Social media companies scrambled within minutes of President Donald Trump’s shocking 1 a.m. tweet Friday announcing that he’d tested positive for the coronavirus, seeing it as a moment to show how far they’ve come in handling crises.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others got to work quickly, pulling together staff to predict what type of lies and rumors were likely to surface and how to deal with them — drawing on policies they’ve developed in recent months for pandemic and election misinformation.
But the social media giants are straining to make real-time judgment calls on borderline content, having to quickly figure out what counts as a conspiracy and what’s just speculation at a time in politics when anything seems possible. As they grapple with that task, voters could be inundated with a new wave of misinformation just weeks ahead of the election.
There are posts circulating, for example, that — without evidence — raise doubts about whether Trump is being honest about his diagnosis or that speculate that the episode is part of a plan for Trump to retreat before declaring war on his political enemies buried deep inside government.
The companies began moving nearly immediately after Trump’s tweet. YouTube started responding to searches for Trump and Covid with authoritative news videos from sources like CBS and the BBC “within minutes of their diagnosis being made public,” spokesperson Ivy Choi said. TikTok focused its so-called elections war room on tracking Trump’s diagnosis within 20 minutes of the tweet, according to spokesperson Jamie Favazza.
And Facebook, the world’s largest social network, stood up an ad hoc “operations center” — like the ones built around presidential debates and primary election contests — to tackle the Trump-Covid news well before the work day started in Washington, spokesperson Andy Stone said.
Some calls are easy, the companies say. Posts hoping President Trump will lose his life to the virus are banned under the major platforms’ restrictions on bullying or hateful conduct.
“Content that wishes, hopes or expresses a desire for death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease against an individual is against our rules,” Twitter said in a statement. Facebook and TikTok have similar policies.
For those that provided clearly false or misleading information, the platforms employed a technique they adopted in the aftermath of the disastrous 2016 presidential election: outsourcing the calling of balls and strikes to third party fact checkers.
On Friday, a widely circulated post said that military “Doomsday planes” were spotted on the east coast of the U.S. — put there to defend against attacks from foreign adversaries taking advantage of a supposedly incapacitated Trump. Facebook attached a “Missing Context” label to it, based on reports from fact checkers including The Associated Press.
Similarly, Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, put a “False Information” label on posts suggesting that “The Simpsons” animated television program once featured a cartoon Trump in a coffin, citing outside fact checkers.
Other content, the companies say, is more challenging, like posts arguing that Trump is using his diagnosis — perhaps falsely — to avoid his Oct. 15 debate with Joe Biden or to gin up sympathy before the November election.
Many such claims fall into a bucket that YouTube and others call “borderline content” — posts that toe right up against the line of what the platforms prohibit but don’t cross it.
Conspiracy theories pose a particular challenge for the platforms for many reasons, including that it can be difficult to disprove a negative and they often are cloaked in coded language that is meaningful only to their targeted audience.
In many cases, the sites respond by attempting to limit the spread of that sort of material, like by ranking it lower in search results, rather than getting rid of it altogether.
The companies are facing tough calls — sometimes where questionable posts are coming from high-profile accounts. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) tweeted Friday morning, “Remember: China gave this virus to our President @realDonaldTrump and First Lady @FLOTUS. WE MUST HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE.”
A Twitter spokesperson said that the tweet didn’t violate any Twitter rules and thus no action would be taken on it.
Asked about another eye-catching post — one circulating that said that Trump’s current quarantine is part of a plan, detailed by the group QAnon to hide away before launching battle against a supposed pedophile ring run by prominent Democrats — Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said that the post was going through Facebook’s third-party fact-checking process, adding that how long that took was up to the fact checkers.
In the meantime, said Stone, the post’s distribution has been reduced, including it ranking lower in Facebook’s algorithm-driven news feeds as it otherwise might. The major platforms argue that they’ve generally figured out how to push that sort of conspiracy thinking to the margins of their sites.
And some prominent social platforms said that they aren’t seeing any meaningful misinformation or questionable content pop up around the Trump diagnosis.
“We haven’t seen a ton of this content yet thankfully,” said TikTok spokesperson Jamie Favazza, pointing to the generally light vibe of the platform and the lack of traction there for political disinformation.
Many of the social media companies have been upbraided by critics for not taking more seriously the threat of disinformation ahead of the 2016 election, and for being slow to come to terms with threats to this election.
Facebook, for example, was widely criticized for taking months before deciding to add flags calling into question some of Trump’s posts that sowed doubt about mail-in voting and only moving in August to crack down on QAnon groups on the platform.
Graham Brookie, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, said it’s too soon to judge how well the major platforms performed in the first 24 hours of the Trump diagnosis news because it typically takes days for disinformation to move from the Internet’s fringes to the mainstream.
But Brookie says the worry is the platforms retreat to their old playbook for handling bad political information. Said Brookie, “I would hope that their approach to public health misinformation is the standard that is applied, as opposed to their approach to political content,” which he called “reactive” and “backfooted.”
But one big advantage they had this time around: time zones. The companies said they were helped by the fact that they were getting the news of Trump’s tweet — sent around 10 p.m. California time — when much of the rest of the country was asleep. That allowed them to get a jump on preparations before much of the United States woke up.
The platforms are so massive and content moves so quickly, however, that the deluge can make getting ahead of misinformation a monumental task. Trump’s tweet announcing his diagnosis — his most popular tweet ever — was retweeted more that 894,000 times.
Mark Scott contributed to this report.
Some Alberta nurses worry proposed social media policy would muzzle health advocacy and criticism – Global News
The United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) has concerns with proposed rules its governing college has drafted regarding social media standards for nurses.
The College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CARNA) says one of its jobs — under the Health Professions Act (HPA) — is to produce standards of practice to help members in different work situations.
David Kay, chief professional conduct officer for CARNA, said the college posted a draft social media policy for nurses on Sept. 30 for consultation.
“CARNA supports the HPA process that invites regulated members, stakeholders such as AHS, Covenant Health, unions and the public to provide their insight on the drafts,” Kay explained in an email to Global News.
“CARNA takes the consultation process seriously.
“The comment process is typically 30 days. When the consultation process is over, CARNA considers all the comments received, reviews them and makes revisions, as necessary.”
But the union, which represents more than 30,000 registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses and allied workers in Alberta, has raised several issues with the proposed social media standards.
UNA spokesperson Cameron Westhead says the union “strongly opposes them” and is worried about their impacts on nurses’ freedom of speech and the ability to advocate for good health policy.
The draft policy reads, in part, that when using social media during online conduct, the member must:
- Post only professional and ethical content;
- Not post opinions, comments or information that could harm a client, person, employer, another health professional, colleague or organization;
- Review past online presence and remove any posts that could be considered unprofessional, controversial or problematic;
- Not post opinions, comments or information that could harm their reputation or that of a member, the college or the profession;
- Direct any complaints about a client, person, employer, another health colleague, organization, regulated member, the regulatory college or the profession through appropriate channels;
- Cease any online activity and remove any online content that could negatively impact the public’s perception of or trust in the regulated member or the profession.
The UNA says the social media rules would likely “place a chill on the willingness of nurses to lend their knowledge and experience to be advocates within public discourse on policies surrounding health and the socioeconomic determinants of health [that are] not in the public interest.”
War of words between United Nurses of Alberta and province over collective bargaining
“The draft social media standards conflict with the right of nurses to freedom of expression, a right that was recently affirmed by the courts in the Strom decision,” UNA said.
“As per this decision, criticism of the health-care system by front-line workers is in the public interest and should not be unreasonably restricted as these draft standards attempt to do.
“Any social media standards must take into account the implications of this court decision.”
A few weeks after her grandfather’s death in 2015, Carolyn Strom, a registered nurse from Prince Albert, Sask., wrote on Facebook that some unnamed staff at his long-term care facility in Macklin, Sask., were not up to speed on delivering end-of-life care. Strom made the post as a private citizen but the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association found her guilty of professional misconduct.
However, on Oct. 6, 2020, Saskatchewan’s highest court overruled the disciplinary decision and the $26,000 fine levied against Strom. The judge ruled that criticism of the health care system is in the public interest and when it comes from frontline workers it can bring positive change.
Saskatchewan Court of Appeal quashes fine against nurse who made critical Facebook post
In a letter to CARNA, the union shared its “serious concerns with the draft standards,” saying they “inappropriately extend into the personal lives of nurses to restrict their freedom of expression” and would “severely restrict the ability of nurses to fulfill their duty to advocate for quality practice environments and meet the professional obligations set out in the foundational practice standard indicators and CNA code of ethics.”
The letter, signed by UNA president Heather Smith, says:
“While CARNA has the responsibility to protect the public from harm, fulfilling this duty must be balanced with ensuring that CARNA is not unnecessarily and unreasonably restricting the rights of their members.
“UNA suggests that the social media standards are unnecessary given that unprofessional conduct can already be addressed through existing practice standards.
“Given that nurses have a professional obligation to question health policy, advocate for improvements to practice environments and have a charter right to express themselves, barriers to these must be carefully avoided.”
Toews and Shandro say they won’t lay off Alberta nurses during pandemic
Members of the nursing college had until Oct. 25 to provide feedback on the proposed changes.
Kay would not say how much feedback CARNA received on the issue, but said: “CARNA will ensure the feedback being obtained is given thoughtful review and consideration.”
He said it would be “premature” to provide a date for when the proposed standards might be implemented.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
China retaliates against news media in latest feud with US
BEIJING — China has ordered six U.S.-based news media to file detailed information about their operations in China the latest volley in a monthslong battle with the Trump administration.
A foreign ministry statement issued late Monday demanded that the bureaus of ABC, The Los Angeles Times, Minnesota Public Radio, the Bureau of National Affairs, Newsweek and Feature Story News declare information about their staff, finances, operations and real estate in China within seven days.
The announcement came five days after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said six Chinese media would have to register as foreign missions, which requires them to file similar information with the U.S. government.
The six were the third group of Chinese media required to do so this year. Each time, China has responded by forcing a similar number of U.S. media to file about their operations.
The ministry statement said China was compelled to take the step “in response to the unreasonable oppression the Chinese media organizations experience in the United States.”
Pompeo, in making his announcement, said the targeted Chinese media are state-owned or controlled, and that the U.S. wants to ensure that “consumers of information can differentiate between news written by a free press and propaganda distributed by the Chinese Communist Party.”
The media is one of several areas of growing tension between the two countries as the Trump administration ramps up pressure on China over trade, technology, defence and human rights.
The U.S. ordered the closing of the Chinese consulate in Houston earlier this year, and China responded by shuttering the U.S. consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
The Associated Press
Canada and Botswana to co-host 2nd media freedom global conference – Radio Canada International – English Section
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney attend a news conference on media freedom as part of the G7 Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Dinard, France, Apr. 5, 2019. (Stephane Mahe/REUTERS)
Canada and Botswana are joining forces to co-host the second edition of Global Conference for Media Freedom, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne announced Monday.
The online conference is expected to take place on Nov. 16 and will bring together representatives of traditional and digital media, civil society and various governments, Champagne said.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet will deliver the keynote address at the conference.
Former president of the United Kingdom Supreme Court Lord David Neuberger and noted human rights lawyer Amal Clooney will co-chair a high-level panel of legal experts on media freedom, officials at Global Affairs Canada said.
“A vibrant and free media is essential to democracy and human rights,” Champagne said in a statement. “During this critical time, we must stand together to protect the freedom of media workers who pursue necessary truths, within and beyond our own borders.”
Canada and the U.K. co-hosted the first Global Conference for Media Freedom in London in July 2019.
Since 2015, Canada has invested $18.2 million in programs supporting the media and the free flow of information, according to Global Affairs Canada.
Canada ranks 16th on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), while Botswana is in the 39th place among the 180 countries represented in the index.
This 2020 edition of the Index suggests that the next ten years will be pivotal for press freedom because of converging crises affecting the future of journalism.
The index singles out five critical areas for the future of journalism in the next decade:
- a geopolitical crisis (due to the aggressiveness of authoritarian regimes)
- a technological crisis (due to a lack of democratic guarantees)
- a democratic crisis (due to polarisation and repressive policies)
- a crisis of trust (due to suspicion and even hatred of the media)
- an economic crisis (impoverishing quality journalism)
“We are entering a decisive decade for journalism linked to crises that affect its future,” RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire said in a statement.
“The coronavirus pandemic illustrates the negative factors threatening the right to reliable information, and is itself an exacerbating factor. What will freedom of information, pluralism and reliability look like in 2030? The answer to that question is being determined today.”
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