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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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Niger Govt arrests over 30 illegal miners

Oyo Govt To Clampdown

The Niger State Ministry for Minerals Resources has disclosed the arrest of over 30 illegal miners at various locations, despite the ban on illegal mining in the state.

It also debunked the alleged killing of one person at an illegal mining site in Minna during a clash between restive youth groups last Friday.

The state Commissioner for Minerals Resources, Garba Yahaya Sabo, said the arrests were made from January to date across various mining sites in the state.

He explained that the Ministry has been given the mandate to protect, arrest and stop all illegal mining activities by miners, adding that those interested in mining must register with the state government so as to create employment as well as boost revenue generation.

Sabo, who lamented the lack of adequate manpower to help monitor activities of the illegal miners at mining sites, however, said desk officers will be stationed to keep an eye on mining locations across the 25 LGAs in order to keep the Ministry abreast with every development in the sector.

“Many of these illegal miners are criminals and their activities can pose serious security threat to the people of the state.

“Whenever, we chase them out of the mining sites during the day, these illegal miners usually gather again during the night under the pretense of mining gold and during such periods, launch out to commit various crimes in the state,” he revealed.

The commissioner also denied reports that a youth was killed at Maitumbi illegal mining site along Julius Berger Quarry site.

According to him, “The incident did not actually happen at the illegal mining site, but opposite the site at night. Nobody was killed during the youth clash on Friday there.

“The report in its entirety is fake, malicious and has no link to mining activity. It was designed to just tarnish the image of the Ministry.”

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NDLEA destroys 304,436kg, 40, 042 litres of illicit drugs seized in Lagos, Ogun

The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, on Tuesday 16th April 2024 destroyed a total of 304,436kg kilograms and 40,042 litres of illicit substances seized from parts of Lagos and Ogun states.

Speaking at a brief ceremony where the seized drugs were publicly destroyed in Badagry Lagos, Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the Agency, Brig Gen Mohamed Buba Marwa (Retd) said the open destruction of the seized illicit drugs followed court orders, even as he called for more public support for ongoing efforts by NDLEA and other stakeholders to curb the menace of substance abuse and illicit drug trafficking in Nigeria.

“Though a routine exercise and an established process of removing dangerous substances from our society, the public destruction of confiscated illicit drugs is usually conducted at the end of their related cases in court”, the NDLEA boss stated adding that the exhibits being destroyed were of mixed types, “which include illicit drugs in solid and liquid states as well as in various classes such as cocaine, heroin, cannabis, and tramadol, among others.”

He said the drugs were seized by NDLEA operatives across different formations of the Agency in Lagos and Ogun states from January 2022 till date especially at the Lagos seaports, airports, and land borders.

“To be destroyed here today on the order of the court are solid drugs, weighing 304,436.055kg and 40, 042. 621 litres of liquid drugs. The sheer volume of the drug haul speaks volumes about the extent of the nefarious activities of the drug underworld.”

He expressed appreciation to traditional rulers, heads of security agencies, the clergy, members of NGOs and CSOs as well as other stakeholders who witnessed the ceremony.

“The destruction of these seizures complies with the NDLEA Act, which mandates the Agency to destroy all drug exhibits after prosecution. We want to say that your presence here is a testament to this important occasion. To this end, we appreciate all stakeholders and members of the public for witnessing this exercise”, he added.

He seized the opportunity to acknowledge the support of the Agency’s local and international partners, “especially the American Drug Enforcement Administration (US-DEA); United Kingdom NCA, Border Force; the Germans, the French; Indian NCB, among others who had worked with us on a number of busts. Similarly, we appreciate the Nigerian military and other law enforcement agencies such as the Customs; Immigration; Police; Civil Defence; FRSC; NFIU,NAFDAC and others that have been supporting our efforts to rid Nigeria of illicit drugs.”
While assuring that NDLEA will not relent in its effort to end the drug scourge in the country, Marwa called for more public support for the activities of the Agency. “The safety of our society is the responsibility of every one of us. Every citizen shall be fulfilling his or her civic duty by assisting the Agency’s War Against Drug Abuse (WADA) campaign to clean up our communities and cities. Together, we can make this country secure”, he added.

Lagos state governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu represented by Chairman, Badagry West Local Government, Mr. Olusegun Onilude expressed satisfaction with the efforts of NDLEA to tackle the scourge of illicit drugs in the country.

“Almost all crimes and criminalities are fueled by illicit drugs, so the Lagos state government appreciates NDLEA and its leadership in their resolute fight against illicit drugs.

“The volume of illicit drugs being destroyed here today speak volume and every right-thinking person should be worried”, he stated.

He also thanked the Agency for taking the War Against Drug Abuse (WADA) social advocacy campaign to schools and communities across Lagos State. “No doubt, NDLEA is working, and the state will continue to collaborate with the Agency and its leadership”, he assured.

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NSA receives 22 abducted students, staff of Zamfara varsity

The National Security Adviser, NSA, Nuhu Ribadu, on Monday, April 15, 2024, received 22 abducted students and staff of Federal University, Gusau in Zamfara, who were rescued after 207 days in captivity.

The victims, comprising 15 students and seven workers of the university, were abducted from the university in September 2023.

According to the NSA, the rescue operation was coordinated by the National Counter-Terrorism Centre, NCTC, on Sunday

Mr Ribadu who received the rescued victims on Monday in Abuja, urged them not to allow their experience to break them, but should rather make them stronger.

The NSA also thanked the parents of the rescued victims for their patience and understanding during the period and commended security agencies for their tireless work and sacrifices.

“On behalf of the President, I thank all those involved in the successful rescue of the victims without losing anyone of them or paying any ransom,” he said.

“This is yet again a success story in our efforts to free all those being unlawfully held in captivity.

“We have so far released over a thousand of such victims without noise and with complete respect to their privacy and safety.

“This occasion marks a final juncture in a series of rescues we have undertaken in the last few months, to free victims of recent cases of mass abductions.

“Going forward, we are strengthening law enforcement and security measures to prevent these abductions, and strengthen physical security across vulnerable communities,” he said.

Earlier, the National Coordinator, NCTC, Maj.-Gen. Adamu Laka recalled that those rescued were abducted from the school on Sept. 22, 2023, at about 0230hrs

Mr Laka said bandits armed with various weapons attacked three off-campus students’ hostels at Sabon Gida in Gusau and kidnapped a number of female students alongside some male artisans

Others, he said, were a private security guard and a protocol officer of the university.

He added that the bandits ransacked the hostels, and carted away foodstuffs, mobile phones, laptops, ATM cards, cash and other valuables.

According to him, the abductees were subsequently herded on motorcycles and foot to a location through a town in the Tsafe local government area of Zamfara.

“Search and rescue was conducted by a combined team of law enforcement agencies and the abductees were subsequently released in three batches, after 207 days in captivity,” he said.

“The first batch was rescued on March 15 while the second batch was rescued on April 12 and the last batch was rescued on April 14.

“All the abductees were profiled at NCTC while the ONSA Medical Team examined them and administered minor treatments on the bruises sustained by 3 of the abductees.

“Four of them were diagnosed with malaria and are being treated. None of the females was molested and all the females tested negative for pregnancy test,” he added.

One of the rescued victims, Hafsat Ibrahim, thanked God and the government for ensuring their safe return after 207 days in captivity.

Representative of the Zamfara government, Ibrahim Anka, commended the efforts of the NSA in coordinating the military and security operations that ensured the safe rescue of the victims.

Anka also commended the Federal Government for the efforts and recent positive improvement in security in the state.

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