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US politicians tweet far more misinformation than those in the UK and Germany – new research

Checks on information shared by politicians in Europe and the US showed those in the US shared more untrustworthy material.

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Politicians from mainstream parties in the UK and Germany post far fewer links to untrustworthy websites on Twitter and this has remained constant since 2016, according to our new research. By contrast, US politicians posted a much higher percentage of untrustworthy content in their tweets, and that share has been increasing steeply since 2020.

We also found systematic differences between the parties in the US, where Republican politicians were found to share untrustworthy websites more than nine times as often as Democrats.

For Republicans, overall around 4% (one in 25) links were untrustworthy compared with around 0.4% (one in 250) among Democrats, and that gap has widened in the last few years. Since 2020, more than 5% of Republican tweets contained links to untrustworthy information. Democrats have remained stable and predominantly share information that is trustworthy.

Over the five-year period we studied, mainstream elected UK MPs shared only 74 links to misinformation (0.01%), compared with 4,789 (1.8%) from elected mainstream US politicians and 812 (1.3%) from German politicians.

Building on earlier work that showed how former US president Donald Trump could set the political agenda using Twitter, we conducted a systematic examination of the accuracy of the tweets of parliamentarians in three countries: the US, the UK and Germany.

Together with colleagues David Garcia, Fabio Carrella, Almog Simchon and Segun Aroyehun, we collected all available tweets from former and present members of the US Congress, the German parliament and the British parliament. Altogether we collected more than 3 million tweets posted from 2016 to 2022.

To determine the trustworthiness of information shared by the politicians, we extracted all links to external websites contained in the tweets and then used the NewsGuard database to assess the trustworthiness of the domain being linked to.

NewsGuard curates a large number of sites in numerous different countries and languages and evaluates them along nine criteria that characterise responsible journalism – for example, whether a site publishes corrections and whether it differentiates between opinion and news.

Our team looked at MPs from the UK’s Conservative and Labour parties and from Germany (Greens, SPD, FDP, CDU/CSU) as well as US Republican and Democrat politicians.

Members of the conservative parties in Germany (CDU/CSU) and the UK (Conservatives) shared links to untrustworthy websites more frequently than their counterparts in the centre or centre-left. However, even conservative parliamentarians in Europe were more accurate than US Democrats, with only around 0.2% (one in 500) links from European conservatives being untrustworthy.

We repeated our analyses using a second database of news website trustworthiness instead of NewsGuard. This robustness check was important to minimise the risk of possible partisan bias in what is considered “untrustworthy”.

The second database was compiled by academics and fact checkers such as Media Bias/Fact Check. Reassuringly, the results matched our primary analyses and we find the same trends.


Read more: Three reasons why disinformation is so pervasive and what we can do about it


The world has been awash with concern about the state of our political discourse for many years now. There is ample justification for this concern, given that 30%-40% of Americans believe the baseless claim that the presidential election of 2020 was “stolen” by President Biden, and given that around 10% of the British public believes in at least one conspiracy theory surrounding COVID-19.

A US flag in front of the US Capitol building.
One in 25 websites that elected national US Republicans shared were found to be untrustworthy, compared with one in 250 among Democrats. Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock

Much of the discussion of the misinformation problem — and much of the blame — has focused on social media, and in particular the algorithms that curate our newsfeeds and that may nudge us towards more and more extreme and outrage-provoking content. There is now considerable evidence that social media has been harmful to democracy in at least some countries.

However, social media is not the only source of the misinformation problem. Donald Trump made more than 30,000 false or misleading claims during his presidency and there are political leaders in Europe who have a poor track record.

However, compared with the plethora of research that has focused on the role of social media, and the relationship between technology and democracy more generally, there have been few attempts to systematically characterise the role of political leaders in the dissemination of low-quality information.

Our results are interesting in light of several recent analyses of the American public’s news diet, which have repeatedly shown that conservatives are more likely to encounter and share untrustworthy information than liberals. To date, the origins of that difference have remained disputed.

Our results contribute to a potential explanation if we assume that what politicians say sets the agenda and resonates with members of the public. By sharing misinformation, Republican members of Congress not only directly provide misinformation to their followers, but also legitimise the sharing of untrustworthy information more generally.

Stephan Lewandowsky receives funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 964728 (JITSUVAX). He also receives funding from the Australian Research Council via a Discovery Grant to Ullrich Ecker, from Jigsaw (a technology incubator created by Google), from UK Research and Innovation (through the Centre of Excellence, REPHRAIN), and from the Volkswagen Foundation in Germany. He also holds a European Research Council Advanced Grant (no. 101020961, PRODEMINFO) and receives funding from the John Templeton Foundation (via Wake Forest University’s Honesty Project). He is also the recipient of a Research Award from the Humboldt Foundation in Germany. He has worked with the European Commission on issues relating to social media governance and regulation.

Jana Lasser receives funding from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant No. 101026507.

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International

I’m headed to London soon for #EUBIO22. Care to join me?

Adrian Rawcliffe
It was great getting back to a live ESMO conference/webinar in Paris followed by a live pop-up event for the Endpoints 11 in Boston. We’re…

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Adrian Rawcliffe

It was great getting back to a live ESMO conference/webinar in Paris followed by a live pop-up event for the Endpoints 11 in Boston. We’re staying on the road in October with our return for a live/streaming EUBIO22 in London.

Kate Bingham

Silicon Valley Bank’s Nooman Haque and I are once again jumping back into the thick of it with a slate of virtual and live events on October 12. I’ll get the ball rolling with a virtual fireside chat with Novo Nordisk R&D chief Marcus Schindler, covering their pipeline plans and BD work.

After that I’ve teed up two webinars on mRNA research — with some of the top experts in Europe — and the oncology scene, building better CARs in Europe.

That afternoon, we’ll switch to a live/streaming hybrid event, with a chance to gather once again now that the pandemic has faded. I’ve recruited a panel of top biotech execs to look at surviving the crazy public market, with Adrian Rawcliffe, the CEO of Adaptimmune, SV’s Kate Bingham, Mereo CEO Denise Scots-Knight and Andrew Hopkins, chief of Exscientia.

Andrew Hopkins
Denise Scots-Knight

That will be followed by my special, live fireside chat with Susan Galbraith, the oncology R&D chief at AstraZeneca. And then we’ll turn to Nooman’s panel, where he’ll be talking with Katya Smirnyagina with Oxford Science Enterprises, Maina Bhaman with Sofinnova Partners and Rosetta Capital’s Jonathan Hepple about navigating the severe capital headwinds.

You can review the full schedule and buy tickets here and review everything we have planned. It will be a packed day. I hope to see you there. It’s been several years now since I’ve had a chance to meet people in the Golden Triangle. I’m very much looking forward to it.

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We can turn to popular culture for lessons about how to live with COVID-19 as endemic

As COVID-19 transitions from a pandemic to an endemic, apocalyptic science-fiction and zombie movies contain examples of how to adjust to the new norm…

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An endemic means that COVID-19 is still around, but it no longer disrupts everyday life. (Shutterstock)

In 2021, conversations began on whether the COVID-19 pandemic will, or even can, end. As a literary and cultural theorist, I started looking for shifts in stories about pandemics and contagion. It turns out that several stories also question how and when a pandemic becomes endemic.


Read more: COVID will likely shift from pandemic to endemic — but what does that mean?


The 2020 film Peninsula, a sequel to the Korean zombie film, Train to Busan, ends with a group of survivors rescued and transported to a zombie-free Hong Kong. In it, Jooni (played by Re Lee) spent her formative years living through the zombie epidemic. When she is rescued, she responds to being informed that she’s “going to a better place” by admitting that “this place wasn’t bad either.”

Jooni’s response points toward the shift in contagion narratives that has emerged since the spread of COVID-19. This shift marks a rejection of the push-for-survival narratives in favour of something more indicative of an endemic.

Found within

Contagion follows a general cycle: outbreak, epidemic, pandemic and endemic. The determinants of each stage rely upon the rate of spread within a specified geographic region.

Etymologically, the word “endemic” has its origins with the Greek words én and dēmos, meaning “in the people.” Thus, it refers to something that is regularly found within a population.

Infectious disease physician Stephen Parodi asserts that an endemic just means that a disease, while still prevalent within a population, no longer disrupts our daily lives.

Similarly, genomics and viral evolution researcher Aris Katzourakis argues that endemics occur when infection rates are static — neither rising nor falling. Because this stasis occurs differently with each situation, there is no set threshold at which a pandemic becomes endemic.

Not all diseases reach endemic status. And, if endemic status is reached, it does not mean the virus is gone, but rather that things have become “normal.”

Survival narratives

We’re most likely familiar with contagion narratives. After all, Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film Contagion, was the most watched film on Canadian Netflix in March 2020. Conveniently, this was when most Canadian provinces went into lockdown during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A clip from the film Contagion showing the disease spreading throughout the world.

In survival-based contagion narratives, characters often discuss methods for survival and generally refer to themselves as survivors. Contagion chronicles the transmission of a deadly virus that is brought from Hong Kong to the United States. In response, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is tasked with tracing its origins and finding a cure. The film follows Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), who is immune, as he tries to keep his daughter safe in a crumbling Minneapolis.

Ultimately, a vaccine is successfully synthesized, but only after millions have succumbed to the virus.

Like many science fiction and horror films that envision some sort of apocalyptic end, Contagion focuses on the basic requirements for survival: shelter, food, water and medicine.

However, it also deals with the breakdown of government systems and the violence that accompanies it.

A “new” normal

In contrast, contagion narratives that have turned endemic take place many years after the initial outbreak. In these stories, the infected population is regularly present, but the remaining uninfected population isn’t regularly infected.

A spin-off to the zombie series The Walking Dead takes place a decade after the initial outbreak. In the two seasons of The Walking Dead: World Beyond (2020-2021) four young protagonists — Hope (Alexa Mansour), Iris (Aliyah Royale), Silas (Hal Cumpston) and Elton (Nicolas Cantu) — represent the first generation to come of age within the zombie-infested world.

The four youth spent their formative years in an infected world — similar to Jooni in Peninsula. For these characters, zombies are part of their daily lives, and their constant presence is normalized.

The trailer for the second season of AMC’s The Walking Dead: World Beyond.

The setting in World Beyond has electricity, helicopters and modern medicine. Characters in endemic narratives have regular access to shelter, food, water and medicine, so they don’t need to resort to violence over limited resources. And notably, they also don’t often refer to themselves as survivors.

Endemic narratives acknowledge that existing within an infected space alongside a virus is not necessarily a bad thing, and that not all inhabitants within infected spaces desire to leave. It is rare in endemic narratives for a character to become infected.

Instead of going out on zombie-killing expeditions in the manner that occurs frequently in the other Walking Dead stories, the characters in World Beyond generally leave the zombies alone. They mark the zombies with different colours of spray-paint to chronicle what they call “migration patterns.”

The zombies have therefore just become another species for the characters to live alongside — something more endemic.

The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead (2015-), Z Nation (2014-18), and many other survival-based stories seem to return to the past. In contrast, endemic narratives maintain a present and sometimes even future-looking approach.

Learning from stories

According to film producer and media professor Mick Broderick, survival stories maintain a status quo. They seek a “nostalgically yearned-for less-complex existence.” It provides solace to imagine an earlier, simpler time when living through a pandemic.

However, the shift from survival to endemic in contagion narratives provides us with many important possibilities. The one I think is quite relevant right now is that it presents us with a way of living with contagion. After all, watching these characters survive a pandemic helps us imagine that we can too.

Krista Collier-Jarvis does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Xi Reemerges In 1st Public Appearance After ‘Coup’ Rumors

Xi Reemerges In 1st Public Appearance After ‘Coup’ Rumors

So much for the "coup in China" and "Xi is missing" rumor mill of the past week,…

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Xi Reemerges In 1st Public Appearance After 'Coup' Rumors

So much for the "coup in China" and "Xi is missing" rumor mill of the past week, which at one point saw Chinese President Xi Jinping's name trending high on Twitter...

"Chinese President Xi Jinping visited an exhibition in Beijing on Tuesday, according to state television, in his first public appearance since returning to China from an official trip to Central Asia in mid-September – dispelling unverified rumours that he was under house arrest."

He had arrived in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September 15 - and attended the days-long Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit - where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others.

Xi is "back"...image via state media screenshot

Importantly, it had been his first foreign trip in two years. Xi had not traveled outside of the country since before the Covid-19 pandemic began.

But upon returning the Beijing, he hadn't been seen in the public eye since that mid-September trip, fueling speculation and rumors in the West and on social media. Some pundits floated the idea that he had been under "house arrest" amid political instability and a possible coup attempt.

According to a Tuesday Bloomberg description of the Chinese leader's "re-emergence" in the public eye, which has effectively ended the bizarre rumors

Xi, wearing a mask, visited an exhibition in Beijing on Tuesday about China's achievements over the past decade, state-run news outlet Xinhua reported. The Chinese leader was accompanied by the other six members of the Politburo Standing Committee, a sign of unity after rumors circulated on Twitter about a challenge to his power.

He'll likely cinch his third five-year term as leader at the major Chinese Communist party’s (CCP) meeting on October 16. The CCP meeting comes only once every half-decade.

What had added to prior rumors was the fact that the 69-year old Xi recently undertook a purge of key senior security officials. This included arrests on corruption charges of the former police chiefs of Shanghai, Chongqing and Shanxi.

More importantly, former vice minister of public security Sun Lijun and former justice minister Fu Zhenghua were also sacked and faced severe charges.

Concerning Sun Lijun, state media made this shocking announcement a week ago: "Sun Lijun, former Chinese vice minister of public security, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve for taking more than 646 million yuan of bribes, manipulating the stock market, and illegally possessing firearms, according to the Intermediate People's Court of Changchun in Northeast China's Jilin Province on Friday." The suspended death sentence means he'll spend life in prison.

Tyler Durden Wed, 09/28/2022 - 14:05

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