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British non-profit uncovers social media plot to malign farmers’ protest



A British non-profit that previously uncovered crimes against humanity in Myanmar as well as Chinese propaganda from fake social media handles has now exposed a coordinated plot to link India’s protesting farmers to Khalistanis through inauthentic social media posts.

The provocateurs have not been identified but what links the fake handles is propaganda that supports the Indian government’s narrative on the farmer agitation, separatism in Punjab and the glorification of Indian troops.

The report titled “Analysis of the #RealSikh Influence Operation”, published online by the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), found a network of 80 fake social media accounts conducting the propaganda.

“In the content produced by the fake network, many of the memes and text are promoting the narrative that the Khalistani movement was ‘trying to hijack the farmers protest’ which is an attempt to delegitimise the farmers movement and shift the debate away from the farmer laws and into what the accounts claim is an issue about ‘terrorism’ and ‘Khalistan’….

“The fake accounts do not show signs of automation, but rather appear to be human-operated, acting as ‘sock puppet’ accounts with the same personas replicated over multiple platforms and repeating the same content,” the report says.

The report said there was a “coordinated influence operation” on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using fake personas acting as influencers within the Sikh community to discredit the farmer movement.

In a section titled “Implications for India’s political and social cohesion”, the report says: “Continuation or expansion of the network’s activity therefore risks reducing cohesion within the Sikh community, weakening trust and understanding between India’s different religious communities, and increasing social divisions that could undermine the stability of one of the world’s largest and most diverse democracies.

“The network’s advocacy that supporters of Sikh independence are extremist or terrorist, and that Indian nationalists must take action against them, may contribute to an environment in which some actors consider intimidation of, or violence towards, the Sikh community as legitimate.”

Several BJP politicians, including ministers, at the Centre and in the states too have described the farmers opposing the three new farm laws as Khalistani terrorists and Maoists backed by Pakistan and China.

The Union ministry of home affairs and that of electronics and information technology are yet to respond to queries from this newspaper on whether any action would be taken on the findings.

Earlier this year, Twitter had revealed that a quarter of all the requests it received from public authorities to remove content came from India. In the past, similar probes by foreign and Indian groups have put the Indian government under the scanner for allegedly backing disinformation campaigns from inauthentic entities to counter Pakistan and promote its own narrative on world affairs.

Campaigns from fake Facebook and Twitter handles were exposed also during the 2019 parliamentary polls.

CIR said that Twitter and Meta — which runs Facebook and Instagram — had suspended fake accounts it had reported to them.

A Meta spokesperson told The Telegraph: “We removed these accounts for violating our inauthentic behaviour policies. They misled people about the origin and popularity of their content and used fake accounts to spam people and evade our enforcement.”

However, neither Meta nor Twitter responded to this newspaper’s question whether the source of the disinformation had been identified.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, which has been leading the farmers’ movement, responded to the revelations saying it was “concerned about the divisive agenda being promoted in this manner, and asks citizens to be extra alert about this virtual strategy to pit citizens against each other”.

“The BJP and its supporters have not hesitated to use various strategies to attack the peaceful movement, even as the government went out of its way to suspend and stop the accounts of supporters of the protesting farmers,” the Morcha said.

The online campaign seems to have had a degree of success.

Ravinder Singh, CEO of Khalsa Aid, an international non-profit that supports victims of natural and man-made disasters, tweeted: “Most of the FAKE accounts are so obvious and yet our own genuine guys join them to attack fellow Sikh activists!!”

The CIR added: “The core of the network are accounts positioning themselves as true Sikhs, whilst their content is amplified by accounts self-identifying as Indian nationalists. This suggests the influence operation may be targeting audiences within both Sikh and Hindu communities. The profiles of the fake accounts, their adoption of common Sikh names, their use of similar if not identical spam hashtags and content, and our analysis of their interactions with other Twitter users, suggests their activity is coordinated.”

Among the hashtags used were #Khalistanis, #RealSikhsAgainstKhalistan, #SikhsRejectKhalistan and #ShameOnKhalistanis. The fake accounts used several images of Punjabi celebrities and even a Pakistani celebrity.

The researchers observed little content in Punjabi. “This may either be due to the targeted audience of the network being non-language specific (using English rather than specifically Punjabi or Hindi), or because the people operating the Sikh influencer accounts are not able to write sufficient text in Punjabi,” they said.

Food policy analyst Devinder Sharma tweeted: “Suspending these fake accounts is no solution. They need to be apprehended and punished.”

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Andhra Pradesh sees 184 Covid cases, 1 death | Visakhapatnam News



VISAKHAPATNAM: Andhra Pradesh reported 184 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday. The toll increased to 14,443 as one more patient succumbed in Krishna district and 183 patients were declared cured on Wednesday.
There are currently 2,149 active cases with 20,56,501 cumulative recoveries and 14,443 fatalities.
Chittoor reported 39 new infections on Wednesday, followed by Visakhapatnam (28) and Vizianagaram (27).
Five districts posted single-digit case numbers.

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Doom Patrol Season 4 Release Date, Cast And Plot



No information regarding the plot of Season 4 of “Doom Patrol” has officially been confirmed, although again, due to the nature of Season 3’s ending, it’s highly likely that the team will take on larger missions due to their shared acceptance of their role as a super-team of sorts. It’s possible that we could see some recurring characters like Dorothy (Abi Monterey) and the Dead Boy Detectives make more appearances as well.

There are plenty of issues left unaddressed in Season 3 for Season 4 to tackle as well, including Robotman’s new body, Rita’s possibility of becoming a villain now that she has embraced her darker side, and Laura De Mille’s struggles in truly being a hero. Either way, the plot of Season 4 is likely to see the entire “Doom Patrol” squad deal with their newfound responsibility as a super-team, including finding the best ways to make it work as a cohesive unit. Expect to hear more about the details of “Doom Patrol” Season 4 next year.

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Beamlines cast precious light on SARS-CoV-2, emerging variants and vaccines that will stop them



Newswise — Ultrabright light from the Advanced Photon Source continues to illuminate mysteries around coronaviruses and shape the vaccines and therapeutics protecting us against variants of concern.

It’s been nearly two years since the first outbreaks of COVID-19. In that time, facilities such as the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, have proved integral to the fight against the disease.

Building on more than a decade of research into similar viruses, scientists using the ultrabright X-rays of the APS have been instrumental in the development of vaccines and treatments against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Now research has pivoted to the variants of the virus, and determining whether the approved vaccines will be effective against them.

“Time is of the essence in combating this virus. We are enormously appreciative of APS remaining open throughout the pandemic for COVID-related experiments.”  — Ian Wilson, Scripps Research.

Nearly all viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, attempt to mutate in wily efforts to “escape” eradication. Some of these variants disappear as quickly as they emerge. Others linger and are classified as variants of concern (VOCs).

VOCs become highly problematic when established human means of eradicating them fail to have the desired effect. A vaccinated person’s immune system knows to produce virus-fighting antibodies when it sees certain molecular characteristics. However, the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s spike protein molecule — which the APS helped researchers identify as the target site of current vaccines — has been able to mutate ever so slightly and still attach itself to human cells more readily or tightly. Depending on the degree of mutation, antibodies can then fail to recognize the mutated viruses.

Such variants and mutations of SARS-CoV-2 were always expected, and APS beamlines were used from an early date to study them.

Ian Wilson, a scientist at the Scripps Research Institute, leads a laboratory whose APS-informed work has advanced understanding of dominant and emerging variants of the virus. The Wilson lab, spearheaded by postdoctoral fellows Meng Yuan and Nicholas Wu (now an assistant professor at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign), first looked at SARS-CoV-2 at the APS in February 2020, shortly after its genome was released.

They specifically narrowed their lens on the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the spike protein. The RBD is a part of the virus that latches onto and invades cells to increase infection. This focus helped the Wilson lab determine crystal structures of many human antibodies combined with the RBD and see exactly how antibodies target and neutralize the virus.

Ten months later, when it was reported that SARS-CoV-2 was infecting farmed mink in Denmark and that the mutated viruses were transmissible to humans, the Wilson lab built on this initial research to study the emerging variants. They initially identified vulnerable sites on the virus surface that could be targeted by neutralizing antibodies. They also identified the more conserved sites — regions on the viral surface that are often less mutated — which, when targeted by antibodies, are effective at neutralizing the virus’s emerging variants.

Conserved sites of the viral surface, it turns out, are critical to study because while the virus may relentlessly change, certain regions of its spike protein cannot accommodate mutations, as they would lose essential viral function and fitness. By changing too much, the virus wouldn’t be itself anymore. Antibodies target these sites and more changeable sites with different degrees of success.

“Only a small portion of antibodies isolated from COVID-19 patients can cross-react with related SARS-like viruses,” explained Yuan of results published in Cell Host & Microbe. “Some can neutralize these different viruses and are termed cross-neutralizing. Our study was able to reveal conserved regions on these different viruses that can be targeted by cross-neutralizing antibodies.”

In another study of the virus’s escape mechanism published in Science, the Wilson lab tested a panel of 17 neutralizing antibodies isolated from COVID-19 patients, or from mice designed to carry human cells or human genetic and physiological properties. In these tests, two mutations of the virus in the RBD were particularly able to evade a number of neutralizing antibodies. However, when more conserved sites were tested, the variants fared less well; the antibodies were still able to target the variants.

Analysis of the antibodies that bind to these conserved regions using beamline data helps researchers identify ways to resist variants more effectively and guide next-generation vaccine and treatment design.

Jonathan Abraham, an assistant professor of microbiology at Harvard University, is another researcher who used the APS to examine antibody response to SARS-CoV-2. He was buried in a different project using data collected at the APS when he attended a clinical presentation about a local patient infected with SARS-CoV-2.

“[The patient] had a five-month-long infection and was receiving therapy to treat an autoimmune condition,” explained Abraham. “One of our colleagues sequenced the virus, and I remember seeing the SARS-CoV-2 RBD sequences and having an “aha!” moment.”

As detailed in Cell, Abraham studied viral sequences collected from the patient at various times during infection — from up to 152 days after they were diagnosed with COVID-19. He found that the immunocompromised patient’s virus over time evolved to acquire RBD mutations that could fool antibodies into no longer recognizing it.

When X-ray crystal structures of the antibodies were examined at the APS, it became clear that the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein can build a mature resistance to antibodies — and scientists can see exactly where it did so at a molecular level.

“We were compelled to move forward with experiments to better understand the significance of these mutations to receptor and neutralizing antibody binding,” said Abraham. “Many of the RBD mutations we were studying because they arose in this individual later emerged as part of variants of concern.”

Wilson and Abraham give credit to those at Argonne who worked hard to make APS beamlines available for SARS-CoV-2 research. Their dedication, professionalism and fast response times were critical.

“APS staff on numerous occasions have gone above and beyond to help us secure beam time to study SARS-CoV-2 antibodies and spike protein fragments,” said Abraham. “The Argonne technicians and scientists who work on the beamlines have simply been outstanding, and they often provided training and instruction to graduate students who were leading the SARS-CoV-2 research projects in our lab.”

“Time is of the essence in combating this virus,” said Wilson. “We are enormously appreciative of APS remaining open throughout the pandemic for COVID-related experiments.”

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