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18 May, 2020 16:11

Group that TRACKED protesters' cell phones accuses them of spreading Covid-19 across US... even if they DIDN'T leave their cars

Group that TRACKED protesters' cell phones accuses them of spreading Covid-19 across US... even if they DIDN'T leave their cars

A Democrat-linked advocacy group is blaming the spread of Covid-19 on anti-lockdown protesters in the US after tracking their cell phones cross-country. Despite the tempting partisan narrative, though, many never left their cars.

Anti-lockdown demonstrators traveled hundreds of miles to attend protests, almost certainly spreading the coronavirus to places where infections were rare, according to the Committee to Protect Medicare, a supposedly non-partisan group run by a former Democratic congressional candidate. The group provided a comprehensive analysis of smartphone location data from rallies in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado and Florida to the Guardian on Monday. 

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While the Committee to Protect Medicare admitted it had no real evidence to support its claim that demonstrators were callously spreading the infection that has killed tens of thousands of people while paralyzing the world economy, "it's hard to draw a straight line between devices, individuals at these protests, and cases," executive director Rob Davidson acknowledged. They insisted the demonstrators' behavior "carries a high risk of infection."

Virus transmission at some of those demonstrations would have been next to impossible, however, since protesters remained in their cars. Demonstrators at an "Operation Gridlock" protest in Denver in late April descended on the city en masse in their vehicles, waving signs and flags while deliberately snarling traffic as they demanded an end to Colorado Governor Jared Polis' stay-at-home order. While some left their cars to picket the Capitol building, photos of the event suggested that even the majority of the sign-wavers maintained safe distances between each other.

The demonstrators' phones were tracked by mobile advertising firm VoteMap for 48 hours after they attended the anti-lockdown protests, revealing participants had in some cases traveled hundreds of miles, and even crossed state lines. While data analysts took care to specify that the location data had been taken only from apps in which the user had "opted in" to being tracked as part of the apps' terms of service, it's unlikely any of the protesters were aware that their locations were being tracked for use in a partisan smear campaign. VoteMap used anonymized data from hundreds of different apps to create its graphics. Many apps bury their authorization for use of location data deep in prohibitively-lengthy terms of service.

The Committee to Protect Medicare did not specify the dates of many of the demonstrations it tracked, other than the April 19 Denver protest – in which healthcare workers reportedly confronted the anti-lockdown demonstrators – and an April 30 protest in Lansing, Michigan that made international news after gun-toting demonstrators brought their weapons into the state capitol.

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Mainstream media have gone the extra mile to portray anti-lockdown protesters as gun-waving pro-Trump racists who don't care about the common good, even when the reality does not quite live up to expectations. The same day the armed protesters "invaded" the capitol in Lansing, Covid-19 cases in Michigan increased by 1,191 – unrelated incidents the media nevertheless tried to connect.

The state has recorded 4,891 deaths with coronavirus as of Sunday, with 42 percent of those in people over 80. Similarly, Colorado has logged 878 deaths specifically due to Covid-19, over half of them in people over 80 years old.

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