House of Commons
In recess until 1 September
A bogus story
Written by Ralitsa Bobcheva, associate
Edited by Harriet Moll, creative director
25 August 2020
The world is ruled by a reptilian elite, global warming is a hoax and Finland does not exist – these are some of the most outlandish examples from a long list of conspiracy theories which, research shows, may have helped their believers maintain a fake sense of control over difficult times.
Widely shared research shows that the popularity of conspiracy theories is fueled by ‘motivated reasoning’ which drives us to access, evaluate and construct arguments that align with our own pre-existing political and social worldviews.
But while in the pre-Covid social reality, day-to-day encounters with diverse points of view created multiple opportunities for one’s motivated reasoning processes to be challenged, now even more of the public discourse has moved to the echo chambers of social media.
And according to a new report, the surge of conspiracy theories on social media is posing a serious threat to public health. As the advocacy group Avaaz reveals, content from ten popular health misinformation websites had nearly four times more estimated views on Facebook than equivalent content from the ten leading health institutions, such as the World Health Organisation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the heart of the reason for that is Facebook’s mysterious algorithm which filters content that is most likely to align with a user’s personal preferences thus perpetuating the problem.
In April, the social media giant came under mounting pressure over health misinformation concerns, prompting the company to introduce a fact-checking policy in order to curb the wave of Covid-19 conspiracy theories. Despite this, the report reveals that only 16% of all analysed misleading health information received a warning label by Facebook.
Facebook’s unwillingness to debunk misinformation is not a new story in itself. Ironically, the company’s long history of avoiding fact-checking has been justified with information borrowed from misread academic research. Back in 2017, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared his concerns about the risk of the so- called ‘backfire effect’ which he believed could occur when people not only reject opposing information but also use it to strengthen their prior worldviews. The theory was debunked as a myth.
Hope, at least, remains that social media sites will rise to the challenge and gain control over misleading information by providing all users who encounter it with fact-checked corrections. This could reduce belief in misinformation by an average of 50% and might actually save lives.
German doctors treating the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said that tests indicate that he was poisoned, confirming allegations made by his aides that he was the victim of an attack. According to the clinic, Mr Navalny’s condition is serious but “there is currently no acute danger to his life”. According to supporters, Navalny may have been targeted with poisoned tea before boarding a flight last week to Moscow when he lost consciousness shortly after takeoff.
Researchers at Hong Kong University’s department of microbiology have reported the world’s first case of a human being infected twice by different versions of Covid-19 months apart. The discovery could have significant implications for both the development of vaccines and hopes of natural immunity against the virus.
The Trump administration is considering granting emergency use authorisation to a vaccine which is under development by the University of Oxford and drug manufacturer AstraZeneca. Only 10,000 volunteers have been enrolled for trials of the drug, whereas the government’s scientific agencies require trials involving 30,000 people to pass the threshold for authorisation. (£)
Business and economy
The UK government is to urge companies to launch regular workplace testing to check staff for Covid-19 in a move that could allow employers to stay open even under local lockdown restrictions. Business leaders and Whitehall officials have been meeting for discussions over how to ramp up the use of mobile testing units in factories and offices across the country. (£)
India is phasing out equipment from Huawei from its telecom networks amidst growing tensions between India and China over the disputed territory of the Himalayan Galwan Valley. This comes only a week after a report said Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE are expected to be locked out of India’s 5G rollout plans.(£)
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman has refused to call for more people to return to offices, in contrast with the Prime Minister’s plea earlier in August when he called for people to have “confidence” to return to the workplace. The spokesman said it was up to individual companies to decide whether to bring back employees to offices.
Tesco announced it will create 16,000 jobs as it grows its online business to meet the surge in demand for home deliveries. The new positions will include 10,000 pickers and 3,000 delivery drivers, as well as a variety of other roles in stores and distribution centres.
Columns of note
Writing in The Guardian, Justine Greening argues that the exams fiasco in England and Wales may have far-reaching implications for the public’s confidence in the government’s ability to tackle regional inequalities. According to Greening, to properly restart the system, the government needs to follow a more integrated approach, including a properly resourced plan to support every child to catch up on lost time, to introduce a more personalised tutoring and to take further moves to strength-based recruitment.
In the Financial Times, Katie Martin explores the hidden implications of the current record-breaking rally in US stocks. While the top five tech companies keep driving growth, these are shoring up the rest of the market, with earnings for the rest of the index expected to be pretty much flat, she warns. (£)
What happened yesterday?
U.S. stocks climbed to record highs on signs that the Trump administration may fast-track vaccines for Covid-19. As a result, the S&P 500 rose one per cent to close at a record 3,431.28 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average surged 1.4% to 28,309.08. The Nasdaq Composite Index also went up 0.6% to 11,379.72, the highest on record.
European stocks also closed higher, as signs of progress in developing a Covid-19 treatment offset fears about a resurgence in virus cases. The FTSE 100 ended the session up 1.781% at 6,104.73, and the FTSE 250 was 0.61% firmer at 17,685.07, while sterling was weaker both against the dollar by 0.17% at $1.3068 and against the euro by 0.27% at €1.1068.
In terms of bonds, the yield on 10-year treasuries climbed two basis points to 0.65% and Britain’s 10-year yield went up one basis point to 0.213%.
Meanwhile, gold dropped 0.7% to $1,927.26 an ounce, the weakest in more than a week.
In company news:
Virgin Atlantic’s creditors will vote on a $1.6 billion rescue plan today in a crucial test to secure its future beyond the coronavirus crisis. Most airlines predict that the industry will not recover to 2019 levels until 2023 at the earliest.
US drugs firm Moderna announced that it would supply 80m doses of its potential coronavirus vaccine under a potential purchase agreement with the EU. A phase three trial of the vaccine is currently underway, into which the firm aims to have enrolled 30,000 participants by September.
What’s happening today?
James Fisher and Sons
Puma Vct 13 Plc
UK. economic announcements
(11:00) CBI Distributive Trades Surveys
Int. economic announcements
(07:00) Gross Domestic Product
(09:00) IFO Expectations
(09:00) IFO Business Climate
(09:00) IFO Current Assessment
(14:00) House Price Index
(15:00) Consumer Confidence
(15:00) New Homes Sales
The Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team was named after the terrified pedestrians who tried to avoid trams in the street.
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