Connect with us

U.S.

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

Published

on

  • 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)

U.S.

Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances

Published

on

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.


One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down

After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.

The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.

Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.

A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.

The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.

In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.

The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.

A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.

Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye

“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.

Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.

Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.

“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.

When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.

“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”

On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.

On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)

Continue Reading

U.S.

U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide

Published

on

India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.


One Million Dead

The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.

Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.

The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.

By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.

The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.

The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.

People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.

Fifteen Million Dead

On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.

Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.

Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.

The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.

“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.

Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

Continue Reading

U.S.

Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”

Published

on

Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.


New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer

Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.

“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”

Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.

Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”

“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.

Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.

Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Mysterious Escape

Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.

Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.

Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.

It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.

During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”

At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (ABC News) (NPR)

Continue Reading