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‘Don’t Call 911’: In Private, Fake Autism Experts Gave Dangerous Advice

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“He’s struggling with something but can’t express,” the father wrote. “Crying non-stop.”

It was October 11, 2020, and someone who said he was the father of an autistic child had been consulting people he apparently believed to be medical experts for the past five months.

The person said he was looking for help for a two and a half year old toddler who had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The man, whom we’ll call JS—the initials of the pseudonym he used online—had joined a private Telegram group run by Kerri Rivera, a self-proclaimed autism expert who has long promoted a dangerous chemical treatment called chlorine dioxide that she falsely claims can “cure” autism as well as cancer. People join the group looking for medical advice for both themselves and their children.

According to records showing months of past activity provided to VICE News by a member, Rivera’s private group looks in many ways like a worst-case scenario. It shows what can happen when dangerously bogus health advice is dispensed to a group of frantic, desperate parents in a self-reinforcing environment, safely hidden from public view. JS’s child was in crisis, according to what he told the group, and he was being buffeted with increasingly confusing, contradictory and dangerous advice.

Over the course of the weekend, the child’s concerning symptoms had mounted into an emergency, JS said. He reported to the group that the boy began experiencing muscle stiffness and had been crying inconsolably. He uploaded photos that he said showed the child’s feet stiffening.

JS was promptly deluged with advice from other group members: give the child magnesium, electrolytes, call Rivera, “don’t panic.” As JS posted photos of the child’s stiff limbs, two people began to urge him to go to urgent care or the emergency room. “Don’t fuck around,” one of them urged.

But another member of the group stepped in, authoritatively. “Don’t call 911 please,” a person using the name “M Rob” wrote.

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JS’s child was experiencing a “die-off reaction,” M Rob wrote. This is a term used by people promoting faux autism cures. They falsely claim that “a die-off,” which can involve extreme physical discomfort, is a normal response to toxins leaving the body. “Need coconut water.”

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“Are you [JS]’s kids’ doctor?” another group member demanded. “Have you seen the kid! Have you performed a clinical assessment?”

There is no evidence that M Rob had seen the child in person or was in a position to offer him informed medical advice. But JS likely would have been predisposed to listen to M Rob, who had, over the past few months, become an increasingly central voice in the group. A look at months of chat records from the group shows two things: Rivera offering her brand of dangerous advice to a devoted audience willing to do whatever she recommended, and a group of parents convincing themselves that they’d acquired enough medical expertise to advise each other, even in apparent emergency situations.

M Rob, the person who urged JS not to call 911, identified himself as a father of a child with autism; he implied that he had a background in science or medicine. He frequently dispensed medical advice and treatment instructions, and group members began to sometimes pose their questions to “Kerri/M Rob.” It’s an indicator of how persuasive those group members can be with one another; the people in the group seemed to forget that they had little information about who M Rob is or what his qualifications might be.

M Rob also seemed to have other agendas. Over time, mixed with his medical advice, he began making increasingly lurid, conspiratorial, and utterly false claims about vaccines, especially a potential coronavirus vaccine, which he called “evil.”

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The structure of the group itself—along with the nature of Rivera’s advice, and M Rob’s increasing authority—all combined to create the recipe for a potentially serious crisis, now that a child appeared to be truly in danger.

It’s important to be clear about what we know, and what we don’t, about the events that seem to have transpired in Rivera’s private Telegram group. Rivera recommends that parents sign up for Telegram using an alias, and the group appears to only be accessible with an invitation from an administrator.

An account with the username “Support” is clearly Rivera herself, often instructing people to email her at her main email address.

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People in the group frequently, albeit unconvincingly, refer to their children as “pets,” seemingly to avoid putting in writing that they’re trying untested medical regimens on them. (The group is littered with references to “cats,” “dogs,” and “hedgehogs”, as well as emojis of the same. Instead of “chlorine dioxide,” group members sometimes use an emoji of a CD.) Group members also occasionally confirm outright that they use the word “pet” to mean a child, since new group members are often confused by the attempts at subterfuge.

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JS, the panicked parent, didn’t provide much information about himself, though he did give a wealth of detail about his child’s symptoms. (VICE News has not been able to identify him or reach out to him for comment.) He appeared to be speaking English as a second language, and seemed to live either in India or the United States; he made references to picking up products at Home Depot, an American company, but asked other parents in the group where to order a chlorine dioxide kit that would deliver to India.

Since all the people in the group are instructed to use aliases, and not to use those aliases to post to other groups, there’s no absolute proof that “JS” is a real person, or that he truly had a child who experienced a medical emergency. As ever, people on the Internet are not always who they say they are, and without supporting evidence, we only have what people in the group told one another. What’s real, though, is strong evidence of Rivera consistently offering dangerous advice.

Chat logs from the group were exported from Telegram and provided to VICE News by a member of the group who was concerned about what was going on there. The person was able to prove to us that they were a member of the group, filming themselves logging into it on their computer screen, then scrolling through the chat as we watched.  Additionally, soon after we reached out to Rivera for comment, she returned to the group and announced “There’s a troll in here,” her term for journalists or activists who join her groups to observe what’s going on in them.

An emergency like the one JS claimed he experienced was, in some ways, all but inevitable. As Business Insider reported in April, Telegram groups have been thriving as a site for bogus cures for autism, specifically chlorine dioxide, a treatment so dangerous that its proponents have been chased off virtually every other platform. (Chlorine dioxide or sodium chlorite are both potent chemicals that, when prepared correctly, can be used as a bleaching agent. The FDA has been warning consumers since 2010 not to ingest, inject or use an enema of these products, which are marketed under a variety of names, most commonly “CD” or “Miracle Mineral Solution.”)  BI also reported that the chlorine dioxide groups were soon touting CD as a purported “cure” for COVID-19, which it is not. Rivera herself openly celebrated when Donald Trump made comments suggesting that household disinfectants could possibly be injected to cure COVID-19.

“Our time has come!” she exulted on Telegram.

Rivera is not a medical doctor; her road to this highly particular spotlight has been winding. A Chicago native and reportedly a former real estate agent, she was based for several years in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where she ran a supposed clinic called Autism O2  and began promoting chlorine dioxide as a “cure” for the disorder. The Illinois Attorney General launched an investigation into her claims, which resulted in her agreeing not to sell some of her products in the state, to date the strongest regulatory action that’s been taken against her, short of some stern letters from the Food and Drug Administration. (Activists tracking her activities believe she’s now living in Germany, which she has not confirmed.)

Rivera has since gained worldwide notoriety, as well as a strong seam of devotion among desperate parents who believe she’s their only hope. Groups promoting her purported bleach cures on Facebook used to have thousands of members before undercover activists and public pressure forced the company to shut them down and have her book pulled from Amazon; the book, Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism, is a cornerstone text in the world of experts and parents who falsely claim autism can be cured.

“My book was removed by Amazon and my Facebook support groups were deleted by Facebook, and YouTube has removed my videos,” she wrote in a post on her website.

Throughout it all, though, she’s busily promoted her questionable claims and products through a company called KetoKerri, on her own website, and, increasingly, on Telegram.  KetoKerri itself doesn’t sell chlorine dioxide; Rivera recommends purchasing it through a company that says it is based in Florida. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t routinely promote it; in a warning letter the FDA sent to Rivera and KetoKerri in September the agency wrote, “While reviewing your websites, we noticed that you recommend drinking a mixture of chlorine dioxide and water for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, among other diseases. Chlorine dioxide is not safe or effective for preventing or treating COVID-19 when ingested. Moreover, ingesting this dangerous product can cause serious adverse health consequences and even death.”

In a supposed “disclaimer” on her website, Rivera strongly suggests she’s being censored for promoting an effective alternative treatment.  “Censorship is real and pervasive when you are doing something outside of the mainstream,” she writes. “The government authorities and big tech companies say they are engaging in this censorship in order to protect the public from ‘misrepresentation of results’ and ‘unproven’ products or protocols. I don’t have any desire to misrepresent results or claim something is proven when it’s not. I believe in being honest and also working within the legal system.”

JS joined the private group in May 2020, and wrote despairingly several times that his toddler son was having temper tantrums and uncontrollable crying bouts, along with what appeared to be serious stomach pains.

While some parents swear they’re seeing miraculous improvements, after several months of religiously trying to follow Rivera’s recommended treatments, JS had increasingly reported his child wasn’t doing well. After giving the child multiple doses of chlorine dioxide throughout the day, he said, the boy “looks like he is having some pain,” he wrote in June. “Just can’t understand why god created autism. Going to sleep after ending one out our [sic] toughest week,” he added, one night in July.

The father also reported using zeolite, a substance that natural health advocates falsely claim can “detox” the body or remove heavy metals from the bloodstream. (The renowned cancer hospital Sloan Kettering says zeolite has been marketed as a cure for “cancer, diarrhea, autism, herpes and hangover” but that there is “no published human data to support these uses.”)

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In mid-September, JS grew concerned because his son had, he wrote, woken up at night “and was laughing for no reason in the dark.” Rivera instructed JS to “double dose him when he wakes up.”

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(The term “PP” stands for “parasite protocol,” a chlorine dioxide regimen the parents undertake because they believe their children are suffering from parasites, and that their symptoms worsen during the full moon and need to be treated more aggressively.)

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JS worried that “parasites” could be making his child “laugh for no reason.” Rivera responded that the boy likely had candida and that he needed chlorine dioxide, black seed oil and a third supplement which would, she wrote, “kill all pathogens.”

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By late September, JS wrote hopefully that his child sometimes seemed to be making incremental improvements, though he didn’t specify what kind.

“Last new moon we were still alternating between screaming and laughing maniacally,” he wrote. “In between moons we were seeing lots of improvements but a return of symptoms was always just around corner [sic] at next moon. Last night wasn’t perfect, we were up ALL NIGHT. Definitely still obvious moon effects, restless, unable to sleep etc but the improvements we did see during full moon were completely new.”

But by that weekend in October, he’d begun to truly panic. The child had no appetite. “During salt bath my kid is grinding his teeth so hard,” he wrote in a message directed at Rivera. “Am sacred because the sound from teeth grinding is very hard.”

When JS described his child experiencing what looked like a true emergency, that weekend in October, Rivera herself didn’t appear to be online at the time. Instead, M Rob and other group members began trying to coach JS through the crisis on their own, offering conflicting advice.

After telling JS not to call 911, M Rob added that JS’ son had started a new supplement called “Firefighter” recently and might be reacting to the ingredients. “Just get something down,” he instructed.

Screen Shot 2020-10-15 at 12.20.33 PM.png

As the apparent crisis went on, “I was starting to freak out,” one group member told VICE News; they asked for their name to be kept private to be able to freely discuss what they’d witnessed. This person was the same one who showed us exported chat logs, photos, videos and files from the past several months in the group. They said they decided it would be prudent to save as much information from the group as possible; the day after JS’ apparent crisis, they said, many of his messages appeared to have been deleted.

“Seeing the images—the vomiting, the diarrhea, there’s actually a video from [JS] showing his kid crying,” the person told us. “I didn’t know what to do. If we were able to figure out any information on him, this would’ve been over quickly.” (VICE News has viewed dozens of videos and photos from the group; over the past few months, JS uploaded multiple photos of what look like vomit and fecal matter, as well as photos of his child’s limbs. We’ve also seen a still image from a video he posted, of what appears to be a toddler, lying with his eyes open on his parents’ shoulder with his head against the back of a couch.)

“Firefighter,” the substance M Rob referred to, is one of many supplements marketed by a man named Roby Mitchell, who calls himself Dr. Fitt. Group members make frequent reference to using Dr. Fitt-branded supplements and Rivera recommends some of them as a core part of her “protocol.” That in itself is deeply concerning.  Mitchell was stripped of his medical license in 2005 by the Texas Medical Board for not following a previous probationary order, then ordered again in 2012 to stop holding himself out as a doctor after a bizarre incident where he told a terminal cancer patient she could be “treated” by injecting her blood into the udder of a pregnant cow, then drinking the milk. The patient died before attempting the “treatment,” per the Texas Medical Board, and Mitchell declined to provide a refund to the patient’s family. Mitchell has a long history of making questionable medical claims, particularly around autism: as VICE previously reported, he boasted this spring of using untested ketamine treatments on a six-year-old child to “cure” their autism.

Mitchell now sells a variety of “supplements” and natural health remedies under the Dr. Fitt name. Rivera’s private Telegram group is full of recommendations for some of those products.

“Telegram is a platform where bad people operate,” Fiona O’Leary told VICE News. She’s an activist in Ireland who advocates on behalf of people with autism, and who for the past seven years has called chlorine dioxide treatments abusive and unethical, and called for their promoters to be sanctioned or jailed. O’Leary herself is on the autism spectrum, as are some of her five children, which she says accounts for her fiery urgency. “I want these groups shut down,” she told VICE News. “It’s a personal thing to me now.”

O’Leary has been monitoring Rivera’s Telegram groups for months, and connected VICE News with the group member who gave us the chat logs and other information about the internal workings of the group. O’Leary has been watching in horror as the use of chlorine dioxide has skyrocketed around the world, and says a five-year-old boy in Argentina recently died after being given the substance. (Authorities in the Patagonia region said they were investigating in August whether the boy’s death was related to chlorine dioxide.)

“How can these groups still be allowed to operate?” O’Leary demanded to know.

Telegram did not respond to a request for comment from VICE News. Telegram’s FAQ reads, in response to a question about what to do about “illegal content” on the app, “All Telegram chats and group chats are private amongst their participants. We do not process any requests related to them.” (Chlorine dioxide is not, in itself, illegal; it has antimicrobial properties and poultry farms, for instance, sometimes use it as a sanitizing agent. But that doesn’t make it legal to hold it out as a curative or a medicine that should be taken internally. People who sell chlorine dioxide or falsely market it as a cure for serious diseases like autism and cancer have been criminally charged and convicted in the past. The Food and Drug Administration is particularly cracking down on a Florida institution, the Genesis II Church, which is one of the leading promoters and distributors of chlorine dioxide treatments. Rivera was previously closely aligned with the church’s founder Jim Humble, a former Scientologist who has claimed to be a billion-year-old space god from the Andromeda galaxy and who said he discovered Miracle Mineral Solution in the jungles of South America.)

In her public Telegram groups, Rivera is somewhat restrained about what she’ll recommend to frantic parents, knowing that those groups are viewable to anyone using Telegram, including members of the media and concerned activists, whom Rivera refers to as “trolls.” (In her most active public Telegram group, a “Support” account that is clearly run by either Rivera herself or an assistant, warns users not to respond to anyone who might private message them. “There are trolls,” the account wrote, in a message pinned to the top of the chat. “Answer no one in a private message. They like to destroy families and send in CPS.”)

But in the private group, accessible only to paying customers, JS had been receiving a flurry of bewildering and extremely dangerous advice from Rivera and the other group members, particularly M Rob, who offered particularly copious and authoritative-sounding advice on how to carry out Rivera’s recommended treatments.

The treatments recommended had not been effective, JS wrote that October weekend. “But I want to try more before giving up because this is marathon.”

JS reported to the group that he’d been experimenting with a mixture of many different “cures” promoted there: chlorine dioxide, enemas, mebex (a drug intended to treat intestinal parasites, which many parents falsely believe their autistic children have), and what he called “BSO,” which appears to be “black seed oil,” another treatment promoted by Roby Mitchell. (“Black seed oil has been used since antiquity,” Mitchell writes on his website. ”Black seed oil contains an orchestra of plant chemicals that have a positive effect on the body.”)

Rivera and Mitchell are mutual fans; he’s written warmly about her on Facebook, and she sells and promotes his products through KetoKerri. In a warning letter the FDA sent to Rivera’s company KetoKerri in September, the agency said that Rivera had been promoting Dr. Fitt’s Black Seed Oil and other supplements made by “Dr. Fitt,” including “Firefighter,” the one that is frequently promoted in the private Telegram group. The products, the FDA wrote, were “unapproved drugs” falsely being held out as cures for COVID-19 and other serious illnesses, and advised her to “review” her site to make sure she corrected the “misleading” claims. The Dr. Fitt products are still for sale on her website, but a page highlighted by the FDA on “Coronavirus prevention and treatment” has been taken down.

In the end, JS wrote, he decided to disregard the advice of M Rob and took his son to the emergency room, where, he reported, his was undergoing a battery of tests. “Doctor says his calcium levels are extremely low and they want us to stay in hospital.”

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“Thanks everyone for all the support,” he added. “He is having IV now and sleeping. I didn’t expect this bad.” The boy had been “sick and not showing interest to eat” for the last 10 days. He also further clarified the extensive mix of unproven treatments he’d been giving to the child.

“I first stopped mebex then stopped BSO as it was aggravating this throwing up then stopped all supplements and reduced CD dosage from 16 doses a day to 8 doses,” he added. “From yesterday just gave him 4 doses a day and two enemas as usual. Last 10 days was bumpy ride he eats good some times and doesn’t eat sometimes. He throwed up 4 times last 10 days. Today was worst. He was very good until 1.00 pm and got severe cramping after after enema.”

He also added that the doctors wanted to give the boy Benadryl and Advil, writing, “Is that good ok, he had dose of CD three hours before.”

M Rob again authoritatively stepped in, approving the use of Advil and Benadryl and adding, “Don’t worry it won’t show up in the blood work.” It’s unknown what happened next, or if JS’ son has recovered.

Rivera did not respond to requests for comment from VICE News. The day after we sent our inquiry, however, she returned to the Telegram and announced “There’s a troll in here.”

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On her website, Rivera has an all-purpose response to members of the media, which reads, in part, “I receive a large number of interview requests from early or stalled career reporters who have no background in health care, medicine or working with autistic children who want to talk with me about “toxic bleach.” To call chlorine dioxide “toxic bleach” is fraud, pure and simple.” She also claims that “a private investigator with military intelligence experience and a career at a three letter agency” investigated reporters who, she claims, “have been the most active in spreading misinformation to the public about what chlorine dioxide is.” She claims, without evidence, that “some of these reporters have been actively coordinating with abusive Internet trolls who have been caught harassing families of children with autism.”

While Rivera wasn’t present during the apparent medical emergency, a few hours later, she logged on. “It sounds like you are very off track,” she told JS, instructing him to contact her. Her advice to JS wasn’t to stop giving the child chlorine dioxide; only to cut the dosage in half.

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A few days later, M Rob—not Rivera—claimed that JS’ son was home and recovering and “taking a break from everything.” He also claimed, without evidence, that the child’s apparent medical emergency wasn’t due to Rivera’s suggested treatments, but due to another medical issue and because, as M Rob put it, “vaccines fucked his GI tract up.”

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“Please troubleshoot all problems with Kerri directly,” M Rob instructed. “This group is now compromised unless we start a new group. Only post general unbaised stuff here for now.”

The day after the medical emergency, according to the person in the private Telegram group, messages from JS began to disappear. “It seemed like either they kicked out [JS] or he himself left. I’m not sure,” the person told VICE News. But Rivera and M Rob were dispensing medical advice as usual, as though nothing in the world had happened. Rivera seemed to reference the incident briefly and implicitly, saying the group was not for anyone whose “pets” were not showing good improvement.

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“It seems that unless your pet is getting better and better, this is not the place for you,” she wrote.

Rivera then pivoted topics quickly, to an appearance she made at a fringe expo in Georgia over the weekend. There, she said, she’d met Del Bigtree, a famed figure in the anti-vaccine world.

The group soon moved on; recently, they were discussing flu shots and vaccines. All of those things, the group agreed, were unacceptably dangerous. So too, they decided, were “trolls” who might see what they were doing, to their children and themselves; they soon began taking steps to lock the group down even further, kick out anyone they suspected of being a troll, and make sure no one could ever stop them.

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World

All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.


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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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