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YouTube Shuts Down 210 Accounts Tied to “Influence Operations” Against Hong Kong

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  • YouTube has removed 210 channels that engaged in “coordinated influence operations” against the protest movement in Hong Kong.
  • Earlier this week, Twitter and Facebook took actions to suspend similar accounts that they said were connected to a state-backed operation controlled by China.
  • All three companies have recently come under fire for running anti-protest ads sponsored by Chinese government-funded media outlets.

YouTube Accounts Suspended

Google announced Thursday that it had suspended 210 YouTube accounts tied to a “coordinated influence” campaign against pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

The move comes just days after Twitter and Facebook both said they had shuttered similar accounts linked to a state-backed operation launched by China to undermine the protest movement in Hong Kong that started over a proposed extradition bill.

Google, which owns YouTube, made the announcement in a blog post.

“Earlier this week, as part of our ongoing efforts to combat coordinated influence operations, we disabled 210 channels on YouTube when we discovered channels in this network behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos related to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong,” the statement said. 

“This discovery was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter,” it continued.

“We found use of VPNs and other methods to disguise the origin of these accounts and other activity commonly associated with coordinated influence operations.”

Twitter and Facebook Suspend Accounts

In a blog post on Monday, Twitter disclosed that it had found “a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong.”

Twitter said that it had suspended 936 accounts “originating from within” China, that were “deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.”

Also on Monday, Facebook announced that it had “removed seven Pages, three Groups and five Facebook accounts involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior as part of a small network that originated in China and focused on Hong Kong.”

“The individuals behind this campaign engaged in a number of deceptive tactics, including the use of fake accounts […] to manage Pages posing as news organizations, post in Groups, disseminate their content, and also drive people to off-platform news sites,” the post continued.

Facebook also included examples of the content that had been posted on some of the pages it removed.

One post translated by Facebook compared the protestors to Islamic State militants. “Protesters. ISIS fighters What’s the difference?” the post read. Other posts referred to the activists as “cockroaches.” 

Google, however, did not explicitly say in its blog post if it had found that the Chinese government was behind the now removed accounts. 

A Google spokesperson had no comment when asked by BBC if the company agreed with Twitter and Facebook’s findings that the suspended accounts were part of a state-backed misinformation campaign to undermine the demonstrations in Hong Kong.

Platforms Slammed for Chinese Ads

Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have also been criticized for running anti-protest advertisements from state-owned Chinese media companies.

Twitter responded to these complaints Monday by announcing that it would no longer sell ads to state-controlled news media outlets. 

Facebook did not indicate that it was changing its ad sales policies, though a spokesman did tell Reuters that the company will “continue to look at [our] policies as they relate to state-owned media.” 

Facebook’s statement comes after BuzzFeed News reported that they had found three ads from Chinese state-owned media on Facebook downplaying the human rights abuses occurring at Muslim internment camps run by the Chinese government.

YouTube also said it was not planning to change it’s ad policies, but told Reuters that “it would soon be expanding its labeling of state-backed media outlets in the region.”

According to Reuters, while YouTube places disclaimers on government-funded networks from all over the world, including several Chinese outlets, it does not give that disclaimer for the Chinese newspapers People’s Daily, China Daily, and Global Times, all of which are funded by the Chinese government.

Protests Continue

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, planned demonstrations continued Friday as protestors formed a human chain that reportedly spanned more than 20 miles.

The demonstration was planned for the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way, a peaceful demonstration against Soviet occupation where an estimated two million people formed a 372-mile-long human chain across Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Friday’s event comes as part of a series of other demonstrations planned for the 12th consecutive week of protests in the city. It also follows a march last Sunday that protest leaders said drew 1.7 million people in one of the biggest shows of support since the movement began.

Despite escalating clashes with the police and mounting pressure from China, which has said it is not afraid to use force against the protestors in Hong Kong, the activists do not appear to have plans to stop their efforts any time soon.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (BBC) (CNN)

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6 Dr. Seuss Books Won’t Be Published Anymore Because of Racist Imagery

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  • Six Dr. Seuss books will no longer be published because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced Tuesday.
  • The late author’s company said the decision was made last year after months of feedback from audiences, teachers, and other specialists in the academic field. 
  • However, many school districts and groups have moved away from Dr. Seuss for years because of racist stereotypes and insensitive imagery in some of his work.

Production of Six Offensive Books To End

Six Dr. Seuss books will stop being published because of racist and insensitive imagery, the business that preserves and protects the author’s legacy said Tuesday.

The list of books blocked from production are:

  • “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”
  • “If I Ran the Zoo”
  • “McElligot’s Pool”
  • “On Beyond Zebra!”
  • “Scrambled Eggs Super!”
  • “The Cat’s Quizzer”

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises wrote in its announcement letter. “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”

Examples of Offending Content

A 2019 study published in the journal “Research on Diversity in Youth Literature,” looked at 50 books by Dr. Seuss and found 43 out of the 45 characters of color have “characteristics aligning with the definition of Orientalism,” or the stereotypical, offensive portrayal of Asia. It added that the two “African” characters both have anti-Black characteristics.

The study even pointed to specific examples. “In (“The Cat’s Quizzer”), the Japanese character is referred to as ‘a Japanese,’ has a bright yellow face, and is standing on what appears to be Mt. Fuji,” the authors wrote.

It also pointed to “If I Ran the Zoo” as an example of Orientalism and White supremacy.

“The three (and only three) Asian characters who are not wearing conical hats are carrying a White male on their heads in ‘If I Ran the Zoo.’ The White male is not only on top of, and being carried by, these Asian characters, but he is also holding a gun, illustrating dominance,” the study authors wrote. “The text beneath the Asian characters describes them as ‘helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant’ from ‘countries no one can spell.'”

The study also argues that since the majority of human characters in Dr. Seuss’ books are White, his works center Whiteness and thus perpetuate White supremacy.

Academic Groups Move Away From Seuss

The company told the Associated Press that the decision was made last year after months of feedback from audiences, teachers, and other specialists in the academic field.

Still, it’s worth noting that it also comes a week after a school district in Virginia made headlines for allegedly banning books written by Dr. Seuss, whose real name is Theodor Seuss Geisel.

The district eventually clarified that it was not banning his books. Instead, it said it was discouraging the connection between Dr. Seuss and “Read Across America Day,” which falls on the author’s birthday: March 2.

The decision to move away from Dr. Seuss books is not actually an uncommon move. School districts across the country have been doing the same.

The National Education Association, which founded “Read Across America Day” and deliberately aligned it with Dr. Seuss’ birthday, is included in that shift.

According to AP News, it’s been deemphasizing Seuss for years now and encouraging a more diverse reading list for kids.

While many have applauded Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ decision, others noted that it will continue to publish more popular books that have received criticism, including “The Cat in the Hat.”

For now, the company said it’s “committed to listening and learning and will continue to review our entire portfolio.”

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Deadline) (AP News)

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Nike Exec Resigns After Bloomberg Reveals Her Connection To Son’s Sneaker Resale Business

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  • Nike Executive Ann Hebert has voluntarily resigned from the company after it was revealed that her son used her credit card to purchase more than $100,000 worth of new shoes for his shoe-resell business.
  • The connection was first noticed by Bloomberg reporter Joshua Hunt, who was working on a profile of Hebert’s son, Joe. 
  • According to a Nike spokesperson, Hebert disclosed the relevant information about her son’s business to the company and hadn’t violated company policy. 
  • Still, Hunt’s report led to swift condemnation for Hebert, with many believing she had used her position to help her son scalp shoes. 

Nike Exec Resigns 

Nike Executive Ann Hebert voluntarily resigned Monday after Bloomberg exposed her connection to her son’s sneaker flipping business last week.

The report, published on Feb. 25, follows 19-year-old Joe Hebert and details how he spent more than $100,000 buying new shoes to resell at his business, West Coast Streetwear. In the article, reporter Joshua Hunt noted that types of shoes Joe bought would sell out in hours and that for people like him, “The sneaker market… is a lot like playing the [stock] market.”

“In the hours after siphoning up stock from retailers, they essentially sell short-term futures based on street sentiment,” Hunt said. 

While scalping is a controversial enough practice on its own, near the end of the article, Hunt notes an unusual connection.

“At one point in late June… [Joe] phoned me, and the number was identified as belonging to Ann Hebert,” Hunt said. “I looked the name up and discovered there was an Ann Hebert who’d worked at Nike for 25 years and had recently been made its vice president and general manager for North America.”

Notably, the April 2020 press release announcing Ann’s new position stated she would be “instrumental in accelerating our consumer direct offense in North America.” That initiative redirected sales from retailers directly to consumers, and as a result, it helped to fuel the resale market. 

“[Joe] Hebert later sent me a statement for an American Express corporate card for [West Coast Streetwear]… and it was in Ann’s name,” Hunt said in his article.

Hunt said he later asked Joe about the connection and while Joe admitted that Ann was his mother, he said she was too high up at Nike to be involved in what he does and that he’d never received inside information, such as discount codes, from her. He then insisted that she not be mentioned in the article and cut off contact.

From there, Hunt reached out to Ann and Nike directly. While Ann didn’t respond, a spokesperson told Hunt that Ann hadn’t violated company policy and that she had disclosed the relevant information about her son’s business to Nike. 

Online Reaction

Ann’s resignation comes amid outrage online, but the reaction to her resignation itself has been mixed. 

There’s been no shortage of criticism against Ann following the announcement of her step down, and she’s even become the butt of a number of jokes. Still, others have defended her. 

“The worst part is that Ann Hebert worked her way up the ladder in a male-dominated industry for 25 years only to be knocked down by her clout-chasing son,” TV host Tamara Dhia tweeted.

Others have said that with everything publicly known so far, they still feel like Ann was in the wrong.

See what others are saying: (Complex) (CNBC) (New York Post)

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Doctors Urge People Not Skip Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 Vaccine for Moderna or Pfizer’s

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  • The FDA and CDC approved Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine over the weekend, allowing the company to begin shipping doses Monday for use later this week.
  • Unlike Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines, Johnson & Johnson’s can be stored at higher temperatures for longer and only requires a single shot. 
  • Still, experts are worried people may try to skip the vaccine for either Pfizer or Moderna’s version since they have higher efficacy rates.
  • Because of this, health officials have stressed that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is still highly effective and necessary to keep the U.S. from seeing another rise in daily case rates.

CDC Recommends Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday for Americans 18 and older. With that, the first doses of the vaccine began shipping out Monday, and vaccinations are expected to begin sometime this week.

The CDC’s recommendation came one day after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the vaccine for emergency use.

Johnson & Johnson is expected to ship 3.9 million doses this week. By the end of March, it hopes to have shipped a total of 20 million doses.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is also notable for two reasons. First, it doesn’t need to be kept frozen like the Pfizer vaccine and can be kept in a fridge for much longer than the Moderna vaccine. Second, it only needs to be administered once — not twice. 

The approval and recommendation of this vaccine come at a potentially pivotal juncture. Since mid-January, the rate of new COVID-19 infections has been steadily falling; however, for the last week, daily infection rates have begun to plateau.

While it’s undoubtedly good news that the U.S. isn’t once again seeing a rise in cases, as CDC Director Rochelle Walensky explained, this is “a very concerning shift in the trajectory.” 

That’s because it very likely could result in a rise in cases. 

For example, experts worry that the public, as well as state and local officials, may be starting to let their guards down after hearing the news of falling infection rates. Still, those experts have reminded people that Monday marks one year since the announcement of the first coronavirus death in the U.S.

Since then, the U.S. alone has logged more than half a million deaths from this virus.

Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Efficacy 

The addition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has the capacity to help keep infection rates from climbing once more, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some challenges. 

In fact, a major concern now seems to be around the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Notably, in late-stage trials, it was 85% effective against severe cases of COVID-19, with no deaths or hospitalizations being reported in the month after participants received the vaccine. It was also found to be around 72% effective at preventing moderate infections. 

Still, that’s less than the 94% and 95% efficacy rates for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, respectively. 

Because of that discrepancy, some health officials have begun to worry that people will try to skip the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in favor of the other two. 

As a result, experts are assuring the public that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is still highly effective. They’ve also noted that the studies for the three different vaccines happened at different stages of the pandemic and in different environments. 

“They were compared under different circumstances,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIAID, said. “All three of them are really quite good, and people should take the one that’s most available to them… people need to get vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (CNN)

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