• Opinion | The Memories That Feed Distrust in the Middle East - The New York Times

    By Zeynep Tufekci

    Opinion Columnist

    Moshe Lavi, whose relatives have been taken hostage by Hamas, recently talked to a group of New York Times journalists about his family’s agony.

    His pained voice turned to anger when he recounted encountering disbelief that Hamas committed terrible atrocities when it attacked Israel. Lavi seemed especially bewildered by people “arguing over the semantics” of whether people were beheaded or their heads fell off, or even whether there were hostages in Gaza.

    In one particularly gruesome twist, there’s been an uproar over whether Hamas had beheaded babies — an unverified claim that President Biden repeated before the White House walked it back, and has been subject to much discussion since.

    Indeed, since Hamas did murder children and take others as hostages, should it get credit if it didn’t also behead them? It’s an appalling thought.

    Some of this skepticism is surely the result of antisemitism. But that’s not all that’s going on.

    One key reason for some of the incidents of doubt is the suspicion that horrendous but false or exaggerated claims are being used as a rationale for war — and there are many such historical examples, most notably the Iraq war.

    Recently, a former permanent representative of Israel to the United Nations told Britain’s Sky News that he was “very puzzled by the constant concern which the world,” he said, “is showing for the Palestinian people.” He cited U.S. actions after Sept. 11 as a model for what Israel should do in response to Hamas’s shocking massacre of civilians on Oct. 7, which many have called Israel’s Sept. 11.

    But if the U.S. response after Sept. 11 is a model, it is as a model of what not to do.

    After the attacks, the United States received deep global sympathy. Many Muslims around the world were furious about this blemish upon Islam, even if they opposed U.S. policies: Citizens held vigils, politicians condemned the attacks and clerics repudiated them in mosque sermons. (The idea that Muslims widely celebrated the attacks has been repeatedly shown to be false or traces back to a few instances of dubious clarity.)

    But, instead of mobilizing that widespread global sympathy to try to isolate the extremists, the United States chose to wage a reckless and destructive war in Iraq, driven by an impulsive desire for vengeance and justified by falsehoods about weapons of mass destruction.

    The Bush administration’s lies in the lead-up to the war, the fiasco of its occupation, and the chaos, violence and death that the invasion set off have deeply and indelibly damaged the standing and credibility of the United States and its allies.

    People in the region were seared by images of Iraqi institutions — hospitals, ministries, museums — being looted while the U.S. military did little, of families shot as they returned home from a hospital or at checkpoints as they missed a hand signal or instructions shouted in English, of the torture and sadism at Abu Ghraib.

    People also saw how occupation policies, like the quick and thoughtless disbanding of the Iraqi Army, contributed to the creation of ISIS a decade later.

    In the Middle East, the devastating aftermath of that war — justified by false claims — has never ended.

    To make matters worse, the Israel government has a long history of making false claims and denying responsibility for atrocities that later proved to be its doing.

    In one example of many, in 2014, four boys younger than 13 were killed by Israeli airstrikes while playing by themselves at a beach — three of them hit by a second blast while desperately fleeing the initial blast.

    There was first a concerted effort among some pro-Israel social media activists to claim the explosions were due to a Hamas rocket misfiring. The Israeli military initially claimed that “the target of this strike was Hamas terrorist operatives.” However, the beach was near a hotel housing journalists for Western outlets, including at least one from The New York Times, who witnessed the killings. The Guardian reported that journalists who visited the area in the aftermath saw no weapons or equipment and that kids regularly played there.

    Israel then investigated and exonerated itself. Peter Lerner, then a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces, said that it had targeted a “compound belonging to Hamas’s Naval Police and Naval Force (including naval commandos), and which was utilized exclusively by militants.”

    But The Telegraph, whose correspondent also witnessed the incident, reported that some of the journalists who had seen the bombing said there had been “no attempt to interview them.”

    One can see how this history plays out in the global upheaval over the Hamas claim two weeks ago that an Israeli missile struck a hospital courtyard in Gaza. Israeli and American officials denied this, and asserted that the missile came from within Gaza. There were also initial claims that 500 people were killed in the hospital blast, leading to headlines and global condemnations. Then the number was challenged, leading to another round of uproar and back-and-forth.

    It is certainly possible that the hospital may have been accidentally hit by a missile fired in Gaza — such misfires have happened. But Israel bombardment has also caused large civilian casualties. The evidence isn’t conclusive either way, and the truth remains unknown.

    Yet to a family that lost members in the hospital blast — which U.S. officials estimate killed hundreds — that squabble over exact numbers might seem as cruel as the skepticism about the atrocities committed by Hamas do to an Israeli family that suffered during the Oct. 7 attack.

    But there’s still the fact that fabricating or exaggerating atrocities is done to influence the calculus of what the public will accept — including what costs are justified to impose on civilians.

    In 1990, after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, there was widespread resistance in the United States to the idea of a new war — the country had not shaken “Vietnam syndrome,” that it was best for the United States to avoid large foreign military entanglements, both for practical and moral reasons.

    It was in this context that a teenager testified before Congress in 1990 that she had seen Iraqi soldiers take premature babies out of incubators and left them to die on the cold floor, a shocking assertion repeated by many high-level officials. The claim was widely repeated by officials and the media, and even by Amnesty International.

    Kept secret was the fact that the witness was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, and her false testimony had likely been organized by a public relations firm working for the Kuwaiti government.

    The shocking fabrication played a key role in the effort to sell the war to the reluctant American public. Needing to make sure oil fields stayed in the hands of the rulers of a tiny country created by colonial powers in the early 20th century went only so far. Opposing an army so savage that it commits the most unthinkable crimes is a more convincing appeal for war.

    The terrible outcome of all this history is widespread distrust and dehumanization, as ordinary people’s loss and pain are viewed suspiciously as a potential cudgel that will cause further loss and pain for others.

    Even people who I know have no sympathies toward Hamas or any kind of terrorism roll their eyes at some of the recent accounts of atrocities. “We always hear of something terrible when they want to go to war — how convenient,” one acquaintance told me recently.

    There are plenty of echoes of this on social media. “Hamas beheaded babies, Saddam had WMD and I’m the last unicorn,” one person posted on X. Another one said, “The ‘40 babies beheaded by Hamas’ lie is equivalent to the WMD’s lie.”

    Such sentiments are widespread.

    All this highlights the importance of voices capable of retaining trust and consistent concern for all victims.

    I was heartened to see that Human Rights Watch independently verified some of the videos of the horror on Oct. 7, and called the attacks deliberate killings. Similarly, Amnesty International’s independent investigation led the group to condemn the attacks as “cruel and brutal crimes including mass summary killings, hostage-taking.” Both organizations have called for the attacks to be investigated as war crimes.

    Both organizations also have a history of documenting Israeli wrongdoings, including its treatment of civilians in Gaza and the West Bank, and both organizations have been vilified for doing so, especially by the government of Israel and some NGOs and lawmakers.

    Yet these are the kind of independent voices that need to be heard. In a context where many in the region and world already see the United States as reflexively supporting Israel, no matter its conduct, President Biden might consider elevating such independent human rights voices rather than embracing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    As Amnesty International states, kidnapping civilians is a war crime and the hostages should be released, unharmed. And their families shouldn’t have to endure this suspicion on top of their pain.

    But to credibly demand that war crimes be stopped and lives respected requires equal concern extended to all victims, including the two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

    The victims are real — all of them — and that’s where all efforts to rebuild credibility or to seek a solution must begin.

    #Zeynep_Tufekci #Gaza #Mensonges #Preparation_guerre #Guerre_information

  • The power of protest

    In July last year, eight columnists of The New York Times made confessions about what they had been wrong about. This was apparently an editorial assignment. Anyhow, I found one ‘mea culpa’ very meaningful and had a lot to think about.

    This was Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist of Turkish descent, who professed that she was wrong about the power of protest. Her reference seemed perfect. She talked about the Global Day of Protest that was observed on February 15, 2003 against the impending invasion of Iraq by the United States.

    She was herself there in the protest held in New York, one of scores of venues across the world. It was impossible to not be overwhelmed by the magnitude of that protest. They rightly projected it as the largest protest in human history and I need not go into how many millions had gathered in which major cities.

    But President George W. Bush still went ahead with the invasion and military operations began on March 20 of that year. An unprecedented tsunami of public opinion could not stop the destruction of a country on the basis of poor evidence and bad advice.

    It is obvious why I have invoked Zeynep Tufekci’s column she had titled: ‘I was wrong about why protests work’ at this time when the entire world is watching with horror the humanitarian tragedy that is unfolding in Gaza after that Hamas attack inside Israel on October 7. Is it really true that public protests do not work? Or have things changed during the past two decades in terms of how people can influence the decisions of those who have the power to wage wars?

    I realize that the Iraq war of 20 years ago may not be very relevant when we try to make sense of what is happening on the ground in Gaza and in the lobbies of the United Nations and also on the streets of the cities where protests have been held, including in favour of Israel.

    We have also to acknowledge that, while the passions that have been kindled by the present conflict are immensely more powerful, there is a distinct division in the opinions at both the popular and the governmental levels. It is evident that while confronting their moral dilemmas, progressive and sensitive individuals everywhere are expressing their distress in many ways. There is perhaps also a shift in the sympathies of many who may previously have been neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    #Gaza #Manifestations #Zeynep_Tufekci

  • Opinion | One Thing Not to Fear at Burning Man - The New York Times

    Sept. 3, 2023
    Two people walk through gray mud at a flooded campground with recreational vehicles.
    Credit...Trevor Hughes/USA Today Network, via Reuters
    Two people walk through gray mud at a flooded campground with recreational vehicles.

    By Zeynep Tufekci

    Opinion Columnist

    The news that thousands of Burning Man festival goers were told to conserve food and water after torrential rains left them trapped by impassable mud in the Nevada desert led some to chortle about a “Lord of the Flies” scenario for the annual gathering popular with tech lords and moguls.

    Alas, I have to spoil the hate-the-tech-rich revelries. No matter how this mess is resolved — and many there seem to be coping — the common belief that civilization is but a thin veneer that will fall apart when authority disappears is not only false, the false belief itself is harmful.

    Rutger Bregman, who wrote a book called “Humankind: A Hopeful History,” had read “Lord of the Flies” as a teenager like many, and didn’t doubt its terrible implication about human nature. However, Bregman got curious about whether there were any real-life cases of boys of that age getting stranded on an island.

    Bregman learned of one that played out very differently,

    In 1965, six boys from 13 to 16, bored in their school in Tonga, in Polynesia, impulsively stole a boat and sailed out, but became helplessly adrift after their sail and rudder broke. They were stranded on an island for more than a year. Instead of descending into cruel anarchy, though, they stayed alive through cooperation. When one of them broke his leg, they took care of him.

    Some of the most memorable weeks of my life were spent helping out with rescues and aid in the aftermath of the 1999 earthquake in Turkey that killed thousands of people. The epicenter was my childhood hometown, so I was very familiar with the place, and I rushed to help, unsure of what I would find. Instead of the chaos and looting that was rumored, the people had been mostly sharing everything with one another. Intrigued, I dived into the sociology of disasters and found that this was the common trajectory after similar misfortune.

    Rebecca Solnit’s book “A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster” documents many such experiences — people altruistically cooperating in the aftermath of earthquakes, hurricanes and other catastrophes — and how the authorities often assume the opposite, and go in to restore law-and-order, but end up doing real harm.

    One of the most egregious recent examples of this involved rumors of conditions after Hurricane Katrina in the Superdome in New Orleans — where tens of thousands of people unable to evacuate earlier had gathered. The police chief told Oprah Winfrey that babies were being raped. The mayor said, “They have people standing out there, have been in that frickin’ Superdome for five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people.” There were reports that rescue helicopters were being shot at.

    The reality was that even as the situation deteriorated in the Superdome, as Rebecca Solnit’s book documents, many people kept each other alive, especially taking care of the elderly and the frail under very stressful conditions.

    But the demonization of the overwhelmingly Black population of New Orleans fueled true ugliness: Some aid was delayed and resources diverted to prevent “looting,” and refugees from the city trying to escape on foot were shot at by residents in the mostly white suburbs.

    What about the terrible side of humanity: the wars, the genocides? And what about survival of the fittest?

    In his book “Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society,” Nicholas Christakis, a sociologist as well as a physician, explains that people are cooperative and social animals, not lone wolves. Humans have survived not because they were the animals with the sharpest claws and strongest muscles, but because they had smarts and they had one another.

    Christakis looked at shipwrecks from 1500 to 1900 and found that survivors often managed by cooperation and that violence and ugliness was far from the norm.

    This is not a rosy-eyed view that ignores the terrible aspects of human behavior. Groups can also be organized politically and socially against each other. That’s the basis of wars and genocides. But far from being elements of true human nature that are revealed once the thin veneer of civilization is worn off, such atrocities are organized through the institutions of civilization: through politics and culture and militaries and sustained political campaigns of dehumanization.

    The institutions of civilization can also be enlisted to resist this dehumanization. The European Union may not be perfect, but it has helped to largely suppress the sorts of conflicts that wracked the continent for centuries.

    I would venture that many of the thousands trapped in the Nevada mud are mostly banding together, sharing shelter, food and water.

    If tech luminaries and rich folks are among those suffering in the mire, instead of gloating about their travail, let’s hope this experience reinforces for them the importance of pulling together as a society.

    We can help them along by passing laws that make tax havens illegal, create a more equitable tax structure and a strong international framework for stopping the laundering of gains of corruption, force technology and other companies to deal with the harms of their inventions and overcome the current situation where profits are private but the fallout can be societal.

    Human nature isn’t an obstacle to a good society, but it needs help from laws and institutions, not thick mud, to let the better angels have a chance.

    #Burning_Man #Zeynep_Tufekci #Communs #Solidarité

  • Révoltes urbaines : couper les réseaux sociaux pour ignorer l’incendie ? - POLITIS

    « L’attention est l’oxygène des mouvements. Sans elle, ils ne peuvent pas s’embraser », écrit Zeynep Tufekci, sociologue américano-turque dans son remarquable essai Twitter et les gaz lacrymogènes, forces et fragilités de la contestation connectée (C&F éditions). Elle ajoute : « Des acteurs puissants tentent d’étouffer les mouvements en leur refusant toute attention. » Couper les réseaux sociaux ou carrément le réseau des réseaux, Internet, est devenu en quelques années l’outil indispensable des régimes autoritaires. Turquie, Inde, Chine, Russie… 72 pays (1), non démocratiques pour l’essentiel, utilisent de telles techniques pour s’assurer de la docilité de leur population.

    Couper les réseaux, ce n’est pas seulement empêcher l’incendie de se propager, mais empêcher de le voir. Comme le soulignait très justement Zeynep Tufekci dans Twitter et les gaz lacrymogènes, la profusion d’images lors d’événements de contestation permet aux journalistes et militants des droits humains, sans être dans la confusion du moment, d’appréhender un événement sous une multitude d’angles. Empêcher ce travail de documentation revient à entraver la presse et masquer de potentielles violences de la police. L’article 24 de la loi sécurité globale – depuis censuré par le Conseil constitutionnel –, qui projetait de pénaliser la diffusion « malveillante » d’images de policiers, procédait du même esprit. Circulez, il n’y a rien à voir. Les militants des quartiers n’ont pas fini de le répéter : ici c’est le laboratoire, ici se joue l’avenir. Tout le monde devrait se sentir concerné, les techniques imaginées pour « pacifier » les banlieues finissent toujours par en sortir.

    #Zeynep_Tufekci #Emeutes

  • Opinion | The Government Must Say What It Knows About Covid’s Origins - The New York Times

    Finira-t-on par savoir l’origine du Covid ?
    par Zeynep Tufekci

    Three researchers at a laboratory in Wuhan, China, who had fallen ill in November 2019 had been experimenting with SARS-like coronaviruses under inadequate biosafety conditions, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing current and former U.S. officials.

    The Journal had reported in 2021 that some researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology had sought hospital care that November, around the time that evidence suggests Covid first began to spread among people. It was not publicly known, though, that those scientists had been experimenting with SARS-like coronaviruses — that is, pathogens related to the ones that cause SARS and Covid.

    Their role in that work is not proof that the virus initially leaked out of a lab rather than spreading from animals at a market in the city, the other theory into how the pandemic started. There is no proof of that path, either, since the known cases from the market outbreak were too late to have been the origin, and no infected animal has been found there.

    But this is yet another demonstration that almost all of the most significant information we’ve had about Covid’s possible relationship to scientific research in Wuhan has come out in dribs and drabs from the hard work of independent researchers, journalists, open records advocates and others, not directly from our government choosing to act with transparency.

    The names of the researchers who reportedly fell ill, which have not been publicly confirmed by the U.S. government and therefore remain unverified, and the nature of their work, were disclosed last week by the news site Public. One of those named researchers, Ben Hu, is a leading scientist who has worked on bat coronaviruses related to SARS. Some of Hu’s work was funded by the U.S. government, a fact that was unearthed through Freedom of Information Act requests by the nonprofit group White Coat Waste Project, which opposes taxpayer-funded research on animals, as well as by The Intercept, which uncovered broader U.S. funding for potentially dangerous lab work in Wuhan.

    Another researcher who reportedly fell sick, Yu Ping, had written a thesis in 2019 about work at the virology institute on bat coronaviruses related to SARS — a thesis that was unearthed by a group of independent researchers who call themselves DRASTIC. The thesis further confirmed that work on these dangerous viruses was being done in labs with the second-lowest level of biosafety, BSL-2.

    In September 2021, DRASTIC also obtained a funding proposal that the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s U.S. collaborator, EcoHealth Alliance, submitted to the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The proposal called for using genetic engineering to perform experiments with bat SARS-like coronaviruses and modify them by inserting features that can increase their ability to infect humans. The U.S. government rejected the proposal. One of the things that the scientists were proposing to do was to insert into these SARS-like viruses what is called a “furin cleavage site” — a feature of the Covid virus, but of no other known member of its subgenus.

    The feature could also have evolved naturally, and many scientists dismissed its significance as evidence that research set off the pandemic origins. In a September 2021 journal article, published just before the grant application was made public, 21 scientists wrote that there was no evidence of research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology “involving the artificial insertion of complete furin cleavage sites into coronaviruses.” So the grant application, which calls that claim into question, is significant.

    Thanks to extensive public records requests by the nonprofit group U.S. Right to Know, we are also aware that, as early as February 2020, many scientists who were publicly ruling out any role that research could have played in the pandemic, were privately expressing concern that there was a such connection, and in fact were specifically worried about the unusual furin cleavage site. (Some of the scientists have said they later changed their minds.)
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    What’s notable about all this is not that it necessarily indicates that researchers in Wuhan were doing something nefarious that their counterparts in the West weren’t doing. It’s that they were doing the type of research that occurs around the world, including the United States. By all accounts, some of the most vilified people — including Shi Zhengli, the lead bat researcher in Wuhan — were dedicated scientists. Their work raised safety concerns, but they were not alone in that regard.

    A recently published book by the investigative journalist Alison Young demonstrates multiple instances in the United States, including very recent ones, in which labs and universities have downplayed or covered up significant biosafety lapses, including ones that involved deadly engineered viruses that could potentially set off pandemics. If Chinese scientists were endangering the world, American scientists have too.

    By keeping evidence that seemed to provide ammunition to proponents of a lab leak theory under wraps and resisting disclosure, U.S. officials have contributed to making the topic of the pandemic’s origins more poisoned and open to manipulation by bad-faith actors.

    Treating crucial information like a dark secret empowers those who viciously and unfairly accuse public health officials and scientists of profiting off the pandemic. As Megan K. Stack wrote in Times Opinion this spring, “Those who seek to suppress disinformation may be destined, themselves, to sow it.”

    The American public, however, only rarely heard refreshing honesty from their officials or even their scientists — and this tight-lipped, denialist approach appears to have only strengthened belief that the pandemic arose from carelessness during research or even, in less reality-based accounts, something deliberate. According to an Economist/YouGov poll published in March, 66 percent of Americans — including majorities of Democrats and independents — believe the pandemic was caused by research activities, a number that has gone up since 2020. Only 16 percent of Americans believed that it was likely or definitely false that the emergence of the Covid virus was tied to research in a Chinese lab, while 17 percent were unsure.

    Worse, biosafety, globally, remains insufficiently regulated. Making biosafety into a controversial topic makes it harder to move forward with necessary regulation and international effort.

    For years, scientists and government officials did not publicly talk much about the fact that a 1977 “Russian” influenza pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands of people most likely began when a vaccine trial went awry. In a 2014 report from the Center for Arms Control Nonproliferation, Martin Furmanski explained that one reason for the relative silence was the fear of upsetting the burgeoning cooperation over flu surveillance and treatment by the United States, China and Russia.

    The world doesn’t work that way anymore. A few people can’t control the public conversation, especially after tens of millions of people have died, and attempts to do so will only backfire.

    The public deserves to know this information. So far, some of the details about the Wuhan scientists who were sickened, including their names, have come from news reports citing unnamed sources, so some skepticism is required. But why hasn’t the Biden administration confirmed or denied these details?

    Even though President Biden signed a law in March requiring the declassification of information about Covid-19’s origins by this past Sunday, his administration has yet to release that information. It needs to quickly declassify as much as possible of what it knows about the pandemic’s origins. In addition, the National Institutes of Health, which reportedly funded some of the research in China under scrutiny, needs to be forthcoming too, rather than waiting for more leaks or laws forcing its hand.

    When people lose trust in institutions, misinformation appears more credible. The antidote is more transparency and accountability.

    Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) is a professor at Columbia University, the author of “Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest” and a New York Times Opinion columnist. @zeynep • Facebook

    #Zeynep_Tufekci #Covid #Biosécurité #Origine_covid

    • C’est gris, c’est gros et ça casse tout sur son passage, ça peut être un éléphant dans un magasin de porcelaine, mais y a plus de chances que ce soit un gros orage.

      le #rasoir_d’Ockham a tendance à nous dire que si ce virus est très différent de tous ceux de sa famille, qu’il présente une modification significative visant à le rendre spécifiquement plus efficace contre les humains et qu’il est sorti du bois à côté d’un endroit où l’on faisait spécifiquement ce genre de chose, alors on a des chances raisonnables de pouvoir penser que le pangolin n’est probablement pas le coupable de l’histoire.

  • Les réseaux sociaux, leviers des luttes sociales – nvo

    De la révolte des Gilets jaunes à la vague féministe post-#MeToo, les outils numériques sont devenus des leviers incontournables des luttes sociales et syndicales. Sur les réseaux sociaux, les photos et vidéos d’Extinction Rebellion ou de ReAct font le buzz et relaient les mobilisations. Un article publié dans le numéro #05 de la Vie Ouvrière.

    Ces dernières années, les exemples de mouvements sociaux ou de soulèvements populaires déployés grâce aux possibilités de connexions qu’offre Internet se sont multipliés. Dans son remarquable ouvrage Twitter & les gaz lacrymogènes, la chercheuse et activiste turque Zeynep Tufekci montre que l’usage des outils numériques et leur démocratisation (applications, réseaux sociaux…) permettent non seulement d’atteindre rapidement une masse critique de citoyens agissants mais en a fait des alliés incontournables des luttes actuelles.

    En l’espace de quelques semaines, le mouvement des Soulèvements de la Terre, menacé de dissolution sur décision du ministère de l’Intérieur, a rassemblé plus de 90.000 soutiens, notamment grâce aux milliers de partages sur les réseaux sociaux. Des relais qui ont permis de faire converger le 25 mars sur le terrain à Sainte-Soline, dans les Deux-Sèvres, près de 30.000 personnes venues pas seulement de France mais de toute l’Europe pour s’opposer au projet de méga-bassine.

    Les médias numériques améliorent la visibilité d’une cause, mais ils créent aussi une communauté, un sens de la camaraderie, explique Zeynep Tufekci dans son essai. Ils permettent à un mouvement de dépasser l’espace du site d’occupation en créant un sentiment d’appartenance : on peut se sentir zadiste sans terres à défendre, se revendiquer d’Occupy Wall Street sans être américain…

    En 2021, les activistes ont fait irruption au milieu des mannequins d’un défilé Louis Vuitton afin de dénoncer l’impact climatique de la mode. Un happening militant qui a fait un énorme buzz sur les réseaux sociaux. La même stratégie digitale a été employée, en octobre 2022, quand d’autres militants ont collé leurs mains sur des voitures haut de gamme sous les yeux du public du Mondial de l’auto.

    « Quatre cents personnes nous ont filmés et ont mis en ligne la scène sur Instagram et TikTok. Ça a fait des millions de vues. Là, le public était lui aussi vecteur de diffusion, même si tu ne contrôles plus le message », commente le militant d’XR dont l’organisation ne communique que sur réseaux cryptés (Signal, Mattermost), afin de préserver le secret de ses actions et l’anonymat de ses membres.

    #Militantisme #Zeynep_Tufekci #Mouvements_sociaux #La_Vie_Ouvirère

  • Y voir clair sur les choses importantes Zeynep Tufekci, une sociologue dans l’action - Enjeux numériques - N° 21 - Mars 2023 - Données et modèles : Technopolitique de la crise sanitaire

    N° 21 - Mars 2023 - Données et modèles : Technopolitique de la crise sanitaire

    Y voir clair sur les choses importantes Zeynep Tufekci, une sociologue dans l’action

    Par Hervé LE CROSNIER
    Éditeur multimédias chez C&F éditions

    Durant la première phase de la pandémie, les paroles scientifiques ont principalement été occupées par les médecins et les épidémiologistes. Or, dès janvier 2020, ce fut une sociologue qui, aux États-Unis, a devancé la plupart des inflexions concernant les comportements nécessaires face à la maladie et acceptables par la société. Zeynep Tufekci a su, grâce à son approche multidisciplinaire, et à sa grande capacité d’écriture fluide, accessible et néanmoins pointue et pertinente, proposer des solutions adaptées dans de nombreuses tribunes et sur Twitter. Au point qu’elle a eu droit à un long article dans le New York Times la caractérisant comme la sociologue qui savait y voir clair sur les choses importantes.

    #Zeynep_Tufekci #Covid

  • Opinion | If You’re Suffering After Being Sick With Covid, It’s Not Just in Your Head - The New York Times

    When the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 ended, misery continued.

    Many who survived became enervated and depressed. They developed tremors and nervous complications. Similar waves of illness had followed the 1889 pandemic, with one report noting thousands “in debt and unable to work” and another describing people left “pale, listless and full of fears.”

    The scientists Oliver Sacks and Joel Vilensky warned in 2005 that a future pandemic could bring waves of illness in its aftermath, noting “a recurring association, since the time of Hippocrates, between influenza epidemics and encephalitis-like diseases” in their wakes.

    Then came the Covid-19 pandemic, the worst viral outbreak in a century, and when sufferers complained of serious symptoms that came after they had recovered from their initial illness, they were often told it was all in their heads or unrelated to their earlier infections.

    It wasn’t until the end of the first year of the pandemic that Congress provided $1.2 billion for the National Institutes of Health, which led to a long Covid research initiative called Recover, in February 2021. A year and a half later, there are few treatments and lengthy delays to get into the small number of long Covid clinics. Frontline medical workers don’t have the clinical guidelines they need, and some are still dismissive about the condition.

    Long Covid sufferers who caught the virus early have entered their third year with the condition. Many told me they have lost not just their health but also their jobs and health insurance. They’re running out of savings, treatment options and hope.

    To add to their misery — despite centuries of evidence that viral infections can lead later to terrible debilitating conditions — their travails are often dismissed as fantasy or as unworthy of serious concern.

    #Covid #Covid_long #Zeynep_Tufekci

  • Opinion | Protesters So Ill, They Couldn’t Get Arrested - The New York Times

    M.E./C.F.S. (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome), a condition that’s often postviral and similar to what some long Covid sufferers appear to have, can be so debilitating that it leaves those who have it with a sense of desperation.

    That wasn’t apparent as they picketed and chanted, some in wheelchairs or using canes, wearing red shirts with slogans like “Still sick, still fighting” and “Millions missing.”

    They gave their best shot at civil disobedience, but instead of being arrested, they were largely ignored. A few news articles mentioned the protest, and the world moved on.

    #Covid #Covid_long #Zeynep_Tufekci

  • Opinion | A.I. Will Change Education. Don’t Let It Worsen Inequality. - The New York Times

    It is in high schools and even college where some of ChatGPT’s most interesting and troubling aspects will become clear.

    Essay writing is most often assigned not because the result has much value — proud parents putting good grades on the fridge aside — but because the process teaches crucial skills: researching a topic, judging claims, synthesizing knowledge and expressing it in a clear, coherent and persuasive manner. Those skills will be even more important because of advances in A.I.

    When I asked ChatGPT a range of questions — about the ethical challenges faced by journalists who work with hacked materials, the necessity of cryptocurrency regulation, the possibility of democratic backsliding in the United States — the answers were cogent, well reasoned and clear. It’s also interactive: I could ask for more details or request changes.

    But then, on trickier topics or more complicated concepts, ChatGPT sometimes gave highly plausible answers that were flat-out wrong — something its creators warn about in their disclaimers.

    Unless you already knew the answer or were an expert in the field, you could be subjected to a high-quality intellectual snow job.

    In flipped classrooms, students wouldn’t use ChatGPT to conjure up a whole essay. Instead, they’d use it as a tool to generate critically examined building blocks of essays. It would be similar to how students in advanced math classes are allowed to use calculators to solve complex equations without replicating tedious, previously mastered steps.

    Teachers could assign a complicated topic and allow students to use such tools as part of their research. Assessing the veracity and reliability of these A.I.-generated notes and using them to create an essay would be done in the classroom, with guidance and instruction from teachers. The goal would be to increase the quality and the complexity of the argument.

    This would require more teachers to provide detailed feedback. Unless sufficient resources are provided equitably, adapting to conversational A.I. in flipped classrooms could exacerbate inequalities.

    Some school officials may treat this as a problem of merely plagiarism detection and expand the use of draconian surveillance systems. During the pandemic, many students were forced to take tests or write essays under the gaze of an automated eye-tracking system or on a locked-down computer to prevent cheating.

    In a fruitless arms race against conversational A.I., automated plagiarism software may become supercharged, making school more punitive for monitored students. Worse, such systems will inevitably produce some false accusations, which damage trust and may even stymie the prospects of promising students.

    Educational approaches that treat students like enemies may teach students to hate or subvert the controls. That’s not a recipe for human betterment.

    As societies responded to previous technological advances, like mechanization, by eventually enacting a public safety net, a shorter workweek and a minimum wage, we will also need policies that allow more people to live with dignity as a basic right, even if their skills have been superseded. With so much more wealth generated now, we could unleash our imagination even more, expanding free time and better working conditions for more people.

    The way forward is not to just lament supplanted skills, as Plato did, but also to recognize that as more complex skills become essential, our society must equitably educate people to develop them. And then it always goes back to the basics. Value people as people, not just as bundles of skills.

    #Education #Intlligence_artificielle #Zeynep_Tufekci

  • Comment les mouvements sociaux changent les choses | L’actualité

    Regrouper 3,5 % d’une population lors d’une mobilisation n’est toutefois pas garant de victoire. Une théorie du changement exclusivement axée sur l’atteinte de cette proportion serait malavisée. La règle a été critiquée et depuis nuancée par Erica Chenoweth elle-même, qui rappelle l’importance d’autres facteurs (la conjoncture favorable, l’organisation, le leadership stratégique et la durabilité) dans le succès ou l’échec d’un mouvement et recommande de ne pas utiliser la règle de manière prescriptive.

    Il faut aussi prendre en compte que les mouvements n’ont pas tous les mêmes objectifs. Dans son livre Twitter et les gaz lacrymogènes : Forces et fragilités de la contestation connectée (C&F éditions, 2019), Zeynep Tufekci, professeure associée de sociologie à l’Université de la Caroline du Nord et chroniqueuse au New York Times, émet l’hypothèse que les mouvements possèdent trois types de capacités : celles d’influer sur le narratif social, de perturber l’ordre établi et d’influencer les élus et les institutions. Par exemple, le mouvement Occupons Wall Street a réussi à imposer l’idée que les intérêts des plus riches qui forment 1 % de la population nuisaient aux 99 % restants, une illustration de sa puissante capacité narrative, avec un discours sur les inégalités économiques qui continue de percoler, plus de 10 ans plus tard. Une des demandes clés d’Occupons Wall Street, l’annulation des dettes étudiantes, vient même d’être partiellement adoptée aux États-Unis par l’administration Biden, qui a offert un allègement ciblé aux familles à faible et à moyen revenu, preuve de la capacité de ce mouvement à influencer les institutions.

    Dans le cas de la mobilisation monstre du 27 septembre 2019, il serait juste de dire qu’elle a permis de maintenir le discours du mouvement climatique ; que sa capacité à influencer les élus se traduit par des chantiers en cours, malgré plusieurs victoires institutionnelles (telles que les projets de loi adoptés) ; et que sa capacité à perturber l’ordre établi a été mise à mal par la COVID-19. Il est donc simpliste de parler d’échec ou de réussite d’un mouvement — surtout pour un enjeu aussi complexe que la crise climatique. La bataille sera de très longue haleine et même une victoire aura plusieurs nuances de gris. Sans compter qu’une part colossale de l’énergie des militants sert à lutter contre des reculs…

    #Mouvements_sociaux #Zeynep_Tufekci

  • Opinion | We Should Try to Prevent Another Alex Jones - The New York Times

    par Zeynep Tufekci

    Alex Jones achieved the epitome of despicability and now has been ordered to pay for it. His lies — that parents of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 had been actors taking part in a government plot to manufacture a pretext for stricter gun control — were blatant. He did not subtly deceive through misleading framing or cherry-picked facts. He targeted parents of murdered little children, who faced a barrage of threats; at least one family had to flee, moving away from where their child was buried.

    Now a Connecticut jury has ordered Jones to pay $965 million in damages to several families for his egregious cruelty, adding to a Texas jury award of $49 million in August to another Sandy Hook family.

    Defamation lawsuits can provide some relief to victims of horrendous lies, but they cannot fully repair the damage that has already been done.

    But the key issue is, the current media ecology makes it lucrative to lie outrageously.

    Jones got his start in talk radio peddling 9/11 conspiracies to great success. In later years, beyond his own webpage hosting his show, he found a home on platforms like YouTube and Facebook, where he could not only broaden his reach, but benefit from being recommended and amplified by the algorithms that prioritize “engagement” — which has often meant pushing inflammatory, tribalizing or conspiratorial content. Many supporters of Donald Trump were — and are — great fans. One comprehensive study from the Harvard Berkman Klein Center (where I’m a faculty associate) found that before the 2016 election, he was the 13th most shared source on Twitter among then-candidate Trump’s supporters. Between 2015 and 2018, his show averaged about $53 million in revenue annually.

    In 2018, after outrage over the way social media sites amplified such content, Facebook, YouTube and Spotify, among other major sites, removed his show. But by then, his machinery was in place and, based on witness testimony and Free Speech Systems’ bankruptcy filing, his company continued making millions of dollars each year.

    From what, you might wonder? In 2014, most of his then $20 million revenue came from selling supplements like “Super Male Vitality,” according to testimony Jones gave in a court case. After he was banned from major social media platforms in 2018, he expanded his sales, offering a 50 percent discount for at least one of his alleged testosterone boosters to “push back in the fight against globalist agenda” — a bargain at $34.95. Also available at the time was “Survival Shield X-2 — Nascent Iodine,” which Jones’s website describes as having been developed using “Thermodynamic Pressure Sensitive High Energy Sound Pulse Nano-Emulsion Technology.” A newer version of the product is described as derived from “ancient sea salts” found “thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface” and formulated “with our fellow patriots in mind.” Really, it’s a steal at $19.95, all major credit cards accepted.

    A recent study in Nature found that areas with higher levels of Fox News viewership had lower Covid vaccination rates, which are associated with higher hospitalization and death rates. This impact of Fox News was independent of local health care capacity or even partisanship. Plus, much of this effect was concentrated on people younger than 65, who might have thought they were safer from Covid, the study authors noted, and perhaps more open to messages of vaccine hesitancy and refusal.

    Even foot soldiers of the movement who sincerely bought into the antivax nonsense, suffered. According to a report from The Boston Globe, at least five conservative radio talk show hosts who campaigned against the vaccines died from Covid-19 over just a few months in 2021.

    It’s become so easy to lucratively lie to so many people, and we have few realistic and effective defenses against the harms of deceptions like these, not just to individuals but to our society.

    There have been campaigns to get major social media platforms to act more aggressively to get rid of liars, but why should we trust them to decide who should be banned? What if political winds shift?

    What’s the solution? No society can be constantly pulled at its seams like this and escape unscathed. The recent Jones verdict certainly did some damage to the industry of lucrative lying, and perhaps few are as deserving of this result than he is. But laws written for a different era cannot resolve the problems of our current media ecology.

    There are no easy, quick solutions, but perhaps a starting point would be to make it harder and less lucrative to lie to huge audiences. Rather than pursuing legally dubious and inadvisable efforts to ban speech or define and target misinformation, regulations should target the incentives for and the speed with which lies can be spread, amplified and monetized.

    One part of the solution might be to target reckless data surveillance online, by greatly limiting how much data can be collected, how long it can be retained, what it can be used for, and how it can be traded. Among other benefits, this could make chasing engagement less attractive as a business model.

    The work of civilization is not just discovering and unleashing new and powerful technologies, it is also regulating and shaping them, and crafting norms and values through education and awareness, that make societies healthier and function better. We are late to grapple with all of this, but late is better than never.

    #Médias #Social_medias #Zeynep_Tufekci #Complotisme #Economie_numerique

  • [C&F] Zeynep Tufekci et les prisonniers politiques en Égypte

    [C&F] Zeynep Tufekci et les prisonniers politiques en Égypte


    Zeynep Tufekci vient de publier dans le New York Times un long article sur l’intellectuel et blogueur égyptien Alaa Abd el-Fattah qui croupit actuellement dans les prisons de la dictature égyptienne de Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, après avoir été emprisonné sous la dictature de Hosni Moubarak et sous la dictature islamiste des Frères musulmans de Mohamed Morsi. Dans son article, elle s’étonne de l’absence de soutien de la part des pays et des médias qui étaient pourtant si avides de le rencontrer pour parler de la « révolution Facebook » et de l’inviter à s’exprimer. Et cela alors même que la dépendance de l’Égypte aux financements occidentaux offre un levier... à la veille de la future COP sur le climat qui devrait se tenir au Caire à l’automne. Et bien entendu que le cas de cet intellectuel humaniste ne saurait cacher le sort des très nombreux prisonniers politiques dans les geôles du Caire, mais au contraire servir d’exemple frappant.

    Je traduis quelques extraits de son article du New York Times à la fin de ce message.

    Zeynep Tufekci était place Tahrir au Caire en 2011 pour observer et accompagner les activistes du grand mouvement populaire qui a réussi à renverser la dictature de Moubarak. Les descriptions précises qu’elle fait dans son livre Twitter & les gaz lacrymogènes sont fascinantes, comme lorsqu’elle raconte comment Twitter a pu servir à construire un hôpital de campagne pour soigner les blessé·es.

    Mais au delà du reportage, Zeynep était sur place comme sociologue, c’est-à-dire pour tirer des leçons généralisables ou comparables de ce qu’elle pouvait observer. Elle continuera ce travail d’observation engagée en 2013 à Istanbul, et à deux reprises à Hong-Kong. De ce travail de terrain elle va tirer des analyses précises et inspirantes qui constituent le cœur de son livre : Quelle est la place réelle des médias sociaux dans les mouvements de protestation ? Quelles sont les forces et les faiblesses des mouvements connectés ?

    Ses analyses sont tellement anticipatrices que Sandrine Samii écrira dans Le Magazine Littéraire : « Publié en 2017 chez Yale University Press, l’essai n’aborde pas l’évolution hong-kongaise, les marches féministes, ou les mouvements français comme Nuit debout et les gilets jaunes. La pertinence de la grille de lecture qu’il développe pour analyser les grands mouvements connectés actuels en est d’autant plus impressionnante. »

    Le New York Times la décrira comme « La sociologue qui a eu raison avant tout le monde ».

    Twitter et les gaz lacrymogènes. Forces et fragilités de la contestation connectée
    Zeynep Tufekci
    Traduit de l’anglais (États-Unis) par Anne Lemoine
    Collection Société numérique, 4
    Version imprimée -,29 € - ISBN 978-2-915825-95-4 - septembre 2019
    Version epub - 12 € - ISBN 978-2-37662-044-0
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    entre le 4 août et le 8 août 2022
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    Traduction d’extraits de l’article de Zeynep Tufekci dans le New York Times

    J’aimerais tellement pouvoir demander à Alaa Abd el-Fattah ce qu’il pense de la situation du monde

    Zeynep Tufekci
    2 août 2022
    The New York Times

    Début 2011, après les manifestations massives de la Place Tahrir au Caire qui ont mis fin aux trois décennies de la dictature d’Hosni Moubarak, nombre d’activistes qui avaient pris la rue se sont retrouvé fort demandés par les médias. Ils étaient invités dans le « Daily Show » et Hillary Clinton, à l’époque Secrétaire d’État, a visité la place Tahrir en insistant sur le côté extraordinaire d’être « sur le lieu même de la révolution » et d’y rencontrer des activistes.

    Alaa Abd el-Fattah, l’intellectuel et blogueur qui était décrit comme « un synonyme de la révolution égyptienne du 25 janvier » savait déjà que l’attention mondiale s’évanouirait bientôt.

    Il vont très vite nous oublier m’a-t-il dit il y a plus de dix ans.

    Il avait raison, évidemment. Alaa a toujours été réaliste, sans jamais devenir cynique. Il avait 29 ans quand il protestait Place Tahrir, mais il a continué ensuite. Charismatique, drôle et possédant un bon anglais, il a délivré des conférences partout dans le monde, mais il est toujours revenu en Égypte, alors même qu’il risquait la prison pour sa liberté de parole.

    La famille d’Alaa connaît bien les cruautés qui accompagnent la vie sous un régime autoritaire. Sa sœur Mona est née alors que son père, qui allait devenir un juriste spécialiste des droits humains, était prisonnier. Le fils d’Alaa est lui-même né alors que son père était emprisonné. En 2020, son autre sœur Sanaa a été attaquée alors qu’elle attendait pour le visiter en prison et condamnée à un an et demi pour avoir colporté des « fausses nouvelles », une situation qu’Amnesty International décrit comme un procès fabriqué.

    Durant sa brève libération en 2014, Alaa expliquait combien il était heureux de pouvoir changer les couches de son bébé... il fut emprisonné peu de temps après. En 2019 il fut de nouveau libéré, si content de pouvoir passer un peu de temps avec son fils. Mais il fut remis en prison quelques mois plus tard et jugé en 2021, écopant de cinq années de prison pour diffusion de « fausses nouvelles ».

    La manière dont Alaa est traité montre le peu de considération que porte le reste du monde aux acteurs et actrices de la révolution égyptienne. Il est connu internationalement, devenu citoyen britannique en 2021, décrit par Amnesty International comme un prisonnier de conscience injustement emprisonné... tout ça pour rien.

    Ce n’est pas être naïf face à la politique internationale que de voir combien ce comportement est dévastateur. De nombreux pays font des déclarations sur la démocratie et les droits humains, ce qui ne les empêche pas de signer des accords avec des régimes brutaux en raison de leur stratégie d’accès aux ressources essentielles. Mais dans le cas présent, l’Égypte est totalement dépendante de l’aide étrangère et du tourisme pour faire fonctionner son économie... il n’y a donc aucune raison pour qu’elle ne libère pas des prisonniers politiques si les pays démocratiques, qui disposent d’un moyen de pression, le demandent. L’absence de pression sur l’Égypte ne peut en aucun cas être considérée comme de la realpolitique.

    En novembre, l’Égypte va accueillir une conférence internationale sur le changement climatique. Environ 120 chefs d’État et de gouvernement se sont rendus à la dernière conférence en Écosse. Ils pourraient au moins obtenir des progrès avant de venir se montrer et faire comme si de rien n’était.

    En 2011, trois jours après sa naissance de son fils Khaled, Alaa a pu le voir en prison pendant une demi-heure et le tenir dix minutes dans ses bras.

    « En une demi-heure, j’ai changé ,et le monde autour de moi également » écrivit Alaa à propos de cette visite. « Maintenant, je sais pourquoi je suis en prison : il veulent me priver de la joie. Et maintenant, je comprends pourquoi je vais continuer à résister : la prison de détruira jamais mon amour. »

    On a volé toutes ces demi-heures à Alaa. Il est nécessaire que les gens au pouvoir fassent savoir au gouvernement égyptien que le monde n’a pas complètement abandonné celles et ceux qu’il a autrefois tant admiré, ces courageuses jeunes personnes qui se battaient pour un meilleur futur. Le moins que l’on puisse demander pour eux, ce sont de nouvelles demi-heures pour marcher et respirer librement, pour tenir leurs enfants dans les bras et continuer à rêver d’un autre monde.
    Alaa avec Khaled, 2019.

    Bonne lecture,

    Hervé Le Crosnier

    #Zeynep_Tufekci #Alaa_Abd_el-Fattah #Egypte

  • Opinion | I Wish I Could Ask Alaa Abd el-Fattah What He Thinks About the World Now - The New York Times

    In early 2011, after huge protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square ended Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade autocracy, many activists who had taken to the streets found themselves in high demand. They were guests on “The Daily Show.” Hillary Clinton, then the U.S. secretary of state, visited the square, remarking it was “extraordinary” to be “where the revolution happened,” and met with some of the activists.

    Alaa Abd el-Fattah, the Egyptian activist, intellectual and blogger described as “synonymous with Egypt’s 25 Jan. Revolution,” knew the world’s attention would soon move on.

    “They’ll soon forget about us,” he told me more than a decade ago.

    He was right, of course. Alaa was always cleareyed and realistic but somehow never became a cynic. He protested in Tahrir Square in 2011, when he was 29, but afterward, too. Charismatic, fluent in English and funny, he gave well-received talks abroad but always returned to Egypt, even when faced with the prospect of imprisonment for his outspokenness. His writings, some smuggled out of jail, were published this year as a book, “You Have Not Been Defeated.”

    After years of imprisonment under appalling conditions — he reports long periods of being deprived of exercise, sunlight, books and newspapers and any access to the written word — Alaa, a British citizen since 2021, started a hunger strike in April to protest being denied a British consular visit.

    Alaa’s family is well acquainted with the cruelties of life under authoritarianism. Alaa’s sister Mona was born while their father, who later became a human rights lawyer, was in prison. Alaa’s son, Khaled, was born when Alaa was in prison. In 2014, both Alaa and his other sister, Sanaa, then only 20, were in prison and were not allowed to visit their dying father. In 2020, while waiting outside Alaa’s prison, Sanaa was attacked and then charged with disseminating false news and imprisoned for another year and a half — a case Amnesty International condemned as a fabrication.

    Alaa has the dubious honor of having been a political prisoner, or charged, under Hosni Mubarak, the Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi and then Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the general who is now Egypt’s president. During his brief release in 2014, Alaa kept saying how happy he was to finally get to change his son’s diapers; he was imprisoned again just a few months later. In 2019 he was released, again deliriously happy to spend time with his son.

    But he was put in detention without charges just a few months later. In 2021, when he finally got a trial, he received another five-year sentence for spreading “false news.” Alaa said he hadn’t even been told what he was being charged with before being hauled to court.

    But Alaa’s treatment is an indication of how little care there is left in the world. He’s internationally known, a British citizen, described by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience who has been unjustly imprisoned. There have been opinion essays and calls from human rights organizations — to no avail.

    One need not be naïve about international politics to understand why this is so devastating. We know that many countries with stated commitments to democracy and human rights routinely cut deals with terrible regimes because of their strategic goals or for access to resources or cooperation.

    But here, though, countries professing to care about human rights are the ones with leverage, as Egypt depends on foreign aid, trade and tourism to keep its economy going, and there’s no reason it can’t release a few political prisoners and improve prison conditions, even if just for appearance’s sake, since it would pose no threat to the regime.

    That Egypt is not pushed harder to do even this little is a moral stain that cannot be justified by realpolitik.

    In November, Egypt will host a global climate change conference. About 120 world leaders, including President Biden, went to the last one, in Scotland. They could, at least, ask for progress before showing up for this one and acting as if all is fine.

    In 2011, three days after he was born, Alaa’s son, Khaled, was allowed to visit him in prison, for half an hour — 10 minutes of which Alaa held him.

    “In half an hour I changed, and the universe changed around me,” Alaa wrote about the visit. “Now I understand why I’m in prison: They want to deprive me of joy. Now I understand why I will resist: Prison will not stop my love.”

    Alaa then wrote of his dreams for a future with his son: “What about half an hour for him to tell me about school?” he wondered. “Half an hour for him and I to talk about his dreams?”

    Alaa Abd el-Fattah has been robbed of all those half-hours.

    Someone with power has to let the Egyptian government know that while loftier goals may be abandoned, the world hasn’t completely forgotten how it once admired those courageous young people who dared to dream of a better future. The least we owe them is more half-hours, to walk and breathe freely, to hold their children and perchance to keep dreaming of a better world.

    #Zeynep_Tufekci #Egypte #Alaa_Abd_el-Fattah

  • Opinion | Zeynep Tufekci: I Was Wrong About the Power of Protest - The New York Times

    As I studied many of these movements, I noticed more common patterns. The quickly sprung large movements often floundered for direction once the inevitable pushback came. They didn’t have the tools to navigate the treacherous next phase of politics, because they hadn’t needed to build them to get there.

    In the past, a truly big march was the culmination of long-term organizing, an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence, indicating prior planning and strength. Large numbers of people had gotten together and worked for a long time, coordinating, preparing — and getting to know one another and making decisions. So they didn’t just manage to hold a protest; lacking easier ways to organize, they ended up having to build organizational capacity, which then helped navigate what came after.

    But since the early 2000s, a big protest has started to feel more like a sentence that begins with a question mark. Newspapers still remark on their size — and many of them are very large — but I’m less impressed now by mere size: The global Occupy demonstrations, the Arab Spring protests and the Women’s March in 2017 all could lay claim to being larger than any previous protest. Maybe they would go on to build more sustained power, but maybe not.

    So I concluded that although today’s big protests look the same as those in the past, the different mechanisms that produce them — in particular, the internet and lately, especially, social media — help determine whether governments or other authorities will see them as a genuine threat or just something that can be dismissed like a focus group.

    This doesn’t mean I’ve come to think that protests are pointless or that big marches don’t mean anything. They do. I still think demonstrations, marches and other forms of mass mobilization matter; they build solidarity, change lives and highlight dissent. It’s just that they have different trajectories and dynamics now.

    Being an academic, I wrote a book about all this, but there was a personal lesson for me as well.

    My optimism about the power of our protest had been colored by my inability to recognize that the rules of the game had changed with the changing environment. I really, really wanted our demonstrations — against the invasion of Iraq, against deepening inequality, against the authoritarians in the Middle East, in support of human rights and environmentalism — to achieve more of their goals. I was among people who had the same strong desire for these protests to work and believed they would if they were big enough.

    In 2003, during those protests against the impending invasion of Iraq, the other protesters and I were alarmed by the groupthink we observed among politicians and the media about why and how the war was necessary. The evidence they proffered seemed so obviously flimsy, their scenarios for how this would play out so divorced from a realistic understanding of the situation.

    But we had our own version of wishful thinking coloring our judgment, too. Obviously, ours wasn’t on a similar level of culpability — failing to stop a catastrophe despite trying hard, compared with starting one based on faulty, flimsy evidence — but it offered a lesson. Being on the right side of history doesn’t insulate one from weak analyses or the temptation to conflate what we collectively hoped to be true with an examination of how things really were.

    #Zeynep_Tufekci #Manifestations #Médias_sociaux

  • The Pandemic’s Next Phase - The New York Times - Interview with Zeynep Tufekci

    The pandemic outlook

    The U.S. is in a peculiar moment in the pandemic.

    The nation is still averaging over 100,000 cases a day as the latest virus wave appears to be making its way westward. Yet many Americans seem to be meeting this latest wave with a shrug. Could this be the new normal?

    To help us reflect on where we are and where we’re going, I connected with Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist who has written extensively on Covid for The Times’s Opinion section.

    As a society, where are we in the pandemic?

    I think the official messaging and our policy remain muddled and confusing, and that’s causing a lot of polarization. There are many questions that remain unanswered and a lack of clarity about the future steps. For example, it’s June 2022 and we still don’t have clarity on updating our vaccines for fall or for vaccines for the youngest. We don’t have the kind of research, clarity and steps needed to address long Covid, either.

    In response, some people are very anxious, some people are wondering how much to worry and some people have basically tuned out. And I’m not sure I could blame any group because at this moment, navigating the pandemic is kind of like a build-your-own-adventure game.

    What do you think the next phase of the pandemic will look like?

    There are many possible paths. The worst-case scenario would be that we get a variant that causes significant amounts of severe disease even among the vaccinated or those with prior infections. If this happens, and we haven’t prepared to quickly update our vaccines and administer them widely and globally, it could be a pretty grim scenario.

    It’s also possible that we just kind of sputter along: There isn’t a new variant that represents a huge jump, at least in terms of causing acute illness. But in combination with waning vaccine effectiveness, especially among the elderly whose immune systems are weaker, it settles into something like the disease burden of influenza. That’s also terrible. Influenza itself causes an incredible amount of suffering every year, and it would further strain our already strained health care system.

    The ideal scenario for vaccines is we update the vaccines, we vaccinate children and we vaccinate globally. But we shouldn’t stop there. We could also do many other things that would benefit everyone. For example, immunocompromised people are especially susceptible to generating variants because they can have very long-term infections. There are now therapeutics that should be used globally and equitably. And a large number of people with H.I.V. remain undertreated around the world, and thus immunocompromised. Extending treatment to them is both morally right and beneficial.

    What else is the government not doing that it should?

    There’s now a much better understanding of airborne transmission of respiratory diseases. If we got our act together, we could do for indoor air sanitation something similar to what we did to water after discovering waterborne diseases, in terms of regulating it to make it safer with better air cleaning filters, ventilation and other methods. We would see benefits against all the other respiratory viruses that are airborne too. It would be costly at first, but we would recoup that cost because illness is very costly — in terms of the human suffering but also financially.
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    How do you feel about the moment we are in?

    We’re not in a good place, even though we could be. I am very despondent about the dysfunctional global and national response, and lack of clear next steps. We are not able to do things that are within the reach of countries like ours with the amount of science and wealth we have, let alone globally.

    When you have a virus or some problem and you don’t have an effective response, that is tragic. But it’s a different kind of tragic when we have so many things we could be doing but we just can’t get our act together. It feels like we’re living a bad chapter in a history book that ends with “aaand that’s why they screwed it up even though they didn’t have to.”

    #Zeynep_Tufekci #Covid

  • Commentaires de Zeynep Tufekci suite au discours de Barack Obama sur la régulation des médias sociaux.

    So, Barack Obama has taken up fighting disinformation. NYT notes how his administration didn’t regulate tech.

    When I started writing about it, a decade ago, the pushback I got from the Obama universe was intense, and is hinted at the below profile of me.

    There was a lovefest between the Obama universe and Silicon Valley. Suggesting that wasn’t a good thing, and we needed to regulate for privacy and for a healthy public sphere was not considered unacceptable.

    I heard of attempts to blacklist me from conferences, and more stuff.

    (I haven’t written about most of this publicly. I try to focus on the substance. Some people from that world have called to apologize. It’s fine. The issue isn’t that I was right, and got treated terribly regardless, but that we all lost).

    When that profile was written in 2020, I had just spent months arguing for masks as a tool. I got called a misinformer going against scientists etc.

    Profile notes my next big target to argue against seeming consensus is importance of ventilation and airborne transmission. lolsob

    I also spent a lot of time organizing against the war in Iraq in 2003, my first real effort to change anything in the United States. It had similar overtones: a seeming strong elite consensus, and anyone who disagreed was considered naive or misinformed, etc. etc. We failed.❞

    Sometimes, going against consensus is conflated with contrarianism. Contrarianism is juvenile, and misleads people. It’s not a good habit.

    The opposite of contrarianism isn’t accepting elite consensus or being gullible.

    Groupthink, especially when big interests are involved, is common. The job is to resist groupthink with facts, logic, work and a sense of duty to the public. History rewards that, not contrarianism.

    To get the right lessons from why we fail—be it masks or airborne transmission or failing to regulate tech when we could or Iraq war—it’s key to study how that groupthink occurred. It’s a sociological process: vested interests arguing themselves into positions that benefit them.

    Indeed, Barack Obama became president exactly because he saw how that groupthink happened in the runup to the Iraq war, sadly aided by gullible “access journalism”, and ran on a platform to not do that again.

    And yet, every age brings its own version, to challenge us once again.

    Two things.

    It’s key to understand why and how some false things seem like consensus, only to be acknowledged later they were wrong.

    We must find more ways to productively challenge these consensus-of-vested-interests at the time, so we don’t lose more time and just lose.

    So to end: being vindicated isn’t the goal, though people will often be if they resist groupthink with facts, logic and putting the public interest above all, especially above fitting in or what accolades may be available to the conformist or yaysayers.

    But having been through multiple cycles of this, I think it’s important to understand how and why things happened the way they did. It’s not about vindication or I-told-you-so (and it sounds like it, which makes it harder to talk about but it should be talked about in general).

    “History Doesn’t Repeat Itself, but It Often Rhymes”, as Mark Twain said.

    Understanding history, including recent history, is a powerful conceptual tool.

    A little bit more “how did we get here” can maybe help us avoid having to ask the question again and again and again.

    #Médias_sociaux #régulation #Zeynep_Tufekci #Barack_Obama

  • The power in activism | The New Times | Rwanda

    Un très beau papier du principal journal du Rwanda sur l’activisme... qui bien évidemment fait référence au livre magistral de Zeynep Tufekci.

    It’s unclear why certain issues such as racism and gender disparity, among other inequalities, are still existent given all the efforts that have been invested over the years, if not decades.

    Activism matters. For better understanding of the concept, it is defined as efforts to promote, impede, direct or intervene in social, political, economic or environmental reform with the desire to make changes in society towards a perceived greater good.

    Forms of activism range from petitioning elected officials, running or contributing to a political campaign, preferential patronage (or boycott) of businesses, and demonstrative forms of activism like rallies, street marches, strikes, sit-ins, or hunger strikes.

    Of recent, online activism has also taken form.

    However, are means not justifying the end?

    A commentary on the problems with social media activism highlights that while spreading awareness is important to combating political or social issues, there is an extent to which mindlessly reposting the same trite artwork doesn’t contribute to meaningful change.

    Spreading awareness on social media without offering ways for others to combat the issue—also known as ‘slacktivism’—should be categorised as indifference rather than activism.

    Jeanette Murekatete, a customer care attendant, says activism carries a lot of significance, especially when it comes to dealing with social injustices.

    She, however, says at times, the way activism is done is the problem. “For example when you see how some people call for women empowerment, especially on social media is not appeasing,” she says.

    “It’s hard to address an injustice with another. How you approach things matters a lot if you want to achieve your desired results,” she adds.

    Writer Zeynep Tufekci says protests work, but usually not in the way and timeframe that many people think.

    Protests sometimes look like failures in the short term, but much of the power of protests is in their long-term effects, on both the protesters themselves and the rest of society.

    Olive Mugunga agrees, saying activism or protests yield results but not always immediately.

    “It takes so much effort and determination from those organising for it to bring about change. However, times are changing and I think we should think of other ways if the current ones aren’t working, she says.

    Mugunga also believes some people spearheading certain activism or campaigns might not have proper motives or use ineffective means.

    Protests are signals, according to Tufekci. In the short term, protests can work to the degree that they can scare authorities into changing their behaviour. “We are unhappy, and we won’t put up with things the way they are.” But for that to work, the “we won’t put up with it” part has to be credible.

    Nowadays, large protests sometimes lack such credibility, especially because digital technologies have made them so much easier to organise, when it can take as little as a few months or even weeks to go from a Facebook page to millions in the street.

    Legitimacy, not repression, is the bedrock of resilient power. A society without legitimate governance will not function well; it’s hard to coerce enthusiasm, competence, and creativity.

    For change to happen, people need to have the right motives and the right patterns in the first place. This is the only way activism will be as effective as it should be.


    #Activisme #Zeynep_Tufekci #Rwanda

  • Opinion | We Got a Head Start on Omicron, So Let’s Not Blow It - The New York Times

    Par Zeynep Tufekci

    There’s very little we know for sure about Omicron, the Covid variant first detected in South Africa that has caused tremors of panic as winter approaches. That’s actually good news. Fast, honest work by South Africa has allowed the world to get on top of this variant even while clinical and epidemiological data is scarce.

    So let’s get our act together now. Omicron, which early indicators suggest it could be more transmissible even than Delta and more likely to cause breakthrough infections, may arrive in the United States soon if it’s not here already.

    A dynamic response requires tough containment measures to be modified quickly as evidence comes in, as well as rapid data collection to understand the scope of the threat.

    The United States, the European Union and many nations have already announced a travel ban on several African countries. Such restrictions can buy time, even if the variant has started to spread, but only if they are implemented in a smart way along with other measures, not as pandemic theatrics.

    Mr. Biden’s ban has similar problems — it won’t even start until Monday, as if the virus takes the weekend off.

    That’s pandemic theatrics, not public health.

    The reason we can even discuss such early, vigorous, responsible attacks on Omicron is because South African scientists and medical workers realized it was a danger within three weeks of its detection, and their government acted like a good global citizen by notifying the world. They should not be punished for their honest and impressive actions. The United States and other richer countries should provide them with resources to combat their own outbreak — it’s the least we can do.

    Tragically, one reason South Africa put in place the advanced medical surveillance that found the Omicron variant was to track cases of AIDS, which continues to be a crisis there.

    The antiviral cocktail that turned AIDS from a death sentence to a chronic condition was developed by the mid-1990s, but pharmaceutical companies, protected by rich nations, refused to let cheap generic versions be manufactured and sold in many poorer countries — they even sued to stop South Africa from importing any. Millions died before an agreement was finally reached years later after extensive global activism.

    The callous mistreatment of South Africa by big pharmaceutical companies continued into this pandemic. Moderna, for example, has run some of its vaccine trials in South Africa but did not donate any to the country or even to Covax, the global vaccine alliance, until much later.

    Wealthier nations must provide financial support, as well, for nonpharmaceutical interventions, such as improved ventilation and air filtering, higher-quality masks, paid sick leave and quarantine.

    All this requires leadership and a global outlook. Unlike in the terrible days of early last year, we have an early warning, vaccines, effective drugs, greater understanding of the disease and many painful lessons. It’s time to demonstrate that we learned them.

    #Zeynep_Tufekci #Omicron #Pandemie_circus #Mesures_protection #Regard_mondial

  • Opinion | What Happens After the Worst of the Pandemic Is Behind Us? - The New York Times

    par Zeynep Tufekci

    But despite having one of the earliest and most abundant supplies of vaccines, the United States has a vaccination rate that isn’t in the top 50 in the world — lower than many, many other countries that started much later.

    Some of the reasons for our relatively low vaccination coverage trace back to the dysfunctions of our medical system. The United States is the only developed nation without universal health coverage, and our medical system continues to disproportionately fail people from minority backgrounds; such shortcomings don’t help develop the necessary trust.

    But there is another dynamic. Many Republican politicians and pundits have chosen to pump hostility to vaccines and public health institutions as a platform for their supporters to rally around. Some of their claims are outright false or wildly misleading, but as with such demagogy historically, sometimes they capitalize on existing failures.

    All this finds a ready home on online platforms designed to optimize for how much time and effort we spend on them. Even before the pandemic, doctors were begging tech platforms like Facebook and YouTube to take action about the rampant vaccine misinformation on their sites that not only existed but thrived. Leaked internal documents show that Facebook’s own researchers were worried about how rampant vaccine misinformation was on the platform during the pandemic. The public has even less insight into YouTube, but it only recently pledged to ban all vaccine misinformation on its platform — a step taken almost two years into the pandemic. This information environment fuels tribalization and demagogy the way warm water intensifies a hurricane. This, in turn, further degrades the capacity for mending our dysfunctional governance.

    #Zeynep_Tufekci #Covid

  • Zeynep Tufekci On The Sociology Of The Moment (Live) Conversations With Tyler podcast

    When Zeynep Tufekci penned a New York Times op-ed at the onset of the pandemic challenging the prevailing public health guidance that ordinary people should not wear masks, she thought it was the end of her public writing career. Instead, it helped provoke the CDC to reverse its guidance a few weeks later, and medical professionals privately thanked her for writing it. While relieved by the reception, she also saw it as a sign of a deeper dysfunction in the scientific establishment: why should she, a programmer and sociologist by training, have been the one to speak out rather than a credentialed expert? And yet realizing her outsider status and academic tenure allowed her to speak more freely than others, she continued writing and has become one of the leading public intellectuals covering the response to COVID-19.

    Zeynep joined Tyler to discuss problems with the media and the scientific establishment, what made the lab-leak hypothesis unacceptable to talk about, how her background in sociology was key to getting so many things right about the pandemic, the pitfalls of academic contrarianism, what Max Weber understood about public health crises, the underrated aspects of Kemel Mustapha’s regime, how Game of Thrones interested her as a sociologist (until the final season), what Americans get wrong about Turkey, why internet-fueled movements like the Gezi protests fizzle out, whether Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise in Turkey, how she’d try to persuade a COVID-19 vaccine skeptic, whether public health authorities should ever lie for the greater good, why she thinks America is actually less racist than Europe, how her background as a programmer affects her work as a sociologist, the subject of her next book, and more.

    #Zeynep_Tufekci #Podcast

  • L’OMS révise sa position sur la transmission aérienne de la COVID-19 | Le Devoir

    Toutefois, le 30 avril, l’organisation a révisé la version anglaise de sa fiche. Elle met maintenant les aérosols sur un pied d’égalité avec les gouttelettes. En outre, elle explique que le virus peut se propager dans les lieux intérieurs bondés ou mal ventilés. « Il en est ainsi parce que les aérosols restent suspendus dans l’air ou voyagent au-delà d’un mètre de distance (longue distance) », explique-t-elle.

    Le 7 mai, l’agence américaine de santé publique (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC) modifiait sa position à son tour. Elle insiste désormais sur la transmission par la respiration. « Inspirer de l’air à proximité d’une personne infectée » figure maintenant au sommet de sa liste des modes de transmission. La mise à jour tranche avec la position précédente de l’agence, qui se focalisait sur les gouttelettes non volatiles.

    Les récentes révisions de l’OMS et des CDC pourraient représenter « l’une des avancées les plus importantes en matière de santé publique durant cette pandémie », a écrit la sociologue Zeynep Tufekci, qui analyse en profondeur la cohérence scientifique des recommandations publiques depuis le début de la pandémie, dans un texte d’opinion publié dans le New York Times.

    Si l’importance des aérosols avait été acceptée plus tôt dans la crise, les autorités auraient pu encourager des comportements plus efficaces, soutient Mme Tufekci. Par exemple : favoriser le temps passé à l’extérieur ; mieux ventiler et filtrer l’air dans les espaces intérieurs ; seulement limiter les rassemblements propices aux événements de superpropagation ; et se calmer avec la désinfection des surfaces.

    #Covid_19 #Transmission #Zeynep_Tufekci

  • 141 | Zeynep Tufekci on Information and Attention in a Networked World – Sean Carroll

    Podcast avec Zeynep Tufekci

    Le sujet est passionnant : comment passe-t-on de la censure (blocage) à l’activité de "noyer le poisson". Que devient la crédibilité dans un tel monde de manipulations croisées ?

    par l’autrice de « Twitter & les gaz lacrymogènes »

    In a world flooded with information, everybody necessarily makes choices about what we pay attention to. This basic fact can be manipulated in any number of ways, from advertisers micro-targeting specific groups to repressive governments flooding social media with misinformation, or for that matter well-meaning people passing along news from sketchy sources. Zeynep Tufekci is a sociologist who studies the flow of information and its impact on society, especially through social media. She has provided insightful analyses of protest movements, online privacy, and the Covid-19 pandemic. We talk about how technology has been shaping the information space we all inhabit.

    #Zeynep_Tufekci #Manipulation #Information #Médias_sociaux

  • Covid-19 : comment la Chine mène une guerre de l’information pour réécrire les origines de la pandémie

    Long et passionnant article sur les méthodes de désinformation menées par la Chine autour de la pandémie Covid-19.
    Il est intéressant de voir que la stratégie médiatique du gouvernement chinois recouvre pleinement ce que Zeynep Tufekci décrit dans son livre "Twitter & les gaz lacrymogènes (https://cfeditions.com/lacrymo) : noyer le poisson est plus efficace que de censurer...

    Sur les réseaux sociaux ou auprès de l’OMS, la Chine fait parler sa propagande pour écrire un nouveau récit et convaincre le monde que le point de départ de la pandémie se trouve aux Etats-Unis.

    Quand Xi Jinping parle pour la première fois du nouveau coronavirus aux Chinois, le 20 janvier 2020, après un mois de silence, sa stratégie est fixée. Le dirigeant communiste part en guerre pour « résolument enrayer » l’épidémie. Il doit contrôler le désordre sanitaire qui a surgi au début de décembre 2019 à Wuhan, une ville de 11 millions d’habitants, et touche désormais Pékin et Shanghaï. Xi veut placer la Chine à l’avant-garde de la lutte planétaire qui s’engage. Il décide, surtout, de tout faire pour que le monde doute de l’origine du SARS-CoV-2. L’histoire doit oublier le « virus chinois ».

    Une puissante campagne de propagande d’Etat s’engage, dont tous les contours ne sont pas encore connus. Elle débute dans la sidération causée par le nouveau virus, en ce début d’année 2020. Pour les autorités chinoises, il convient d’abord de ne pas raviver le traumatisme du syndrome respiratoire aigu sévère (SRAS), la première épidémie mondiale du XXIe siècle, qu’elles avaient mal gérée et qui avait paniqué l’Asie en 2002-2003 (774 morts dans le monde).

    A Wuhan, depuis plusieurs semaines, sévit une pneumonie. « Pour le moment, la police de Wuhan a arrêté huit personnes qui ont répandu des rumeurs liant la pneumonie au SARS », écrit le Global Times le 6 janvier 2020. Heureusement, « le virus trouvé à Wuhan apparaît beaucoup moins grave que celui qui a causé le SRAS », rassure, dans le journal d’Etat, Liu Youning, un épidémiologiste travaillant dans un hôpital militaire.

    La chaîne australienne ABC établira que, dès octobre 2019, des douzaines de personnes étaient hospitalisées avec des symptômes de fièvre et de toux dans la capitale régionale du Hubei. De leur côté, le New York Times et ProPublica révéleront que, pour dissimuler l’étendue de l’épidémie à ses débuts, la propagande chinoise s’est appuyée sur 3 200 directives et 1 800 mémos envoyés à des agents locaux dans tout le pays.

    Par ses aspects composites et ses modes opératoires, la campagne de propagande qui a tenté de convaincre le monde que l’origine du virus se trouve aux Etats-Unis est « une des plus emblématiques » menées récemment par la Chine, a expliqué, le 19 novembre 2020, Paul Charon, de l’Institut de recherche stratégique de l’Ecole militaire (Irsem), à Paris. S’exprimant dans le cadre du colloque Médias en Seine, ce chercheur a établi que « ce fut un exercice de manipulation de l’information relativement sophistiqué pour renverser la stigmatisation, s’inspirant des méthodes soviétiques des années 1970 et 1980 qui avaient été appliquées au virus du sida ».

    A l’appui de leur campagne, les services chinois ont créé un expert virtuel, « Larry Romanoff », titulaire de comptes sur les réseaux occidentaux. Cet avatar crée une centaine d’articles pseudo-scientifiques en huit mois, diffusés partout dans le monde, depuis un site complotiste canadien (Globalresearch.ca), jusqu’à un faux quotidien japonais, en passant par le canal d’un virologue taïwanais… Le 13 mars, le porte-parole du ministère chinois des affaires étrangères, Zhao Lijian, endosse franchement la manipulation en citant le faux Romanoff. « Lisez son article, lance alors l’officiel, il apporte plus de preuves selon lesquelles le virus vient des Etats-Unis. »

    D’autres gouvernements, en Iran et au Venezuela, ont servi de relais à Pékin. Mais c’est avec Moscou, dont le ministère de la défense diffusait dès janvier 2020 la thèse du virus américain, que la conjonction des intérêts fut la plus organisée. La crise a servi de catalyseur, en donnant toute leur portée à des accords bilatéraux récents passés entre médias russes et chinois, portant sur des échanges de contenus, la promotion réciproque d’informations sociétales, ou le développement en ligne : accords de Sputnik avec l’agence officielle Xinhua, Global Times et Alibaba en 2017 ; entre l’agence extérieure russe Rossiya Segodnia et China Media Group en 2018 ; entre Rossiya Segodnia et Huawei en 2019.

    #Chine #Désinformation #Post-Truth #Post-vérité #Zeynep_Tufekci #Red_Mirror

  • Three Ways the Pandemic Has Made the World Better - The Atlantic

    par Zeynep Tufekci

    This has been a year of terrible loss. People have lost loved ones to the pandemic. Many have gotten sick, and some are still suffering. Children have lost a year of school. Millions have lost a steady paycheck. Some have lost small businesses that they’d built for decades. Almost all of us have lost hugs and visits and travel and the joy of gathering together at a favorite restaurant and more.

    And yet, this year has also taught us much. Strange as it may sound, the coronavirus pandemic has delivered blessings, and it does not diminish our ongoing suffering to acknowledge them. In fact, recognizing them increases the chance that our society may emerge from this ordeal more capable, more agile, and more prepared for the future.

    Here are three ways the world has changed for the better during this awful year.

    1. We Now Know How to Code for Our Vaccines
    Perhaps the development that will have the most profound implications for future generations is the incredible advances in synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA) biotechnologies.

    But amid all this came historic developments. The new mRNA technology, on which several vaccines—notably Pfizer-BioNTech’s and Moderna’s—are based, is an epochal scientific and technical breakthrough. We are now coding for vaccines, and thanks to advances in science and industrial production, we can mass-produce them and figure out how to deliver them into our cells in a matter of months.

    This is all new. Neither Moderna nor BioNTech had a single approved product on the market before 2020. Each company essentially designed its vaccine on a computer over a weekend in January 2020—BioNTech’s took just a few hours, really. Both companies had vaccine candidates designed at least four weeks before the first confirmed U.S. COVID-19 fatality was announced, and Moderna was producing vaccine batches to be used for its trials more than a month before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. In 2021, the companies together aim to produce billions of stunningly efficacious vaccine doses,

    The mRNA vaccines work differently. For these, scientists look at the genetic sequence of a virus, identify a crucial part—such as the spike protein, which it uses as a key to bind onto cells’ receptors in order to unlock and enter them—produce instructions to make just that part, and then send those instructions into our cells. After all, that’s what a virus does: It takes over our cells’ machinery to make more of itself. Except in this case, we instruct our cells to make only the spike portion to give our immune system practice with something that cannot infect us—the rest of the virus isn’t there!

    Until this year, that was the dream behind the synthetic mRNA technologies: a dream with few, scattered adherents, uphill battles, and nothing to show for it but promise. This year, it became a reality.

    In 2020, we figured out how to make messenger RNA with precision, by programming the exact code we wanted, producing it at scale (a printing press for messenger RNA!), and figuring out a way to inject it into people so the fragile mRNA makes it into our cells. The first step was pure programming: Uğur Şahin, the CEO of BioNTech, sat at his computer and entered the genetic code of the spike protein of the mysterious virus that had emerged in Wuhan. Moderna employees had done the same thing the weekend after the genomic sequence was released on January 10. The Moderna vaccine candidate was called mRNA-1273 because it encoded all of the 1,273 amino acids in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein—the code was so small that it could all be represented with little less than half the number of characters that fit on a single-spaced page.

    The rest of the process relied on key scientific and industrial innovations that are quite recent. Messenger RNA are fragile—they disintegrate easily, as they are supposed to. The lipid nanoparticles we envelop them in to use as delivery systems were approved only in 2018. Plus, the viral spike protein is a notorious shape-shifter. It takes one form before it fuses with our cells and another one afterward. The latter, postfusion form did not work well at all for developing vaccines, and scientists only recently figured out how to stabilize a virus’ spike in its prefusion form.

    This may allow us, finally, to transition from a broadcast-only model of medicine, wherein drugs are meant to be identical for everyone in a particular group, to targeted, individualized therapies. Plus, these technologies are suitable for small-scale but cheap-enough production: a development that can help us treat rare diseases that afflict only a few thousand people each year, and are thus usually ignored by mass-market-oriented medical technologies.

    It’s also no coincidence that these two mRNA vaccines were the fastest to market. They can be manufactured rapidly and, crucially, updated blazingly fast. Şahin, the BioNTech CEO, estimates that six weeks is enough time for the company to start producing new boosters for whenever a new COVID-19 variant emerges. Pfizer and Moderna are both already working on boosters that better target the new variants we’ve seen so far, and the FDA has said it can approve these tweaks quickly.
    2. We Actually Learned How to Use Our Digital Infrastructure
    The internet, widespread digital connectivity, our many apps—it’s easy to forget how new most of this is. Zoom, the ubiquitous video service that became synonymous with pandemic work, and that so many of us are understandably a little sick of, is less than 10 years old. Same with the kind of broadband access that allowed billions to stream entertainment at home and keep in touch with family members and colleagues. Internet connectivity is far from perfect or equally distributed, but it has gotten faster and more expansive over the past decade; without it, the pandemic would have been much more miserable and costly.

    Technology also showed how we could make our society function better in normal times.

    According to the CDC, telehealth visits increased by 50 percent in the first quarter of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. Such visits are clearly not appropriate for every condition, but when warranted, they can make it much easier for people to access medical help without worrying about transportation, child care, or excessive time away from work. Remote access to medical help has long been a request from people with disabilities and people in rural areas, for whom traveling to clinics can be an extra burden.

    Work, too, has been transformed. Suddenly, hundreds of millions of people around the world had to figure out how to get things done without going into the office. It turns out that for many white-collar jobs, this is not just possible; it comes with a variety of upsides.

    3. We’ve Unleashed the True Spirit of Peer Review and Open Science

    On January 10, 2020, an Australian virologist, Edward Holmes, published a modest tweet: “All, an initial genome sequence of the coronavirus associated with the Wuhan outbreak is now available at Virological.org here.” A microbiologist responded with “And so it begins!” and added a GIF of planes taking off. And so it did indeed begin: a remarkable year of open, rapid, collaborative, dynamic—and, yes, messy—scientific activity, which included ways of collaborating that would have been unthinkable even a few decades ago.

    Well, no more. When the pandemic hit, it simply wasn’t tenable to keep playing the old, slow, closed game, and the scientific community let loose. Peer review—the real thing, not just the formal version locked up by for-profit companies—broke out of its constraints. A good deal of the research community started publishing its findings as “preprints”—basically, papers before they get approved by formal publications—placing them in nonprofit scientific depositories that had no paywalls. The preprints were then fiercely and openly debated—often on social media, which is not necessarily the ideal place for it, but that’s what we had. Sometimes, the release of data was even faster: Some of the most important initial data about the immune response to the worrisome U.K. variant came from a Twitter thread by a tired but generous researcher in Texas. It showed true scientific spirit: The researcher’s lab was eschewing the prestige of being first to publish results in a manuscript by allowing others to get to work as fast as possible. The papers often also went through the formal peer review as well, eventually getting published in a journal, but the pandemic has forced many of these companies to drop their paywalls—besides, the preprints on which the final papers are based remain available to everyone.

    Working together, too, has expanded in ways that were hard to imagine without the new digital tools that allow for rapid sharing and collaboration, and also the sense of urgency that broke through disciplinary silos.

    The pandemic happened at a moment of convergence for medical and digital technology and social dynamics, which revealed enormous positive potential for people. Nothing will erase the losses we experienced. But this awful year has nudged us toward dramatic improvements in human life, thanks to new biotechnologies, greater experience with the positive aspects of digital connectivity, and a more dynamic scientific process.

    #Zeynep_Tufekci #Pandémie #Changement_social