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The most dangerous conspiracy theory in 2020 isn’t about blood-sucking pedophiles

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As the 2020 election enters its final phases, it feels like a lot could go wrong in the United States. Reports warn that hackers from Russia and China are targeting both parties, while the fringe conspiracy movement QAnon slips into the mainstream and possibly influences voters. And millions of people are talking about a different conspiracy theory, one that posits that the election has already been stolen.

Believers say this still-unfolding scandal goes all the way to the top. It gets weird, too. According to some, a sinister millionaire is ripping equipment out of post offices so they can’t properly process mail-in ballots. Others say foreign governments are printing millions of fraudulent mail-in ballots, and that “deep state” goons are raiding nursing homes to tamper with senior citizens’ mail-in ballots. One way or another, President Trump is almost always supposedly involved in these plots — either orchestrating the conspiracy or fighting the America-hating intruders. And at the end of the day, this conspiracy theory boils down to one very bad but also mundane thing: voter fraud.

Let that sink in. The conspiracy theory that’s catching on — the one to really worry about, as the country gears up to elect its future leaders — is not QAnon, which claims that Satan-worshipping, liberal pedophiles are running the country. It’s the one hiding in plain sight, the one that supporters of both parties are pushing, and the one that’s at the center of the most dangerous misinformation campaigns.

The voter fraud conspiracy theory, including related theories about voter suppression, is also what stands to undermine American democracy in a very immediate way, both by suppressing voter turnout and by sowing doubt among voters about the election’s results. That gets even more worrisome when you consider that President Trump continues to suggest that he won’t leave office, regardless of the election’s outcome. When asked on Wednesday if he’d commit to a peaceful transfer of power, Trump said, “We’ll have to see what happens.” He added, “The ballots are a disaster.”

Up to 80 million people are expected to vote by mail — the most in American history — which is leading to concern about the process. According to data from Zignal Labs, online and social media mentions of mail-in voting, including good old-fashioned voter fraud, are more prevalent than conspiratorial buzzwords like George Soros, the Clintons, or vaccines, including one for the coronavirus. Zignal Labs also calculates that, when looking at online discussions of these topics that are likely to be misinformation, vote-by-mail mentions still outnumber those about these other topics.

That said, anxiety about voter fraud is common during any election season — it’s just not this unhinged. In most elections, one side thinks the other side is somehow going to steal the election by ballot-harvesting, double voting, machine-rigging, voter suppression, or any other number of methods, and those fears will either be realized by questions raised after a loss or forgotten in the sweet security of victory.

But the pandemic and all the uncertainty it’s created have exaggerated these fears. Just a small number of Americans — especially in states where it’s not yet a widespread practice — have previous experience voting by mail, according to Pew. An intelligence bulletin posted by the Department of Homeland Security has also warned that Russia is likely amplifying misinformation that casts doubts on the integrity of voting by mail. The incumbent president isn’t helping, either. Trump, who has said “mail-In Ballots will lead to massive electoral fraud and a rigged 2020 Election,” continues to find new ways to discredit the process, as have his lieutenants, like Attorney General Bill Barr.

History tells us that the voter fraud conspiracy theory is a bipartisan issue. For decades, competing and even converging theories about voter fraud have come from Democrats as well as Republicans. And according to research, no matter who loses, about a quarter of those on the losing side will likely believe the election was rigged for one reason or another. Believing in a conspiracy theory like this — or any conspiracy theory, for that matter — can be a useful coping mechanism for some.

“We like knowing that there are causes, and there’s intentionality behind things that happen in the world, and conspiracy theories help with all of that because they impose some structure on a messy, uncertain, random kind of world,” Adam Enders, a political scientist at the University of Louisville who studies conspiracy theories, told Recode. “They tell a story: There’s a winner, there’s a loser, and there’s a bad guy.”

So while it’s tempting to fixate on QAnon and how the many sordid elements of that conspiracy theory might matter in November, that risks missing something even bigger. The conspiracy theory about how voter fraud of some kind will rig the election might not seem so exciting. That might also be why it’s so dangerous.

Calm down about QAnon

QAnon is wild and scary, which is why it’s getting so much attention right now.

The term QAnon refers to a set of far-fetched conspiracy theories about how a cabal of elites — pedophiles who suck the blood of babies to gain special powers — is plotting against President Trump. If you strip out the more salacious words of that description, you’re left with the idea that elites are plotting against the president.

The thing is, there’s little concrete evidence that QAnon is attracting huge numbers of believers, though awareness is growing. From March to September, the number of Americans who had heard or read “a lot or a little” about QAnon doubled from 23 percent to 47 percent, according to a Pew survey. (The organization acknowledged that asking the same people the same question twice stands to skew the results.) Regardless, there’s a big difference between knowing about a conspiracy theory and believing in it.

Beyond the sheer number of its followers, the QAnon movement presents a different kind of danger. The growth of QAnon, which the FBI has identified as a potential domestic terrorism threat, coincides with a rise in right-wing extremist attacks and plots, and QAnon specifically has been linked to multiple acts of violence. There’s also overlap between QAnon believers and violent militia groups like the “boogaloo” movement. This is all deeply concerning and a threat to our democracy, too.

And QAnon is, in fact, finding some legitimacy in politics. Around the same time that QAnon believer Marjorie Taylor Greene won her House primary runoff in Georgia, the social media research company Storyful released data showing that membership in 10 large QAnon Facebook groups increased 600 percent from March to July, and the Instagram followings on top QAnon Instagram accounts quadrupled. On top of that, a Civiqs/Daily Kos poll in early September suggested that a third of Republicans believe the QAnon conspiracy theory is “mostly true.” All of this led to a flurry of reports about how QAnon had gone mainstream. Some conspiracy theory experts, however, have doubts about how the movement factors into the upcoming presidential election.

“We’re not finding a movement that’s either big or growing, or well-known,” said Joe Uscinski, a University of Miami political science who has been conducting polling on conspiracy theories for a decade. “This seems to me to be nothing more than a case of a media public, of journalists getting trapped in their own media bubble and just repeating over and over again that this is big and getting bigger and going mainstream.”

Some of the most recent polls, Uscinski has pointed out, ask people broadly if they believe things like QAnon and the “deep state,” and then conflate the results to mean that belief in QAnon is on the rise. In fact, this broad category of conspiracy theories about shadowy elites dates back to the Masons, the Knights Templar, longstanding anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and beyond. So it seems possible that people aren’t expressing familiarity with QAnon specifically but rather other longstanding conspiracy theories about a deep state.

“Conspiracy theories have always played a role in American politics, as far back as when the Anti-Masonic Party rose to power in the Northeast in the early 19th century,” said Travis View, who co-hosts the QAnon Anonymous podcast. “But even if conspiracy theory belief hasn’t increased generally in the United States, it’s notable that the conspiracy theory community are gathering under the banner of ‘Q.’”

Beware the boring conspiracy theory

So while QAnon certainly isn’t harmless — and may well pose a growing, if not violent threat if it continues to spread — its existence should not distract from the more popular, more imminent, and more dangerous conspiracy theories around voter fraud that are taking hold in the US. While QAnon supporters certainly have their own theories about how this year’s election is rigged, voter fraud misinformation has more people, and more prominent people like Trump, promoting it. That leaves both Republicans and Democrats questioning the integrity of American democracy.

As a result, discourse about voter fraud and other voting-related anxieties is finding a huge audience across the political spectrum. According to data from the intelligence firm NewsWhip, links shared on social media about voter fraud, mail-in voting, or vote-by-mail gathered nearly 99 million interactions over the past three months, compared to about 74 million interactions for stories about QAnon-adjacent topics like child trafficking. Meanwhile, stories that explicitly mentioned the terms QAnon, wwg1wga (shorthand for the QAnon rallying cry, “where we go one, we go all”), and #SaveTheChildren (a hashtag QAnon followers recently hijacked) had just over 15.5 million interactions over the past three months.

Data from Zignal Labs also shows that mentions of misinformation related to voting have continued to spike, again and again, this election cycle.

Voter fraud exists, but its prevalence is overexaggerated, particularly in modern US elections. As long as Americans have been voting, there have been reported instances of voter fraud, including some sensational ones that have been proven true. The conservative Heritage Foundation keeps a running tally of these that can be found on the White House website. Many of the cases reported therein are linked to absentee ballots, which provides rhetorical ammunition for President Trump, who has falsely claimed that mail-in voting will lead to a “rigged election” and similarly spent much of his 2016 campaign warning of voter fraud. Trump also keeps encouraging people to vote twice, which is illegal.

Republicans nevertheless maintain that, because voter fraud has happened in the past, it’s opening the doors for Democrats to steal this year’s election, when the pandemic is upending many voting norms. Despite Trump’s persistent warnings to the contrary, there were just four documented cases of voter fraud reported in the weeks after the 2016 election.

“We know from decades upon decades of data that while there is voting fraud in the United States, it is incredibly rare,” Sam Rhodes, a political scientist at Utah Valley University who studies fake news, told Recode. “It’s very difficult to swing an election by stealing a couple votes, especially when you consider the decentralized nature of the American federal election system.”

Meanwhile, there’s little evidence that higher levels of voting by mail will lead to more cheating. In the five states where mail-in voting is the norm — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington — there have been virtually no cases of documented voter fraud. What’s ironic is that Republicans historically have cast more absentee ballots than Democrats, which complicates Trump’s claim in August that mail-in ballots “are dangerous for this country because of cheaters.” The president’s rhetoric around voter fraud seems to be resonating within the party. A September Pew survey showed that 43 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe voter fraud associated with mail-in voting is a “major problem” in the election.

The voter fraud conspiracy theories conservatives are sharing online are evolving well beyond the president’s statements about mail-in voting, too. The right-wing site Natural News, which has been banned on Facebook after spreading conspiracy theories, has been pushing the baseless claim on its expansive network of sites that Democrats are using mail-in voting to skew the election in their favor.

Some of the voter fraud narratives can get pretty wild, too. One conspiracy theory making the rounds online is that arsonists set the recent West Coast wildfires in an attempt to shut down highways and prevent mail-in votes from being delivered and to suppress Republican turnout, according to research from the web intelligence firm Yonder. Meanwhile, former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker claimed in a Facebook post that Democrats were spreading a “fake postal controversy in hopes that worried people will vote by mail before the first debate.”

Democrats aren’t immune to voter fraud conspiracy theories, though they tend to worry more about the voter suppression side of things. The “fake postal controversy” Walker mentioned is a reference to the disruptions in the US Postal Service that followed the appointment of Louis DeJoy, a top Trump donor, as postmaster general. Those disruptions included the removal of 711 mail sorting machines from postal facilities and widespread mail delays. Meanwhile, misleading images of collection boxes being removed from street corners went viral on social media.

All of this led to allegations that the Trump administration was sabotaging the election by dismantling the Postal Service, claims that were swiftly framed by conservatives as a false conspiracy theory about a far-fetched form of voter suppression. Yet, just as Republicans could claim that voter fraud has actually happened in the past, there was no denying the fact that actions taken by the president had disrupted the Postal Service mere months before an election that could be decided by mail-in voting. Trump even admitted to blocking USPS funding because he didn’t want universal mail-in voting.

Conspiratorial thinking of this nature has been a bipartisan issue for decades on both sides, according to a 2017 paper published in Political Research Quarterly. Notably, the authors report, “Republicans are especially prone to believing that people are casting ballots they should not, whereas Democrats are more concerned that they are not able to cast ballots.”

In many ways, conspiracy theories that flirt with the facts are more harmful than those that seem more outrageous. Conspiracy theories about QAnon are not nearly as dangerous to elections as those about voter fraud and voter suppression, because they’re so much more believable and embraced by a much larger share of the population. Even if they’re not true — and even if they’re not completely believed — these conspiracy theories can seed doubt in the minds of millions of American voters about the democratic process, and when the media or the president amplifies these theories, those doubts become much more severe.

“The long-term impact of those kinds of stories is that a few weeks after the fact, we know we heard something, and we have a question in our mind,” said Kris Shaffer, technical director of Yonder. “Even if the truth was really clearly laid out, we’ll still have a question in our mind as to what actually happened.”

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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.

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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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