Government warns about ‘fake news’ and ‘misinformation’ on Covid

Minister of Health Chris Hipkins has warned against ‘fake news’ and ‘misinformation’ on Covid, saying it risked extending transmission of the virus, and that risked keeping the country in level 2. This put freedoms and jobs and businesses at risk.

RNZ: Public warned as fake news, misinformation, conspiracy theories threaten Covid-19 response

Fake news, misinformation and conspiracy theories are threatening to derail the country’s Covid-19 response and impede progress to alert level 1.

The government has sounded a strong warning after revealing people linked to the Mt Roskill church cluster were sceptical about the seriousness of the pandemic – while a researcher is raising the alarm about far-right groups and fringe political leaders also entering the fray.

Minister of Health Chris Hipkins fronted this afternoon’s Covid-19 briefing with a plea to “think twice before sharing information that can’t be verified”.

He said looking overseas, it was plain to see the coronavirus was “very, very real” and “very, very deadly”, with no vaccine – and while he wanted a co-operative approach, he did not rule out punitive measures for people who continue to deliberately spread lies.

It follows warnings that some church groups are facing a battle to deter the spread of false information among their communities.

Sociologist Paul Spoonley had his eye on tertiary institutions and groups with far-right views setting up on campuses who were “talking to those suggestible, who are keen to hear about alternative views”.

“They are certainly spreading misinformation about various aspects of the pandemic and who is behind it,” he said.

The other source of rumours that worried Spoonley was fringe political leaders.

I certainly don’t want the country and myself put at risk by bullshit peddlers.

So, should I not allow anyone to promote conspiracy ‘theories’ or false information or claims without evidence here on Covid?

Perhaps I have a responsibility to do something like this.

The freedom to promote different views, and to discuss and debate topical issues is important here.

But I need to draw a line and not allow the promotion of ignorant or deliberate misinformation or false or unsupported claims that could be damaging to our communities and country.

I probably won’t get too drastic, but I may do more to hold to account those who make dubious claims or promote obvious bullshit.

This means that suspect comments may be parked until I have time to deal with them.

So take this as a warning from me. Open discussion does not mean open slather to promoters of bullshit, or of claims not supported by credible evidence.

I really can’t be bothered with anti-social messaging here. I have to decide what is fake or false versus genuine discussion, but I will change my approach on this. I’d rather err towards responsibility here, which is on me rather than on commenters.

Churches blamed for spreading Covid virus and misinformation

Many of the new Covid cases in Auckland are linked to the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship church, and there is growing criticism of the attitude of some churches to Covid, and for spreading misinformation similar to what is being spread by US churches.

Yesterday Minister of Health Chris Hipkins hinted at concerns about attitudes to testing and disclosure about Covid.

RNZ: Student who tested positive an undisclosed contact, Hipkins says

“We did identify yesterday, in the cluster of cases announced, that there were a couple of cases that had not been previously identified … it would appear that somewhere along the way someone has not fully disclosed all of their contacts.”

“Obviously this is information we’d have liked to see sooner and we may have had fewer infections as a result had we known about the chain of connection.”

The authorities are now looking into whether that was on purpose.

“We’ve got community leaders in there, we’ve got police working alongside Auckland Regional Public Health as well to make sure we are getting all of the information that we need.

“That’s one of the things that the investigation is looking at now and it will include looking at whether there was a deliberate decision not to disclose, or whether it was simply an oversight,” Hipkins said.

He said this sub-cluster has been a challenge to work with as some members do not understand the seriousness of the situation.

“There are certainly some within the cluster that perhaps don’t accept or haven’t previously accepted the science involved here.”

They are now being educated on the gravity of the situation, he said.

“It would certainly appear that they were skeptical at the beginning,” Hipkins said. “I think that a lot of work has been done with them since then.”

Auckland University microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles told Morning Report

… it’s not surprising to hear some in the community are skeptical about Covid-19 and disinformation has been spreading.

“There are very key people in our communities within New Zealand and people in positions of influence who are really trying to disrupt our team of five million by spreading false information about the pandemic,” Wiles said.

“If that’s the reason why some people are not disclosing contacts or have not been cooperating, we’re now going to see the consequences of that.”

“This is a team of five million. This is about people and it only works when we all do our bit … it’s on all of us to be really mindful about sharing disinformation and talking to people around us who might be having these views.”

Today from RNZ: Churches with links to the US being blamed for spreading Covid-19 misinformation

New Zealand churches with US links are being blamed for spreading Covid-19 misinformation.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins has said some of the 43 people linked to the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship church cluster in Auckland were sceptical about the seriousness of the pandemic, as church and community leaders say they face a battle to check the spread of false information.

Pakilau Manase Lua grew up in the Seventh Day Adventist church and said his own friends and family were guilty of spreading conspiracies and false information about Covid-19.

“I’ve personally received lots of private messages regarding information that people think is useful but is purely disinformation, either about the virus itself or fear around the vaccine,” he said.

Lua, who is the chairman of the Pacific Leadership Forum’s Pacific Response Coordination Team, said this spread was especially rife among those with links to conservative evangelical or pentecostal churches in the United States.

“It’s been spreading like wildfire through social media.”

Including here. It’s not just linked to churches, it is also political.

Media chaplain and Wesleyan Methodist minister Frank Ritchie said some ministers were losing the battle to stem the flow of misinformation amongst their congregations.

“What I’m seeing is ministers who are doing the right thing, but their people are being indoctrinated online.”

Some congregation members were angry their minister did not agree with what they were reading on the internet about Covid-19, he said.

A study by Te Puunaha Matatini found there was a spike in mainstream media coverage of conspiracy theories following the outbreak of Covid-19 in August.

Researcher Kate Hannah said they were often spread by marginalised people who were historically distrustful of science or government.

Lua, who set up an online Kava Club during the March lockdown, said the forum was often used to spread fear and misinformation about the coronavirus.

But he was also using it as a space to challenge that, with some success.

“We tell them straight up ‘that’s rubbish’ and ‘here’s the other side’.

“So we give them the information and evidence and every now and then we’ll have a win, but it is hard because there is so much disinformation out there.

This ‘misinformation’ – with some it’s ignorance being spread, with others it seems to be deliberately used to make political attacks – is a risk to the whole country.

The current spread of Covid in Auckland is keeping the city and the country in level 2 lockdown. This impacts on community health, and also on jobs and businesses around the country.

People who spread crap are putting us all at risk.

Facebook suspends ‘disinformation network’ linked to Brazilian president

Facebook has suspended accounts they say have been using fake personas and other types of “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” to spread misinformation by employees of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and two of his sons (who are also politicians).

Reuters: Facebook suspends disinformation network tied to staff of Brazil’s Bolsonaro

Facebook on Wednesday suspended a network of social media accounts it said were used to spread divisive political messages online by employees of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and two of his sons.

The company said that despite efforts to disguise who was behind the activity, it had found links to the staff of two Brazilian lawmakers, as well as the president and his sons, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro and Senator Flavio Bolsonaro.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said the accounts were removed for using fake personas and other types of “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” which violated the company’s rules.

He said there was no evidence the politicians themselves had operated the accounts.

“What we can prove is that employees of those offices are engaged on our platforms in this type of behaviour,” he told Reuters ahead of the announcement on the company’s blog.

The allegations by Facebook add to a burgeoning political crisis in Brazil, where Bolsonaro’s sons and supporters have been accused of running a coordinated online campaign to smear the president’s opponents.

The accusations have spurred a congressional inquiry and a separate Supreme Court investigation into so-called “fake news attacks” on the country’s judiciary, which led to police raids in May on the homes and offices of Bolsonaro allies.

Bolsonaro, who is also under mounting criticism over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, has said the court’s investigation is unconstitutional and risks establishing censorship in Brazil by policing what people can say online.

Sounds similar to Donald Trump.

Facebook said it has also suspended three other networks on Wednesday, including one it attributed to Roger Stone, a longtime friend and adviser of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Facebook has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks to better police how political groups use its platform. Hundreds of advertisers have joined a boycott aimed at forcing the company to block hate speech on its site, and multiple employees walked out last month over CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision not to challenge inflammatory posts Trump.

Gleicher said his team had identified and suspended more than 80 accounts on Facebook and its photo-sharing site, Instagram, as part of the Brazilian network. The accounts had amassed 1.8 million followers, he said, and some dated back to 2018.

Researchers at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, who spent a week analysing the activity identified by Facebook, said they had found five current and former political staffers who registered and operated the accounts.

Some of those accounts posed as fake Brazilians and news outlets to spread “hyper-partisan views” supporting Bolsonaro and attacking his critics, said researcher Luiza Bandeira. Their targets included opposition lawmakers, former ministers and members of Brazil’s Supreme Court.

More recently, the accounts also amplified Bolsonaro’s claims that the risks of the coronavirus pandemic are exaggerated. The disease has killed more than 66,000 people in Brazil and Bolsonaro himself tested positive this week.

“We have known for a long time that when people disagree with Bolsonaro they are targeted by this machine that uses online disinformation to mock and discredit them,” said Bandeira.

Also sounds similar to how Trump operates.

And from Al Jazeera: Bolsonaro taking dubious drug after testing positive for COVID-19

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has continued to tout an unproven anti-malarial drug as a treatment for the new coronavirus after testing positive for COVID-19.

After months of downplaying the virus’s severity, the 65-year-old far-right leader announced on Tuesday he had been diagnosed with the highly infectious respiratory disease but already felt better thanks to hydroxychloroquine.

Hours later, the former army captain shared a video of himself gulping down what he said was his third dose.

“I trust hydroxychloroquine,” Bolsonaro said, smiling. “And you?”

On Wednesday, he was again extolling the drug’s benefits and claimed his political opponents were rooting against it.

“To those who cheer against hydroxychloroquine, but have no alternatives, I regret to inform you that I am very well with its use and, with the grace of God, I will live for a long time,” Bolsonaro wrote on his Facebook page.

Natalia Pasternak, a research fellow at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Sao Paulo, said Bolsonaro was setting a “bad example”.

That’s nothing new.

Meanwhile, Trump is complaining about court proceedings against him in the US.

He followed that with a string of tweet rants.

CNN: Trump loses battle on financial records, but Supreme Court ruling buys him time

The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked House Democrats from accessing President Donald Trump’s financial records, but ruled that the President is not immune from a subpoena for his financial documents from a New York prosecutor.

The cases were sent back to lower courts for further review, all but ensuring that Trump’s financial documents, which he has long sought to protect, will not be handed over before the November presidential election.

Chief Justice John Roberts penned the 7-2 opinion in the New York prosecutor case, and was joined by Trump’s two nominees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito filed dissenting opinions.

“(W)e cannot conclude that absolute immunity is necessary or appropriate under Article II or the Supremacy Clause. Our dissenting colleagues agree,” the chief wrote, noting that the court is unanimous that there is no absolute immunity.

He added: “We reaffirm that principle today and hold that the President is neither absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas seeking his private papers nor entitled to a heightened standard of need.”

So no absolute immunity for the president, but Trump seems a bit unhappy about it:

We have a totally corrupt previous Administration, including a President and Vice President who spied on my campaign, AND GOT CAUGHT…and nothing happens to them. This crime was taking place even before my election, everyone knows it, and yet all are frozen stiff with fear…

No Republican Senate Judiciary response, NO “JUSTICE”, NO FBI, NO NOTHING. Major horror show REPORTS on Comey & McCabe, guilty as hell, nothing happens. Catch Obama & Biden cold, nothing. A 3 year, $45,000,000 Mueller HOAX, failed – investigated everything…

Won all against the Federal Government and the Democrats send everything to politically corrupt New York, which is falling apart with everyone leaving, to give it a second, third and fourth try. Now the Supreme Court gives a delay ruling that they would never have given for another President.

This is about PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT. We catch the other side SPYING on my campaign, the biggest political crime and scandal in U.S. history, and NOTHING HAPPENS. But despite this, I have done more than any President in history in first 3 1/2 years!

This is a now familiar ‘poor me but I’m still great’ spiel.