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Frances Haugen to testify to MPs about Facebook and online harm

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Frances Haugen to testify to MPs about Facebook and online harm

The Facebook whistleblower is to give evidence to MPs and peers scrutinising the online safety bill, amid calls for a toughening up of the landmark legislation.

Frances Haugen has triggered a deep crisis at Mark Zuckerberg’s social media empire after she released tens of thousands of internal documents detailing the company’s failure to keep its users safe from harmful content. On Monday Haugen, 37, will testify in person at the joint committee scrutinising the draft online safety bill, a piece of legislation that places a duty of care on social media companies to protect users – with the threat of substantial fines if they fail to do so.

Speaking to the Observer before the hearing, Haugen said Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, chief executive and controlling shareholder, had not shown any readiness to protect the public from the harm his company is causing.

“Right now, Mark [Zuckerberg] is unaccountable. He has all the control. He has no oversight, and he has not demonstrated that he is willing to govern the company at the level that is necessary for public safety.”

The online safety bill came into focus last week after the murder of Conservative MP David Amess. Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, demanded criminal sanctions for bosses of digital platforms that fail to crack down on extremism, prompting Boris Johnson to pledge “tough sentences for those who are responsible for allowing this foul content to permeate the internet”.

However, government sources later rowed back on this. The government is holding in reserve the option of introducing criminal sanctions for executives who do not cooperate adequately with Ofcom, the communications regulator implementing the bill. Johnson has also pledged to fast-track the bill.

Earlier this month Haugen told US senators in Washington that Facebook put “astronomical profits before people” as she was questioned about a trove of documents that showed Facebook knew its Instagram photo-sharing app was damaging teen mental health and that its eponymous platform was being used to incite ethnic violence in Ethiopia.

Damian Collins, the Conservative MP and chair of the joint committee, said: “Frances Haugen’s testimony so far has made it even clearer that regulatory oversight of social media platforms, from democratically elected government, is urgently needed. She will bring valuable expertise to the scrutiny process, especially as the bill should empower Ofcom to access and act on the internal research and concerns.”

A new wave of revelations at the weekend from a group of US news publications showed Facebook struggled to contain rightwing misinformation on its platform in the run-up to the insurrection in Washington on 6 January and had been used to spread religious hatred in India. Further stories based on the documents are expected from a wider consortium on Monday.

The joint committee has also heard calls from witnesses for elements of the bill to be toughened. The information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has said Ofcom should be given auditing powers to check the inner working of tech companies, including the algorithms that help tailor the content that a user consumes. Haugen is due to speak at 2pm.

Child protection campaigners have also called for the bill to have stronger safeguards for children and criminal sanctions for executives who know that their platforms are putting young people at risk and are failing to act.

On Sunday the BBC broadcast a meeting between Haugen and the father of Molly Russell, a 14-year-old British schoolgirl who killed herself in 2017 and viewed content on social media – including on her Instagram account – linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide before her death. Ian Russell told Haugen: “I look at a huge corporation with massive resources and say, ‘there must be more you can be doing’.”

The online safety bill covers tech firms that allow users to post their own content or to interact with each other, which includes Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube. Search engines such as Google will also be included as well as commercial pornography sites such as OnlyFans and video games that allow users to talk to each other.

Facebook’s vice-president of content policy, Monika Bickert, said on Sunday the tech industry “needs regulation” because it should not be left to make the rules on issues including harmful online content on its own.

“The UK is one of the countries leading the way with wide-ranging proposals on everything from hate speech to child safety and, while we won’t agree with all the details, we’re pleased the online safety bill is moving forward,” she wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.

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EFCC Arrests Fake State House Staff for N22m Employment Scam

Operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes commission, EFCC, have arrested a syndicate of fake State House Staff in Abuja for alleged criminal conspiracy, false representation and employment scam.

The suspects were arrested separately following investigation on petitions by various victims who were promised jobs as “Directors General” at the Ministry of Communication, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited, NNPCL, Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC and other ministries.

The suspects are; Augustine Enamegbai Umogboi, who claimed to be a former staff of the State House, Eleojo Josephine Idakwo, a fake staff of the Ministry of Information in the Registry Unit, and Kingsley Onuh who also claimed that he just concluded his National Youth Service Corps, NYSC.

Others are Omata Sunday and Eljayon Nigeria Limited, one of the companies which bank account they were using to get money from their victims. Besides, they had different account numbers of different banks through which they were receiving the money amounting to N22,350,00 (Twenty Two million, Three Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira) from different victims.

Umogboi was arrested on June 16, 2024, Idakwo was arrested on April 30, 2024, while Onuh was arrested on April 3, 2024.

Many victims narrated their bitter experience in a series of petitions written to the EFCC.

A sample of such a petition reads : “we were reliably informed that sometime around April 2023, Mr. Gabriel Kingsley Onuh notified our clients about job opportunities in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation LTD(NNPCL) and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). With support of Eleojo Josephine Idakwo who claimed to work in NNPCL, they undertook to assist Mr. Toheeb Adesina and Miss Asabe Gambo to secure employment in NNPCL, as well as Mr. Tertindi Reginald Igbayue in FRSC, subject to the payment of a fee. It was agreed that the payment would be in two tranches-initials part payment and the balance payment when the employment letter is ready and when documentation of credentials commences”.

Another victim in a petition written to the EFCC stated that “Sometime in May 2023, one of my friends, Sunday Omata approached me that one Eleojo Josephine Idakwu told him that their office in the Presidential Villa is responsible for screening applicants for the appointment of ‘Directors General’ for all Ministries and Parastatals in the current government of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

“As such they want me to apply for the position of Director General in the Ministry of Communication… She however gave me a condition that I must pay them Five Million Naira (N5,000,000) before they can start the process.

“Since it involves a big office, they cannot do all the contacts for free and their boss in the office requires some money too. Since then, they have been requesting all sorts of money from me with various accounts”.

They suspects have given useful information to the EFCC and will be charged to court upon conclusion of investigation.

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Ondo Govt reacts to court judgement declaring new LCDAs ‘illegal’

The Ondo State Government says necessary legal action will be taken on the judgement nullifying the creation of the 33 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) in the state.

The government’s reaction is contained in a statement by the Attorney General of Ondo State, Mr Kayode Ajulo SAN, made available to  newsmen on Friday in Akure.

Justice A.O Adebusuoye of the state High Court had in a judgement on Thursday described the creation of the LCDAs as unlawful.

The court said it was illegal for a governor to sign a law outside the State.

The court said that the Local Government Creation Law 2023 signed by the late Governor Rotimi Akeredolu in Ibadan was unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.

The statement said the government has taken cognizance of Ondo State High Court’s judgement and had requested for a Certified True Copy of it.

Ajulo said after it was studied and analysed, a legal opinion would be presented to the state government.

“Subsequently, all necessary measures, in accordance with our laws, will be taken to safeguard the interests of our citizens, foster peaceful coexistence, and uphold the rule of law.

“The Attorney General remains steadfast in his commitment to prioritizing the well-being and welfare of our citizens, working tirelessly to ensure that justice and the law are served,” the statement said.

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LASTMA impounds 40 vehicles in Oyingbo, ijora, idumota axis

The  Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) has impounded another 25 commercial and 15 private vehicles operating illegal garages and causing serious road obstructions around Oyingbo, Ijora, and Idumota areas of  Lagos.

Mr Taofiq Adebayo, Director, Public Affairs and Enlightenment Department of LASTMA, said this in a statement on Friday in Lagos.

Adebayo said impounding the vehicles at these areas was a decisive move by LASTMA to restore order and ensure the free flow of traffic.

He said the operation was led by LASTMA Head of Enforcement, Mr Kayode Odunuga, under the directives of the Special Adviser to the Governor on Transportation, Mr Sola Giwa.

Adebayo that they were specifically directed to target illegal garages that had been a persistent source of congestion and inconvenience for residents and commuters.

He said the impoundment, which began in recent weeks, was part of a broader initiative by the  Lagos State Government to enhance the efficiency of the city’s transportation network.

He quoted Giwa as emphasising that government is committed to maintaining law and order on the roads, ensuring that all traffic regulations are strictly enforced.

“illegal garages have been a significant challenge in our quest to maintain a seamless traffic flow in Lagos.

“These impoundments send a strong message to all offenders that the state will not tolerate activities that disrupt public order and endanger the lives of our citizens.

“Our goal is to create a safe and orderly environment for all road users and this action is a crucial step in that direction,” Giwa said.

He noted that the targeted areas, Oyingbo, Ijora, and Idumota, are known hotspots for traffic congestion due to unauthorised parking and the establishment of makeshift garages.

He said that these activities not only obstruct the free movement of vehicles but also pose safety risks to pedestrians.

“LASTMA’s intervention aims to clear these bottlenecks and enhance the overall traffic situation in these critical areas.

“Residents and business owners have expressed their support for the government’s action, noting the positive impact it will have on their daily activities.

“LASTMA has also assured the public that the operation will be sustained and extended to other parts of the city where illegal garages and related activities are prevalent,” he quoted Giwa as saying.

He urged all vehicle owners and operators to adhere to the state’s traffic regulations and cooperate with authorities to avoid sanctions.

He reiterated that the government’s primary objective was to create a better and more livable Lagos for everyone.

He also urged motorists to take ownership of the roads and to promptly inform LASTMA of any broken down or abandoned trailers or trucks via the Agency’s hotlines: 0810056586008129928503.

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