With a COVID-19 vaccine nearing release, the major tech platforms have agreed to partner on a new program, in conjunction with fact-checking organizations, in order to formulate new, improved approaches to combatting vaccine misinformation.
As reported by BBC:
“Taking part in the effort alongside Facebook, Google-owned YouTube and Twitter are the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Africa Check, Canada’s Privacy Council Office and five other international fact-checking organizations.”
Fact-checking charity Full Fact will co-ordinate the anti-misinformation push.
That could see the platforms develop new, more effective ways for countering misinformation, and for detecting misleading reports before they can gain traction online.
All three companies have already implemented measures to combat anti-vax content – Facebook announced a ban on anti-vax ads in October, expanding its efforts to reduce the reach of anti-vax content, while Twitter added warnings on vaccine-related searches in March last year. YouTube has also moved to demonetize channels and videos which share anti-vax rhetoric.
Yet, health experts say that these measures don’t go far enough. Last July, months before the COVID-19 outbreak, a group of more than 60 public health leaders from around the world issued a public plea to the internet giants to monitor and label inaccurate and disproven claims about vaccines, in order to stop the dangerous growth of various anti-vax movements.
The group of medical professionals said that the rise of anti-vax groups had lead to serious declines in community vaccination rates, putting millions of people at risk. And again, this was before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has sparked new growth in conspiracy theories around the virus, and fueled further anti-vax sentiment as a result.
Indeed, back in July, US medical expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said that the US would face significant difficulties in moving beyond the pandemic due to “general anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling” throughout the community. That will delay an effective vaccine rollout, which, in turn, will see ongoing lockdowns and mitigation efforts as communities resist such measures.
Online platforms play a key part in this. Despite its efforts to limit the reach of anti-vax content, Facebook still hosts thousands of anti-vax related groups, while it’s easy to find YouTube videos that support anti-vax conspiracies, despite YouTube pulling ads from such content, when detected.
Just a few months back, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter all removed an anti-vax video posted by Breitbart – but not before it reached tens of millions of views across their platforms, spreading anti-science messaging.
These are the areas where the platforms will be looking to improve, and hopefully, through this new, collaborative effort, they’ll be able to formulate new plans to not only limit the reach of such, but eliminate it entirely, in order to ensure a smooth roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine.
It’s a big challenge, but this may be the start of an improved effort on all types of misinformation online.
Iran pop singer silenced, but his song remains a protest anthem
Shervin Hajipour’s song “Baraye” draws on the tweets of Iranians longing for a normal life – Copyright Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP)/AFP –
Even though he has been silenced, Iranian pop singer Shirvin Hajipour’s impassioned song in support of protests over Mahsa Amini’s death in custody remains an unofficial anthem of the movement.
The song “Baraye” notched up 40 million views on Instagram before it was deleted when Hajipour was arrested, but he has since been freed on bail and has distanced himself from politics, likely as a condition for his release.
Baraye, the Persian word “For” or “Because”, is composed of tweets about the protests and highlights longings people have for things lacking in sanctions-hit Iran, where many complain of hardship caused by economic mismanagement.
It also draws on everyday activities that have landed people in trouble with the authorities in the Islamic republic.
“For the sake of dancing in the streets; Because of the fear felt while kissing; For my sister, your sister, your sisters,” the song’s lyrics say.
“Because of the embarrassment of an empty pocket; Because we are longing for a normal life… Because of this polluted air.”
Baraye has been heard played loudly at night from apartment blocks in Iran to show support for protests sparked by Amini’s death on September 16, after the notorious morality police arrested her for allegedly breaching rules requiring women to wear hijab headscarves and modest clothes.
It was also sung with gusto by the Iranian diaspora at rallies in more than 150 cities around the world at the weekend.
In one clip shared by the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, a group of schoolgirls without headscarves is seen singing Baraye in class with their backs to the camera.
The tune was removed from Hajipour’s Instagram account shortly after his arrest but is still widely available on other social media platforms, including Twitter and YouTube.
– ‘Because of forced Instagram stories’ –
Hajipour’s lawyer Majid Kaveh said he was released on bail at noon on Tuesday.
The reformist Shargh newspaper said his family had been informed of his arrest in the northern city of Sari on Saturday, in a report that cited his sister Kamand Hajipour.
She had said in an Instagram post that her parents had been informed of his arrest in a call from the city’s intelligence ministry offices.
Shortly after his release, Hajipour was back on Instagram, but this time to apologise and distance himself from politics.
“I’m here to say I’m okay,” he told his 1.9 million followers on the platform.
“But I’m sorry that some particular movements based outside of Iran — which I have had no relations with — made some improper political uses of this song.
“I would not swap this (country) for anywhere else and I will stay for my homeland, my flag, my people, and I will sing.
“I don’t want to be a plaything for those who do not think of me, you or this country,” he added.
In response to his post, many on Twitter suggested the line “Because of forced Instagram stories” should be added to the lyrics of the song.
Human rights groups including Article 19 have repeatedly called on Iran to end its use of forced confessions, which they say are false and extracted under duress or even torture.
In one recent case, a young Iranian woman, Sepideh Rashno, disappeared after becoming involved in a dispute on a Tehran bus with another woman who accused her of removing her headscarf.
She was held by the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and appeared on television in what activists said was a forced confession before being released on bail in late August.
Iran pop singer silenced, but his song remains a protest anthem
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