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Tech Innovation in the Age of Conspiracy – Techonomy

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Tech Innovation in the Age of Conspiracy - Techonomy

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Fort Lauderdale, Florida / USA – 5/19/2020: Man at Broward County Government Center shutdown downtown holding an arrest Bill Gates conspiracy theory on coronavirus covid 19 vaccination agenda sign.

Technological innovation today often generates a public debate about its positive or negative impact on society. Gone are the days in which tech particularly consumer tech was generally regarded as benign. Consider the publics changing perception over the past decade about some of the worlds most recognizable tech brands: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. What began as seemingly innocent social media platforms have morphed into vectors for the spread of misinformation with real-life social and political consequences. The companies and employees that develop these platforms face growing pushback.

There are also many indirect examples of worrisome consequences of tech, for example fears that TikToks data storage policies mean the Chinese government could access the private data of U.S. citizens. As new innovations are introduced, they may create fear,  leading to sometimes bizarre theories, such as the idea that cellphones cause cancer, that 5G wireless technology can cause Covid-19 or that RFID chips are used for clandestine surveillance (and even get implanted into people). But if new products and services stumble or fail because a hostile public is swayed by conspiracy theories, innovation and social progress suffers.

Some conspiracy theories are blaming tech for Covid-19

This problem is even more apparent amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. For example: Bill Gates, one of the worlds biggest philanthropists, is now also one of the world’s biggest targets of online conspiracy theories. Attacks even trickle down to medical professionals whose lifesaving work gets dismissed as fake news, crisis acting, or worse. While the ideas within conspiracy theories are often ridiculous, we needto take them seriously. When they erode trust in institutions or science, they damage society. This is one of our most urgent crises.  For example, when a safe and successful vaccine for Covid-19 is developed, I like millions of others will jump in line to get a shot. Unfortunately, there are concerns that other millions of people will not, because of their fears, often created by conspiracy theories. If and when that happens, the spread and devastation of the virus will be prolonged.

Another popular Covid-19-related conspiracy theory, that 5G frequencies mutated or exacerbated the virus, has already caused real world damage. Cell transmission towers have been burned down in Europe. This irrational and unsubstantiated belief might metastasize into organized opposition in the US against the installation of new towers and the expansion of this next generation of technology. That could cause significant harm to a society otherwise moving now towards more mobile, remote, and cloud-based operations. Such infrastructure will prove particularly beneficial for those in underserved communities and geographies.

Theres been much written about the business value of 5G deployments. However the inverse is also true. Losing out on 5G deployments will mean: fewer services telecoms can offer, less-reliable communications, less-effective edge computing for AR/VR, AI, and the internet of things, and delays in widespread adoption of next-gen technologies like remote surgery and commercial drone usage. Not to mention the risk that the U.S. will fall behind in the international competitiveness and efficiency of our economy.

Tech companies need to prevent conspiracy theories not react to them

Companies are increasingly expected to be responsible actors in society and take a stance on social issues such as inequality, discrimination, and pollution. Fighting conspiracy theories should be added to the list. Tech companies have strived to remove misinformation about COVID-19 from their platforms and help with medical relief efforts. However, their behavior during the pandemic is still regarded with distrust. Palantir, for example, has drawn a great deal of scrutiny over its secret partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services. Beyond the pandemic, Kara Swisher pointed out how allowing conspiracies and polarizing content to spread has damaged the reputation of Facebook and Twitter, even as theyve worked to fix it.

One way to help stem the tide against tech companies is for them to open up their processes around innovation, making them more transparent to the public. In this time of confusion and misinformation, businesses have an opportunity to lead in fighting conspiratorial thinking, not by simply denying accusations or attacking the people spreading them, but by building goodwill with the greater public and turning them into advocates for innovation. John Cook and Stephan Lewandowskys The Conspiracy Theory Handbook is a useful guide to how such pernicious ideas begin to circulate, and helps explain how citizens can push back against conspiracy theories. But  innovators should seek to avoid being reactive.

Tech companies should strive to be proactive and address the underlying concerns that lead to conspiracy theories around innovation. Company founders and leaders need to ensure that they’re viewed as trustworthy, both before and during the development of their products and services. An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure.

Tech companies have traditionally been resistant to  transparency. Given the large amount of investment often necessary for innovation, its natural to fear that trade secrets may get stolen. Some companies even go so far as to try and put restrictions on where former employees can work.  On the other hand, if information about a new technology isnt readily available, that may lead to confusion or skepticism. No one who created 5G could have predicted it might be blamed for a global pandemic. However, the tech and telecom industries could have anticipated that the lay public would have difficulty understanding how it works, and that if this were not addressed it could leave room for bad actors to invent outrageous claims, like that 5G radio waves can cause mutations.

Instead, innovation must be more transparent. When building next-generation technologies, companies need to ensure open communication around what theyre developing and be honest about its potential impacts. They should also develop guidelines and principles to articulate how they will avoid the risks that their technology might be used for harm.

A good recent example of this approach is Google and Apples new contact tracing capability for Covid-19 infection. Theyve taken the right steps by declaring they will keep the publics data anonymous, and have outlined the specific technologies (bluetooth, app permissions, data anonymization, etc.) that go into developing this platform. By contrast, the UKs NHS ignored this process and created a contact tracing app that was widely criticized. It was seen as not only invasive but ineffective.

The US has always been a hotbed of conspiracy theories, but Covid-19 has accelerated their spread. People are desperate for answers to make sense of a seemingly endless crisis. While trust in institutions has been steadily declining over the years, the technology industry is an increasingly central institution in our society. Tech companies can help repair this damage, help fight conspiracies, and restore the publics trust by adopting a proactive policy of consistent transparency and openness.



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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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