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Daily Archives: May 28, 2022

In pictures: 1935 Fiat 508S Balilla Sport Spider Corsa

Source : Bring A Trailer

How China Uses Global Media to Spread Its Views — and Misinformation

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Lili Pike wrote . . . . . . . . .

A small news website in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A popular South African digital media platform. A Spanish language newswire service. Over the past year, all three far-flung news organizations have run similar stories claiming that a U.S.-run lab had created covid-19 or, more recently, articles that said the U.S. was operating a secret bioweapons program in Ukraine.

That these theories have also been simultaneously promoted by Chinese government officials is no coincidence — all three of those media outlets have ties to the Chinese government.

Over the past couple of decades, China has built an international media empire: opening state media bureaus overseas, investing in foreign media companies and forging partnerships with others. It’s part of a broader campaign to build its global influence, especially in developing countries, as laid out in a recent report from the Atlantic Council.

“We see a lot about China’s financing and economic investment in these regions, but that’s only one side of the story of Chinese influence,” said Kenton Thibaut, a resident China fellow at the Atlantic Council and one of the report’s authors. China’s use of global media outlets and other forms of soft power to spread its views, Thibaut said, is underappreciated.

Over the past two years, China has put its international media network to work shaping public opinion on covid-19, the war in Ukraine, and its foreign policies and image more broadly. In many parts of the world, China is competing against more well-established European, American and local outlets, but Chinese media has already become a dominant news source in several countries.

That has raised red flags on many fronts. Recent examples of Chinese state media “reporting” for global audiences have been thinly veiled expressions of official Chinese policies regarding Taiwan, Hong Kong and other controversial areas. Other examples have involved blatant cases of misinformation — vis-à-vis Ukraine and the pandemic in particular. There are also concerns that China, which is ranked in the bottom 10 countries for press freedom, is spreading its restrictive approach to journalism.

“If Chinese media is going to gain some form of hegemony in Africa, it will have negative consequences for freedom of information and democracy in Africa,” said Emeka Umejei, a lecturer in communications at the University of Ghana.

The messages: What Chinese-backed media is saying

One side of China’s overseas media campaign is purely promotional. Chinese media outlets and their local partners around the world often highlight the successes of China’s diplomats and the latest megaprojects in the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s high-profile global infrastructure campaign. Readers of China Daily Africa, for example, might find these stories: “Ghana’s students enjoy benefits of Chinese language”; “Marathon staged on Chinese-built expressway, reviving Kenyans’ hope for economic vitality”; and “Liberian official hails China for helping vulnerable groups.” Such articles are a staple of the Chinese approach, blended in with more typical examples of global news stories.

People stand outside the Idu train station during the official test run of the newly completed Abuja-Kaduna night railway line in Abuja, Nigeria, on July 21, 2016. (STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images)
After the outbreak of the pandemic in Wuhan, Chinese media outlets around the world also played a prominent role as China sought to restore its global image, touting its response to the crisis. Coverage during this period included stories about China’s donation of critical medical equipment to poorer nations. For readers of Xinhua Español in Latin America, there were stories about China’s largesse in sharing its vaccines: “Sinovac supplies 260 million COVID-19 vaccines globally,” one headline read.

Another side of China’s global coverage veers from these promotional, PR-style stories to cases of flat-out misinformation. After the March 2021 release of a World Health Organization report on covid’s origins, China made a concerted effort to spread a false narrative. The Atlantic Council documented how China-backed media outlets in multiple countries helped push the theory that covid had originated from Fort Detrick, a U.S. military base in Maryland.

Independent Online (IOL), a partially Chinese-owned South African outlet, joined the chorus. In September 2021, the publication’s foreign editor wrote an op-ed that repeated messaging from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “China has made a request for the WHO to investigate Fort Detrick,” she wrote. “Given the many questions that still exist around the origins of Covid-19, such investigations are imperative in order to make proper and accurate findings.” In a tactic the Atlantic Council’s Thibaut described as “information laundering,” the Chinese Embassy in South Africa and Chinese media then used the editor’s piece to amplify its own point. The headline in China’s People’s Daily read, “Investigation of US labs necessary for COVID-19 origins tracing: S. African media.”

“It’s using this veneer of local reporting to pretend that there’s this preponderance of evidence for China’s conspiracy when it’s really all coming from Chinese media,” Thibaut told Grid.

Similar articles appeared in many outlets across the world, and the theory also ricocheted on social media. In one instance, a Chinese diplomat in Iran translated a People’s Daily article on the topic into Persian and shared it on Twitter.

“Normally they aren’t huge peddlers of conspiracy theories, they mostly focus on positive messages of China, preventing criticism and criticizing geopolitical rivals,” said Thibaut. “They’re usually not like, as Russia is, these active disseminators of disinformation. But this was in response to a crisis where they saw they really had to try to move public opinion quickly and really diffuse the issue quickly.”

The Ukraine war has been another case in point. China has backed the Kremlin line on the war in its own state media around the world, including the repetition of clearly false narratives about the conflict.

In late March, a South African student leader penned an op-ed in IOL titled, “We should all be concerned about U.S. biolabs in Ukraine.” The piece echoed Russian and Chinese government talking points, falsely accusing the U.S. of running bioweapons labs in Ukraine. “Over the years, there have been deadly leaks linked to US military biolabs in Ukraine, South Korea, Kazakhstan and Georgia,” the article said. “All this seems to indicate an aggressive ‘biological appetite’ from the US and the development of bio-weaponry.” Once again, it wasn’t just that the article appeared in a media outlet backed by China; Chinese media took the additional step of “information laundering” — using the story to create the illusion of global support for the theory. On April 1, Chinese news agency Xinhua ran an article citing the original essay under the heading: “U.S. biolabs in Ukraine raise worldwide concerns: S. African youth leader.”

An op-ed in the partially Chinese-owned South African media site IOL was cited in a subsequent article on the same topic in Xinhua, an example of what experts call China’s “information laundering.”
Recently, Dani Madrid-Morales, a lecturer in journalism at the University of Sheffield, identified several other cases in which China spread this misinformation. In April, Interfax, a Russian media outlet, published an article stating that Ukraine had tried to hide a U.S.-funded military biolab program. The Chinese news agency Xinhua translated that piece into French, and it appeared word for word on a small news website in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Chinese misinformation that targets the West may hold more appeal in the Global South. Maria Repnikova, an assistant professor of global communication at Georgia State University, said recently that “a lot of these countries, including their leaders and publics, have preexisting skepticism toward the West and preexisting critiques of kind of this positioning of this war as this good vs. evil. They take a stance where they also critique the United States and its own unaccountable wars, and as a result, they may echo some of these Chinese messages.”

How China spreads the word

China’s overseas media push began several decades ago as an accessory to its booming international business deals. It is only recently, since the ascension of Xi Jinping as president in 2012, that these efforts have taken on a more aggressively political flavor.

In 2013, Xi said in a speech, “[We] must meticulously and properly conduct external propaganda, innovating external propaganda methods, working hard to create new concepts, new categories and new expressions that integrate the Chinese and the foreign, telling China’s story well, communicating China’s voice well.”

China has set out to “tell its story well” in several ways.

One method simply involves setting up shop overseas. As other global news organizations have downsized, China’s biggest state-owned media companies have established bureaus and hired correspondents all over the world. Xinhua, for instance, set up an Africa bureau in Nairobi in 2004, and CCTV (now CGTN) followed suit in 2012. These outlets and other state media radio stations and newspapers publish in dozens of languages worldwide.

Other methods have been more innovative. StarTimes, a Chinese television company, provides cheap cable TV packages in Africa that come with Chinese state-run TV channels. Their service now reaches more than 10 million customers across 30 African countries. Influence has also been purchased: In 2012, Chinese state-owned companies bought a 20 percent stake in IOL, the South African media platform that has since published several pieces toeing the Chinese party line — including the Fort Detrick theory. Researchers at Freedom House also found that GBTimes, a Chinese news organization, has acquired stakes in radio stations in Europe through which it spreads pro-China content.

These acquisitions are representative of what the government describes as “borrowing a boat out to sea” — in other words, China using established local media organizations to disseminate its messages. Another version of the practice involves Chinese state media allowing local publications to republish their content for a steep discount — or even for free. Xinhua has led the way: Its articles are syndicated throughout the world, including via the African News Agency. That’s how a small newspaper in the Democratic Republic of the Congo came to publish a story on the supposed U.S. bioweapons labs in Ukraine. Chinese outlets also piggyback on local media by buying ad inserts that blend in with the local content.

China isn’t alone in establishing a worldwide media presence. Russia famously spreads state messages — and disinformation. Under a different umbrella — to support democracy and freedom of the press — Western countries have long backed media development initiatives in foreign countries along with funding their own media outlets such as Voice of America, which are editorially independent by charter. But China is unique. “I don’t think you can find any country that has this breadth of activities and diversity” that China does, said Madrid-Morales. The range of activities, he added, from media trainings for foreign journalists to content production abroad, hasn’t been seen since the Cold War.

Who is reading?

Of course, China’s global media push — no matter its scope — is influential only if it can find an audience.

Madrid-Morales and Herman Wasserman, a professor of media studies at the University of Cape Town, have observed a range of responses to Chinese-sponsored media in Africa. Some South African and Kenyan students they interviewed were glad to see more positive coverage of the continent compared with Western coverage, which many feel has a negative bias. But the researchers say they’ve seen limited uptake. Just 2 percent of South Africans and Kenyans tune into China Radio International and read the China Daily Africa edition, they found.

“There’s a stigma and the fact that [they are] so heavily censored … you just think to yourself: ‘It’s biased reporting, I’m going somewhere else,’” one student at the University of Cape Town told the researchers, echoing a sentiment held by others.

In some parts of the world, Chinese media has made significant inroads. Madrid-Morales found that Xinhua was responsible for more than 80 percent of the newswire content on covid-19 and China in Congo and 80 percent in Sierra Leone. In the case of Russia’s war in Ukraine, his research showed that 75 percent of the coverage in the Ugandan magazine the Independent was from Xinhua, likely because the free content was appealing for a publication with a tight budget.

Readers of the publication have seen the war through the lens of the Chinese government, which has tacitly supported Russia. They would have read about the financial consequences of the war — which are blamed on Western sanctions — but not the death, crimes or the flow of refugees, which are all due to the Russian invasion. “None of that appears in this coverage,” he said in a recent lecture.

It is through these content partnerships, where republication of Chinese sources often goes unlabeled, that Umejie believes China is gaining the most traction. “There’s some level of acceptance happening here, because they are not coming through a Chinese platform,” he said. “Most likely, they’re coming through a local platform.” This was true in Nigeria and Ghana, he said, which have partnerships with Xinhua.

Researchers worry that poorer countries, which are less able to support independent journalism, and those that already have a restricted media space due to authoritarian regimes, may be the most susceptible to China’s media influence.

And China’s global media ambitions are growing. “If you look at this longitudinally, definitely, China has made huge progress over the last 10 years, from being a marginal actor in the media space to being part of the media space — in some countries, a very small presence; in some countries, a larger presence,” said Madrid-Morales. “So in that sense, there is progress, and if we look at the future, that presence is likely to grow.”

Source : GRID

Infographic: Solar and Wind Power by Country

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Source : Visual Capitalist

When the Internet Knows Where You Live

Cai Yineng wrote . . . . . . . . .

On April 28, Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, announced that it would begin displaying users’ IP address locations on their profile pages and on all replies posted to the site. The company framed the feature as a necessary measure for “maintaining a healthy and orderly environment for discussion.”

According to Weibo’s official community account, the new location feature is simply another tool in the site’s battle against misinformation: a way to stop users pretending they are eyewitnesses or participants in major events. A March post announcing the update made specific mention of both the war between Russia and Ukraine and the recent spate of domestic COVID-19 outbreaks as examples of the kind of controversial topics the feature will address.

Displaying users’ locations or IP addresses isn’t unprecedented. Early forums on the Chinese mainland displayed users’ IP addresses, as does PTT, a popular forum in Taiwan that spawned the catchphrase “search your IP” — a reference to the ease with which posts coming from government buildings, public relations agencies, or overseas users could be identified.

But such practices are a distant memory to most internet users on the Chinese mainland. Since the decline of forums and the Facebook-like Renren, newer apps like Weibo, WeChat, and Douyin —the Chinese version of TikTok — have redefined users’ relationship with personal privacy. Although Chinese platforms now generally require users to provide identifying information such as a phone number when registering, the information they display on their profiles is left to users’ discretion, and anonymity has become the default.

This is true even of public figures. Weibo’s own CEO, Wang Gaofei, posts under the handle “Between Coming and Going,” and his profile identifies him only as a “mobile internet analyst.” This can have unexpected consequences: In 2015, Wang expressed surprise when his account was penalized for a violation of the site’s community policy violation by a Weibo moderator who was likely unaware of his identity.

Weibo’s tolerance for anonymity, combined with the site’s relatively open structure, helped turn it into a lively public square in which its 600 million users felt relatively free to exchange ideas and engage in bold discussions on social issues. It’s also exacerbated some of the problems of the Web 2.0 era. The platform has struggled to cope with a rise in abusive posts, trolling, and hate speech. Distrust and hostility have taken over the site.

Rather than view this as a trade-off for the benefits of anonymity, or as a natural consequence of the way social media brings people from across the political spectrum together, some users see a conspiracy. The accounts that disagree with them are not doing so out of deeply held principles or beliefs, but because they are bots or agents of shadowy political forces. These accusations have become more common in recent years, propelled by the rising tide of populism. The pandemic, which might have united humanity in a common cause, only made matters worse, as unsubstantiated theories about the virus’s origin and the safety of various vaccines spread like wildfire online.

This has produced a worldview in which enemies lurk behind every social media handle. During the recent COVID-19 lockdowns, for instance, popular bloggers and even some scholars have routinely accused social media platforms like Weibo of being compromised by foreign forces seeking to undermine China and its pandemic prevention strategy.

It’s therefore not surprising that some users applauded Weibo’s new rule. A few of the above-mentioned bloggers seized on the location tags to “prove” that people who disagreed with them were doing so from outside China.

Soon, however, it became clear that location info was not a panacea — not least because the managing of major accounts is often a transnational affair. Users were puzzled to find that Boris Johnson was posting from the southern province of Guangdong, while Russian figure skater and Olympic gold medalist Anna Shcherbakova’s account was located in the United States. A number of China’s most prominent nationalist bloggers suddenly had to explain why they were posting from overseas.

Weibo quickly clarified the rule, stating that verified accounts would be allowed to hide their IP addresses, provided the person or organization behind them has publicly identified themselves. But that only reignited the controversy over the privileges enjoyed by verified users.

On a more fundamental level, it’s naive to think that social trust can be rebuilt via a technological patch. Social media has no doubt helped amplify extreme voices, but just as scholars pinpoint the 2008 financial crisis as a watershed moment in the rise of populism in America and across the West, Chinese internet watchers must grapple with the role regional and international inequalities in education, job opportunities, and digital literacy have played in the deterioration of the country’s online spaces. Stigmas, discrimination, and inferiority or superiority complexes, many of them regionally based, are as much problems online as they are offline.

If anything, the IP location policy may make matters worse. Although international users are identified only by country, domestic users are tagged by province. Users can no longer escape regional stereotypes online. Post from Shanghai, and other users will write you off as wealthy and out of touch; post from the central province of Henan, and you’ll be mocked as a thieving bumpkin.

The situation isn’t better for international users, including the hundreds of thousands of Chinese students and millions of Chinese workers living abroad. Since it’s impossible to tell an overseas student from a foreign agent through their IP location alone, anyone posting from abroad may find themselves attacked and harassed for harboring ulterior motives.

Indeed, for all the company’s efforts to regulate certain discussions, Weibo has largely taken a laissez-faire attitude toward hate speech and harassment. In 2020, Luo Xiang, an outspoken law professor and popular vlogger, quit the site after a vicious troll campaign. More recently, a Shanghai resident jumped to her death after receiving a wave of messages accusing her of not giving a sufficiently generous tip to a delivery driver. During the Wuhan lockdown in 2020, a handful of anonymous but influential bloggers harassed the relatives of COVID-19 victims. Although they were suspended, the punishment lasted just 15 days and they were allowed to keep their verified badges.

Part of the problem is that it’s in Weibo’s interest to play with fire. The site profits from engagement with controversial content, whether that’s sexist comments by high profile figures or COVID-19 conspiracy theories. A 2020 data analysis by The Paper, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, found that the most visible figure on Weibo’s heavily promoted “trending” chart was Donald Trump.

Since Weibo introduced the new feature in March, other major Chinese social media apps, including ByteDance’s Jinri Toutiao news service and Tencent’s WeChat, have started testing geolocation features of their own. The moves come months after the powerful Cyberspace Administration of China published a draft regulation that would require all social media platforms to display users’ IP locations in their profiles. If that draft becomes law, Chinese social media may become a more transparent, yet also more polarized space — a development that ironically might benefit the platforms most of all.

If Weibo and other social media apps really cared about transparency and accountability as much as they say do, they’d apply the same standards to their own community policies, recommendation algorithms, and financial arrangements with advertisers. As for our own identities, beliefs, and experiences, they are far too complex to be boiled down into a single geographic tag. No one should be judged on where they come from, much less where they post from. Underlying the new feature is an essentialist worldview that sees everyone through the lens of “us versus them.” In the process, it denies us the very thing that makes us human: agency.

Source : Sixth Tone

Alcohol May be More Risky to the Heart Than Previously Thought

Levels of alcohol consumption currently considered safe by some countries are linked with development of heart failure, according to research presented at Heart Failure 2022, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

“This study adds to the body of evidence that a more cautious approach to alcohol consumption is needed,” said study author Dr. Bethany Wong of St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, Ireland. “To minimise the risk of alcohol causing harm to the heart, if you don’t drink, don’t start. If you do drink, limit your weekly consumption to less than one bottle of wine or less than three-and-a-half 500 ml cans of 4.5% beer.”

According to the World Health Organization, the European Union is the heaviest-drinking region in the world.2 While it is well recognised that long-term heavy alcohol use can cause a type of heart failure called alcoholic cardiomyopathy,3 evidence from Asian populations suggests that lower amounts may also be detrimental.4,5 “As there are genetic and environmental differences between Asian and European populations this study investigated if there was a similar relationship between alcohol and cardiac changes in Europeans at risk of heart failure or with pre-heart failure,” said Dr. Wong. “The mainstay of treatment for this group is management of risk factors such as alcohol, so knowledge about safe levels is crucial.”

This was a secondary analysis of the STOP-HF trial.6 The study included 744 adults over 40 years of age either at risk of developing heart failure due to risk factors (e.g. high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity) or with pre-heart failure (risk factors and heart abnormalities but no symptoms).7 The average age was 66.5 years and 53% were women. The study excluded former drinkers and heart failure patients with symptoms (e.g. shortness of breath, tiredness, reduced ability to exercise, swollen ankles). Heart function was measured with echocardiography at baseline and follow up.

The study used the Irish definition of one standard drink (i.e. one unit), which is 10 grams of alcohol.8 Participants were categorised according to their weekly alcohol intake: 1) none; 2) low (less than seven units; up to one 750 ml bottle of 12.5% wine or three-and-a-half 500 ml cans of 4.5% beer); 3) moderate (7-14 units; up to two bottles of 12.5% wine or seven 500 mL cans of 4.5% beer); 4) high (above 14 units; more than two bottles of 12.5% wine or seven 500 ml cans of 4.5% beer).

The researchers analysed the association between alcohol use and heart health over a median of 5.4 years. The results were reported separately for the at-risk and pre-heart failure groups. In the at-risk group, worsening heart health was defined as progression to pre-heart failure or to symptomatic heart failure. For the pre-heart failure group, worsening heart health was defined as deterioration in the squeezing or relaxation functions of the heart or progression to symptomatic heart failure. The analyses were adjusted for factors that can affect heart structure including age, gender, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and vascular disease.

A total of 201 (27%) patients reported no alcohol usage, while 356 (48%) were low users and 187 (25%) had moderate or high intake. Compared to the low intake group, those with moderate or high use were younger, more likely to be male, and had a higher body mass index.

In the pre-heart failure group, compared with no alcohol use, moderate or high intake was associated with a 4.5-fold increased risk of worsening heart health. The relationship was also observed when moderate and high levels were analysed separately. In the at-risk group, there was no association between moderate or high alcohol use with progression to pre-heart failure or to symptomatic heart failure. No protective associations were found for low alcohol intake.

Dr. Wong said: “Our study suggests that drinking more than 70 g of alcohol per week is associated with worsening pre-heart failure or progression to symptomatic heart failure in Europeans. We did not observe any benefits of low alcohol usage. Our results indicate that countries should advocate lower limits of safe alcohol intake in pre-heart failure patients. In Ireland, for example, those at risk of heart failure or with pre-heart failure are advised to restrict weekly alcohol intake to 11 units for women and 17 units for men. This limit for men is more than twice the amount we found to be safe. More research is needed in Caucasian populations to align results and reduce the mixed messages that clinicians, patients and the public are currently getting.”

Source: European Society of Cardiology