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John Oliver on coronavirus conspiracy theories: ‘People are going to get burned’

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After a three-week hiatus, John Oliver returned to Last Week Tonight to discuss the lure and prevalence of conspiracy theories, particularly at such a high-risk, high-information time as the coronavirus pandemic, which has created a perfect storm for conspiracy theorists, he said.

Hoaxes and conspiracy theories have proliferated since the pandemic began in March, Oliver recapped, with some online groups and websites claiming the virus doesnt exist, or that it was created by pharmaceutical companies to create business for vaccines, or that 5G networks somehow cause illness. The pseudo-documentary Plandemic was viewed more than 8 million times in one week a shockingly high number, Oliver said, not only for its numerous falsehoods but in that it racked up more views than Olivers preferred TikTok of a cat matching a pianos pitch.

Given the transmissibility of Covid-19, conspiracy theories, even fringe ones, are especially dangerous now, Oliver explained, even if only a fraction of Americans believe in them and act accordingly, such as refusing to wear a mask or physically distance. And they are a lot more popular than you might think, said Oliver.

Neither is he immune to their appeal embarrassingly, theres a part of me that thinks the royal family had Princess Diana killed, Oliver said. I know that they didnt, because theres absolutely no evidence that they did, but the idea still lingers. Because it felt too big an event to be accidental; there had to be some intent there. The longing for meaning behind senselessness is, experts say, a strong draw of conspiracy theories, which explain a chaotic, uncertain world, said Oliver, and appeal to our proportionality bias, or the tendency to assume big events must have big causes.

Conspiracy theories also arent unique to the digital age, particularly when it comes to global health a bogus theory in the 1400s blamed the bubonic plague on Jews, some attributed the Russian flu of 1889 to the new technology of electric lightbulbs, and during the 1918 flu pandemic, rumors spread that the German company Bayer had tainted its aspirin.

The only difference now is that our current pandemic is coming in the age of the internet, when its not only easier for people to do bad research and spread their results, but its also possible for them to make material look startlingly authoritative, said Oliver.

These theories can be innately appealing and, thanks to the internet, can spread with ease, he added. And all of this would be dangerous enough before you take into account that one of the most prominent spreaders of conspiracy theories on earth is the current president of the United States.

Before he was elected, Trump propagated the Obama birther hoax, and has since trafficked in bogus conspiracy theories such as the line that millions of fake votes were cast for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, to the point where conspiracy theories are sort of like ugly buildings and deeply tragic adult children in that Donald Trump loves to unleash them into the world and then refuse to take responsibility for them ever again, said Oliver.

And hes been repeating the same pattern throughout the pandemic. Trump has passed on so many conspiracies that news outlets have repeatedly called him the conspiracy theorist in chief, although I would argue hes not invested in any of these things that hes spreading, said Oliver. Hes only interested in amplifying whatever he thinks he might personally benefit from.

Or, as the conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh put it: Trump is just throwing gasoline on a fire here and hes having fun watching the flames.

Rush Limbaugh gets it, said Oliver, and thats a sentence I never thought Id say unless I was talking about toilet-transmitted chlamydia. Worse, theres high stakes to throwing gasoline on the pandemic fire, Oliver continued, as people are going to get burned, making those flames not quite as fucking fun to watch.

So what can be done? Social networks have started to step up their flagging of false content, but that wont be enough given their lack of expertise in global health and the sheer amount of information, garbage or not, posted on the platforms each day. The fact is, its going to be incumbent upon us as individuals to try to spot these theories and treat them with a skeptical eye before we believe them or indeed, spread them around, Oliver said, and listed three expert-approved questions for guarding against slipping into conspiracy: is there a rational non-conspiracy explanation? Has this been held up to scrutiny by experts? And how plausible is this theory as a practical matter?

The practicality is especially pertinent given what we know about humans inability to keep secrets, let alone the estimated 411,000 people whose silence would have been required to pull off a moon-landing hoax, according to scientists. So many theories are beyond implausible because humans, by nature, love to talk I dont know if youve ever tried to organize, say, a mid-size surprise party for your cousin, but its borderline impossible to keep it quiet, because someone is telling Roxanne, Oliver said. No matter how many emails you send saying no one tell Roxanne, Roxanne is finding out.

And while it is completely natural to want to scream at them why do you believe this nonsense, you titanic fucking idiot, Oliver concluded, now, more than ever, it might be important for you to try to reach loved ones deep in the web of conspiracy theories.



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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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