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Church of Scientology
since 1968

Antisocial Media

Illustration by David Stuart

Ever see dozens of glowing reviews of a restaurant you hate, and wonder how everyone got it so wrong? Or maybe you see a sudden flood of posts supporting an issue or politician you’ve never heard of—and start wondering how you missed the boat.

You’ve probably been “astroturfed”—the phenomenon of flooding social media with the message of an organization or sponsor and making it appear as a grassroots campaign. Originally practiced in print media, when dozens of letters to the editor would show up with identical messages that appeared to come from different readers, the practice has evolved for the platform of social media. On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, you’ve surely seen them—you just may not have known it.

And just like actual AstroTurf, the messages may look nice, but they’re not organic.

In a February 2015 TEDx Talk at the University of Nevada, investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson explained how special interests manipulate and distort media messages through astroturfing. Fabricated messages widely posted across social media sites create a false impression of grassroots support—or condemnation—for an idea, product or political candidate.

Astroturfing is nothing new. In October 2013, the state attorney general of New York fined 19 companies for bogus postings to Yelp, Google reviews, Citysearch and similar sites.

Supplements without substance

Nearly 80 percent of generic herbal supplements from GNC, Target, Wal-Mart and Walgreens contained no trace of the herbs listed on the label, according to a recent investigation commissioned by the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The testing, conducted by DNA technology expert James Schulte of Clarkson University, reviewed six herbal supplements sold at stores in New York state. The most egregious findings were at Wal-Mart, with only four percent of its private-label products testing positive for herbs advertised on the label.

“At the end of the day, American corporations must step up to the plate and ensure that their customers are getting what they pay for,” Schneiderman said in a press release, “especially when it involves promises of good health.”

Keeping It Real

Candy manufacturers Nestlé, Hershey and Mars have announced plans to remove artificial ingredients from their products.

Nestlé’s brand research, as well as a Nielsen 2014 Global Health and Wellness Survey, found that many Americans are concerned that artificial flavors and coloring can contribute to, or cause symptoms mimicking, hyperactivity in children.

Love for Justice

On Valentine’s Day, Forward Together, a multiracial organization that works with churches and secular civic leaders to promote racial harmony and positive social change, held its annual march in Raleigh, North Carolina. Described as the largest civil rights gathering in the South since the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, thousands of activists and protesters gathered under the theme “Love and Justice.”

The event was held under dark rain clouds, and clouds of solemnity as well, as organizers and marchers paid tribute to the lives of three recently murdered Muslim students.

Supported by the NAACP, the HKonJ (Historic Thousands on Jones Street) People’s Assembly, and area churches and civic organizations, leaders of the movement say they want to create an alliance of black voters and working-class whites, Latinos and other immigrant communities, in support of civil rights and economic opportunity and fairness for all.

Psychiatric Drug Users Experience ‘Zombie-like State’

According to a new study, patients prescribed antipsychotic drugs often suffer “major disruptive” side effects that “reach into their physical, social and emotional lives, and cause a level of fear and suffering that is difficult for anyone else to fully comprehend,” says Paul Morrison, a professor at Murdoch University of Perth, in Western Australia.

Morrison’s research, published in the Journal of Mental Health Nursing, found that 50-70 percent of patients report an average of “between six and seven side effects” that can include severe motor dysfunction, agitation and restlessness, weight gain, sleep disturbances, sexual dysfunction and dizziness. “The most commonly mentioned was sedation,” Morrison says, “which the participants described as leaving them in a zombie-like state.”

According to Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a mental health watchdog sponsored by the Church of Scientology, to date there have been 72 warnings against antipsychotics issued by regulators in eight countries, including Australia and the United States.

Studies show that many Americans are increasingly sick of the news, because—well—crime, human rights atrocities, economic despair and a lack of human kindness seem to grab all the headlines.

Arianna Huffington wants to change that.

Shortly after launching the Huffington Post’s “What’s Working” editorial initiative, Huffington shared why she wants to feature good news too.

“As journalists, our job is to give our audience an accurate picture—and that means the full picture—of what’s going on in the world,” Huffington wrote in a recent blog. “Just showing tragedy, violence, mayhem—focusing on what’s broken and what’s not working—misses too much of what is happening all around us.”

Besides calling violence and destruction-mongering “lousy journalism,” Huffington added that it’s not what people want. She cited a 2013 study by Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, which found that the most emailed New York Times stories in a six-month period were positive.

“What I’m talking about is consistently telling the stories of people and communities doing amazing things, overcoming great odds and coming up with solutions to the very real challenges they face,” Huffington wrote. “And by shining a light on these stories, we hope that we can scale up these solutions and create a positive contagion that can expand and broaden their reach and application.”

Forget Air Mail. Get Ready for Drone Mail!

Is it a bird? A plane? No, it’s just the sneakers you ordered this morning.

No joke. Technology has a way of reinventing how we live. According to a recent survey of 1,400 Americans by a Chicago-based PR and social marketing agency, many consumers believe retailers like Amazon and Google will be making airborne retail deliveries inside of two years. And four in five consumers say drone delivery to their doorsteps within an hour would actually make them more likely to purchase from a retailer.

Deliveries could include books, clothing, pet supplies, tools, and household goods. Though FAA regulations currently prohibit such use of drones, new regulations have been proposed to allow (and govern) their commercial use.

Amazon Air anyone?

California to review ‘staggering’ number of drugged foster kids

After reports in the Los Angeles Times, the San Jose Mercury News and other media indicating a “staggering number” of foster children are on psychiatric drugs, the California Senate Human Services Committee is considering policy changes to limit their use in the state.

“We’re responsible for the well-being of children … who are in our care and custody after experiencing abuse or neglect,” says state Sen. Kevin de Leon. “Reports that these children are being prescribed powerful mind-numbing drugs at over three times the rate for all adolescents are very troubling.”

Officials in Los Angeles County have admitted to allowing far more children in the foster care system to be given dangerous psychiatric drugs than previously acknowledged.

According to a report released by the Los Angeles Times in February, in addition to 2,300 previously acknowledged children being drugged, another 1,056 cases went unreported. The children were being treated with antipsychotics like Abilify, Seroquel, Risperdal and Zyprexa, drugs known to carry an FDA black-box label warning of the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in young people. The drugs have also been linked to sudden and severe weight gain, and increased risk of diabetes and movement disorders.

Convicted prisoners are being let out of jail—and it’s a good thing.

Last year, a total of 125 prisoners were exonerated, with about 25 percent of them released from prison based on DNA testing that proved their innocence, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

More than half of those released had cases handled by The Innocence Project, a privately funded national litigation and public policy organization at work since 1989. Since then, The Innocence Project says a total of 325 people have been exonerated based on similar testing nationwide.

Of those exonerated, The Innocence Project estimates the wrongly convicted served an average of 13 years in prison and/or on parole.

Rickey Dale Wyatt was number 325, having served nearly 31 years of a 99-year sentence for a rape conviction based primarily on sketchy eyewitness identification. Prosecutors in Wyatt’s case later admitted to withholding exculpatory evidence.

Wyatt, who never stopped asserting his innocence, turned down a proposed agreement that would have had him serve just five years if he plead guilty.

After DNA testing eliminated the possibility of Wyatt being the perpetrator, he was released from prison at the age of 56.

The Innocence Project is at any time evaluating between 6,000 and 8,000 cases, and receives 3,000 new requests for help every year. Ultimately, they actively pursue exoneration for about 300 cases at a time.

Paul Cates, a spokesperson for The Innocence Project, says, “watch for more.”