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Anti-mask fringe movement getting more media coverage than warranted: expert – Nipawin Journal



The coronavirus pandemic has illustrated the ability of both social media and mainstream news coverage to amplify and exaggerate the influence of extremist groups that reject science-based policies, says Aengus Bridgman.

It only took 30 people dancing without masks last week in a Rosemère shopping centre for the anti-mask movement to make headlines across Quebec.

On Saturday, anti-maskers were in the news again when Quebec City police handed out 34 tickets to demonstrators protesting against anti-COVID-19 measures in front of the National Assembly.

And on Sunday, a small group of maskless protesters gathered outside a house in Westmount they believed was the home of Premier François Legault. Legault does not live in Westmount.

Now, a two-week-old anti-mask group is planning another flash mob in Laval on Dec. 6 or 12, and is asking people to shop without masks at a grocery store in Ste-Thérèse on Dec. 5, according to information posted on YouTube Friday. The group Sans Masque boasts 517 members in different regions of the province, according to another video.

But while news reports might give the impression the group is gaining momentum, it remains a fringe movement, said Aengus Bridgman, a PhD candidate at McGill University who studies online political participation.

“It’s really important to note that from 85 to 90 per cent of Canadians are wearing masks regularly,” Bridgman said.

The coronavirus pandemic has illustrated the ability of both social media and mainstream news coverage to amplify and exaggerate the influence of extremist groups that reject science-based policies, he said.

For example, the flash mob in Rosemère on Nov. 21 received widespread media exposure despite the small number of participants, he noted.

“I think it has received too much coverage,” he said.

Bridgman was among the authors of a McGill study released in July showing that Canadians who get their information from social media instead of traditional news sources are more likely to believe misconceptions about COVID-19.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Reddit have enabled once-marginal movements to reach audiences numbering in the millions, he said.

The study surveyed 27,615 Canadians on where they got their news and on their attitudes toward COVID-19.

It also looked at how anti-intellectualism — the generalized distrust of experts and intellectuals — influences attitudes on the risk of contracting COVID-19 and prevention measures like mask-wearing and physical distancing .

Mainstream media are also contributing to the increased visibility of anti-mask groups, Bridgman said. One reason is that media constantly seek another side of every story as a means of advancing the news, he said.

For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, when health authorities around the world were counselling against the general public wearing masks, mainstream media outlets did reports suggesting masks could help prevent the spread of the virus. When governments switched course and called on citizens to don masks, the media raised questions about how effective mask-wearing was, Bridgman said.

There are no easy answers when it comes to combating misinformation on social media, he said. While Twitter flagged many tweets by U.S. President Donald Trump before and after the Nov. 3 election, rooting out false statements is not always feasible, he said.


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Media coverage of COVID is failing Albertans, and it's not the media’s fault. – Alberta Daily Herald Tribune



Article content continued

This has to stop.

Either Dr. Hinshaw or her two expert, and well-compensated, deputies need to make themselves available on a regular basis to answer technical questions — from reporters whose microphones don’t get muted. They’ll need to explain what the statistics they release really mean and take questions about the particulars of outbreaks and the evolving science of the pandemic.

Yes, some of the questions and answers will be uncomfortable, and uncertainty will be highlighted. But Albertans will be better served by having these questions answered with uncertainty than they are when the questions aren’t even asked.

Of course, the semi-regular official briefings with top decision-makers should continue when there are major policy announcements. But those would also benefit from being less stilted. Also, Alberta is a wealthy province; we can afford a socially distanced second podium on the stage so that we don’t have to waste precious question time on the theatre of hand sanitizing.

COVID is contagious and it has required us to change the nature of news gathering, but the news-gathering function is more important now than ever.

Albertans are being asked to give up so much. Our compliance should happen in exchange for our government’s willingness to answer all our questions.

Vitor Marciano was formerly press secretary to two leaders of the Opposition.

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Opinion | Trump is finally banned from social media — but why was such an important decision left to a small group of companies enforcing their terms of service? –



Despite spending what feels like half my life glued to my phone, I wasn’t logged on for that fateful day when, after years of suffering, Donald J. Trump was permanently kicked off Twitter.

To be quite honest, I’m a bit sad I missed it.

The move, which was hotly debated inside Twitter, started something of a chain reaction. After the violent insurrection in the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Twitter decided that the public harm from letting Trump foment more anger outweighed its commitment to foster a public conversation. Other companies followed. Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and more have all either permanently or temporarily removed Trump.

It felt inevitable. A man so totally amoral and self-involved, so deeply and obviously bigoted, and so utterly lacking in sympathy was always going to be a danger when given a platform. All the same, the ban was unsettling, in part because of what it signified, and in part because of the response.

On one side were the conservative and far-right supporters of Trump who claimed this was clear-cut censorship. On the other were people who said that private companies have every right to do whatever they want. Regardless of how one feels about Trump, the ban is symbolic of the fact that the 21st-century public sphere is owned by private companies — and that situation simply cannot hold.

For one, much of the conversation around barring Trump focused on the rights of private companies and the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which guarantees free speech. That is in itself indicative of what’s wrong: that questions about who can have access to platforms and under what conditions are often controlled by the whims of companies located in foreign countries — even if the country in question is a neighbour and ally.

Still, that same argument suggests that the ban wasn’t censorship proper; it was a private company enforcing its terms of service and protecting the validity of its platform. To let Trump continue to peddle lies in what feels like a tense moment in American history would have been an obvious mistake.

Yet, in a thoughtful thread on his own platform, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey suggested that the ban was what was right for Twitter — but that what it augured for a free and open internet was more worrying because to have all the major platform companies act in unison would be “be destructive to the noble purpose and ideals of the open internet.”

While Dorsey’s perspective seems to slip somewhat into that dangerous trap of a naive objectivity — that too-common idea in which free speech as an abstract idea is held up above the harm of allowing, say, white supremacists or anti-vaxxers open access to platforms — it does point to what’s at stake. When a group of private companies control online public speech, they react in their own best interest, not necessarily in what is best for society at large. Just because those two ideas coincided in the example of Trump, it doesn’t mean they always will.

If we dismiss the concerns about censorship, we adhere to a needlessly capitalist idea of free speech — one that essentially says corporations can do whatever they want. Where that leaves us is unclear, in part because what we are dealing with is historically unprecedented. We’ve had mass media for a couple of centuries now, but social media is something else, and we’re scrambling to understand its effect on how we live, think and act.

What is clear, however, is that to either say that social media companies can do as they wish, or that no one should be deplatformed or banned, is naive. Neither of those is true.

The Trump ban is just an example of how the web is still mostly lawless, or at least ad hoc — still a thing in which people like Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg make decisions for hundreds of millions of people, often haphazardly, and with little in the way of accountability.

What one wants to thus in response to all this uncertainty is something reassuring and precise — for example, that we must insist the public sphere should be public. But what that might look like is unclear. After all, it’s not as if each national government around the world is about to launch its own version of Twitter.



Rather, the Trump ban is a sign that far too few people have any idea what they’re doing when it comes to how we manage social media and its effect on our societies — not tech company CEOs, not government regulators, and maybe not newspaper columnists either. But that lack of clarity is itself a kind of call to action, a clear indication of the urgency and scope of the problem.

We are all glued to our phones — everyday people, presidents, and violent insurrectionists — and it’s time to figure out some rules for the new digital world in which we live.

Navneet Alang

Navneet Alang is a Toronto-based freelance contributing technology columnist for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @navalang

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Social Media Buzz: Norway's Warnings, New Jersey Smokers, CDU – Bloomberg




What’s buzzing on social media this morning:

Norway warned Covid-19 vaccines may be too risky for the very old and terminally ill. The country reported 29 people over the age of 75 who died after taking their first Covid-19 vaccination shot.

  • Until Friday, Pfizer/BioNTech was the only vaccine available in Norway, and Pfizer said the companies are working with the Norwegian regulator to investigate the deaths.
  • The reported deaths were “elderly people with serious basic disorders.” Norway’s recommendation does not mean younger, healthier people should avoid being vaccinated.

In New Jersey, smokers are now eligible for Covid-19 shots under the state’s vaccine expansion plan. No proof is needed. Smoking and obesity are among the conditions listed under “individuals at high risk,” the plan shows.

Germany’s governing CDU party elected Armin Laschet as next leader, opting for the candidate who most resembles departing Chancellor Angela Merkel in policy and style.

President-elect Joe Biden picked Wendy Sherman, a former undersecretary of state for political affairs under President Barack Obama, as deputy secretary of state. A regular critic of President Donald Trump on Twitter, Sherman was the lead U.S. negotiator in talks that led to the 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers on the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.

The Maryland Department of Transportation is suspending its MARC commuter train service ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration amid threats of unrest.

The Justice Department executed Dustin Higgs, 48, early Saturday, the 13th and final federal inmate scheduled to die during President Donald Trump’s term. The opinion of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the three justices who dissented, trended on Twitter, including in a post by Helen Prejean, the Roman Catholic nun portrayed by Susan Sarandon in the 1995 film “Dead Man Walking” based on Prejean’s book of the same name.

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