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Member since: Sun Feb 14, 2016, 06:36 PM
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How the Chinese Govt Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument


Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret E. Roberts. 2017. “How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument.” American Political Science Review, 111, 3, Pp. 484-501.

The Chinese government has long been suspected of hiring as many as 2,000,000 people to surreptitiously insert huge numbers of pseudonymous and other deceptive writings into the stream of real social media posts, as if they were the genuine opinions of ordinary people. Many academics, and most journalists and activists, claim that these so-called ``50c party'' posts vociferously argue for the government's side in political and policy debates. As we show, this is also true of the vast majority of posts openly accused on social media of being 50c. Yet, almost no systematic empirical evidence exists for this claim, or, more importantly, for the Chinese regime's strategic objective in pursuing this activity. In the first large scale empirical analysis of this operation, we show how to identify the secretive authors of these posts, the posts written by them, and their content. We estimate that the government fabricates and posts about 448 million social media comments a year. In contrast to prior claims, we show that the Chinese regime's strategy is to avoid arguing with skeptics of the party and the government, and to not even discuss controversial issues. We show that the goal of this massive secretive operation is instead to distract the public and change the subject, as most of the these posts involve cheerleading for China, the revolutionary history of the Communist Party, or other symbols of the regime. We discuss how these results fit with what is known about the Chinese censorship program, and suggest how they may change our broader theoretical understanding of ``common knowledge'' and information control in authoritarian regimes.

The Covid dissidents taking on China


Feng Zijian played a central role in the World Health Organisation’s inquiry into the origins of Covid-19. The Chinese epidemiologist was one of the team leaders who briefed diplomats on the findings, which fell suspiciously in line with Beijing’s version of events. Feng explained how the carefully vetted team had concluded that the virus was most likely to be a natural disease that spilled over from bats to humans, although it could have been imported on frozen food. The chance of a leak from a Chinese laboratory was dismissed as “extremely unlikely”.

The Chinese-controlled results sparked global accusations of a whitewash and further corroded confidence in the WHO. Few experts give much credibility to claims the pandemic was imported on a packet of chilled pork or slab of frozen pangolin sold at a market. And demands are growing for the leak hypothesis to be taken more seriously. Wuhan, after all, is the major research centre for bat coronaviruses in Asia, where there are secretive labs, known biosafety concerns and high-risk experiments being conducted.

It has now emerged that Feng, deputy head of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and an expert on emergency health responses, performed an even more sinister role as the pandemic played out. He was one of four names copied on a CDC memo sent out in February 2020 ordering China’s scientists not to share any data, documents or specimens relating to the epidemic and to “prioritise the interests of the country”. The memo warned that anyone violating the request would be “dealt with severely in accordance with discipline, laws and regulations” — a threat to be taken seriously in a country ruled by fear.

Much, much more at link above.

Trevor Bedford thread about Covid variants (Tw)

My question: what is the significance of the quiescent 10 months? Is that typical?


FBI #107-AFO: Do you know this guy? (Tw)


Meet the Censored: The U.S. Right to Know

This story is about how, after a Google algorithm update, the website of U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) experienced a 60% drop in traffic--for no discernable reason--and how they were left scrambling to try to guess the reason. Was it due to the controversial nature of their content? Or was it just typical search engine optimization (SEO) issues?


USRTK, whose reporting is mostly based on public document searches, is an organization that inspires strong opinions. They inhabit a corner of the media universe focusing on who pays for what kind of research, and to what result, around topics like food additives and Genetically Modified Organisms. The material can get very personal, and thanks to headlines like “The misleading and deceitful ways of Dr. Kevin Folta,” they’re not generally in the friend-making business.

Moreover, agencies like USRTK are particularly vulnerable in the age of algorithmic moderation, as computers don’t easily distinguish between conspiracy theory and legitimate reporting that runs counter to present accepted narratives. Any organization that swims in those waters and isn’t attached to a big name now has to keep looking over its shoulder. If such an organization does end up suspended, deleted, or de-ranked, as USRTK later would be, it has to wonder: was it something we wrote?


U.S. Right to Know is basically ad-free. It doesn’t aggregate, but instead publishes original reporting based mainly on public documents. It’s the opposite of a click-chasing SEO-oriented site that is “attempting to guess what might rank well.” It doesn’t have shocking or sensational headlines — in fact, it barely had an engagement strategy. Its work is referenced by peer-reviewed medical journals and established outlets like the New York Times.

More at link above.

Nature: SARS-CoV-2 evolution during treatment of chronic infection

Well this is a cautionary tale, if not completely expected. Variants/mutants have a selective advantage while under pressure from treatment with convalescent plasma.

Published: 05 February 2021
SARS-CoV-2 evolution during treatment of chronic infection

The spike protein of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is critical for virus infection through the engagement of the human ACE2 protein1 and is a major antibody target. Here we show that chronic infection with SARS-CoV-2 leads to viral evolution and reduced sensitivity to neutralizing antibodies in an immunosuppressed individual treated with convalescent plasma, by generating whole-genome ultra-deep sequences for 23 time points that span 101 days and using in vitro techniques to characterize the mutations revealed by sequencing. There was little change in the overall structure of the viral population after two courses of remdesivir during the first 57 days. However, after convalescent plasma therapy, we observed large, dynamic shifts in the viral population, with the emergence of a dominant viral strain that contained a substitution (D796H) in the S2 subunit and a deletion (ΔH69/ΔV70) in the S1 N-terminal domain of the spike protein. As passively transferred serum antibodies diminished, viruses with the escape genotype were reduced in frequency, before returning during a final, unsuccessful course of convalescent plasma treatment. In vitro, the spike double mutant bearing both ΔH69/ΔV70 and D796H conferred modestly decreased sensitivity to convalescent plasma, while maintaining infectivity levels that were similar to the wild-type virus.The spike substitution mutant D796H appeared to be the main contributor to the decreased susceptibility to neutralizing antibodies, but this mutation resulted in an infectivity defect. The spike deletion mutant ΔH69/ΔV70 had a twofold higher level of infectivity than wild-type SARS-CoV-2, possibly compensating for the reduced infectivity of the D796H mutation. These data reveal strong selection on SARS-CoV-2 during convalescent plasma therapy, which is associated with the emergence of viral variants that show evidence of reduced susceptibility to neutralizing antibodies in immunosuppressed individuals.

Tracking variants: covidcg.org (Tw)

Much more in this Twitter thread:


Bacteria: in nature vs in a lab (humor)

(found on Twitter)

Nature: After the WHO report: what's next in the search for COVID's origins

The priority should be to “follow the animals”, starting at the Huanan market, says Eddie Holmes, a virologist at the University of Sydney in Australia. Given the large number of animal species that SARS-CoV-2 can infect, that sampling should be as expansive as possible, say researchers.

And it should definitely include bats. The closest known relative of SARS-CoV-2 is a bat coronavirus called RaTG13, isolated from a bat in a mine in Mojiang, southern China. But it shares only 96% of its genome with SARS-CoV-2, meaning that it is only distantly related. Courtier says that more bats should be sampled from that mine, and that researchers should share the sequences of other coronaviruses isolated there.

But Linfa Wang, a virologist at Duke–National University of Singapore Medical School, doubts whether closer relatives will be found, given the exhaustive sampling done in the cave by researchers over the past decade. “If you gave me a billion dollars, I would not sample in Mojiang cave. I would sample in Southeast Asia,” adds Wang, who says that sampling should extend to lesser-sampled regions such as Thailand and Cambodia, where other relatives of SARS-CoV-2 have recently been isolated.

More: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00877-4

So my question is: how much do we risk by ramping up the search for the animal that gave us Covid19?

The mineshaft in Mojiang should probably be permanently sealed and/or decontaminated. It seems that authorities are currently not allowing anyone to visit.

I understand the scientific curiosity, and even the need to study and understand the potential threats, but at what point does it become counterproductive?

I am very torn on this matter.

You mean the P1/P2 variants?

Best not to use geographical references these days.
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