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Factcheckers Slam YouTube’s Allowance And Inaction Regarding Misinformation

More than 80 fact-checking organizations are calling Youtube “one of the major conduits of online disinformation and misinformation worldwide,” and asking for the popular video streaming site to be better about stopping misinformation.

In an open letter addressed to Youtube CEO Susan Wojcicki, the organizations claim Youtube is allowing unscrupulous actors to “weaponize” the site, thus harming and exploiting other users. The letter stated that Youtube has been insufficient in helping to stop this by not implementing further policies.

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The groups gave a number of examples of how Youtube — which is owned by Google — has become a platform for abuse and misinformation. In addition to conspiracy groups in multiple nations thriving, Taiwan election results were hurt by unsubstantiated claims on the site, while hate speech has spiked in Brazil.

“Millions of other users were watching videos in Greek and Arabic that encouraged them to boycott vaccinations or treat their COVID-19 infections with bogus cures. Beyond COVID-19, YouTube videos have been promoting false cures for cancer for years.”

Following the Capitol riot and the U.S. Election, videos that supported the idea of Donald Trump losing the election due to fraud were watched more than 33 million times. Youtube’s lack of inaction could be contrasted to sites like Twitter, which suspended Trump after the events for “inciting violence.” However, Twitter has endured much more reaction for their allowance of misinformation in the past than YouTube.

The groups proposed a number of solutions to the platform, such as Youtube not only supporting independent research about the origins and reach of misinformation campaigns, but also publish its full moderation policy regarding disinformation and misinformation.

Also recommended was acting against repeat offenders, extending efforts against disinformation and misinformation in languages other than English — while additionally providing country- and language-specific data — and superimosing context or offering debunks on videos.

The group of organizations come from over 40 countries, and include Italy’s Facta, Israel’s The Whistle, U.K.’s Full Fact, and France’s Science Feedback. The U.S. has a number of representatives with The Washington Post Fact Checker, Lead Stories, and FactCheck.org all participating.

In response, Youtube spokeswoman Elena Hernandez said the company is has “invested heavily in policies and products in all countries we operate to connect people to authoritative content, reduce the spread of borderline misinformation, and remove violative videos.” Hernandez also called fact-checking a useful tool, but added it’s just one piece to a larger puzzle in addressing the spread of misinformation.

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On their site, YouTube states it “does not not allow misleading or deceptive content that poses a serious risk of egregious harm,” and relies on clear facts when basing policies. YouTube also claims its policies — which are listed as misinformation, elections misinformation, COVID-19 medical misinformation, and vaccine misinformation — are done in partnership with externals experts and content creators.

A 2020 Pew Research study showed that a quarter, or 26%, of U.S. adults get their news from YouTube. Of that group, 59% said the site is an important way to get news (with 13% saying it’s the most important way).

30% of news consumers also stated they viewed misinformation as a very big problem, while 33% saw it as a moderately big problem. Just 9% didn’t see it as a problem at all, the lowest “no concern” total of all issues touched upon in the study.

YouTube has garnered plenty of criticism for their renovative actions in the last couple of months. The site removed the dislike button from videos, which prompted co-founder Jawed Karim to call it a “universally disliked change” while predicting a decline due to platform interference.

Almost 80% Of Americans Have Been Exposed To Misinformation Online Regarding Covid-19, Survey Says

Between social media and the plethora of news outlets reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic, many Americans aren’t sure what information to believe. New data from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly 80% of Americans surveyed said they had heard of at least one of the falsehoods perpetuated by online misinformation and either believed it, or were unsure whether or not it was true. 

“Most commonly, six in ten adults have heard that the government is exaggerating the number of Covid-19 deaths by counting deaths due to other factors such as coronavirus deaths and either believe this to be true (38%) or aren’t sure if it’s true or false (22%).”

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“One-third of respondents believe or are unsure whether deaths due to the Covid-19 vaccine are being intentionally hidden by the government (35%), and about three in ten each believe or are unsure whether Covid-19 vaccines have been shown to cause infertility (31%) or whether Ivermectin is a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19 (28%),” the authors wrote.

The survey also found that “between a fifth and a quarter of the public believe or are unsure whether the vaccines can give you COVID-19 (25%), contain a microchip (24%), or can change your DNA (21%).”

Outlandish ideas such as vaccine microchips, trackers, or changes to DNA have been reported by “trusted” media outlets and have made a vast impact on many Americans in their choice to get vaccinated or not. 

“People’s trusted news sources are correlated with their belief in COVID-19 misinformation. At least a third of those who trust information from CNN, MSNBC, network news, NPR, and local television news do not believe any of the eight false statements, while small shares (between 11% and 16%) believe or are unsure about at least four of the eight false statements.”

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These results prove that traditional sources of media are helping people separate facts from falsehoods. However, Republicans have made it clear that sources such as CNN and NPR are not to be trusted. 

The survey found that “nearly 4 in 10 of those who trust Fox News (36%) and One America News (37%), and nearly half (46%) of those who trust Newsmax, saying they believe or are unsure about at least half of the eight false statements.”

The researchers cautioned, however, that “whether this is because people are exposed to misinformation from those news sources, or whether the types of people who choose those news sources are the same ones who are pre-disposed to believe certain types of misinformation for other reasons, is beyond the scope of the analysis.”

Post reporter Aaron Blake followed up with Kaiser and concluded that the overall numbers “obscure just how ripe the right is for this kind of misinformation. That’s because, “in most cases, if you exclude Republicans who haven’t heard the claims and focus on just who is familiar with them, a majority of them actually believe the claims.”

David Leonhardt of The New York Times wrote “Covid vaccines are remarkably effective at preventing severe Covid, and almost 40 percent of Republican adults remain unvaccinated, compared with about 10 percent of Democratic adults. In the Kaiser research, unvaccinated adults were more likely than vaccinated adults to believe four or more of the eight false statements.”

According To Pearson/NORC Poll, Most Americans Think Misinformation Is A Problem

According to the results of a poll released by the Pearson Institution and Associated Press-NORC, 95% of Americans believe that misinformation regarding current events and issues to is a problem, with 81% saying it’s a major problem.

Additionally, 91% say that social media companies are responsible for the spread of misinformation, with 93% saying the same of social media users. More Americans said that they blame social media users, social media companies, and U.S. politicians for misinformation spreading more than the U.S. Government or other foreign governments. However, older adults are more likely to blame foreign countries than younger adults.

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41% are worried they have been exposed to misinformation, but just 20% are worried they have spread it themselves. The poll, which involved 1,071 adults, found that younger adults are more likely to worry about possibly having spread misinformation more than older adults.

Lastly, most Americans felt that social media companies and users, the U.S. government, and U.S. politicians all share responsibility for dealing with the spread of misinformation.

The results of this poll shouldn’t be too surprising, as the threat and spreading of misinformation has grown exponentially during the rise of social media in the past decade.

In addition, major events have been at the center point of misinformation, such as elections, natural disasters, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people have had their opinions on the virus and vaccines effected due to the fake news that is swirling around them, which shows us that something as simple as a lie or exaggeration in an article can have massive, negative impacts.

Social media platforms have made attempts in the past to combat misinformation. Back in 2017, Facebook discussed some of the steps it was taking to limit this matter, such as updating fake account detection, identifying fake news while fact-checking organizations, and making it harder for parties guilty of misinformation spreading to buy ads. Facebook also assured users of easier reporting of fake news and improved news feed rankings.

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Those improvements clearly haven’t done much, if anything at all. In 2020, Forbes reported on a study that found that Facebook was the leading social media site to refer to fake news over 15% of the time, while referring to hard news just 6%. It wasn’t a close margin between social media sites, either. Google came in with 3.3% untrustworthy versus 6.2% hard news, while Twitter had 1% untrustworthy versus 1.5% hard news.

Speaking to 60 Minutes, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen explained how the tech giant prioritized what content users would see on their news feeds, which helped led to the spread of misinformation that targeted fierce reactions.

“And one of the consequences of how Facebook is picking out that content today is it is — optimizing for content that gets engagement, or reaction. But its own research is showing that content that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarizing, it’s easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions.”

If you are worried about biting the bait on or spreading around misinformation, there are plenty of ways to train yourself to have a more keen eye. According to The Verge, looking at factors such as survey and infographic sources, quotes, names and keywords, and the time-sensitivity of an article can all help you in concluding whether or not there may be misinformation afoot.

You should also take the time to consider other details, such as who is providing the information and how the story is being presented by different media sources. The Verge also urges for readers to think about their own feelings— are you getting strong emotions from reading the article? Do you want to instantly share it? If articles are feeding into reactions more than emphasizing actual facts or information, then that could be a red flag.

Facebook Remains Under Fire For Continuously Spreading Covid-19 Vaccine Misinformation 

President Joe Biden called out tech giants and social media platforms like Facebook for failing to tackle the problem of misinformation being spread regarding the Covid-19 vaccine. The White House released a statement in which they claimed to have zeroed in on the “disinformation dozen,” which is in reference to 12 major social media accounts that have shown to be responsible for spreading a majority of the anti-vaccine misinformation online. 

“Facebook has repeatedly said it is going to take action, but in reality we have seen a piecemeal enforcement of its own community standards where some accounts are taken off Instagram but not Facebook and vice versa. There has been a systemic failure to address this,” said Imran Ahmed, the CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), the organization behind the “disinformation dozen” study.

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The report identified 12 “superspreader accounts,” and a Facebook spokesperson claims the company has permanently banned all pages groups and accounts that “repeatedly break the rules on Covid misinformation including more than a dozen pages groups and accounts from these individuals.”

The CCDH confirmed that they have removed 35 accounts across multiple social media platforms so far. There are currently about 8.4 million followers spread across 62 active accounts that are still spreading anti-vaccine misinformation.

The main issue with these accounts is the amount of followers who believe that the information is real. Many of these accounts post false facts about the vaccine that claim its unsafe, ineffective, and not worth getting despite the overwhelming amount of evidence from a multitude of studies on these vaccines before they were distributed to the public. 

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Jessica Gonzalez is the co-CEO at Free Pass, a media equity group, who recently spoke out about how a lot of these posts are prevalent on Spanish-language Facebook.

“Facebook needs a much better mechanism to stop the spread of false information about the vaccine, and they need to make sure they’re doing that across languages. It’s difficult to gauge the scope of the issue when Facebook doesn’t share figures.”

According to the social media watchdog Accountable Tech, “11 out of the top 15 vaccine related-posts on Facebook last week contained disinformation or were anti-vaccine.”

Vaccination rates in the US are currently plateauing as new cases continue to rise among unvaccinated individuals almost exclusively. 67% of Americans have received at least one vaccination and 58% are fully vaccinated. 

“Action needs to be taken regarding vaccine misinformation. Social media has greatly contributed to this misinformation – there’s no doubt. When we have a public health crisis and people are dying every day, enough is enough,” said Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Climate Experts Worried About Misinformation On Fox News’ 24-Hour Weather Channel 

Fox News Media announced that they would be launching their own weather channel this year, an announcement that has many climate experts worried considering how often Fox News reporters criticize science and spreads misinformation regarding climate change. 

Fox Weather will be “a 24-hour channel devoted to all things meteorological, providing cutting-edge display technology with forecasting experts surrounding every major weather event,” according to the press release from Fox Media. 

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Over the years, hosts on Fox News have consistently undermined the idea that climate change caused by human activity is an actual issue worth fighting for. So the fact that the same company that owns that outlet which hires journalists who ignore the actual scientific facts of what global warming is, is creating a weather channel, has many worried. 

“Fox News has access to and is highly trusted by a wide range of conservative Americans – which is precisely the audience that least well understands the serious threats that climate change poses to the safety, security and health of all Americans,” said Edward Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication.

“If Fox chooses to inform viewers about the realities of climate change and its impacts on the weather, it could be a game changer. Conversely, if it opts to perpetuate misinformation to advance political goals, it will be a huge disservice to all Americans.”

Last year Fox News host Tucker Carlson discussed how all the forest and wildfires the west coast has endured within the past two years were not caused by climate change. Carlson’s colleague Laura Ingraham also doubled-down on this ideology by insisting that the planet has a “natural cycle of warming, and climate activists like Greta Thunberg have been brainwashed, and the left’s obsession with climate is a political tool.” 

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“The danger of Fox News running a weather channel is that if they pervert news about the weather anything like how they’ve perverted news about climate change and energy politics, millions of Americans will be further misled about this crisis,” said Geoffrey Supran, research fellow at Harvard University’s department of the history of science.

“It’s been shown that the most important predictors of public support for climate action are understanding that this crisis is real, human-caused, serious and solvable.”

“If Fox News Media’s weather channel downplays the links between global warming and extreme weather, it will only solidify their viewers’ existing biases against climate action. Fox News has been a powerful engine of climate misinformation for years – so powerful, in fact, that its influence has been named the ‘Fox News Effect’,” Maibach said.

One of our studies showed that before Fox News began its attack on the Green New Deal, most conservatives supported its core policy proposals. Six months later – after Fox had relentlessly attacked it and its sponsors – support for those proposals dropped to near zero among frequent Fox viewers.”

“I don’t expect that Fox News will change its ways or its views about climate change anytime soon, but Fox Weather has the opportunity to get the facts right. Let’s hope it chooses to,” Maibach said.

Congress Questions Tech CEOs Over Role In Capitol Riot

Sundar Pichai of Google, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and Jack Dorsey of Twitter all testified before two committees of the House of Representatives on “social media’s role in promoting extremism and the rampant spreading of misinformation” regarding the pandemic, Covid-19 vaccine, and election process.

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CEO’s Of Google, Facebook, And Twitter To Testify In Front Of Congress On Misinformation

This marks the first time the chief executives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter will be appearing before lawmakers since the Capitol riots and Covid-19 vaccine distributions.

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How Social Media Platforms Are Combating The Spread Of Misinformation

Without any real solid regulation from the federal government in terms of combating these falsehoods from spreading, it’s up to the platforms themselves to make its users aware when a story, tweet, post, etc. contains important information that may not be 100% correct.

Coronavirus Fight

Dr. Fauci Continues To Battle Administration On Covid-19 Handling

Dr. Anthony Fauci has acted at the US’s figurehead in regards to the Covid-19 pandemic and ways we as a country can curve the spread. President Donald Trump and his administration, however, are continuing to sideline Fauci as a Covid-19 expert and contradict his advice by expressing their skepticism about the severity of the virus/treatments for the virus. 

More recently, Trump claimed that he “disagreed” with Fauci’s claim that the US was in a bad place in its coronavirus response, despite the fact that the US is one of the only countries in the world that’s still seeing an increase in case numbers and deaths. Trump went on to claim that Fauci was the one who’s been “making a lot of mistakes” in terms of Covid response. 

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The public has generally stayed on Fauci’s side as he, along with the rest of the countries healthcare professionals, have been basing their claims off the national/international data that’s been collected regarding the virus and how it works, however, that hasn’t stopped the administration from trying to take Fauci down. 

Trump retweeted a call for Fauci to be fired back in April after he continuously has had to correct the president specifically on his false claims regarding the virus; for example, when Trump was telling individuals that taking hydroxychloroquine could kill the virus, despite the FDA’s warning against doing exactly that. 

Trump can’t actually fire Fauci, and if he did the public would likely be very outraged; Fauci currently has a 67% approval rating for how he’s handled the pandemic, which is about three times the approval rating for Trump’s response. White House officials instead have taken to the media and internet to damage Fauci’s reputation, one recent example being an official telling CNN that “several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr Fauci has been wrong on things.” 

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Fauci himself has had enough of standing on the podium after Trump to disprove the false claims he’s spread about the pandemic, so much so that according to insiders Fauci hasn’t briefed Trump on the coronavirus since the first week in June. 

For those who may not be aware, Fauci has had a long career in public health. His name first entered the public eye during the AIDS epidemic where he also, at the time, contradicted the president’s handling of the virus. In a recent podcast interview, Fauci delivered an assertive assessment of the US’s handling of the pandemic in comparison to the rest of the world.  

“You have to be having blind-folders on and covering your ears to think that we don’t live in a very politically divisive society now, from a political standpoint. So I think you’d have to make the assumption that if there wasn’t such divisiveness, that we would have a more coordinated approach.”

The pushback from the president and his administration has been continuously detrimental to the way in which the US has fallen victim to this virus. More American citizens have been killed by Covid-19 than in World War 1. America alone makes up about 28% of all Covid-19 cases in the world as well. 

Regardless of your opinions on Fauci, we can’t deny that America is currently enduring one of the biggest crises it’s ever seen. Listening to your own healthcare professionals/providers is of the utmost importance right now and regardless of political beliefs, make sure you do your research and see for yourself what the facts are.

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Twitter Deletes 170,000 Accounts Linked To Spreading Misinformation About Covid-19

Twitter has announced this week that they have deleted over 170,000 accounts that have been tied to a Chinese state-linked operation that purposefully spread misinformation regarding Covid-19, the protests and politics in Hong Kong, as well as other current political issues worldwide. 

Twitter described around 25,000 of these accounts as the “core network” of the operation, meaning they were the bigger accounts with more followings. The other 150,000 accounts were used to amplify the messages tweeted by the core network. This would entail either Retweeting, liking, sharing, quote-tweeting, or emphasizing the original tweet so it can continue to spread around the platform. 

“In general, this entire network was involved in a range of manipulative and coordinated activities. They were Tweeting predominantly in Chinese languages and spreading geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China (CCP), while continuing to push deceptive narratives about the political dynamics in Hong Kong,” the company wrote in a blog post.

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Twitter continued on in their statement to state that these particular accounts were also linked to a Chinese state-backed operation that took place last year in order to spread misinformation about the Hong Kong protests specifically. The accounts from last year’s operation have since been taken down, but the resurgence of these new accounts regarding all things Covid-19 has caused the same issue to re-emerge. 

The Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) recently performed an analysis of all these accounts in order to determine which ones were spreading the false information pertaining to Covid-19. This made it easier to find, target, and delete the accounts, analysts claim that these accounts have been working since the beginning of this pandemic back in March. 

The main content that was being spread on these accounts focused heavily on praising China’s initial response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and while most of the accounts had less than 10 followers and no biographies, the SIO concluded they had tweeted hundreds of thousands of times (around 350,000 to be more specific). 

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“Narratives around COVID-19 primarily praise China’s response to the virus, and occasionally contrast China’s response against that of the U.S. government or Taiwan’s response, or use the presence of the virus as a means to attack Hong Kong activists. The English-language content included pointed reiterations of the claim that China – not Taiwan – had a superior response to containing coronavirus,” the SIO wrote in its analysis.

Some of the accounts that Twitter shut down this week were also tied to Russian and Turkish state-linked misinformation efforts. Within the ~170,000 accounts around 1,000 of them were Russian bot accounts linked to state-backed political propaganda advertisers in Russia. 7,300 of the accounts were linked to Turkey’s government and were primarily praising Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

The Russian and Turkish accounts were found to have collectively tweeted over 40 million times before Twitter took them down. Twitter also announced in their blog post that they would be hosting a conference later this summer to  “bring experts, industry, and government together to discuss opportunities for further collaboration around removing deceptive state-backed social media campaigns.”

For accurate information regarding the coronavirus, one should never trust what they see on social media. Instead, go to the CDC’s website and get the information directly from the source.