story.

Conspiracy theories were his childhood lullabies. Starting from when he was about 10 or 11, he says, he was shown YouTube videos about secret plots and given books about "lizard people". ...

https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-54738471
 

maximus otter

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Royal Society Calls For Anti-Vaxxers to be Jailed

The Royal Society – whose motto is Nullius in verba (take nobody’s word for it) – has called for people who disseminate anti-vaxxing “misinformation” on social media to be sent to prison. No, you didn’t read that wrong. Sarah Knapton, Science Editor of the Telegraph, has more:


"It should be made a criminal offence to spread anti-vaxx myths and the public should report offenders, the Royal Society and British Academy have said amid concerns that baseless fears over a coronavirus vaccine will damage uptake.

A rapid review on COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment has called for people to be “inoculated” against misinformation, which can spread rapidly on social media.

Several countries already have laws against disseminating information that is harmful to public health, and Singapore has recently carried out four prosecutions for coronavirus offences under its Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA)."

...not only does this “review” carry the imprimatur of the Royal Society and the British Academy, it’s also been signed off on by SAGE.

Sure enough, Sarah Knapton is absolutely right. On the final page of the report, we find the following paragraph:

Bring in legislation and enforce criminal prosecutions for spreading misinformation. Several countries have clearly defined information that is harmful and a threat to public health. A study of the three Asian countries (China, Singapore and South Korea), evaluating 5,000 news articles and policy responses revealed several main strategies to counter COVID-19 misinformation. A prominent strategy was clear legislation and punishment of those who produced and disseminated false information. The actual prosecutions were then shared regularly and prominently with the public in addition to persistent reminders of laws that could be used to prosecute those guilty of spreading misinformation.
This is nothing short of astonishing. Is Prof Mills not aware of what happened to the Chinese doctors that raised the alarm in Wuhan when coronavirus was first discovered at the end of last year? For her benefit, here is an extract from the piece I wrote about it in Spectator USA:

On December 30th, Ai Fen, director of the emergency department at Wuhan Central Hospital, got the lab results back about one of her patients who had a flulike illness. The words she read on the report made her blood run cold: “Sars coronavirus”. She circled the word “Sars”, took a photo and emailed it to a doctor at a neighbouring hospital. Within hours, the photo had been sent to dozens of people in the Wuhan medical community. One of them sent a series of messages to a private group on WeChat, advising his colleagues to take precautions, and someone took screenshots of those messages and shared them more widely.
Had those doctors been working in another Southeast Asian country (Taiwan, say), the media would have quickly picked up on the chatter about a mysterious new virus and, within days, the authorities would have had no choice but to investigate. On learning of a viral outbreak, they would have then done their best to contain it.
But because this was China, the doctors with whom Ai Fen shared the photograph were arrested two days later, forced to sign confessions saying they were guilty of spreading false information and only released when they’d given an undertaking not to talk about the new virus again. The story made it onto CCTV, the state-owned television network, but it wasn’t about the emergence of a new disease. Rather, it was about a group of irresponsible doctors in Wuhan who had been punished for “rumour-mongering”.
by the time the state decided to act it was too late. After a Herculean effort to deny that SARS-CoV-2 posed any danger to the public, including persuading the World Health Organization (WHO) to announce there was no evidence of “human-to-human transmission” on January 14th, the Chinese authorities finally admitted there was a problem on January 23rd, imposing a cordon sanitaire around Wuhan and surrounding cities in Hubei Province. That was two days before the Chinese New Year holiday on January 25th; by that time an estimated five million people had already left the area and traveled to other cities in China to be with their families for the holidays.

So Professor Melinda Mills, in support of her argument that anti-vaxxers should be jailed, cites the treatment of “rumour-mongers” by the totalitarian Chinese Communist authorities – when precisely this approach resulted in the suppression of information which, had it been more widely known, could well have stopped SARS-CoV-2 in its tracks.

Had it just been Mills who came up with this hare-brained argument, that would be one thing. But her paper has been “peer reviewed” by SAGE and given the stamp of approval by the Royal Society and the British Academy.

https://lockdownsceptics.org/2020/1...l-society-calls-for-anti-vaxxers-to-be-jailed

maximus otter
 

Beresford

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I agree it's a bit of an over the top reaction but I understand the sentiments. Anti-vaxxers and Covid deniers will extend the period of shit we're having to put up with just now. I'm a relatively low priority for a vaccine but my arm is ready for the syringe right now.
 

Stormkhan

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I agree that it's an overreaction but understandable. It's fools who refuse to follow advice that makes drastic measures be implemented for longer. The longer it goes on, the more anti-Lockdown sentiment gathers, fuelling the following of the conspiracists.
Let's face it - the reason why a national lock down had to be implemented and enforced was because more and more folks were either too stupid to take advice (because they couldn't understand why) or too selfish to imagine having to do something for everyone's sake and not just their own.
I blame it on the eighties when more and more people were encouraged to forget others and do things for themselves.

I also see Labour's recent call (for legal action against social media that 'platforms' antivaxxer posts) as being a classic case of politicians demanding social media perform the impossible as the politicians are clueless about them. Social media is so vast, there are so many users and so many posts that I think it's gone way past the point that human judgement can be applied to posts. Keyword blockers are incapable of applying context and there are so many reported posts that they can only use a template response ("this post does not violate terms etc. etc.") until a particular post is flagged up a set number of times.
 

Stormkhan

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I agree it's a bit of an over the top reaction but I understand the sentiments. Anti-vaxxers and Covid deniers will extend the period of shit we're having to put up with just now. I'm a relatively low priority for a vaccine but my arm is ready for the syringe right now.
Because I'm not in the 'target' category, my wife and I are still waiting to purchase our seasonal 'flu jabs. The shortage is, apparently, due to demand by non-target folks who (rightly) became anxious not to get 'flu. It's self-fulfilling silliness like panic buying, I suppose.
I'm no anti-vaxxer at all but I'm in no rush to get the C-19 jab. Not because I don't trust it, though I question the safety standards applied to an item which is sought after the world over. I'm being practical. I know I'm going to be low down on the waiting list to get the vaccine so I'm not fretting over getting it. I admit to a certain ... relief as, by the time it becomes available to me, there'd have been plenty of users and time to see if there are any unknown problems with it.
 

Mythopoeika

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I agree that it's an overreaction but understandable. It's fools who refuse to follow advice that makes drastic measures be implemented for longer. The longer it goes on, the more anti-Lockdown sentiment gathers, fuelling the following of the conspiracists.
Let's face it - the reason why a national lock down had to be implemented and enforced was because more and more folks were either too stupid to take advice (because they couldn't understand why) or too selfish to imagine having to do something for everyone's sake and not just their own.
Should we all just shut up and get on those trains to Auschwitz?
 

Mythopoeika

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Fine, acknowledged that some people don't like my sledgehammer of an analogy, but I was trying to illustrate a point.
There is nothing wrong in questioning what is going on and people shouldn't be suppressed if they question it. To do so would be authoritarian.
 

Yithian

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There is nothing wrong in questioning what is going on and people shouldn't be suppressed if they question it.
I agree with you there.

Though with the caveat that there's also nothing wrong with groups, governments and individuals pointing out any flaws in the logic of people's doubts.
 

Mythopoeika

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Though with the caveat that there's also nothing wrong with groups, governments and individuals pointing out any flaws in the logic of people's doubts.
Absolutely.
 

Stormkhan

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While I understand the concept of 'the thin end of the wedge' - and see it often - I also see many declaring we live in a police state or a dictatorship without actually understanding the terms. Unless you actually live in a modern and active 'police state' or 'dictatorship' then dial back on your rhetoric and comparisons. We (in the UK) live in a far from perfect political state. I agree. But consider this:
Are we as brutal as police states, such as Myanmar or Russia? Are we a dictatorship like North Korea or even China?
I'm all for being conscious of potential 'mission creep' when it comes to political control but the use of false equivalence and fallacious similes actually weakens the argument.
During WW2, the fight was seen to be against a fascist dictatorship. It was a threat to democracy (or such that was around in the day). Troops were needed and, after numbers forced the government to instate conscription, most realised that - like it or not - they had to take part in the fighting. Now, how far, how much support would there have been for a group of people (not Conscientious Objectors, mind) who turned around and publicly said "I refuse to fight because demanding me to fight is what a fascist dictatorship does!" "Wahhhhh, you can't tell me what to do!" or even "The Nazis aren't that bad - just ignore them!"?
 

Stormkhan

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Good point. But we should pick our battles. Defending freedom by complaining about restrictions to our ordinary lives during extraordinary circumstances is not fighting the good fight. When we get to the point of, say, Hong Kong then we can honestly say we've tried all other measures to halt an authoritarian regime. Just refusing to wear a face mask in public, during a health crisis, isn't defending freedom, no matter how many want to pretend it's so.
 

GNC

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No matter how many plastic carrier bags have official, health and safety suffocation warnings on them, you're always going to get people who insist on putting them over their heads. It's when pro-suffocation activists start to influence too many others to do the same that we're in trouble.
 

maximus otter

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While I understand the concept of 'the thin end of the wedge' - and see it often - I also see many declaring we live in a police state or a dictatorship without actually understanding the terms. Unless you actually live in a modern and active 'police state' or 'dictatorship' then dial back on your rhetoric and comparisons. We (in the UK) live in a far from perfect political state. I agree. But consider this:
Are we as brutal as police states, such as Myanmar or Russia? Are we a dictatorship like North Korea or even China?
I'm all for being conscious of potential 'mission creep' when it comes to political control but the use of false equivalence and fallacious similes actually weakens the argument.
We are past the stage of “potential mission creep” when the government instructs you to stay at home unless you can provide a satisfactory (to them) excuse for going out; when police set up border checkpoints to establish your reasons for crossing from Wales into England; when people are harassed and fined for exercising in the street; when police send up camera drones to observe hikers on the hills, and handcuff 73-year old women for taking senile old ladies out of Petri dishes OAPs’ homes.

All this for a disease which kills a small fraction of one per cent, at average age 82 years.

What will Mirror/Mail readers be prepared to accept if something serious happens?

maximus otter
 
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Cochise

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Once a dictatorship / police state is actually in place it tends to be a long and painful process to remove it. Meantime people die, for reasons other than a virus, usually in considerable numbers. So best to be alert for the early warning signs.

Mind you, also a good idea to be cautions of people mindlessly demanding rights and freedom - you could end up with Robespierre.

As usual, weighing evidence and taking a middle course is normally the best way forward - unfortunately that has become an unacceptable way to proceed in a political environment where the worst case scenario is a matter of policy (the EU precautionary principle which has penetrated deeply into all aspects of administration across Europe) .

Not to mention that said worst case scenario is something a lot of people can make profits out of, from media companies to pharmaceuticals. I'm not suggesting Covid-19 started this, it's clearly a trend that has been establishing itself for some considerable time.

The constant fear many people seem to live in these days (and I mean since 2000-ish) is in utter contrast to the world I grew up in where we were frequently being told about imminent nuclear destruction and 95% of people just shrugged and got on with living .

I first noticed the change in the UK when coming back to live here in 1996 after 5 years out of Europe.
 
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