fossil

Scientists May Have Solved the Mystery of an Ancient ‘Alien Goldfish’

Scientists may have finally figured out where an ancient sea animal fits into the “tree of life.” The animal, known as Typhloesus wellsi, perplexed scientists for nearly 50 years, leading them to dub it the “alien goldfish.”

Typhloesus was just 90 mm long when it was alive. It had no fins other than a singular large tail fin. Bizarrely, it also had no backbone, anus, eyes or shell.

Scientists previously thought the creature was a conodont, a group of jawless vertebrates that resembled eels. Upon closer inspection, scientists realized that the Typhloesus fossil specimen actually showed the animal had the remains of a conodont inside its digestive tract, indicating the Typhloesus ate conodonts.

The recent discovery of a tooth-covered ribbon-like structure in the Typhloesus helped scientists figure out its possible taxonomic placement. Paleontologists believe they were most likely a marine mollusk and an ancient relative of gastropods like sea slugs.

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Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron and Dr. Simon Conway Morris, paleontologists at the University of Cambridge, made the discovery after examining several Typhloesus fossil specimens taken from a 330-million-year-old fossil deposit in the Bear Gulch Limestone site in Montana, US.

Dr. Caron found the toothed tonguelike structure under a high-powered scanning microscope. The structure was similar to that of a radula, an anatomical structure snails and mollusks use to scrape food into their mouths.

The scientists believe the structure was likely attached to a retractable trunk. The alien goldfish would extend it whenever it was feeding, much like a lizard. The existence of the Typhloesus’ radula led scientists to deduce that the mysterious creature may be a mollusk.

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Dr. Caron believes the creature was similar to a sea slug, which swims through water, sticking its radula through trunklike proboscis to hunt prey. Typhloesus also had a flexible body and large tail. They were likely good swimmers and did not move along the sea floor.

Professor Mark Purnell from the Center for Paleobiology at the University of Leicester in the UK suggests that scientists cannot definitively say “the very strange animal” is a mollusk.

“[The researchers] have found some tantalizing new information, but it is far from being a slam-dunk case in terms of definitely knowing what this weird thing is.”

Typhloesus fossils predate the rest of the swimming snail fossil record by over 100 million years. Dr. Christopher Whalen, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History, said that since sea slugs lacked shells and other features commonly imprinted in fossils and quickly swam in the water, they are not as present in fossil records.

Understanding the Typhloesus will help paleontologists learn more about the evolution of mollusks, the planet’s second largest group of invertebrates.

According to Dr. Caron, studying the strangest creatures often unearths the most valuable discoveries.

 “They are enigmatic, but they reveal a lot of important evolutionary information.”

congress

House Passes Election Bill in Response to Jan. 6 Insurrection

The House of Representatives voted to reform the 135-year-old Electoral Count Act Wednesday. The legislative overhaul is to prevent events like the Jan. 6 insurrection from happening again.

The bill is the first legislative step taken by congress to address the assault on the Capitol in January 2020, with the House voting 229 to 203 in its favor. However, it is unlikely that the bill will pass in the Senate. House members mostly voted along party lines, with only nine Republicans supporting the bill.

The original Electoral Count Act was implemented to set deadlines for states to certify presidential election results, standardize the procedure to send electors to the Capitol, name the vice president as the overseer of the vote count, and create a process for lawmakers to challenge election results.

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Former President Donald Trump tried to use the Electoral Count Act to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.

The Senate drafted its own bipartisan bill in July, sponsored by 10 GOP senators—the number needed to overcome any potential Senate filibuster. However, it is unclear if all Democrats will vote in favor of the legislation.

Both bills are similar in changing the number of lawmakers needed to object to electoral results procedurally. In the House’s bill, one-third of each chamber needs to object. In the Senate’s bill, only one-fifth need to object. Both restrictions are significantly more stringent than the original act’s, which only required one objector in each chamber.

The House bill also states that the president of the Senate, traditionally held by the vice president of the United States, will be “ministerial.”

“Except with respect to the procedures described in this section, the presiding officer shall not have any power to determine or otherwise resolve disputes concerning the proper list of electors for a State, the validity of electors for a State, or the votes of electors of a State.”

The bill also states that the vice president “shall not order any delay in counting or preside over any period of delay in counting electoral votes.” The Senate bill similarly states that the vice president “shall have no power to solely determine, accept, reject or otherwise adjudicate or resolve disputes over the proper list of electors, the validity of electors, or the votes of electors.”

The Senate bill included provisions related to presidential transition, while the House bill did not. The House bill also addresses “when states could declare a ‘failed election’ and substitute electors approved by voters.”

Democrats believe several issues will be on the ballot for voters in November. Protecting the transition of presidential power and abortion rights may rally more voters to support their party. It is becoming easier for Democrats to associate the GOP with the violent events of Jan. 6 in public spaces, given their dissatisfaction with the bill and continued support for the last administration. The GOP is focusing more on inflation and economic policy as driving motivators to bring voters to the poll.

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By and large, Republicans still do not support election reform legislation because many party members still follow Trump’s election narrative. After the insurrection, Republicans backed his election lies and opposed the creation of the Jan. 6 select committee and bipartisan commission proposal.

Prominent Republicans, like Representative Liz Cheney, rejected their party’s support of Trump. Cheney eventually became vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee. Republicans were especially reluctant to support the bill because she co-sponsored it.

When asked about Republican lack of support for the bill, Representative Liz Cheney told reporters about the importance of this legislation.

“Protecting future elections is something that we ought to all be able to agree upon, regardless of party.”

 

therapist

US Task Force Recommends All Adults Under 65 Be Screened for Anxiety

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommended that all physicians screen adult patients under 65 for anxiety. The move was motivated by the country’s mental health epidemic in the wake of the pandemic.

The USPSTF is a panel of medical experts appointed by the Department of Health and Human Services. The panel said the recommendation was brought forward to prevent mental health disorders from going undetected or untreated for a long time. Over the last few years, people were more stressed and depressed, and anxiety levels went through the roof.

Between August 2020 to February 2021, adults with symptoms of anxiety or depression increased from 36.4% to 41.5%. According to the World Health Organization, anxiety and depression increased by 25% worldwide. In 2021, 1 in 4 adults aged 18 to 44 received treatment for mental health.

The task force recognizes anxiety as “characterized by greater duration or intensity of a stress response over everyday events.”

Clinical psychologist Dr. Lori Pbert, who is on the task force, says that Americans have been remarkably stressed out after a series of stressors like COVID-19, inflation, death of loved ones, fear of illness and crime rates. According to the NYTimes and CNN, Dr. Pbert said, “our only hope is that our recommendations throw a spotlight on the need to create greater access to mental health care — and urgently.”

“Our hope is that by raising awareness of these issues and having recommendations for clinicians, that we’ll be able to help all adults in the United States, including those who experience disparities.”

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The task force lists generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia under the umbrella of anxiety conditions and recommends screening those who are not already diagnosed with a disorder. The panel also recommended that adults be screened for depression.

Mental health providers appreciated the recommendations but acknowledged that while screening tools are helpful, they are not a diagnosis, and subsequent testing is required to determine if an individual has a clinical disorder. A one-time screening may only be indicative of a temporary stressor. Providers also spoke on the lack of resources to address the issue on a wide scale.

Dr. Jeffrey Staab, a psychiatrist and chair of the department of psychiatry and psychology at Mayo Clinic, said the country is “short on mental health resources on all levels — psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists — that’s a real concern.”

“When providers say, ‘You must have a disorder, here, take this,’ we could face an overprescribing problem, but the opposite scenario is that we have lots of people suffering who shouldn’t be. Both outcomes are possible.”

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Dr. Pbert also said the task force’s research showed that people from minority groups are often overlooked in mental health research, contributing to continued systemic inequality both in and outside the medical field.

The primary care practice is currently a missed opportunity for screening. Black and Hispanic people are less likely to be treated for mental health conditions than white people and are more often misdiagnosed when they do receive care. Dr. Pbert said standardized screenings might help reduce those statistics by removing other factors like implicit bias.

The USPSTF made a similar recommendation for children earlier in the year. The task force set the age range to 65 and younger because older adults may produce positive screening results due to the natural aging effects such as fatigue and generalized pain.

The panel will finalize the draft after reviewing public comments and notes submitted before the Oct. 17 deadline. Though the recommendation is not mandatory, many physicians use the panel’s guidance to improve their standard of care.

house

Homebuilder Sentiment Falls for Ninth Consecutive Month

U.S. homebuilder confidence in the housing market dropped to its lowest level since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts believe the high inflation rate and rising borrowing costs are contributing to first-time homebuyers’ hesitancy to purchase new single-family homes.

The National Association of Home Builders/ Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, which measures the activity of the single-family housing market, fell to 46 in September after declining for the ninth consecutive month. The last nine months are the most prolonged and persistent decline in builder sentiment in the last four decades.

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Experts say a Housing Market Index above 50 shows a healthy market with net positive growth. In November 2020, the index rose to 76, the highest in 35 years, due to the Federal Reserve pushing the federal funds rate to nearly zero. After the pandemic’s dampening effect, the Fed’s loosening of the federal funds rate was meant to stimulate the economy back to health.

Recently The Federal Reserve has been raising interest rates by adopting an aggressive monetary policy to bring the inflation rate back down to sustainable levels. A lack of supply due to construction costs fueled by those interest rates has slowed down building into a housing recession.

NAHB chairman Jerry Konter said builders are responding to a falling market by using incentives to bolster sales, “including mortgage rate buydowns, free amenities and price reductions.”

Pantheon Macroeconomics analyst Ian Shepherdson believes that builder sentiment will continue to decline.

 “This probably will not mark the bottom of the cycle, given the latest surge in mortgage rates above 6%. The rate of fall of mortgage applications slowed over the summer, but the early September numbers point to a renewed sharp decline.”

Mortgage rates have skyrocketed to those seen during the 2008 housing crisis, with interest rates on 30-year fixed loans hitting 6%. According to data released from the Mortgage Bankers Association, mortgage rates have already risen 4% so far this year.

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This increase in mortgage rates would add $389,000 in interest payments to the life of a $500,000 single-family home purchase. The association’s data also showed that the seasonally adjusted MBA Purchase Index rose only 0.2%. New applications for mortgages went down  1.2%.

Though builder sentiment often signals the eventual direction of mortgage applications, NAHB CEO Jerry Howard told Fox Business that people should have confidence that the housing market will pick back up again.

I think you’re seeing a weakening in virtually every market, but those that were stronger are weakening less. I guess the most important thing that investors and people need to remember is that Americans still want to own their homes and that, as soon as the conditions turn a little more favorable, housing will pick up. That will pick up the whole economy.”

war

Bodies Found in Ukrainian Mass Grave Show Signs of Torture

Ukraine found a mass burial site of 440 graves Thursday in a forest on the outskirts of Izium. Soldiers made the discovery after retaking control of the Kharkiv region five months after its Russian occupation.

Most bodies showed signs of torture, and many had ropes tied around their necks and hands. Wooden crosses were erected atop some graves, each demarcated with only numbers and no names. One grave, marked by a cross, held the bodies of 17 Ukrainian soldiers. Their hands were also bound, and their bodies indicated they were shot at close range.

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Ukrainian President Zelensky said that there is evidence that Russians “shot at the buried for fun.” The graves are the latest discovery in the campaign of violence against Ukrainian civilians during Russia’s occupation of Ukraine. President Zelensky said Saturday that “more than 10 torture chambers” were also found alongside the mass graves. The chambers contained tools for electrical torture.

Forensic workers are trying to determine what happened to the victims before death. One forensics worker,  Andreiy Vladimirovich Sergienko, shared with DW the effects of witnessing the scenes’ horrors.

“We then place the bodies in bags and transport them in a morgue. I feel horrible. This is a horrible moment in my life, and the first such experience in all of my five years of service.”

The United Nations announced Friday that they would send investigators to Izium to inspect the mass graves.

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According to war crimes prosecutors, most of the bodies were those of local residents. Prosecutor Voldymyr Lymar told DW that some of the bodies could be identified while others are in a later stage of decomposition and require further testing. Lymar spoke about the number of war crime cases that have been opened in Kharkiv alone.

“More than 4,000 criminal proceedings have already been opened regarding war crimes committed by servicemen of the Russian Federation. I will not tell you the exact number because it is constantly evolving: It increases by the minute.”

In March, officials found a similar mass grave site containing 116 bodies in Bucha after soldiers liberated the city from Russian control.

Amnesty International, an international nonprofit group that focuses on human rights, has documented several violations of International Law by the Russian forces. Among them are “unlawful attacks on civilians, residential buildings and civilian infrastructure, unlawful killing and other war crimes.”

The General Prosecutor Office of Ukraine opened 32,000 cases of Russia’s war crimes since the beginning of the occupation.

dow

Dow Tumbles More Than 1200 Points After Inflation Data

US stocks plummeted Tuesday after the latest Consumer Price Index report showed inflation rates are still at a 40-year high. The Dow fell more than 1200 points on its worst day since June 2020.

The report revealed that monthly consumer prices rose more than expected in August. History shows that low unemployment and rising inflation often precede a recession. High inflation rates erode consumer purchasing power. They also decrease companies’ profits due to rising material costs, causing stocks to fall and economic activity to slow down.

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Matt Peron, director of research at Janus Henderson Investors, agreed with most analysts that the Federal Reserve will likely increase the federal funds rate higher to cool off the market.

 “The CPI report was an unequivocal negative for equity markets. The hotter than expected report means we will get continued pressure from Fed policy via rate hikes.”

The Fed responds to rising inflation by increasing the federal funds rate. In the wake of the pandemic, the rate sat at near zero in an attempt to stimulate the economy. The Fed then hiked rates from a range of 0.25% to 0.50% in March 2022 to a range of 2.25% to 2.5% in July 2022. The rate of increase in borrowing costs was the fastest since the 1980s.

When the Fed raises the federal funds rate, the cost of credit throughout the economy increases and loans become more expensive for businesses and consumers, since interest payments are higher. At the same time, people with savings in banks earn more interest on their deposits. Together, this drops the amount of money in circulation, bringing down the inflation rate. However, if the Fed increases the federal funds rate too high, it may also trigger a recession by slowing economic activity too much.

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The Fed is expected to keep hiking the federal funds rate until a sustained drop in consumer price inflation. Investors hoped that the Fed would keep its interest rate increases at a slower speed, with analysts predicting a federal funds rate of 3.4% at the end of the year. Brian Jacobsen, a senior investment strategist at Allspring Global Investments, told Reuters his concerns.

“The big risk is that next week, the Fed tries to convince the markets that they’re not going to just try to go for 4% with the Fed funds rate, but that they could push it to something closer to four and a half percent.”

All three major US stock indexes — S&P 500, the Dow, and Nasdaq had their most significant one-day percentage drops in over two years. The CBOE volatility index, which measures the market’s expectations for volatility over the next 30 days, rose to 25.74 points.

The next Federal Reserve meeting is scheduled for Sept. 20.

 

asteroid

NASA To Slam Probe Into Asteroid for Planetary Defense Test

On Sept. 26, NASA will slam a probe into an asteroid during its Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission. The mission is part of NASA’s larger planetary defense plan against any asteroids that may someday impact the Earth.

If an asteroid were to hurl toward Earth in the future, a probe like the one used in DART should be able to realign its trajectory or destroy it, neutralizing its threat.

One of the engineers orchestrating the mission acknowledges, “this is an amazing moment for our space program.”

“For the first time, we will move a celestial body intentionally in space, beyond Earth’s orbit! This test goes beyond international borders and really shows what we can accomplish if we all work together as one team and as one on Earth.”

NASA mapped the orbits of 30,000 nearby asteroids and determined that, as of right now, most of them are unlikely to collide with Earth or are so small that they would burn up in the atmosphere before any significant impact.

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The last time an asteroid collided with Earth, it ended the age of dinosaurs some 66 million years ago. The 6-mile wide asteroid Chicxulub killed over 75% of the Earth’s species, triggering a mass extinction event. Earthquakes reverberated throughout the crust; wildfires spread in all directions from the asteroid’s impact, and mammoth tsunamis engulfed dry land.

NASA does not want to rule out that an asteroid may hit Earth in the future. The probe will impact an asteroid named Dimorphos, which orbits another asteroid named Didymos, nearly the Earth’s size. Its mission is to realign Dimorphos and change the duration of its orbit by 11 minutes.

The agency says this will determine if a strategy like DART would successfully prevent planetary threats posed by asteroids by gauging how asteroids respond to kinetic impact. The stakes of the test are low since it poses no threat to Earth, but the agency says the difficulty of the maneuver will remain the same.

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During a news conference, Andrea Riley, a program executive at NASA, spoke on the importance of the DART test. The probe will only be able to detect Dimorphos an hour and a half before impact, making this an accurate test of its precision. Once the probe detects the asteroid, it will autonomously guide itself into a collision.

“If it misses, it still provides a lot of data. This is a test mission. This is why we test; we want to do it now rather than when there is an actual need.”

NASA will hold a televised briefing for the test at 6 p.m. on Sept. 26. NASA TV will then provide live coverage of the impact, predicted to be at 7:14 p.m. EDT the same day.

makeup

ColourPop Faces Backlash After Harry Potter Collab

ColourPop is facing backlash for releasing a new “Harry Potter” themed makeup collection in collaboration with the franchise. The author of the “Harry Potter” series, J.K. Rowling, stirred up controversy in 2020 after revealing her views on the transgender community.

ColourPop is one of the most popular online beauty brands. In 2019, it surpassed Glossier and Mac in monthly visits.

Several influencers opposed the collab, citing that the collection would support Rowling monetarily. Since ColourPop used the Harry Potter logo and brand, some of its profits would have to go to Rowling under licensing agreements.

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J.K. Rowling came under fire in June 2020 after posting a series of transphobic tweets. In response to the internet backlash that ensued, she doubled down on her views, suggesting trans-rights supporters are “offering cover to predators” in a 3,600-word essay.

The internet quickly labeled her a “trans-excluding radical feminist,” colloquially known as a TERF. The cast of the Harry Potter movie series, Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint, all publicly stated their support for the trans community soon after.

ColourPop is well known for releasing pop-culture-themed collaborations. In the past, the beauty company has released products themed around Star Wars, Sailor Moon, The Mandalorian, Animal Crossing and many others.

These collaborations are usually celebrated since the brand likes to release vibrant palettes that capture the iconic shades tied to pop-cultural references. The promo posts for this collaboration on ColourPop’s Instagram, however, were riddled with comments from influencers and loyal customers criticizing the brand.

“Wow, performative activism. You can’t claim to support marginalized groups and then collaborate and actively support and give money to those who hate and discriminate against those groups. Posting a fundraiser for an LGBT group instead of donating yourselves, and y’know, not collaborating with a TERF. Not it, Colourpop.”

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ColourPop’s social media engagement strategy was one of the reasons it became one of the most popular beauty brands used by influencers with millions of followers. Temptalia, a well-known beauty blog with one million monthly readers, called out the company for not addressing the criticism head-on.

“I’m just gonna say it again… Not even having the decency to acknowledge WHY some of your customers are upset (because the creator, JK Rowling, has made transphobic comments over and over again, on top of other issues she has both past and present) is so damn disappointing… on top of green-lighting this collection anyway.”

The collaboration is still on sale on the site. It is unclear how much money Rowling would make off any profits.

ios16

Apple Releases iOS 16 Update, Twitter Celebrates

Apple released iOS 16 on Monday as a significant software update for iPhone users. Consumers are praising the company for implementing long-awaited requests. The new update comes with a host of new features.

New customization options for lock screens allow users to add widgets, use custom fonts and colors and apply themed filters. Users can assign lock screens to different “focus modes” or switch lock screens throughout the day by holding and swiping.

The lock screen can also now display a full-screen music player. Screens will show an album’s cover art set against a backdrop of hues pulled from the cover art’s palette.

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Apple released new collections of premade lock screens with the update. The astronomy collection allows users to see renditions of the “earth, moon or solar system” updated with live conditions.

Users have taken to Twitter to express their joy over the new music lock screen, media player, image depth filters and several other features.

“The iOS16 update lets you long press a picture and it automatically removes the background and you can drag the photo and post it on any app you want. This is so awesome.”

Apple’s iMessage app also got an overhaul. Users can now “unsend” iMessages for up to two minutes. The sender can edit a message for up to 15 minutes. While the recipient of a message will see that a message has been unsent, they will not be able to read it.

The company has also implemented a new privacy feature called “Safety Check” alongside other security features. This reset function stops sharing a user’s location, resets system privacy permissions for all apps and signs the user out of iCloud on all devices. Apple announced it created the feature to help people in domestic violence situations.

“This lets people in abusive situations quickly revoke abusers’ access to their data and location.”

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Other new features include visible battery percentages, passcode-locked hidden albums and multi-stop routing in Apple maps.

However, consumers seem unhappy with one feature—notifications are now at the bottom of the lock screen. One Twitter user wrote, “whoever was in charge of changing the notifications in iOS 16 to show at the bottom, I want you to know you are stupid and I hate you.”

The majority of people are excited about such a major update. In order to install iOS 16, users must have an iPhone 8 or later.

lockdown

China’s Zero-COVID Policy Causes Mass Food and Supply Shortages

China’s ongoing zero-Covid policy has caused a massive shortage of food and essential supplies for millions of people.

The country enacted its controversial zero-Covid policy to contain the virus’s spread, utilizing authoritarian methods for its enforcement, even in the case of a few infections within a population. Thirty regions spread across China are placed under full or partial lockdown.

Authorities have banned citizens from leaving or entering their cities to purchase essential supplies. In some regions, the government has resorted to drastic measures to prevent citizens from coming into close contact.

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People residing in Xinjiang, a subdistrict in Henan Province, have taken to social media platforms like Weibo to post about widespread food, medication and essential supply shortages. The subdistrict has been in lockdown for over a month, and posts show a grim story of being unable to access medical care or replenish supplies since supermarkets closed.

“It’s been 15 days, we are out of flour, rice, eggs. From days ago, we run out of milk for kids.”

Xinjiang has long been under scrutiny by the international community. A U.N. report accused China of mass “human rights violations” against its Muslim minority and Uyghur population.

Authorities are resorting to turning off elevators to prevent residents from leaving their buildings. According to BBC, authorities locked down 500,000 residents in the Guizhou province without warning.

In Chengdu, a city of 21 million people, residents were instructed to stay inside during a 6.6 magnitude earthquake. Videos surfaced online of people trying to exit their buildings, only to find police had locked the doors, trapping them inside. Only 156 cases of covid had been reported.

In Xi’an, a man died of a heart attack after being refused admission by hospital employees. A woman who was eight months pregnant and bleeding was turned away, resulting in a miscarriage.

A video of an Uyghur man pleading for assistance for his children, who had not eaten for three days, surfaced online. In Yining city, 300 people signed an online shared document requesting food, medicine and sanitary pads.

“I’m out of money to buy supplies. My wife is pregnant and we have two kids. We are running out of gas. My wife needs a medical check.”

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Chinese media outlets are accusing authorities of flooding social media with benign posts about Xinjiang in a campaign to drown out posts about living conditions.

The Independent reports that one media outlet published a leaked document from the government instructing censors to “open a campaign of comment flooding.” The order asks enforcers to post content about domestic life, parenting, cooking and personal status updates.

 “All internet commentary organizational work units must carry out comment flooding work at the relevant times … the time period in question is from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. tonight.”

Users on the platform quickly recognized the propaganda comments and spoke out, ridiculing them, prompting the accounts to go private.

In May, the World Health Organization advised China to change its containment policy, warning that the policy was unsustainable knowing the virus’s behavior. The organization urged the country to consider such a stringent policy’s human rights concerns and economic cost.