- 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)
Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains
Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.
Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston
Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.
Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.
Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.
Signs That Went Unnoticed
The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.
On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.
Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.
“I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.
She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.
Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.
Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.
“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”
Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges
According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.
After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.
At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.
Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.
ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.
On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.
Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.
See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.