Anti-science bias, threats to Hong Kong’s free press, and the online propaganda using AI-generated headshots

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Edited by Marco Nurra

Coronavirus responses highlight how humans are hardwired to dismiss facts that don’t fit their worldview. Bemoaning uneven individual and state compliance with public health recommendations, top U.S. COVID-19 adviser Anthony Fauci recently blamed the country’s ineffective pandemic response on an American “anti-science bias.” He called this bias “inconceivable,” because “science is truth.” Fauci compared those discounting the importance of masks and social distancing to “anti-vaxxers” in their “amazing” refusal to listen to science. As well-versed as he is in the science of the coronavirus, he’s overlooking the well-established science of “anti-science bias,” or science denial.

China escalates its threats to Hong Kong’s free press. China unveiled and immediately implemented a draconian new law cracking down on dissent in Hong Kong. Its first full day in effect—July 1, which marked the twenty-third anniversary of Britain restoring Hong Kong to Chinese control—ought to have been marked by massive pro-democracy protests; thousands of people did take to the streets, but faced water cannons, pepper spray, and mass arrests, including under the new law. Can free press in Hong Kong survive national security law?

Journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva found guilty of ‘inciting terrorism’. The freelance contributor for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty had been accused of “publicly inciting terrorism.” Prokopyeva, who says she was doing her job, was placed on a list of “terrorists and extremists.”

Police interrogate five Australian Al Jazeera journalists accused of sedition in Malaysia. Journalists ordered to be questioned after broadcast of documentary about migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur during Covid-19 pandemic.

Polish state media puts squeeze on presidential challenger. As Poland’s presidential election heads for a bitterly contested run-off between Rafal Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw, and incumbent Andrzej Duda on Sunday, the state broadcaster TVP has left viewers in little doubt on which candidate should prevail. On June 9, TVP ran a segment noting that Mr Trzaskowski had attended the Bilderberg group and received a scholarship financed by George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist. It also questioned whether he had Polish interests at heart. A week later, it insinuated that if he won, he could divert money from the government’s popular welfare programmes to meet Jewish restitution claims for property lost during and after the second world war.

An online propaganda campaign used AI-generated headshots to create fake journalists. At least 19 fake personas were used to author op-eds published in dozens of mainly conservative publications, with AI-generated headshots of would-be authors used to trick targets into believing the writers were real people. It’s not the first time AI has been used in this way, though it’s unusual to see machine learning tech deployed for online misinformation in the wild.

Fresh attacks worsen climate of hostility against journalists covering protests across Europe. Media Freedom Rapid Response partners raise further concerns about continued violence against journalists covering protests and demonstrations across European Union (EU) Member States and Candidates in 2020 and call for increased protection, police training and oversight, as well as broader respect for media freedom. In the first six months of the year, MFRR partners have documented over 31 separate cases of attacks and media freedom violations against at least 41 different journalists and media workers reporting from protests and demonstrations in 11 EU Member States and Candidate Countries.