Fighting back after a whistleblower’s damning testimony earlier this week before a Congressional committee, Facebook spokesman Nick Clegg said on NBC’s Sunday Meet The Press that changes are coming to the social media outlet and to its cousin, Instagram.
Clegg, the former UK deputy prime minister who is now vice president for global affairs and communications at Facebook, said the company will reduce the presence of politics on people’s feeds after it lifted safety measures implemented for the 2020 US election. He claimed the move stems from user feedback seeking “more friends, less politics.”
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Facebook’s chief spokesman says the social media giant is going to institute new guards for younger Instagram users in the face of criticism from a whistleblower’s charges that the company puts profits ahead of users’ well being.
Later, in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union, Clegg said Instagram will also undergo some changes designed to better address youngsters amid claims that the service is damaging their mental health.
“But we understand the concerns of some that we need to press pause, listen to experts, explain our intentions and so on,” he said. “We’re going to introduce new controls for adults of teens on an optional basis, obviously, so adults can supervise what their teens are doing online.”
He added, “Secondly, we’ll be doing something which I think will make a considerable difference, which is where the teen is looking at the same content over and over again, and its content which may not be conducive so their well-being, we’ll nudge them to look at other content,” he said.
The appearances come after former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen testified this week that the company “intentionally hides vital information from the public” and “buys its profits with our safety.”
“One of the things we have heard from users both from the US and around the world since the election is people want to see more friends, less politics,” Clegg said on Meet the Press. “So we have been testing ways in which we can reduce the presence of politics for people’s Facebook experiences.”
He claimed on NBC that Facebook implemented safety measures during the “polarizing” 2020 elections. Some critics have said the so-called “safety” measures were largely deployed against conservative voices, and critics have also claimed Haugen’s testimony seemed to call for more such censorship in the name of “safety.”
“It’s simply not true to say we lifted those measures immediately – in fact, we kept the vast majority right through to the inauguration. And we kept some in place permanently – so we permanently don’t recommend civic and political groups to people,” Clegg said.
“But it’s worth remembering what those measures are like closing all the highways in a town because a temporary one-off problem in one neighborhood – you don’t do that on a permanent basis.”
Clegg said that some of the measures meant “perfectly innocent videos” were also stricken. Facebook’s measures, he said, were “very blunt tools which were scooping up a lot of entirely innocent, legitimate, playful, and enjoyable content – and we did that very exceptionally.”
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How green politics are changing Europe – BBC News
An ocean of conservative blue blankets the electoral map in Germany’s southern state of Bavaria.
And yet the conservative vote actually fell across Germany in last month’s federal vote, while the Greens achieved their biggest success yet,.
In an election dominated by climate change, a speck of green has made a ripple in Bavaria. For the first time a Greens candidate was directly elected to represent Bavaria in the federal parliament.
It is symbolic of the creeping rise in support for European green parties, from Hungary to Finland.
The new MP, Jamila Schäfer, beamed with satisfaction when she recalled her surprise victory in Munich-South, by a wafer-thin margin of 0.8%. Only once before had the CSU lost the constituency since 1976.
“This is a major sign of change,” Ms Schäfer told the BBC.
A campaign ‘close to the people’
The Greens won 14.8% of the vote nationwide, appealing beyond their eco-protest roots with Annalena Baerbock standing as candidate for chancellor. Now they are in talks to share power as part of a three-way coalition.
Ms Schäfer, 28, is the Greens’ deputy federal chairwoman and typifies a party that has undergone a national makeover after years of power-sharing in several German states (Länder).
She rose through the ranks of Green Youth, taking part in school strikes against education reforms, long before Swedish activist Greta Thunberg made her name by skipping classes for climate protests.
Climate change was consistently ranked as the most serious facing Germany in opinion polls ahead of the election.
Even so, Ms Schäfer targeted her “close-to-the-people” campaign in Munich-South on housing, pensions and taxes.
Green shoots of success
Once ridiculed by many as idealistic hippies, Green parties increased their vote share in 13 European countries at the most recent national elections. In six of those countries – Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg and Sweden – green parties have a share of power in coalition governments.
In all those cases, the Greens are pressing their partners to adopt more ambitious targets for lowering carbon emissions. Elsewhere, the green mayors of Amsterdam and Budapest are aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050 and 2030 respectively – to balance the greenhouse gases emitted and absorbed by their cities.
Despite last month’s election success for the German Greens, even co-leader Ms Baerbock admitted they had failed to live up to early opinion poll ratings: “We wanted more. We didn’t achieve that.”
Given the urgency of curbing emissions, what’s holding the Greens back?
Trust and fear of change
One explanation is that mainstream parties across Europe have elevated climate change to the top of their agendas.
“If you’re concerned about the climate, it doesn’t follow that you’re going to vote green,” Adam Fagan, a political scientist at King’s College, London, said. “It means you’re going to scrutinise the manifestos of the main parties for their green credentials.”
Green parties tend to do better in countries with more proportional systems, as used by the European Union for its parliamentary elections. For example, the Greens/EFA bloc gained 25 seats with 10.8% of the vote in the 2019 election to the European Parliament.
“People think putting the Greens in power [in the EU] is less dangerous,” said Philippe Lamberts, co-president of the Greens/EFA.
“From the right and the left, there’s always a question hanging over us: can you really trust the Greens with the economy?”
National election results suggest the answer is no.
To reduce emissions, the Greens say big structural changes to the economy are needed. While those reforms are necessary, they scare people and put them off voting green, Ms Schäfer said.
“They’re worried they’ll be the losers of big transformation,” the MP said. “It’s a lack of control that people are afraid of. But we need to convince people that our politics is not about giving up control.”
‘Killing the planet’
It’s even more difficult in Southern and Eastern European countries, where support for green parties is fragmented or non-existent. Surveys show that climate change is far from a top priority in post-communist countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Lithuania.
Voters and political parties there are generally more concerned about economic development or migration, leaving environmental issues to civil society groups.
Mr Lamberts believes voters find the message that their country’s model is “killing the planet” unpalatable.
Unlike in many of the other former Soviet-bloc states, green parties have made inroads in Hungary.
The green LMP party has won seats in three consecutive national elections since 2010, while Dialogue received 11.9% of the vote in an alliance with the Hungarian Socialists in 2018.
Dialogue’s success came under the leadership of Gergely Karacsony, who was elected mayor of Budapest in 2019.
He defeated the nationalist incumbent by rallying opposition parties behind his liberal platform, and promising solutions not only to environmental issues, but economic and social ones too.
“In Hungary today, there are three different crises. A democratic crisis, a social crisis and an environmental crisis,” Budapest’s mayor told the BBC. “The advantage of the green movement is that we have proposals for all three.”
He linked green policies such as urban foresting and carbon-free public transport to Hungary’s poor record on air quality and other environmental problems.
Particularly in post-Soviet countries, the mayor said, social justice must go hand in hand with the green transition.
“We cannot put the costs of sustainability on disadvantaged segments of society.”
What worked in Budapest may not necessarily follow elsewhere, but green candidates have achieved electoral success where they have channelled voter discontent, united the opposition and diversified their offer beyond the environment.
If the Greens can build on these gains, there is a future for them in coalitions, Professor Fagan said.
“Green politics in Europe is getting bigger and stronger, and I’m sure it will grow in the coming years,” Ms Schäfer said.
Biden says he’s concerned about Chinese hypersonic missiles
U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he is concerned about Chinese hypersonic missiles, days after a media report that Beijing had tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide weapon.
Asked by reporters as he was boarding Air Force One for a trip to Pennsylvania whether he was concerned about Chinese hypersonic missiles, Biden said, “Yes.”
The Financial Times said at the weekend that China had tested a weapon in August that flew through space and circled the globe before cruising down toward a target that it missed. China’s foreign ministry denied the report.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Leslie Adler)
Ethiopia conducts two air strikes on Tigray within hours, war escalates
The Ethiopian government carried out a second air strike within hours on the Tigray region on Wednesday, significantly escalating a campaign to weaken rebellious Tigrayan forces in an almost one-year-old war.
The second strike was in Agbe in the Temben region some 80 km (50 miles) west of the regional capital Mekelle, targeting a military training centre and heavy artillery depot, government spokesperson Legesse Tulu said.
That came after a morning air strike in Mekelle, the third this week. Tigrai Television said the attack targeted the centre of the city while the Addis Ababa government said it targeted buildings where Tigrayan forces were repairing armaments.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has “been adept at hiding munitions and heavy artillery in places of worship and using ordinary Tigrayans as a human shield”, Legesse said.
Two witnesses and a humanitarian source in Mekelle told Reuters that the morning strike appeared to have targeted Mesfin Industrial Engineering PLC, a factory complex which the government believes supports the TPLF.
TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael, referring to government forces, said: “They are desperate on the war front. My interpretation is they are bombing us because they are losing on the ground and it’s their reprisal. The fact that they are bombing shows they don’t care about Tigrayan civilians.”
Speaking to Reuters by satellite phone from an undisclosed location, Gebremichael said the strike did not hit the engineering complex, rather another private company compound, but he had no further details.
Nine civilians, including a five-year-old child, were being treated at Ayder Referral Hospital for injuries sustained in the strike, according to TPLF-run Tigrai Television.
The blast shattered the windows of Mekelle General Hospital, about one kilometre away from Mesfin Industrial, and damaged nearby homes, said a doctor at the hospital. It had received five wounded people, he said.
“Four of them were factory employees and the fifth one is a lady whose lives near the factory. Her house was destroyed by the air strike,” the doctor said.
Tigrai Television posted photographs of what appeared to be plumes of billowing smoke. Reuters geolocated the images to Mekelle.
The two sides have been fighting for almost a year in a conflict that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than two million amid a power struggle between the TPLF, which controls the northern region, and the central government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa.
The TPLF dominated the Horn of Africa country’s ruling party for decades before Abiy, who is not a Tigrayan, took office in 2018.
CONTROL OF THE SKIES
Mesfin Industrial Engineering is an equipment manufacturer and car and truck assembly plant that was part of EFFORT, a TPLF-owned conglomerate.
After war broke out last November, the government froze the company’s bank accounts, saying there was evidence that it was supporting the TPLF. The company could not be reached for comment. Most communications in Mekelle are down.
Mekelle was also hit by two air strikes on Monday https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/mekelle-capital-ethiopias-tigray-hit-by-air-strikes-regional-tv-2021-10-18. The TPLF accused the government of launching the attacks. A government official initially denied the accusation but state media later reported the air force had conducted a strike.
The attacks follow intensified fighting in two other northern regions where the military is trying to recover territory taken by the TPLF, which recaptured Mekelle and most of the rest of Tigray several months ago.
In July, the TPLF pushed into the two other regions, Amhara and Afar, and several hundred thousand more people fled their homes, according to the United Nations.
Last week, after the TPLF said the military had started an offensive in Amhara, the military said that the TPLF had “opened war on all fronts”, and that government forces were inflicting heavy casualties.
“The federal air strikes on Mekelle appear to be part of efforts to weaken Tigray’s armed resistance, which has recently made further gains in eastern Amhara region, with fighting ongoing in some areas,” said Will Davison, a senior analyst on Ethiopia at the International Crisis Group think-tank.
“Along with superior manpower, control of the skies is one of the few remaining areas of military advantage for the federal government,” Davison said.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom with additional reporting by George Sargent in London and Nairobi newsroom; writing by Maggie Fick; editing by Nick Macfie, Angus MacSwan and Mark Heinrich)
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