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Advertisers blacklist Russia’s RT.com after Press Gazette investigation finds Google-run ads on Covid-19 conspiracy theory reports – Press Gazette

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Automated adverts for well-known and respected brands have appeared alongside stories from Russian state-owned media that appear to promote conspiracy theories about Bill Gates and Covid-19 vaccines.

A Press Gazette investigation found adverts for Ebay, The Week magazine, Sweaty Betty and JD Sports running alongside the content, much of which has been promoted on RT’s social media channels in strong conspiratorial tones. Take the #COVID19 shot? After you, mister #Gates,” said one tweet, while another questioned whether readers could “trust” the billionaire.

None of the brands were aware that their marketing material was appearing alongside this content. And at least two Ebay and The Week’s owner, Dennis Publishing banned Google from placing their ads on RT.com after being alerted to their presence on the website by Press Gazette.

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Presented with the evidence of our investigation, Imran Ahmed chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate said there was a “clear, deep cynicism in the tone [RT has] adopted towards Bill Gates and a coronavirus vaccine”.

An RT spokesperson claimed all conspiracy theories are identified as such in the outlet’s coverage. They added that social media posts highlighted by Press Gazette were published in “irony”.

However, our investigation suggests that many of the articles do not contain sufficient caveats or state that there is no evidence to support the conspiracy theories. On social media, we found that RT stories about Gates and vaccines have been seized on by conspiracy theorists like David Icke.

Social media has been rife with unfounded conspiracy theories about Gates during the coronavirus crisis. Fact-checkers from across the world have repeatedly dismissed untrue claims about the businessman and philanthropist.

‘Take the #COVID19 shot? After you, mister #Gates’

One RT article, published in late June and headlined Bill Gates says final hurdle to distributing a Covid-19 vaccine will be convincing people to TAKE IT, appears to play into unfounded conspiracy theories that Gates has a sinister reason for wanting many people across the world to be vaccinated against the disease.

The story is based on fact a report on a CNN interview with Gates. But the tone of the article appears to suggest there is reason to be suspicious of the Microsoft founder.

The piece, which does not have a byline, describes a potential future Covid-19 vaccine as something that Gates “wants to inject into every human on the planet”. It reports that Gates had “insisted” rates of infection were increasing in the US something that is clear from official figures and “bragged” about the potential for producing a vaccine.

RT reported that Gates has “repeatedly expressed a desire to inoculate the worlds population with whatever vaccine emerges from the research laboratories he is funding”. The website reported that some of Gates’ words were “implying [people] had no choice” but to take a vaccine.

Promoting the article to its millions of followers across Twitter and Facebook, RT asked its readers: “Would you trust Bill Gates with your health?” A separate tweet said: “Take the #COVID19 shot? After you, mister #Gates.”

The article has also been seized on by conspiracy theorists, including the son of David Icke.

Google-run adverts feature alongside the story on RTs website. There are also promotions on the page for users to follow RT on Google News.

‘Next step, smartphone chips in our brains!’

In another recent article, RT raised concerns about a South Korean project part-funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a Covid-19 tracing app.

Under a story headlined: “Is that Big Brother behind the medical mask? Bill Gates to co-fund South Korean research of next-gen quarantine methods”, RT reported that the “project may stir uncomfortable thoughts in those who suspect the billionaire of having a sinister agenda”.

It later reported that some people “can’t help but see sinister undertones beyond the philanthropy” of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In this article, RT did acknowledge that conspiracy theories about Gates are “not widespread, though the hardships of Covid-19 lockdowns seem to fuel all sorts of connect-the-dots sort of thinking”.

But tweeting a link to the article, RT said: “Next step, smartphone chips in our brains! Can’t wait!”

Vaccine progress kicks ‘off a storm of concerns online’

A similar story reports on concerns about the fact that a firm with links to Gates Novavax, which has received grants from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which itself has received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had begun testing a Covid-19 vaccine.

The first sentence of the article reported that the news was “kicking off a storm of concerns online”.

It later added: “In doling out his vast fortune to a number of similar health initiatives over the years primarily through his own Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation the Microsoft mogul has drawn intense suspicion and doubt from the conspiracy-minded, who posit that Gates is committed to a ‘depopulation’ agenda to rid the planet of its useless eaters. News of Gates connection to the Novavax trial set off alarms for some netizens, many warning the project is ‘not to be trusted’ and urging Gates himself to volunteer to be the first guinea pig to receive the rushed-out vaccine.”

Press Gazette found an advert for subscriptions to The Week magazine featuring alongside this article.

The title’s owner, Dennis Publishing, declined to comment. But Press Gazette understands the publisher which was not aware that its marketing materials were being programmatically placed next to this content now plans to add RT to an advertising exclusion list of around 500 websites.

An advert for The Week features alongside RT article about Bill Gates

‘Bill Gates seeks to microchip humanity!’

Another recent article “Bill Gates seeks to microchip humanity! Russian Oscar-winning director pushes vaccine conspiracy loosely-based on REAL patent” reports on the wild theories of Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov. The article was promoted by conspiracy theorist David Icke on his website.

Press Gazette found adverts for Sweaty Betty featuring alongside this article.Sweaty Betty did not respond to requests for comment.

Another article, “Gates dismisses bizarre Covid-19 conspiracy theories as his impact on WHO, global health business increases”, reports on various theories about the businessman that have been “swirling around” the internet.

Although the piece reports on Gates dismissing allegations against him, it does little to state that none of the theories have any evidence behind them.

Press Gazette found adverts for Sweaty Betty, JD Sports and Ebay featuring alongside this story. JD Sports declined to comment.

After being alerted to its presence on the page, Ebay subsequently “blacklisted” RT, meaning Google will no longer be allowed to place its adverts on the site.

An Ebay spokesperson said: “The placement of this advert is the result of third party programmatic algorithms and is not a deliberate placement byeBay. However, we have blacklisted Russia Today and our adverts will no longer appear on the site.”

‘There is a clear deep cynicism in the tone they have adopted towards Bill Gates and a coronavirus vaccine’

There is no suggestion that any of the brands featuring alongside this content were aware of its positioning. In each case, the adverts appeared as a result of programmatic algorithms used by Google companies.

However, Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, suggested brands should take a stand against their advertising spend inadvertently funding this sort of content.

He told Press Gazette: “In our research on alliances between digital hate movements and political actors, we find that RT crops up again and again.

“There is a clear deep cynicism in the tone they have adopted towards Bill Gates and a coronavirus vaccine which shows a callous disregard for human life and safety in favour of narrow political advantage.

“The advertisers funding this material will no doubt he horrified and we urge them to ensure they stop funding fake news.”

An RT spokesperson said: “Perhaps there should be a warning somewhere on our Twitter page that irony* is involved and the likes of respected Press Gazette journalists could be unfortunately misled.

“Otherwise we are happy you noticed that in all the materials in question RT explicitly identifies the conspiracy theories as such.

“*Irony is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or event in which what appears, on the surface, to be the case or to be expected differs radically from what is actually the case. That’s from Wiki.”

AGoogle spokesperson: “We have strict publisher policies that govern the content ads can run on. We specifically prohibit publishers from misrepresenting themselves or their products and have also taken an aggressive approach to Covid-19 content that causes direct user harm or spreads medical misinformation. When a page or site violates our policies, we take immediate action and remove its ability to monetise.”

It is understood that Google does not consider the content highlighted in this article as being in violation of its terms. The digital giant does regularly review such content, and last year terminated more than 1.2m publisher accounts and removed adverts from 21m web pages.

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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories – KTVZ

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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories - KTVZ

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Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York are calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to create a new bipartisan committee focused on election integrity and schedule hearings to reassure Americans over a process President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to undermine.

There is growing anxiety among Democrats, and some Republicans, that Trump will not only continue to sow doubt over the legitimacy of the coming election but throw the subsequent count into chaos by declaring victory before all the votes can be tallied, including the millions that will arrive by mail.

In a letter to McConnell, Sanders and Schumer quote back the Kentucky senator’s own words, in which he attested to the reliability of mail-in voting by citing its successes in Oregon, Washington and Colorado, which have been using the system for years.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the validity of mail-in voting, promoted conspiracy theories questioning election security, called on supporters to act as unsanctioned “poll watchers,” and suggested that the absence of a clear result by the evening of November 3 would in some way cast doubt on the eventual outcome. Key allies in powerful positions, like Attorney General Bill Barr, have followed suit. Barr has persisted in puffing up a debunked claim that ballots received by mail would somehow strip the sender of their privacy — ignoring well-established safeguards.

By escalating the matter now, Sanders and Schumer are responding to growing concern, in partisan and nonpartisan spaces, that Americans are not adequately prepared for the potential of a longer-than-usual wait for results or Trump’s willingness to short-circuit the democratic process if he smells defeat.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress must come together to ensure that we have a free and fair election where every vote is cast and counted without intimidation,” Sanders told CNN, “where no one has to put his or her health in danger to cast a ballot, and where we have full confidence in the results.”

The proposed hearings would invite a cross-section of election officials from across the country to testify to the security and reliability of mail-in, early- and in-person voting — subjects on which Sanders and Schumer, again, referenced McConnell’s own words.

“Despite the clear security of our vote-by-mail system, some have continued to undermine it with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud,” they wrote. “As you have correctly said, people ‘can vote early, you can vote on Election Day, or you can drop it in the mail,’ and that voters should ‘not worry about your vote not counting.’”

The minority leader and Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also want more detailed discussion about the fraught hours, or days, after the polls close and a real-time watch of the election horse race potentially swings from one candidate to another.

“We know a number of states may well be counting ballots for a period of time after Election Day, and that those votes may be determinative in this election,” the senators wrote to McConnell. “To avoid disinformation, conspiracy theories, and suspicion about results, we must understand the likely timeline for this process.”

The letter goes on to reference the recent war games-style preparations conducted by a group called the Transition Integrity Project, a bipartisan gathering of operatives and academics that made headlines when some of the outcomes of their exercises — including “both street-level violence and political impasse” — were reported on in late July.

“A bipartisan group of experts and officials have studied multiple scenarios where the outcome of the election was not immediately known. Some of these scenarios resulted in unrest and even violence,” Sanders and Schumer wrote, suggesting the Senate should elevate similar discussions and familiarize the public with the uncertainties ahead. “We would like to hear from the most knowledgeable people in the country as to how we can do everything possible to make sure that the election and the period afterward is secure and peaceful.”

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS supported Caputo, with a statement that called him a critical, integral part of the presidents coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was no immediate statement from the White House.

Attempts to reach Caputo were unsuccessful.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called on Azar to fire Caputo, accusing the spokesman of trying to interfere with CDC reports to the medical and scientific community, as well as the public at large. And Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Azar himself to resign, citing interference with the CDC as one example of what he termed the administration’s failures.

Officials at CDC have privately complained of recent efforts by political appointees at main HHS to try to edit or press for changes in the agency’s weekly MMWR publications, a go-to resource for public health professionals.

MMWR articles are technical, but they reveal telling details. One published earlier this year noted that while Trump’s travel restrictions dramatically reduced travel from China in February, nothing was being done at that time to restrict travel from Italy and Europe, where the coronavirus was spreading widely and rapidly. Analysis of virus samples from hard-hit New York in March suggested it was introduced there from Europe and other parts of the U.S., the CDC article reported.

Caputo is an unswerving Trump loyalist. His recent book, The Ukraine Hoax, claims the presidents phony impeachment was rooted in a vast conspiracy.

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS…

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS...

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My RSS Feedunwinona:

This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS and Polio narrative (among others), only we’re seeing it escalated to weeks and months instead of years or decades.

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