VANCOUVER—Corpses lie on the ground near hospitals. People kill their pets for fear the animals will spread disease. Mobs chase down people without masks and angrily force them to cover up.
These are the scenes flooding social media in China as the country grapples with the novel coronavirus that has prompted the World Health Organization to declare a global emergency.
But how much of what the Chinese people and international observers are seeing on social media is true?
Public mistrust of government authorities in China has reached such a severe level, observers say, that many Chinese people have turned to alternative online sources of information — often of questionable veracity.
“Many Chinese people are well aware of the government’s long track record of censoring information about threats to public health,” said Sarah Cook, director of the China Media Bulletin at human rights research group Freedom House.
“This fuels deep mistrust in official updates and undermines efforts to reduce fear and anxiety,” she told The Star.
There’s history to the earned mistrust. In the first few months of the SARS outbreak in 2003, the Chinese government tried to keep it a secret. By the time the new virus was publicly reported, five people had died and hundreds had already fallen ill. It was a health disaster that led to heaps of global backlash, and China sacked its health minister and the mayor of Beijing in apparent contrition about the mishandling.
While central government authorities in Beijing were much quicker to publicly report the new coronavirus, the local Wuhan city government initially censored the first reports of a new illness emerging in the city last December. Medical experts said in a research paper published in The Lancet that they’ve found new evidence that the origin of the outbreak may not have been a seafood market in Wuhan as the Chinese government reported, and the first human infections may have occurred in November.
Li Wang is among those glued to social media.
The economics researcher at the University of New Brunswick and former Canadian student is currently on lockdown in Wuhan after flying home to visit family during Lunar New Year.
To pass the time, he was one of millions of Chinese glued to their screens watching a livestream of a hospital being built in ten days to house patients that have overwhelmed Wuhan’s hospitals. The government says a crew of 7,000 worked around the clock to build the 1,000-bed hospital, and vowed to build another this week.
“Everyone is afraid to go outside … Almost everyone I have talked to online are panicked,” Wang said. Because he is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, he’s not able to board the chartered flight Canada is sending to bring back Canadians from the city.
China’s control of social media is a factor that adds to the confusion. Many people are familiar with mainland China’s “Great Firewall,” the internet censorship apparatus that automatically blocks international social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram as well as many news outlets and the entire suite of Google services.
Chinese authorities are continually developing and fine-tuning their ability to censor social media posts on domestic websites such as the Twitter-like Weibo blogging platform. They even have the ability to surveil and automatically block parts of private conservations on chat apps such as WeChat.
WeChat is the preferred platform for many in China during the coronavirus outbreak because the chat groups there tend to be small or medium-sized groups where some users know each other personally.
“People are getting at least some information from individuals they personally know and trust (on WeChat typically), but that doesn’t make them insusceptible from the spread of false information,” said Cook.
“But for those who personally know the original source — say a relative who is a nurse in Wuhan — her information will likely appear very credible and believable to them and possibly rightly so.”
However, like all social media platforms, the quality of what a user sees depends on the quality of the people they have in their circles. A WeChat user who is friends with many doctors and nurses would likely get more reliable information.
Perhaps aware of the communication challenges government control over the scarce number of independent media outlets in China has seemed to lighten over the past several weeks.
As a result, members of the public in China are turning to respected Chinese publications like Caixin to read quality journalism about the outbreak. The magazine recently published a four-part series produced by dozens of journalists including a detailed account of the Wuhan government’s coverup of the crisis.
So are the images on social media real?
Yuri Qin, an editor at the Berkeley-based China Digital Times, a bilingual website that monitors the Chinese internet, says that unfortunately, some of the horrible videos and photographs might be real, although they are difficult to verify.
“Authorities in Wuhan have imposed some brutal measures to prevent the spread, and because of the panic some people are cruel to each other and sometimes they use extreme means to drive out or detain suspected carriers of the disease,” Qin told The Star in an email.
She says the loss of credibility of the local government has seemed to exacerbate paranoia and fear among citizens of Wuhan.
However, it’s also helpful to keep in mind that among the hundreds of millions of Chinese social media users, some have retained their sense of humour even during a health crisis. Some videos that have gone viral are jokes, and likely stem from people trying to make the best of their situations.
What are some reliable sources of English-language translations of Chinese social media posts on coronavirus?
The China Digital Times verifies and translates blog posts and diary entries from people living in China dealing with the coronavirus enforced quarantines and health checks.
The website What’s on Weibo tracks and analyses viral social media posts on China’s most popular platforms.
Is Vancouver city manager's desire to hire social media guru an overblown controversy? – Vancouver Courier
You may have heard the news this week that Vancouver city manager Sadhu Johnston wants to hire a $95,000-a-year “senior social digital communications strategist” for his office.
The delivery of the news, which came via radio and television, focused on how sanitation services were being cut so Johnston could hire the social media guru.
The predictable reaction was outrage, which came largely and ironically via social media giant, Twitter, my favourite go-to source for facts, context and gauging how people really feel.
What happened at city council Tuesday – I’m sorry to report – was more complicated than pitting sanitation services against a well-paid social media employee.
Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung was responsible for making it less complicated by zeroing in on line items in a city staff report that showed $329,000 in spending allotted for the city manager’s office.
Of that $329,000, a total of $95,000 was to hire the social media person, $105,000 for “ongoing funding” for a social planner and $129,000 for another planner.
Another set of line items in the report was related to equipment and staffing for litter pickup, street sweeping, staff operations and safety training programs, all of it to be delayed – not cancelled – until next year.
The net cut in the delay would amount to $130,000.
So there was the matchup for Kirby-Yung, who went on to pepper Johnston with questions, some of it transcribed below for context.
Kirby-Yung: “We have 1,800 staff laid off right now and we still have – without a reduction – three new positions in the city manager’s office, including a social media person and planning related roles?”
Johnston: “We are doing a lot more online right now. There’s a lot more happening social media wise. As an example of that, we’re broadcasting this meeting live on Facebook because of the technology challenges. So we’re seeing a huge demand at this point for that service across the organization.”
Kirby-Yung: “So we’re keeping $329,000 for three new positions, but we still have 1,800 people laid off and we’re cutting $130,000 in sanitation. Is that a correct summary?”
Johnston: “We’re not currently hiring those positions because we do have a hiring freeze. So at this point, those positions are not being pursued, but we haven’t removed the funding for them, though.”
Kirby-Yung: “But that is an option, is that right?”
With that, Kirby-Yung tried twice to reduce Johnston’s office budget but was voted down by Green Party councillors Michael Wiebe, Adriane Carr and Pete Fry, along with Mayor Kennedy Stewart and councillors Jean Swanson and Christine Boyle.
Boyle: “I don’t think it would be good practice to start cherry picking some dollar amounts specifically when we’re not identifying exactly what we’re giving up. I don’t support the process, otherwise we’ll be here all night with each of us saying, ‘Well here’s $300,000 that I would like to see go towards something that has been delayed or cut back.’”
Wiebe: “There’s a lot of work being done by staff, and I think there’s a lot of opportunities in this budget to see movement and I don’t want to see us go through each operational item. I think we should be at a policy level.”
Wiebe made those comments after hearing from Johnston that the city’s aim to balance its $1.6 billion operating budget is a fluid exercise, with more changes expected the rest of the year.
“Each department will make adjustments in their own budgets to prioritize and to address the changing conditions and the circumstances,” Johnston said.
“We may need to produce further savings later in the year, or we may be doing better than we thought because revenue comes back sooner and we could do more.”
All this debate and discussion occurred Tuesday because the city has lost millions in revenues since the pandemic was declared in March, and is facing a $111 million deficit.
Sanitation and the city manager’s office budget, you may have assumed by this point in the story, were not the only items in staff’s lengthy report that outlined cuts, delays and cancellations.
Have a look for yourself here.
A story that didn’t receive near or any of the attention that ‘Socialmediagate’ attracted was Swanson’s successful motion to save the city’s women’s equity, anti-racism and reconciliation initiatives that were on the chopping block.
For media this week, it was all about the social media position, with reporters hounding the mayor the day after the council meeting at an unrelated news conference at city hall.
This morphed into the wider question as to why the city has 40-plus communications staffers – a perpetual issue for media that has been fuelled by Non-Partisan Association councillors past and present, who have yet to land on the best number of media reps, graphic designers, multimedia people and others to be promoting one of the country’s biggest cities.
“This city has a budget of $1.6 billion, we have 10,000 employees and you’re talking about one position – somebody that hasn’t been hired,” a clearly peeved Stewart told reporters.
“So what you’re setting up is a false narrative. I am very concerned about social disorder in this city, I’m very concerned about sanitation, I’m very concerned about rising crime levels.”
Added Stewart: “The focus in targeting one position – and the person hasn’t been hired yet – is kind of a weird story to follow.”
Another weird story is that Stewart’s office used Elettra Communications, which was involved in his election campaign, to manage his communications this week because his media guy was taking a week off.
Weird or not, my work of providing some context mixed with political rhetoric is done. You can tweet about it, if you like. Be outraged, if you must.
Creators of 6ixBuzz possibly doxed via social media – inbrampton.com
The enigmatic and polarizing figures behind 6ixBuzzTV, a controversial social media presence known for inciting vitriol, may have been outed and doxed—when someone releases a person’s personal information including their address.
Doxing has become an insidious part of Internet Culture—it’s often used as a weapon to incite fear and potentially violence by people hiding behind a computer screen and keyboard.
While it’s unclear whether the information is accurate, or who released it, people have been sharing a screenshot of a snapchat image that displays the names and addresses of the people behind 6ixBuzz, who have otherwise remained anonymous since their rise to prominence over the last few years.
According to the oft-shared image, two of the people behind the page are from Toronto, one is from Markham, and one is from Brampton—although all of this is still unverified.
6ixBuzz is known for sharing wild, embarrassing, and uncouth images and videos of people from around the GTA as much as it shares music and promotes artists.
6ixbuzz is like the pot calling the kettle back. Majority of their post promotes bullying, hatred and division. The way this platform portrays minorities in our community is sad. This is why racist people are so comfortable saying the things they say.
— Cacao butter kisses (@GabbydeeO) May 29, 2020
It’s also known for inciting divineness through the content and captions that it shares.
People in 6ixbuzz’s comments are the most misogynistic, racist, homophobic people. Not only does 6ixbuzz intentionally use captions to divide people against one another, but then they act like they’re a hero? unfollow that clownery, the worse thing to happen to Toronto media.
— Vyshnavi Muthaly (@vyshnavimuthaly) May 29, 2020
Further, largely due to the fact it’s an unregulated account, many creatives have found their content stolen and repurposed by 6ixBuzz’s account, oftentimes without even an acknowledgement that it came from someone else.
Throwback Thursday to when 6ixbuzz stole my tweet for a caption because … you know … captions are hard. pic.twitter.com/FL9T4N6hpa
— Chris Walder (@WalderSports) May 28, 2020
The page, which started as a meme sharing platform in 2010, evolved into a major part of Toronto and the GTA’s media scene—albeit mainly among the younger generations, and mostly for the wrong reasons.
What is Section 230, the U.S. law protecting social media companies – and can Trump change it? – National Post
U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to order a review of a federal law known as Section 230, which protects internet companies like Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet’s Google from being responsible for the material posted by users.
WHAT IS SECTION 230?
The core purpose of Section 230 is to protect the owners of any “interactive computer service” from liability for anything posted by third parties. The idea was that such protection was necessary to encourage the emergence of new types of communications and services at the dawn of the Internet era.
Section 230 was enacted in 1996 as part of a law called the Communications Decency Act, which was primarily aimed at curbing online pornography. Most of that law was struck down by the courts as an unconstitutional infringement on free speech, but Section 230 remains.
In practice, the law shields any website or service that hosts content – like news outlets’ comment sections, video services like YouTube and social media services like Facebook and Twitter – from lawsuits over content posted by users.
When the law was written, site owners worried they could be sued if they exercised any control over what appeared on their sites, so the law includes a provision that says that, so long as sites act in “good faith,” they can remove content that is offensive or otherwise objectionable.
The statute does not protect copyright violations, or certain types of criminal acts. Users who post illegal content can themselves still be held liable in court.
The technology industry and others have long held that Section 230 is a crucial protection, though the statute has become increasingly controversial as the power of internet companies has grown.
WHAT PROMPTED THE CREATION OF SECTION 230?
In the early days of the Internet, there were several high-profile cases in which companies tried to suppress criticism by suing the owners of the platforms.
One famous case involved a lawsuit by Stratton Oakmont, the brokerage firm depicted in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Wolf of Wall Street,” against the early online service Prodigy. The court found that Prodigy was liable for allegedly defamatory comments by a user because it was a publisher that moderated the content on the service.
The fledgling internet industry was worried that such liability would make a range of new services impossible. Congress ultimately agreed and included Section 230 in the Communications Decency Act.
WHAT DOES SECTION 230 HAVE TO DO WITH POLITICAL BIAS?
President Trump and others who have attacked Section 230 say it has given big internet companies too much legal protection and allowed them to escape responsibility for their actions.
Some conservatives, including the president, have alleged that they are subject to online censorship on social media sites, a claim the companies have generally denied.
Section 230, which is often misinterpreted, does not require sites to be neutral. Most legal experts believe any effort to require political neutrality by social media companies would be a violation of the First Amendment’s free speech protections.
CAN PRESIDENT TRUMP ORDER CHANGES TO SECTION 230?
No. Only Congress can change Section 230. In 2018, the law was modified to make it possible to prosecute platforms that were used by alleged sex traffickers. As the power of internet companies has grown, some in Congress have also advocated changes to hold companies responsible for the spread of content celebrating acts of terror, for example, or for some types of hate speech.
A draft of Trump’s May executive order, seen by Reuters, instead calls for the Federal Communications Commission to “propose and clarify regulations” under Section 230. The order suggests companies should lose their protection over actions that are deceptive, discriminatory, opaque or inconsistent with their terms of service.
DO OTHER COUNTRIES HAVE AN EQUIVALENT TO SECTION 230?
The legal protections provided by Section 230 are unique to U.S. law, although the European Union and many other countries have some version of what are referred to as “safe harbor” laws that protect online platforms from liability if they move promptly when notified of illegal content.
The fact that the major internet companies are based in the United States also gives them protection.
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