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Twitter CEO Takes Some Responsibility for Stop the Steal Spread

(Bloomberg) — Twitter Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey said he takes some responsibility for online organizing that led to the Jan. 6 riot at Capitol Hill, while the leaders of Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc. deflected blame during a Congressional hearing that focused on social media disinformation.Representative Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, asked Dorsey, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the head of Google and its parent Alphabet, Sundar Pichai, if their platforms bear any responsibility for disseminating “Stop the Steal” disinformation alleging the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump. Doyle demanded a yes or no answer.“Yes, but you also have to take into consideration a broader ecosystem,” Dorsey said. “It’s not just about the technology platforms we use.”Doyle cut off Zuckerberg when he responded that Facebook’s responsibility is to “build effective systems,” and said individuals who organized the events and those who questioned the election’s outcome, including Trump, deserved blame. When Doyle asked Pichai if his statement that “we always feel a deep sense of responsibility” amounted to a yes, the CEO said it was a “complex question.”This exchange set the tone for a tense back and forth between the leaders of the world’s most powerful social media networks and lawmakers eager to hold them accountable over how they police falsehoods on Covid-19, vaccines and the election on their internet services. Many committee members also pressed the executives on the negative impact of their products on children and teenagers.The executives appeared on Thursday before members of two U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittees during a virtual hearing examining social media’s role in promoting extremism and disinformation.While some lawmakers have been seeking tighter regulations of online content for years, pressure is increasing on tech companies to more aggressively curtail violent and misleading material on their platforms following the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, which left five people dead and many more injured.“People died that day, and hundreds were seriously injured,” Doyle said on Thursday. “That attack and the movement that motivated it started and was nourished on your platforms. Your platforms suggested groups people should join, videos they should view, and posts they should like.”Trump’s supporters used social media sites — particularly alternative platforms such as Parler and Gab, but also larger services — to organize the riot, which was held in protest of Trump’s loss to President Joseph Biden in the November election.In recent months, Democrats have been pushing the tech giants to do more to rid conspiracy theories about Covid-19 and the vaccine that prevents its symptoms from their websites.“The witnesses here today have demonstrated time and again that promises to self-regulate don’t work,” said Jan Schakowsky, chair of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, in an opening statement. “They must be held accountable for allowing disinformation and misinformation to spread across their platforms, infect our public discourse, and threaten our democracy.”Thursday’s hearing is sparking renewed debate in Washington over whether Congress should weaken or even revoke a decades-old legal shield that protects social media companies from liability for user-generated content posted on their sites, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.While both parties have proposed bills to reform the law, they have sparred over how tech companies should change their content moderation practices. Republicans have threatened to weaken the legal protection for tech companies over unfounded accusations that social media firms are systematically censoring conservative viewpoints. Democrats want internet companies to do more to curb the spread of misinformation, hate speech and offensive content.“Given your promises in the fall, the events that transpired on January 6 and your true incentive that you yourself admit, I find it really difficult to take some of these assurances you are trying to give us today seriously,” Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, said.Dingell followed up by asking Zuckerberg if he would be opposed to a law to enable regulators’ access to tech companies’ algorithms that promote disinformation and extremism.“I don’t agree with your characterization,” Zuckerberg said. “I do think giving more transparency into the system is an important thing.” He added it might be hard to separate the algorithms and people’s data, arguing such a proposal might risk users’ privacy.Representative Robin Kelly, an Illinois Democrat, said the companies’ business models to promote engagement on their platforms come at the cost of spreading disinformation.“To build that engagement, social media platforms amplify content that gets attention — that can be cat videos or vacation pictures — but too often it means content that’s incendiary, contains conspiracy theories or violence,” she said. “This is a fundamental flaw in your business model.”The tech executives also differed in their support for making changes to the legal shield. Before the hearing, Zuckerberg told the committee he supports making the liability protection conditional on having systems in place for identifying and removing unlawful material. Under Zuckerberg’s proposal, a third party would determine whether a company’s systems are adequate.Google’s Pichai, whose company owns the most popular video website, YouTube, signaled that he was more skeptical of making changes to the law. Reforming it or repealing it altogether “would have unintended consequences — harming both free expression and the ability of platforms to take responsible action to protect users in the face of constantly evolving challenges,” he said in prepared testimony.Later, under questioning, Pichai said he was open to Zuckerberg’s approach.“There are definitely good proposals around transparency and accountability, which I’ve seen in various legislative proposals as well, which I think are important principles,” Pichai said. “We would certainly welcome legislative approaches in that area.”Dorsey said he supported the idea of encouraging tech companies to be more transparent about their practices.Several bills being considered by Congress seek to weaken the legal shield in an effort to encourage the platforms to bolster their content moderation practices. Democratic senators, led by Mark Warner of Virginia, introduced the SAFE TECH Act, which would hold companies liable for content violating laws pertaining to civil rights, international human rights, stalking, harassment or intimidation.And a bipartisan bill — the PACT Act — from Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota would require large tech companies to remove content within four days if notified by a court order that the content is illegal.Several members of the subcommittees used the hearing to ask pointed questions about how the companies’ products affect children, amid Facebook’s push to make a version of Instagram for kids under age 13.Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington Republican, criticized the power of tech companies’ algorithms to determine what children see online.“Over 20 years ago, before we knew what Big Tech would become, Congress gave you liability protections. I want to know, why do you think you still deserve those protections today?” said McMorris Rodgers, the committee’s top Republican. “What will it take for your business model to stop harming children?”Representative Bob Latta, an Ohio Republican, asked Zuckerberg whether Facebook shoulders part of the blame for an underage girl’s suicide after a man showed a compromising photo of her to her peers on the social network.Zuckerberg said it was “an incredibly sad story,” and said his company bears responsibility to build systems to remove that kind of content.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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CANADA STOCKS – TSX falls 0.14% to 19,201.28

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* The Toronto Stock Exchange’s TSX falls 0.14 percent to 19,201.28

* Leading the index were Stantec Inc <STN.TO​>, up 3.4%, Imperial Oil Ltd​, up 3.3%, and Corus Entertainment Inc​, higher by 2.9%.

* Lagging shares were Aphria Inc​​, down 14.2%, Village Farms International Inc​, down 9.9%, and Aurora Cannabis Inc​, lower by 9.4%.

* On the TSX 91 issues rose and 134 fell as a 0.7-to-1 ratio favored decliners. There were 24 new highs and no new lows, with total volume of 228.0 million shares.

* The most heavily traded shares by volume were Toronto-dominion Bank, Royal Bank Of Canada and Suncor Energy Inc.

* The TSX’s energy group fell 0.32 points, or 0.3%, while the financials sector climbed 2.46 points, or 0.7%.

* West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose 0.52%, or $0.31, to $59.63 a barrel. Brent crude  rose 0.4%, or $0.25, to $63.2 [O/R]

* The TSX is up 10.1% for the year.

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Air Canada signs C$5.9 billion government aid package, agrees to buy Airbus, Boeing jets

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By David Ljunggren and Allison Lampert

OTTAWA/MONTREAL (Reuters) -Air Canada, struggling with a collapse in traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reached a deal on Monday on a long-awaited aid package with the federal government that would allow it to access up to C$5.9 billion ($4.69 billion) in funds.

The agreement – the largest individual coronavirus-related loan that Ottawa has arranged with a company – was announced after the airline industry criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government for dawdling. The United States and France acted much more quickly to help major carriers.

Canada‘s largest carrier, which last year cut over half its workforce, or 20,000 jobs, and other airlines have been negotiating with the government for months on a coronavirus aid package.

In February, Air Canada reported a net loss for 2020 of C$4.65 billion, compared with a 2019 profit of C$1.48 billion.

As part of the deal, Air Canada agreed to ban share buybacks and dividends, cap annual compensation for senior executives at C$1 million a year and preserve jobs at the current level, which is 14,859.

It will also proceed with planned purchases of 33 Airbus SE 220 airliners and 40 Boeing Co 737 MAX airliners.

Chris Murray, managing director, equity research at ATB Capital Markets, said the deal took into account the “specific needs of Air Canada in the short and medium term without being overly onerous.”

He added: “It gives them some flexibility in drawing down additional liquidity as needed.”

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government was still in negotiations with other airlines about possible aid.

Canada, the world’s second-largest nation by area, depends heavily on civil aviation to keep remote communities connected.

Opposition politicians fretted that further delays in announcing aid could result in permanent damage to the country.

Air Canada said it would resume services on nearly all of the routes it had suspended because of COVID-19.

‘SIGNIFICANT LAYER OF INSURANCE’

The deal removes a potential political challenge for the Liberals, who insiders say are set to trigger an election later this year.

The government has agreed to buy C$500 million worth of shares in the airline, at C$23.1793 each, or a 14.2% discount to Monday’s close, a roughly 6% stake.

“Maintaining a competitive airline sector and good jobs is crucially important,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters, adding the equity stake would allow taxpayers to benefit when the airline’s fortunes recovered.

The Canadian government previously approved similar loans for four other companies worth up to C$1.billion, including up to C$375 million to low-cost airline Sunwing Vacations Inc. The government has paid out C$73.47 billion under its wage subsidy program and C$46.11 billion in loans to hard-hit small businesses.

Michael Rousseau, Air Canada‘s president and chief executive officer, said the liquidity “provides a significant layer of insurance for Air Canada.”

Jerry Dias, head of the Unifor private-sector union, described the announcement as “a good deal for everybody.”

Unifor represents more than 16,000 members working in the air transportation sector.

But the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents roughly 10,000 Air Canada flight attendants, said the package protected the jobs of current workers rather than the 7,500 members of its union who had been let go by the carrier.

($1=1.2567 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler and Peter Cooney)

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U.K. advises limiting AstraZeneca in under-30s amid clot worry

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LONDON —
British authorities recommended Wednesday that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine not be given to adults under 30 where possible because of strengthening evidence that the shot may be linked to rare blood clots.

The recommendation came as regulators both in the United Kingdom and the European Union emphasized that the benefits of receiving the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for most people — even though the European Medicines Agency said it had found a “possible link” between the shot and the rare clots. British authorities recommended that people under 30 be offered alternatives to AstraZeneca. But the EMA advised no such age restrictions, leaving it up to its member-countries to decide whether to limit its use.

Several countries have already imposed limits on who can receive the vaccine, and any restrictions are closely watched since the vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to store than many others, is critical to global immunization campaigns and is a pillar of the UN-backed program known as COVAX that aims to get vaccines to some of the world’s poorest countries.

“This is a course correction, there’s no question about that,” Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said during a press briefing. “But it is, in a sense, in medicine quite normal for physicians to alter their preferences for how patients are treated over time.”

Van-Tam said the effect on Britain’s vaccination timetable — one of the speediest in the world — should be “zero or negligible,” assuming the National Health Service receives expected deliveries of other vaccines, including those produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

EU and U.K. regulators held simultaneous press conferences Wednesday afternoon to announce the results of investigations into reports of blood clots that sparked concern about the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The EU agency described the clots as “very rare” side effects. Dr Sabine Straus, chair of EMA’s Safety Committee, said the best data is coming from Germany where there is one report of the rare clots for every 100,000 doses given, although she noted far fewer reports in the U.K. Still, that’s less than the clot risk that healthy women face from birth control pills, noted another expert, Dr. Peter Arlett.

The agency said most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 within two weeks of vaccination — but based on the currently available evidence, it was not able to identify specific risk factors. Experts reviewed several dozen cases that came mainly from Europe and the U.K., where around 25 million people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“The reported cases of unusual blood clotting following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine should be listed as possible side effects of the vaccine,” said Emer Cooke, the agency’s executive director. “The risk of mortality from COVID is much greater than the risk of mortality from these side effects.”

Arlett said there is no information suggesting an increased risk from the other major COVID-19 vaccines.

The EMA’s investigation focused on unusual types of blood clots that are occurring along with low blood platelets. One rare clot type appears in multiple blood vessels and the other in veins that drain blood from the brain.

While the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks, that assessment is “more finely balanced” among younger people who are less likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19, the U.K’s Van-Tam said.

“We are not advising a stop to any vaccination for any individual in any age group,” said Wei Shen Lim, who chairs Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization. “We are advising a preference for one vaccine over another vaccine for a particular age group, really out of the utmost caution rather than because we have any serious safety concerns.”

In March, more than a dozen countries, mostly in Europe, suspended their use of AstraZeneca over the blood clot issue. Most restarted — some with age restrictions — after the EMA said countries should continue using the potentially life-saving vaccine.

Britain, which relies heavily on AstraZeneca, however, continued to use it.

The suspensions were seen as particularly damaging for AstraZeneca because they came after repeated missteps in how the company reported data on the vaccine’s effectiveness and concerns over how well its shot worked in older people. That has led to frequently changing advice in some countries on who can take the vaccine, raising worries that AstraZeneca’s credibility could be permanently damaged, spurring more vaccine hesitancy and prolonging the pandemic.

Dr. Peter English, who formerly chaired the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee, said the back-and-forth over the AstraZeneca vaccine globally could have serious consequences.

“We can’t afford not to use this vaccine if we are going to end the pandemic,” he said.

In some countries, authorities have already noted hesitance toward the AstraZeneca shot.

“People come and they are reluctant to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, they ask us if we also use anything else,” said Florentina Nastase, a doctor and co-ordinator at a vaccination centre in Bucharest, Romania. “There were cases in which people (scheduled for the AstraZeneca) didn’t show up, there were cases when people came to the centre and saw that we use only AstraZeneca and refused (to be inoculated).”

Meanwhile, the governor of Italy’s northern Veneto region had said earlier Wednesday that any decision to change the guidance on AstraZeneca would cause major disruptions to immunizations — at a time when Europe is already struggling to ramp them up — and could create more confusion about the shot.

“If they do like Germany, and allow Astra Zeneca only to people over 65, that would be absurd. Before it was only for people under 55. Put yourself in the place of citizens, it is hard to understand anything,” Luca Zaia told reporters.

The latest suspension of AstraZeneca came in Spain’s Castilla y Leon region, where health chief Veronica Casado said Wednesday that “the principle of prudence” drove her to put a temporary hold on the vaccine that she still backed as being both effective and necessary.

French health authorities had said they, too, were awaiting EMA’s conclusions, as were some officials in Asia.

On Wednesday, South Korea said it would temporarily suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in people 60 and younger. In that age group, the country is only currently vaccinating health workers and people in long-term care settings.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said it would also pause a vaccine rollout to school nurses and teachers that was to begin on Thursday, while awaiting the outcome of the EMA’s review.

But some experts urged perspective. Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of Britain’s vaccination committee, said that the program has saved at least 6,000 lives in the first three months and will help pave the way back to normal life.

“What is clear it that for the vast majority of people the benefits of the Oxford AZ vaccine far outweigh any extremely small risk,” he said. “And the Oxford AZ vaccine will continue to save many from suffering the devastating effects that can result from a COVID infection.”

Source: – CTV News

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