Anti-Vaxxers Spread Conspiracy Theory Claiming Bob Saget Died From COVID-19 Booster Shot
This comes less than a month after anti-vaxxers spread a similar false rumor about comedian Betty White.
Anti-Vaxxers Spread Unfounded Theory About Bob Saget’s Death
Anti-vax and right-wing conspiracy theorists are spreading unfounded claims that comedian Bob Saget died as a result of receiving his COVID-19 booster shot.
Saget, best known for his role as Danny Tanner on “Full House,” died this week at the age of 65 in Orlando, Florida. The Orange County Sheriff’s office said they were responding to “a call about an unresponsive man in a hotel room” and pronounced Saget dead on the scene at the Ritz-Carlton. They found “no signs of foul play or drug use” and some reports have since claimed that it appears Saget may have died in his sleep. No further cause of death has been released.
Not long after the news of his death, anti-vaxxers begin circulating baseless claims that a COVID-19 booster shot killed Saget. Saget said he received his booster shot on a Dec. 13 episode of his podcast. Many have shared a clip where he talks about the booster to suggest that was his cause of death.
COVID-19 vaccines and boosters have been proven to be both safe and effective. That, of course, has not stopped conspiracy theorists from endlessly touting false assertions about unproven side effects and responses.
Claims about Saget’s death being vaccine-related can be found on Twitter, Reddit, TikTok, Telegram, and other social media platforms. Many of the posts, despite containing clear misinformation, have remained on these sites for several days without being taken down.
Candace Owens Promotes Booster Theory
The conspiracy found a large platform this week when conservative news personality Candace Owens discussed it on her Daily Wire talk show. Owens has repeatedly spoken against COVID-19 vaccines and uses her platform to regularly share all kinds of political and cultural misinformation.
During the Jan. 11 episode of “Candace,” which was flagged by Media Matters, Owens said the public has a “right to demand answers” about the circumstances around Saget’s death and the booster.
“I’m just not on Big Pharma’s payroll and I refuse to peddle in their lies. And so to that end, today, I’m going to point out another truth and it will likely be deemed a conspiracy theory until it’s not,” she said. “There are too many healthy individuals, like Bob Saget, who we know have received their vaccinations, who are dropping dead, suddenly and unexpectedly, with no further explanation. Healthy athletes, young students in their physical prime — the majority of them males — dropping dead suddenly and unexpectedly in the middle of games from heart issues.”
Owens continued to peddle anti-vax rhetoric regarding the media and vaccine mandates. She also spewed unsubstantiated suggestions that “healthy men are dying” because of vaccines.
“All of this to say I don’t know why a healthy man, who was in the middle of a comedy tour, suddenly and unexpectedly drops dead in his hotel room,” she continued. “But I do know that we have a right to ask the question. All of us do. In fact, when the entire world has suddenly and unexpectedly been prescribed an injection that we don’t need, it is not only our right to ask questions but also our right to demand answers.”
Anti-Vax Misinformation Has Found A Large Platform
Not even a month before Saget’s death, anti-vaxxers likewise falsely claimed that comedian and actress Betty White died from receiving her COVID-19 booster. White passed at the age of 99, just weeks before her 100th birthday. According to her death certificate, she died from a stroke she had six days before her death on Dec. 31.
After people started falsely claiming the booster caused her death, White’s agent released a statement clarifying these rumors were not true.
“Betty died peacefully in her sleep at her home,” Jeff Witjas told People Magazine. “People are saying her death was related to getting a booster shot three days earlier but that is not true. She died of natural causes. Her death should not be politicized — that is not the life she lived.”
Media platforms have struggled to control the swelling amount of misinformation users constantly spread, specifically regarding the pandemic and vaccinations. While many sites have promised to remove, flag, or fact-check incorrect posts, anyone who wants to find anti-vax information will have an easy time doing so.
This week, a group of doctors and medical workers urged Spotify to lay out a misinformation policy, citing the false claims Joe Rogan has repeatedly made about vaccines on his podcast. Several international fact-checking organizations also recently demanded that YouTube do more to fight disinformation on its service. Over the last year, citizens and politicians have asked that Twitter, Facebook, and Google do more to slow the spread of pandemic-related misinformation.
“While we understand that your companies have implemented policies regarding the removal of vaccine-related misinformation and dedicated resources to stop the spread of misinformation, we believe more must be done,” a group of Democratic senators wrote in a letter to the three company’s CEOs. “It is imperative that you be transparent about the amount of harmful misinformation that appears on your platforms and the effectiveness of your efforts to remove this content, so that public health organizations and experts can respond appropriately.”
See what others are saying: (Insider) (The Daily Beast) (The Daily Dot)
Twitch Tightens Policies on Explicit Deepfakes
“The creation, promotion, or viewing of this content is not welcome on Twitch,” the company said in a blog post.
New Rules Regarding “Synthetic NCEI”
Twitch is cracking down on explicit deepfake content and will indefinitely suspend users who share or promote it after a first offense.
“The existence of this content, and its presence and distribution on various sites, is personally violating and beyond upsetting. Deepfake porn isn’t a problem on Twitch, but it’s a terrible issue that some streamers (almost exclusively women) may face on the internet at large,” Twitch said in a Tuesday blog post, explaining it wants to “help streamers protect themselves” in any case this issue arises.
Twitch referred to this content as “synthetic non-consensual exploitative images,” or “synthetic NCEI,” but many of the platform’s users have casually referred to it as deepfake porn. Synthetic NCEI involves someone taking the face of another person and editing it into a pornographic video to make it appear as though that person filmed themselves demonstrating those sexual acts. The new rise in access to this technology has concerned many, as it is easy to use it to exploit others.
While synthetic NCEI is already banned on Twitch, the company took a more actionable step against it in its Tuesday post by creating an Adult Sexual Violence and Exploitation policy. The new rule prohibits the intentional sharing, promoting, or creation of synthetic NCEI and those acts can result in an indefinite suspension on the first offense.
Twitch also updated its Adult Nudity policy to include synthetic NCEI. Even if it is only shown briefly, that content will still be taken down and result in an enforcement.
In addition to the policy changes, Twitch made available a list of resources for those who might be impacted by or wish to learn more about synthetic NCEI.
“The creation, promotion, or viewing of this content is not welcome on Twitch,” the company said closing its blog post.
Growing Concerns About Explicit Deepfakes
Twitch’s updates come as synthetic NCEI and deepfakes have become a primary topic of concern for social media platforms. Earlier this year, Twitch was home to a major deepfake controversy after a streamer known as Atrioc was caught with an open tab to a website that hosted these videos. That site specifically hosted deepfakes of female Twitch streamers, some of whom were Atrioc’s colleagues.
Many women featured on the page spoke out against these deepfakes, explaining the trauma they endured knowing their face, image, and likeness were used in a sexual manner without their consent. It’s an issue that extends far past Twitch creators. Some fear they could be used for revenge porn, and there are already several cases where the technology is used to create sexual videos of celebrities.
On Tuesday, NBC News published a report finding that Facebook and Instagram ran suggestive ads featuring deepfakes of actresses like Emma Watson and Scarlett Johansson. The ads were for a deepfake app that told users they could “replace face with anyone.”
While the ads did not show explicit pornographic content, one ad featuring Watson was clearly meant to mimic the start of an explicit video, suggesting a sexual act was about to start. The face of the “Harry Potter” actress was seen looking into the camera before bending down.
The report found that 127 ads with Watson deepfakes and 74 with Johansson deepfakes ran across Meta’s platforms on Sunday and Monday, but have since been removed. The app in question was also removed from the Apple app store after NBC News contacted the tech giant for comment.
See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Engadget) (Kotaku)
Fans Defend Pedro Pascal After Actor Refused to Read Thirst Tweets: “It’s Sexual Harassment”
Pascal has been dubbed the Internet’s “daddy,” but many think the joke has gone too far.
Pascal’s Heartthrob Status
Fans are defending actor Pedro Pascal after he refused to read thirst tweets on the red carpet, arguing that it is inappropriate and disrespectful to ask him to do so.
Pascal, the star of HBO’s “The Last of Us” and Disney+’s “The Mandalorian,” has become a major Hollywood heartthrob. He has even been widely dubbed as the Internet’s “daddy” by those posting about his handsome looks. The running joke grew last year when he did a Vanity Fair lie detector test and said he considered himself a “bigger daddy” than “Star Wars” star Oscar Isaac.
“Daddy is a state of mind, you know what I’m saying? I’m your daddy,” he quipped during the interview.
Since then, TikTokers have started posting thirst trap edits of Pascal, journalists have called him “daddy” on the red carpet, and interviewers have shown him tweets where fans call him a “cool, slutty daddy.”
Pascal has been a good sport about the public displays of lust for him, but many think the joke may have crossed a line. During last week’s red carpet premiere for season three of “The Mandalorian,” an Access Hollywood reporter went viral for asking Pascal to read thirst tweets to the camera. Pascal politely declined.
“No. Dirty! Dirty!” he told the reporter after reading through the tweets.
“For your enjoyment only,” she responded.
“Thank you very much,” Pascal said before exiting the interview.
Fans Condemn Thirst Tweet Interviews
In response, many who watched the clip condemned this treatment of Pascal, arguing it promoted constant objectification.
“I think it’s time for the internet to leave Pedro Pascal alone,” one person wrote. “It’s sexual harassment, but no one seems to care bc he’s a man + is graceful about it. It’s really gross and I would never want to be treated like that.”
“These jokes have gone way too far and he’s visibly uncomfortable,” another fan added.
Some claimed that while the Internet’s love of Pascal “started as harmless fun…the constant public objectification and sexualization must be terrible” and should stop.
“Being attractive, banking on it, selling it, and even at times enjoying some of the attention, doesn’t give everyone wholesale permission to sexualize you,” someone else argued.
See what others are saying: (IndieWire) (The Gamer) (BuzzFeed News)
Conservatives Pledge to #BoycottHershey After International Women’s Day Campaign Featured a Trans Woman
“I hope this campaign shows trans girls they can dream big and change the world too,” activist Fae Johnstone said in her Hers for She video.
Hershey Highlights Fae Johnstone
Step aside, Green M&M. Conservatives have a new candy that they’re mad at: Hershey bars.
On Wednesday, Hershey Canada unveiled its “Her for She” International Women’s Day initiative, which aims to celebrate “women changing the future.” Conservatives were quickly outraged by the company’s choice to highlight Fae Johnstone, a trans woman and LGBTQ+ rights activist, as part of this effort.
“We can create a world where everyone is able to live in public space as their honest and authentic selves,” Johnstone said in a “Her for She” video.
In addition to Johnstone, the campaign features gender equality activists, a climate tech researcher, and an indigenous rights activist, all of whom have fought for progress in their respective fields. The women will appear on Hershey’s websites, in marketing promotions, and in artistic renderings on Hershey bar wrappers.
Johnstone wrote on Twitter that she hopes Hershey’s campaign will “give more young women and girls role models” who can demonstrate how to “change the world, together.”
“It also means a lot to be included, as a young(ish?) trans woman,” Johnstone continued. “I grew up with few trans role models. Many young trans folks haven’t met a trans adult. I hope this campaign shows trans girls they can dream big and change the world too.”
A Swift Transphobic Backlash
This decision, however, prompted right-wing Twitter users to accuse Hershey of hating “real” women. Many of the posts included blatantly transphobic rhetoric, as well as promises to boycott the company because it went “woke.”
The outrage was so prominent that #BoycottHershey was one of the top Twitter trends on Thursday morning.
This backlash comes just a little over a month after conservative media figures like Tucker Carlson slammed M&M for making the green mascot character, well, less sexy.
In response to Mars changing the green candy’s outfit, Carlson accused the Mars company of making its characters “as unattractive as possible because when you’re intentionally repulsive, it’s clear you’ve got the right politics.”
Not long after the right-wing backlash, M&M opted to replace its “spokescandies” with actress Maya Rudolph.
The conservative outrage targeted at both Hershey and M&M is part of a larger culture war against any company that makes changes to address diversity, climate change, or other social issues. Brands like Xbox, “Sesame Street,” and more have at one point provoked the ire of Fox News hosts and other Republican figures.
In fact, their outrage against these progressive changes has become so common that once #BoycottHershey was trending, some tweeted that they did not even have to click on the hashtag “to know that they must have done something compassionate that the right hates.”