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This Week in Apps: Apple App Store’s new pricing, Twitter app makers shift to Mastodon, debate over Lensa AI

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy….



Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

Global app spending reached $65 billion in the first half of 2022, up only slightly from the $64.4 billion during the same period in 2021, as hypergrowth fueled by the pandemic has slowed down. But overall, the app economy is continuing to grow, having produced a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to multiple year-end reports. Global spending across iOS and Google Play last year was $133 billion, and consumers downloaded 143.6 billion apps.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and much more.

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App Store significantly expands pricing options

Apple this week loosened its requirements around how developers have to price their apps as legal and regulatory pressure over its tight control of the App Store intensifies. The company announced an expansion of its App Store pricing system to offer developers access to 700 additional price points, bringing the new total number of price points available to 900. It will also allow U.S. developers to set prices for apps, in-app purchases or subscriptions as low as $0.29 or as high as $10,000, and in rounded endings (like $1.00) instead of just $0.99. Similar new policies to reduce restrictions around price points will roll out in global markets, alongside new tools aimed at helping developers better manage pricing outside their local market.

The changes initially became available starting on December 6, 2022, for auto-renewable subscriptions. They’ll become available to paid apps and in-app purchases in spring 2023.

Developers will also be able to now publish prices that end in $.00 instead of $.99 or €X.99 or those that begin with two repeating digits, like ₩110,000.

Plus, new pricing tools are being made available that allow developers to set their subscription prices in their local currency as the basis for automatically generating pricing across the other 174 storefronts and 44 currencies. When the pricing is set automatically, pricing outside a developer’s home market will update as foreign exchange and tax rates change. Developers can also still choose to set prices manually if they prefer. And they’ll be able to make in-app purchases available by storefront.

The changes rolled out after Apple last year settled a class action lawsuit with U.S. app developers, which included a number of concessions, one of which was an agreement to expand the number of price points available from fewer than 100 to more than 500.

Debate over top app Lensa AI

The photo editing app Lensa AI has been going viral over a new feature that offers to create “magic avatars” from a series of uploaded selfie photos. The avatars are created using the open source Stable Diffusion model to transform your photos into those that look like they were created by a digital artist. But there’s controversy surrounding how these images are made.

The feature isn’t quick or cheap — the processing time can take half an hour or even multiple hours to complete. Lensa’s pricing model is also fairly crafty. It’s either $3.99 for 50 unique avatars (five variations of 10 different styles) if you’re a subscriber, or $7.99 if not. If you want more avatars, it costs $11.99 for 100 unique avatars (10 variations of 10 styles) or $15.99 for 200 avatars (20 variations of 10 styles) — which again, can be discounted by 50% if you subscribe. This sort of hybrid pricing was hailed as both clever and opportunistic. It’s also one of those apps that uses dark patterns to try to get users to subscribe immediately upon first launch, with a pop-up splash screen you have to bypass to use the app for free.

But the big backlash isn’t over the cost, it’s about Stable Diffusion, the AI generator powering the service. The AI was originally trained on 2.3 billion captioned images from the internet, some of which are watermarked and copyrighted works, as well as a number of images from sites like Pinterest, Smugmug, Flickr, DeviantArt, ArtStation, Getty and Shutterstock. The issue at hand is that artists didn’t opt in to have their work included in the training data, nor can they now opt out.

Artists, understandably, are concerned. Now their unique styles are being duped by an AI model, meaning their original art will become lost among the now numerous auto-generated copycats. Some see this not only as an existential threat, but also as a form of unregulated stealing. Consumers, meanwhile, were simply enjoying the photos they had paid for without an understanding of how the tech worked, then became subject to backlash or shaming from those who did. More conscientious objectors soon realized they had just thrown away their money on profile pictures they now didn’t feel ethically comfortable in using. These are complex problems that need more discussion. At least when Instagram first launched its filters, they were donated by an artist, Cole Rise. (While he may have later regretted giving up his art to the company, the filters weren’t stolen.)

In addition, the app maker faced another serious issue, when people discovered it was easy to use to make non-consensual nude images in the app. If users uploaded Photoshopped images of topless models with someone else’s face, for example, the AI disables its NSFW filter and will create higher-quality AI avatars of the person whose face was uploaded on the topless photo. The company said it was working to prevent this from occurring and noted attempting to make NSFW content was in violation of its terms of use.

Lensa AI can be tricked into leaving very little to the imagination. Illustration of a woman's bare shoulder...

Image Credits: Lensa AI

Third-party Twitter app developers are now building for Mastodon

There’s a subtle stirring in the Twitter app ecosystem as third-party developers are beginning to rethink their dependence on Twitter’s API.

Now having grown to 3.3 million+ active users, the open source Twitter alternative Mastodon has been gaining interest from third-party Twitter app developers in recent days. The makers of popular Twitter clients, including Aviary and Tweetbot, have set their sights on building similar apps for the growing Mastodon user base.

Image Credits: Tapbots

App developer Tapbots, known for its popular Twitter app Tweetbot for iOS and Mac, is building an app for the Mastodon community. The app is similar to Tweetbot, which is hailed as one of the third-party Twitter clients that keeps improving with age. This year’s release of Tweetbot 7, for example, added features like picture-in-picture, a stats tab and widgets. Now, Tapbots is working on Ivory, a subscription-based app for Mastodon that includes access to key features like your home timeline, @ mentions, favorites, search and trends, and your own user profile. Tweetbots’ developer Paul Haddad said the goal is to first ship a stable 1.0, then start adding more Mastodon-specific features, as well as some features that he had wanted to add to Tweetbot but couldn’t because of technical limitations.

Aviary’s developer, Shihab Mehboob, meanwhile, is building a Mastodon client, called Mammoth. The new app will be a paid download with a yet-to-be-determined price, and will include the latest Mastodon API features when they’re released, as well as 4.0 features like editing posts and edit history.

App makers aren’t the only developers impacted by the chaos at Twitter. As TechCrunch reported, Typefully, a Twitter thread-making app backed by Ev Williams, is now planning to shift focus to LinkedIn. Scheduler Chirr App is also working on a Mastodon integration, and Tweepsmap just launched a post scheduler for Mastodon, too.

Developer News

  • iOS 16.2 RC has arrived ahead of next week’s public release. This is one of the bigger updates, as it will bring the new Freeform app, the just-announced karaoke experience called Apple Music Sing, the 10-minute AirDrop limit that hit China first, new Sleep and Medication widgets, new Home app architecture and, with iPadOS 16.2, the ability to use Stage Manager on iPads with an external display, among other things. It will also bring 5G support to iPhones in India.
  • A day after Apple revamped its App Store pricing, RevenueCat said it would roll out A/B price testing features.
  • Apple is launching Advanced Data Protection, a feature that offers end-to-end encryption on iCloud backups, Notes, Photos and more in the U.S. in 2022, then globally, including China, in 2023. There will be 23 data categories protected, with the exception of iCloud Mail, Contacts and Calendar, because of the need to interoperate with other systems. The FBI is not happy.
  • Apple also announced an iMessage feature that will help users verify they’re messaging only the people they intended, plus Apple ID support for hardware security keys.
  • However, the company said it’s pausing its efforts in launching a CSAM detection tool for iCloud Photos.
  • The developer series “Ask Apple” is returning December 12-16, for another week of one-on-ones and group Q&As around app building.
  • Google’s Pixel update brings the Google One VPN and Clear Calling (call enhancement) feature to Pixel 7/7 Pro and automatic speaker labels in the Recorder app to Pixel 6 and up. All Pixel devices will also gain a new privacy hub for settings.

App Updates

twitter app icon ios

Image Credits: TechCrunch

  • Reddit rolled out its fun end-of-year Recap experience to users, which includes stats about your time on site, the communities you engage with the most and more. This year, seemingly inspired by the popular Spotify Wrapped experience, Reddit is also doling out personalized, sharable cards that include fun stats, like your most upvoted comment or if you’re team cat or dog, among other things.
  • Snap announced at its annual Lens Fest it now has 300,000 developers building AR products and will soon allow creators to build Lenses that feature digital goods that can be purchased with Snap Tokens. Users will be able to unlock power-ups, AR items and extra tools within select Lenses as part of this test. Snap also announced a partnership ith Adidas for a Bitmoji Fashion Drop.

Image Credits: Snap

  • Twitter is going to launch dual pricing for its upcoming Twitter Blue subscription relaunch. App Store users will pay $11 per month due to the “Apple tax,” while those who pay on the web will only be charged $7 per month.
  • Calm’s meditation app is catering to gamers with the addition of new auditory environments from games like “Halo Infinite” and “Sea of Thieves,” which can help some people focus and boost their mood.
  • Instagram’s latest feature will inform creators and brands if their content is ineligible for recommendation and why.

Instagram account status

Image Credits: Instagram

  • Celeb greetings app Cameo debuted Cameo Kids, offering personalized video messages from popular kids’ characters like Santa and Thomas the Tank Engine.

Image Credits: Cameo

WhatsApp Avatars

Image Credits: WhatsApp

  • TikTok released its year-end trends list. Apparently, a chocolate giraffe was very popular, as was a collection of dumb life hacks.
  • Yelp takes on Angie’s List (now, just called Angi) with a new way to hire service professionals in the app.
  • Amazon Luna now allows Prime members to play already purchased Ubisoft games on Luna without having to subscribe.
  • YouTube is rolling out its own take on Twitch emotes.
  • Snapchat-owned social mapping app Zenly is shutting down. RIP.
  • Facebook Dating is now going to test the same age verification tech that Meta is currently testing on Instagram. ID uploads or selfie videos may be required for users suspected of being underage.
  • Robinhood added a waitlist for a new Robinhood Retirement feature, which will offer IRAs with a 1% match on every dollar contributed.
  • Roblox is going to allow users 13 and up to import their contacts and will introduce friend recommendations.

This Week in Twitter Drama

twitter app icon ios

Image Credits: TechCrunch

A lot happened at the chaotic bird app company this week! In case you haven’t been keeping up with the drama, here’s a quick review:

  • Twitter is trying to lure back advertisers with huge incentives, like matching $500,000 to $1 million in spending, up to $1 million cap. Twitter’s ad revenue is said to be 80% below expectations as of the World Cup’s November 20 start.
  • Elon Musk made a big deal about publishing internal emails over Twitter’s Hunter Biden laptop drama. He’s calling these reveals “The Twitter Files.” But the hyped event fell a little flat as they only seemed to show a company having conversations over difficult content moderation decisions, ultimately resulting in the company taking the unusual step to limit the reach of a news story at the time over concerns it came from a hack and leak campaign by a Russian group and would violate Twitter’s anti-doxing policy. Twitter had already admitted, in hindsight (and with the aid of further information and reporting), the decision was wrong.
  • Twitter’s new VP of Trust and Safety Ella Irwin said the company will now focus on using automation to moderate content, not removals.
  • Twitter later released another “Twitter File” that again showed the company simply doing the difficult business of moderation, in this case conflating shadowbanning with de-amplification, as former Twitter exec Kayvon Beykpour pointed out, calling the characterization either “a lazy interpretation or deliberately misleading.”
  • Additional concerns were raised as to whether or not the reporter tweeting the story (who is not a Twitter employee) was given internal systems access, as she included screenshots of Twitter’s internal systems in the posts.
  • Musk also “exited” deputy general counsel Jim Baker, claiming there were concerns over Baker’s “possible role in suppression of information” related to the so-called Twitter Files.
  • Musk said a later Twitter update will show users if they’ve been shadowbanned and why.
  • Twitter allowed Andrew Anglin, a neo-Nazi and founder of the white supremacist website The Daily Stormer, back on the app.
  • Major brands’ ads appeared on the pages of two white nationalists after their accounts were restored by Musk. Ads from Amazon, Snap, Uber and others were among those impacted. Twitter later emailed advertisers to say it will launch controls to prevent ads from showing up next to certain keywords.
  • Twitter is facing multiple lawsuits over layoffs, which could cost it millions in arbitration fees. Some workers on H-1B visas also said they didn’t get adequate immigration support.
  • Twitter’s iOS app has been facing issues with a number of key security features, including the ability to protect tweets or toggle DM settings.
  • Twitter will offer two different prices for Twitter Blue: a $7 per month subscription if you buy from the website, or $11 if you buy via in-app purchase, to offset the “Apple tax.”
  • In the meantime, it started savagely changing legacy verified users‘ checkmarks to inform users who clicked that “this is a legacy verified account. It may or may not be notable.”
  • Twitter shut down various developer-focused projects like Twitter Toolbox and others.
  • Musk is now promising to delete 1.5 billion inactive accounts to free up usernames.

We’re Thinking About…

Image Credits: Facebook/Meta

A Facebook Twitter clone?

The New York Times took a look at the new startups and social apps capitalizing on Twitter’s chaos after the Musk takeover, also dropping the bombshell reveal that Meta may be cranking up its clone machine to dupe Twitter. The company had already been testing a short message-sharing feature in Instagram called Instagram Notes, but was now wondering if that sort of product should be its own standalone app or another feed within Instagram. While there’s a clear opportunity to gain traction amid Twitter’s transition when some users are looking for an out, we hope Meta doesn’t add even more clutter to the already overwhelmingly busy Instagram app and instead chooses to take a real risk here.

Meta hasn’t successfully launched a new app in years, so it’s easy to see why it wouldn’t want to try now. But it would be so, so interesting if it made a text-heavy, simplified version of Facebook — let’s call it FB Classic, (Gen Z loves nostalgia!) — where the News Feed instead becomes a real-time Twitter-like feed instead. No complicated navigation, no private groups, no Reels, no marketplace or game streams, or all the other detritus of today’s Facebook. Have it all run through Facebook’s existing systems for reporting and moderation. Let people privately post to friends or choose to be more public. Imagine if Facebook’s duped Twitter’s core feature set around posts, replies and threads, favorites and the like, but didn’t take on extra features. Perhaps even offer the ability to sync select posts from Facebook (and the forthcoming IG Notes) to the app’s Twitter-like feed for a minimalistic feed to get everyone started…I mean, I know Meta is building the metaverse now, but…a Twitter 2.0 arms race between Meta and Twitter itself would be wild to watch.

A Microsoft Super App?

Microsoft has discussed debuting a super app with web search, news and shopping to better compete with Google, according to The Information. It’s crazy to imagine how expensive and difficult it would be to get users to download another search app at this point in time, when even Google is complaining it’s losing search market share to TikTok and Instagram. Hey, maybe Microsoft should index TikTok and launch a Gen Z marketing campaign on the app, calling its new super app a better search engine for TikTok videos! Ha! After all, it did consider buying TikTok. Okay, okay, I kid. But if a Microsoft Super App is to succeed, it’s definitely going to need more than Bing (still cannot believe they named it that) to lure in the next generation of users.

Government, Policy and Lawsuits

  • Meta failed in its attempt to annul a $267 million fine over WhatsApp’s breaching of GDPR transparency obligations.
  • Indiana’s attorney general sued TikTok for deceiving users over China’s access to user data and exposing kids to mature content.
  • EU regulators ruled that Meta can’t use its Terms of Service to require users to see personalized ads on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Texas banned TikTok on government-issued devices. Other states have done the same, including South Dakota, South Carolina and Maryland.
  • The SEC is investigating whether or not the social events app IRL misled investors. The company raised $170 million from SoftBank at a $1.17 billion valuation last year, but some employees told The Information they didn’t believe the app had the 20 million users it claimed to.
  • Uber Eats settled a lawsuit with the City of Chicago for listing local restaurants in the Uber Eats and Postmates apps without the restaurants’ consent and charging excess commission fees. Uber will pay $10 million, $5 million of which will go toward paying damages to restaurants.

2023 Predictions released its annual report predicting the next big mobile trends for 2023 (below). The full report is here. Of particular interest is its bet that mobile ad spend will reach $362 billion next year.

Image Credits:

Funding and M&A

Norwegian grocery delivery app Oda raised 1.5 billion Norwegian crowns in equity (about $151 million) in funding at a lowered valuation of $353 million. The service operates in its home market as well as Finland and Germany.

Singapore super app Osome raised $25 million in Series B funding. The app helps business owners with administrative tasks like payroll, accounting and tax reporting and serves over 11,000 businesses.

Saudi Arabia-based food delivery service Jahez is acquiring The Chefz in a cash and stock deal for $173 million.


Lensa AI

Well, you probably still want to see it! The avatars Lensa AI makes with Stable Diffusion are impressive, despite the controversy. It’s a great demo of a potential use case for AI, even if ethically fraught. Demand for AI avatars is clearly strong. Lensa’s popularity is having a knock-on effect across the App Store’s Top Charts, as now apps like AI Art, Image Generator; Meitu, Photo Editor & AI Art; Wonder, AI Art Generator; Dawn, AI Avatars; and Prequel, Aesthetic AI Editor have all entered the top 30. The apps are benefitting because they have “AI” in their names — and, in some cases, have bought App Store Search ads.


  • Proton: The E2EE cloud storage service launched iOS and Android apps offering 1GB of storage for free, 200GB for $4 per month, or 500GB for $10 per month.
  • Copilot: The popular budgeting and finance app launched a Mac counterpart.

This Week in Apps: Apple App Store’s new pricing, Twitter app makers shift to Mastodon, debate over Lensa AI by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

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Alzheimer’s, Now A Leading Cause Of Death In US, Is Becoming More Prevalent

Alzheimer’s, Now A Leading Cause Of Death In US, Is Becoming More Prevalent

Alzheimer’s disease is now one of the leading causes of death…



Alzheimer's, Now A Leading Cause Of Death In US, Is Becoming More Prevalent

Alzheimer’s disease is now one of the leading causes of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative and incurable brain disease that predominantly affects older people.

Early symptoms include memory loss and lapses in judgment, but at a later stage these can progress to problems with a wider range of functions too, such as balance, breathing and digestion.

As Statista's Anna Fleck details below, while heart disease, cancer and Covid-19 claimed by far the highest numbers of lives in 2021 (which was the latest available data), Alzheimer’s disease ranked in a high seventh place with 119,399 deaths that year, equating to 31 people per 100,000 population.

You will find more infographics at Statista

The rate of people dying of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States more than doubled between the years 2000 and 2019, according to the Alzheimer’s Association's latest report.

Where an average of 17.6 people per 100,000 died from the form of dementia at the turn of the millennium, the figure had climbed to 37 per 100,000 people nearly two decades later.

Infographic: Alzheimer’s Is Becoming More Prevalent | Statista

You will find more infographics at Statista

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, this is likely the result of an aging population, since age is the predominant risk factor for Alzheimer’s dementia. However, they note, it could also reflect a rise in the number of formal diagnoses of the disease or even in the number of physicians who are reporting Alzheimer’s as a cause of death. 

The charity’s analysts forecast that by 2025, the number of people aged 65+ with Alzheimer’s dementia in the U.S. could reach 7.2 million, and up to 13.8 million by 2060, if there were to be no medical breakthroughs in that time to prevent, slow or cure the disease.

On that note, pharmaceutical companies have a number of drugs in development, targeting different symptoms, from inflammation to synaptic plasticity/neuroprotection pathways.

According to AgingCare, neurological damage and muscle weakness can lead to patients finding it difficult to manage even simple movements such as swallowing food without assistance. This is the most common cause of death among Alzheimer's patients, since it can result in the inhalation of food or liquids to the lungs, which in turn can lead to pneumonia, since it more difficult to fight off bacterial infections.

The Alzheimer’s Association stresses the importance of seeing a doctor when someone develops Alzheimer’s symptoms. This is because an early diagnosis allows for treatment from earlier on, which may be able to lessen symptoms for a limited time as well as to make more time for people to plan for the future.

God bless nana.

Tyler Durden Sat, 09/23/2023 - 23:30

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American Pandemic ‘Samizdat’: Bhattacharya

American Pandemic ‘Samizdat’: Bhattacharya

Authored by Jay Bhattacharya via RealClear Wire,

On May 15, 1970, the New York Times published…



American Pandemic 'Samizdat': Bhattacharya

Authored by Jay Bhattacharya via RealClear Wire,

On May 15, 1970, the New York Times published an article by esteemed Russia scholar Albert Parry detailing how Soviet dissident intellectuals were covertly passing forbidden ideas around to each other on handcrafted, typewritten documents called samizdat. Here is the beginning of that seminal story:

Censorship existed even before literature, say the Russians. And, we may add, censorship being older, literature has to be craftier. Hence, the new and remarkably viable underground press in the Soviet Union called samizdat.

Samizdat – translates as: “We publish ourselves” – that is, not the state, but we, the people.

Unlike the underground of Czarist times, today’s samizdat has no printing presses (with rare exceptions): The K.G.B., the secret police, is too efficient. It is the typewriter, each page produced with four to eight carbon copies, that does the job. By the thousands and tens of thousands of frail, smudged onionskin sheets, samizdat spreads across the land a mass of protests and petitions, secret court minutes, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s banned novels, George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984,” Nicholas Berdyayev’s philosophical essays, all sorts of sharp political discourses and angry poetry.

Though it is hard to hear, the sad fact is that we are living in a time and in a society where there is once again a need for scientists to pass around their ideas secretly to one another so as to avoid censorship, smearing, and defamation by government authorities in the name of science.

I say this from first-hand experience. During the pandemic, the U.S. government violated my free speech rights and those of my scientist colleagues for questioning the federal government’s COVID policies.

American government officials, working in concert with big tech companies, defamed and suppressed me and my colleagues for criticizing official pandemic policies – criticism that has been proven prescient. While this may sound like a conspiracy theory, it is a documented fact, and one recently confirmed by a federal circuit court.

In August 2022, the Missouri and Louisiana attorneys general asked me to join as a plaintiff in a lawsuit, represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, against the Biden administration. The suit aims to end the government’s role in this censorship and restore the free speech rights of all Americans in the digital town square.

Lawyers in the Missouri v. Biden case took sworn depositions from many federal officials involved in the censorship efforts, including Anthony Fauci. During the hours-long deposition, Fauci showed a striking inability to answer basic questions about his pandemic management, replying “I don’t recall” over 170 times.

Legal discovery unearthed email exchanges between the government and social media companies showing an administration willing to threaten the use of its regulatory power to harm social media companies that did not comply with censorship demands.

The case revealed that a dozen federal agencies pressured social media companies Google, Facebook, and Twitter to censor and suppress speech contradicting federal pandemic priorities. In the name of slowing the spread of harmful misinformation, the administration forced the censorship of scientific facts that didn’t fit its narrative de jour. This included facts relating to the evidence for immunity after COVID recovery, the inefficacy of mask mandates, and the inability of the vaccine to stop disease transmission. True or false, if speech interfered with the government’s priorities, it had to go.

On July 4, U.S. Federal District Court Judge Terry Doughty issued a preliminary injunction in the case, ordering the government to immediately stop coercing social media companies to censor protected free speech. In his decision, Doughty called the administration’s censorship infrastructure an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth.”

In my November 2021 testimony in the House of Representatives, I used this exact phrase to describe the government’s censorship efforts. For this heresy, I faced slanderous accusations by Rep. Jamie Raskin, who accused me of wanting to let the virus “rip.” Raskin was joined by fellow Democrat Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, who tried to smear my reputation on the grounds that I spoke with a Chinese journalist in April 2020.

Judge Doughty’s ruling decried the vast federal censorship enterprise dictating to social media companies who and what to censor, and ordered it to end. But the Biden administration immediately appealed the decision, claiming that they needed to be able to censor scientists or else public health would be endangered and people would die. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted them an administrative stay that lasted until mid-September, permitting the Biden administration to continue violating the First Amendment.

After a long month, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that that pandemic policy critics were not imagining these violations. The Biden administration did indeed strong-arm social media companies into doing its bidding. The court found that the Biden White House, the CDC, the U.S. surgeon general’s office, and the FBI have “engaged in a years-long pressure campaign [on social media outlets] designed to ensure that the censorship aligned with the government’s preferred viewpoints.”

The appellate judges described a pattern of government officials making “threats of ‘fundamental reforms’ like regulatory changes and increased enforcement actions that would ensure the platforms were ‘held accountable.’” But, beyond express threats, there was always an “unspoken ‘or else.’” The implication was clear. If social media companies did not comply, the administration would work to harm the economic interests of the companies. Paraphrasing Al Capone, “Well that’s a nice company you have there. Shame if something were to happen to it,” the government insinuated.

“The officials’ campaign succeeded. The platforms, in capitulation to state-sponsored pressure, changed their moderation policies,” the 5th Circuit judges wrote, and they renewed the injunction against the government’s violation of free speech rights. Here is the full order, filled with many glorious adverbs:

Defendants, and their employees and agents, shall take no actions, formal or informal, directly or indirectly, to coerce or significantly encourage social-media companies to remove, delete, suppress, or reduce, including through altering their algorithms, posted social-media content containing protected free speech. That includes, but is not limited to, compelling the platforms to act, such as by intimating that some form of punishment will follow a failure to comply with any request, or supervising, directing, or otherwise meaningfully controlling the social media companies’ decision-making processes.

The federal government can no longer threaten social media companies with destruction if they don’t censor scientists on behalf of the government. The ruling is a victory for every American since it is a victory for free speech rights.

Although I am thrilled by it, the decision isn’t perfect. Some entities at the heart of the government’s censorship enterprise can still organize to suppress speech. For instance, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) within the Department of Homeland Security can still work with academics to develop a hit list for government censorship. And the National Institutes of Health, Tony Fauci’s old organization, can still coordinate devastating takedowns of outside scientists critical of government policy.

So, what did the government want censored?

The trouble began on Oct. 4, 2020, when my colleagues and I – Dr. Martin Kulldorff, a professor of medicine at Harvard University, and Dr. Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford – published the Great Barrington Declaration. It called for an end to economic lockdowns, school shutdowns, and similar restrictive policies because they disproportionately harm the young and economically disadvantaged while conferring limited benefits.

The Declaration endorsed a “focused protection” approach that called for strong measures to protect high-risk populations while allowing lower-risk individuals to return to normal life with reasonable precautions. Tens of thousands of doctors and public health scientists signed on to our statement.

With hindsight, it is clear that this strategy was the right one. Sweden, which in large part eschewed lockdown and, after early problems, embraced focused protection of older populations, had among the lowest age-adjusted all-cause excess deaths of nearly every other country in Europe and suffered none of the learning loss for its elementary school children. Similarly, Florida has lower cumulative age-adjusted all-cause excess deaths than lockdown-crazy California since the start of the pandemic.

In the poorest parts of the world, the lockdowns were an even greater disaster. By spring 2020, the United Nations was already warning that the economic disruptions caused by the lockdowns would lead to 130 million or more people starving. The World Bank warned the lockdowns would throw 100 million people into dire poverty.

Some version of those predictions came true – millions of the world’s poorest suffered from the West’s lockdowns. Over the past 40 years, the world’s economies globalized, becoming more interdependent. At a stroke, the lockdowns broke the promise the world’s rich nations had implicitly made to poor nations. The rich nations had told the poor: Reorganize your economies, connect yourself to the world, and you will become more prosperous. This worked, with 1 billion people lifted out of dire poverty over the last half-century.

But the lockdowns violated that promise. The supply chain disruptions that predictably followed them meant millions of poor people in sub-Saharan Africa, Bangladesh, and elsewhere lost their jobs and could no longer feed their families.

In California, where I live, the government closed public schools and disrupted our children’s education for two straight academic years. The educational disruption was very unevenly distributed, with the poorest students and minority students suffering the greatest educational losses. By contrast, Sweden kept its schools open for students under 16 throughout the pandemic. The Swedes let their children live near-normal lives with no masks, no social distancing, and no forced isolation. As a result, Swedish kids suffered no educational loss.

The lockdowns, then, were a form of trickle-down epidemiology. The idea seemed to be that we should protect the well-to-do from the virus and that protection would somehow trickle down to protect the poor and the vulnerable. The strategy failed, as a large fraction of the deaths attributable to COVID hit the vulnerable elderly.

The government wanted to suppress the fact that there were prominent scientists who opposed the lockdowns and had alternate ideas – like the Great Barrington Declaration – that might have worked better. They wanted to maintain an illusion of total consensus in favor of Tony Fauci’s ideas, as if he were indeed the high pope of science. When he told an interviewer, “Everyone knows I represent science. If you criticize me, you are not simply criticizing a man, you are criticizing science itself,” he meant it unironically.

Federal officials immediately targeted the Great Barrington Declaration for suppression. Four days after the declaration’s publication, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins emailed Fauci to organize a “devastating takedown” of the document. Almost immediately, social media companies such as Google/YouTube, Reddit, and Facebook censored mentions of the declaration.

In 2021, Twitter blacklisted me for posting a link to the Great Barrington Declaration. YouTube censored a video of a public policy roundtable of me with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for the “crime” of telling him the scientific evidence for masking children is weak. 

At the height of the pandemic, I found myself smeared for my supposed political views, and my views about COVID policy and epidemiology were removed from the public square on all manner of social networks.

It is impossible for me not to speculate about what might have happened had our proposal been met with a more typical scientific spirit rather than censorship and vitriol. For anyone with an open mind, the GBD represented a return to the old pandemic management strategy that had served the world well for a century – identify and protect the vulnerable, develop treatments and countermeasures as rapidly as possible, and disrupt the lives of the rest of society as little as possible since such disruption is likely to cause more harm than good.

Without censorship, we might have won that debate, and if so, the world could have moved along a different and better path in the last three and a half years, with less death and less suffering.

Since I started with a story about how dissidents skirted the Soviet censorship regime, I will close with a story about Trofim Lysenko, the famous Russian biologist. Stalin’s favorite scientist was a biologist who did not believe in Mendelian genetics – one of the most important ideas in biology. He thought it was all hokum, inconsistent with communist ideology, which emphasized the importance of nurture over nature. Lysenko developed a theory that if you expose seeds to cold before you plant them, they will be more resistant to cold, and thereby, crop output could be increased dramatically.

I hope it is not a surprise to readers to learn that Lysenko was wrong about the science. Nevertheless, Lysenko convinced Stalin that his ideas were right, and Stalin rewarded him by making him the director of the USSR’s Institute for Genetics for more than 20 years. Stalin gave him the Order of Lenin eight times.

Lysenko used his power to destroy any biologist who disagreed with him. He smeared and demoted the reputations of rival scientists who thought Mendelian genetics was true. Stalin sent some of these disfavored scientists to Siberia, where they died. Lysenko censored the scientific discussion in the Soviet Union so no one dared question his theories.

The result was mass starvation. Soviet agriculture stalled, and millions died in famines caused by Lysenko’s ideas put into practice. Some sources say that Ukraine and China under Mao Tse-tung also followed Lysenko’s ideas, causing millions more to starve there.

Censorship is the death of science and inevitably leads to the death of people. America should be a bulwark against it, but it was not during the pandemic. Though the tide is turning with the Missouri v. Biden case, we must reform our scientific institutions so what happened during the pandemic never happens again.

Dr. Bhattacharya is the inaugural recipient of RealClear’s Samizdat Prize. This article was adapted from the speech he delivered at the award ceremony on September 12 in Palo Alto, California.

Tyler Durden Sat, 09/23/2023 - 10:30

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Spread & Containment

Disney World finally brings back parking trams

The theme park giant very rarely gives back things it has taken away from ticketholders, but people will be happy with this change.



Walt Disney made a lot of changes at its theme parks during the covid pandemic.

Many of them were unpopular but necessary. Health checks, masks and social distancing were beyond the company's control. Moving to only digital ordering at many casual eateries and limiting park attendance were also logical, given the need to keep people safe from the virus.

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During the pandemic, however, the company also made some changes at Disney World that people did not like and that had nothing to do with covid. Walt Disney (DIS) - Get Free Report dropped the FastPass system and replaced it with the paid Genie+ and Lightning Lane offerings. 

Disney World also added a reservation system during the pandemic to manage crowd levels at its parks, while it also stopped so-called park hopping. Now, the company has largely restored park hopping to the way it worked prepandemic and reservations are needed only in certain situations. 

Also during the pandemic Disney World dropped another popular customer convenience. After nearly three years, the company finally restored something that Disney World visitors had missed a lot.

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Epcot has a huge parking lot right in front of the park entrance.

Image source: Daniel Kline/TheStreet

Disney World made careful choices

Disney World has some very large parking lots. On a crowded day at any of its four theme parks, people who don't arrive early can end up parking very far away from each park's entrance. It's possible to walk to the entrance at Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot or to the monorail or ferry boats at Magic Kingdom, but the walk can be a long one.

Walking is, of course, a major part of any Disney World visit. Having customers make a long trek before they even enter a park has never made much sense.

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During the covid days, however, limited crowds allowed people to park closer to the entrances. That enabled people to walk to the entrances and made parking trams an unnecessary luxury. 

Disney removed the trams partly because they weren't needed and partly because they created a covid risk. In the social distancing days, having people fighting for space to queue up for a ride to the entrance required policing and seemed like a bad idea even when things returned to closer to normal.

Now, Disney has finally fully brought parking trams back to Disney World.

Disney World brings back parking trams

Disney had promised that its parking-lot trams would return, but actually bringing them back took longer than expected.

"After more than 1,100 days and nine months after a self-imposed deadline, parking lot trams have returned to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios – marking a full return of the service," reported. "Parking-lot-tram service returned to Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom last year, but Disney only brought back service to Epcot and Hollywood Studios today (Sept. 21),"

The website implies that the reluctance to bring the service back could have been labor-related or it may have been Disney not wanting to spend the money. The trams have a driver and each park has attendants helping keep the lines orderly (although the system is not as organized as most Disney lines).

Disney World has mostly returned to how it operated before covid. The company has kept parts of the reservation system and digital ordering is still encouraged. 

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In addition, the company continues to manage attendance and has kept capacity at lower numbers than it did before the pandemic. Disney has also increased the number of days that it sells admission to at least one of its four Florida parks at the lowest price on its dynamic pricing scale.

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