It is getting harder and harder to believe in the very idea of objective truth. Pick a side, pick a story, and you will be welcomed into the open arms of an exciting industry, pre-built just for you. You will feel seen, you will feel heard, and you will probably be happy. Followers, retweets, and compliments will all be yours. Every other comment (give or take 10%) made on Twitter is a bot. The numbers are obviously lying to all of us. Yet, we are there—the 'real ones.'
It is also very likely that you are referencing, and lending credence to, a media source that isn't even trying to look legitimate. Let's take an example, found on a Twitter thread about vaccines that I stumbled into today. Without judgement, and without calling anyone a fool, let's unpack a few glaring red flags that I found with just a cursory examination of this website: dailyexpose.co.uk.
I'm 26. I'm healthy. If I were to get the virus I'd likely feel nothing. Yet I'm expected to get an experimental vaccine that uses mRNA technology that's never been used in humans before? Made by drug firms that have zero liability? For the well being of OTHERS? That's so dumb — @zeynepyenisey
I'm not going to discuss the author here, it doesn't matter who said it. As a 40-something father of two, as a husband, this sentiment makes me shudder in a sort of denialist, intellectual allergy. But if I squint at it, I can imagine myself 20 years ago, where there may have been a few reasons to feel that way that I can come up with, that might have seemed sort of reasonable. Based, in part, of that illusory invincibility—in youth—that may become more potent in certain demographics, it's easy to think that the potential downside is quite limited ("I'd likely feel nothing").
Not to mention a lack of up-to-date information on the origins and efficacy of mRNA technology ("never been used in humans before").
But it's the selfishness that gets me. Mostly I'm finding it hard to accept that this is a real statement, from a real 26-year-old. This is not a child, or a teenager. This person works for a mainstream media outlet. Ladies and gentlemen, empathy has left the building. Go ahead and see yourself out. Millennials are not interested in 'the well being of OTHERS.' Stop being dumb.
And without data sources, it is hard to know where these ideas are coming from. Almost no one is referencing a news source of any sort in the long list of comments on the thread. But I did find one source, and it was not hard to see the connection. This is not just a story about dailyexpose, a low-quality, rabble-rousing Wordpress site with a few hundred daily readers. This is also a story about the prevalence of sites like dailyexpose, and the damage they are doing to our ability to function together as a species—forced to accept the biological legitimacy of one another despite the incessant countermotions of our collective philosophical and political world-views.
But First, the Motive
With such a need for secrecy, the motive here feels deeper than just something financial. When someone goes to the trouble of actual fabrication, of cobbling together graphics and time stamps and things that are very obviously manipulated, a project like this would certainly fail that preliminary test of financial incentive. Even ranked as it is in the middle tier of online pseudo-news sources, there is little question that any significant profit is being generated. It would be far more logical to assume that the existence of ads on the site are there more to add an air of legitimacy than they are to drive affiliate kickbacks or anything particularly lucrative. The simplest answer to the question of why this site exists is that there is a political group somewhere, with an interest in stoking the fires that simmer at the intersection of pseudo-science, confirmation bias, and garish outrage. Never matter the truth. The list of suspects is long and tedious. That's another thing we won't get into. Let's just discuss what the signs are that this might not be a reputable new source.
Red Flag #1: There's Nobody Home
I'll tell you one thing: you are not going to find much contact info at dailyexpose. No address, no phone number. No author profile. Just a bunch of optically-enhanced screenshots, and some words that are meant to make you angry. Don't fall for it.
Any news source that works for the common good is open to being contacted by the general public—they have to be. A phone number is a good sign. So is a mailing address. In this case, although there is a contact form and a private email address, there is no business identity. That is a problem.
Red Flag #2: Who Wrote It
Nothing is ever written in a vacuum. When a blog piece purports to tell the truth, yet cannot itself be attributed to a writer or group of writers, this is a valid cause for alarm, and immediate skepticism.
There is always the possibility that a team of writers worked on something together, and did not want to be listed as individual contributors in the headline. In a case like that, typically there would still be a collective reference—'the news desk'—that would then link to a list of writers. Proper attribution is a mainstay of the publishing industry, for a very good reason. When we have perfect anonymity, we tend to have a less measured voice. Put bluntly, it is hard enough to reasonably assume that someone is telling the truth when we know exactly who they are. Without attribution, there can be no trust. Dailyexpose fails this test completely.
Red Flag #3: Misrepresentation
It is a very common occurrence that someone in this position—of propagating misinformation—will not even go to the trouble of feigning plausibility. At the top of the blog post, the source is linked. That's why checking links is so important, because in this case the very data source that is used to make all the claims that follow were clearly taken out of context, in a way that we are explicitly warned about from clicking that exact link.
Screenshot taken from the gov.uk website.
The main point, which goes missing, Is that with millions of weekly vaccinations, the numbers that are being pointed out are very unlikely to be meaningful in any way, just because they are so small. And that is another reason to actually list the author and have an available bio, because we tend to have more confidence in someone with a specific credential towards the subject-matter at hand. If the author was a doctor, for example, we as the reader might be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.
But in this case, all we know for sure is that an anonymous person with a budget of a few dollars per week In hosting costs for a WordPress installation has decided to screenshot a few portions of a government report, in order to make a point about something they have no expertise in by doing the very thing that the report tells us not to do. I think that the public has every right to be skeptical of the health care industry. We have certainly been lied to many times in the past. But the claims that are being made by dailyexpose just don't seem to be supported by the facts, in a way that I will cover a bit more later. Healthy skepticism? I'm all about it. Counterfactual, alarmist gibberish? No thanks.
Here's the thing. Yes, we have been lying to each other for as long as we've had words to be dishonest with. But there is almost nothing left in terms of trust between ordinary people and the foppish news media that we all love to hate. The lies are everywhere.
Possible side effect is mad cow disease. Among other things like infertility — @aly_hartmannsd (she's a 'constitutional enthusiast')
This tweet comes with a link to a screenshot of an image that looks like it could be legitimate. Until you find an excerpt from that same ISSN #: 2639-9458.
I'm no expert on medical publications, but I see at least 2 huge problems with this. First, briefs from this very same entry all seem to have a sub-number (something like 2639-9458.1105). So that's missing here.
Second, and certainly more amusingly, is the writing specimen of the abstract itself. Let me zoom that in for you.
I think my favorite line is:
Potential G Quadruplex sequences are possibly present, but a more sophisticated computer program is needed to verify these.
Is that like a teaser for the next report—stick around for episode two? Seriously, read through that thing for a minute. It's a really fascinating bit of pseudo-academia. It sounds very specific, in the sense that a little bit of googling will tell you that the phrases here are certainly well used in their own context. The question becomes, what exactly is going on? Even the most complex things of this nature at least try to be explicit, and offer some sort of bullet-point style of break down. Sure, prion proteins exist, and have pathologic forms. A "tandem repeat" is a thing, but seriously, are we supposed to believe that the 'Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was evaluated' without any sort of id number? When the Pfizer vaccine is given, there is a label that includes references to Pfizer, Bio Ntech, an alphanumeric tag like #EL1283, and an expiration date. I would expect a specimen used for testing to have at least that much meta-data associated with it. Why is that information missing?
Honestly, the entire abstract reads like a drunk lawyer trying to sound smart in front of a judge, and being absolutely convinced that they're getting away with it.
Here's a screenshot of another abstract from that same exact report. This is a bona fide, independently-verified excerpt from the source that is being referenced. The background color is different, of course (clue #1). But also—the abstract itself feels digestible. Like they're trying to make it make sense.
Importance. Objective. Evidence Review. Findings. Conclusions and Relevance. That's a good looking abstract. OK, so I spot checked a few more of the reports I could find, and there is at least one example of an abstract that also reads like a paragraph, without bullet points like the ones shown above. But still, it was direct and to the point language. I stand by my analogy of the drunk lawyer.
Like I mentioned at the onset, I'm not trying to make a fool out of anybody. I'm just trying to make a point about how easy it is to make something look legitimate—in a way that will often send dishonest messaging around the Internet at truly stunning speeds. All I can do with that knowledge is to correct the record, for whatever that is worth. These are a few of the common themes that crop up very specifically in response to this idea that we need a large percentage of the entire world to get vaccinated for COVID-19 if we are going to avoid the worst of it.
mRNA tech is an experimental technology. — that may be true in a sense, but it has been tested quite extensively. It's not a live virus, and it breaks down very quickly. Again, I am all about healthy skepticism, but with millions upon millions of successful vaccinations, the only thing I'm seeing that could be construed as evidence looks very much like clickbait.
Vaccines will make me infertile. — No, they won't. "It is postulated that if the vaccine causes the body to produce antibodies against the spike protein, it will also cause it to produce antibodies to syncytin-1, leading to infertility. Currently, there is no evidence to support this theory."
The animals in the mRNA trials all died. — This one feels very specific, and certainly is alarming if true. But all of the commenters who mentioned this, and there were many, shared exactly 0 source links among them. A simple google search finds a link to this Reuters story which discusses the same thing we are looking at here—a reference to existing medical documents to support claims that are just not true. So we've been here before. The author of the paper (Prof Chien-Te Tseng) told Reuters by email that the animals in the study did not die. He said that immunized mice "generated strong and highly protective antibody responses which fully protect immunized mice against lethal infection."
WHETHER I DO OR NOT HAS NO IMPACT ON YOU. — Shown here in all caps because typically that's how it's written. Defiant, I-got-mine energy like the tweet I referenced above. Perhaps it's too late to retroactively teach the concept of empathy. Perhaps we can only go back and re-empower the family unit to give respect and focus to the local communities that are so integral in a time like this.
This is What I Believe
Wearing a mask matters. Getting vaccinated matters. Because the hospitals are not there just to take care of you. Because variations of this virus do not need to be a permanent component of our future. Because we need desperately to reinforce and iterate through the system that is here to protect us. You need to be vaccinated, because we need to minimize to the greatest extent that is possible the complications, on a patient by patient basis, that come from a Covid infection. We need fewer people to get sick. End stop. Vaccines will help with this. Stop framing it like someone's asking you to do them a favor, and start thinking about it like you are the one who is lucky: because yes, you have a choice. You can choose not to get vaccinated.
More than half a million people—in this country alone—never had a choice about it. At very least, get the facts so you can make an informed decision about it.
The tested animals did not die. mRna is at least a decade old. There is absolutely no link to infertility. And yes—what you do matters to those around you. We're all in this together. Don't be dumb.