Shock news about Coronavirus and onions

This article first appeared in the Heacham Newsletter:

Firstly this month, an apology. Last month’s article looked at newspapers and how news can often be ‘spun’ to present a particular point of view. It contained a number of footnotes with the sources for the facts and figures, so that readers could check them for themselves. Clearly this disturbed the global corporation that hides behind the innocent facade of the Heacham Newsletter, who chose to retaliate by scattering some of the footnotes in the middle of a sentence, rather disrupting the message. To keep things simple, only the website version of this month’s article contains links to the sources but rest assured: the resistance to their plans for global domination will continue.

Anyway, this month’s article looks at conspiracy theories and misinformation, and the role social media plays in the spread of both.

I should probably be honest right from the outset: I don’t ‘do’ social media. I can understand the appeal of keeping in constant touch with people who matter to you but I have always tried to avoid sharing my entire life with some mega-corporation. On the other hand, I have a mobile phone running the Android system, like around eighty per cent of smartphone users. That’s Google’s mobile phone operating system, using my GPS to pinpoint my location, storing my diary and details of everyone in my address book and some of my key documents. Hmmm…

So I am continue to search for an anti-social network and subscribe to the Father Christmas principle: visit family once a year.

Newspapers used to make their money by selling adverts. Once the paper had been printed, there was nothing more the publisher could do until the following day’s edition. Websites are different: the longer you stay on a website, the more ads they can show you. This is why articles like ‘10 things you need to do to avoid coronavirus’ never list all the facts on one page, requiring you to click ‘Next’ for each fact. Each of those clicks is a separate ‘page impression’ with (kerching!) separate advertisements.

But there’s one lesson that website publishers learnt from traditional media very early on: bad news sells. Even my little just-off-the-main-road paper shop had several top-up deliveries during the day following Princess Diana’s death, as people clamoured for information about the night’s terrible news.

Creating fury is also an excellent way to guarantee clicks. It’s the stock-in-trade of many websites and, particularly, social media. Anything that generates anger, generates clicks. Anything that generates clicks gets shared by the algorithms that decide what headlines to show you. Angry headlines generate more clicks. Bingo!

Even sweet little NextDoor,, which says it “believe[s] by bringing neighbours together, we can cultivate a kinder world where everyone has a neighbourhood they can rely onfrequently degenerates into a succession of posts where people seem determined to outdo each other in attacking whatever has piqued their anger, with not a lot of kindness on display at all. Somehow, people seem to feel comfortable expressing a view online that they might think twice about saying to someone’s face.

But the websites have an answer to this: moderators. Moderators are people (or artificial intelligence-based algorithms) who review posts and block anything that doesn’t meet ‘the Guidelines’.

Obviously, before a post can be blocked or, more likely, hidden behind (or accompanied by) a warning that it doesn’t meet the guidelines, it already has to have been posted. For example, a recent post on Facebook featured a Houston physician, Dr Stella Immanuel, stating that Donald Trump’s COVID drug of choice – hydroxychloroquine – is an effective treatment for the coronavirus, and that “you don’t need masks, there is a cure”. The first statement is at best unproven, the second untrue.

Doctor Immanuel’s previous medical guidance has included the ‘fact’ that conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids, and cysts are caused by demons that have sex with women while they sleep. Nonetheless, the video of the doctor’s claims – made while wearing white coat and stethoscope for added authenticity – was amplified by the support of the US President and his son and had been downloaded more than 17 million times before Facebook finally removed it.

Meanwhile, Canada’s Gaze Seed Company had an advert for their walla walla onions banned because the photo they used (of several onions in a basket) was deemed ‘overtly sexual’ by our artificial intelligence overlords at Facebook.

And if that surprised you I can assure you that, when I started these articles back in November 2019, I didn’t for one moment imagine that I’d mention sex twice three times in one article in the Heacham Newsletter!

Next month, I’ll continue looking at the spread of misleading information via social media, including the toll it takes on the humans who police it. But to close this month, here’s a list of some of the most shared COVID-19 conspiracy theories:

COVID-19 escaped from a lab in China

– It was created as a biological weapon

– It’s spread by 5G phone masts

– It was created by the US military

– It doesn’t actually exist

Stand by for a little bit of debunking but, in the meantime, take care and just… be kind.




Keith Winsor, oapc

01485 570479

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