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Google to expand misinformation ‘prebunking’ initiative in Europe

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Google to expand misinformation ‘prebunking’ initiative in Europe

WASHINGTON (AP) — After seeing promising results in Eastern Europe, Google will initiate a new campaign in Germany that aims to make people more resilient to the corrosive effects of online misinformation.

The tech giant plans to release a series of short videos highlighting the techniques common to many misleading claims. The videos will appear as advertisements on platforms like Facebook, YouTube or TikTok in Germany. A similar campaign in India is also in the works.

WATCH: New book ‘Myth America’ examines misinformation in U.S. history

It’s an approach called prebunking, which involves teaching people how to spot false claims before they encounter them. The strategy is gaining support among researchers and tech companies.

“There’s a real appetite for solutions,” said Beth Goldberg, head of research and development at Jigsaw, an incubator division of Google that studies emerging social challenges. “Using ads as a vehicle to counter a disinformation technique is pretty novel. And we’re excited about the results.”

While belief in falsehoods and conspiracy theories isn’t new, the speed and reach of the internet has given them a heightened power. When catalyzed by algorithms, misleading claims can discourage people from getting vaccines, spread authoritarian propaganda, foment distrust in democratic institutions and spur violence.

It’s a challenge with few easy solutions. Journalistic fact checks are effective, but they’re labor intensive, aren’t read by everyone, and won’t convince those already distrustful of traditional journalism. Content moderation by tech companies is another response, but it only drives misinformation elsewhere, while prompting cries of censorship and bias.

Prebunking videos, by contrast, are relatively cheap and easy to produce and can be seen by millions when placed on popular platforms. They also avoid the political challenge altogether by focusing not on the topics of false claims, which are often cultural lightning rods, but on the techniques that make viral misinformation so infectious.

Those techniques include fear-mongering, scapegoating, false comparisons, exaggeration and missing context. Whether the subject is COVID-19, mass shootings, immigration, climate change or elections, misleading claims often rely on one or more of these tricks to exploit emotions and short-circuit critical thinking.

Last fall, Google launched the largest test of the theory so far with a prebunking video campaign in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The videos dissected different techniques seen in false claims about Ukrainian refugees. Many of those claims relied on alarming and unfounded stories about refugees committing crimes or taking jobs away from residents.

The videos were seen 38 million times on Facebook, TikTok, YouTube and Twitter — a number that equates to a majority of the population in the three nations. Researchers found that compared to people who hadn’t seen the videos, those who did watch were more likely to be able to identify misinformation techniques, and less likely to spread false claims to others.

The pilot project was the largest test of prebunking so far and adds to a growing consensus in support of the theory.

“This is a good news story in what has essentially been a bad news business when it comes to misinformation,” said Alex Mahadevan, director of MediaWise, a media literacy initiative of the Poynter Institute that has incorporated prebunking into its own programs in countries including Brazil, Spain, France and the U.S.

Mahadevan called the strategy a “pretty efficient way to address misinformation at scale, because you can reach a lot of people while at the same time address a wide range of misinformation.”

Google’s new campaign in Germany will include a focus on photos and videos, and the ease with which they can be presented of evidence of something false. One example: Last week, following the earthquake in Turkey, some social media users shared video of the massive explosion in Beirut in 2020, claiming it was actually footage of a nuclear explosion triggered by the earthquake. It was not the first time the 2020 explosion had been the subject of misinformation.

WATCH: Misinformation hurts effort to immunize children in Democratic Republic of the Congo

Google will announce its new German campaign Monday ahead of next week’s Munich Security Conference. The timing of the announcement, coming before that annual gathering of international security officials, reflects heightened concerns about the impact of misinformation among both tech companies and government officials.

Tech companies like prebunking because it avoids touchy topics that are easily politicized, said Sander van der Linden, a University of Cambridge professor considered a leading expert on the theory. Van der Linden worked with Google on its campaign and is now advising Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, as well.

Meta has incorporated prebunking into many different media literacy and anti-misinformation campaigns in recent years, the company told The Associated Press in an emailed statement.

They include a 2021 program in the U.S. that offered media literacy training about COVID-19 to Black, Latino and Asian American communities. Participants who took the training were later tested and found to be far more resistant to misleading COVID-19 claims.

Prebunking comes with its own challenges. The effects of the videos eventually wears off, requiring the use of periodic “booster” videos. Also, the videos must be crafted well enough to hold the viewer’s attention, and tailored for different languages, cultures and demographics. And like a vaccine, it’s not 100% effective for everyone.

Google found that its campaign in Eastern Europe varied from country to country. While the effect of the videos was highest in Poland, in Slovakia they had “little to no discernible effect,” researchers found. One possible explanation: The videos were dubbed into the Slovak language, and not created specifically for the local audience.

But together with traditional journalism, content moderation and other methods of combating misinformation, prebunking could help communities reach a kind of herd immunity when it comes to misinformation, limiting its spread and impact.

“You can think of misinformation as a virus. It spreads. It lingers. It can make people act in certain ways,” Van der Linden told the AP. “Some people develop symptoms, some do not. So: if it spreads and acts like a virus, then maybe we can figure out how to inoculate people.”

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Facebook Faces Yet Another Outage: Platform Encounters Technical Issues Again

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Facebook Problem Again

Uppdated: It seems that today’s issues with Facebook haven’t affected as many users as the last time. A smaller group of people appears to be impacted this time around, which is a relief compared to the larger incident before. Nevertheless, it’s still frustrating for those affected, and hopefully, the issues will be resolved soon by the Facebook team.

Facebook had another problem today (March 20, 2024). According to Downdetector, a website that shows when other websites are not working, many people had trouble using Facebook.

This isn’t the first time Facebook has had issues. Just a little while ago, there was another problem that stopped people from using the site. Today, when people tried to use Facebook, it didn’t work like it should. People couldn’t see their friends’ posts, and sometimes the website wouldn’t even load.

Downdetector, which watches out for problems on websites, showed that lots of people were having trouble with Facebook. People from all over the world said they couldn’t use the site, and they were not happy about it.

When websites like Facebook have problems, it affects a lot of people. It’s not just about not being able to see posts or chat with friends. It can also impact businesses that use Facebook to reach customers.

Since Facebook owns Messenger and Instagram, the problems with Facebook also meant that people had trouble using these apps. It made the situation even more frustrating for many users, who rely on these apps to stay connected with others.

During this recent problem, one thing is obvious: the internet is always changing, and even big websites like Facebook can have problems. While people wait for Facebook to fix the issue, it shows us how easily things online can go wrong. It’s a good reminder that we should have backup plans for staying connected online, just in case something like this happens again.

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Christian family goes in hiding after being cleared of blasphemy

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Christian family goes in hiding after being cleared of blasphemy

LAHORE, Pakistan — A court in Pakistan granted bail to a Christian falsely charged with blasphemy, but he and his family have separated and gone into hiding amid threats to their lives, sources said.

Haroon Shahzad (right) with attorney Aneeqa Maria. | The Voice Society/Morning Star News

Haroon Shahzad, 45, was released from Sargodha District Jail on Nov. 15, said his attorney, Aneeqa Maria. Shahzad was charged with blasphemy on June 30 after posting Bible verses on Facebook that infuriated Muslims, causing dozens of Christian families in Chak 49 Shumaali, near Sargodha in Punjab Province, to flee their homes.

Lahore High Court Judge Ali Baqir Najfi granted bail on Nov. 6, but the decision and his release on Nov. 15 were not made public until now due to security fears for his life, Maria said.

Shahzad told Morning Star News by telephone from an undisclosed location that the false accusation has changed his family’s lives forever.

“My family has been on the run from the time I was implicated in this false charge and arrested by the police under mob pressure,” Shahzad told Morning Star News. “My eldest daughter had just started her second year in college, but it’s been more than four months now that she hasn’t been able to return to her institution. My other children are also unable to resume their education as my family is compelled to change their location after 15-20 days as a security precaution.”

Though he was not tortured during incarceration, he said, the pain of being away from his family and thinking about their well-being and safety gave him countless sleepless nights.

“All of this is due to the fact that the complainant, Imran Ladhar, has widely shared my photo on social media and declared me liable for death for alleged blasphemy,” he said in a choked voice. “As soon as Ladhar heard about my bail, he and his accomplices started gathering people in the village and incited them against me and my family. He’s trying his best to ensure that we are never able to go back to the village.”

Shahzad has met with his family only once since his release on bail, and they are unable to return to their village in the foreseeable future, he said.

“We are not together,” he told Morning Star News. “They are living at a relative’s house while I’m taking refuge elsewhere. I don’t know when this agonizing situation will come to an end.”

The Christian said the complainant, said to be a member of Islamist extremist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan and also allegedly connected with banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, filed the charge because of a grudge. Shahzad said he and his family had obtained valuable government land and allotted it for construction of a church building, and Ladhar and others had filed multiple cases against the allotment and lost all of them after a four-year legal battle.

“Another probable reason for Ladhar’s jealousy could be that we were financially better off than most Christian families of the village,” he said. “I was running a successful paint business in Sargodha city, but that too has shut down due to this case.”

Regarding the social media post, Shahzad said he had no intention of hurting Muslim sentiments by sharing the biblical verse on his Facebook page.

“I posted the verse a week before Eid Al Adha [Feast of the Sacrifice] but I had no idea that it would be used to target me and my family,” he said. “In fact, when I came to know that Ladhar was provoking the villagers against me, I deleted the post and decided to meet the village elders to explain my position.”

The village elders were already influenced by Ladhar and refused to listen to him, Shahzad said.

“I was left with no option but to flee the village when I heard that Ladhar was amassing a mob to attack me,” he said.

Shahzad pleaded with government authorities for justice, saying he should not be punished for sharing a verse from the Bible that in no way constituted blasphemy.

Similar to other cases

Shahzad’s attorney, Maria, told Morning Star News that events in Shahzad’s case were similar to other blasphemy cases filed against Christians.

“Defective investigation, mala fide on the part of the police and complainant, violent protests against the accused persons and threats to them and their families, forcing their displacement from their ancestral areas, have become hallmarks of all blasphemy allegations in Pakistan,” said Maria, head of The Voice Society, a Christian paralegal organization.

She said that the case filed against Shahzad was gross violation of Section 196 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which states that police cannot register a case under the Section 295-A blasphemy statute against a private citizen without the approval of the provincial government or federal agencies.

Maria added that Shahzad and his family have continued to suffer even though there was no evidence of blasphemy.

“The social stigma attached with a blasphemy accusation will likely have a long-lasting impact on their lives, whereas his accuser, Imran Ladhar, would not have to face any consequence of his false accusation,” she said.

The judge who granted bail noted that Shahzad was charged with blasphemy under Section 295-A, which is a non-cognizable offense, and Section 298, which is bailable. The judge also noted that police had not submitted the forensic report of Shahzad’s cell phone and said evidence was required to prove that the social media was blasphemous, according to Maria.

Bail was set at 100,000 Pakistani rupees (US $350) and two personal sureties, and the judge ordered police to further investigate, she said.

Shahzad, a paint contractor, on June 29 posted on his Facebook page 1 Cor. 10:18-21 regarding food sacrificed to idols, as Muslims were beginning the four-day festival of Eid al-Adha, which involves slaughtering an animal and sharing the meat.

A Muslim villager took a screenshot of the post, sent it to local social media groups and accused Shahzad of likening Muslims to pagans and disrespecting the Abrahamic tradition of animal sacrifice.

Though Shahzad made no comment in the post, inflammatory or otherwise, the situation became tense after Friday prayers when announcements were made from mosque loudspeakers telling people to gather for a protest, family sources previously told Morning Star News.

Fearing violence as mobs grew in the village, most Christian families fled their homes, leaving everything behind.

In a bid to restore order, the police registered a case against Shahzad under Sections 295-A and 298. Section 295-A relates to “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” and is punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years and fine, or both. Section 298 prescribes up to one year in prison and a fine, or both, for hurting religious sentiments.

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, up from eighth the previous year.

Morning Star News is the only independent news service focusing exclusively on the persecution of Christians. The nonprofit’s mission is to provide complete, reliable, even-handed news in order to empower those in the free world to help persecuted Christians, and to encourage persecuted Christians by informing them that they are not alone in their suffering.

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Individual + Team Stats: Hornets vs. Timberwolves

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CHARLOTTE HORNETS MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES You can follow us for future coverage by liking us on Facebook & following us on X: Facebook – All Hornets X – …

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