Astronomer Royal and best-selling science author, Martin Rees pioneering early work led to evidence to contradict the Steady State theory of the universe and confirm the Big Bang. His influence then spread to the wider public—knighted in 1992, elevated to Baron in 2005, then giving the Reith Lectures in 2010. Most recently his attention has turned from the early universe to the future of humanity. In this interview, Lord Rees discusses the ideas and experiences which led to such an illustrious career.
China is continuing with its tough zero-COVID policy. But the cracks in the economy and a discontent middle class mean that Xi’s Imperial-like governing style is under challenge, writes Kerry Brown.
China’s zero-COVID strategy operates in Chinese domestic politics a bit like Brexit does in the UK. Despite complaints from business networks and broader society about the negative impact on economic growth and citizens’ freedoms, it’s a policy commitment the government is sticking to no matter what.
Of course, no one voted for the draconian lockdowns implemented across China. And, unlike Brexit, the lockdowns are very much in line with expert advice in the country, rather than running against it. The Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC), the main governmental body advising the government over crisis response in this area, said in a weekly update last November that without comprehensive restraints on people’s movement and quarantines on anyone testing positive for the virus, the national health system would soon be overwhelmed with cases, and find itself in the same bind as those in the US or Europe did.
That the words of the experts have been taken so much in earnest is striking for a regime that previously hasn’t been shy to dismiss them. The Xi leadership may be confident in the way it speaks to the outside world, but it seems that it has the same profound wariness in the robustness of the country’s public health as everywhere else. Things have not been helped by clinical trials showing the Chinese vaccines – the only ones accepted in China – are not as effective as foreign ones where the length of protection is in question). On top of this, vaccine take-up by the elderly, the most vulnerable group, has been poor. It is easy to see therefore why the central government might be very cautious. What is harder to understand, however, is why the cautiousness has bordered on obsessiveness.
The Xi way of governing is increasingly almost imperial in style, with broad, high-level policy announcements made in Beijing, sometimes of almost Delphic succinctness.
One scenario is simply about the structures of decision-making in China. This was an issue right from the moment the variant started to appear in late 2019, and local officials in Wuhan stood accused of trying to hush the issue up, delaying reporting to the central authorities till things had already gone on too long. As a result of this, in February 2020 key officials in the city were sacked. But this is unlikely to change the fact that provincial officials are very risk averse under Xi, and that any central direction to manage the pandemic will be interpreted in the purest terms and executed to the letter.
This explains the completeness of the Xian government’s virtual incarceration of its 8 million population after just a few COVID cases at the end of 2021, the first of the more recent lockdowns. It also explains why the traditionally more free-thinking municipal authority of Shanghai and its similarly liberal approach was fiercely knocked back by Beijing last February, to make an example for any other provinces thinking of going their own way. The absolute prohibition on people moving from their homes there, in one of the most dynamic and lively cities of modern China, was perfect proof that if the government could bring about this situation there, it could do it anywhere.
This case study also reveals some important things about the Xi way of governing. It is increasingly almost imperial in style, with broad, high-level policy announcements made in Beijing, sometimes of almost Delphic succinctness, which are then handed down to various levels of government to do as they will. Exactly how and when the discussion amongst Xi and his Politburo colleagues on the best response to COVID happened is unclear. In a world where almost every political system seems to leak incessantly, the Chinese one is unique in maintaining its opacity and secretiveness – no mean achievement in the social media era.
The Communist Party is very aware of how relatively small incidents can mount up and then generate overwhelming force. It itself coined the Chinese phrase ‘a single spark can start a prairie fire.’
Rumors of clashes between Xi and his premierLi Keqiang on the effectiveness of the current response remain just that – rumors, with precious little hard evidence to back them up. Who in the current imperial system might dare to speak from the ranks and say that policy must change is unclear. Scientists should deal in hard facts – but we all know that science is susceptible to politicization. Experts in China have to offer their expertise in a highly political context. A declaration that the current approach is not fit for purpose can easily be reinterpreted as an attempt to launch an indirect attack on the core leader. With an important Congress coming up later this year, at which Xi is expected to be appointed for another five years in power, sensitivities are even more intense than normal. It is little wonder that the COVID strategy status quo settled on last year has not shifted.
Things, however, may well change, and change quickly. China is moving into tricky economic territory. The impact of the pandemic on global supply chains, along with the various stresses domestically on the housing market, and productivity, have shrunk expectations for growth. A predicted 6% in the earlier part of the year now looks overly ambitious. There is a real possibility China might experience a recession. At a moment like this, the government, which after all operates as a constant crisis and risk management entity, might do what it does best and prompt rapid, and dramatic, changes.
This doesn’t mean that China’s COVID-19 bind gets any easier. Like the country’s serious demographic challenges, with a rapidly aging population, the only thing the government will be picking an argument with is reality as it proceeds into the future. As with Europe and the US, being more liberal about facing COVID-19 will involve accepting some of the harsh consequences – rising fatalities, particularly for the elderly and vulnerable, and health systems put under enormous stress. In such a huge, complex country, and of enormous geopolitically importance, a misstep could easily lead to huge and unwanted consequences, generating discontent and triggering mass protests in a way reminiscent of 1989. The Communist Party is very aware of how relatively small incidents can mount up and then generate overwhelming force. It itself coined the Chinese phrase ‘a single spark can start a prairie fire.’ One such spark – the introduction of Marxism into China in the 1910s – led to its gaining of power three decades later.
Faced with a potentially life-threatening infectious disease, the Party can throw out injunctions and claim it has been the victim of bad luck. But an ailing economy and no clear signs of the government knowing how to manage this will prove a toxic mixture for it. Xi and his third term in office will be all about delivery. The question is whether, even with the formidable suite of powers he has, he can do this. Governing China has always been the ultimate political challenge. COVID-19 has made that even harder.
The Center for China and Globalization is proud to announce the full program of their upcoming 8th edition of CCG annual China and Globalization Forum 2022 to be held in online-offline hybrid format in Beijing. Everyone is cordially invited to join the events open to public virtually. All sessions open to public will be broadcast live. You will be able to access the sessions on Zoom:
10:30-12:30—Ambassadors’ Roundtable: Global Recovery in Post-Pandemic Times: Trends, Challenges, and Responses
WANG Huiyao (王辉耀), CCG President, Vice Chairman of China Association for International Economic Cooperation (CAFIEC)
LONG Yongtu, CCG Chairman; former Vice Minister of Commerce LIN Songtian, President of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, former Chinese Ambassador to South Africa Siddharth Chatterjee, UN Resident Coordinator, United Nations in China
(in alphabetic order) Joseph Cash, Policy Analyst, China–Britain Business Council (CBBC) CUI Hongjian, CCG Non-Resident Senior Fellow and Director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) Vivian Ding, CCG Senior Council Member, Founder and CEO of WeBrand Global FENG Zhongping, Director of Institute of European Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) Allan Gabor, President of Merck China Archil Kalandia, Ambassador of Georgia to China LENG Yan, CCG Senior Council Member; Executive Vice President of Daimler Greater China LIU Chang, Vice President of Knorr-Bremse Asia Pacific Steven Lynch, Managing Director, BritCham China Dario Mihelin, Ambassador of Croatia to China Leena-Kaisa Mikkola, Ambassador of Finland to China MIN Hao, CCG Senior Council Member; Founder, Chairman, and CEO of the Nanjing Easthouse Electric Ltd. SUN Yongfu, CCG Senior Fellow; former Director-General of MOFCOM Department of European Affairs Joerg Wuttke, President of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China ZHOU Yanli, CCG Advisor; Former Vice Chairman of China Insurance Regulatory Commission Helen Zhu, CCG Senior Council Member; Vice President of Sanofi China
The researchers say 12 of the athletes’ brains showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition associated with a range of psychiatric problems, ranging from mood and behavior disorders to cognitive impairment and dementia.
“CTE was identified in the brains of older former professionals with long playing careers, but also in younger, non-professional sportsmen and in recent professionals who had played under modern concussion guidelines,” the authors found.
“Screening for CTE in all deaths by suicide is probably impractical, but our finding suggests it should be undertaken if a history of repetitive head injury is known or suspected,” the authors say.
The authors note that brains donated to the bank are more likely to show signs of trauma because donation is often done when an athlete’s family have concerns about the role head trauma may have played in a person’s death or condition.
Nonetheless, they say: “Our findings should encourage clinicians and policymakers to develop measures that further mitigate the risk of sport-related repetitive head injury.”
One Step Closer to Hydrogen-Fueled Planes
Airbus to Test Zero-Emissions Aircraft, but How Does It Work?
But while engineers have promoted hydrogen as a possible transport fuel since at least the 1920s, real-world technologies are still in their infancy, thanks to the destructive dominance of fossil fuels over the last century.
Airbus’ announcement, then, marks an important early step in a move towards making the sector compatible with net-zero.
“This is the most significant step undertaken at Airbus to usher in a new era of hydrogen-powered flight since the unveiling of our ZEROe concepts back in September 2020,” said Sabine Klauke, Airbus Chief Technical Officer, in a statement.
“Our ambition is to take this aircraft and add a stub in between the two rear doors at the upper level,” said Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus’ Vice President of Zero Emissions Aircraft, in a promotional video on YouTube. “That stub will have on the end of it a hydrogen powered gas turbine.”
There will be instruments and sensors around the hydrogen storage unit and engine, to monitor how the system functions both in ground tests and in-flight. Up in the cockpit, instruments will need to be modified with a new throttle to change the amount of power the engine operates at, and a display for pilots to monitor the system.
Why Hydrogen Fuel?
Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the Universe, burns cleanly, and can be produced using renewable energy through the electrolysis of water (though it can be produced using fossil fuels, too).
Given that it’s so abundant, can be made from water, and combusts to produce water vapor, it can be a closed-loop energy system; the definition of renewable.
It’s also highly reactive: hydrogen gas, made up of two hydrogen atoms, can combust at extremely low concentrations. It can combust in response to a simple spark, and it’s even been known to combust when exposed to sunlight or minor increases in temperature. That’s why it’s a suitable replacement fuel for kerosene, but it’s also why the system needs to be tested for safety.
“Aviation is one of these things that everyone agrees needs hydrogen for decarbonization, because it’s not going to be possible to electrify long distance air travel in the next few decades,” explains Fiona Beck, a senior lecturer at ANU and convener of the Hydrogen Fuels Project in the University’s Zero-carbon energy for the Asia Pacific grand challenge. “We just don’t have the battery technologies.
“One kilogram of hydrogen has 130 times the energy of one kilogram of batteries, so in something like air travel, where weight is really important, there’s just no way you’re going to get batteries light enough to directly electrify air travel.”
That’s a very high-profile incident in which hydrogen proved deadly, but a proverbial boatload of hydrogen gas encased within a fabric covering is nothing like the fuel cells proponents of hydrogen fuel are creating in the modern era.
Nonetheless, the incident demonstrates why it’s important to ensure the safety and impregnability of fuel storage; a single spark can prove fatal (though that’s the case with existing fuels, too).
“The key will be to have really good storage containers for the hydrogen, and you’re going to have to re-engineer all the fuel delivery lines,” says Beck, “because you can’t assume that the systems that deliver kerosene safely to an engine are going to be suitable for delivering hydrogen.”
Ultimately, Beck says pre-existing, sophisticated hydrogen technologies, even if they aren’t derived from aviation, mean engineers aren’t going into this blind.
“We already use quite a lot of hydrogen in industry, which is very different than flying a plane full of hydrogen, but still, we know how to handle it relatively safely.
“So, it’s just about designers and engineers making sure that they consider all the safety aspects of it. It’s different, but not necessarily more challenging.”
Two Paths to a Hydrogen Fueled Future of Flight?
Beck notes that Airbus aren’t the only commercial entity exploring hydrogen as a fuel type. In fact, Boeing are incorporating hydrogen into their vision of a cleaner future, but in a different way.
“There’s a difference between just getting hydrogen and burning it in a modified jet engine and what Boeing are doing, which is using sustainable air fuels,” she says.
“The difference is that instead of getting fossil fuels and refining them, you start with hydrogen, which you would hope comes from green sources, and then you take some carbon dioxide captured from another industrial process, and you’re cycling the carbon dioxide one more time before it gets released.”
So, CO2 is still released into the atmosphere, but the individual flight is not adding its own new load of greenhouse gases to the amount. Instead, it essentially piggy-backs off a pre-existing quantity of emissions that were already produced somewhere else.
The type of fuel that wins out remains to be seen.
“It’ll be really interesting to see which approach we go for in the longer term,” Beck muses. “With synthetic air fuels, your plane engine doesn’t need to change at all, nothing about the demand side needs to change–it’s just kerosene.
Some commentators see Boeing’s bet on SAFs as a more pragmatic approach that may help us usher in a less polluting age, quicker. On the other hand, if successful, the Airbus system can be fully carbon-neutral from fuel production through to combustion.
“Climate Adaptation by Itself Is Not Enough”: The Latest IPCC Report Installment
The Second of Three Reports Shows Our Vulnerabilities and How We Can Protect Them.
In the next part of its Sixth Assessment Report, released today, the IPCC has examined the world population’s vulnerability to climate change, and what must be done to adapt to current and future changes.
It’s the second of three sections of this report (Working group II)–Working Group I’s section, released last August, demonstrates that anthropogenic climate change is continuing, while Working Group III’s component, on mitigation, will be released in April. An overall report is coming in September.
The IPCC reports represent a phenomenal amount of work from hundreds of researchers and government officials. It synthesizes information from over 10,000 studies, with over 62,000 comments from expert peer reviewers.
Literally every sentence of the summary for policymakers has been agreed upon by consensus from a group of experts and government delegations–the line-by-line approval process alone takes a fortnight. The report in its entirety is a product of several years.
Given the time and expertise involved in making the report, its conclusions aren’t revelatory: the world is becoming increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, poorest people are often the most at risk, and adaptation to these effects will force changes in our lifestyle, infrastructure, economy and agriculture.
While adaptation is necessary, it’s also insufficient. “It’s increasingly clear that the pace of adaptation across the globe is not enough to keep up with climate change,” says Professor Mark Howden, Working Group II’s vice-chair and director of the Institute for Climate, Energy & Disaster Solutions at the Australian National University.
“Depending on which of those trajectories we go on, our adaptation options differ,” says Howden.
On our current, business-as-usual trajectory, we can’t avoid the crisis, no matter how much we change our human systems to prepare for or recover from the ravages of climate change.
“Climate adaptation, risk management, by itself is not enough,” says Howden.
The report comes at a pertinent time for Australia, as southern Queensland and northern New South Wales experience dramatic flooding from high, La Niña-related rainfall.
“One of the clear projections is an increase in the intensity of heavy rainfall events,” says Professor Brendan Mackey, director of National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility at Griffith University, and a lead author on the Australasian chapter of the report.
Mackey also notes that he has extended family members in Lismore, NSW, who today needed to be rescued from their rooftops as the town floods.
Howden says that while it’s hard to link individual disasters to climate change as they occur, he agrees that there are more floods projected for northern Australia.
“I think we can say that climate change is already embedded in this event,” adds Howden.
“These events are driven by, particularly, ocean temperatures, and we know very well that those have gone up due to climate change due to human influence.”
He points out that flooding is a common side effect of a La Niña event, of which more are expected as the climate warms.
Flooding is not the only extreme weather event that can be linked to climate change.
“Interestingly, [we’ve observed] more rainfall in the north, less winter rainfall in the southwest and southeast, and more extreme fire weather days in the south and east.”
All of these trends are expected to continue, especially under high-emissions scenarios.
For Australians, the predictions the IPCC has made with very high or high confidence include: both a decline in agricultural production and increase in extreme fire weather across the south of the continent; a nation-wide increase in heat-related mortality; increased stress on cities, infrastructure and supply chains from natural disasters; and inundation of low-lying coastal communities from sea level rise.
The final high-confidence prediction is that Australian institutions and governments aren’t currently able to manage these risks.
“Climate change impacts are becoming more complex and difficult to manage,” says Professor Lauren Rickards, director of the Urban Futures Enabling Capability Platform at RMIT, also a lead author on the Australasian chapter.
“Not only are climatic hazards becoming more severe–including, sometimes, nonlinear effects such as, for example, tipping over flood levees that have historically been sufficient–but also those climatic hazards are intersecting in very, very complex ways. And in turn, the flow-on effects on the ground are interacting, causing what’s called cascading and compounding impacts.”
She adds that many local and state governments and the private sector have both recognized the importance of changing their practices to prepare for or react to climate extremes.
“We’ve seen a really significant reduction in the research into what actions different individuals, communities, sectors, can take,” says Howden.
“And what that means is we don’t have the portfolio of options available for people in a way that is easily communicable, and easily understood, and easily adopted.”
Without this research, as well as work from local and Indigenous experts, some adaptations can even risk worsening the impacts of climate change.
“The evidence that we’ve looked at shows really clearly that adaptation strategies, when they build on Indigenous and local knowledge and integrate science, that’s when they are most successful,” says Dr. Johanna Nalau, leader of the Adaptation Science Research Theme at Cities Research Institute, Griffith University.
While the risks Australia faces are dramatic, things are much worse for other parts of the world. Nalau, who was a lead author on the report’s chapter on small islands, says that “most of the communities and countries are constrained in what they can do in terms of adaptation”.
In April, we will have access to the IPCC’s dossier on mitigating climate change and emissions reduction. But in the meantime, Working Group II’s battalion of researchers advocate for better planning for climate disaster, more research into ways human systems can adapt, sustainable and just development worldwide, and rapid emissions reduction.
“Adaptation can’t be divorced from mitigation, conceptually or in practice,” says Rickards.
“We need adaptation to enable effective mitigation. We need effective mitigation to enable adaptation to give it a chance of succeeding. At present, we’re not on track and we need to pivot quickly.”
Piecing Together Pandemic Origins
New Research Asserts Market, Not Laboratory, Is the “Unambiguous” Birthplace of SARS-CoV-2
by Jamie Priest
Now in our third year of woe, most of us are naturally focused on the end of the pandemic. The global death toll is approaching 6 million, and the world is desperately searching for signs the ordeal’s over.
But amid the future watching, a team of researchers have turned their attention back to the beginning, tackling the question that was once on everyone’s lips: where did SARS-CoV-2 originate?
Outlining their evidence in two preprints, researchers assert an “unambiguous” origin in the Huanan market in Wuhan, spilling over not once, but twice into the human population and kicking off a global health crisis.
The paired papers, which have yet to undergo peer review and publication in a scientific journal, critically undermine the competing, and controversial, alternative origin story that involves a leak–intentional or otherwise–from a nearby Wuhan virology lab where scientists study coronaviruses.
The Huanan market was an immediate suspect when COVID first emerged in late 2019. Workers at the market were amongst the first individuals to present with the pneumonia that was quickly linked to a novel coronavirus, and Chinese officials, fearing a repeat of the 2002 SARS epidemic that killed 774 people, were quick to close the market down.
But by the time Chinese researchers descended on the Huanan market in 2020 to collect genetic samples, they found no wildlife present at all. Although they were able to detect traces of the virus in samples taken from surfaces and sewers in the market, the lack of direct evidence of infection in market animals sparked a debate over whether this truly was the epicenter of the outbreak. Alternative theories centered around the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
In the face of this absence of evidence, researchers working on the new reports turned to alternative information sources.
Using data pulled from the Chinesesocial media app Weibo, they were able to map the location of 737 COVID-positive Wuhan residents who turned to the app to seek health advice during the first three months of the outbreak.
Plotting the geographic concentrations of cases through time, the researchers clearly identified the market as the centre of origin, with the virus spreading radially through surrounding suburbs and across the city as time progressed. Through statistical analysis, the researchers demonstrated that the chances of such a pattern arising through mere chance was exceedingly unlikely.
However, the pattern alone was open to interpretation, with questions remaining about pathways of introduction to the market–was the virus carried in inside a caged animal, on the coat of an unwitting scientist, or via some as-yet unidentified vector?
To dig further into the mystery, the researchers looked at the genetic samples obtained from market surfaces in January 2020 by Chinese scientists, tracing the locations of individual positive samples to their exact location within the market complex.
This second map revealed a strong concentration of positive samples in one corner of the market, a sector that had been previously documented to house a range of wild mammals that are considered potential coronavirus hosts.
Finally, the researchers created an evolutionary family tree of the earliest coronavirus lineages that emerged in the first few panicked weeks of the pandemic.
Even in its very earliest stages SARS-CoV-2 was a variable beast, with evidence of two distinct lineages, dubbed A and B. Looking closely at the mutations that separate the two, the researchers found something surprising–rather than one descending from the other, it appears that they had separate origins and entries into the human population, with lineage B making the leap in late November and lineage A following suit shortly afterwards.
Initial studies of the Huanan market genetic samples found only lineage B, but this latest investigation detected the presence of lineage A in people who lived in close proximity to the market–a finding corroborated by a recent Chinese study that identified lineage A on a single glove collected from the market during the initial shutdown.
Questions remain about the identity of the intermediary animal host species. But by narrowing research focus to the most likely centre of origin, this research will significantly aid efforts to understand the process that saw COVID-19 enter the world, and hopefully help avert future pandemics.
Fake Viral Footage Is Spreading alongside the Real Horror in Ukraine—Here Are 5 Ways to Spot It
Manipulated or Falsified Videos and Images Can Spread Quickly—but There Are Strategies You Can Take to Evaluate Them.
By TJ Thompson, Daniel Angus and Paul Dootson
Amid the alarming images of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine over the past few days, millions of people have also seen misleading, manipulated or false information about the conflict on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Telegram.
One example is this video of military jets posted to TikTok, which is historical footage but captioned as live video of the situation in Ukraine.
Visuals, because of their persuasive potential and attention-grabbing nature, are an especially potent choice for those seeking to mislead. Where creating, editing or sharing inauthentic visual content isn’t satire or art, it is usually politically or economically motivated.
Disinformation campaigns aim to distract, confuse, manipulate and sow division, discord, and uncertainty in the community. This is a common strategy for highly polarized nations where socioeconomic inequalities, disenfranchisement and propaganda are prevalent.
How is this fake content created and spread, what’s being done to debunk it, and how can you ensure you don’t fall for it yourself?
What Are the Most Common Fakery Techniques?
Using an existing photo or video and claiming it came from a different time or place is one of the most common forms of misinformation in this context. This requires no special software or technical skills—just a willingness to upload an old video of a missile attack or other arresting image, and describe it as new footage.
Another low-tech option is to stage or pose actions or events and present them as reality. This was the case with destroyed vehicles that Russia claimed were bombed by Ukraine.
Using a particular lens or vantage point can also change how the scene looks and can be used to deceive. A tight shot of people, for example, can make it hard to gauge how many were in a crowd, compared with an aerial shot.
Taking things further still, Photoshop or equivalent software can be used to add or remove people or objects from a scene, or to crop elements out from a photograph. An example of object addition is the below photograph, which purports to show construction machinery outside a kindergarten in eastern Ukraine. The satirical text accompanying the image jokes about the “calibre of the construction machinery”—the author suggesting that reports of damage to buildings from military ordinance are exaggerated or untrue.
Close inspection reveals this image was digitally altered to include the machinery. This tweet could be seen as an attempt to downplay the extent of damage resulting from a Russian-backed missile attack, and in a wider context to create confusion and doubt as to veracity of other images emerging from the conflict zone.
Journalists and fact-checkers are also working to verify content and raise awareness of known fakes. Large, well-resourced news outlets such as the BBC are also calling out misinformation.
Social media platforms have added new labels to identify state-run media organisations or provide more background information about sources or people in your networks who have also shared a particular story.
They have also tweaked their algorithms to change what content is amplified and have hired staff to spot and flag misleading content. Platforms are also doing some work behind the scenes to detect and publicly share information on state-linked information operations.
What Can I Do about It?
You can attempt to fact-check images for yourself rather than taking them at face value. An article we wrote late last year for the Australian Associated Press explains the fact-checking process at each stage: image creation, editing and distribution.
Here are five simple steps you can take:
Examine the metadata
This Telegram post claims Polish-speaking saboteurs attacked a sewage facility in an attempt to place a tank of chlorine for a “false flag” attack.
But the video’s metadata—the details about how and when the video was created—show it was filmed days before the alleged date of the incident.
To check metadata for yourself, you can download the file and use software such as Adobe Photoshop or Bridge to examine it. Online metadata viewers also exist that allow you to check by using the image’s web link.
One hurdle to this approach is that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter often strip the metadata from photos and videos when they are uploaded to their sites. In these cases, you can try requesting the original file or consulting fact-checking websites to see whether they have already verified or debunked the footage in question.
If old content has been recycled and repurposed, you may be able to find the same footage used elsewhere. You can use Google Images or TinEye to “reverse image search” a picture and see where else it appears online.
But be aware that simple edits such as reversing the left-right orientation of an image can fool search engines and make them think the flipped image is new.
Look for inconsistencies
Does the purported time of day match the direction of light you would expect at that time, for example? Do watches or clocks visible in the image correspond to the alleged timeline claimed?
You can also compare other data points, such as politicians’ schedules or verified sightings, Google Earth vision or Google Maps imagery, to try and triangulate claims and see whether the details are consistent.
Ask yourself some simple questions
Do you know where, when and why the photo or video was made? Do you know who made it, and whether what you’re looking at is the original version?
Using online tools such as InVID or Forensically can potentially help answer some of these questions. Or you might like to refer to this list of 20 questions you can use to “interrogate” social media footage with the right level of healthy skepticism.
Ultimately, if you’re in doubt, don’t share or repeat claims that haven’t been published by a reputable source such as an international news organization. And consider using some of these principles when deciding which sources to trust.
By doing this, you can help limit the influence of misinformation, and help clarify the true situation in Ukraine.
Simone McGuinness spoke with Suzanne Scoggins, a fellow with the National Asia Research Program (NARP), about the reports of rising police–society conflict in China. Dr. Scoggins discusses how the Chinese Communist Party has responded to the upsurge, what channels Chinese citizens are utilizing to express their concerns, and what the implications are for the rest of the world.
What is the current state of police-society relations in China?
The nature of the conflict matters. If somebody is on a train and sitting in a seat that they did not pay for, then it is usually obvious to the people reading about or watching the incident that the civilian is at fault. But if it is chengguan (城管, “city administration”) telling an elderly woman to stop selling her food on the street and the chengguan becomes violent, then public perceptions may be very different. It is that second type of violence that can be threatening to the state. The public’s response to the type of conflict can vary considerably.
What are the implications for China as a whole?
Regarding what this means for China, it’s not good for the regime to sustain this kind of conflict between street-level officers or state agents and the public. It lowers people’s trust in the agents of the government, and people may assume that the police cannot enforce public security. There are many state agents who might be involved in a conflict, such as the chengguan, the xiejing (auxiliary officer), or the official police. The type of agent almost doesn’t matter because the uniforms often look similar.
When information goes up online of state agents behaving poorly, it makes the state a little more vulnerable. Even people who were not at the event might see it on social media or in the news and think, “Oh, this is happening in my community, or in my province, or across the nation.” This violates public expectations about how the police or other state agents should act. People should be able to trust the police and go to them when they have problems.
How has the Chinese government responded to the increase in reporting violence?
There is a twofold approach. The first is through censorship. When negative videos go up online or when the media reports an incident, the government will go in and take it down. We see this over time. Even while collecting my research, some of the videos that were initially available online are no longer accessible simply because they have been censored. The government is removing many different types of content, not only violence. Censors are also interested in removing any sort of misinformation that might spread on social media.
There is one program, for example, called Police Training Camp. It is a reality show where police officers are challenged with various tasks, and the production is very glossy. The ministry also produces other sorts of specials featuring police who are out in the field helping people. It shows the police officers working really long shifts, interacting positively with the public, and really making a difference in people’s lives. In this way, the government is counteracting negative opinions about policeviolence or misconduct.
Do you know of any effective avenues that Chinese people have to address their concerns? Which avenues are becoming more popular?
This is a direct channel to the Ministry of Public Security, and all these calls are reviewed. There is not a whole lot that citizens can do about specific corruption claims. But if somebody has a particular goal, then the hotline is slightly more effective because it allows citizens to alert the ministry. However, many people do not know about the hotline, so the ministry is trying to increase awareness and also help staff the call center so that it can more effectively field calls.
As for how much relief people feel when they use these channels, this depends on what their goal is. If the goal is to get somebody fired, then the hotline may not work. But if someone is looking to air their grievances, then it may be helpful.
What are the implications of increased police-society conflict in China for the rest of the world? What can the United States or other countries do to improve the situation?
These are really sticky issues that are difficult to solve. When discussing police–society conflict, it is important to step back and think about who the police are—the enforcement agents of the state. So by their very nature, there will be conflict between police and society, and that is true in every country. In China, it really depends on where and what type of police climate we are talking about.
Xinjiang, for instance, has a very different police climate than other regions in China. There is a different type of policing and police presence. Chinese leaders certainly do not want any international intervention in Xinjiang. They see this as an internal issue. While some governments in Europe and the United States might want to intervene, that is going to be a nonstarter for China.
As for police problems more generally, I would say that if China is able to reduce some of the police–society conflict in other areas of the country, then this is good for the international community because it leads to a more stable government. We also know that there is a fair amount of international cooperation between police groups. China has police liaisons that travel and learn about practices and technology in different countries. The police in these groups attend conferences and take delegates abroad.
There are also police delegations from other nations that go to China to learn about and exchange best practices. But that work will not necessarily address the underlying issues that we see in a lot of the stations scattered throughout China outside the big cities like Beijing (北京) or Shanghai (上海). Those are the areas with insufficient training or manpower. Those issues must be addressed internally by the Ministry of Public Security.
How is the Chinese government improving its policing capabilities?
Recently, the ministry has tried to overcome manpower and other ground-level policing problems by using surveillance cameras and artificial intelligence. Networks of cameras are appearing all over the country, and police are using body cameras for recording interactions with the public. This type of surveillance is not just in large cities but also in smaller ones. Of course, it is not enough to just put the cameras up—you also need to train officers to use that technology properly. This process takes time, but it is one way that the ministry hopes to overcome on-the-ground problems such as the low number of police per capita.
How might the Hong Kong protests influence or change policing tactics in China?
The situation in Hong Kong is unlikely to change policing tactics in China, which are generally more aggressive in controlling protests than most of what we have seen thus far in Hong Kong. It is more likely that things will go in the other direction, with mainland tactics being used in Hong Kong, especially if we continue to observe increased pressure to bring the protestors in check.