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Army of fake fans boosts China’s messaging on Twitter

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Army of fake fans boosts China’s messaging on Twitter

China’s ruling Communist Party has launched a new front in its long-running, aggressive campaign to influence global public opinion: Western social media.

Liu Xiaoming, China’s former ambassador to the United Kingdom, is one of the party’s most effective foot soldiers on this changing online battlefield. He entered Twitter in October 2019, when a flood of Chinese diplomats flooded the site, which is blocked in China.

Since then, Liu has skillfully raised his public profile, amassing a fan base of over 119,000 as an exemplar of China’s latest razor-sharp “wolf fighter” diplomacy, a phrase derived from the title of a top-grossing Chinese action film.

“As far as I can see, there are so-called ‘wolf warriors’ because there are ‘wolves’ in the universe, and you need warriors to battle them,” Liu, now China’s Special Representative on Korean Peninsula Affairs, tweeted in February.

From June to February, his messages — principled and brave retweets to Western anti-Chinese racism to his supporters, offensive bombast to his critics — were retweeted more than 43,000 times.

However, much of the widespread support Liu and many of his colleagues seem to have on Twitter has been fabricated.

The Associated Press and the Oxford Internet Institute, a department at Oxford University, conducted a seven-month investigation and discovered that China’s rise on Twitter has been fueled by an army of fake accounts that have retweeted Chinese diplomats and state media tens of thousands of times, covertly amplifying propaganda that can reach hundreds of millions of people — even without disclosing the fact that

 

This method of study is possible because Twitter provides more data to analysts than most social media sites do on a regular basis.

From June to January, more than half of Liu’s retweets came from accounts banned by Twitter for breaking the platform’s laws, which forbid manipulation. More than one out of every ten retweets received by 189 Chinese diplomats during that time period came from accounts that Twitter had suspended by March 1.

However, Twitter’s suspensions had no impact on the pro-China amplification rig. An additional swarm of bogus pages, many of which impersonate U.K. Citizens continued to promote Chinese government material, garnering over 16,000 retweets and replies until Twitter suspended them late last month and early this month in response to the AP and Oxford Internet Institute’s investigation.

This fiction of success will elevate the prestige of China’s messengers, generating the illusion of widespread support. It can also skew website algorithms intended to increase the dissemination of common content, potentially exposing more legitimate users to Chinese government propaganda. Although individual fake accounts do not seem to have much effect on their own, such networks may distort the information ecosystem over time and at scale, increasing the scope and credibility of China’s messaging.

“You have a seismic, gradual but massive continental change in narratives,” said Timothy Graham, a senior lecturer in social networks at Queensland University of Technology. “Steering things just a little bit at a time will have a huge impact.”

Twitter and others have previously established fake pro-China networks. The AP/Oxford Internet Institute investigation, however, demonstrates for the first time that large-scale inauthentic amplification has broadly driven engagement through official government and state media accounts, adding to evidence that Beijing’s appetite for guiding public opinion — covertly, if necessary — extends beyond its borders and beyond core strategic interests such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Xinjia.

Twitter’s takedowns were often the product of weeks or months of action. Overall, the Associated Press and the Oxford Internet Institute reported 26,879 accounts that retweeted Chinese diplomats or state media almost 200,000 times before being removed. They contributed for a sizable portion — often more than half — of the overall retweets received from several diplomatic accounts on Twitter.

It was impossible to tell if the accounts were sponsored by the Chinese government.

Twitter told AP that many of the accounts had been sanctioned for manipulation, but refused to elaborate about any other network breaches that could have occurred. Twitter said it was looking at whether the activity was linked to a state-sponsored intelligence campaign.

“We will continue to review and take action against accounts that breach our site manipulation policies, including accounts affiliated with these networks,” said a Twitter representative in a tweet. “If we have strong evidence of state-affiliated intelligence operations, our first priority is to apply our laws and delete accounts that are engaged in this behaviour.” When our inquiries are over, we publish all of the accounts and content in our public archive.”

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it did not engage in social media deception. “There is no so-called false propaganda, nor is a paradigm of online public opinion advice being exported,” the ministry said in a statement to the Associated Press. “We hope that the concerned parties will drop their racist stance, remove their tinted lenses, and adopt a peaceful, reflective, and fair solution in the spirit of transparency and inclusion.”

BATTLEFIELD OF IDEOLOGY

Twitter and Facebook serve as formidable — but one-sided — global megaphones for China’s ruling Communist Party, amplifying messaging narrowly set by central authorities.

At least 270 Chinese diplomats are now participating on Twitter and Facebook, spread across 126 countries. They monitor 449 Twitter and Facebook accounts, which updated nearly 950,000 times between June and February, in collaboration with Chinese state media. According to the Oxford Internet Institute and AP’s study, these tweets were liked over 350 million times and responded to and forwarded over 27 million times. Three-quarters of Chinese diplomats on Twitter have only been there for two years.

The shift to Western social media comes as China fights for power – both at home and abroad – on the internet, which President Xi Jinping has referred to as the “main battlefield” for public opinion.

“Whether we can withstand and win on the battleground of the Internet is closely linked to our country’s ideological security and political security,” he said in 2013, not long after taking office. Xi gave another speech in September 2019, when Chinese diplomats flocked to Twitter, encouraging party cadres to improve their “war spirit.”

Xi has restructured China’s internet regulation, tightening regulations and further tying Chinese media to the government, as he said in a 2016 interview, to ensure that the media “loves, defends, and supports the party.”

This closeness was formalised in 2018, when the party centralised institutional oversight of major print, radio, film, and television networks under the Central Propaganda Department, which it oversees.
Chinese Ambassador to the United Kingdom Liu Xiaoming, left, chats with Britain’s Prince William, Duke of Cambridge at the Tusk Conservation Awards at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on November 30, 2016. (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Pool via AP, File)

China, like other countries, has realised the importance of social media in amplifying its messages and strengthening its influence. However, unrestricted access to Western social media has provided Beijing with a unilateral edge in the global battle for power.

Within China, Twitter and Facebook are barred, and Beijing monitors the discourse on domestic substitutes such as WeChat and Weibo, effectively closing off unmediated links to the Chinese public.

“It poses a huge threat to Western democracies.” “Because China has walled off its internet, we don’t have the same potential to manipulate foreign audiences,” said Jacob Wallis, a senior researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre. “This provides a substantial asymmetric advantage.”

Despite high levels of Chinese government involvement, Twitter and Facebook have repeatedly refused to mark state material. Twitter started labelling accounts belonging to “key government officials” and state-affiliated media last year in an attempt to provide users with more information. However, as of March 1, Twitter had labelled just 14 percent of Chinese diplomatic accounts on the site, failing to flag thousands of authenticated profiles.

According to Twitter, not all diplomatic accounts would be flagged in accordance with its policy of labelling senior officials and organisations who talk on behalf of a country abroad. It included no further information about how such choices are taken and refused to include a list of Chinese accounts that have been classified.

Last year, Facebook started adding accountability marks to state-controlled media pages. However, despite the fact that Chinese state material is widely distributed in Spanish, French, and Arabic, among other languages, disclosure is particularly poor in languages other than English.

As of March 1, Facebook had named two-thirds of a survey of 95 Chinese state media accounts in English, but just a quarter of accounts in other languages. Facebook, unlike Twitter, does not flag diplomatic pages, the vast majority of which are official embassy and consulate accounts.

Facebook labelled a further 41 Chinese state media outlets called to their notice by the Associated Press and the Oxford Internet Institute, raising the total percentage of labelled accounts from less than half to approximately 90%. The organisation stated that it was looking into the remaining issues.

“We add the branding on a rotating basis and will continue to label more publishers and sites over time,” a group spokeswoman told the Associated Press in a tweet. The corporation refused to include a complete list of the Chinese state media accounts that it has flagged.

The Chi is a kind of bird.

According to Twitter, not all diplomatic accounts would be flagged in accordance with its policy of labelling senior officials and organisations who talk on behalf of a country abroad. It included no further information about how such choices are taken and refused to include a list of Chinese accounts that have been classified.

Last year, Facebook started adding accountability marks to state-controlled media pages. However, despite the fact that Chinese state material is widely distributed in Spanish, French, and Arabic, among other languages, disclosure is particularly poor in languages other than English.

As of March 1, Facebook had named two-thirds of a survey of 95 Chinese state media accounts in English, but just a quarter of accounts in other languages. Facebook, unlike Twitter, does not flag diplomatic pages, the vast majority of which are official embassy and consulate accounts.

Facebook labelled a further 41 Chinese state media outlets called to their notice by the Associated Press and the Oxford Internet Institute, raising the total percentage of labelled accounts from less than half to approximately 90%. The organisation stated that it was looking into the remaining issues.

“We add the branding on a rotating basis and will continue to label more publishers and sites over time,” a group spokeswoman told the Associated Press in a tweet. The corporation refused to include a complete list of the Chinese state media accounts that it has flagged.

The China Media Project, a Hong Kong-based research organisation, discovered that openness labels matter: Twitter users enjoyed and exchanged less tweets from Chinese news outlets after August 2020, when the site began flagging them as state-affiliated media and stopped amplifying and recommending their content.

“We need the labels,” said David Bandurski, director of the China Media Project, but he cautioned that they risk portraying all Chinese media with the same broad brush, even outlets like Caixin that have managed to retain some freedom. “It’s all about appropriating the storey. Telling China’s storey means that only we, the party, get to tell China’s storey. This is also occurring in Portuguese, Spanish, and French. It really is a multinational strategy.”

Hu Xijin, the vocal editor-in-chief of China’s Global Times, recognised the effect right away. On August 14, he expressed his displeasure with the addition of the “China state-affiliated media” mark to his profile, claiming that his follower growth had plummeted. He wrote, “It seems Twitter will finally choke my account.”

CONSENSUS ON COUNTERFEITING

In early February, China’s state news agency Xinhua released a “reality check” of 24 “lies” about Xinjiang that it said were circulated by anti-China forces in the West. China is accused of genocide in Xinjiang for its barbaric, systemic persecution of minority Uighur Muslims.

According to Xinhua, the real issue in Xinjiang is Uighur extremism, not human rights. According to Xinhua, Beijing has brought peace and economic prosperity to its restive western area, and evidence to the contrary has been distorted by US intelligence services, a racist academic, and lying witnesses.

The news was picked up by other Chinese state media outlets, emphasised at a press briefing by China’s foreign ministry, and broadcast on Twitter by the foreign ministry and Chinese diplomats in the United States, India, Djibouti, Canada, Hungary, Austria, Tanzania, Kazakhstan, Jordan, Liberia, Grenada, Nigeria, Lebanon, Trinidad and Tobago, Qatar, and the United Kingdom.

It was then amplified by devoted yet enigmatic followers, such as gyagyagya10, whose account sent out an identical quote-tweet and reaction, within seconds, to a message about Xinjiang posted by China’s Embassy in London, saying, “Ethnic groups in China are well covered, whether in economic or cultural aspects.”

Messages set by key state media outlets and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are picked up by Chinese diplomats around the world, who repackage the material on Twitter, where it is compounded by networks of bogus and dubious accounts operating covertly to manipulate public opinion for the benefit of China’s ruling Communist Party.

Gyagyagya10, who had only one follower, was part of a network of 62 accounts devoted to amplifying Chinese diplomats in the United Kingdom that Marcel Schliebs, the Oxford Internet Institute’s lead researcher on the initiative, discovered exhibited various patterns indicating teamwork and inauthenticity.

The picture of abstract art shared as a profile photo and the absence of any kind of personal description reveal nothing about gyagyagya10. Indeed, none of the accounts in the network had fully fleshed-out profiles complete with familiar names and authentic profile photographs.

Gyagyagya10’s account launched in mid-August, along with more than a dozen other accounts dedicated solely to supporting tweets by the Chinese Embassy in London and Ambassador Liu. They then fell silent after Liu resigned his post at the end of January.

The network’s 62 accounts retweeted and responded to posts by Chinese diplomats in London almost 30,000 times between June and the end of January, according to the Oxford Internet Institute. They displayed distinct trends in the ways they amplified information.

They, like gyagyagya10, frequently posted similar quote-tweets and responses, and they frequently used identical phrases in their messages, such as “Xinjiang is beautiful” and “shared future for mankind.” Others who interacted with the two diplomatic accounts did neither.
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They were also slavish in their dedication, responding to more than three-quarters of the ambassador’s tweets at times. The fake accounts produced at least 30 to 50 percent of all retweets of Ambassador Liu and the Chinese Embassy in London most weeks.

By March 1, Twitter had removed 31 accounts in the pro-China U.K. network and removed two. The remaining 29 accounts, including gyagyagya10, continued to run, generating over 10,000 retweets and nearly 6,000 responses in favour of China’s UK diplomats until Twitter permanently suspended them for site manipulation at the end of April and beginning of May in response to this investigation.

“We are also mindful of questions about some of the Twitter rules,” China’s Embassy in the United Kingdom said in a statement to the Associated Press. “If retweeting the Chinese Embassy’s tweets is against social media laws, shouldn’t the same rules apply to retweets with misleading rumours, smears, and fake facts against China? We assume the relevant organisations should not apply double standards.”

According to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China uses social media in the same manner as other countries do, with the intention of strengthening friendly relations and promoting fact-based contact.

In reality, China’s Twitter network amplifies central authorities’ messaging, both for domestic and global consumption, as diplomats interpret, repackage, and amplify information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and key state media outlets, network analysis, and scholarly research.

Zhao Alexandre Huang, a visiting assistant professor at Gustave Eiffel University in Paris, examined social media messaging at crucial points in the US-China trade conflict and discovered that material first published on China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Weibo account was repackaged and broadcast around the world by Chinese diplomats on Twitter.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs uses Weibo as a central intelligence kitchen,” Huang said. “It’s a polyphonic illusion.”

According to an AP network report, the most cited pages on Twitter belonged to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its spokespeople, as well as People’s Daily, CGTN, China Daily, and Xinhua, and the most involved amplifiers were diplomats.

A core of hyperactive super-fans has aided the party’s activities on Twitter. From June to January, 151,000 users retweeted posts by Chinese diplomats. However, almost half of all retweets came from only 1% of those pages, which collectively blasted out almost 360,000 retweets, mostly in bursts separated by seconds.

Chinese diplomatic accounts in Poland, Pakistan, India, and South Africa, as well as China’s foreign ministry and its spokespeople, were among the main winners of this focused bulk interaction, which was not actually inauthentic.

Twitter later removed pro-China accounts that were involved in a variety of languages, with profile details in English, Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic, Hindi, Italian, French, Russian, Korean, Urdu, Portuguese, Thai, Swedish, Japanese, Turkish, German, and Tamil. Some appeared to act as larger cells, dedicated to amplifying diplomats in a specific area, while others appeared to function as smaller cells, dedicated to amplifying diplomats in a specific location.

This fabricated chorus accounted for a sizable portion of the interaction received by several Chinese diplomats on Twitter. From June 2020 to January 2021, more than 60% of all retweets for the Chinese embassies in Angola and Greece came from suspended accounts. Hua Chunying and Zhao Lijian, spokespeople for China’s hawkish foreign ministry, received over 20,000 retweets from Twitter-approved accounts.

SYSTEMS OF INTERNET COMMENTING

Manipulation of online dialogue is now effectively institutionalised in China. It remains to be seen how aggressive – and competitive – China would be in imposing its paradigm of public opinion guidance on Western social media, which was built on very different democratic principles such as openness, honesty, and free exchange of ideas.

The party’s online public opinion-shaping mechanisms go far beyond censorship. Budget papers for Chinese propaganda and cyberspace agencies mention cyber troops, teams of professional online commentators charged with keeping online discourse consistent with the ruling party’s interests. Universities in China proudly advertise their teams of “internet commentators” and “youth media civilization volunteers,” who are made up entirely of recruits who “heart the motherland” and serve to direct public opinion by removing negative forces and sharing positive energies online.

The operation is massive in scope. According to Ryan Fedasiuk, a research analyst at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, who analysed scores of government budget papers, university statements, and media accounts, China’s Communist Party had 20 million part-time volunteers, half of whom were professors, and 2 million paying commentators at its disposal last year to direct online debate.

According to Mareike Ohlberg, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Asia Program, and Jessica Batke, a senior editor at ChinaFile, an online publication published by the Asia Society, for-profit organisations often contract with government departments to manage organised networks of social media pages, both human and digital, to help “guide public opinion.” They combed through thousands of Chinese government procurement notifications to find those tenders.

Although the bulk of the requests were for opinion control on domestic sites, Ohlberg told AP that an increasing amount of requests have been directed to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube since 2017. For example, one public security bureau in a relatively small city in northeastern China decided to purchase a “smart Internet-commenting device” capable of commenting on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube from thousands of separate accounts and IP addresses.

“This is just a natural continuation of what the group has been doing at home for a long time,” Ohlberg said. “Why will they change their model if they go international?”

China’s advance on Western social media is part of a much larger infrastructure of leverage that has influenced how Hollywood produces movies, what Western newspapers print, and how overseas Chinese-language media outlets interact with China’s massive diaspora.

According to Anne-Marie Brady, a lecturer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and a specialist in Chinese propaganda, people do not even know that the material they get has been presented in part by China’s ruling Communist Party.

“The propaganda machine is massive, and it has infiltrated Western social media,” she said. “It has aided in reshaping views in China.” It does not create a special optimistic picture of China, but it does create a sense of hopelessness that little can be said with what China is doing to our democracies.”

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Mahesh is leading digital marketing initiatives at RecentlyHeard, a NewsFeed platform that covers news from all sectors. He develops, manages, and executes digital strategies to increase online visibility, better reach target audiences, and create engaging experience across channels. With 7+ years of experience, He is skilled in search engine optimization, content marketing, social media marketing, and advertising, and analytics.

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Fans carry Morgan Wallen to 3 Billboard Music Awards following the ban and deplatforming due to a leaked N-Word video.

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Morgan Wallen, a country music singer, received numerous big awards at the Billboard Music Awards ceremony on Sunday despite being barred from the festival and barred from several music platforms.

After a video of an inebriated Wallen calling a friend a “p****-a** n*****” surfaced online in February, his talent agent dropped him and his music was banned from outlets such as SiriusXM and Pandora. Wallen has since apologised for using the slur, which occurred late at night in Nashville “on hour 72 of a bender.”

Wallen was barred from attending the 2021 Billboard Music Awards as a result of the event. However, he was not barred from being nominated for major awards and nominations are based on his position on Billboard charts as well as his album sales and downloads on streaming platforms.

According to E! News, Wallen was nominated in six categories on Sunday and won awards for Top Country Artist, Top Country Male Artist, and Top Country Album for “Dangerous: The Double Album.”

In April, Dick Clark Productions issued a statement stating that, although Wallen was barred from attending the 2021 Billboard Awards, the production company will consider lifting the ban for upcoming shows.

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BREAKING: Ron DeSantis Signs Big Tech Bill: ‘These Platforms Have Become Our Public Square’

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American Conservative Union Holds Annual Conference In Florida

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed legislation on Monday that reins back large tech giants while also supporting consumers who feel they have been wrongly discriminated against.

At a ceremony in Miami, DeSantis signed the measure, which he described as the first of its kind in the United States. His office sent the following statement in response to the bill:

Both Floridians who have been handled poorly by Big Tech platforms will be able to sue businesses who break this legislation and receive punitive damages. This reform protects every Floridian’s interests by forcing social networking sites to be clear regarding their content management processes and provide consumers with adequate notification of revisions to such policies, preventing Big Tech bureaucrats from “changing the goalposts” to censor opposing viewpoints.
Under Florida’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, the Attorney General can file a lawsuit against technology firms who breach this statute. If social media sites are found to have broken antitrust laws, they will be barred from doing business with any government agency. The “antitrust violator” blacklist has real implications for the bottom lines of Big Tech oligopolies.
Big Tech is not allowed to deplatform Floridian election candidates. The Florida Election Commission will charge any social media firm that de-platforms any nominee for statewide office $250,000 a day, and $25,000 a day for de-platforming candidates for non-statewide offices. Any Floridian will block any candidate they do not wish to hear from, and this is a privilege that any resident has — it is not up to Big Tech giants to judge.

In his remarks at the ceremony, DeSantis said that the dominance exercised by Silicon Valley tech giants has exceeded that of the early twentieth-century monopolies that sparked U.S. antitrust rules, and that the tech companies have become a modern “public square.” He chastised tech behemoths like Twitter and Facebook for “suppressing thoughts that are either inconvenient to the narrative or in which they individually disagree.” In part, DeSantis stated:

When our nation was founded and the Constitution was written, the founding fathers were worried with challenges to liberty mainly arising from government authority, and they feared that concentrations of power would eventually lead to the curtailment of people’s liberties. So they created a constitution of division of authority, checks and balances, and that was intended to establish a democracy that could do the stuff that a government wanted to do, but did so in a manner that was as safe as possible and had as many different checks and balances along the way so that power could not accumulate in one section of the government. And I think they were very wise in doing so, because we’ve seen what happens in other communities when such safeguards aren’t in place, and the consequences are unavoidably catastrophic.

But now we find ourselves in a circumstance that the founding fathers might not have predicted. Whereas the First Amendment was established to protect people’s freedom of speech, religion, and association from government overreach, we now have a situation in which some of these massive, massive companies in Silicon Valley are exerting a power over our population that has no precedent in American history, and I would suggest monopolies now, these big tech monopolies are exerting way more power than monopolies in the past. So we’ve arrived at a point where these outlets have become our public square.

Floridians and other Americans use these sites to exchange ideas. Heck, if you look back to the inception of these networks, they were also very empowering because you had corporate media, the news sources, which many Americans came to hate, and rightly so. They no longer had the intelligence monopoly. You could potentially bypass the legacy media to exchange facts on these channels, which was very beneficial to millions and millions of Americans. Actually, it was a bit too constructive, which irritated the powers that be, and so I believe what we’ve seen in recent years is a turn away from internet outlets, social media platforms, from being liberating agents to now being enforcers of orthodoxy. As a result, it seems that their main task, or one of their primary missions, is to eradicate concepts that are either inconvenient to the narrative or in which they personally disagree.

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US reaches out to Palestinian leaders many angrily reject

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Following weeks of violence and a crippling 11-day war in Gaza, the United States and the international community want to negotiate with Palestinians in order to restart peace efforts.

However, when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits on Tuesday, he will meet with Palestinian leaders who have been sidelined by demonstrations and outmanoeuvred by the militant Hamas group — and who seem to be more hated by Palestinians than at any point during their long rule.

The Palestinian Authority is no closer to statehood than it was when Mahmoud Abbas, now 85, was elected president after Yasser Arafat’s death in 2005, and Palestinians are even more fragmented. When it seemed that his splintering Fatah faction would face an embarrassing loss, Abbas called off the first elections in 15 years last month.

The PA, on the other hand, retains strong strategic relations with Israel and is strongly committed to the principle of a two-state solution. Internationally, this is seen as the best way to end the crisis, despite the fact that no meaningful peace negotiations have taken place in more than a decade.

The Islamic terrorist group Hamas claimed a landslide victory in the previous elections in 2006 and seemed to be on track to do so again. However, it rejects Israel’s right to live and is classified as a terrorist group. Protests in Jerusalem and elsewhere are largely devoid of leaders.

“The choice is to negotiate with Hamas or an extremely unrepresentative and defunct governing — kind of governing — authority with almost no legitimacy,” Tahani Mustafa, a researcher at the Crisis Group, an international think tank, said.

Israel and the United States seem to be following the second path, with officials in both countries stating that they intend to reinforce the PA at the detriment of Hamas, a strategy that has been tried and failed several times since Hamas took power in Gaza from Abbas’ forces in 2007.

Many Palestinians now see the PA as part of an ingrained and deeply intolerable regime of Israeli dominance that stretches well beyond the occupied West Bank, where the PA administers large population centres under Israeli influence.

Their rage erupted last month with demonstrations and clashes in Jerusalem that spread throughout the city, attracting Palestinian Israeli residents and sparking the Gaza conflict.

It was on full display during Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the volatile holy site at the centre of the recent protests, as thousands of Palestinian worshippers chanted “Dogs of the authority, get out!” in response to a sermon delivered by a PA-appointed mufti.

This was in stark contrast to the raucous rallies organised in support of Hamas and Mohammed Deif, the mysterious leader of the group’s armed wing, at Al-Aqsa and elsewhere.

Unlike the Palestinian Authority, which made harsh statements condemning Israel’s policing of Al-Aqsa and Jewish settlers’ efforts to expel thousands of families from a local neighbourhood, Deif issued an ultimatum. When time ran out, Hamas launched long-range missiles, disrupting an Israeli parade commemorating the group’s claims to the capital.

This sparked a disastrous Gaza war, killing over 250 civilians, the vast majority of whom were Palestinians, and wreaking havoc on the devastated region.

However, it also allowed Hamas to present itself as a cunning guardian of Jerusalem, to which all sides in the Middle East conflict have strong emotional relations, and to claim victory over the much more powerful Israel.

According to Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, support for Hamas has grown despite widespread dissatisfaction with the PA.

“At the end of the day,” he added, “Israel is the one that demolished these buildings.” “We endure as a result of Israeli colonisation, as a result of Israeli tyranny… The Palestinians will not hold Hamas responsible.”

Hanan Ashrawi, a former senior Palestinian official and veteran of the peace process who defected from the Palestinian leadership last year, blamed Israel in part for the PA’s demise, claiming that Israel “sabotaged” efforts at a two-state solution, including by widening settlements.

“The more this occurred, the more (Palestinian leaders) became seen to be powerless in the face of Israeli violations,” she added. “Israel has acted with complete impunity to make it more difficult for Palestinians.”

Israel claims that it has made several plans for a Palestinian state in the majority of the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem — areas it won in the 1967 war — that have been refused over the years. The Palestinians, negotiating from a point of vulnerability, said that the concessions were insufficient.

According to Khalil Shikaki, a renowned pollster who has been surveying Palestinian public opinion for more than two decades, Hamas’ support usually increases during times of conflict before returning to normal when things calm down. However, he claims that the Palestinian Authority’s credibility problem is legitimate.

“The most recent war between Israel and Hamas has shown that the emperor is completely naked,” he added.

Shikaki claims that Hamas was able to prove that it protected Jerusalem because no one else — not Abbas, Arab nations, nor the international community — was willing to do so.

“In terms of success, this storey is simply brilliant, and Hamas got away with it because Abbas has zero prestige among Palestinians,” he said.

That won’t stop Abbas from inviting Blinken to the presidential palace in Ramallah this week as the Palestinian king, despite the fact that he governs less than 40% of the West Bank and his presidential mandate expired more than a decade ago. His forces have no foothold in Gaza and are unlikely to return anytime soon now that the elections have been cancelled.

As a result, it is largely anticipated that any reconstruction funds will be channelled into the United Nations and Qatar. As one of the most substantive Israeli-Palestinian agreements signed in recent memory, they were already sending assistance to Gaza and carrying out humanitarian initiatives there.

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India virus death toll passes 300,000, 3rd highest in world

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More than 300,000 people died in India on Monday as a result of the coronavirus, though a crippling surge in infections seemed to be easing in major cities but was swamping the poorer countryside.

The achievement was announced by India’s Health Ministry at a time when slowed vaccine supplies have hampered the country’s battle against the pandemic, causing many people to miss their vaccines, and an unusual yet deadly fungal infection involving COVID-19 patients has doctors concerned.

The death toll in India is the third-highest recorded in the world, behind the United States and Brazil, accounting for 8.6 percent of the nearly 34.7 million coronavirus deaths worldwide, though the real figure is believed to be even higher.

The Health Ministry announced 4,454 new deaths in the previous 24 hours on Monday, taking India’s total fatalities to 303,720. It also recorded 222,315 new infections, bringing the total number of infections to nearly 27 million since the pandemic started. Both are almost definitely inaccurate.

The pandemic has swamped India’s underfunded health care infrastructure after rapidly spreading through the region, from isolated Himalayan villages in the north to the vast tropical central plains and sandy beaches in the south.

Residents of the capital, New Delhi, also died at home without oxygen after hospitals ran out of supplies. COVID-19 people have died in crowded hospital halls in Mumbai. Fever and shortness of breath killed people in rural villages before they could be screened for coronavirus.

Though the megacities have shown signs of progress in recent days, the epidemic is far from over in India. It seems to have already taken a heinous toll in the country’s large rural areas, where the bulk of the population lives and health care is scarce.

Hundreds of bodies have washed up on the shores of the Ganges River in Uttar Pradesh in recent weeks. Even others have been discovered hidden in small graves along the river’s sandy shores. Concerns have been raised that they are the bones of COVID-19 victims.

India’s vaccination push has also recently stalled, with several states claiming they don’t have enough vaccinations to go around.

Just 41.6 million people, or 3.8 percent of the world’s nearly 1.4 billion people, have been completely vaccinated in the world’s largest vaccine-producing nation. To “minimise vaccine waste,” the federal government allowed walk-in registration at government-run vaccination centres for those aged 18 to 44 on Monday.

The first recorded COVID-19 death in India occurred on March 12, 2020, in the southern state of Karnataka. It took seven months to meet the first 100,000 people who had died. In late April, the official death toll surpassed 200,000. After new illnesses ripped through dense cities and rural areas alike, and devastated health-care services on the verge of failure, the next 100,000 deaths were reported in just 27 days.

Average regular deaths and cases have declined marginally in recent weeks, and the government announced on Sunday that it is running the most COVID-19 testing in history, with more than 2.1 million samples checked in the previous 24 hours.

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COVID testing’s value shrinks as vaccines beat back virus

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The fresh, more relaxed mask guidelines from federal health authorities have almost completely overshadowed another big shift in government guidance: fully vaccinated Americans will largely avoid being screened for the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that certain patients who have undergone the full course of vaccines who have no COVID-19 signs do not need to be tested for the infection, even though they have been exposed to someone who is sick.

The move marks a new step in the disease after nearly a year in which research was the main tool against the virus. Vaccines are also integral to the solution and have significantly reduced hospitalizations and fatalities.

According to experts, the CDC recommendation represents a recent fact in which almost half of Americans have undergone at least one vaccination and almost 40% are completely vaccinated.

“At this point, we also should be questioning whether the benefits of research outweigh the costs — which are a lot of delays, a lot of doubt, and very little clinical or public health benefit,” said Dr. David Paltiel of Yale’s School of Public Health, who advocated for universal testing at colleges last year.

Although vaccinated individuals will still contract the virus, they are less likely to become seriously sick as a result of it. Positive test results, on the other hand, may cause needless worry and disruptions at work, home, and education, such as quarantines and shutdowns, according to many experts.

Other health experts believe the CDC’s sudden updates on the need for masks and monitoring have sent the message that COVID-19 is no longer a significant concern, despite the fact that the United States publishes regular case counts of about 30,000.

“The average Joe Public is interpreting what the CDC is doing as ‘This is over. It’s done,'” said Harvard University’s Dr. Michael Mina, a leading proponent of widespread, accelerated research.

With more than 60% of Americans not completely vaccinated, he believes screening of those without symptoms has a role to play, especially among front-line employees who interact with the public.

The revised recommendations, according to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, are focused on findings that demonstrate the vaccine’s robust efficacy in reducing illness in a variety of age ranges and settings. And when individuals who have been vaccinated contract COVID-19, their infections are milder, shorter, and less likely to spread to others.

As a result, the CDC states that vaccinated individuals will normally be removed from mandatory COVID-19 occupational screening.

This move could alleviate research headaches like the one recorded recently by the New York Yankees, in which one player and several staffers tested positive on a particularly responsive COVID-19 test despite having been vaccinated.

Baseball administrators are debating whether to discontinue or limit monitoring of players who have no signs.

However, widespread efforts to waive tests for vaccinated individuals can run into the same problem as the CDC’s latest mask guidelines: there’s no straightforward way to tell who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t.

Employers have the legislative authority to prescribe vaccinations for the majority of their employees, but few have used this authority because the vaccines do not yet have full regulatory clearance. Some employment-law experts consider requiring workers to report their vaccine record to be invasive.

For the time being, research seems to be ongoing unabated in areas where it has been implemented, ranging from workplaces to meatpacking plants to sports teams.

Smithfield Foods, a pork manufacturer, said it continues to perform a mix of obligatory and discretionary tests for workers, based on worksite conditions. Amazon has stated that it will continue to provide standard, voluntary research.

The NBA has stated that it intends to keep its testing scheme in place for the time being. The league has been lauded for using robust testing to build COVID-19-free “bubbles” surrounding players, coaches, and personnel.

On a national scale, the availability of COVID-19 tests currently well outnumbers the market. Officials in the United States collect estimates of over 1 million tests every day, down from a high of over 2 million in mid-January, but many rapid tests performed at home and at work go uncounted.

Consumers can purchase 15-minute over-the-counter samples at pharmacies and other retail locations. This is in addition to expanded capacity from labs and hospitals in the United States, which ramped up research following last year’s crushing demand.

According to Arizona State University researchers, the United States will be able to perform 500 million monthly experiments by June.

And as early as this winter, numerous health professionals were pushing for a massive research campaign to reopen classrooms, offices, and other industries in a healthier manner. But this was before it was understood how safe the vaccine would be in use, how easily it could be administered, and whether it would defend against variants.

“The vaccines outperformed expectations,” said Dr. Jeffrey Engel of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. “At this stage, you should start peeling back some of the other layers of mitigation, such as mask usage and screening.”

In the previous pandemic relief package, Congress set aside $46 billion to increase testing, especially in schools. However, since all Americans aged 12 and over are now registered for vaccinations, many middle and high school children will be completely vaccinated when they return to school in the fall.

Furthermore, several school districts have now opposed routine tests for elementary schools, citing the fact that children rarely become chronically sick and that a positive test can result in destructive quarantines.

Some states have also returned government research dollars, opting for less intrusive interventions such as mask wearing and social distancing.

According to Engel, many school administrators “only see screening services as a massive obstacle that isn’t going to help.”

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Henry Cavill To Star in Lionsgate’s ‘Highlander’ Reboot From Chad Stahelski

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In the world of Highlander films, there can only be one, and Henry Cavill is vying for the title. According to Deadline, the Man of Steel star is in negotiations for one of the lead roles in Lionsgate’s Highlander remake, which will be directed by John Wick’s Chad Stahelski. Kerry Williamson wrote the script.

Neal H. Moritz and Josh Davis are producing the project. Executive producers will be Amanda Lewis, Patrick Wachsberger, and Gregory Widen. Before his death in February, Peter Davis, the original producer of the first film, was also on board to make.

The original Highlander film, released in 1986, starred Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, and Clancy Brown as eternal entities on the quest for more strength. The film, with its catchphrase “There can only be one,” spawned four sequels and three television shows, including the famous USA series starring Adrian Paul.

The plot of this new take is unclear, as is whether Cavill will play a completely new character or a character from previous films. The remake has been in the works for a while, with everyone from Ryan Reynolds to Justin Lin involved at some stage, but according to insiders, these new developments have placed the film in a position to go into production.

After starring in big tentpoles like Man of Steel and Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Cavill now has another franchise with a huge fanbase. He is currently shooting the second season of Netflix’s The Witcher after its record-breaking first season. He is also expected to reprise his appearance as Sherlock Holmes in the sequel to Netflix’s Enola Holmes, which will star Millie Bobby Brown.

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BTS’ ‘Butter’ Breaks YouTube Record for 24-Hour Views

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Who else but BTS could break a BTS record?

With their latest English-language single “Butter,” the Korean supergroup shattered their own record for most YouTube views in the first 24-hours of release on Friday, reaching nearly 113 million views by midnight ET, according to the platform’s public views tracker.

The previous record was set by BTS’s 2020 single “Dynamite,” their first entirely in English. According to official YouTube figures, the video received 101.1 million views in the first 24 hours, despite having 98.3 million public views.

The summer dance-pop jam “Butter” by BTS was launched on YouTube on Thursday, May 21, at 12AM ET/1PM KST, and has been pushed to new heights by the group’s devoted followers, ARMY.

With over 3.9 million combined viewers, the album set a new all-time record for the largest YouTube music video premiere and debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. iTunes chart within two hours of its release.

The video had been viewed over 116 million times by 1 a.m. ET Saturday.

BTS has previously set several 24-hour views milestones, such as for “Boy With Luv” featuring Halsey in April 2019, which received 74.6 million views on the first day.

The band announced at a press conference in Seoul on Friday that their first performance of “Butter” will be at the upcoming Billboard Music Awards on Sunday, May 23. They were nominated for four awards this year, the most in a single year, in the following categories: Top Duo/Group, Top Social Artist (for the fifth year in a row), Top Song Sales Artist, and Top Selling Song (for “Dynamite”).

Speaking of the upcoming broadcast, Suga acknowledged on Friday that “the first appearance of a song still makes you nervous.”

“Of course, the Billboard Awards are a very relevant, interesting, and meaningful stage for us,” he said.

Jungkook stated that the event would be significant for the band.

“Of course, the fact that we were nominated in four categories is not straightforward. It’s a tremendous honour,” he added. “It’s been a year since ‘Dynamite,’ and I think this reveals that the album is really loved by a lot of people, which makes us really happy.”

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Biden plans to meet with George Floyd’s family on the anniversary of his death

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On Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s assassination, President Biden prepares to host Floyd’s family at the White House.

Floyd, 46, died when a police officer in Minneapolis kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes during a detention.

His death on May 25, 2020, sparked months of demonstrations across the United States against perceived police brutality and racism.

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said Friday that Biden would observe the day but did not elaborate.

The president had earlier set the date as the deadline for enactment of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a police oversight bill that had passed through the House but had failed in the Senate after passing through the House in March.

The bill will outlaw chokeholds, eliminate eligible immunity for law enforcement in civil cases, and establish national police guidelines. Republicans are opposed to the repeal of qualified immunity.
In Minneapolis, April 20, 2021, an individual responds close Cup Foods after a guilty verdict was declared in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd in 2020. The Associated Press reports

In Minneapolis, April 20, 2021, an individual responds close Cup Foods after a guilty verdict was declared in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd in 2020. The Associated Press reports

Psaki on Friday acknowledged the bill was “unlikely” to proceed by Biden’s deadline but said progress continued to be made on it.

Floyd’s family also expects to hold activities for lawmakers and civil rights activists in Minneapolis on Tuesday, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was acquitted last month of second-degree accidental homicide, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s case.

In connection with the investigation, three other retired police officers are awaiting trial.

Defendants Thomas Lane, J. Kueng, and Tou Thao are charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

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Ron DeSantis Hints His Political Future: ‘I Have Just Begun To Fight’

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) hinted Thursday that he has a lot more expected for his political future.

DeSantis addressed some 750 Republican activists and officials at the Republican Committee of Allegheny County’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner. DeSantis was the event’s main attraction, boasting of his success and concluding his speech with a suggestion about his future ambitions.

“I will assure you this: As governor of Florida, I have just started to fight,” DeSantis said to applause, according to CNN.

Earlier in the event, a local priest prayed over the dinner, remarking that DeSantis would be an excellent choice for the next President of the United States. The crowd loudly approved.

During his message, DeSantis emphasised his fights with businesses, as well as radical activists and legislators. The governor touted recent laws tackling big tech censorship, as well as his advocacy for law enforcement and curriculum devoid of vital race theory lessons. Reader’s Ticket

DeSantis also touted Florida’s contribution to the COVID-19 pandemic. Florida has one of the lightest pandemic reactions, focusing on protecting those most susceptible to the epidemic.

“All I would say to any state that hasn’t followed suit is, open your state, open your colleges, stop these mask mandates, and let people live and thrive,” DeSantis said, according to CNN. “When it comes down to it, we opted for independence over Fauci-ism.”

DeSantis defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum for governor of Florida by around 33,000 votes in 2018. Despite the narrow margin, DeSantis has received strong encouragement from Floridians for his pandemic response and other initiatives. According to a May poll conducted by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, DeSantis has a large base of support among registered voters, with 55% approving of his leadership and 40% disapproving.

DeSantis has been a vocal critic of the Biden administration, especially President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 decision-making and rhetoric. Earlier this month, DeSantis accused the Biden administration of being “anti-science” after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proposed a moratorium on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to six cases of blood clots out of 7 million vaccines.

“The truth is, saying that we need all of these limits even for widespread vaccines is an anti-science stance. Since the number of vaccinations is greater than the number of clinical trials in terms of effectiveness,” DeSantis said. “According to the CDC, over 95 million individuals have now been vaccinated. The number of patients who have been re-infected or infected since receiving a vaccine has been much less than one-tenth of one percent. This figures are just as amazing as you might wish for. So my advice is to get vaccinated and then live your life as if you’re safe. You don’t have to chafe under indefinite constraints.”

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In Georgia, a judge has approved a major election audit and has ordered that absentee ballots be opened for inspection

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A Georgia judge decided Friday to unseal nearly 150,000 absentee ballots in Fulton County, the state’s most populous county, so that prosecutors could look for proof of suspected voter fraud.

What are the specifics?

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero is authorising more than 145,000 absentee ballots from the 2020 presidential election to be reviewed as part of the investigation.

The precise aspects of the audit are still being worked out, but Amero has confirmed that the ballots will remain in the hands of Fulton County election officials as the audit is carried out.

The Journal-Constitution has more:

The ruling was made in response to a complaint brought by nine claimants, including Garland Favorito, a Fulton county resident and self-styled election watchdog. It’s one of hundreds of cases stemming from the November presidential election and the January Senate runoff, some of which are now making their way through the courts.

Since the results of the 2020 presidential election in Fulton County were approved months ago, the audit cannot alter them.

The Journal-Constitution announced that “plaintiffs hope an audit of ballots will get to the bottom of what they see as irregular activities at State Farm Arena on election night and pave the way for more credible elections in the future.”

Georgia state and local authorities have said several times that there is no proof of systematic voter irregularities in the race.
What was the response?

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who has refuted Donald Trump’s allegations that Georgia’s election was marred by voter irregularities, has said he respects the judge’s ruling.

Raffensperger cited “a longstanding tradition of election mismanagement” in Fulton County in a tweet.

“From the beginning, I have urged Georgians who have genuine questions about the election in their counties to seek those concerns across legal channels,” Raffensperger said. “Fulton County has a long tradition of election mismanagement, which has understandably eroded voters’ confidence in the scheme. Allowing this audit adds another degree of accountability and public participation.”

Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts (D), on the other hand, slammed the decision.

“It is outrageous that Fulton County is now being used as a target for those who refuse to consider the outcome of last year’s election,” Pitts said.

“The ballots have been counted three times, including a hand recount,” Pitts added, “and no proof of bribery has been identified.” “The truth remains that Fulton County had an election in the middle of a public health pandemic in a clean and stable manner. It’s a shame that the ‘Big Lie’ continues on and can cost the county’s hardworking people.”

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