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The undercurrents of the future. A publication from Medium about technology and people.


In OneZero. More on Medium.

Pattern Matching

The company’s campaign to encourage vaccination is fighting against the dynamics of its own platform.

In the most idealistic view of Facebook’s mission, this is the sort of moment it was built for.

With Covid-19 killing thousands of people every day, humanity is in a race to vaccinate enough of the global population to curb the pandemic — ideally before it evolves in ways that make it even harder to contain. One obstacle, of course, is vaccine availability. But another is “vaccine hesitancy:” people afraid or unwilling to get vaccinated when they have the chance.

Facebook has built a network of nearly 3 billion people across its platforms, and has the ability to influence the…

They’re bogus, for starters

Torn medical mask.
Torn medical mask.

A scam involving the sale of bogus “exemption cards” for people who don’t want to wear masks or get the Covid-19 vaccine is still being blatantly promoted on Facebook and Twitter, despite promises from both companies to curb health misinformation.

Advertisements for exemption cards claiming “Medical Mask Exemption” and statements such as, “Under the law of informed consent I refuse any and all vaccinations,” were identified across social networks by Media Matters, a left-leaning media watchdog group and nonprofit organization. …

Tens of thousands of Facebook users participate in groups that spread misinfo about vaccines — some with an odd religious bent

A month after Facebook said it would expand efforts to scrub its platforms of vaccine misinformation, false narratives about the Covid-19 vaccine are still flourishing in public and private Facebook communities.

OneZero found dozens of anti-vax groups, public and private, some of which have tens of thousands of users. The sheer abundance of anti-vax material in Facebook groups suggests that the company’s current tools and strategies aren’t enough to tackle even surface-level vaccine misinformation.

Facebook has not released a progress update since its blog post last month, and it did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a…

‘Vaccine hunters are the result of short supply, disorganization, inadequate sign-up systems, dire circumstances, and crowded hospitals’

In a Facebook group called Minneapolis Vaccine Hunters, a member recently shared a flyer announcing that a local shelter for people experiencing homelessness would be hosting Covid-19 vaccinations on February 11 — no appointment necessary. “Please be mindful that this clinic is intended for unsheltered people in Hennepin County,” noted the flyer, which was conspicuously addressed to individuals “living on the street.”

Later, in a separate post, another Facebook member said they’d managed to get vaccinated at the shelter. They were not homeless, as the flyer intended, but arrived late in the day and received a leftover dose from vaccination…

‘I’m concerned that Facebook could misinterpret what we’re about’

Three years ago, Kate Bilowitz, a real estate worker with an armchair curiosity about health misinformation, created a Facebook group for vaccine discourse. Vaccine Talk: An Evidence Based Discussion Forum was created as a good-faith space for conversations about vaccines. The group’s original tagline stated that it was “a forum for both pro- and anti-vaxxers,” but beneath the hood it relied on dozens of moderators and admins to keep the community free of false medical claims, eventually attracting 54,000 members.

“It’s one of the few places on Facebook where both sides, and people in the middle, can come together and…

A failure at Stanford teaches us the limits of medical algorithms

This story was co-authored by Dr. Rumman Chowdhury, CEO of Parity, an enterprise algorithmic audit platform company.

“The algorithm did it” has become a popular defense for powerful entities who turn to math to make complex moral choices. It’s an excuse that recalls a time when the public was content to understand computer code as somehow objective. But the past few years have demonstrated conclusively that technology is not neutral and instead reflects the values of those who design it, and it is fraught with all the usual shortcomings and oversights that humans suffer in our daily lives.

Right before…

One mother asked whether a snakebite kit could be used to remove the vaccine from the body

On Monday, a member of an anti-vax Facebook group with 13,000 participants shared a video by the World Doctors Alliance, a controversial group of health professionals that pushes conspiracy theories and vaccine misinformation and has falsely denied the existence of a pandemic. At one point in the video, a man identifying as a medical doctor and homeopath in Belgium said, “There are strong indications it could make you a controllable puppet,” referring to newly developed Covid-19 vaccines.

His false claim asserts that lipid nanoparticles in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine contain tiny robots that “might possibly change your DNA.” This discredited conspiracy…

The discovery of a chemical compound with antibiotic properties is a helpful case study in the potential — and limits — of using A.I. to develop new treatments

Photo of a researcher wearing gloves and safety gear pipetting into tubes.
Photo of a researcher wearing gloves and safety gear pipetting into tubes.

In late February, a paper appeared in the journal Cell with encouraging news regarding one of the world’s most persistent public health problems. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University had used artificial intelligence to identify a chemical compound with powerful antibiotic properties against some of the world’s most drug-resistant strains of bacteria — a welcome discovery in a world where 700,000 people die every year from drug-resistant infections. It was the first time an antibacterial compound had been identified this way. …

Reengineering Life

It could be as simple to use as a pregnancy test — but it’s not there yet

Reengineering Life is a series from OneZero about the astonishing ways genetic technology is changing humanity and the world around us.

By now you’ve probably heard of the lab technique CRISPR. The powerful gene-editing tool is being explored to treat a number of diseases and has been used to tweak the genomes of existing plants and animals. It’s also been imagined as a way to create so-called designer babies that have handpicked genetic traits.

But CRISPR’s precise genome-editing ability is also being harnessed as a tool for diagnosing disease — a use that could come to fruition much sooner than…

Developing the vaccine is only the first step

A future without the persistent threat of the coronavirus depends on a vaccine. Developing one is absolutely necessary “to return to a semblance of previous normality,” wrote Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institutes of Health in the journal Science on May 11.

With more than 100 vaccines in development and a handful of them already being tested in human volunteers, public health officials are cautiously optimistic that one could be available as early as next year. …

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