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The Facebook Dilemma

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As of the third quarter of 2018, 2.27 billion people actively used Facebook,1 the world’s largest social media site, up from 1 billion in 2012. On average, each user spends about 41 minutes using the site daily,2 down from 50 minutes average in 2016.

Some, of course, spend far more. Teens, for instance, may spend up to nine hours perusing the site, the consequences of which are only beginning to be understood.

As noted by The Motley Fool,3 Facebook is unique in its ability to monetize the time people spend on its platform. During the third quarter of 2018, the site generated more than $6 per user. For the fourth quarter of 2017, Facebook raked in a total of $12.97 billion, $4.3 billion of which was net profit.4

Most of this revenue — $11.4 billion for the fourth quarter alone — came from mobile ads,5 which are customized to users’ preferences and habits. According to CNN Money,6 98 percent of Facebook’s revenue comes from advertising, totaling $39.9 billion in 2017.

Facebook’s Primary Business Is Collecting and Selling Your Personal Data

Facebook has repeatedly been caught mishandling users’ data and/or lying about its collection practices. The fact is, its entire profit model is based on the selling of personal information that facilitates everything from targeted advertising to targeted fraud.

Like Google, Facebook records,7 tracks and stores every single thing you do on Facebook: every post, comment, “like,” private message and file ever sent and received, contacts, friends lists, login locations, stickers and more. Even the recurrent use of certain words is noted and can become valuable currency for advertisers.

For individuals who start using Facebook at a young age, the lifetime data harvest could be inconceivably large, giving those who buy or otherwise access that information a very comprehensive picture of the individual in question.

Facebook also has the ability to access your computer or smartphone’s microphone without your knowledge.8 If you suddenly find yourself on the receiving end of ads for products or services you just spoke about out loud, chances are one or more apps are linked into your microphone and are eavesdropping.

In the featured video, “The Facebook Dilemma,” Frontline PBS correspondent James Jacoby investigates Facebook’s influence over the democracy of nations, and the lax privacy parameters that allowed for tens of millions of users’ data to be siphoned off and used in an effort to influence the U.S. elections.

The Early Days of Facebook

The Frontline report starts out showing early video footage of Zuckerberg in his first office, complete with a beer keg and graffiti on the walls, talking about the success of his social media platform. At the time, in 2005, Facebook had just hit 3 million users.

In an early Harvard lecture, Zuckerberg talks about how he believes it’s “more useful to make things happen and apologize later than it is to make sure you dot all your i’s now, and not get stuff done.” As noted by Roger McNamee, an early Facebook investor, it was Zuckerberg’s “renegade philosophy and disrespect for authority that led to the Facebook motto, ‘Move fast and break things.'”

While that motto speaks volumes today, “It wasn’t that they intended to do harm, as much as they were unconcerned about the possibility that harm would result,” McNamee says. As for the sharing of information, Zuckerberg assured a journalist in an early interview that no user information would be sold or shared with anyone the user had not specifically given permission to.

In the end, Zuckerberg’s quest to “Give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected,” has had far-reaching consequences, affecting global politics and technology, and raising serious privacy issues that have yet to be resolved.

For years, however, employees firmly believed Facebook had the power to make the world a better place. As noted by Tim Sparapani, Facebook director of public policy from 2009 to 2011, Facebook “was the greatest experiment in free speech in human history,” and a “digital nation state.”

However, the company — with its largely homogenous workforce of 20-something tech geeks — has proven to be more than a little naïve about its mission to improve the world through information sharing. Naomi Gleit, vice president of social good, the company’s growth team, says they were slow to understand “the ways in which Facebook might be used for bad things.”

The Facebook News Feed

One of the key features of Facebook that keeps users engaged is the news feed, described by former product manager on Facebook’s advertising team, Antonio Garcia Martinez, as “Your personalized newspaper; your ‘The New York Times’ of you, channel you. It is your customized, optimized vision of the world.”

However, the information that appears in your newsfeed isn’t random. From the very beginning, it was driven by a secret algorithm, a mathematical formula that ranked stories in terms of importance based on your individual preferences. This personalization is “the secret sauce,” to quote Martinez, that keeps users scrolling and sharing.

The addition of the “Like” button in 2009 revolutionized the company’s ability to gather personal data — information about your preferences that can then be sold for cold hard cash. It also “acted as a social lubricant” and a “flywheel of engagement,” Soleio Cuervo, a former product manager for the company, says.

The ability to get feedback through “likes” made people feel like they were being heard, and this ultimately became “the driving force of the product,” Cuervo says. However, the “Like” button also suddenly allowed Facebook to determine who you care about most among your friends and family, what kind of content makes you react or take action, and which businesses and interests are truly important to you — information that helps build your personality profile and can be sold.

The Legal Provision That Allowed Facebook to Exist and Flourish

The Facebook news feed was made possible by laws that do not hold internet companies liable for the content posted on their website. As explained by Sparapani, “Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is the provision which allows the internet economy to grow and thrive. And Facebook is one of the principal beneficiaries of this provision.”

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act basically says an internet provider cannot be held responsible if someone posts something violent, offensive or even unlawful on their site. According to Sparapani, Facebook “took a very libertarian perspective” with regard to what it would allow on its site.

Aside from a few basic common decency rules, the company was “reluctant to interpose our value system on this worldwide community,” Sparapani says. Were they concerned about truth becoming obfuscated amid a flood of lies? Jacoby wonders. “No,” Sparapani says. “We relied on what we thought were the public’s common sense and common decency to police the site.”

Real-World Impacts of Social Media

The tremendous impact of social media, the ability to share information with like-minded individuals, became apparent during the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011, when a Facebook page created by Wael Ghonim, a Google employee in the Middle East, literally sparked a revolution that led to the resignation of Egyptian President Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak, just 18 days after a Facebook call-out for protest resulted in hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets.

Around the world, it became clear that Facebook could be used to create democratic change; that it has the power to change society as we know it. Alas, with the good comes the bad. After the revolution, conflict in the Middle East spiraled out of control as the polarization between opposing sides grew — and the social media environment both bred and encouraged that polarization.

What’s worse, Facebook’s news feed algorithm was actually designed to reward polarizing material with greater distribution. The end result played out in the streets, where sectarian violence led to bloodshed.

“The hardest thing for me was seeing the tool that brought us together tearing us apart,” Ghonim says, adding, “These tools are just enablers for whomever; they don’t separate between what’s good and bad. They just look at engagement metrics.” Since the Arab Spring, the rise of fake news has been relentless.

“Everything that happened after the Arab Spring should have been a warning sign to Facebook,” says Zeynep Tufekci, a researcher and former computer programmer. One major problem, she believes, is that Facebook was unprepared to monitor all of the content coming from every corner of the globe.

She urged the company to hire more staff, and to hire people who know the language and understand the local culture in each region Facebook is available. Still, it’s unlikely that any company, at any size, would be able to police the content of a social network with more than 2 billion users.

Privacy — What Privacy?

In order for Facebook to go public, it had to be profitable, which is where the selling of user data comes in. By selling the information the platform has collected about you as you move through content and even web pages outside of Facebook, “liking” and commenting on posts along the way, marketers are able to target their chosen market.

While this seems innocuous enough at first glance, this data harvesting and selling has tremendous ramifications, opening people up to be purposely deceived and misled.

Zuckerberg, whose experience with advertising was limited, hired former Google vice president of global online sales and operations, Sheryl Sandberg, as chief operating officer. In one interview, Sandberg stresses that Facebook is “focused on privacy,” and that their business model “is by far the most privacy-friendly to consumers.”

“That’s our mission,” Zuckerberg chimes in, adding “We have to do that because if people feel like they don’t have control over how they’re sharing things, then we’re failing them.” “It really is the point that the only things Facebook knows about you are things you’ve done and told us,” Sandberg says.

Internally, however, Sandberg demanded revenue growth, which meant selling more ads, which led to data harvesting that today exceeds people’s wildest imagination.

How to Build an Orwellian Surveillance Machine

By partnering with data brokering companies, Facebook has access to an incredible amount of data that has nothing to do with what you post online — information on your credit card transactions, where you live, where you shop, how your family is spending its time, where you work, what you eat, read, listen to and much more.

Information is also being collected about all other websites you’re perusing, outside of Facebook’s platform. All of this information, obtained by companies without your knowledge, is shared with Facebook, so that Facebook can sell ads that target specific groups of users. As noted by Tufekci, in order for Facebook’s business model to work, “it has to remain a surveillance machine.”

In short, it’s the ultimate advertising tool ever created. The price? Your privacy. Sparapani was so uncomfortable with this new direction of Facebook, he resigned before the company’s partnering with data brokers took effect.

The extent of Facebook’s data collection remained largely unknown until Max Schrems, an Austrian privacy advocate, filed 22 complaints with the Irish Data Protection Commission, where Facebook’s international headquarters are located.

Schrems claimed that Facebook’s personal data collection violated European privacy law, as Facebook was not telling users how that data was being used. In the end, nothing happened. As noted by Schrems, it was obvious that “even if you violate the law, the reality is it’s very likely not going to be enforced.” In the U.S., the situation is even worse, as there are no laws governing emerging technologies which utilize9 the kinds of data collection done by Facebook.

Federal Trade Commission Investigates Privacy Concerns

A 2010 investigation of Facebook’s data collection by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revealed the company was sharing user data with third party software developers without the users’ consent — conduct the FTC deemed deceptive.

The FTC also grew concerned about the potential misuse of personal information, as Facebook was not tracking how third parties were using the information. They just handed over access, and these third parties could have been absolutely anyone capable of developing a third-party app for the site. Facebook settled the FTC’s case against them without admitting guilt, but agreed by consent order to “identify risk to personal privacy” and eliminate those risks.

Internally, however, privacy issues were clearly not a priority, according to testimony by Sandy Parakilas, Facebook’s platform operations manager between 2011 and 2012 who, during his time with the company, ended up in charge of solving the company’s privacy conundrum — a responsibility he felt significantly underqualified for, considering its scope.

The Cambridge Analytica Scandal

Facebook, with founder Mark Zuckerberg at its helm, faced a firestorm after The New York Times and British media outlets reported Cambridge Analytica used “improperly gleaned” data from 87 million Facebook users to influence American voters during the 2016 presidential election.10,11

Cambridge Analytica data scientist Christopher Wylie, who blew the whistle on his employer, revealed the company built “a system that could profile individual U.S. voters in order to target them with personalized political advertisements” during the presidential campaign.

Parakilas insisted Facebook could have prevented the whole thing had they actually paid attention to and beefed up their internal security practices.12 Indeed, Cambridge Analytica used the very weakness the FTC had identified years before — a third-party personality quiz app called “This Is Your Digital Life.”13

The Dark Side of Social Media Rears Its Ugly Head Again

Indeed, the U.S. Department of Defense has also expressed its concerns about Facebook, noting the ease with which it can spread disinformation. As noted by former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program manager, Rand Waltzman, the significant danger with giving out personal data is that you’re opening yourself up to be a target of manipulation — whether you’re being manipulated to buy something you don’t need or believe something that isn’t true.

Between 2012 and 2015, Waltzman and colleagues published 200 scientific papers on the potential threats posed by social media, detailing how Facebook and other platforms could be used for nefarious purposes. According to Waltzman, disinformation can be turned “into a serious weapon” on Facebook, as you have the ability to mislead enormous amounts of people with very little effort.

Essentially, Facebook allows for the propagation of propaganda at an enormous scale. “It’s the scale that makes it a weapon,” Waltzman says. Jacoby interviews a young Russian who claims to have worked as a paid social media propagandist for the Russian government, using fake Facebook profiles to spread false information and sow distrust of the Ukranian government.

The reach of this disinformation was made all the greater by the fact that you can pay to promote certain posts. In the end, all of the tools created by Facebook to benefit advertisers work equally well as government propaganda tools. The end result is tragic, as fake news has mushroomed to incomprehensible levels. Taking anything at face value these days is risky business, no matter how legitimate it may appear.

Understand the Risks of Social Media Use

Social media has many wonderful benefits. But there’s a dark side, and it’s important to be aware of this. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has actually drafted legislation to protect consumer information by enforcing strict punishments, including jail time for up to 20 years, for senior company executives who fail to follow the guidelines to protect user data. As reported by Endgadget:14

“The FTC would add 175 new members to its staff to carry out enforcement and would be given the ability to penalize a company up to four percent of its revenue for its first violation. Companies would also be required to submit regular reports to the FTC to disclose any privacy lapses that have occurred.

Companies making more than $1 billion in revenue and handling information from more than 1 million people and smaller companies handling the data of more than 50 million people would be subject to the regular check-ins. Failure to comply would care a punishment of potential jail time for executives.

The legislation would also institute a Do Not Track list. When a consumer joins the list, companies would be barred from sharing their data with third parties or using it to serve up targeted advertisements … Even if consumers don’t choose to join the list, they would be granted the ability to review information collected about them, see who it has been shared with or sold to and challenge any inaccuracies.”

Aside from privacy concerns and fake news, Facebook lurking has also been linked to decreased emotional well-being, and online bullying, social isolation and depression have all become serious problems among our youth.

The obvious answer to all of these issues is to minimize your use of Facebook, and be mindful of what you post, click on and comment on while there. Information is still being gathered on your personal life by other data brokers, but at least it won’t be as effectively “weaponized” against you if it’s not tied to your Facebook profile.

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Sweet! Here are 7 reasons to eat sweet potatoes

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(Natural News) Sweet potatoes may not be as popular as regular potatoes, which is too bad — since they’re packed with vitamins and minerals. One cup of sweet potatoes can provide more than 100 percent of the daily value of vitamin A. It’s also rich in vitamin C, dietary fiber, and manganese. Both purple and orange varieties contain antioxidants that can protect the body from damage caused by free radicals.

Eating sweet potatoes is beneficial for your health

Sweet potatoes are brimming with micronutrients and antioxidants —  making them useful to your health. Below is a list of reasons why you should incorporate sweet potatoes into your diet.

They improve brain function

The purple variety of sweet potato contains anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have revealed that anthocyanins are effective at improving cognitive function. Moreover, the results suggest that purple yams can help protect against memory loss. Antioxidants from the purple variety safeguard the brain against damage from free radicals and inflammation.

They aid digestion

Sweet potatoes are rich in dietary fiber. This macronutrient prevents constipation, diarrhea, and bloating by adding bulk and drawing water to the stool. In addition, fiber keeps a healthy balance in the gut by promoting the growth of good bacteria.

They slow down aging

The beta-carotene in orange sweet potatoes can help reduce damage caused by prolonged sun exposure. This is especially true for people diagnosed with erythropoietic protoporphyria and other photosensitive diseases. Sweet potatoes also contain antioxidants that protect against free radical damage. Free radicals are not only linked to diseases but also premature aging.

They boost the immune system

Orange and purple sweet potatoes are loaded with a good number of antioxidants that help protect the body from harmful molecules that cause inflammation and damage DNA. This, in turn, protects the body from chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.

They can prevent cancer

Eating sweet potatoes can help protect against various types of cancers. The compounds in sweet potatoes restrict the development of cancer cells. Test tube studies have shown that anthocyanins can prevent cancers in the bladder, breast, colon, and stomach.

They lower blood sugar

Despite its relatively high glycemic index, studies have shown that the regular intake of sweet potatoes can help lower blood sugar, thanks to the presence of dietary fiber. While fiber falls under carbohydrates, it is digested differently, compared to starchy and sugary forms of carbohydrates. Interestingly, insulin doesn’t process fiber (unlike other types which get turned into glucose), and it only passes through the digestive tract.

They promote healthy vision

Orange sweet potatoes are rich in a compound called beta-carotene, an antioxidant which transforms into vitamin A in the body. Adequate intake of vitamin A promotes eye health. Conversely, deficiencies in vitamin A have been linked to a particular type of blindness called xerophthalmia.

Sweet potatoes are easy to incorporate into your everyday meals. They are best prepared boiled but can also be baked, roasted, or steamed — they can even replace other carbohydrates such as rice, potatoes, and toast. (Related: Understanding the phytochemical and nutrient content of sweet potato flours from Vietnam.)

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Frostbite: What it is and how to identify, treat it

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Manitoba’s temperature has plummeted to its coldest level this season, triggering warnings about the extreme risk of frostbite.

Oh, we know it’s cold. We can feel Jack Frost nipping at our noses. But what about when he gnaws a little harder — what exactly does “frostbite” mean?

People tend to underestimate the potential for severe injuries in the cold, says the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. We laugh off the sting of the deep freeze, rub our hands back from the brink of numbness and wear our survival proudly like a badge.

That’s because, in most cases, frostbite can be treated fairly easily, with no long-term effects.

But it can also lead to serious injury, including permanent numbness or tingling, joint stiffness, or muscle weakness. In extreme cases, it can lead to amputation.

Bitter cold can cause frostbite in just minutes. Here’s how to recognize the warning signs and treat them. 0:59

Here’s a guide to identifying the first signs, how to treat them, and when to seek medical help.

What is frostbite and frostnip?

Frostbite is defined as bodily injury caused by freezing that results in loss of feeling and colour in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes — those areas most often exposed to the air.

Cooling of the body causes a narrowing of the blood vessels, slowing blood flow. In temperatures below –4 C, ice crystals can form in the skin and the tissue just below it.

Frostnip most commonly affects the hands and feet. It initially causes cold, burning pain, with the area affected becoming blanched. It is easy to treat and with rewarming, the area becomes reddened.

Frostbite is the acute version of frostnip, when the soft tissue actually freezes. The risk is particularly dangerous on days with a high wind chill factor. If not quickly and properly treated, it can lead to the loss of tissues or even limbs. 

Signs of frostbite

Health officials call them the four P’s:

  • Pink: Skin appears reddish in colour, and this is usually the first sign.
  • Pain: The cold becomes painful on skin.
  • Patches: White, waxy-feeling patches show when skin is dying.
  • Prickles: Affected areas feel numb or have reduced sensation.

Symptoms can also include:

  • Reduced body temperature.
  • Swelling.
  • Blisters.
  • Areas that are initially cold, hard to the touch.

Take quick action

If you do get frostbite, it is important to take quick action.

  • Most cases of frostbite can be treated by heating the exposed area in warm (not hot) water.
  • Immersion in warm water should continue for 20-30 minutes until the exposed area starts to turn pink, indicating the return of blood circulation.
  • Use a warm, wet washcloth on frostbitten nose or earlobes.
  • If you don’t have access to warm water, underarms are a good place to warm frostbitten fingers. For feet, put them against a warm person’s skin.
  • Drink hot fluids such as hot chocolate, coffee or tea when warming.
  • Rest affected limbs and avoid irritation to the skin.
  • E​levate the affected limb once it is rewarmed.

Rewarming can take up to an hour and can be painful, especially near the end of the process as circulation returns. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help with the discomfort.

Do not …

There are a number of things you should avoid:

  • Do not warm the area with dry heat, such as a heating pad, heat lamp or electric heater, because frostbitten skin is easily burned.
  • Do not rub or massage affected areas. This can cause more damage.
  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • Do not walk on your feet or toes if they are frozen.
  • Do not break blisters.

Seek immediate medical attention

While you can treat frostbite yourself if the symptoms are minor — the skin is red, there is tingling — you should seek immediate medical attention at an emergency department if:

  • The exposed skin is blackened.
  • You see white-coloured or grey-coloured patches.
  • There is severe pain or the area is completely numb.
  • The skin feels unusually firm and is not sensitive to touch after one hour of rewarming.
  • There are large areas of blistering.
  • There is a bluish discolouration that does not resolve with rewarming.

Be prepared

The best way to avoid frostbite is to be prepared for the weather in the first place.

Wear several loose layers of clothing rather than a single, thick layer to provide good insulation and keep moisture away from your skin.

The outer garment should breathe but be waterproof and windproof, with an inner thermal layer. Retain body heat with a hat and scarf. Mittens are warmer than gloves because they keep the fingers together.

Be sure your clothing protects your head, ears, nose, hands and feet, especially for children.

Wind chill and frostbite rates

Wind chill: 0 to –9.
Frostbite risk: Low.

Wind chill: –28 to –39.
Frostbite risk: Moderate.

Exposed skin can freeze in 10-30 minutes

Wind chill: –40 to –47.
Frostbite risk: High.

Exposed skin can freeze in five to 10 minutes.

Wind chill: –48 to –54.
Frostbite risk: Very High.

Exposed skin can freeze in two to five minutes.

Wind chill: –55 and lower.
Frostbite risk: Extremely High.

Exposed skin can freeze in less than two minutes.
 

NOTE: In sustained winds over 50 km/h, frostbite can occur faster than indicated.

Source: Environment Canada

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Awkward Flu Jabs Attempted at Golden Globes

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In what can only be described as a new level of propaganda, hosts Andy Samberg and Sandra Oh featured a flu shot stunt during the 76th Golden Globe Awards ceremony. They told the audience to roll up their sleeves, as they would all be getting flu shots, while people in white coats stormed down the aisles, syringes in hand.

Most of the audience looked thoroughly uneasy at the prospect of having a stranger stick them with a needle in the middle of an awards show. But perhaps the worst part of the scene was when Samberg added that anti-vaxxers could put a napkin over their head if they wanted to be skipped, basically suggesting that anyone opposed to a flu shot deserved to be branded with a proverbial scarlet letter.

The flu shots, for the record, were reportedly fake,1 nothing more than a bizarre gag that left many people stunned by the Globe’s poor taste in turning a serious medical choice into a publicity gimmick.

Flu Shot Stunt Reeks of Desperation

Whoever came up with the idea to turn the Golden Globes into a platform for a public health message probably thought it was ingenious, but the stunt only serves as a seemingly desperate attempt to make flu shots relevant and in vogue. During the 2017 to 2018 flu season, only 37 percent of U.S. adults received a flu shot, a 6 percent drop from the prior season.2

“To improve flu vaccination coverage for the 2018-19 flu season, health care providers are encouraged to strongly recommend and offer flu vaccination to all of their patients,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wrote. “People not visiting a provider during the flu season have many convenient places they can go for a flu vaccination.”3

Yet, perhaps the decline in people choosing to get vaccinated has nothing to do with convenience and everything to do with their dismal rates of efficacy. In the decade between 2005 and 2015, the influenza vaccine was less than 50 percent effective more than half of the time.4

The 2017/2018 flu vaccine was a perfect example of this trend. The overall adjusted vaccine effectiveness against influenza A and B virus infection was just 36 percent.5

Health officials blamed the flu season’s severity on the dip in vaccination rates, but as Dr. Paul Auwaerter, clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told USA Today, “[I]t is also true that the vaccine was not as well matched against the strains that circulated.”6

But bringing flu shots to the Golden Globes, and calling out “anti-vaxxers,” is nothing more than “medical care, by shame,” noted Dr. Don Harte, a chiropractic activist in California. “But it was entertaining, in a very weird way, including the shock and disgust of some of the intended victims, notably [Willem Dafoe],” he said, adding:7

“This Hollywood publicity stunt for the flu vaccine is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen from celebrities. But it does go with the flu shot itself, which is, perhaps, the stupidest of all the vaccines available.”

Did 80,000 People Really Die From the Flu Last Year?

The CDC reported that 79,400 people died from influenza during the 2017/2018 season, which they said “serves as a reminder of how severe seasonal influenza can be.”8 It’s important to remember, however, that the 80,000 deaths figure being widely reported in the media is not actually all “flu deaths.”

According to the CDC, “We look at death certificates that have pneumonia or influenza causes (P&I), other respiratory and circulatory causes (R&C), or other nonrespiratory, noncirculatory causes of death, because deaths related to flu may not have influenza listed as a cause of death.”9

As for why the CDC doesn’t base flu mortality estimates only on death certificates that list influenza, they noted, “Seasonal influenza may lead to death from other causes, such as pneumonia, congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease … Additionally, some deaths — particularly among the elderly — are associated with secondary complications of seasonal influenza (including bacterial pneumonias).”10

In other words, “flu deaths” are not just deaths directly caused by the influenza virus, but also secondary infections such as pneumonia and other respiratory diseases, as well as sepsis.11

According to the CDC, most of the deaths occurred among those aged 65 years and over, a population that may already have preexisting conditions that makes them more susceptible to infectious diseases. As Harte said of annual flu deaths, “[M]ost if not all, I would assume, are of people who are already in very bad shape.12

CDC Claims Flu Vaccine Reduces Flu Deaths in the Elderly — But Does It?

Since people aged 65 and over are those most at risk from flu complications and death, the CDC has been vocal in their claims that the flu shot significantly reduces flu-related deaths among this population. The research, however, says otherwise.

Research published in 2005 found no correlation between increased vaccination rates among the elderly and reduced mortality. According to the authors, “Because fewer than 10 percent of all winter deaths were attributable to influenza in any season, we conclude that observational studies substantially overestimate vaccination benefit.”13

A 2006 study also showed that even though seniors vaccinated against influenza had a 44 percent reduced risk of dying during flu season than unvaccinated seniors, those who were vaccinated were also 61 percent less like to die before the flu season ever started.14

This finding has since been attributed to a “healthy user effect,” which suggests that older people who get vaccinated against influenza are already healthier and, therefore, less likely to die anyway, whereas those who do not get the shot have suffered a decline in health in recent months.

Journalist Jeremy Hammond summed up the CDC’s continued spreading of misinformation regarding the flu vaccine’s effectiveness in the elderly, as they continue to claim it’s the best way to prevent the flu:15

[T]here is no good scientific evidence to support the CDC’s claim that the influenza vaccine reduces hospitalizations or deaths among the elderly.

The types of studies the CDC has relied on to support this claim have been thoroughly discredited due to their systemic ‘healthy user’ selection bias, and the mortality rate has observably increased along with the increase in vaccine uptake — which the CDC has encouraged with its unevidenced claims about the vaccine’s benefits, downplaying of its risks, and a marketing strategy of trying to frighten people into getting the flu shot for themselves and their family.”

Death of Vaccinated Child Blamed on Not Getting Second Dose

In January 2019, the state of Colorado reported the first child flu death of the 2018/2019 flu season — a child who had received influenza vaccination. But instead of highlighting the vaccine’s failure and clear limitations, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment blamed the death on the child being only “partially vaccinated.”

“It’s an unfortunate but important reminder of the importance of two doses of influenza vaccine for young children who are receiving influenza vaccine for the first time,” Dr. Rachel Herlihy, who is the state communicable disease epidemiologist, said in a news release.16 For those who aren’t aware, the CDC notes that one dose of flu shot may not be enough to protect against the flu. Instead, they state:17

“Children 6 months through 8 years getting vaccinated for the first time, and those who have only previously gotten one dose of vaccine, should get two doses of vaccine this season …

The first dose ‘primes’ the immune system; the second dose provides immune protection. Children who only get one dose but need two doses can have reduced or no protection from a single dose of flu vaccine.”

Not only may the flu vaccine fail to provide protection against the flu, but many people are not aware that other types of viruses are responsible for about 80 percent of all respiratory infections during any given flu season.18 The flu vaccine does not protect against or prevent any of these other types of respiratory infections causing influenza-like illness (ILI) symptoms.

The chance of contracting actual type A or B influenza, caused by one of the three or four influenza virus strains included in the vaccine, is much lower compared to getting sick with another type of viral or bacterial infection during the flu season.

Does Flu Vaccine Increase the Risk of Influenza Infection, Contribute to Vaccine Shedding?

There are serious adverse effects that can come along with annual flu vaccination, including potentially lifelong side effects such as Guillain Barré syndrome and chronic shoulder injury related to vaccine administration (SIRVA). They may also increase your risk of contracting more serious flu infections, as research suggests those who have been vaccinated annually may be less protected than those with no prior flu vaccination history.19

Research presented at the 105th International Conference of the American Thoracic Society in San Diego also revealed that children who get seasonal flu shots are more at risk of hospitalization than children who do not. Children who had received the flu vaccine had three times the risk of hospitalization as children who had not. Among children with asthma, the risk was even higher.20

There’s also the potential for vaccine shedding, which has taken on renewed importance with the reintroduction of the live virus vaccine FluMist during the 2018/2019 season. While the CDC states that the live flu virus in FluMist is too weak to actually give recipients the flu, research has raised some serious doubts that this is the case.

One recent study revealed not only that influenza virus may be spread via simple breathing (i.e., no sneezing or coughing required) but also that repeated vaccination increases the amount of virus released into the air.21

MedImmune, the company that developed FluMist, is aware that the vaccine sheds vaccine-strain virus. In its prescribing information, they describe a study on the transmission of vaccine-strain viruses from vaccinated children to nonvaccinated children in a day care setting.

In 80 percent of the FluMist recipients, at least one vaccine-strain virus was isolated anywhere from one to 21 days following vaccination. They further noted, “One placebo subject had mild symptomatic Type B virus infection confirmed as a transmitted vaccine virus by a FluMist recipient in the same playgroup.”22

Are There Other Ways to Stay Healthy During Flu Season?

Contrary to the CDC’s and Golden Globe’s claims that flu vaccinations are a great way to prevent flu, other methods exist to help you stay healthy during the flu season and all year, and they’re far safer than annual flu vaccination. Vitamin D testing and optimization have been shown to cut your risk of respiratory infections, including colds and flu, in half if you are vitamin D deficient, for instance.23,24

In my view, optimizing your vitamin D levels is one of the absolute best respiratory illness prevention and optimal health strategies available. Influenza has also been treated with high-dose vitamin C,25 and taking zinc lozenges at the first sign of respiratory illness can also be helpful.

Following other basic tenets of health, like eating right, getting sound sleep, exercising and addressing stress are also important, as is regularly washing your hands.

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