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How the spread of COVID-19 was censored on Chinese social media – Varsity



Social media plays an integral role in the People’s Republic of China. WeChat, for example, is the most popular messaging app in China with over one billion active users. It has become increasingly popular among doctors, who use it to share knowledge with their peers.

Nonetheless, when doctors voiced their concerns about the spread of COVID-19 back in December 2019, information on the spread of the outbreak was censored on Chinese social media. The Chinese public was kept in the dark for three weeks until January 21, when People’s Daily, China’s national newspaper, mentioned the COVID-19 outbreak the same day that China’s president, Xi Jinping, publicly acknowledged that it was a problem.

The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary research laboratory at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. In the past, its reports have uncovered digital security and human rights violations, including a co-investigation with Whatsapp into spyware targeting journalists.

Researchers from the Citizen Lab investigated COVID-19 censorship on Chinese social media — where some of the first reported cases of information control occurred during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Key findings: 516 WeChat keyword combinations censored

Reports of Chinese government suppression of COVID-19 information emerged early into the Wuhan outbreak. The Citizen Lab report released on March 3 investigates how this censorship occurred on two social media platforms: the messaging service application WeChat and the live-streaming platform YY. 

The report found that as early as December 31, 2019, the day after Dr. Li Wenliang and colleagues reported the outbreak in WeChat groups, YY began censoring 45 keywords that referenced COVID-19. These included terms pertaining to factual description of COVID-19 as well as references to the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, the location considered as the source of the novel coronavirus.

For WeChat, researchers found that the scope of censorship increased in the period from January 1 to February 15, in which 516 keyword combinations were censored. Censored WeChat content covered a wide range of topics, including references to the top leaders in China responsible for handling the outbreak, along with any mentions of government policies in regard to handling the outbreak.

The scope of the censorship also extended to blocking references to COVID-19 in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau; factual information about COVID-19; references to Dr. Li Wenliang; calls for petition; and related speculative information.

While some blocked keyword combinations included critical content regarding government policies or top leaders’ handling of the outbreak, the Citizen Lab reported that combinations of neutral terms, such as “肺炎 [+] 李克强 [+] 武汉 [+] 总理 [+] 北京,” which translates to “Pneumonia + [Chinese Premier] Li Keqiang + Wuhan + Premier + Beijing,” were also blocked from use on the site.

Methodology and consequences

The Varsity contacted the researchers about the evidence used to arrive at the conclusion of censorship.  

“We used reverse-engineering and sample testing to track censorship on WeChat and YY,” Lotus Ruan, one of the researchers, wrote. “As such, we were able to observe what keywords triggered censorship on each platform. We then performed content analysis on these keywords to contextual [sic] our findings.”

Such censorship is damaging, given that WeChat is integral to many people’s lives in China. Having readily available information enables clinicians to optimize the treatment of their patients, and it allows epidemiologists to offer real-time guidance on how to contain the outbreak, including allowing for their assessments of various interventions.

“The broad censorship may restrict vital communication related to disease information and prevention among users and end up harming public health,” Ruan wrote.

For example, while scientific literature demonstrated human-to-human transmission, local authorities failed to promptly inform the public. As a result, more than five million people left Wuhan for Chinese New Year or other reasons, spreading the novel coronavirus both within Wuhan and internationally.

WeChat and YY did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

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Putting The Social Back In Social Media: 5 Ways To Make The Most Of Social – Forbes



Social media has gotten a bad name partially based on how negatively it can affect self-esteem and true connectedness. But that may be changing given the coronavirus pandemic which has led to our separation from each other, mental health issues and shifting habits.

In fact, social media has an important role to play—both new and renewed—during the pandemic. It can connect us in profound ways. We are social creatures and it is our instinct to come together. That’s why social distancing has been so hard. Our brains crave relationships, and from the standpoint of evolutionary psychology, we seek safety in numbers when we’re faced with threat or danger. That’s the reason solitary confinement is one of the most severe punishments we can impose. Our humanity demands connections—one way or another.

In the midst of quarantine, social media is a window on the world. For Henk Campher, VP of Corporate Marketing and Head of Social Impact for Hootsuite, the new role of social media takes it back to its origins. “Social media started as a mechanism to connect people, engage people and build relationships. It is returning to its roots,” he says. Evan Kirstel, founder @eViRa and B2B influencer agrees, “Social media is a social water cooler for a lot of people—it’s the importance of the social side of social media.”

Our use of all kinds of media—including social media—is surging.

  • According to a study by GlobalWebIndex which spanned 13 countries, four generations and all income levels, 95% of consumers reported spending more time on media consumption, and an increase in the use of key platforms to connect—a 70% monthly increase in video calling with Facebook and a 100% increase in WhatsApp voice and video. Also, 45% of all global consumers are spending more time on messaging services.
  • In addition, according to the GlobalWebIndex, Pinterest and Google consumption is up for all kinds of media from decorating ideas and YouTube meditation videos (up 51%) to DIY videos for bread making, movie recommendations and live streaming of music and sports events via Instagram. 
  • Almost half of internet users surveyed in Hootsuite’s April Digital in 2020 Statshot have reported spending more time on social networks. In addition, messaging across Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp increased 50% in countries hardest hit by the virus, and Twitter has seen a 23% increase in daily users compared with a year ago.

So, what does all this mean, and what actions should you take regarding media, and social media in particular?

Build relationships. Leverage all kinds of media—including social media— to connect, build relationships and communicate with your people. The pandemic has been tough on our mental health and (social) media may be the solution. Video conference with your grandparents, tap into your neighborhood app to stay in touch with friends down the street and utilize your favorite platform to share videos of your new puppy with other new-puppy parents.

Relieve pressure. Social media also has a role to play in alleviating tension and enhancing moments of empathy. Letting others lean on you by sharing a laugh at the latest cat video or humorous meme is good for the soul. “It’s about creating moments of empathy and being there for each other as a community,” says Campher.

Embrace opportunity. Another element to take advantage of on social media is the extent to which it levels the playing field. You can start a business or create a movement. “No matter what your skills or background or interests, social media enables you to begin a venture for yourself. Think outside the box in terms of what you can do,” says Kirstel.

Exercise caution and ensure transparency. Of course, it’s not all positive. There is a dark side to social media. While there is no magic bullet, Campher says, “Transparency is key to maintaining the good. Relationships work best when they are enlightened and that is also true of all media including social media.” Kirstel points out the negatives on social media can be outweighed by the “pure gold that exists in discovery, learning, education and new connections,” that can result from the platforms.

Leverage the power to transform. Campher is optimistic and believes, “Social media has the power to transform society for the better.” Through building relationships, ensuring transparency, enhancing accountability and delivering solutions, social media can help us through tough times. Kirstel points out the amplification of voices via social media. “All your stakeholders are on social media—investors, analysts, shareholders, community members, and more,” he says. This can be transformative because of its reach and potential positive influence.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a reset in many aspects of life and social media is one of them. Use of media—including social media—has increased significantly. Leverage the power of social media to build relationships, relieve pressure and embrace opportunities. Use caution, of course. But overall realize how powerful social media can be in transforming relationships and society—for the better.

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New tablet games use immersive media to reduce stress levels in kids – Toronto Sun



A new game from Shaftesbury represents groundbreaking work in immersive media and children’s health.

Bubble Bloom is a free tablet game designed to help kids cope with stress and anxiety through the power of play. It offers what’s called ‘positive distraction’, a particular boon in these COVID-19 days of school and daycare closures.

The company will have six more titles ready by the fall, as well as three educational games.

Three of the games, according to Shaftesbury Technology VP Ted Biggs, are augmented reality games. One puts you in the centre of the solar system to teach concepts such as gravity and density. Another is a math and logic game, developed with the help of Chris Hancock of Zoombinis fame. The third, Windows On The Realm, features knights on a quest. It focuses on emotional intelligence and involves co-operative problem-solving. 

The content can be quite advanced or very simple, said Biggs, as the games work for the individual player — whether he or she is a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner. 

“Shaftesbury is very focused on doing positive things here, and we’re taking a piece of the gaming world for educational and therapeutic purposes,” said Biggs. “These games are driven by adaptive, AI ‘engines’ that notice how a player learns.” 

In the near future, a combo of game-playing information, biometric data and biomedical data will further tailor these games to the individual player.

Bubble Bloom began life as a VR game designed to calm kids prior to surgery. That’s crucial, as any stress response can contribute to a poor medical outcome. 

Shaftesbury partnered with the Scarborough Health Network to test how effective this kind of anti-stress game playing would be in reducing anxiety. According to Dr. Michael B. Chang, every patient — 100% — showed an improvement after playing VR Bubble Bloom, and almost two-thirds (63%) were stress-free after playing.  

Nobody else is working at this level of sophistication in the area of paediatric wellness and immersive media.

Biggs and his team were given a sort of philosophical carte blanche — do a good thing and get it right — and set to work in a collaborative environment with input from the tech, science and medical experts from several universities and hospitals. 

There was no push to get things to market, no corporate sponsor, nothing to sell. The focus is on quality, not quantity.

 “We’re making games that are consistently working. This is a real Canadian success story, and it’s unlikely it could happen anywhere else. Silicon Valley, for example, has a different ethos.” said Biggs. “This is for the public good.”

What Shaftesbury is doing with these games is creating alternatives to medication for children with everyday stress issues, pre-surgery fears or issues around transition common in kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

How did the same entertainment juggernaut that makes hit TV shows such as Murdoch Mysteries or Hudson & Rex get involved in health care projects?

Shaftesbury CEO Christina Jennings, an Order of Canada recipient, says it was straightforward: Biggs was asked by a group of doctors if he could take his expertise in VR and use it to help kids with autism, or those facing tough surgeries.  

 “You’ve got a shot here to try and make a difference in the world,” said Jennings, and the work began.

“Nothing lights up a child’s mind like play,” said Biggs, who takes that phrase as his inspiration. 

“If you can get someone playing, engage their creativity, their imagination, their wonder, the stress goes away. And they are receptive to different ways of learning, to co-operative ways of learning. 

“These are ethically designed games. The overall aim is to make kids the hero of their own story, whether it’s healing or therapeutic or learning. They feel empowered, they have agency, they have confidence facing a frightening experience.

“Kids are the real stars. We’re just creating the games to get them there.”

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Lobby Wrap: News Media Canada lobbying on compensation rights –



The advocacy body for the news media industry is lobbying the feds on copyrights and remuneration rights for news media organizations.

Erin Finlay of Stohn Hay Cafazzo Dembroski Richmond LLP registered last week for News Media Canada to lobby on those provisions in the Copyright Act.

LAST WEEKPlant-based food producer lobbying feds in wake of Merit announcement

News Media Canada has been vocal in its call for more robust supports from Ottawa to help the industry weather the COVID-19 pandemic and address longer term structural issues, as more and more media outlets move away from a reliance on advertising to subscription-based models.

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault announced in April that the feds were rolling out new measures to help shore up the media sector during the COVID-19-induced economic slowdown, including putting in place some $595 million in long-promised tax measures and vowing to invest money from the government’s $33-million national pandemic awareness campaign in Canadian media outlets.

Industry representatives, though, said the tax supports are simply rehashed policy announcements from 2018, and that access to meaningful funding is desperately needed to help the sector move to a sustainable business model.

“The industry is really going to run out of cash very soon,” John Hinds, CEO of newspaper advocacy group News Media Canada, said at the time.

Collectively, there were 25 new registrations last week, a significant drop from the totals seen in recent weeks. Only Dan Pfeffer of Public Affairs Advisors made more than a single new registration (he had two). Only 12 lobby companies had new registrations, with Public Affairs Advisors (and their Quebec division PAA Public Affairs Advisors) dominating with five.

All consultant lobbyists and most in-house lobbyists (those lobbying for the company they work for) must register with the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying if they are lobbying public office holders. They must also submit monthly reports (known as communication reports) detailing all lobbying communications with designated public office holders.

BACKGROUNDERNews media industry’s troubles intensify during COVID-19 pandemic

The highlights

In recent agriculture registrations:

Henry Boyd and Rebecca Grundy of Stosic & Associates registered to lobby for Lune Rise Farms about cannabis licensing and obtaining some program funding.

One of Dan Pfeffer’s two registrations was for the Canola Council of Canada. He’s lobbying for them about increasing the amount of biofuel allowed in diesel. Last year, the Council received just over $3 million in federal funding. The second of Pfeffer’s registrations was for the U.S. Grains Council, which also wants to increase the use of ethanol. Last year, that Council received over $11 million in U.S. federal funding.

In recent COVID-19 registrations:

Jackie LaRocque of Compass Rose registered for the Northwestern Ontario Air Carriers Association for small business support due to the pandemic.

James Farrar of Take it Up Consulting registered for St. Helen’s Meat Packers Ltd. He’ll communicate with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada about the Emergency Processing Fund.

Michael Wood, owner of Ottawa Special Events, registered to talk to government about various pandemic relief packages. The Ottawa company rents event equipment.

Brian Topp, the former NDP strategist, registered for the Canadian Media Producers Association about C-17, one of the COVID-19 relief bills, and the eligibility requirements as they relate to film and television producers. CMPA represents independent producers in Canada.

Christopher Froggatt and Kenzie McKeegan registered for Gateway Casinos and Entertainment as the company seeks relief money.

Stewart Muir of Resource Works Society registered for Real Jobs, Real Recovery Coalition to promote support for the resource sector as part of pandemic recovery planning. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is one of the best-known groups in this coalition.

Crestview’s Andrew Brander registered for Metro, the grocery store chain, to lobby on how its been recognizing the hard-work of its employees during the pandemic and to highlights its COVID-19 safety measures. Executives from Metro have been called to testify before a House committee along with other major grocery chains who have recently rolled back pandemic pay to its employees.

Felix Wong of Public Affairs Advisor registered for Stergenics International LLC to look for funding opportunities in the health care supply chain as a result of COVID-19.


In recent procurement registrations:

Paul Tye registered for Chief Defence Contractors, who want the government to honour a policy for five per cent procurement from Indigenous businesses. Tye is with Sussex Strategy Group.

In recent tourism registrations:

Latitia Scarr of Public Affairs Advisors registered for Sonder USA to talk about tourism and Canada as a destination. Canada’s border with the U.S. is currently closed until the end of July and mandatory quarantine regulations are in place until the end of August. Sonder is a short-term accommodation rental company that, unlike AirBnB, owns the properties they rent.


Philip Cartwright of Global Public Affairs registered for the Koch Companies Public Sector LLC, owned by controversial U.S. conservative activists, the Koch brothers. The registration delineates plans to lobby on “environmental policy as per the work of the CSA B620 Committee.” Cartwright will lobby the House of Commons and Transport Canada. This committee is updating the regulations for highway tanks and portable tanks used in transportation.

Alex Chreston of Crestview Strategy registered for Junior Achievement to look for funding for digital education and mentorship and to help young people develop job skills. Chreston registered to lobby half a dozen departments, parliamentarians and the Prime Minister’s Office.

TIMELINE: Trudeau’s ties to WE are as old as his political career

Communication Reports

There were 182 communications reports filed last week.

Most active client organizations:

  • Canadian Steel Producers Association, by in-house staff, 26
  • Canadian Chamber of Commerce, by in-house staff, 18
  • Railway Association of Canada, by in-house staff, 15
  • Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, by in-house staff, 14
  • Husky Oil Operations Ltd, by in-house staff, 13

Most active paid lobbyists:

  • Natasha Morano, for one client, 8
  • Isabel Metcalfe, for two clients, 5
  • Eric Miller, for one client, 5
  • Lisa Kirbie, for two clients, 4
  • Robert Thibault, for one client, 3
  • Regan Watts, for three clients, 3
  • David Valentin, for one client, 3

Most lobbied public office holders:

  • Vincent Garneau, policy director to deputy prime minister, 5
  • Natacha Engel, senior policy advisor to minister of international trade, 5
  • Timothy Gardiner, senior director in offshore petroleum division, 4
  • Olga Radchenko, policy director to minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 4
  • Marc Garneau, minister of transport, 4
  • Jay Khosla, assistant deputy minister at Natural Resources, 4

Most lobbied government institutions:

  • House of Commons, 56
  • Natural Resources Canada, 22
  • Global Affairs Canada, 16
  • Innovation, Science and Economic Development, 12
  • Transport Canada, 9

Most lobbied subjects, based on the first two subjects listed on each filing:

  • Industry, 40
  • Energy, 25
  • Employment and training, 21
  • Infrastructure, 20
  • Health, 18

With files from Kirsten Smith and Rachel Emmanuel

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