In a remarkable turnaround, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) published an open letter last week to Jeff Bezos demanding that Amazon stop “surfacing and recommending products and content that discourage parents from vaccinating their children” and Amazon complied within hours. According to Caroline O’Donovan of Buzzfeed, popular anti-vax documentaries were promptly removed from search results and Amazon Prime Video streaming.
Following similar calls by Schiff amid an outbreak of measles in Washington: Youtube, Pinterest and Facebook have all acceded to demands to crack down on anti-vax content. The World Health Organization has listed anti-vax sentiment as one of the top 10 global health threats of 2019.
Social media businesses who sort and recommend content by algorithm face unique ethical challenges: do they have responsibilities for harm facilitated by content they host or promote? Algorithms designed to better serve users by recommending similar content could exacerbate tendencies towards conspiracism, driving them ever further into a bubble without alternate viewpoints.
However, there is no evidence that censorship of conspiracy theory content solves the problem and plenty to suggest that it worsens it. Contrary to the popular conception of the crazy lone conspiracy theorist, studies have shown that conspiracy thinking is driven by natural impulses rather than mental illness and over half of Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory.
A study comparing reactions to censored vs. uncensored video with suicidal content found no difference in how they were received and actually found that both reduced suicidality.
Another study in BMC Medical Ethics on combating vaccine hesitancy recommended against “coercive public policies” in favor of “increasing citizen engagement on vaccination to help inform a parent-centered approach and legitimize public policy measures.” Since conspiracy thinking hinges on distrust of authority and feelings of powerlessness, censorship compounds the root causes where the best prescription would be open dialogue that emphasizes personal freedom.
Conspiracy theories can also be true. Until the Chicago Police outlined evidence that Jussie Smollet conspired with two Nigerians to fake a hate crime, the conspiracy was just a theory.
Likewise, Schiff is a conspiracy theorist in his own right as the standard-bearer for the conspiracy theory that President Donald Trump conspired with Russia to rig the 2016 election. There is no evidence of such a conspiracy to date, but there is hard proof of a Clinton campaign conspiracy to propagate a Russia collusion narrative through millions of campaign dollars funneled through a law firm to a foreign spy.
Endangered California Condor Seen in Sequoia National Park for the First Time in 50 Years
It’s the largest bird in North America.
One of the most endangered animals in the United States has been observed in a national park that is part of its historical range. The National Park and U.S. Fish and Wildlife services confirmed in a joint statement that six California Condors have been seeing flying above the Sequoia National Park in Eastern California.
The birds were also photographed by park personnel.
A biologist of the Santa Barbara Zoo confirmed that specimens being GPS-tracked by the zoo had been geolocated in the national park.
“We use GPS transmitters to track the birds’ movement, which can be over hundreds of miles on a single day,” said Dave Meyer. “On this particular day we documented the birds’ signals around Giant Forest, and we are excited that park employees observed the birds and confirmed their use of this important historic habitat.”
The Sequoia National Park consists of more then 400,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The rare vultures, which feed upon carrion, had once been known to nest in the great Sequoia trees of the park, before disappearing from the habitat around the 1970’s.
The California Condor is a New World vulture, and an exceptionally large bird, the largest native to North America. It range once broadly consisted of the entire western United States, spanning from Canada to Baja California in Mexico.
It had been declared to be extinct in the wild in 1987, but a preservation program to save the species has proved successful in reintroducing captive individuals to the wild in northern Arizona and Utah. Poaching, habitat destruction, and poisoning from manmade chemicals have severely eroded the population of the birds in the wild, and it’s currently listed as critically endangered. Preservation efforts have increased the wild population of the California Condor from merely 22 animals to more than 400 today.
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