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Polls in California recall election close in hours

Polls close in the California recall election at 8 p.m. local time tonight. Voters are deciding whether to keep current Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, or hand power over to a different candidate. CBS News political reporter Adam Brewster joined CBSN with the latest.
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When is 'Riverdale' Season 6 Coming Out and When Will It Be on Netflix?
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A contrarian take on the disinformation panic
Jake Angeli, 33, a.k.a. Yellowstone Wolf, from Phoenix, wrapped in a QAnon flag, addresses supporters of US President Donald Trump as they protest outside the Maricopa County Election Department as counting continues after the US presidential election in Phoenix, Arizona, on November 5, 2020. | Olivier Touron/AFP via Getty Images Joe Bernstein on what we know — and don’t know — about disinformation. If you’ve followed the news over the last few years, you’re probably convinced that we’re living in a golden age of conspiracy theories and disinformation. Whether it’s QAnon or the January 6 insurrection or anti-vaccine hysteria, many have come to believe that the culprit, more often than not, is bad information — and the fantasy-industrial complex that generates and propagates it — breaking people’s brains. However, I read an essay recently in Harper’s magazine that made me wonder whether the story was as simple as that. I can’t say that it changed my mind in any profound way about the real-world consequences of lies, but it did make me question some of my core assumptions about the information ecosystem online. It’s called “Bad News: Selling the Story of Disinformation,” and the author is Joseph Bernstein, a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News. Bernstein doesn’t deny that disinformation is a thing.The problem is that we don’t have a consistent definition of the term. What you find in the literature, Bernstein says, is a lot of vague references to information “that could possibly lead to misperceptions about the state of the world.” A definition that broad, he argues, isn’t all that useful as a foundation for objective study. And it’s also not that clear how disinformation is distinct from misinformation, except that the former is considered more “intentionally” misleading. All of this leads Bernstein to the conclusion that even the people researching this stuff can’t agree on what they’re talking about. But the bigger — and much less understood — issue is that certain interests are invested in over-hyping disinformation as an existential crisis because it’s good for business and because it’s a way of denying the real roots of our problems. I reached out to him for this week’s episode of Vox Conversations to talk about where he thinks the disinformation discourse went wrong and why it’s not all that clear whether the internet broke American society or merelyunmasked it. Below is an edited excerpt from our conversation. As always, there’s much more in the full podcast, so subscribe to Vox Conversations on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Sean Illing I’ve spent a lot of time the last few years making noises about disinformation and misinformation and what a great problem it is, and I have to say, you’ve really made me pause and think hard about how easily I’ve bought into the conventional wisdom on this stuff. But let’s just start there: Do you think people like me, that have been worrying publicly about disinformation, have been part of a panic? Joe Bernstein I think that the idea of bad information on the internet is a poorly understood and at times poorly discussed topic. That is a huge topic. That is a new topic. That is a very important topic, but that like many problems, it helps to define them. And if you have trouble defining them, it helps to think about why. And when you start thinking about why, it helps to think about who is trying to define the problem and why. And so, I’m not comfortable even necessarily calling it a panic because I think, especially as we’ve seen with this series of revelations in the Wall Street Journal over the past couple of weeks, and then the testimony of the Facebook whistleblower, these are real problems. It’s just not clear to me that we understand completely what’s at stake or that we understand completely how these categories that are being kind of tossed around — and I’ve at times tossed them around too, mis- and disinformation — how they’re being used. And that’s really what I wanted to do: not to say that several private companies having monopoly power over the flow of information is a thing we should just be happy with and live with, but that when we talk about the problem, we should understand who wants to address it and why. Sean Illing It might surprise people to learn that even the researchers studying disinformation can’t come up with a coherent or consistent definition of the term. Joe Bernstein This is one of the things that I played for laughs in the piece. What scholars would say is that they have a lexical problem. Everyone knows there’s an issue, but everyone is attacking this issue using the same word, with a different idea in their head. So the most comprehensive survey of the scholarly field is from 2018. It’s a scientific literature review called “Social Media, Political Polarization, and Political Disinformation.” And the definition they give of disinformation — and this is a good, broad survey of the field — this is the definition they give: “Disinformation is intended to be a broad category describing the types of information that one could encounter online that could possibly lead to misperceptions about the actual state of the world.” Now, as far as I can tell, that definition basically applies to anything you could come in contact with online. And Sean, I should make the point, this trickles down to the definitions that tech companies use when they define mis- and disinformation. So — I’m not going to get this exactly right — but TikTok’s definition of misinformation is something like, “information that is not true or information that could mislead or is not true.” There’s just not a lot of there there. There’s a lot of good research, but for something that aspires to be kind of an objective science, there’s not a good objective foundation. Sean Illing A big problem here is that we’re desperate for some kind of neutral definition of disinformation so that it’s possible to call something “disinformation” without it appearing political, but that doesn’t seem possible. Joe Bernstein Yeah. And then, one of the interesting things to me was when I looked up the etymology of the term — it’s actually a borrowing from a Russian word that was popularized in the early years of the Cold War: dezinformatsiya. It was initially defined in the 1952 Great Soviet Encyclopedia, which was kind of a propaganda encyclopedia meant for English consumption. Its definition was as follows: “dissemination in the press or on the radio of false reports intended to mislead public opinion. The capitalist press and radio make wide use of dezinformatsiya.” I don’t mean to be a complete relativist and say there aren’t things that are true or false. Of course there are. But on the internet especially, context is very, very important, and it’s very hard to isolate particular nuggets of information as good or bad information. Sean Illing What’s a better definition of “disinformation”? How’s it distinct from “misinformation” or “propaganda”? Joe Bernstein I like the word propaganda better than I like the words mis- and disinformation because I think it has a stronger political connotation. I think there is a broad understanding among the people who study and the people who talk about mis- and disinformation in the media, that disinformation is more intentional than misinformation, and misinformation tends to be poorly contextualized but nevertheless true or “truthy” information. What I wanted to do with this piece is make it clear that these definitions have politics behind them, in the way people who use them have politics behind them. I don’t even think there’s necessarily anything wrong with using these terms, as long as it’s clear that there are interests. And I’m not implying some kind of broad conspiracy. I take pains to say — maybe I didn’t say it enough in the piece — that there are people who are operating in utter good faith, who care deeply about public discourse, who are studying this problem. I just want some recognition that the use of these terms has a politics behind it, even if that’s a centrist or kind of a conventional liberal politics. I would like that to be a feature of the discussion. Sean Illing A big claim in your piece is that the disinformation craze has become a vehicle for propping up the online advertising economy, and it might sound counterintuitive to say that Big Tech companies like Facebook would enthusiastically embrace the idea that “disinformation” is a major problem. What does a company like Facebook stand to gain here? Why are they selling this so hard? Joe Bernstein Well, one of the things that got me thinking about this was, I started with kind of a buzzword that I have used; the “information ecosystem.” It just kind of makes intuitive sense. We have a world, the natural world of information, and then something’s polluted it. And so then I started thinking about other industries that pollute, and that have gotten in trouble for polluting. So like the tobacco industry — which has been a major point of comparison to big tech recently — well, cigarettes give people cancer. Or the fossil fuel industry, it pollutes and it’s contributing to climate change. And there’s good science behind that. And yet these industries have spent years fighting the science, trying to undermine the science. And I was very surprised when I thought about the timeline of how long it took Facebook to be blamed, for throwing the 2016 election in Trump’s favor and for Brexit, to when Mark Zuckerberg essentially publicly admitted misinformation was a problem. And we intuit that’s true, but I don’t think the science is necessarily there. I don’t think the study of media effects on politics is necessarily there yet. I mean, we’re still getting the political science on the effect of Father Coughlin on, I believe, the 1936 election. These are questions that are going to be resolved over time. But you had Mark Zuckerberg out there in public basically saying, “We’re going to fight misinformation.” Partially, that’s because I think Facebook has never had a particularly coherent press strategy. But part of it, I think, is that Facebook realized very quickly, as did the other big tech companies, that rather than in a kind of blanket way say, “This isn’t true. These claims, there’s no empirical basis behind them,” I think they realized that co-opting, or at least sort of putting their arms around the people who are doing this research, was a better strategy. And I started to wonder why. From a public relations perspective, it makes good sense. But also, I started to think about the nature of the claim itself, that people being exposed to bad information are necessarily convinced by that information. And then, that’s when I kind of had a “eureka” moment, which was that’s exactly the same way that Facebook makes money. What Hannah Arendt calls the “psychological premise of human manipulability,” which is kind of a mouthful. And so, if we accept that people are endlessly convincible by whatever bullshit they see on Facebook, on the internet, in some ways we’re contributing to the idea that the ad duopoly, Facebook and Google and just online ads in general, works. I’m kind of going on, but there’s a terrific book that I read around that time by a guy who’s now the general counsel of Substack. He’s a guy named Tim Wong, who worked at Google for a long time. The book is called Subprime Attention Crisis. And it’s basically about how much of the online ad industry is a house of cards. One very interesting fact about the Facebook whistleblower disclosures to the SEC, and one that got almost no press attention, is that she claims, based on internal Facebook research, that they were badly misleading investors in the reach and efficacy of their ads. And to me, the most damaging thing you could say about Facebook is that this kind of industrial information machine doesn’t actually work. And so that kind of flipped everything I thought about this on its head. And that’s when I started to write the piece. To hear the rest of the conversation, click here, and be sure to subscribe to Vox Conversations on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
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Is ignoring the pandemic a crime against humanity?
Protesters wearing masks depicting President Jair Bolsonaro protest the government’s Covid-19 response in Brasilia, Brazil, on October 20. | Andressa Anholete/Getty Images Brazilian lawmakers may try to make the case, though experts are skeptical of how far it could go. Brazil has the world’s second-highest official Covid-19 death toll, just after the United States, with more than 600,000 fatalities. Manaus, the capital of the Amazonas, had a deadly first wave that saw mass graves, and a dangerous second where it ran out of oxygen. Through it all, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro downplayed what he once called the “little flu,” dismissed public health measures, and promoted unproven treatments like hydroxychloroquine while undermining proven approaches, like vaccines. Now some Brazilian lawmakers are trying tohold Bolsonaro and his associates accountable. A Senate committee will vote Tuesday ona more than 1,000-page report outlining the government’s mishandling of the Covid-19 outbreak and vaccination campaign. The result of a months-long inquiry by a congressional panel, the report recommends charges for Bolsonaro, among them falsification of documents, misuse of public funds, and charlatanism. And one particular allegation stands out: “crimes against humanity.” The report says crimes against humanity come into play as “the entire population was deliberately subject to the effects of the pandemic, with the intention of trying to reach herd immunity through contagion and save the economy.” The report specifically ties these “crimes against humanity” to Indigenous peoples, saying the virus was an “ally” of the Bolsonaro government in its anti-Indigenous policies. The committee had initially recommended Bolsonaro also face charges of genocide and mass homicide for the Covid-19 toll on the Indigenous population, but those recommendations were removed from the final version after several senators said those allegations went too far, according to the New York Times. The “crimes against humanity” charge raises a question beyond Bolsonaro, and Brazil, about how to hold leaders accountable for real malfeasance and negligence during public health emergencies, like the still-unfolding Covid-19 pandemic. And does malfeasance rise to the level of egregiousness the world typically associates with war and repression — or at least could it? The question is largely untested, specifically at the International Criminal Court, the venue to which the Senate committee may refer the “crimes against humanity” charge, if senators agree to it in the final vote. (Lawmakers are likely to refer the other allegations to the prosecutor-general, but he is a Bolsonaro ally and is unlikely to pursue criminal charges against the president or any of his associates.) The ICC, based in the Hague, is sometimes called the “court of last resort,” stepping in when nations themselves cannot or will not prosecute war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. It seems unlikely thatBolsonaro’s Covid-19 gross mismanagement will be taken up by the court, many experts said — but deliberate mishandling of a disease could still fit within the definition of “crimes against humanity.” If this case is referred to the ICC, it may be the first test of whether leaders can face criminal consequences for public health disasters of their own making. Should leaders be held accountable for Covid-19 malfeasance? The ICC could take up a case against Bolsonaro in theory.Brazil is party to the Rome Statute, the treaty that brought the court into force in 2002. That means if crimes against humanity happen in Brazil, the ICC has jurisdiction, said David Bosco, an associate professor of international studies at Indiana University who’s researched the ICC. (Not all countries are signatories, including the United States, which feared American troops might be subject to prosecution for actions overseas; the Trump administration even sanctioned some top ICC officials.) But even if the Senate does follow through, a referral to the ICC prosecutor is just that. It’s ultimately up to the ICC to take up a case, examine it, and pursue it. Typically, cases are referred by states themselves (or the United Nations Security Council), but it seems unlikely that the Bolsonaro government is going to refer itself. The ICC doesn’t have an obligation to pursue any referral from an outside group or even lawmakers, though the ICC can initiate its own investigations. The ICC has 15 investigations underway, and 12 preliminary investigations, according to the ICC’s website, none of them in Brazil right now. As troubling as the allegations against Bolsonaro are in this big report, they are not a neat fit for a crimes against humanity case. It’s worth starting with what the law says. The Rome Statute says a crime against humanity exists “when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” That could be widespread or systematic murder, or forced disappearance, or, as the very last provision says: “other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.” David Scheffer, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former US ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues who helped lead the US delegation on ICC talks two decades ago, said the catchall nature of the last one is deliberate. “It is obvious that other types of assaults on your civilian population are going to emerge in the future, and you have to provide for that in the statute,” he said. “It’s hard to think of a better example than intentional mismanagement of a Covid-19 pandemic or some other pathogen. And so I would argue that, yes, that’s fair game.” The investigations and prosecutions that the ICC takes up involve some of the most brutal crimes, and so the bar is incredibly high: To prove crimes against humanity, of any sort, prosecutors have to prove knowledge and intent. “Disease can be a weapon, and so you could certainly imagine that constituting a crime against humanity,” Bosco said. “But negligence or disinformation, that would be a harder fit.” It’s especially tricky with a still-evolving event like the Covid-19 pandemic. The science changed, and is changing. The origins of the disease, different possible treatments, the mask-wearing of it all — expert opinion shifted throughout the pandemic. A robust pandemic response also takes resources that leaders might not have, and not all countries have access to lifesaving medical interventions like vaccines. As experts pointed out, it is a very high bar to prove knowledge and intent, and that’s ultimately what the ICC prosecutors would have to investigate and prove in any case involving crimes against humanity. Trying to parse that out in an evolving pandemic and with a new pathogen is an extraordinary task. But, as Scheffer said, as the scientific consensus coalesces, public officials “need to be responsible enough to follow the procedures and policies that can defeat and overcome the public health threat to their populations.” Experts I spoke to say there really isn’t an obvious precedent for a crime against humanity case in a public health setting; the closest examples, like destruction of water systems in Darfur, Sudan, came in the context of a larger conflict. Covid-19 has killed nearly 5 million people globally, and failures in leadership around the world likely exacerbated the toll. Other leaders have made missteps, or denied the seriousness of the pandemic at points, that may have contributed to Covid-19’s spread, from India’s Narendra Modi to the United Kingdom’s Boris Johnson to Donald Trump in the US. But sorting out what was done in error, or ineptly, and what was done with deliberate intent to spread the disease is an extraordinary task. The ICC is dealing with some very tough and longstanding investigations, which makes it seem unlikely it would take up a case like this. “Bolsonaro’s response to Covid has been egregious, but for both legal and pragmatic reasons, I don’t see it being something that the ICC will take up,” said Rebecca Hamilton, an associate professor at Washington College of Law. Bolsonaro is already facing referrals to the ICC, mostly from Indigenous and environmental groups. A few weeks ago, a group accused Bolsonaro of “crimes against humanity” for the “widespread attack on the Amazon, its dependents and its defenders that not only result in the persecution, murder and inhumane suffering in the region, but also upon the global population.” Another ICC referral could certainly raise the profile of those other cases, and, especially since the Senate’s report focuses a lot on the Covid-19 fallout on Indigenous communities, Scheffer said the cases all might look a lot stronger together. “The ICC has a thick file on Brazil right now, a very thick file,” he said. And it is still remarkable that lawmakers in Brazil are making the case not only that Bolsonaro failed at the pandemic, but also that some of his actions constitute a crime against humanity. It’s an attempt to hold Bolsonaro himself accountable and to secure guardrails for the next pandemic or public health crisis. If leaders faced the threat of criminal prosecutionfor putting their populations at grave risk, they might not pursue those policies at all.
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