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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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NNPC transforms to new company from July 1

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NNPC transforms to new company from July 1

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) will from Friday, July 1 become a different entity in its operation.

The state-owned corporation, will no longer be simply referred to as NNPC but the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC Ltd.).

The operation as a limited liability company is under the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) and would commence upon the signing of the assets transfer documents by the Ministers of Petroleum and Finance the same day.

The development is in line with the provisions of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA).

Group Managing Director (GMD)/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NNPC Ltd, Malam Mele Kyari, said in a recent engagement session with business leaders across the company’s value chain in Abuja that they were working to comply with the provisions of the PIA.

He said NNPC was doing everything possible to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) with regards to guidelines and timelines for action.

Kyari said that the new company would become operational with the transfer of verified assets from the Corporation to the NNPC Ltd. by the Ministers of Petroleum and Finance.

He explained that with the level of assets available combined with the new fiscal regime, NNPC Ltd. was set to become the number one energy company in Africa, noting that global brands interested in doing business with the new NNPC Ltd. needed to be sure of the company’s asset base.

On the objective of the session, Kyari stated that it was organised to engage business leaders on issues of change management strategies required to achieve the new business realities as a limited liability entity.

He added that the success or otherwise of the company depends heavily on how the change is managed.

In his presentation, the Chairman of the NNPC PIA Implementation Team and Group Executive Director, Downstream, Mr Yemi Adetunji, said that all was set for the presidential unveiling of the NNPC Ltd., scheduled for July 19.

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Senate Begins Screening Of New Ministerial Nominees

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Senate Begins Screening Of New Ministerial Nominees

Lawmakers in the Senate chamber of the National Assembly have commenced the screening of the ministerial nominees recently appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The screening of the nominees is ongoing at a plenary presided over by the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan.

With less than a year to the end of his administration, President Buhari recently asked the lawmakers to confirm seven nominees as ministers to join his cabinet.

The nominees were appointed from four south-east states, as well as one state each in the north-west, south-west, and south-south regions.

They include Henry Ikechukwu – Abia State, Umana Okon Umana – Akwa-Ibom State, Ekuma Joseph – Ebonyi State, Goodluck Nana Obia – Imo State, Umar Ibrahim Yakub – Kano State, Ademola Adewole Adegorioye – Ondo State, and Odo Udi – Rivers State.

The nominees were appointed from four south-east states, as well as one state each in the north-west, south-west, and south-south regions.

They include Henry Ikechukwu – Abia State, Umana Okon Umana – Akwa-Ibom State, Ekuma Joseph – Ebonyi State, Goodluck Nana Obia – Imo State, Umar Ibrahim Yakub – Kano State, Ademola Adewole Adegorioye – Ondo State, and Odo Udi – Rivers State.

4:42 pm: The Senate has screened the sixth and seventh nominees Ademola Adewole Adegoroye from Ondo State and Odum Odi from Rivers State.


3:45 pm: The fifth nominee is Umar Ibrahim El-Yakub from Kano State. He is also a former federal lawmaker and presently the Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on National Assembly Matters( House of Reps).

He was also asked to take a bow and go.


2:55 pm: The fourth nominee, Goodluck Opiah, was asked to take a bow and go, a privilege and Senate tradition for former lawmakers in the state or federal legislature.


2:42 pm: The third nominee Ekumankama Joseph is being screened.

While responding to a question on how to resolve the impasse between the FG and ASUU, he said there’s a need for both sides to reach a compromise.

He explained that ASUU has been sticking to its guns but there are several issues demanding government funds, so both sides need to compromise. He urged the Senate to make adequate budgetary provisions in the 2023 budget to address some of the issues raised by the striking lecturers.


2:05 pm: Okon Umana takes a bow to exit the floor of the chamber.


2:02 pm: “I want to say that even the Free Zones platform is a veritable platform for this. The Free Zone is a platform that can drive production because when you produce for export, you earn foreign exchange,” Umana said on how to boost the nation’s foreign exchange.

“So we have to look at whatever is inhibiting production and address that but I think that the key is production.”


1:48 pm: “As it is customary, I will like to thank President Muhammadu Buhari for this nomination. Before I continue, I also thank Senator Albert Bassy Akpan for this very brilliant testimony,” said Senator Omo-Agege.


1:45 pm: Before Umana responded, Senator Albert Bassey Akpan gave some testimony. He said he has known the nominee for about 22 years and that his appointment is apt.


1:37 pm: “What do you think we should do to add more foreign exchange, especially in the area that you have worked so that we reduce our level of borrowing because we borrow because we don’t have enough but I believe the potentials are there?” the Senate President asked the nominee.


1:31 pm: Okon Umana, reads his profile before the Distinguished members of the Senate.


1:23 pm: The next nominee being screened is Okon Umana from Akwa Ibom State. He says he is the Managing Director of the Oil and Gas Free Zone.


1:16 pm: The Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, however, reminded his colleagues that there is no requirement for a ministerial nominee to possess an NYSC discharge certificate.

Senator Lawan, on his part, said being a member of a political party has no bearing on a ministerial appointment and the President has the right to appoint anyone as minister regardless of political affiliation.


1:11 pm: The lawmakers asked the nominee questions on his capacity to drive industrial development in the country, given the short timeframe before a new administration comes on board in 2023.

They also interrogated his participation in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme and his membership of a political party.


12:49 pm: Mr Ikoh addressed the Senate. He said he is an industrialist and a manufacturer. He added that he is the immediate past Commissioner for Industry in Abia State.

The nominee promised to hit the ground running in a bid to contribute his own quota to national development. He also vowed to serve the nation diligently if confirmed as a minister.


12:44 pm: The Senate President informed his colleagues that all seven nominees would be screened today.


12:43 pm: Henry Ikechukwu Ikoh from Abia State is the first nominee to take the stage for his screening.


12:40 pm: The nominees were ushered into the Senate chamber for their screening.

Details later…

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FG engages lawyers for Ekweremadu

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FG engages lawyers for Ekweremadu

Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, has disclosed that the Nigerian High Commission in the United Kingdom has engaged the services of lawyers to defend the senator representing Enugu West Senatorial District, Ike Ekweremadu, and his wife, Beatrice.

Lawan made this known on Wednesday while giving details about the outcome of a closed session held by the upper chamber before the start of plenary proceedings.

The closed-door session which started at about 10:57 a.m ended at 11:49 a.m.

The Harmattan News reports Ekweremadu, alongside his wife, was arrested by the UK Metropolitan Police last Tuesday for conspiracy to harvest the organs of a minor.

Ekweremadu and his wife allegedly facilitated David’s entry into the UK to transplant his kidney into their daughter, Sonia, who is suffering from kidney failure.

The couple was arraigned at the Uxbridge Magistrate Court in London on charges of conspiracy and organ harvest on Thursday.

But speaking on Wednesday, Lawan said a delegation from its Committee on Foreign Affairs would depart Nigeria for London on July 1, 2022, to pay a visit to the embattled couple presently in detention over an allegation of organ harvesting.

This was contained in a statement by the Special Assistant (Press) to Lawan, Dr. Ezrel Tabiowo, titled, ‘Senate delegation to visit Ekweremadu, wife in London’.

According to Lawan, the decision to wade into Ekweremadu’s arrest and detention was against the backdrop of a briefing received by the Nigerian High Commissioner to London.

He further disclosed that the Senate would engage the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Nigerian High Commission in London on the recent arrest of Senator Ike Ekweremadu by the London Metropolitan Police in the United Kingdom.

He said, “I had a personal engagement with our Nigerian High Commissioner to Britain, Alhaji Isola Sarafa, who has done so well to establish contact with our colleague, who has been able to get his team to be in the court at Uxbridge where Ekweremadu was taken to.

“The high Commission has also been able to provide some consular services that include the engagement of some lawyers who will defend our colleague.

“We commend them for giving attention to the issue at stake. Equally, the Nigeria Foreign Affairs Minister has been engaged here, so that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs takes steps to provide diplomatic support for our colleague.

“Because this issue is already in court, we have limited opportunity to discuss beyond what we have done so far.

“But I want to ensure the family of our colleague, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Nigerians, that the Senate will continue to engage with our ministry of foreign affairs as well as our high commission in London.

“The High Commission has done so much but we still expect that it will continue to provide any other further consular services.

“We have also mandated our committee on foreign affairs to engage with the British high commission here in Nigeria, to find more details on this case, as as far as the high commission is involved.

“There will be a delegation to London to see Senator Ike Ekweremadu and his wife. A delegation from the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Senate will leave in the next two days to London for that purpose.

“I want to urge all federal government institutions that can do anything to ensure that justice prevails in this case, that they do so.”

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