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New Report Blasts Government’s COVID Response, Warns of Repeating Same Mistakes

Fox News reported:

A new report has sharply criticized the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, writing that lockdowns, school closures and vaccine mandates were “catastrophic errors” resulting in many Americans losing faith in public health institutions.

The report, published this week by the non-profit Committee to Unleash Prosperity (CTUP), paints a damning indictment of the government’s role in the crisis and offers ten lessons that must be learned, to avoid the same mistakes from being repeated.

Some of the guidance includes halting all binding agreements or pledges to the World Health Organization (WHO), term limits for all senior health agency positions as well as limiting the powers of health agencies to make sure they are strictly advisory and do not have the power to set laws or mandates.

The paper, titled “COVID Lessons Learned A Retrospective After Four Years,” states that granting unprecedented powers to public health agencies, many of which imposed strict limits on basic civil liberties, had little positive benefit and instead helped stoke fear among the public.

Can Biden Ask Facebook to Remove Misinformation? Supreme Court Case Being Heard Today Will Decide.

Forbes reported:

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Monday in a case that will determine to what extent the federal government can contact and exert pressure on social media companies after two GOP-led states accused the Biden administration of “censorship” by “coercing” social media platforms to moderate misinformation.

The court will hear arguments in Murthy v. Missouri, a case brought by Missouri, Louisiana and several individuals that challenges the Biden administration’s contacts with social media companies.

The states accuse the government of waging “a broad pressure campaign designed to coerce social media companies into suppressing speakers, viewpoints, and content disfavored by the government,” such as by asking them to remove misinformation about the election and COVID-19 — which the states argue violates the First Amendment and unfairly suppresses conservative speech.

Justices will hear oral arguments in the case on Monday and then issue their opinion likely in a few months, sometime before the court’s term wraps up in late June.

What the Data Says About Pandemic School Closures, Four Years Later

The New York Times reported:

Four years ago this month, schools nationwide began to shut down, igniting one of the most polarizing and partisan debates of the pandemic. Some schools, often in Republican-led states and rural areas, reopened by fall 2020. Others, typically in large cities and states led by Democrats, would not fully reopen for another year.

A variety of data — about children’s academic outcomes and about the spread of COVID-19 — has accumulated in the time since. Today, there is broad acknowledgment among many public health and education experts that extended school closures did not significantly stop the spread of COVID, while the academic harms for children have been large and long-lasting.

While poverty and other factors also played a role, remote learning was a key driver of academic declines during the pandemic, research shows — a finding that held true across income levels.

As experts plan for the next public health emergency, whatever it may be, a growing body of research shows that pandemic school closures came at a steep cost to students.

A TikTok Ban Could Embolden Authoritarian Censorship, Experts Warn

NBC News reported:

The proposed TikTok ban working its way through Congress could embolden authoritarian censorship abroad, experts warn, and shatter the United States’ reputation as an international champion of free speech.

The House of Representatives passed the Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act on Wednesday. The bill still needs a Senate vote, and then to be signed by President Joe Biden. If signed into law, ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, would either be forced to sell TikTok or the app would be banned from app stores, according to the bill’s proponents.

U.S. officials say the driving motivation to pass such a bill is to prevent TikTok from being used to disseminate Chinese propaganda or collect information on U.S. citizens for Chinese government use.

But to some critics of the bill, a ban would cede America’s moral authority when it condemns other countries over limiting their citizens’ internet access.

Fight Health Misinformation by Influencing the Influencers

Bloomberg reported:

Public health institutions are facing the challenge of a lifetime as social media breeds misinformation and disinformation about everything from COVID vaccines to climate change. Now, a creative program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health is trying to flip the script by influencing the influencers on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. Given the monumental task, we need more experiments like this.

In a pilot program last year, Harvard researchers provided dozens of mental health influencers with simple toolkits (and in some cases, training from public health experts) providing accurate, evidence-backed information on specific mental health topics. The goal: to flood the zone with good information in the hope of drowning out the bad.

So far, it looks like the pilot is worth expanding. In a paper published last week, the team found that providing the toolkit increased the likelihood that the influencers would create content that includes the core themes the Harvard scientists were promoting. The effect was small — just a 3% increase in references to those topics — but even small shifts can matter given the volume of content created and the millions of views these posts might receive.

Government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have also experimented with ways to better reach the public, but have yet to come up with a winning formula. In a recent editorial warning that misinformation might be pushing the U.S. to a tipping point on vaccination, FDA leaders suggested the remedy is to dilute that bad information “with large amounts of truthful, accessible scientific evidence.” But who should take on this huge task? The FDA suggested anyone “directly interacting with individuals in a healthcare setting” — in other words, doctors, nurses and other providers.

U.S. Investigating Meta for Role in Illicit Drug Sales, WSJ Reports

Reuters reported:

U.S. prosecutors in Virginia are probing whether Facebook-parent Meta’s (META.O) social media platforms facilitated and profited from the illegal sale of drugs, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday, citing documents and people familiar with the matter.

The prosecutors sent subpoenas last year and have been asking questions as part of a criminal grand jury probe, the report said, adding that they have also been requesting records related to drug content or illicit sale of drugs via Meta’s platforms.

Leading Adviser Quits Over Instagram’s Failure to Remove Self-Harm Content

The Guardian reported:

A leading psychologist who advises Meta on suicide prevention and self-harm has quit her role, accusing the tech giant of “turning a blind eye” to harmful content on Instagram, repeatedly ignoring expert advice and prioritizing profit over lives.

Lotte Rubæk, who has been on Meta’s global expert group for more than three years, told the Observer that the tech giant’s ongoing failure to remove images of self-harm from its platforms is “triggering” vulnerable young women and girls to further harm themselves and contributing to rising suicide figures.

Such is her disillusionment with the company and its apparent lack of desire to change, the Danish psychologist has resigned from the group, claiming Meta does not care about its users’ wellbeing and safety. In reality, she said, the company is using harmful content to keep vulnerable young people hooked to their screens in the interest of company profit.

Google Has ‘Interfered’ With Elections 41 Times Over the Last 16 Years, Media Research Center Says

Fox News reported:

Google has “interfered” with major elections in the United States 41 times over the last 16 years, according to a new study from the Media Research Center.

“MRC researchers have found 41 times where Google interfered in elections over the last 16 years, and its impact has surged dramatically, making it evermore harmful to democracy. In every case, Google harmed the candidates — regardless of party — who threatened its left-wing candidate of choice,” MRC Free Speech America vice president Dan Schneider and editor Gabriela Pariseau wrote in a summary of their findings.

MRC Free Speech America, a division of the conservative Media Research Center, believes the most recent example was recorded after Google artificial intelligence Gemini “refused to answer questions damaging” to President Biden.

The group’s research found that from 2008 through February 2024, “Google has utilized its power to help push to electoral victory the most liberal candidates, regardless of party, while targeting their opponents for censorship.”

No Evidence of Havana Syndrome Brain Injury, U.S. Studies Find

Reuters reported:

A U.S. government research team found no significant evidence of brain injury among a group of federal employees reporting symptoms of the “Havana syndrome” ailment that emerged in 2016, according to studies published in a medical journal on Monday.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers also found no differences in most clinical measures between a group of 86 employees and their adult family members reporting unusual health incidents and a matched group of healthy volunteers who had similar work assignments.

Symptoms of the mysterious ailment, first reported by U.S. embassy officials in the Cuban capital Havana and later afflicting diplomats, spies and other personnel worldwide, have included hearing noise and experiencing head pressure followed by headache, migraines, dizziness, and memory lapses.

The findings, from two studies conducted from 2018 through 2022, do not match results from a different study done at the University of Pennsylvania and published in JAMA in 2019, which showed some subtle brain changes in those affected.

John Moorlach: Newsom’s Approach to COVID Is a Blueprint of What Not to Do Next Time

The Orange County Register reported:

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the last time the state of California had to deal with an epidemic of this nature was 1918. The Spanish Flu struck young adults. The coronavirus was deadly for seniors.

Since there was no one in Sacramento leadership remaining who had lived through the health crisis of a century ago, the Capitol had a bunch of amateurs at the helm. And that was the flaw in how this chapter in California’s history was handled. It lacked competent and trustworthy leadership.

Gov. Gavin Newsom acted arrogantly and incompetently, treating Californians like immature children who needed to be ordered to lead their lives in a certain way.

Then came the overreaction of Newsom imposing his draconian lockdown. Face masking and social distancing are courtesies that concerned people observe when asked to do so. But mandating these two requirements is not what one does in a democratic society. Nor is shutting down businesses and determining which are essential and which are not.

The country of Sweden had the appropriate protocols — let adults be adults. Newsom did not. Placing fines and penalties on individuals who walked outside was authoritarianism at its worst.

Exclusive: Musk’s SpaceX Is Building Spy Satellite Network for U.S. Intelligence Agency, Sources Say

Reuters reported:

SpaceX is building a network of hundreds of spy satellites under a classified contract with a U.S. intelligence agency, five sources familiar with the program said, demonstrating deepening ties between billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk‘s space company and national security agencies.

The network is being built by SpaceX’s Starshield business unit under a $1.8 billion contract signed in 2021 with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), an intelligence agency that manages spy satellites, the sources said.

The plans show the extent of SpaceX’s involvement in U.S. intelligence and military projects and illustrate a deeper Pentagon investment into vast, low-Earth orbiting satellite systems aimed at supporting ground forces.

If successful, the sources said the program would significantly advance the ability of the U.S. government and military to quickly spot potential targets almost anywhere on the globe.