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While the United States halted funding to the World Health Organization mid-April 2020,1 and terminated its relationship altogether at the end of May,2 the WHO is still seeking to influence Americans about pandemic responses to COVID-19.
In the Corbett Report3 above, investigative journalist James Corbett discusses Event 201, a pandemic tabletop exercise to illustrate preparedness hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the World Economic Forum and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in October 2019.
At the time, they discussed ways to limit and counter the spread of expected “misinformation” about the pandemic. In addition to outright censorship, this also included the use of “soft power.”
Soft Power Plays for Hard-to-Swallow Dictates
Soft power is a term that refers to stealth influencing using celebrities and other social media influencers. Corbett presents the case of Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, who both reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 early on in the pandemic.
They dutifully “modeled” the desired behavior to get tested, self-quarantine and submit to continued observation for as long as necessary to ensure they didn’t spread it to anyone else. That’s one example of soft power.
Celebrities also put on a virtual “One World Together at Home” benefit concert to raise money for the WHO and rally the citizens of the world around the idea that we can get through this if we all just follow instructions and stay home.
In May, celebrities and social media influencers agreed to “pass the mic” by allowing the WHO and other pandemic response leaders, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, to use their social media accounts to share their messages.
If you thought all of these things occurred more or less organically, you’d be wrong. The Daily Caller spilled the beans in the July 17, 2020, article4 “World Health Organization Hired PR Firm to Identify Celebrity ‘Influencers’ to Amplify Virus Messaging.” According to The Daily Caller:5
“The World Health Organization hired a high-powered public relations firm to seek out so-called influencers to help build trust in the organization’s coronavirus response.
WHO paid $135,000 to the firm Hill and Knowlton Strategies, according to documents6 filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act … The contract earmarked $30,000 for ‘influencer identification,’ $65,000 for ‘message testing,’ and $40,000 for a ‘campaign plan framework.’
Hill and Knowlton … proposed identifying three tiers of influencers: celebrities with large social media followings, individuals with smaller but more engaged followings, and ‘hidden heroes,’ those users with slight followings but who ‘nevertheless shape and guide conversations.’”
Hill and Knowlton Has Sold Us Other Lies
As noted by Corbett, Hill and Knowlton Strategies was also the PR company responsible for crafting a powerful enough campaign to get Americans to rally together in support of the war against Iraq.
The ensuing propaganda campaign even included the fake testimony of “Nayirah” before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, October 10, 1990, in which she claimed she’d witnessed Iraqi soldiers coming into the Kuwaiti hospital where she was volunteering and taking babies out of the incubators, leaving them to die on the floor.
As noted by Corbett, “It’s difficult today to understand just how important this testimony was in setting the tone of the debate about whether America should commit military forces in Kuwait.”
What we do know is that in the lead-up to the war, her testimony, which was eventually revealed to be entirely untrue, was repeated on the evening news, in presidential speeches, and by Congressional and Senatorial leaders.
In 1992, it was revealed Nayirah’s gut-wrenching speech had been written for her by Hill and Knowlton Strategies, which had been hired by Citizens for a Free Kuwait, a Kuwaiti government astroturf organization, to help them sell the Gulf War and enlist American support. Even the “Congressional Human Rights Caucus” was found to be a Hill and Knowlton creation.
Hill and Knowlton Connection With the Tobacco Industry
As early as the 1950s, there was a powerful consolidation of scientific evidence showing smoking led to serious respiratory and cardiac diseases. Yet it took 50 years before health concerns about smoking became pervasive enough for smoking rates to drop significantly. How did we stay in the dark for so long?
The tobacco companies’ guiding light through it all was the very same public relations firm they hired in the 1950s: Hill and Knowlton Strategies. Rather than play the losing game of simply denying facts, Hill and Knowlton proposed brilliant strategies. It is revealing to review the bullet points below from a leaked document outlining the objectives of tobacco company Brown & Williamson at the time:
- Objective No. 1 — To set aside in the minds of millions the false conviction that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer and other diseases; a conviction based on fanatical assumptions, fallacious rumors, unsupported claims, and the unscientific statements and conjectures of publicity-seeking opportunists.
- Objective No. 2 — To lift the cigarette from the cancer identification as quickly as possible and restore it to its proper place of dignity and acceptance in the minds of men and women in the marketplace of American free enterprise.
- Objective No. 3 — To expose the incredible, unprecedented and nefarious attack against the cigarette, constituting the greatest libel and slander ever perpetrated against any product in the history of free enterprise.
- Objective No. 4 — To unveil the insidious and developing pattern of attack against the American free enterprise system, a sinister formula that is slowly eroding American business with the cigarette obviously selected as one of the trial targets.
Do People Actually Care What Celebs Think?
So, the PR company that sold us the lie about babies being ripped from incubators in order to get us to back Kuwait’s war against Iraq, and convinced us smoking was harmless, is also responsible for the WHO’s celebrity-backed COVID-19 fear-mongering campaign. And, this is likely only a small portion of the propaganda machine.
There are bound to be many other PR contracts and campaigns that we’ve not become privy to as of yet. We can also be sure that these types of propaganda campaigns will get even “bigger and better” once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.
The silver lining, if there is one, is that people are starting to get wise to the fact that they’re being manipulated, and by whom. For example, Gal Gadot’s A-List-packed viral video in which everyone sang “Imagine,” experienced a surprising backlash.7
Social media followers branded the celebs as “out of touch” with reality, singing about “no possessions” from their multimillion-dollar mansions while millions of hard-working Americans were losing their jobs and family businesses.
The hypocrisy did not go over well. Sure, it’s easy to tell people to “just stay home” when you have a financial safety net that allows you to be out of work for years on end without putting a significant dent in your quality of life.
Not All Voices Are Equal
The Hill and Knowlton prospectus points out that while the pandemic has dominated discussions, “not all voices are equal and not all are cutting through and being listened to.” The question is, who should be listened to? And, have we been listening to the best, most knowledgeable voices?
Of course, it’s become abundantly clear that the WHO thinks it should be the final arbiter of “facts” as far as the pandemic response is concerned, and social media platforms have dutifully obliged by banning, “fact-checking,” removing and deplatforming anyone presenting a different view.
I believe an argument can be made that we have not been hearing from many who truly deserve to be heard from — front-line doctors, nurses, researchers, virologists and scientists who have tried to present important data and feedback about the novel illness, its treatment, and the world’s response to it.
Many conventional doctors have gotten a rude wake-up call, as they’ve had their views and work censored and banned from the web, simply because it does not conform to the WHO’s messaging.
One recent example is that of Sen. Scott Jensen, a medical doctor. In a July 6, 2020, video, Jensen said he is being investigated and is facing disciplinary action and, possibly, loss of his medical license after an anonymous individual or individuals filed a complaint against him with the Minnesota medical board, accusing him of “spreading misinformation” and “giving reckless advice” about COVID-19. “My God, if this can happen to me, it can happen to anybody,” he says.
UN Enlists Army of Internet Trolls to Control Discussions
WHO isn’t the only organization trying to control the narrative, of course. Many other organizations are involved, all working toward the same end. The United Nations, for example, recently enlisted 10,000 “digital volunteers” to rid the internet of what they consider “false” information about COVID-19 and to disseminate what they say is “U.N.-verified, science-based content.”
The campaign, dubbed the Verified initiative,8 amounts to an army of internet trolls engaging in censorship in an attempt to shut down opposition and opinions that run counter to the status quo.
The major red flag to the U.N.’s campaign is a lack of detail about what constitutes a “conspiracy theory” or “cure with no evidence to back it up.” Some of the information Verified is aiming to share simply states, “If you come across a post online that makes you really angry or frightened, it’s a sign you might be looking at misinformation.”
In a statement released by the Republic of Latvia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, countries are called on to step up and support the U.N.’s mission to counter the “infodemic” that they claim is “as dangerous to human health and security as the pandemic itself:”9
“Among other negative consequences, COVID-19 has created conditions that enable the spread of disinformation, fake news and doctored videos to foment violence and divide communities.
It is critical states counter misinformation as a toxic driver of secondary impacts of the pandemic that can heighten the risk of conflict, violence, human rights violations and mass atrocities.”
Ironically, in outlining the “crucial need for access to free, reliable, trustworthy, factual, multilingual, targeted, accurate, clear and science-based information,” they call on countries to take steps to stop the spread of information they deem to be false and to spread information from “trustworthy sources,” which is the U.N.’s Verified campaign.
Who’s in Charge of Truth?
The U.N.’s verified campaign is reminiscent of another self-appointed internet watchdog, NewsGuard, which claims to rate information as “reliable” or “fake” news, supplying you with a color-coded rating system next to Google and Bing searches, as well as on articles displayed on social media.
If you rely on NewsGuard’s ratings, you may decide to entirely skip by those with a low “red” rating in favor of the so-called “more trustworthy” green-rated articles — and therein lies the problem. NewsGuard is in itself fraught with conflict of interest, as it’s largely funded by Publicis, a global communications giant that’s partnered with Big Pharma, such that it may be viewed more as a censorship tool than an internet watchdog.
For example, NewsGuard announced that my site has been classified as fake news because we have reported the SARS-CoV-2 virus as potentially having been leaked from the biosafety level 4 (BSL4) laboratory in Wuhan City, China, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. But NewsGuard’s position is in direct conflict with published scientific evidence suggesting this virus was created in a lab and not zoonotically transmitted.
By slapping a “fake news” label on this site, they’re not only doing a disservice to people looking for trustworthy information, but they also spread misinformation themselves. By enlisting an army of trolls to spread their own rhetoric, the concern is that the U.N.’s Verified campaign will do more of the same.
Ultimately, most adults are fully capable of choosing what information they deem credible to share with their social networks, family and friends, without the need for an overreaching Big Brother telling them what’s credible and what’s not.
Poor air quality and the use of face masks have been a daily fact of life for many living in China. Since the 1950s, some in Japan, China and Taiwan have worn masks as a means of protecting themselves against air pollution. They also wear them for other reasons, specific to culture.1
In Japan, people wear masks when they feel sick and women wear them when they go out without makeup. Bradley Sutton is an American who lived in Japan. He told a reporter from VOA News that wearing a mask in Asia is ingrained in their culture, so doing it for reasons other than air pollution is easier.2
Despite the problem with air quality before the first SARS outbreak in China in 2002, masks were not a regular part of every Asian’s life. It was only after SARS that they were used consistently. Manufacturers in East Asia are now producing up to 20 million masks each month. Before SARS, people living in Taiwan believed masks marked them as being severely ill.
Since then, the Taiwanese have embraced the use of a mask. In a commentary in China Under the Radar, the writer believes young Chinese are wearing them to build a “social firewall” and avoid being approached by others, “just as sunglasses or headphones would.”3 While real-world testing indicates that masks used for air pollution vary widely in their effectiveness, they have become a staple in Asian life.4
After the World Health Organization declared SARS-CoV-2 a global pandemic, masks have become more commonplace around the world. Since science and testing has not yet caught up, many are choosing to wear a mask in public to allay others’ fears. Whether or not they are effective, it’s important to recognize the communication problems they introduce and to know how to address those problems.
Decoding Facial Actions Helps Categorize Emotion
Masks have removed a crucial way in which people use visual cues to communicate and understand each other. Smiles, cheek twitches and lip movements are all lost under a mask. These visual perceptions of expression are part of how people recognize and understand communication.
In a paper published in Current Opinions in Psychology, one professor from The Ohio State University hypothesized that to interpret emotion, the visual system, including the eyes and brain, attempts to identify muscle activation in the face.5
Based on computational, behavioral and imaging evidence, he believes humans are able to effortlessly infer an emotional state by reading facial expressions. This is different from the categorical model that proposes there are six distinct and universal emotions that are communicated across cultures. These are happiness, anger, disgust, sadness, surprise and fear.6
The second theory is related to a dimensional model that suggests there are varying dimensions across emotions that are not distinct. Researchers have found evidence that supports the use of more than one way to categorize expression. While this may be highly interesting to psychological researchers, what does it mean in terms of our ability to communicate, when we can’t see most facial expressions?
When adults were tested, they did not have to acknowledge they had seen a face for their brain to recognize the expression.7 While this is a good indication of how quickly the visual system communicates with the brain, when facial expressions are not fully visible, this recognition is hampered.
Rebecca Brewer from the Royal Holloway University of London points out that humans process a person's whole face rather than paying attention to a singular feature, such as the eyes, nose or mouth. “When we cannot see the whole face, such holistic processing is disrupted,” she says.8
Brewer adds that this happens even in countries where the women wear veils in public. Children and adults learn to interpret information from the whole face; expressions on others’ faces, even furrowed brows, are used in several cognitive processes.9
Your Face Is an Effective Communication Tool
Aleix Martinez is the researcher from The Ohio State University. He has been studying the recognition of facial expressions while programming machine learning algorithms.
He believes that relying on facial expressions can also be misleading and explains that the key to interpretation is the study of the entire body posture, motion and context.10 Yet, your face communicates more than what’s coming out of your mouth. The authors of one paper described it this way:11
“One of the richest and most powerful tools in social communication is the face, from which observers can quickly and easily make a number of inferences — about identity, gender, sex, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical health, attractiveness, emotional state, personality traits, pain or physical pleasure, deception, and even social status.”
In countries where facial coverings are new, many are struggling with the ability to communicate and find it hard to breathe. While this may be difficult for lots of people, it can be overwhelming for those with communication difficulties or psychological trauma. For example, people who are deaf can no longer read lips, which severely hinders communications with a person who doesn't know sign language.12
Masks Can Trigger a PTSD Episode
Yet another concern with widespread mask-wearing is related to people who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and those who may be traumatized from the pandemic. Yuval Neria of the New York State Psychiatric Institute runs the institute’s PTSD program and told the American Heart Association that mental health professionals are in uncharted territory in predicting the effects of this pandemic:13
"I don't think the mental health consequences will be limited to PTSD only. In fact, I think we should expect other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and potentially increase in suicide. They are already there and kind of showing themselves.
Disasters are usually limited to space and time. And there is an onset of a disaster – which may take some time – but there is an end. But I think viruses have their own way to inflict adversities on us. The threat is ambiguous. (It) is everywhere and nowhere. It's ongoing. It may take a long time."
There is concern that the pandemic is also affecting those who have a history of trauma. PTSD is not limited to people who served in the armed services. Men and women who are victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault may have significant difficulty wearing masks.
In 2018, the number of self-reported rapes or sexual assaults of people older than 12 doubled from 2017.14 In 2015, 1 in 5 U.S. women reported having experienced a completed or attempted rape at some time in their life. Physical violence from an intimate partner has affected 33% of women and 25% of men, and 14.3% of women have been injured.15
When these experiences involve choking, smothering or the attacker wearing a mask, it can be even worse. Psychiatric nurse practitioner Adam Barkeloo spoke with Channel 9 News, expressing concern about how this can trigger a PTSD episode:16
"The one we worry about the most is trauma. Sexual trauma, an attack. What might not seem like a big deal to you or I might be a really big deal to a kid or an older person or a female.”
Dawn Nau told her story to a reporter from the Altoona Mirror. She had been a bank teller during a robbery during which a man wearing a bandana pointed a gun in her face. The reporter wrote:17
"Last week, Dawn Nau of Williamsport went to the grocery store for the first time since wearing a mask became mandatory in her state. For someone with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, this was a huge task.
‘To be honest, I thought I was being brave,’ she said. ‘The first time I came up an aisle, there was a man there with a mask on.’ Dawn had to tell herself to breathe. She went into the next aisle and took her mask off.
‘I was in the store maybe five minutes before I had to take my mask off,’ she said. ‘It feels like I’m suffocating, like I can’t breathe. It panics me.’ She wasn’t in the store long, but by the time she left, she was soaked from sweat."
Dawn’s story is not unique. It is similar to that of Lori Perkins18 and thousands of others who live with anxiety related to PTSD that was caused by traumatic events in their lives.
Still Face Experiment Demonstrates Early Facial Recognition
Children are also experiencing distress from adults wearing masks. This short video demonstrates the role that facial expression plays in infant interaction. It’s called the “Still Face” experiment, which was first performed in 1975 by Edward Tronick, Ph.D., who continues to conduct research on how a mother's stressful behavior may affect the emotional development of infants and children.19
The study may be one of the most often-cited in developmental psychology. Further investigations into infants’ abilities to differentiate emotional expressions have revealed that within the first six months, babies learn to recognize emotion and distinguish physical characteristics associated with those emotions.20
In one study, scientists found that babies spend more time looking at the mouth of an angry face just after hearing a happy voice. The researchers believe this is a reaction to hearing something different from what they're seeing and that it may demonstrate the ability at an early age to understand emotional information based on what is heard and seen.21
Educators have long known that many young children have difficulty when masks are worn. At some elementary schools masks aren’t allowed during Halloween, as the children become stressed. Kang Lee, Ph.D., from the University of Toronto, says that children don’t have full facial recognition abilities until they’re about 14 years old.22,23
Until that time, children see individual features rather than the entire face. When adults and children use masks, it becomes more difficult for children to recognize individuals and understand emotional signals. This is especially difficult for children on the autism spectrum who often have trouble understanding and reading nonverbal cues.
Young children also look to their parents and caregivers to interpret new situations. This reliance on facial expressions and even tone of voice is distorted by a mask, and may make it challenging for them to regulate their response. Psychologists call this “social referencing” and it develops in children through the early preschool years.24
How Can You Adjust to Public Communication?
Interpreting nonverbal cues and communicating while wearing a mask in public can be challenging. However, there are several strategies you can use to help yourself and your children. Consider these tips from Brookings:25
• Introductions — Before going into a public place, show your children a face mask. Allow them to handle it and play with it. Explain that you’ll be wearing a mask in public and others will be wearing them too. Put it on your face in front of your child. Children may have less anxiety when they can anticipate events.
• Games — Play “peek-a-boo” by covering and uncovering your mouth with your hand and mask. Tell them you’ll be smiling under the mask, even if they can’t see it. Use “guess-my-expression” to help them look for clues for expressions. Wearing a mask, ask them to watch your eyes and eyebrows and guess what expression you’re making. Take off the mask to let them see if they got it right.
• Talking — Talk with your child through the mask at home. Adjust your tone and pitch so they can hear you.
Many adults are having difficulty wearing a mask in public. While simple strategies may not be useful to completely allay anxiety, there are some things you can do to improve the situation:26,27,28
• Nonverbal cues — Since facial expressions are much more difficult to read, using other cues, such as a hand wave, laughing when you smile and showing more of your emotions can help others understand what you’re saying. Making eye contact and being more expressive than normal can also help.
• Voice volume — The mask will muffle your voice somewhat, so be sure you are speaking loud enough for the other person to hear you. They may stop asking you to repeat yourself after several times and just give up.
• Relaxation techniques — Since your nervous system doesn’t often listen to reason, it’s helpful to have a few techniques you can use in public if you feel anxious while wearing a mask.
Breathing deeply, listening to music or adding a few drops of lavender to the front of your mask may help. You can activate the vagus nerve, which helps calm the nervous system, by using your facial muscles to chew gum, sing or hum.
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