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China suspends social media accounts of COVID-19 policy critics

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BEIJING –

China has suspended or closed the social media accounts of more than 1,000 critics of the government’s policies on the COVID-19 outbreak, as the country moves to further open up.

The popular Sina Weibo social media platform said it had addressed 12,854 violations including attacks on experts, scholars and medical workers and issued temporary or permanent bans on 1,120 accounts.

The ruling Communist Party had largely relied on the medical community to justify its harsh lockdowns, quarantine measures and mass testing, almost all of which it abruptly abandoned last month, leading to a surge in new cases that have stretched medical resources to their limits. The party allows no direct criticism and imposes strict limits on free speech.

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The company “will continue to increase the investigation and cleanup of all kinds of illegal content, and create a harmonious and friendly community environment for the majority of users,” Sina Weibo said in a statement dated Thursday.

Criticism has largely focused on open-ended travel restrictions that saw people confined to their homes for weeks, sometimes without adequate food or medical care. Anger was also vented over the requirement that anyone who potentially tested positive or had been in contact with such a person be confined for observation in a field hospital, where overcrowding, poor food and hygiene were commonly cited.

The social and economic costs eventually prompted rare street protests in Beijing and other cities, possibly influencing the party’s decision to swiftly ease the strictest measures.

China is now facing a surge in cases and hospitalizations in major cities and is bracing for a further spread into less developed areas with the start of the Lunar New Year travel rush, set to get underway in coming days. While international flights are still reduced, authorities say they expect domestic rail and air journeys will double over the same period last year, bringing overall numbers close to those of the 2019 holiday period before the pandemic hit.

The Transportation Ministry on Friday called on travelers to reduce trips and gatherings, particularly if they involve elderly people, pregnant women, small children and those with underlying conditions.

People using public transport are also urged to wear masks and pay special attention to their health and personal hygiene, Vice Minister Xu Chengguang told reporters at a briefing.

Nonetheless, China is forging ahead with a plan to end mandatory quarantines for people arriving from abroad beginning on Sunday.

Beijing also plans to drop a requirement for students at city schools to have a negative COVID-19 test to enter campus when classes resume Feb. 13 after the holiday break. While schools will be allowed to move classes online in the event of new outbreaks, they must return to in-person instruction as soon as possible, the city education bureau said in a statement Friday.

However, the end to mass testing, a lack of basic data such as the number of deaths, infections and severe cases, and the potential emergence of new variants have prompted governments elsewhere to institute virus testing requirements for travelers from China.

The World Health Organization has also expressed concern about the lack of data from China, while the U.S. is requiring a negative test result for travelers from China within 48 hours of departure.

Chinese health authorities publish a daily count of new cases, severe cases and deaths, but those numbers include only officially confirmed cases and use a very narrow definition of COVID-related deaths.

China has said the testing requirements aren’t science-based and has threatened unspecified countermeasures. Its spokespeople have said the situation is under control, and reject accusations of a lack of preparation for reopening.

If a variant emerges in an outbreak, it is found through genetic sequencing of the virus.

Since the pandemic started, China has shared 4,144 sequences with GISAID, a global platform for coronavirus data. That’s only 0.04% of its reported number of cases — a rate more than 100 times less than the United States and nearly four times less than neighbouring Mongolia.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong also plans to reopen some of its border crossings with mainland China on Sunday and allow tens of thousands of people to cross every day without being quarantined.

The semi-autonomous southern Chinese city has been hard-hit by the virus and its land and sea border checkpoints with the mainland have been largely closed for almost three years. Despite the risk, the reopening is expected to provide a much-needed boost to Hong Kong’s tourism and retail sectors.

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Opinion: Why is the government spending $21-million advertising on social media such as TikTok? – The Globe and Mail

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Opinion: Why is the government spending $21-million advertising on social media such as TikTok?  The Globe and Mail

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Why social media makes you feel bad

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Have you ever found yourself scrolling through social media and noticed you felt a bit down? Maybe a little envious? Why aren’t you on a yacht? Running a startup? Looking amazing 24/7?

The good news is you are not alone. Although social media has some benefits, it can also make us feel a little depressed.

Why does social media make us feel bad?

As humans we inherently compare ourselves to others to determine our self-worth. Psychologists call this social comparison theory.

We primarily make two types of comparisons: upward and downward comparisons.

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Upward comparisons occur when we compare ourselves to someone else (in real life or on social media) and feel they are better than us (an unfavourable comparison for us) in whatever domain we are assessing (such as status, beauty, abilities, success, and so on).

For example, comparing your day at work to your friend’s post from the ski fields (we’re looking at you Dave!) is likely to be an upward comparison. Another example is making appearance comparisons which can make you feel worse about yourself or your looks .

Although upward comparison can sometimes motivate you to do better, this depends on the change being achievable and on your esteem. Research suggests upward comparisons may be particularly damaging if you have low self-esteem.

In contrast, downward comparisons occur when we view ourselves more favourably than the other person – for example, by comparing yourself to someone less fortunate. Downward comparisons make us feel better about ourselves but are rare in social media because people don’t tend to post about the mundane realities of life.

 

Comparisons in social media

Social media showcases the best of people’s lives. It presents a carefully curated version of reality and presents it as fact. Sometimes, as with influencers, this is intentional but often it is unconscious bias. We are just naturally more likely to post when we are happy, on holiday or to share successes – and even then we choose the best version to share.

When we compare ourselves to what we see on social media, we typically make upward comparisons which make us feel worse. We compare ourselves on an average day to others on their best day. In fact, it’s not even their best day. It’s often a perfectly curated, photoshopped, produced, filter-applied moment. It’s not a fair comparison.

That’s not to say social media is all bad. It can help people feel supportedconnected, and get information. So don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, keep your social media use in check with these tips.

 

Concrete ways you can make yourself feel better about social media

Monitor your reactions. If social media is enjoyable, you may not need to change anything – but if it’s making you exhausted, depressed or anxious, or you are losing time to mindless scrolling, it’s time for change.

Avoid comparisons. Remind yourself that comparing your reality with a selected moment on social media is an unrealistic benchmark. This is especially the case with high-profile accounts who are paid to create perfect content.

Be selective. If you must compare, search for downward comparisons (with those who are worse off) or more equal comparisons to help you feel better. This might include unfollowing celebrities, focusing on real posts by friends, or using reality focused platforms like BeReal.

Redefine success. Influencers and celebrities make luxury seem like the norm. Most people don’t live in pristine homes and sip barista-made coffee in white sheets looking perfect. Consider what real success means to you and measure yourself against that instead.

Practise gratitude. Remind yourself of things that are great in your life, and celebrate your accomplishments (big and small!). Create a “happy me” folder of your favourite life moments, pics with friends, and great pictures of yourself, and look at this if you find yourself falling into the comparison trap.

Unplug. If needed, take a break, or cut down. Avoid mindless scrolling by moving tempting apps to the last page of your phone or use in-built focus features on your device. Alternatively, use an app to temporarily block yourself from social media.

Engage in real life. Sometimes social media makes people notice what is missing in their own lives, which can encourage growth. Get out with friends, start a new hobby, embrace life away from the screen.

Get amongst nature. Nature has health and mood benefits that combat screen time.

Be the change. Avoid only sharing the picture-perfect version of your life and share (in a safe setting) your real life. You’d be surprised how this will resonate with others. This will help you and them feel better.

Seek help. If you are feeling depressed or anxious over a period of time, get support. Talk to your friends, family or a GP about how you are feeling. Alternatively contact one of the support lines like LifelineKids Helpline, or 13Yarn.

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Canada adds Russian media personalities, companies in latest round of sanctions

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OTTAWA — Canada has announced it is imposing a new round of sanctions on Russian media personalities and companies accused of spreading disinformation about Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly announced the latest sanctions against 38 individuals and 16 entities, saying those affected are propagating Russian President Vladimir Putin’s lies.

Among those added to Canada’s blacklist are several Russian singers, including former contestants on the popular Eurovision singing contest, as well as actors and athletes.

The list also includes one of Russia’s largest state-owned media groups, MIA Rossiya Segodnya, which owns and operates a large number of Russian-language companies.

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Many of the new additions had already been sanctioned by Canada’s allies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago.

The new measures come amid questions about the effectiveness of Canada’s sanctions regime.

The Canadian Press reported this week that as of June 7, Canada had ordered $123 million in assets within Canada frozen, and $289 million in transactions had been blocked under sanctions prohibitions related to Russia.

But by late December, the RCMP said only $122 million in assets were listed as seized, and $292 million in transactions had been blocked despite hundreds more people associated with Russia being put on the sanctions list.

The police force did not provide an explanation for why the sums reported by financial institutions had hardly changed during that period.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2023.

 

The Canadian Press

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