Prof Raina McIntyre argues that the COVID19 problems in the developed world, particularly the Anglo world are the result of an understanding of and a lack of respect for public health. She charts this as within the medical profession, which has its own hierarchies, but also in the political arena. The overwhelming influence of the corporate sector and the profit motive, and the managerial approach which assumes that if you are not an expert, you can quickly find one, bone up and take over has been found sadly wanting. For a manager or politician, selecting an expert is not as easy as it sounds as there are many people who want to tart up their CVs and market themselves with dubious claims to expertise.
This has resulted in a very suboptimal preparation for and response to the pandemic. The failure in the managerial decision-making process has been laid bare in the COVID situation, but this is not an isolated example. The lack of respect for expertise, the replacement of knowledge with marketing spin, and public good with corporate profits will lead to more bad decisions, which often take a crisis to become evident. It happened in the bushfires, and is happening with climate change. Examples in foreign policy, education, health and defence all come to mind.
As the anti-science movement seems to gain strength and undermines the campaign for COVID vaccination, there has been increased interest in the origin, strength and tactics of this.
It is blamed on the Russians, who presumably are trying to weaken and divide the West, and on civil libertarians, who want to politicise medical common sense. But when it helped by people like Trump in the White House and Kelly in Australia the conspiracy theories are put into perspective, as the anti-science views are given legitimacy.
But in the fuss about Google withdrawing from Australia, or not covering Australian politics, I wondered what effect this might have and tried a different search engine, duckduckgo. The difference is that google gives me a personalised feed, but duckduckgo gives everyone the same information for the same key words.
Search engines at a basic level give a ‘top pops’ of popularity of a topic in that those with the greatest number of clicks go to the top. This may be fine if you are looking for a movie review, but if you want older material it will be a long way down. Scientific articles are a lot further down than mainstream ones, and the algorithm is influenced by the viewer’s previous viewing habits. If a person has viewed a lot of conspiracy articles, it is presumably then likely that these are more likely to come up again and reinforce the existing views of the viewer. If the feed is continually biased to a point of view, the viewer is likely to come into contact with more of this view and people who share t, so that they are eventually in a bubble or subculture of people with this belief, and are unaware that their reality has been changed.
As an example my son went to school with a boy in NZ whose father controlled feral pests for a living, which meant shooting rabbits, ferrets, deer, pigs, cats and possums which are predators on various farms in NZ. He kept in touch with his friend and they played video games online. But his friend went shooting quite a lot with his father, joined a gun club and started to receive the literature of this subculture. His previously non-political, mainstream views are now hugely influenced by the American gun lobby and rabidly right wing. This is quite unusual in rural NZ. My son commented, ‘In the end, you think what you get in your feed’.
The algorithms exist to make you happy and to keep you clicking in order to get you to buy things. But the result might be quite different- a creation of a bubble environment where everyone’s opinion tends to be magnified, sometimes going in a bad direction.
How this can be controlled is a question- if we all got the same feeds, would the sensible people make sensible articles come up first? Presumably; if most people were well educated. We had better go there also. Which Big Brother will tell google how to do its algorithms?
(The longer version of this attached article is available via a link at its end).
A recent article has university cheating as a million dollar industry and it is hard to to argue with this. As everything becomes online it becomes ever easier.
When I was in Parliament a University of Wollongong lecturer, Ted Steele, got into problems because he refused to pass a fee-paying foreign student, whose father had been a generous benefactor. He became a whistle blower. He was helped by the Union reluctantly as he had been very anti-union in his previous views. He had a victory and was reinstated as described in the SMH of 29/3/2002, but I think later was forced to resign and settle.
Universities dependent on fee-paying students have a powerful incentive to pass them, and by the same token, less incentive to find cheating ones.
It is one thing to have forged CVs. It is one step further when the CV is true but the knowledge is absent. The problem is that everything is for sale, and nothing else is respected.
A report by the NSW Auditor-General shows that NSW TAFE had failed in its social objectives and not made its cost saving from merging 10 institutions into one. It is significant that these problems are always found by Auditors. One would think that monitoring of costs savings or not would be built into such a major change. Dream on! The problem with mega-mergers is that it empowers people a long way away, who then make decisions without the facts from those on the ground, who have usually been sacked or depowered. Speechwriter Martin McKenzie-Murray, writing in the SMH of 28/12/20 opined that the reason that speeches were so unmemorable now was that the content was more about short-term media grabs than any substantial vision, and that since political advisers have replaced public service mandarins as the main source of advice there has been a loss of the sense of past history and future vision. In short the lack of proper thinking is why the speeches are no good. TAFE was conceived as help up; a technical education for those who could benefit from one, whatever their age, and where good tradespeople were valued and could teach their trade. Interference by those who merely see education as another commodity to compete in a market and who have no concept of equity, justice or a fair go as part of public policy have done immense harm to TAFE, not to mention the rest of the nation. Policy should have continuity and decisions should be evidence-based. A public service that has expertise and long-term stability is the best guarantee of this, where those giving the advice do not have a financial or ideological commitment to a single option. The article is important in that it emphasises that ideologues must justify their management pontifications and their failures must be held up to them. www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/scathing-review-reveals-tafe-s-failure-to-meet-cost-savings-20201217-p56oex.html
About 37 years ago BUGA UP (Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions) identified the problem of advertisers marketing to children and produced a guide, ‘AdExpo- A Self-Defence Course for Children’. It was in black and white as BUGA UP had no money and the ads are a bit dated now, but the text us still relevant. www.bugaup.org/publications/Ad_Expo.pdf
Advertisers market to children, and are successful with it. Now there is the internet, which has made things a lot worse. Kids can be targeted with the parents only dimly aware of what is going on, and before the kids have actually been formally ‘taught’ anything. The ads are part of the exciting environment that their little heroes show them. At last attention is being drawn to this. This article is from the NY Times, with a cut-down version in the SMH of 7-8/11/20.
Popular YouTube channels often bombard young children with thinly veiled ads for junk food, a new study finds.
One of the most popular YouTube videos from Ryan’s World shows its star, Ryan Kaji, pretending to be a cashier at McDonald’s. “It’s a stealthy and powerful way of getting these unhealthy products in front of kids’ eyeballs,” a public health expert says.Credit…via YouTube
That is the conclusion of a new study published on Monday in the journal Pediatrics. The authors of the study analyzed over 400 YouTube videos featuring so-called kid influencers — children with large social media followings who star in videos that show them excitedly reviewing toys, unwrapping presents and playing games. The study found that videos in this genre, which attract millions of young followers and rack up billions of views, were awash in endorsements and product placements for brands like McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr., Hershey’s, Chuck E. Cheese and Taco Bell.
About 90 percent of the foods featured in the YouTube videos were unhealthy items like milkshakes, French fries, soft drinks and cheeseburgers emblazoned with fast food logos. The researchers said their findings were concerning because YouTube is a popular destination for toddlers and adolescents. Roughly 80 percent of parents with children 11 years old or younger say they let their children watch YouTube, and 35 percent say their children watch it regularly.
A spokeswoman for YouTube, citing the age requirement on its terms of service, said the company has “invested significantly in the creation of the YouTube Kids app, a destination made specifically for kids to explore their imagination and curiosity on a range of topics, such as healthy habits.” She added, “We don’t allow paid promotional content on YouTube Kids and have clear guidelines which restrict categories like food and beverage from advertising on the app.”
Young children are particularly susceptible to marketing. Studies show that children are unable to distinguish between commercials and cartoons until they are 8 or 9 years old, and they are more likely to prefer unhealthy foods and beverages after seeing advertisements for them.
Experts say it is not just an advertising issue but a public health concern. Childhood obesity rates have skyrocketed in recent years: Nearly 20 percent of American children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese, up from 5.5 percent in the mid 1970s. Studies have found strong links between junk food marketing and childhood obesity, and experts say that children are now at even greater risk during a pandemic that has led to school closures, lockdowns and increased screen time and sedentary behavior. The new findings suggest that parents should be especially wary of how children are being targeted by food companies on social media.
“The way these branded products are integrated in everyday life in these videos is pretty creative and unbelievable,” said Marie Bragg, an author of the study and an assistant professor of public health and nutrition at the New York University School of Global Public Health. “It’s a stealthy and powerful way of getting these unhealthy products in front of kids’ eyeballs.”
Dr. Bragg was prompted to study the phenomenon after one of her co-authors, Amaal Alruwaily, noticed her young nieces and nephews obsessively watching YouTube videos of “kidfluencers” like Ryan Kaji, the 9-year-old star of Ryan’s World, a YouTube channel with 27 million subscribers, formerly named Ryan ToysReview.
The channel, run by Ryan’s parents, features thousands of videos of him excitedly reviewing new toys and games, doing science experiments and going on fun trips to stores and arcades.
Children’s channels like Ryan’s World — which are frequently paid to promote a wide range of products, including toys, video games and food — are among the highest grossing channels on YouTube, raking in millions of dollars from ads, sponsored content, endorsements and more. According to Forbes, Ryan earned $26 million last year, making him the top YouTube earner of 2019. Among the brands he has been paid to promote are Chuck E. Cheese, Walmart, Hasbro, Lunchables and Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., the fast food chains. One of his most popular videos shows him pretending to be a cashier at McDonald’s. In it, he wears a hat with the McDonald’s logo, serves plastic Chicken McNuggets, cheeseburgers and French fries to one of his toys, and then eats a McDonald’s Happy Meal. The video has been viewed about 95 million times.
“It looks like a normal child playing with their normal games, but as a researcher who studies childhood obesity, the branded products really stood out to me,” Dr. Bragg said. “When you watch these videos and the kids are pretending to bake things in the kitchen or unwrapping presents, it looks relatable. But really it’s just an incredibly diverse landscape of promotion for these unhealthy products
In a statement, Sunlight Entertainment, the production company for Ryan’s World, said the channel “cares deeply about the well-being of our viewers and their health and safety is a top priority for us. As such, we strictly follow all platforms terms of service, as well as any guidelines set forth by the FTC and laws and regulations at the federal, state, and local levels.”
The statement said that Ryan’s World welcomed the findings of the new study, adding: “As we continue to evolve our content we look forward to ways we might work together in the future to benefit the health and safety of our audience.”
Other popular children’s channels on YouTube show child influencers doing taste tests with Oreo cookies, Pop Tarts and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or sitting in toy cars and ordering fast food at drive-throughs for Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and other chains. “This is basically a dream for advertisers,” said Dr. Bragg. “These kids are celebrities, and we know from other rigorous studies that younger kids prefer products that are endorsed by celebrities.”
To document the extent of the phenomenon, Dr. Bragg and her colleagues identified five of the top kid influencers on YouTube, including Ryan, and analyzed 418 of their most popular videos. They found that food or beverages were featured in those videos 271 times, and 90 percent of them were “unhealthy branded items.” Some of the brands featured most frequently were McDonald’s, Hershey’s, Skittles, Oreo, Coca-Cola, Kinder and Dairy Queen. The videos featuring junk food have collectively been viewed more than a billion times.
The researchers could not always tell which products the influencers were paid to promote, in part because sponsorships are not always clearly disclosed. The Federal Trade Commission has said that influencers should “clearly and conspicuously” disclose their financial relationships with brands whose products they endorse on social media. But critics say the policy is rarely enforced, and that influencers often ignore it.
McDonald’s USA said in a statement that it “does not partner with kid influencers under the age of 12 for paid content across any social media channels, including YouTube, and we did not pay or partner with any of the influencers identified in this study. We are committed to responsibly marketing to children.”
Last year, several senators called on the F.T.C. to investigate Ryan’s World and accused the channel of running commercials for Carl’s Jr. without disclosing that they were ads. The Council of Better Business Bureaus, an industry regulatory group, also found that Ryan’s World featured sponsored content from advertisers without proper disclosures. And a year ago the watchdog group Truth in Advertising filed a complaint with the F.T.C. accusing the channel of deceiving children through “sponsored videos that often have the look and feel of organic content.”
In March, Senators Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced legislation to protect children from potentially harmful content online. Among other things, the bill would limit what they called “manipulative” advertising, such as influencer marketing aimed at children, and prohibit websites from recommending content that involves nicotine, tobacco or alcohol to children and teenagers.
The F.T.C. has long forbidden certain advertising tactics on children’s television, such as “host selling,” in which characters or hosts sell products in commercials that air during their programs. Critics say the agency could apply the same rules to children’s programs on the internet but so far has chosen not to.
“It’s beyond absurd that you couldn’t do this on Nickelodeon or ABC but you can do this on YouTube just because the laws were written before we had an internet,” said Josh Golin, the executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an advocacy group.
“These videos are incredibly powerful,” he said. “Very busy parents may take a look at them and think that it’s just a cute kid talking enthusiastically about some product and not realize that it’s often part of a deliberate strategy to get their children excited about toys, or in the case of this study, unhealthy food.”
Anahad O’Connor is a staff reporter covering health, science, nutrition and other topics. He is also a bestselling author of consumer health books such as “Never Shower in a Thunderstorm” and “The 10 Things You Need to Eat.”
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