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Facebook whistleblower’s testimony could finally spark action in Congress

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Facebook whistleblower’s testimony could finally spark action in Congress

The testimony of Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, is likely to increase pressure on US lawmakers to undertake concrete legislative actions against the formerly untouchable tech company, following years of hearings and circular discussions about big tech’s growing power.

In a hearing on Tuesday, the whistleblower shared internal Facebook reports with Congress and argued the company puts “astronomical profits before people”, harms children and is destabilizing democracies.

After years of sparring over the role of tech companies in past American elections, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle on Tuesday appeared to agree on the need for new regulations that would change how Facebook targets users and amplifies content.

“Frances Haugen’s testimony appears to mark a rare moment of bipartisan consensus that the status quo is no longer acceptable,” said Imran Ahmed, chief executive officer of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a non-profit that fights hate speech and misinformation. “This is increasingly becoming a non-political issue and one that has cut through definitively to the mainstream.”

Throughout the morning, Congress members leveled questions at Haugen about what specifically could and should be done to address the harms caused by Facebook.

With 15 years in the industry as an expert in algorithms and design, Haugen offered a number of suggestions – including changing news feeds to be chronological rather than algorithmic, appointing a government body for tech oversight, and requiring more transparency on internal research.

“I think the time has come for action,” Senator Amy Klobuchar told Haugen. “And I think you are the catalyst for that action.”

Unlike past hearings, which were frequently derailed by partisan bickering, Tuesday’s questioning largely stuck to problems posed by Facebook’s opaque algorithmic formulas and how it harms children. Such issues can unite Congress and there is going to be “a lot of bipartisan concern about this today and in future hearings”, said Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

“The recent revelations about Facebook’s mental health effects on children are indeed disturbing,” he said. “They just show how urgent it is for Congress to act against powerful tech companies, on behalf of children and the broader public.”

However, activists who have been calling on Congress to enact laws protecting children from the negative effects of social media are skeptical of such promises.

“The bipartisan anger at Facebook is encouraging and totally justified,” said Jim Steyer, founder and CEO of the children’s protection organization Common Sense. “The next step is to turn that bipartisan anger into bipartisan legislative action before the year is over.”

Exactly what should be done to regulate Facebook is a matter of debate. Senator Todd Young of Indiana asked Haugen whether she believed breaking up Facebook would solve these issues.

“I’m actually against breaking up Facebook,” Haugen said. “Oversight and finding collaborative solutions with Congress is going to be key, because these systems are going to continue to exist and be dangerous even if broken up.”

Many laws introduced or discussed thus far in Congress take aim at section 230, a portion of US internet regulations that exempts platforms from legal liability for content generated by their users.

While some organizations, including Common Sense, are calling for the reform of section 230, other internet freedom advocates have warned that targeting that law could have unintended negative consequences for human rights, activism, and freedom of expression.

“Haugen’s proposal to create a carveout in section 230 around algorithmic amplification would do more harm than good,” said Evan Greer, director of the activist group Fight for the Future. “Your feed would become like Disneyland, where everything in it is sanitized, vetted by lawyers, and paid for by corporations.”

Following the hearing, Facebook disputed Haugen’s characterizations. But the company said it agreed more regulation was in order. “We agree on one thing. It’s time to begin to create standard rules for the internet,” said Lena Pietsch, Facebook’s director of policy communications, in a statement. “It’s been 25 years since the rules of the internet have been updated, and instead of expecting the industry to make societal decisions that belong to legislators, it is time for Congress to act.”

Greer argued that Facebook was promoting changes to internet laws so that it could have a hand in crafting legislation that would largely benefit big corporations.

Other members of Congress have put forward potential paths to regulation that sidestep section 230 reform. Common Sense has called on Congress to pass the Children and Media Research Advancement (Camra) Act, which would authorize the National Institutes of Health to carry out research on the effects of social media on children and teens.

Advocacy groups have also called on Congress for updates to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa), currently the primary mechanism for protecting children online.

Proposed changes would stop companies from profiling teens and youth and microtargeting them with ads and content specifically designed to prey on their fears and insecurities.

“Here’s my message for Mark Zuckerberg: your time of invading our privacy, promoting toxic content and preying on children and teens is over,” Markey, who authored one such bill, called the Kids Act, said. “Congress will be taking action. We will not allow your company to harm our children and our families and our democracy any longer.”

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Governor Ortom Mourns Elder Statesman, Paul Unongo

Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has expressed deep pains over the death of an elder statesman Dr Paul Unongo, saying “we have lost a pathfinder and leader of an inestimable value.”

Unongo, a former Minister of Power and Steel in the Second Republic, died at 87 in Jos, Plateau State on Tuesday.

Ortom’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Nathaniel Ikyur on Wednesday in Makurdi quoted his principal in a statement, describing Unongo him as a father figure who led the emancipation of the ordinary citizens without ethnic or religious barriers.

“The leadership role Unongo played in the political evolution of Nigeria cannot be forgotten in a hurry.

“He was a mentor to many leaders of today who have great ideas for the socio-political and economic development of the country.

Ortom said Benue’s Iroko tree and one of the last icons of political leadership in Nigeria has fallen, adding that Unongo’s contributions to the politics of the country from post-independence till date cannot be quantified.

“Indeed the state has lost a leader and mentor. His death has created a vacuum that will be difficult to refill.

“We shall miss his intellect, great ideas, oratory prowess and immense capacity for mobilisation and organisation of the people.

“I am consoled that Unongo’s legacies of patriotism, pan Nigerian and philanthropy will endure.

“The state will do the needful to immortalise Unongo for his selfless services and contributions to the development of the state,”Ortom said.

He prayed to God to grant the deceased eternal rest and the immediate family the fortitude to bear the loss.

Unongo too from over Maitama Sule as the chairman of the Northern Elders’ Forum. In 2017.

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BREAKING: Court Jails Student Over Tweet On Aisha Buhari

An Abuja court has sent a university student, Aminu Muhammad, to prison over a post on Twitter mocking first lady Aisha Buhari.

The student, according to BBC Hausa Service, was sent to prison on Tuesday.

The student’s lawyer, CK Agu, told BBC that the judge has refused to grant his client bail.

Mr Aminu was remanded in prion custody till December 5, 2022, the lawyer said.

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Top ISWAP Commander Killed In Airstrike In Lake Chad Region

A top commander of the Islamic State of the West African Province (ISWAP), Muhammad Malik has been killed by troops of the air task force in the Lake Chad region.

Zagazola Makama, a publication focused on the Lake Chad region reported that Malik died on November 29 from the fatal injuries he sustained during the attack.

Nigerian troops were said to have launched a coordinated intelligence-led aerial and ground operation and targeted the jihadist group’s location in the Sabon Tumbun area of Lake Chad on November 24.

This attack was also said to have led to the killing of scores of fighters.

Malik is said to have been a member of the Shura Council in Marte before he went for a course in computer engineering and improvised explosive device (IED) making, sponsored by ISIS in Somalia.

On his return, he reportedly established IED training units where fighters were trained in deploying explosives during attacks.

In the last few months, the Nigerian military has been recording a series of successes in the fight against insurgency in the Lake Chad region and other northern states.

Troops had recently repelled an attack by insurgents at Wawa cantonment in Borgu LGA of Niger state as well as the killing of three commanders of ISWAP in Borno.

 

 

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