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Anti-Vaxxer Group Sues Facebook for Placing Fact-Checks on Its Posts

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  • Children’s Health Defense, an anti-vaxx group founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., filed a lawsuit against Facebook over its fact-checking labels. 
  • The group claims these tools violate their first amendment rights, harm their reputation, and censor their content. Facebook uses these labels when a post contains false information, which much of the content shared by the anti-vaxx community does.
  • This comes as health misinformation has spread particularly fast over the last year on Facebook, with a massive surge in April as the COVID-19 pandemic became a top global concern. 
  • False health information has received nearly 4 billion views across five countries in the last year alone. The top ten misinformation sites generate more clicks than information from the top ten leading world health groups like the CDC and WHO.

Lawsuit Filed Against Facebook

An anti-vaxx group filed a lawsuit against Facebook on Tuesday claiming that their first amendment rights are violated when the social media giant placed fact checks on their false and misleading claims. 

The suit was filed by Children’s Health Defense, an organization founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a noted anti-vaxxer. It names Facebook, its founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and a handful of the independent fact-checking organizations that Facebook uses as the defendants. 

Facebook’s fact checks pop up on posts with false information. Many of the posts on CHD’s page have these flags and note that the group has made multiple posts with false claims. Many of the fact checks cite places like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization so that Facebook users can be directed to accurate information. CHD, however, believes that by working with these organizations, Facebook has been made into a governmental tool that censors content.

In the lawsuit, CHD wrote that the two public health groups “collaborated at length with Facebook to suppress vaccine safety speech with a ‘warning label’ and other notices that appear to flag disinformation, but in reality censor valid and truthful speech, including speech critical of those agencies and their policies.”

However, scientific data has shown time and time again that the ramblings of anti-vaxxers are anything but “truthful speech.” Vaccines are routinely proven to be a safe and effective way to make oneself immune from various illnesses. 

Still, CHD claims that Facebook and Zuckerberg were guilty of fraud and were laying out a smear campaign against them. It called Facebook’s warning labels “falsely disparaging” and the fact-checkers “materially deceptive.” It asked for a minimum of $5 million in damages claiming that the platform had harmed its reputation. 

CHD referred to these labels as censorship and a violation of the first amendment. The odds of this argument holding up are questionable, though. Facebook is a private company, so the first amendment does not apply to it. 

Health Misinformation on Facebook

Still, this lawsuit speaks to a larger issue regarding misinformation on Facebook. CHD is far from the only group touting dangerous and false content on the site. Misinformation spreads like wildfire across the platform, specifically when it comes to health. 

A Wednesday morning report from the online activist group Avaaz found that in the last year, misinformation networks in at least five countries generated 3.8 billion views. The amount of misinformation consumed reached a staggering peak in April, just as the COVID-19 pandemic became a top concern all over the world. 

On top of this, content from the top 10 health misinformation sites gets significantly more views than content from leading global health organizations like the CDC and the WHO. Among the articles that attracted a lot of attention on the site included one claiming that a global increase in polio was caused by vaccines and that a Bill Gates-backed polio vaccine paralyzed hundreds of thousands of children in India. It got 3.7 million views from Facebook. A separate article claiming that the American Medical Association encouraged doctors to over count coronavirus deaths got over 160 million views.

“We share Avaaz’s goal of limiting misinformation, but their findings don’t reflect the steps we’ve taken to keep it from spreading on our services,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement. “Thanks to our global network of fact-checkers, from April to June, we applied warning labels to 98 million pieces of covid-19 misinformation and removed 7 million pieces of content that could lead to imminent harm.”

However, according to Avaaz, a significant amount of damage has already been done. They said that only 16% of health misinformation over the last year had a warning label on Facebook.

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Business Insider) (BBC News)

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New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns

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  • The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
  • The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
  • The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.

CDC Issues Warning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.

While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus. 

The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.

Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.

Mitigating Spread of Variant

“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”

The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.

“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.

“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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Former Michigan Gov. and 8 Others Charged Over Flint Water Crisis

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. (Al Goldis/AP)

  • Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty Wednesday for his role in the Flint water crisis
  • By Thursday, eight more former state and city officials were charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter to extortion.
  • Flint residents have long awaited this news. In 2019, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against 15 officials and said they would start the investigation from scratch, citing concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

Rick Snyder Charges

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said Thursday that it had filed 41 charges against nine former state and city officials for their role in the Flint water crisis.

The most high-profile figure to be charged was former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, he was hit with two counts of willful neglect of duty.

He was the state’s top executive when local officials decided to switch the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014.

The switch was supposed to be a temporary cost-saving measure while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. However, the water wasn’t treated properly for corrosion, so lead-contaminated water was released into the homes of people all over the city. Because of that, 12 people died and at least 90 were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease.

Snyder appeared in court this morning via Zoom, pleading not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges. If convicted he could face up to a year in prison and as much as a $1,000 fine.

His charges alone are significant because they make him the first governor or former governor in the state to ever be charged with a crime for alleged conduct while in office.

8 Others Charged

Along with Snyder, eight others were charged, including a former state health director Nick Lyon. Lyon received nine charges of involuntary manslaughter, among others.

Richard Baird, one of Snyder’s closes advisors was changed for extortion, perjury, and obstructions of justice. Others who were charged include:

  • Jarrod Agen, Snyder’s former chief of staff and Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director.
  • Dr. Eden Wells, a former chief medical executive for the state Department of Health and Human Services. 
  • Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Howard Croft, former Flint Public Works Director.
  • Nancy Peeler, the state’s director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting for the health department.

Flint residents have waited a long time for justice over the water contamination issue. Prosecutors previously dropped all 15 criminal charges tied to the Flint case in 2019 and said the investigation would begin again from scratch.

At the time, they cited concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

It also wasn’t until last year that the state reached a $600 million settlement with victims, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Detroit News) (Detroit Free Press)

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Three Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID-19 Following Capitol Attack

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  • At least three Congressmembers have tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 
  • Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) believe they contracted the virus after locking down in close quarters with numerous Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks.
  • Jayapal and Schneider are calling for those who did not wear a mask to face consequences.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Tests Positive

At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 after locking down in close quarters with other House members during Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 

Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that members may have been exposed during the lockdown. He recommended that everyone who was isolated inside should get tested for the virus. 

On Monday Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) became the first to announce that she tested positive. Watson Coleman believes she was exposed while in the Capitol lockdown. In her statement, she cited the multiple Republicans who refused to wear masks while inside. Video footage from Punchbowl News shows a Democratic lawmaker handing out masks and a handful of Republicans declining to take one. 

Watson Coleman is a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor. While she said she is only experiencing cold-like symptoms, she tweeted that per a doctor’s suggestion, she headed to a local hospital for antibody treatment. She also encouraged those who sheltered in place to get tested. 

More Cases Follow

Later on Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she too had tested positive, also blaming a lack of mask-wearing in the Capitol. In a lengthy Twitter thread, she said Republicans created a superspreader event and demanded consequences for their actions. 

Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack,” she wrote. 

“Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable,” Jayapal added. 

“I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) echoed her frustrations on Tuesday after releasing a statement saying he has become the third House member to have tested positive following the lockdown. 

“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he wrote.

Like Jayapal, he is calling for sanctions against those who opted to not wear masks. 

Many health officials feared that this lockdown could lead to a surge in cases. They also worry that the mob itself could lead to a superspreader event as most of those who attacked the Capitol were not wearing masks and were crowding together both inside and outside of the building.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (NBC Chicago)

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