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    COVID misinformation: Giving the people what they want / ArsTechnica · Tuesday, 24 May - 23:01 · 1 minute

Image of dice shaped cubes with letters spelling out fake/fact.

Enlarge (credit: Anton Melnyk )

Misinformation posing as news has been a problem that only got worse with the ease of publishing on the Internet. But the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have raised it to new levels, driving lots of attention to rumors, errors, and outright falsehoods. Given the magnitude of the threat, there would seem to be a premium placed on ensuring the accuracy of any pandemic information. But that doesn't seem to be the case.

It's unlikely there will be a single explanation for why that was the case. But researchers based in Paris have looked into the dynamics of pandemic news in that country and found a potential contributor: Unreliable news sources were better at producing content that matched what readers were looking for.

Supply and demand

The researchers behind the new work treated the news ecosystem as a function of supply and demand. The audience—in this case, the Italian public—is interested in obtaining answers to specific questions or details on a topic. News sources attempt to satisfy that demand. Complicating this relationship, the news ecosystem includes organizations that don't produce quality information. Poor reporting can be due to carelessness or to satisfy an agenda separate from providing news.

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    Largest trial to date finds ivermectin is worthless against COVID / ArsTechnica · Thursday, 31 March - 22:17 · 1 minute

A box of Ivermectina medicine manufactured by Vitamedic in Brazil.

Enlarge / A box of Ivermectina medicine manufactured by Vitamedic in Brazil. (credit: Getty | SOPA Images )

The largest clinical trial to date on the use of the antiparasitic drug ivermectin against COVID-19 concluded that the drug is completely ineffective at treating the pandemic disease, according to results published in The New England Journal of Medicine late Wednesday.

The double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial was primarily designed to test if ivermectin could reduce the need for hospitalization among 1,358 COVID-19 patients who were at high risk of severe disease. Ivermectin did not, according to the international team of researchers behind the trial, dubbed TOGETHER. "We did not find a significantly or clinically meaningful lower risk of medical admission to a hospital or prolonged emergency department observation with ivermectin," the researchers reported.

Covid-19 Coverage

View more stories The folks with TOGETHER also found that the drug failed to reduce all other secondary outcomes of COVID-19, including the time to recovery, time to viral clearance on PCR test, time spent in the hospital, the need for mechanical ventilation, the duration of mechanical ventilation, death, or the time to death. "We found no important effects of treatment with ivermectin on the secondary outcomes," the researchers wrote.

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    Prominent peddler of COVID misinfo pleads guilty to joining Capitol riot / ArsTechnica · Friday, 4 March - 23:05

Pro-Trump supporters storm the US Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / Pro-Trump supporters storm the US Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Samuel Corum )

Dr. Simone Gold, a prominent anti-vaccine doctor who founded a group notorious for widely peddling COVID-19 misinformation, pleaded guilty on Thursday to joining the insurrectionists who violently attacked the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021.

Gold is the founder of America's Frontline Doctors (AFLDS) and has spent the pandemic downplaying COVID-19, promoting unproven treatments, such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, and casting doubt on the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

According to her guilty plea , Gold entered a restricted area around the Capitol on January 6, joining part of the mob outside the East Rotunda door. There she stood directly in front of a law enforcement officer as the officer was assaulted and dragged to the ground, the plea notes. Shortly after, she entered the Rotunda with rioters and began giving a speech against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and government-imposed lockdowns, while co-defendant John Strand video-recorded her remarks. Multiple law enforcement officers had to intervene before Gold stopped her speech, then she and Strand left the area.

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    Kansas lawmakers attack medical board for probing ivermectin cases / ArsTechnica · Tuesday, 8 February - 22:37 · 1 minute

A jar of medicine sits next to the box it came in.

Enlarge / Ivermectin tablets arranged in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. The US Food and Drug Administration warned Americans against taking ivermectin, a drug usually used on animals, as a treatment or prevention for COVID-19. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg )

The Kansas medical board is facing attacks from state lawmakers for investigating doctors who have prescribed the antiparasitic drug ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19. The drug, which is most often used in animals as a dewormer, is both unproven and unrecommended for use against COVID-19 in people.

Nevertheless, state lawmakers proposed a budget amendment that would strip the state medical board of funds to conduct such investigations. For now, the budget committee has settled on language that the medical board should "proceed with caution" in any such investigations—language intended to have a chilling effect. But the committee has signaled that it could revisit the plan to defund investigations, depending on the fate of a separate Senate bill.

That Senate bill is SB 381 , which would specifically authorize doctors to prescribe off-label and unproven COVID-19 treatments—namely hydroxychloroquine sulfate and ivermectin. And it would force pharmacists to dispense the drugs, even if doing so is against their professional judgement. Additionally, the proposed legislation would bar medical and pharmacy boards from investigating doctors and pharmacists for the practice and require the boards to review any prior disciplinary actions that are related.

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    Joe “just conversations” Rogan defends misinformation like a classic grifter / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 2 February, 2022 - 15:33 · 1 minute

A buff guy in a tee-shirt is bathed in purple lighting.

Enlarge / Joe Rogan on July 9, 2021, in Las Vegas, NV. (credit: Getty | Icon Sportswire )

Long before the pandemic took the lives of more than 5.6 million people and created a lucrative market for COVID grifts, misinformation, and snake oil, there was Goop.

The aspirational lifestyle brand and its lustrous "contextual commerce" products are helmed by actor Gwyneth Paltrow, who has used her fame, wealth, and enviable genetics to peddle all manner of wellness pseudoscience and quackery. With the manipulative mantra of "empowering" women to seize control of their health and destinies, Paltrow's Goop has touted extremely questionable—if not downright dangerous—products. Perhaps the most notorious is the jade egg, a $66 egg-shaped rock Goop advised women to shove up their vaginas while claiming it could treat medical conditions, "detox" lady bits, and invigorate mystical life forces (of course).

But let's not forget the $135 "Implant O'Rama" enema device intended to squirt scalding coffee into your colon, the $90 luxury vitamins that almost certainly do nothing, or the $85 "medicine bag" of small, polished rocks that Goop suggests have magical wellness properties. Then there was the bee-sting therapy—no, not therapy for bee stings but therapy imparted from bee stings. Paltrow personally endorsed the practice, which was blamed for the death of a 55-year-old Spanish woman in 2018 .

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    Spotify publicly posts content policy as Rogan responds / ArsTechnica · Monday, 31 January, 2022 - 16:50

Joe Rogan.

Enlarge / Joe Rogan. (credit: Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Spotify publicly posted its platform policies for the first time on Sunday following artists’ outrage over COVID-related episodes of Joe Rogan’s podcast.

The policies , which previously weren’t known to the public, offer podcasters and musicians wide latitude over what they can stream on Spotify. They’re similar to the approaches used by other platforms. Spotify does not allow hatred and incitement of violence, deception, graphic depictions of violence, sexually explicit material, and illegal content. The streaming service also says it forbids “content that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive medical information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health.”

"These are rules of the road to guide all of our creators—from those we work with exclusively to those whose work is shared across multiple platforms," CEO Daniel Ek said in a blog post.

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    Spotify support buckles under complaints from angry Neil Young fans / ArsTechnica · Friday, 28 January, 2022 - 21:57

Neil Young

Enlarge / Neil Young's fans aren't happy that the rocker's music is no longer available on Spotify. (credit: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

Neil Young was mad. Now his fans are, too, and they’re telling Spotify about it.

Earlier this week, Young had asked the music-streaming service to remove his music from its library in response to COVID misinformation aired on Joe Rogan’s podcast, which is available only on Spotify. “I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform,” Young wrote on his website. “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

Spotify complied with the request , which ultimately came from Warner Brothers, Young’s label. Though the loss of Young’s music likely represents a small percentage of overall streams on Spotify, Young pointed out that “Spotify represents 60% of the streaming of my music to listeners around the world.”

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    Tracking Facebook connections between parent groups and vaccine misinfo / ArsTechnica · Tuesday, 4 January, 2022 - 23:19

Tracking Facebook connections between parent groups and vaccine misinfo

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Joe Amon )

Misinformation about the pandemic and the health measures that are effective against SARS-CoV-2 has been a significant problem in the US. It's led to organized resistance against everything from mask use to vaccines and has undoubtedly ended up killing people.

Plenty of factors have contributed to this surge of misinformation, but social media clearly helps enable its spread. While the companies behind major networks have taken some actions to limit the spread of misinformation, internal documents indicate that a lot more could be done .

Taking more effective action, however, would benefit from more clearly identifying what the problems are. And, to that end, a recent analysis of the network of vaccine misinformation provides information that might be helpful. It finds that most of the worst misinformation sources are probably too small to stand out as being in need of moderation. The analysis also shows that the pandemic has brought mainstream parenting groups noticeably closer to groups devoted to conspiracy theories.

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