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Online Hate Thriving Even After The Recent Hate Crime In The U.S.

The commitment to eradicating hate from platforms is not always matched by the ability to do so because there is just so much content out there.

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Pittsburgh, Hate, shooting
Flowers surround signs on Oct. 31, 2018, part of a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue to the 11 people killed during worship services. VOA

A website popular with racists that was used by the man charged in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre was shut down within hours of the slaughter, but it hardly mattered: Anti-Semites and racists who hang out in such havens just moved to other online forums.

On Wednesday, four days after 11 people were fatally shot in the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history, anonymous posters on another website popular with white supremacists, Stormfront, claimed the bloodshed at Tree of Life synagogue was an elaborate fake staged by actors. The site’s operator, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, said traffic has increased about 45 percent since the shooting.

The anti-Semitic rhetoric was just as bad on another site popular with white supremacists, The Daily Stormer, where a headline said: “Just go, Jews. You’re not welcome.”

Trying to stop the online vitriol that opponents say fuels real-world bloodshed is a constant battle for groups that monitor hate, and victories are hard to come by. Shut down one platform like Gab, where the shooting suspect posted a message shortly before the attack, and another one remains or a new one opens.

pittsburgh shooting, Hate
Flowers surround Stars of David on Oct. 31, 2018, part of a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue to the 11 people killed during worship services Saturday in Pittsburgh., VOA

The problem dates back to the dawn of the internet, when users connected their computers to each other by dialing telephone numbers. A report issued by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League in 1985 found there were two online “networks of hate” in the United States, both run by neo-Nazis who spread anti-Semitic, racist propaganda.

Today, the vastness of the online world is a big part of the problem, said Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center for Extremism. Determining how many hate sites exist is nearly impossible, he said.

“It’s really difficult to put an actual number on it, but I would say this: There are thousands of hate sites and there are dozens and dozens of platforms in which hate exists,” Segal said.

A new study by the VOX-Pol Network of Excellence, composed of academic researchers who study online extremism, said the exact number of far-right adherents on just one platform, Twitter, is impossible to determine. But at least 100,000 people and automated accounts are aligned with radicals commonly referred to as the “alt-right,” the study found, and the true number is probably more than twice that.

pittsburgh shooting, Hate
A sign during a protest gathering on the block of the Jewish Community Center in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where the funeral for Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz. VOA

An ADL report released a day before the shooting said extremists had increased anti-Semitic harassment against Jewish journalists, political candidates and others ahead of the midterm elections. Researchers who analyzed more than 7.5 million Twitter messages from Aug. 31 to Sept. 17 found almost 30 percent of the accounts repeatedly tweeting derogatory terms about Jews appeared to be automated “bots” that spread the message further and faster than if only people were involved.

The New York-based ADL said that before the 2016 election of President Donald Trump anti-Semitic harassment was rare, but afterward it became a daily occurrence. It commissioned a report in May that estimated about 3 million Twitter users posted or re-posted at least 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets in English over a 12-month period ending Jan. 28.

Gab shutdown

The story of Gab, the platform where Robert Gregory Bowers allegedly wrote an ominous message early Saturday before the shooting, shows how new sites spring up in a hate-filled environment.

pittsburgh shooting, Hate
White nationalist demonstrators use shields as they guard the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va. VOA

Created in 2016 to counter what founder Andrew Torba viewed as liberal censorship on social networks, Gab gained popularity among white supremacists and other right-wing radicals after tech companies clamped down on racist sites following the deadly clash at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Daily Stormer was offline briefly after the violence but re-emerged on a new host.

With Gab now shut down after the synagogue shooting, Torba is portraying the platform not as a hate-filled corner of the internet, but as a bastion of free speech that’s working with federal authorities “to bring justice to an alleged terrorist.”

A message posted by Torba said Gab was trying to get back online, and Segal has few doubts it will succeed.

Don Black, the former Klan leader who runs Stormfront, said traffic is up partly because of the Gab shutdown and partly because of increased interest among users. His site, which has been in operation since 1995 and has about 330,000 registered users, has only had one “prolonged” shutdown — a month following the Charlottesville melee, he said.

“I expect all sorts of more trouble now because of the Pittsburgh shooting,” Black said.

Pittsburgh, Hate, shooting
A mother and her child arrive to place flowers at a spontaneous memorial of flowers and sidewalk writing a block from the Tree of Life Synagogue. VOA

Free speech

Purging hateful content from the internet is a challenge. The Constitution’s guarantee of free-speech provides a roadblock to banning hate speech in the United States, according to the First Amendment Center, a project of the Washington-based Freedom Forum Institute.

“Political speech receives the greatest protection under the First Amendment, and discrimination against viewpoints runs counter to free-speech principles. Much hate speech qualifies as political, even if misguided,” said an essay by center scholar David L. Hudson Jr. and Mahad Ghani, a fellow with the center.

Some advocate other tactics for curbing hate.

Three days before the synagogue attack, a coalition that includes the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal advocacy organization that monitors hate groups, released a proposed framework aimed at social media companies.

The plan is geared around a model terms-of-service policy that states that platform users “may not use these services to engage in hateful activities or use these services to facilitate hateful activities engaged in elsewhere.” Next year, sponsors plan to begin posting report cards showing how sites are doing at quelling hate speech.

Pittsburgh, Hate, shooting
Monks pay their respects at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue following Saturday’s shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Penn. VOA

No company has publicly announced plans to adopt the coalition’s guidelines, but Segal said the ADL separately has talked with several social media companies about limiting hate speech. Companies have been welcoming but solutions remain elusive, he said.

Also Read: Guilty Plea For The Pittsburgh Shooting Suspect

Segal added: “The commitment to eradicating hate from platforms is not always matched by the ability to do so because there is just so much content out there.” (VOA)

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US Health Officials Prepare to Battle Flu Season as Coronavirus Fear Rises

US Prepares for Second Wave of Flu as Coronavirus Fears Rise

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Coronavirus
While there have only been 15 confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States as of Friday, health officials have expressed concern that if the virus were to spread in the country. Pixabay

U.S. health officials are preparing for a second wave of the winter flu season, complicated this year by similarities between flu symptoms and those of the coronavirus that has killed more than 1,500 in China and spread fear around the world.

A first round of seasonal flu, caused by a strain of influenza B, named B-Victoria for the city in which it was discovered, peaked in the United States in late December and then dropped off, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the CDC says a second round of flu began in late January, caused by a strain of influenza A that is related to the swine flu that first appeared in 2009, and cases continue to increase.

Coronavirus
Cesar Gonzalez reacts to getting an influenza vaccine shot at Eastfield College in Mesquite, Texas. VOA

While there have only been 15 confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States as of Friday, health officials have expressed concern that if the virus were to spread in the country, it could initially look like the spread of seasonal flu.

Coronavirus testing

In part to address these concerns, U.S. health officials announced they would begin testing some patients who have flulike symptoms for coronavirus in several U.S. cities.

The testing will initially be carried out by public health labs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New York, which are already testing for seasonal flu.

Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters in a telephone briefing Friday that labs will conduct the coronavirus test on patients who show flulike respiratory symptoms, but who test negative for the seasonal flu.

Both the seasonal flu and coronavirus cause respiratory illness, fever and cough. Other typical flu symptoms include sore throat, muscle aches, runny nose and fatigue, according to the CDC.

While scientists have studied the flu for decades, little is known about this coronavirus, dubbed COVID-19, because it is so new. Health officials are still trying to understand all the symptoms related to the new virus, as well has how it spreads and how often cases are severe. There have been few studies on the symptoms of coronavirus, however, research suggests patients most commonly suffer from fever, cough and shortness of breath and are less likely than flu patients to suffer from a sore throat and runny nose.

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus to the United States, CDC officials have put in place travel restrictions and quarantine policies for people who recently visited China. However, officials say that strategy would change if the virus were to spread quickly in the United States.

Messonnier said if there were an outbreak of coronavirus in the United States, the CDC would call for “social distancing” strategies that would include online schooling, teleworking, and canceling mass gatherings, in an effort to prevent people from spreading the virus.

Coronavirus
Passengers arrive at LAX from Shanghai, China, after a positive case of the coronavirus was announced in the Orange County suburb of Los Angeles, California, U.S. VOA

Flu kills 14,000 in US

While health officials put plans in place for any possible outbreak of coronavirus, doctors around the United States continue to help patients battle the seasonal flu. The CDC estimates that 26 million Americans have gotten sick with flu this season and around people 14,000 have died.

Health officials say the first wave of the flu, a B strain, has hit children particularly hard this season, causing 92 deaths in children. B strains are more likely to cause a more severe illness and death in children. Cases of the flu among the elderly have been down this season.

Also Read- Find Out Why You Need to Replace Unhealthy Beverages with Green Tea

The CDC says concern about coronavirus might have prompted more people with flu symptoms to go their doctor for testing this season, although they say there is nothing in their data to confirm this. Messonnier said if more people are going to the doctor that is a good thing. “

People being a little worried and seeking care doesn’t especially worry me, because that’s the point,” she said. (VOA)