In France, the Covid app threatens to flop, in the UK it is a long time coming. The cases show: Without Apple and Google it will be difficult

London and Paris rely on their approaches to the Corona apps. Now France is struggling with low user numbers, and the British will get their app in the autumn at the earliest, if at all.

Within three weeks of the launch of the COVID app in France, it had downloaded around 1.8 million French. However, this corresponds to hardly more than 2.5 percent of the population. Cyril Marcilhacy / Bloomberg

The joy didn’t last long. On June 3, one day after France launched its StopCovid contact tracing app, the State Secretary for Digital, Cédric O, was satisfied. Six hundred thousand people installed the application on the first day, he explained on French television and spoke of a perfect start.

But disillusionment quickly returned to France. The figures that Cédric O presented last week are likely to be well below the government’s expectations: three weeks after the launch, only around 1.8 million French had downloaded and activated the app. That is hardly more than 2.5 percent of the population. In neighboring Germany, which launched its app in mid-June, more than 15 percent use it.

So far, the French app has only had limited results. Just 68 French people who tested positive for the coronavirus recorded their results in the first three weeks. Only 14 people who were close to the sick could be warned in this way. Particularly bitter: 460,000 French people have already deleted the app from their smartphone. The reasons for the low success can hardly be named with certainty. The now small Corona case numbers are likely to play a role. The particular route that France goes with its app, but also.

He was increasingly isolated in Europe.

Several European countries have developed apps in recent months to help track infection chains. The principle is mostly the same: the app uses the Bluetooth Low Energy transmission technology to store the encrypted ID of those devices that also use the application and come close to the smartphone for several minutes.

Most European countries are now adopting a decentralized approach: their apps only save as much data as possible locally on their respective devices. Only when someone has become infected and reports this will a few encrypted data be sent to a central server. The apps use an interface for measuring the distance and transferring the ID, which the technology groups Apple and Google, have developed. The unusual collaboration of the rivals is supposed to set standards and enable the applications to function correctly. But it is subject to certain conditions. The decentralized approach to data storage is one of them.

France, on the other hand, takes a different course and is therefore increasingly isolated in Europe. With the French app, more data comes together on a central server – the country does without the solution from Google and Apple. State Secretary Cédric O emphasized time and again that the decision was taken deliberately. It is essential to maintain the country’s sovereignty.

The French model has some disadvantages. On Apple devices, the application only works to a minimal extent without the interface. iPhone owners – who make up around 20 percent of smartphone users in France – should have the app open in the foreground so that it sends Bluetooth signals. However, the research institute Inria, under whose leadership the app was developed, seems to have found a way to counter the problem at least a little. The app becomes active on iPhones when another person approaches an Android phone and can then register the contact, representatives of the institute explained to French media. If two iPhone owners meet, and the app does not run in the foreground, the communication is not recorded.

Privacy concerns

Data protection concerns may also have contributed to the fact that many French people, who are fundamentally suspicious of the government, reject the app. Fifty-four percent were concerned about their data, according to a May survey. The central approach is also controversial at the European level. Some privacy advocates fear that too much information would be concentrated in one place, and misuse could not be ruled out. It is questionable whether the French would have trusted an app more with a decentralized approach. France’s data protection commission had given the application a generally positive testimony before it was launched.

However, a researcher at the Inria institute discovered in mid-June that “StopCovid,” when a user-declared himself ill, sent more data to the central server than the government claimed: This is not only the case for encounters in which cellphone owners over 15 minutes are less than a meter apart, and it is therefore assumed that there is a risk of infection. A meeting is transmitted even if it only lasts a few minutes, and the distance is more significant. Cédric O tried to resolve privacy concerns last week. He said he hadn’t noticed any privacy violations. In the future, a filter should limit the number of information transmitted.

If contrary to current signs, the French app is still thriving, another problem remains to be solved. Because of the central approach, it should not be easy to make StopCovid compatible with counterparts from other countries. But that is precisely what will be necessary so that it also works outside the French borders.

It is easier to measure distances by hand than with an app: Boris Johnson (l.) And Emmanuel Macron at a meeting at 10 Downing Street, June 2020. Imago

Great Britain is there without an app.

On the other side of the English Channel, Britain would be happy if it had problems with France. The launch of a British Corona app, initially announced for May, was delayed, but now it is entirely in the stars. The government no longer wants to state the exact time for the launch; it is hoped for autumn. This means the island has to monitor the coronavirus the old-fashioned way with phone calls and inspectors when the last significant loosening of the lockdown is due. From July 4, pubs, restaurants, and other entertainment venues may also reopen under certain conditions.

The number of deaths in the UK is among the highest in Europe. Just as London initially followed a unique path in the fight against the pandemic and delayed the lockdown until the end of March, the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson also wanted to find a solution of its own with the tracing app. As a centrally organized country with a central healthcare system, the National Health Service (NHS), similar to France, user data should also be stored centrally. According to British experts, this would have made data analysis easier. Because this centric approach to data storage is not possible with the interface developed by Apple and Google, the UK relied on its development.

In-house development fails due to Apple cell phones.

This NHS app was tested in May on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England – due to the island location, an excellent way to monitor the movement patterns of the population. It was found that Android smartphones registered mutual contacts in around 75 percent of the cases, but Apple smartphones, in the worst case, only 4 percent. The reason for the discrepancy is that the use of Bluetooth for apps on Apple phones is restricted if you do not use the interface developed by the companies.

This maladministration was the reason for Health Minister Matt Hancock to make a U-turn in mid-June. Great Britain will now develop the app based on the Apple-Google interface and thus say goodbye to the central storage of the contact data. The mutual recognition of smartphones works very well via Apple Google technology, as a parallel British test showed.

But there was another problem, and therefore a quick start of the new app is not to be expected: According to British data, the distance measurement between the smartphones works poorly. Based on the Apple-Google interface, it is impossible to tell whether a cell phone was at a distance of one or three meters from the other smartphone – an essential factor in deciding whether a user should quarantine prophylactically. According to Hancock, the distance measurement worked much better for the drawer-based in-house development. He didn’t say why. But because neither approach is reliable, none will be used for the foreseeable future.

Apple and Google fight back.

The British accusations leave Apple and Google as bogeymen. Google had announced that it only offered an interface, not a complete app – and implicitly handed the responsibility back to the British programmers. Unnamed sources from the Apple group complained in the newspaper “The Times” that the government had not previously raised the problems with the distance measurement. London’s announcement that it would cooperate closely with Apple would also have to be followed up in the future. Health Minister Hancock had previously said that he wanted to incorporate the well-functioning distance measurement of the failed in-house development into the work with Apple and thus deploy a hybrid model.

However, other countries that use apps with the decentralized approach and the interface of the two tech groups have fewer problems. The developers of the German Corona Warn app reported that their application was able to correctly determine 80 percent of the contacts – a counterexample that Prime Minister Johnson had to be kept in the lower house. In Switzerland, it is said that the distance measurements are not perfect, but one is satisfied and continues to work on improvements.

Microphone turned off

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg defended his power at his group’s annual general meeting – once again. How long can this go on?

Facebook, as many observers see it, actually suffers from the fact that creator Mark Zuckerberg has too much to say, including his definition of freedom of expression. Yes, that he even acts like a dictator.

Nobody can get past Zuckerberg.

On Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg must have felt what it was like to suddenly have no voice for the first time in a long time. The Facebook boss had just made a fiery plea for freedom of expression.

At 11:11 am local time in California, – Zuckerberg just explained at the annual general meeting of Facebook, which was held entirely online this time, why his cyber currency Libra is so essential for his company – the conference service provider ended the meeting without further ado. And so abruptly turned the microphone off the Facebook boss and thus the worldwide audience.

Even the most talented satirist couldn’t have done it better. The irony is perfect. The breakdown is a steep step for the growing number of critics of the social network. Because, as many observers see, Facebook suffers from the fact that its creator has too much to say, including its definition of freedom of expression. Yes, that he even acts like a dictator.

It’s not that Zuckerberg doesn’t have a voice. But on the contrary. The Facebook founder and CEO own 81.8 percent of Class B shares, representing around 363 million papers, each giving him ten votes. He outdoes ordinary Class A shareholders who have only one vote and, with 53.1 percent of the votes, is unchallenged on Facebook. He even has a further 4.8 percent buffer thanks to Class B shareholders who have given him his vote.

This year’s Facebook general meeting was, therefore – except the abrupt end – as it has been in recent years. At least for the most part, because there was no riot from the audience and demonstrations in front of the building at the virtual meeting.

All the motions submitted by Facebook were approved, the majority by other shareholders were rejected. NorthStar Asset Management’s proposal to abolish multiple voting rights and thereby give ordinary investors a say? No chance – like in previous years.

Now it is not the case that Zuckerberg invented multiple voting rights. Instead, the fall in Silicon Valley goes back to the founders of Google, Sergey Brin, and Larry Page, who made such a construct popular among the founders of high tech when they listed their company on the stock exchange in August 2004. Brin and Page, in turn, took the suggestion for this from Donald Graham, the longtime publisher of the Washington Post, whose mother Katharine secured the family’s influence when the media company went public in 1971. Don Graham, in turn, was on the Board of Directors of Facebook from 2009 to 2015. And that as – the summit of irony – leading independent members.

Brin and Page also control the Alphabet parent company. But there are still two. Alphabet’s board of directors is also not known to instigate revolts against the founders. But is perceived as more independent from the outside.

On Facebook, at least Jonas Kron of Trillium Asset Management thinks that is not the case. Among his newly confirmed members on Wednesday are such top-class players as Netscape creator Marc Andreessen and Hedgefond billionaire Peter Thiel. You are not exactly known as a yes-man. Drew Houston joined the team in February. The founder of Dropbox is a longtime friend of Zuckerberg.

Facebook is not a democracy

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) / ALTERNATIVE CROP (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Andreessen and Thiel, it is said in Silicon Valley, should often represent opinions other than Zuckerberg. But they cannot do more than advice, let alone control effectively. You are personally close to him. So close that Zuckerberg, even against considerable public criticism, declined to dismiss Thiel from the Board of Directors because of his publicly cultivated support from Donald Trump. That speaks for the loyalty of Zuckerberg. But it should be one of the reasons why Netflix founder Reed Hastings left the Facebook board last year.

“Facebook is not a democracy,” said Zuckerberg at a meeting of his employees. He is right about that. If Facebook were a democracy, every investor would have an equal vote. Depending on its shares, of course, but also on the economic risk.

It’s true: thanks to his power, Zuckerberg can lead his group more effectively, easily fend off hostile takeovers and quickly pull through his own. The fact that Facebook has become so powerful and continues to grow is also because Zuckerberg bought potential competitors such as Instagram and WhatsApp. He was able to negotiate this at the kitchen table in his home in Palo Alto without having to convince his supervisory board for a long time.

Do multiple voting rights damage a group’s economic prosperity? Opinions differ. In the case of Facebook, it can at least be measured by the market value. That has climbed from $ 242 billion to $ 652 billion in the past five years, despite all the scandals and a handpicked board of directors.

But thanks to critical voices, could Facebook have avoided a few wrong steps, and could it be even more valuable? Surely it could have kept some talents.

Even more: May a company that includes WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram, reached around three billion inhabitants of the earth and thus has considerable political and social influence, are led by a, well, dictator, as observers from Zuckerberg describe?

Even Zuckerberg is likely to swan that this will not go well for long. On Wednesday, he referred to the recently launched content supervisory body, which was ridiculed by critics as a “censorship committee.” But can the team of former top politicians, lawyers, and journalists stand up to the CEO? Will he implement recommendations that are not pleasant to him as promised?

Doubts are appropriate. Chris Cox, former Facebook Product Manager, longtime friend and confidant of Zuckerberg, and even a candidate to succeed him as CEO, surprisingly left the group last year. He intervened unsuccessfully against Zuckerberg’s plan to encrypt the content of WhatsApp and Messenger. There are many good arguments for encrypting communication that competitors like Apple also share. But

There are also dark sides, including harrowing ones.

As Michael Passoff made clear during the Facebook general meeting. Proxy Impact’s CEO wants to stop Facebook’s encryption plans. “Facebook is the largest source of child sexual abuse material worldwide,” Pass off claims. Encryption would make it even harder to stop or even notice this flood, he warns. Zuckerberg, himself the father of two children, certainly didn’t make the decision easy. It is a burden. However, which would be spread over several shoulders and more comfortable to carry.

Plandemic documentary: conspiracy theorists celebrate their new heroine

An alleged corona virus unveiling video is viewed millions of times on YouTube – and then deleted. The case shows how important the fight against the infodemic is. The social media platforms are therefore increasingly using fact checkers.

The corona pandemic is accompanied by a worrying “infodemic”: fake news and disinformation are booming, conspiracy theories are flourishing. This is currently shown in the example of the pseudo-documentary “Plandemic”. The film is scheduled to be released in summer but is already featured in a 26-minute video. This was also published on the video platform Youtube and has been viewed millions of times.

The protagonist Dr Judy Mikovits, a controversial American researcher who worked at the National Cancer Institute. In an interview with filmmaker Mikki Willis, the molecular biologist claims that leading US experts such as immunologist Anthony Fauci are covering up the truth about the new coronavirus to gain power and money. The pandemic is a conspiracy of people trying to benefit from vaccines. In addition to several unprovable claims, she also explains that vaccinations help people get Covid-19 because they weaken the immune system.

Furthermore, the short film assumes that protective masks spread the virus. However, since it can take up to 14 days for someone to show symptoms, masks are said to prevent droplet transmission. The interviewee thinks that the beaches should reopen quickly because people are protected by “healing microbes in saltwater”. The fact-checking portal Politifact has compiled the false and non-verifiable claims made in the document.

Offended pride because of a career break

Right at the beginning of the interview, Mikovits is staged as a victim whose career has been willfully destroyed. Specifically, this is a work from 2009. At that time, the researcher co-wrote a paper that put forward the theory that a retrovirus discovered in mice played an essential role in the development of chronic fatigue syndrome. Since several laboratory tests could not confirm the thesis, the investigation was withdrawn due to technical shortcomings.

After further controversy, Mikovits initially lost her job and was even briefly arrested after a house search. The failure of her academic career is still attributed to Fauci, the adviser to the US President, who is currently the most crucial expert in the corona crisis in America. The allegations go back decades: She claims that Fauci threatened her and benefited from her work on the HI virus. “The whole world is listening to him right now,” the interviewer stated in the video. “How do we know he is telling the truth?” He asks his counterpart. “What he says is pure propaganda,” replies Mikovits, who also claims that Fauci has been complicit in millions of deaths since 1984. 

In the course of the interview, the interviewee mentioned other names of well-known people who were part of a vast conspiracy. However, due to the one-sided perspective and the dramatized presentation, the audience quickly gets the impression that this is primarily about the offended pride of a woman who uses the current pandemic as an occasion to rehabilitate her burst career and her battered reputation. This assumption is confirmed by the fact that Mikovits recently published an Amazon bestseller book that deals with corruption in science.

Dr When asked by various media, Fauci said he had never worked with Judy Mikovits, and he dismissed the allegations.

QAnon, anti-vaccine and right-wing extremists celebrate their new heroine.

The original video, which generated at least eight million views on YouTube, has since been deleted from various significant platforms. However, this does not prevent conspiracy theorists from uploading a dozen copies of the video. They found a new “whistleblower” in Mikovits. The pseudo-scientific video is particularly well received by anti-vaccination groups, right-wing extremist news portals and the QAnon movement, which a secret government in the United States claims to have recognized behind all evil.

This “deep state theory” is also becoming increasingly popular in Europe. In Germany, conspiracy theorists like Ken Jebsen try to hijack the public debate with their crude theories. His fans are happy to describe the so-called “New World Order”, a profoundly anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. The narrative that Bill Gates benefits from a corona vaccine is also prevalent and is also mentioned in the Plandemic video.

Doctors use YouTube for debunking videos.

Doctors, doctors and scientists are currently doing educational work on YouTube. If you are looking for “Plandemic” on the platform, you will be shown fact-checking videos with attached links to trustworthy sources such as the WHO. Some of these reaction videos have already been viewed millions of times.

In the expert videos, Judy Mikovits’ claims are exposed as false or misleading, and the fake news and myths are contrasted with facts (so-called debunking). “I am shaken,” says Dr Zubin Damania in a video, “That Americans are so stupid to believe for a second what is said in the conspiracy video.” And another doctor named Dr Todd Grande says: “You always have to ask yourself whether there is evidence to support the claims and what sources are mentioned.”

46 per cent of all fake news comes from Youtube

According to a recent study by the scientific journal “BMJ”, YouTube has a massive problem with disinformation and fake news. According to this, more than a quarter of the most viewed videos on the platform show misleading content. There are a total of 62 million views worldwide. In contrast, videos from trustworthy sources are underrepresented during the current pandemic. The researchers are, therefore calling on health organizations to act even more aggressively against disinformation.

According to the research portal, 46 per cent of all fake news originated on YouTube. From there, they are distributed on Facebook, Instagram and Co., where they achieve a high reach. Whatsapp is the most common distribution channel, explains the portal, which specializes in fact-checking. Corrective founder David Schraven told the NZZ that the messenger service Telegram was also very dangerous. It plays a growing role in the dissemination of fake news because unlike Whatsapp; you can set up more substantial groups and exchange information there.

Twitter and Facebook are cracking down.

Now that YouTube also wants to work more closely with fact-checkers in the USA, other platforms have also stepped up their measures. As announced by Twitter , tweets with content that experts have misleading or wrong that could harm people are to be deleted. Controversial information should therefore be provided with a reference to trustworthy sources. Leading politicians such as US President Donald Trump could also meet this regulation. “These labels apply to anyone who shares misleading information that meets the requirements of our guidelines,” a spokesman told DPA.

Facebook has already taken steps to curb the spread of disinformation. In April alone, the platform provided 50 million posts with false or dubious posts about the coronavirus with warnings. The measure shows success: In 95 per cent of the cases, users did not click the link when they saw the sign, according to Facebook. The basis for the information would have delivered 7500 items from fact-checkers. Also, 2.5 million posts were removed, which were about the sale of masks, disinfectants or Covid-19 tests.


With Big Data against Corona: Less data protection for more disease protection?

The corona crisis also becomes a touchstone for protecting privacy. In several countries, health authorities use smartphone data to create movement profiles of the population and to trace infection chains.

The corona crisis is gaining momentum and drama every day. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke martially of “war” in his speech to the nation. China’s head of state Xi Jinping stylized epidemic control as a “people’s war.” Every means and every weapon seems right in the fight against the coronavirus. And that includes big data in the 21st century.

The crisis team of the Austrian government wants to use cell phone data to check whether exit restrictions are being met and social contacts are being reduced.

After it became known that numerous tourists in the Tyrolean ski resort of Ischgl had been infected with COVID-19 and the virus had spread to Iceland, Austria’s largest mobile phone provider A1 began to transmit movement profiles of its mobile phone users to the government on its initiative . The task of the crisis team is to check whether exit restrictions are observed and social contacts are reduced.

Deutsche Telekom also provides the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) with anonymized cell phone data that allows scientists to model movement flows. The physicist Dirk Brockmann, who heads the “Epidemiological Modeling of Infectious Diseases” project at the RKI, had already developed a mathematical model a few weeks ago that can be used to simulate the import risk of the virus using flight connections. However, these models are not very meaningful on a national scale, especially since air traffic has already come to a standstill. Therefore, authorities focus on smartphone data, based on which more precise movement patterns can be created.

In the United States, tech giants Google and Facebook arouse desires with their immense data collections.

Israel goes one step further. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has authorized intelligence agencies to collect cell phone data from tracing people who may have been in contact with infected people. The Israeli security company NSO Group, known for its spy software, has developed a tracking technology that creates detailed movement profiles of mobile phone users, according to a report by “Bloomberg.” According to the report, the program links cellular data with location data to find out where an infected person has been for more than 15 minutes.

In the United States, tech giants Google and Facebook arouse desires with their immense data collections. The U.S. government is currently working with the two companies to explore ways in which location data could be used to contain the epidemic.

The evaluation of cell phone data for disease control naturally raises questions about data protection. Is it legitimate to monitor citizens more closely in the fight against an epidemic? Does the end justify the means? Is data protection a deadly information barrier in the fight against the virus? Hamburg-based sociologist Nils Zurawski fears that the state of emergency could be used to establish further surveillance measures: “There is always something to monitor. And when relationships between people and diseases become visible, this surveillance penetrates areas that could previously only be guessed at. Do we want that? No. But can we defend ourselves if it makes sense? I also fear: No. » It is clear that “surveillance, illness, stigmatization, security and social relationships mix and are brought together to form a conglomerate that is not unique, but has so far been neglected in this dimension,” said the sociologist.

Would you take away the ventilator from a young man whose cell phone was found at an après-ski party in Ischgl?

Monitoring and personal data obtained from it can lead to ethical dilemmas. For example, based on medical triage data, where doctors have to decide which patient should receive priority treatment. Are patients who share their data more urgent because they behave cooperatively? Would an infected person who was in a risk area despite the fact that official warnings be disadvantaged in the intensive care unit? Would you take away the ventilator from a young man whose cell phone was found at an après-ski party in Ischgl? These may be hypothetical scenarios. However, the more data available, the higher the risk that people will be discriminated against based on certain characteristics (for example, “South Tyrolean returnees”). Especially,

In the collectively organized and epidemic-tested societies of Asia, such data protection concerns count less than in Europe. For example, the Chinese authorities have tracked millions of smartphones to create detailed movement profiles of citizens and trace infection chains. Who is currently from an infection area? Who was recently in contact with an already infected person? To this end, telecommunications providers such as China Unicom and China Telecom have shared location data from government mobile phone users. Not least, thanks to smartphone tracking, the epidemic in the Middle Kingdom could be contained. According to the authorities, there are no longer any local infections.

In Taiwan, people at risk are then electronically monitored using their cell phones.

Taiwan, which has three times as many inhabitants as Switzerland, but has 40 times fewer infected people (67 instead of over 3,000), relies on big data to fight the coronavirus. At the end of January, the state health insurance and immigration authorities pooled their databases. By linking health and exercise data, the police were able to identify citizens with a high risk of infection or infection. These people at risk are then monitored electronically using their mobile phones.

In South Korea, which is severely affected by the epidemic, health authorities are sending emotionalized text messages on cell phones to raise awareness. For example: “A woman in her sixties has just been tested positive.” The government keeps a precise record of its citizens’ movements – detailed travel patterns are created using anonymized GPS data, credit card histories, images from surveillance cameras, and patient surveys. On a live map, citizens can see where infected patients are currently. The Ministry of the Interior and Security has also developed an app that uses GPS tracking to check whether citizens comply with the requirements of home quarantine – or leave the house without authorization.

At Swisscom, data transmission to the health authorities is currently not planned.

Significant data-based population control in Asia (keyword “contact tracing”) is now also considered a successful model in the West. And with each passing day, with every infected person, the pressure to use these tracking methods in their own country is growing. In Switzerland smartphone tracking is currently not an issue. On request, Swisscom informs that it “does not create individual movement profiles for customers”. “According to the Telecommunications Act, fully anonymized location data or information obtained from this data may also be processed without the consent of customers,” a spokesman said on request. However, data transmission to the health authorities is currently not planned. At the same time, the company signals willingness to cooperate: “If the authorities request cooperation with Swisscom to combat the corona pandemic in the area of ​​the analysis of movement data, Swisscom will examine the request and support the authorities within the applicable legal framework.”

The Swiss cultural and media scientist Felix Stalder, who has been researching social change processes through digitization for years, believes that data evaluation is legitimate under the following conditions:

  • The data must be anonymized. (This means it’s about population analysis, not individual monitoring.)
  • The data must be deleted after use.
  • The evaluation must be limited to questions determined by an external team. (No fishing just because you have the data right now.)
  • Issues and evaluation methods must be published after completion.
  • The data must be submitted to at least two independent analysis teams to be able to make comparisons as to whether the evaluations were correct at all.

The analysis of smartphone data may be a tried and tested means of creating mobility patterns and thus containing an epidemic. However, it should be limited to the crisis because it not only limits privacy but can also stigmatize people. The state of emergency is always a breach of the dam because it legitimizes restrictions on freedom that will not be withdrawn after the crisis has been lifted – such as security laws in the United States after September 11th. Anyone who releases data now should keep an eye on the consequences after the crisis.

The TV station that makes you sick

Fox News keeps downplaying the coronavirus outbreak. The Americans couldn’t care less if the broadcaster didn’t have such a huge impact.

Uncritical in dealing with the US President: Donald Trump gives Fox News the 75th interview of his term. 
Photo: Getty Images

Hardly anyone believes that the coronavirus will be contained in the United States in two weeks. Perhaps not even Donald Trump himself believes it. But that didn’t stop him from announcing last week that he wanted to open the country again on Easter Sunday. He did – of course – at Fox News, it was his 75th interview with the TV station. “I want to see fully occupied churches across the country at Easter,” Trump said.

This would have been an opportunity for journalists to raise doubts: How is that going to happen if it becomes increasingly clear that the USA could become the new epicenter of the Corona outbreak? But there are no critical questions for the President at Fox News, not even when he promises an Easter miracle. “Oh, wow,” one of the moderators stammered. “That would be a great American resurrection,” said her colleague.

The three corona phases

The relationship between the conservative TV station and Trump has long been symbiotic. The moderators outbid themselves to defend the president against any accusations, Trump, in turn, uses Fox as an amplifier for his message and his conspiracy theories. With the onset of the corona crisis, a new debate about Fox has flared up. It revolves around the question of whether the most-watched cable transmitter in the United States has become a threat to public health.

“The more I learn about the virus, the less I worry.” Moderator at «Fox & Friends»

For example, Ashish Jha, director of the Global Public Health Institute at Harvard University sees it. “Some right-wing media commentators are spreading a particular type of misinformation that is very harmful,” the doctor said in the New York Times. This would result in Americans dying from the coronavirus.

Whoever watched the station last experienced three different phases of reporting. In the first phase, the moderators denied that the coronavirus was a problem at all. It is a hoax, a hoax. The media and experts who warned of the spread of the virus are “scaremongering” who have only one goal: to harm Trump. “You want to beat him up with it,” said Sean Hannity, the president’s favorite presenter, and spoke of “coronavirus hysteria.” Another commentator spoke of the “next attempt to impeachment against the president”.

Until recently, Fox News also said that the coronavirus was no more dangerous than regular flu. “The more I learn about it, the less I worry,” said a Fox commentator on breakfast television. On March 13, when 16 US states had already closed schools because of the virus, a presenter made fun of social distancing recommendations like those to avoid unnecessary trips: “This is the safest time to fly now, all terminals are empty. » All of this coincided with the way Trump spoke about the crisis: no problem.

«You can’t beat the deeds of this government. It does an incredible job. »Moderator at Fox

The course only changed after the president declared a national emergency in mid-March and called on the Americans to adhere to exit restrictions for 15 days. Now that the threat hadn’t “disappeared,” as he had previously said, Trump was talking about the coronavirus in new, earnest tones.

Suddenly it sounded different

And from that point on, Fox began the second phase of reporting: a seamless – or, depending on your point of view: shameless – transition from denial to praise. Corona was suddenly an “incredibly contagious and dangerous virus” and Trump’s efforts to fight the spread were heroic. «You can’t beat the deeds of this government. She does an incredible job, »said a moderator.

The damage was done, however. According to a poll by the Pew Institute in mid-March, 79 percent of Fox viewers find that other media exaggerate the dangers of the virus. Only 42 percent of the Republican supporters who make up Fox’s core audience said in a Gallup poll that they were concerned about the virus. It was 73 percent among Democrats. Seldom has it become so bright that the assessment of a pandemic in the United States now also depends on which media people consume. Many Fox viewers belong to the Corona risk group: their average age is 65 years.


In the meantime, Fox has reached the third phase – where Trump is also located. It consists of crude, factually false optimism about the use of all sorts of new therapies and miracle cures for the virus. This optimism is spread by moderators like Sean Hannity, but also by the doctors who regularly appear at the station. One of them is known in the United States for its controversial diet products that have been the subject of a Congressional investigation.

Above all, however, there is a call for a return to normality as quickly as possible, which is increasing in volume with the moderators of Fox News. They are not alone in conservative circles. However, the tone they strike is unique.

Only Murdoch’s party is canceled

“Our ruling class and their TV mouthpieces, who are afraid of this virus, can afford an endless shutdown,” said moderator Steve Hilton – referring to criticism of the US government’s health experts that the all too rapid easing of the Warn measures. In this reading, everyday restrictions become the fetish of medical professionals who don’t care what damage they cause to the economy.

By the way, one who dealt with the health risks of the virus very early on is Rupert Murdoch. He wanted to celebrate his 89th birthday on March 11, at a time when they still described the pandemic as a hoax on Fox News every day. Murdoch’s family, the New York Times reported, canceled the celebration out of concern for his health.