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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Dear <<First Name>>,

Welcome to today’s briefing. Coming up, we compare the “bad habits” of smoking and social media, detail Twitter’s tense relationship with climate activists and bring focus on the toxicity public figures, especially women, experience online. And, as always, we bring you some of the key online narratives from the monitoring team at First Draft.

Thank you for posting: Smoking’s lessons for regulating social media (MIT Technology Review — Opinion)


We know Facebook is a product that is doing real harm, but what can we do to curb its negative impacts? In a piece that pulls no punches, Joan Donovan of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy suggests looking to the battle against smoking for inspiration. Key is focusing not on the individual harm that may affect Facebook users exposed to misinformation, conspiracy theories and hate, but on the secondary effects on society as a whole, suggests Donovan, in much the same way that curbs on smoking relied on arguments about secondhand smoke. Though the framework is similar, the prescription is different. Not taxation, as has happened with smoking, but a redesign of social media products to reduce exposure to the negative aspects of the platforms. It’s a decision, she concludes, that is up to the companies themselves: “That is in their power, and choosing not to do so is a personal choice that their leaders make.”
 

This climate activist says he was silenced on Twitter (The Verge)    


The pressing issue of climate change has been overshadowed by the pandemic and the impending US election, but the problem, and the role of social media in addressing and exacerbating it, has not gone away. On September 12, Ugandan environmental activists saw their Twitter accounts suspended for what they argue were political reasons, The Verge reports. Twitter claims the aid accounts were “caught in a spam filter and have since been reinstated,” but while there is no direct evidence that the ban was intentional or targeted, such cases are feeding speculation and adding to the concerns that, directly or inadvertently, social media platforms are undermining online environmental activism. Facebook recently announced the launch of its Climate Science Information Center, designed to “connect people with science-based information,” but less than a week later it suspended the accounts of several environmental organizations, including Greenpeace USA, along with hundreds of individual accounts. Some were banned for “intellectual property rights violation.” Others were “mistakenly” suspended, Facebook claimed. Meanwhile, social network giants are falling behind in efforts to eradicate actual climate change-related misinformation, including conspiracy theories about wildfires in the US and Australia. 
 

Public Figures, Public Rage: Candidate abuse on social media (Institute for Strategic Dialogue via Washington Post)

Adding to the mountain of evidence that social media is a toxic place for many (perhaps most) users, comes this new report from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD). The authors show that female Congressional candidates from both sides in the US 2020 election faced a much greater scale of online abuse than their male counterparts, with even more harassment for female candidates of color. From Ilhan Omar to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who received the highest proportion of abusive comments on Twitter and Facebook respectively, being a high-profile woman of color on social media is increasingly synonymous with widespread trolling and harassment — despite platforms’ efforts to tackle the abuse prevalent on their sites. The authors provide a number of recommendations for these platforms, as well as for democratic governments and other stakeholders such as civil society organizations. Read a summary of the findings in The Washington Post’s The Technology 202 newsletter.

First Draft teams in New York, Sydney and London, as well as across Europe and India, are monitoring social media and closed messaging apps. We won’t link out to specific content here to prevent amplification but we do share them in our CrossCheck community, which you can apply to join.
 


Trump recovery claims fuel misinformation about virus severity, vaccines and social control

President Donald Trump’s claims of a recovery from Covid-19 and his return to the White House are prompting social media accounts to push unevidenced claims that the virus isn’t as serious as current medical evidence suggests and is being used as a pretext to control the public. In a tweet announcing his plan to leave the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the president wrote, “Don’t be afraid of Covid.” The phrase has drawn widespread scorn, but also has become a rallying cry for commentators arguing that coronavirus lockdown measures are a means of social control. Quoting the president’s tweet, DeAnna Lorraine, a NewsMax personality who has been amplifying Covid-19 misinformation, congratulated the president for “blow[ing] the shamdemic wide open!” Nick Short of the conservative think tank the Claremont Institute tweeted, “Don't be afraid of COVID, yes take it seriously, but be more afraid of those in power who have used COVID as a means to control your life.” The post was shared over 22,300 times. Trump’s tweet, sent the morning after his return, comparing Covid-19 to the flu and arguing against lockdowns, brought a similar degree of criticism, But it also resonated with some of his most influential surrogates, such as YouTuber and podcaster Steven Crowder, who posted a tweet arguing Covid-19’s mortality rate is similar to the flu and that lockdowns kill more people than they save.

Misleading narratives also spread about both Trump's health and its implications for public policy. Pro-Trump users on 4chan shared a screenshot of a tweet from a Breitbart reporter that falsely claimed the president’s doctor declared there’s “no evidence of live virus that [Trump] can possibly transmit to others.”  The Breitbart tweet was later deleted and subsequently clarified. On “Stop Mandatory Vaccination | Vaccine Free Parenting,” a coronavirus-skeptic private Facebook Group with over 201,000 members, one user posted in reference to the president’s departure from the hospital, “Thank you trump! Vaccines agenda is falling down, and soon corona will be gone. Trump 2020.” In a similar post, another commented, “There you have it and NO vaccine needed!” The Group’s founder, Larry Cook, also posted from his personal profile, “This guy works 24/7 - so, yeah, he's going to feel great after getting some much needed rest!!! What all infections require!” referencing the false narrative that rest can cure Covid-19. 
 


Claims Trump Covid-19 diagnosis is a hoax flood UK

Unevidenced claims that Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis is a hoax have taken off in the UK. #TrumpCovidHoax trended on Twitter in the UK, with more than 99,000 posts. Many posts claimed the president is fraudulently saying he has the illness to improve his chances of being re-elected in November, or to make Covid-19 appear less dangerous. Author RD Hale compared Trump’s speedy discharge on Monday to his own infection, writing in a tweet with more than 1,000 likes and almost 400 retweets: “How did 74 year old Donald Trump recover in days from an illness which a previously healthy 37 year old like myself hasn’t fully recovered from in 7 months?” The narrative had already been present over the weekend with comparisons to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who tested positive for Covid-19 in late March, with accounts claiming both Johnson and Trump faked their infections. One cartoon, which has been shared more than 2,200 times on Facebook, shows Johnson telling Trump that the public “can’t prove you’re faking.” The #TrumpCovidHoax hashtag has also been used in the US, with Bishop Talbert Swan claiming Trump is a liar in a tweet reshared more than 1,200 times.

Marketing his talents

Be well,
The First Draft Team

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