(Reuters) – Social media companies Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc have announced crackdowns on content linked with the unfounded and sprawling conspiracy theory QAnon.
WHAT IS QANON?
QAnon followers espouse an intertwined series of beliefs, based on anonymous web postings from “Q,” who claims to have insider knowledge of the Trump administration.
A core tenet of the conspiracy theory is that U.S. President Donald Trump is secretly fighting a cabal of child-sex predators that includes prominent Democrats, Hollywood elites and “deep state” allies.
QAnon, which borrows some elements from the bogus “pizzagate” theory about a pedophile ring run out of a Washington restaurant, has become a “big tent” conspiracy theory encompassing misinformation about topics ranging from alien landings to vaccine safety.
Followers of QAnon say a so-called Great Awakening is coming to bring salvation.
HOW HAS IT SPREAD ONLINE?
The ‘Q’ posts, which started in 2017 on the message board 4chan, are now posted on 8kun, a rebranded version of the shuttered web board 8chan. QAnon has been amplified on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, the video streaming service of Alphabet Inc’s Google.
Media investigations have shown that social media recommendation algorithms can drive people who show an interest in conspiracy theories towards more material.
A report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) found that the number of users engaging in discussion of QAnon on Twitter and Facebook have surged this year, with membership of QAnon groups on Facebook growing 120 percent in March.
Researchers say that Russian government-supported organizations are playing a small but increasing role amplifying the conspiracy theories.
QAnon backers helped to organize real-life protests against child trafficking in August and were involved in a pro-police demonstration in Portland, Oregon.
QAnon also looks poised to gain a toehold in the U.S. House of Representatives, with at least one Republican candidate who espouses its beliefs on track to win in the November elections.
WHAT ARE SOCIAL PLATFORMS DOING ABOUT IT?
Twitter in July said it would stop recommending QAnon content and accounts in a crackdown it expected would affect about 150,000 accounts. It also said it would block QAnon URLs and permanently suspend QAnon accounts coordinating abuse or violating its rules.
Facebook in August removed nearly 800 QAnon groups for posts celebrating violence, showing intent to use weapons or attracting followers with patterns of violent behavior. It has also imposed restrictions on the remaining 1,950 public and private QAnon groups that it found. Facebook said it plans to ban ads that promote or reference QAnon, and it does not allow QAnon pages to run commerce shops.
A spokeswoman for the short-form video app TikTok said QAnon content “frequently contains disinformation and hate speech” and that it has blocked dozens of QAnon hashtags.
A Reddit spokeswoman told Reuters the site has removed QAnon communities that repeatedly violated its rules since 2018, when it took down forums such as r/greatawakening.
A YouTube spokeswoman said it has removed tens of thousands of Q-related videos and terminated hundreds of Q-related channels for violating its rules since updating its hate speech policy in June 2019.
YouTube also said it reduces its recommendations of certain QAnon videos that “could misinform users in harmful ways.” It does not have a specific ban on monetizing QAnon content. ISD researchers found that about 20 percent of all QAnon-related Facebook posts contained YouTube links.
Reviews of major e-commerce sites Amazon.com Inc and Etsy Inc show sellers listing QAnon-branded items ranging from books to T-shirts and face masks.
(Compiled by Elizabeth Culliford, Joseph Menn and Ted Hesson; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Grant McCool)
COVID-19 app needs Manitoba social media push, 'no app, no entry' strategy in bars, says expert – CBC.ca
The success of Manitoba’s adoption of a COVID-19 exposure alert app may hinge on how the province gets the word out, and whether local restaurants and bars get on board with a “no app, no entry” rule, says an Ontario expert.
The Health Canada COVID Alert app officially launched during the summer in Ontario, followed by Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. Manitoba will join the effort this week, and Health Minister Cameron Friesen urged the public to download the app now.
But epidemiologist Dr. Prabhat Jha said he hopes Manitoba draws lessons from those other regions, including what not to do.
“What not to do is simply release the app and say, ‘Hey, use it,'” said Jha, director for the Centre for Global Health Research at St. Michael’s Hospital and a professor of epidemiology in the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto.
What’s needed, said Jha, is a professional social media campaign that targets younger people and makes a compelling case for the value of the app, its confidentiality and the privacy of data.
Another possible initiative is to institute some kind of “no app, no entry” rule at bars and restaurants in conjunction with business owners, said Jha.
“That would have the benefit of increasing the incentive for people to actually use the app.”
The app uses Bluetooth technology to detect app users who come into contact with each other. Users who test positive get a one-time code they can enter. When they do, any app user they’ve been within two metres of for at least 15 minutes in the two weeks prior is notified with an alert.
Though anyone can download the app, only people in provinces that have agreed to participate can report a diagnosis.
On Monday, Minister Friesen said the province would release more details about the app later this week, and encouraged Manitobans to download it in advance.
He said if the provincial government needs to switch up its messaging to reach younger populations, who appear to be driving a recent surge in Winnipeg, then it will.
A provincial spokesperson said Tuesday the government is finalizing plans but intends to promote the app in a number of ways.
However, implementing a “no app, no entry” recommendation would be a challenge, the spokesperson said.
“Any sort of restrictions on access to a site without the app would require significant review, including issues around accessibility of the app on certain phones, the privacy of individuals and access to technology (among others) before anything would be considered,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.
‘Extremely happy’ app coming
Either way, the endorsement by the Manitoba government of the COVID-19 alert app is welcome news, said Jason Kindrachuk.
“I’m extremely happy that Manitoba has signed off on this,” said Kindrachuk, an associate professor and Canada research chair in emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba. “We need to use whatever technology we can to try and get past this virus.”
Friesen and Kindrachuk both said the app doesn’t collect personal information. Health Canada says the app doesn’t track users’ location, name, address, health information or personal contacts in their phone.
That also means it won’t necessarily make the job of contact tracers immediately easier, said Kindrachuk.
What it will do is highlight hot spots for transmission, which could help health officials focus in on outbreak areas sooner, he said.
One of the confounding factors of the novel coronavirus is the ability of those infected to transmit the disease while asymptomatic, said Kindrachuk. The transmission period can be in the range of five days, he said. That means people may not know they’ve been exposed and could transmit the virus for days before they’re notified.
“Being able to have an app like this, where you get notified extremely quickly if somebody has tested positive, that may decrease your ability to transmit the virus by days, and I think that’s quite critical,” Kindrachuk told CBC Information Radio host Marcy Markusa.
Use of the app is voluntary, but its effectiveness is dependent on how many Manitobans download it. Friesen said in order for it to help health officials, 60 per cent or more of a target population must use it, but some experts say it doesn’t need to be used by a majority to have a positive impact.
WATCH | Health minister encourages Manitobans to download federal COVID-19 app:
Two months after it was rolled out in Ontario, Jha said the app has had little social marketing help. On the plus side, there is some early evidence suggesting a greater proportion of people who reported a contact are now being tested, some of which is attributable to the app, he said.
“That’s good news, but the levels of uptake still remain low,” he said.
Kindrachuk agrees the impact of the app locally is tied to uptake. Large-scale benefits of the tool may not be immediately clear, he said, but it could help inform how apps like it are used in the future.
“In the months and years after COVID, we’ll get a real sense of how well the app performed,” he said.
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EU – Western Balkans Media Literacy Conference: Opening remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell – EU News
Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues and friends,
I am pleased to welcome you to the first edition of the European Union – Western Balkans Media Literacy Conference.
The European Union is a Union of values and principles and today you will discuss important principles, which are at the core of the European Union and the European Union integration: media literacy, youth empowerment, the strengthening of civil society and media freedom.
These principles are also essential for fighting disinformation, a global challenge and a threat to democracy.
Misinformation and disinformation proliferated in the Western Balkans, in the European Union and in the whole world during the pandemic. This has been dangerous for all of us. Above all because lies about medical issues can even kill.
We have to engage globally to counter disinformation. To identify sources of disinformation and to provide citizens with reliable, accurate and timely facts.
Work is needed to protect and promote fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression and media pluralism.
During this crisis, fact-checkers and media organisations in the Western Balkans – many of you are present at today’s Conference – debunked fake news, exposed disinformation trends and informed citizens.
Fact-checking organisations linked up with partners in the region, worked across borders and teamed up with organisations in the European Union, and made an important contribution to the public debate.
This – your – work does not go unnoticed. It empowers people and the youth to speak their minds and to become agents of change.
It is great to have many young people, who are at the forefront of the digital transformation.
With most of today’s participants being from the Western Balkans, let me conclude by saying what I have underlined several times before: the European Union is not complete without the Western Balkans.
I want to thank all of you and specifically the organisation “Why not” from Bosnia and Herzegovina for co-organising today’s conference, together with our EU Delegation in Sarajevo and the EEAS Stratcom Western Balkans Task Force.
I wish you all fruitful discussions and a good and productive event.
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