Police and local officials on the West Coast are battling multiple raging fires. They’re also fighting a wave of misinformation from false rumors spread in neighborhood Facebook groups and on far-right websites that antifa activists were setting the blazes.
At least six groups have issued warnings about the false rumors, including some pleading with the public to stop sharing the misinformation.
“Rumors spread just like wildfire and now our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires in DOUGLAS COUNTY, OREGON,” the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday.
The false claims also became fodder for the now-sizable online QAnon community, which began amplifying various false reports earlier in the week.
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The sheriffs in Jackson County, Oregon, and Mason County, Washington, posted similar warnings, begging locals to stop spreading unsubstantiated claims.
A firefighters union in Washington state called Facebook “an absolute cesspool of misinformation right now,” in a post that sought to quell more rumors about the fires’ origins.
Antifa has emerged in recent months as the focal point of far-right paranoia, fueled by evidence-free accusations from President Donald Trump and other government officials that the loosely knit anti-fascist organizations that make up antifa are behind everything from violence during protests to plots to invade suburban neighborhoods.
The Medford police debunked the antifa rumor along with a separate, less viral false claim that the fires were a result of arson by the Proud Boys, a far-right group whose members describe themselves as “western chauvinists” and have been an antagonistic mainstay of Black Lives Matter protests.
A fire in Ashland, Oregon, is being investigated as arson, but The Oregonian reported Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara as saying, “One thing I can say is that the rumor it was set by Antifa is 100% false information.”
The dozens of fires burning across California, Washington and Oregon, which have killed at least 20 people, started in a variety of ways, mostly by people, though not intentionally. Lightning, faulty or knocked-down power lines and accidents, like the El Dorado fire in California ignited by a pyrotechnic device during a “gender-reveal party,” are some of the reported causes of this year’s wildfires.
Despite protestations from law enforcement, rumors have spread through far-right Facebook groups and news websites like Gateway Pundit and the Post Millennial in stories alleging without evidence that Jeff Acord, a 36-year-old man arrested on charges of starting a fire in Puyallup, Washington, was an “antifa militant.” The Post Millennial later changed the story to call Acord a “BLM activist.”
Some articles that have pushed misinformation about the fires have gained traction on Facebook.
An article from the far-right website Law Enforcement Today claimed without evidence that the wildfires were a “coordinated and planned” attack. It attracted more than 330,000 comments, likes and shares on Facebook, according to data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned social media analysis tool. Late Thursday night, Law Enforcement Today topped the story with an update stating that “suggestions that Antifa members have been arrested are unfounded,” but left the article up.
In response to fact checks debunking the antifa rumors, Facebook was “reducing its distribution and showing strong warning labels for people who see it, try to share it, or already have,” according to Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone.
One of the earliest claims of antifa involvement came from Paul Romero, a former Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Oregon, who said in a viral tweet that Douglas County police had arrested six antifa arsonists. Romero stood by his tweet in a phone interview on Thursday, calling the fires a “coordinated intentional attack,” by antifa but providing no evidence for the claim, saying he heard about the arrests from “sheriff’s deputies that have been talking.”
Romero’s post was further spread by followers of QAnon, a conspiracy movement based on the idea that Trump is leading a secret war against a group of political, business and Hollywood elites who, the theory posits, worship Satan and murder children. The leader of the movement, an anonymous figure who posts to a message board as “Q,” included Romero’s tweet in a post early Thursday.
Some users responding to Romero’s posts said they were sent there by Q and pushed false QAnon talking points that the fires were part of an elaborate political plot. According to data gleaned from the disinformation analytics tool Hoaxy, most of the traffic to Romero’s post came after Q’s post, almost a full day after Romero had posted it.
Antifa, a loose network of autonomous groups of radicals who rely on direct action rather than the police or the court system to shut down the far right and perceived fascism, has been increasingly blamed for unrest during Black Lives Matter protests and become the subject of unfounded rumors that the group would arrive in white suburbs by the busload to loot homes and destroy town centers. Those false rumors have often led to standoffs between local Black Lives Matter protesters and armed militias who come to guard their towns from a suspected mob that never arrives.
Justin Yau, an independent journalist covering the fires, tweeted on Thursday from Molalla, Oregon: “We were approached by an armed group telling us to leave, they are wary of outsiders based on rumors of arsonists starting fires in the area.”
In May, Trump tweeted that he would designate antifa as a terrorist organization and has made the group a major target in campaign ads and texts since. “ANTIFA THUGS WILL RUIN SUBURBS!” the Trump campaign texted supporters on Thursday.
UK hospitals use blockchain to track coronavirus vaccine temperature
1.8ml of Sodium chloride is added to a phial of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine concentrate ready for administration at Guy’s Hospital at the start of the largest ever immunization progran in the U.K.’s history on December 8, 2020 in London, United Kingdom.
Victoria Jones – Pool | Getty Images
LONDON — Two hospitals in the U.K. are actively using blockchain technology to help maintain the temperature of coronavirus vaccines before administering them to patients.
The National Health Service facilities in South Warwickshire, England, are using tech developed by U.K. firm Everyware and U.S. organization Hedera Hashgraph. Everyware uses sensors to monitor equipment in real-time, while Hedera is a blockchain consortium backed by the likes of Google and IBM.
Though originally created as the digital ledger underpinning bitcoin, blockchain has since been adapted by various industries for applications outside the realm of finance. IBM and Walmart, for instance, have used blockchain to trace food supply chains and identify potential contamination.
Tom Screen, technical director at Everyware, told CNBC that its sensors would monitor the temperature of refrigerators storing vaccines. It then transmits the data to its own cloud platform where it is encrypted and then passed on to Hedera’s blockchain network.
The point of this operation is to keep a tamper-proof digital record of temperature-sensitive vaccines, like the ones developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. The hospitals would, in theory, be able to pick up on any irregularities in the storage of the vaccines before administering them to patients.
Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at subzero temperatures (-70 degrees Celsius), and can only last at two-to-eight degree Celsius conditions for up to five days, creating big hurdles for the logistics in distributing it.
The vaccines developed by Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca, however, can be stored at temperatures that are within the reach of the average home refrigerator for longer.
Blockchain saw much hype back in 2017, as the value of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin skyrocketed. It led to several projects from major companies including IBM and Walmart, as well as governments, lured in by the promise of replacing various old, paper-based processes for record keeping.
Today, the buzz around blockchain seems to have died down, with barely any trials and products based on the technology being announced by big corporates.
Asked why blockchain was needed rather than a regular database, Everyware’s Screen said “data held in a private database can be verified against the state of data recorded on the public ledger.”
“The benefits of an immutable ledger to verify the validity of data as close to the source as possible has a positive effect on the accuracy of downstream analytics, where any error in source data would be magnified in output datasets,” he said.
Everyware competed in an open tender process involving other bidders to provide its services to the South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust, Screen said.
Moonpig confirms £1.2 billion float as London awaits more tech IPOs
LONDON — Online card retailer Moonpig has confirmed that it plans to go public on the London Stock Exchange in a £1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) float next month after demand for its cards surged during the coronavirus pandemic.
Moonpig, which also operates the Greetz brand in the Netherlands, said Tuesday that it will list at least a quarter of the company on the exchange’s main market through an initial public offering.
U.S. investors BlackRock and Dragoneer have agreed to spend £130 million on Moonpig shares when shares start trading in February.
Moonpig Chief Executive Nickyl Raithatha is expected to make £11 million from the IPO, according to The Guardian newspaper, while chair Kate Swann is likely to make £7 million.
“As leaders of a market undergoing an accelerating shift online, we’re delighted to bring Moonpig Group to the public market. Our data-powered technology platform makes it incredibly easy for our customers to create more special moments for the people they care about,” said Raithatha in a statement.
Moonpig, which has around 450 employees, is expected to publish its full IPO prospectus next week.
Founded in 2000, Moonpig is the clear online market leader in cards, holding a 60% market share in the U.K among online card specialists in 2019, according to estimates by consulting firm OC&C.
The London-headquartered company announced its intention to float last week, saying that it had amassed 12.2 million active customers by Oct. 31.
The Moonpig website features over 20,000 cards and a range of gifts including flowers, mugs, and chocolates. Customers order 46 million cards a year and 7 million gifts, Moonpig said.
For the financial year ending Apr. 30, 2020, Moonpig Group’s revenue was £173.1 million, with £126.5 million contributed by the Moonpig segment and £46.6 million contributed by the Greetz segment. The company said its revenue grew 44% between the financial year of 2019 and 2020.
Moonpig is the first U.K. tech IPO of the year but there are a queue of other companies preparing to go public.
Food delivery service Deliveroo is reportedly planning to list in April at a valuation of between $8 billion and $13 billion, while currency exchange app Transferwise may also go public. Elsewhere, cybersecurity firm Darktrace and pension pot provider Pension Bee are also looking at potential stock market listings.
Many of the U.K.’s biggest tech firms have traditionally opted to list on the tech-focused Nasdaq market or the New York Stock Exchange in the U.S. However, the London Stock Exchange has been trying to convince them to list at home in recent years.
China’s pivot to Europe in light of the tech war with the U.S.
SINGAPORE — China’s agreement with the European Union could pave the way for Beijing’s “dual circulation” strategy of being self-reliant in technology while still remaining a part of the global supply chain, an academic told CNBC.
Last year, the Chinese government came out with a batch of policy terms to bolster its economy, putting them under a vague umbrella term of “dual circulation.” The phrase refers broadly to two circles of economic activity — internal and external — with greater emphasis than before on business at home.
“Dual circulation is such an important point in the middle of this China-U.S. tech war,” said Winston Ma, an adjunct professor of law at New York University.
The two superpowers continue to fight for technological dominance and superiority. Reuters recently reported that in its final days, the Trump administration notified Huawei suppliers that it was revoking certain licenses to sell to the Chinese tech company. Huawei had been caught up in ongoing tensions between the U.S. and China as sanctions from Washington seriously hindered its ability to do business globally.
Ma told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Tuesday that a EU-China investment treaty, if passed, may potentially give Beijing an option to circumvent the United States altogether.
“You can see this dual circulation is balanced by focusing on domestic innovation and at the same time to try and find somewhere, other than the U.S., to get to the external circulation such that the global supply chain, the global innovation dialogue can still happen in the middle of China-U.S. tension,” he said.
The European Union’s executive arm, the European Commission, last month announced an investment deal with Beijing that followed seven years of negotiations. The deal would still have to be approved by the European Parliament before implementation and lawmakers have already raised major concerns with the agreement. Ma expects it to be approved by this year.
Experts have said that tensions between the U.S. and China fosters disconnect between the technology development in both countries — the situation is frequently referred to as tech “decoupling.”
Ma said some of that split is already happening and pointed to China’s focus on bolstering its domestic semiconductor industry by putting funds into local research and development. Early last year, U.S. lawmakers also proposed funding to develop 5G alternatives to Huawei. “What we are really seeing is both countries are promoting innovation but promoting innovation in a way to be independent from each other. To that extent, the decoupling is really happening,” he added.
It is not clear that President-elect Joe Biden’s administration would reset relations with Beijing, according to Ma. “I would say there’s a lot of uncertainties,” he said.
While the Biden administration has the power to suspend U.S. sanctions already in place, Ma said they could also choose to keep them “and they can even put on more restrictions to these Chinese companies.”
Smartphone maker Xiaomi, for example, was recently added to a blacklist of alleged Chinese military companies by the Trump administration. Biden could potentially add the Chinese firm to the Entity List that can restrict American companies from exporting technology to Xiaomi, Ma said.
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