The Florida Department of Health data manager who designed the COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard was forced to resign after objecting to spreading disinformation.
Rebekah Jones was asked by her supervisors to remove records showing people had symptoms or positive tests before the cases were announced, according to internal emails obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.
Jones complied with the order, but told her supervisors it was the “wrong call.” The next day, she lost her role maintaining the state’s COVID-19 data. A spokeswoman for Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Tuesday that she had been fired.
Jones said in an email to subscribers of a COVID data listserv that she was reassigned on May 5 “[f]or reasons beyond my division’s control” and warned that whoever took over may be less straightforward.
As a word of caution, I would not expect the new team to continue the same level of accessibility and transparency that I made central to the process during the first two months. After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it.
They are making a lot of changes. I would advise being diligent in your respective uses of this data.
In an email to CBS12 News, Jones said that her removal was “not voluntary,” and that she was removed from her position because she was ordered to censor some data, but refused to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”
COVID-19 censorship and propaganda are common in nations like China and the United States.
Nearly half of all the Twitter accounts discussing “reopening America” may be bots, according to researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University.
“We do know that it looks like it’s a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks, but it would take a tremendous amount of resources to substantiate that,” said Kathleen Carley, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University.
Researchers identified more than 100 false narratives about COVID-19 that are proliferating on Twitter by accounts controlled by bots.
Billionaire Robert Mercer financed the launch of the Convention of States project in 2015, which is now funding Facebook ads encouraging officials to “reopen America.” (The Washington Post)
The ads are masquerading as grass-roots uprisings, with ad copy such as “The people are rising up against these insane shutdowns,” and “We’re fighting back to demand that our elected officials reopen America.”
The billionaire DeVos family funded a protest in April called “Operation Gridlock.” (NBC News)
Thousands of Americans took the bait and clogged the streets with their cars, with many ignoring pleas to stay inside their vehicles.
Over the past 9 weeks, jobless claims have totaled 38.6 million. The official unemployment rate in April was at 14.7% – the highest since the tail end of the Great Depression. (NPR)
Many Floridians are still waiting on unemployment checks, even after the stay-at-home order was lifted. Meanwhile, the state is earning millions in interest from the federal fund set up to pay the unemployed. (ABC)
The working class may be struggling to keep their homes and to put food on their tables, but as usual, it’s a different story for the ruling elite.
Billionaires have seen their net worth rise by 15% since the pandemic began, earning $434 billion while workers suffer. (Americans for Tax Fairness)
Millionaire tax filers benefit the most from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, according to an analysis released by the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT). (Senate.gov)
The press release reads:
“Based on to the JCT analysis, millionaire tax filers benefiting from one of the Republican provisions will see an average windfall of $1.6 million this year alone. That windfall dwarfs the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s $1,200 benefit for working families.”
Update: the propaganda flak machines are already in action.
The state and many news sites are now bringing up misdemeanor charges from last year in an attempt to discredit Jones and conflate the two unrelated incidents. In June 2019, Jones was accused of posting naked photos of a man on a website. She was charged with cyber stalking and cyber sexual harassment, though she plead not guilty and has not been convicted. She is still innocent in the eyes of the law.
Governor Ron DeSantis alleged in a news conference that Jones “exhibited a repeated course of insubordination” and that she was let go for insubordination, though there is no evidence to support his baseless accusations.
Her attorney, Robert Morris, said in an email to CBS12 News, “Ms. Jones has a sound academic history. Her prior personal history and challenges should not be mixed with the present circumstance.”
Not everyone is joining the propaganda attacks on Jones, thankfully.
State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, posted on Twitter, “Thank you Rebekah Jones, for not being afraid to speak out.”
Ron DeSantis claimed that the state would be “driven by the facts” and “driven by the data” in a press conference, to which Rep. Ted Deutch replied:
“The governor’s commitment to data doesn’t mean much if he’s asking the Florida Department of Health to manipulate the data to match his goals for reopening—and replacing people who don’t go along with it.
“We need transparency.
“We need to know what happened.”