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Threat to democracy? Tech CEOs in hot seat over liability shield – Al Jazeera English

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Let the grilling begin.

The CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Alphabet Inc are set to testify virtually before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Wednesday over whether to repeal a section of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that shields them from legal liability over content that users post on their platforms.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai are landing in the hot seat less than a week before the US presidential election, which has been rife with reports of online interference and disinformation. Republican lawmakers have also accused the social media platforms of suppressing conservative viewpoints.

Here’s what you need to know about the law that shields the tech giants – and the role it plays in freedom of speech and expression online.

Sooo … what’s this law and who wants to change it?

The law in question is the Communications Decency Act of 1996, but it’s one section of it – Section 230 to be precise – that some Republican and Democratic lawmakers would like to change.

What is it about Section 230 that’s so controversial?

That section states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

Okay, what does that mean in plain English?

It means that social media giants can’t be held legally responsible for objectionable words, photos or videos that people post to their platforms.

And what does that mean in practice?

In practice, it means for example that Yelp can’t be sued by a restaurant that a disgruntled diner accused of having rats in a review, or that Twitter isn’t responsible for the tweet in which someone erroneously claimed to be the person who discovered Mars.

So absolutely anything goes? No matter how awful?

There are exceptions to what’s protected – such as posts that violate criminal laws around child pornography, for example, or copyright and intellectual property statutes.

So why did lawmakers give social media a free pass when the law was passed?

They didn’t. Social media didn’t exist when the law was passed in 1996. But bloggers did. The law was written largely to shield internet service providers from bloggers, and, in turn, bloggers from the people who comment on their sites or write guest posts.

I was born in 1996. I grew up, so why hasn’t the law?

Because technology evolves at a much faster rate than the law. When Twitter and Facebook came on the scene in the early 2000s, Section 230 extended to them as well. Of course, the amount of user-generated content online has grown exponentially since 1996, because even your parents are on Facebook now.

So why bother with testimony? Why not just change the law?

Because not everyone agrees it needs to be changed.

The non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation says that Section 230 “creates a broad protection that has allowed innovation and free speech online to flourish”. And tech companies argue that they can’t possibly police billions of posts by users around the world without curtailing some users’ freedoms.

How does Section 230 protect free speech? 

Those who want to keep the section intact argue that if big tech companies can be held legally responsible for every tweet, post and review that users write on their sites, they could choose to limit what users could publish on their platforms – which would be tantamount to censorship.

Section 230 also gives smaller websites the ability to post different viewpoints without risking being sued, say supporters.

But isn’t curbing free speech bad for democracy?

It is. But free speech is also exploited for nefarious purposes.  US intelligence agencies claim foreign governments including those of Russia, China and Iran have been actively using social media to spread disinformation and stoke fear during the 2020 US presidential election. And that is, well, bad for democracy.

But don’t the social media giants have people policing content?

Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet Inc’s Google, which also owns video platform YouTube, have teams of people dedicated to taking down offensive content, like hate speech.

But critics argue that self-policing, especially where democratically-damaging disinformation is concerned, just isn’t cutting it.

For example…?

Recently, Twitter and Facebook came under scrutiny for taking down a New York Post story based on unverified emails that claimed that US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, agreed to introduce his father to a Ukrainian energy executive while he was in the White House.

Twitter’s chief Jack Dorsey later said it was “wrong” to block URLs to the Post’s story without explaining to users why it had been done.

Did the story die?

The story actually ended up being widely shared after US President Donald Trump accused the platforms of “trying to protect Biden” when Twitter prevented users from sharing the story and Facebook attempted to limit its reach.

According to an Axios analysis of data from NewsWhip, a site that tracks stories’ engagement, the New York Post story received 2.59 million likes, comments and shares – more than double the next biggest story about either Trump or Biden that week. So neither outlet succeeded in containing its spread.

So what does Trump think of Section 230?

On May 28, Trump issued an executive order that attempted to limit the protections big tech companies enjoy under Section 230, which they immediately challenged in court. Trump’s executive order accused online platforms of “engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse” and censoring conservative voices.

And Biden?

Biden argued Section 230 “should be revoked” in an interview with The New York Times in January, saying that Facebook “is not merely an internet company. It is propagating falsehoods they know to be false, and we should be setting standards not unlike the Europeans are doing relative to privacy.”

Wow. Is it just political interference we’re worried about here?

Public health is also a concern. The secretary-general of the World Health Organization warned in September that “rumours, untruths and disinformation” spread by social media are hindering the global fight against COVID-19.

A rumour that drinking highly concentrated alcohol called methanol could kill the coronavirus, for example, was linked to the deaths of 800 people and the hospitalisations of 5,876 over the first three months of 2020, according to a study published earlier this month in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Is this the only beef that lawmakers have with big tech?

Hardly. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have accused tech giants of monopolising the market – driving wages down in the tech industry and stifling innovation.

And while many users view these platforms as “free” because they don’t charge a fee, it’s users’ data – and the ability to sell that data or make money off of its insights – that keeps them in business, raising privacy concerns.

So what happens next? 

Attempts to repeal Section 230 are among several ongoing battles that Alphabet Inc faces after the US Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against the company, accusing it of using Google’s search engine dominance to quash competition and thwart innovation.

Zuckerberg and Dorsey are also due back before Congress on November 17 to specifically face questions over their handling of the New York Post story about Hunter Biden after Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee accused them of censoring conservative viewpoints.

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7 Reasons Why America Loves Doing Business with Canada

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Canada is one of the United States’ most important trading partners. According to the United States Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis, the US exports over $300B worth of goods and services to Canada annually. It also imports over $300B worth of goods and services from the country every year.

In fact, the trade relationship between the two North American countries is the biggest in the world. The two nations have traded for over 100 years. And a strong trade relationship is prosperous for both countries.

So, what makes Canada such an excellent trading partner for the United States? Here are a few good reasons:

1. Geographical Location

Canada shares a large border with the United States. Trading with Canada is easy by road, boat, or air. Most of the economic hotspots in Canada like Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary are just a short flight away from an American city.

2. Manufacturing Strengths

Canada has some exceptional exports thanks to its vast manufacturing strengths. Here are a few of its two products:

  • Non-renewable Energy: Canada’s non-renewable energy exports like oil and gas are a significant part of its economy. Although falling gas prices have impacted this sector, Canada continues to depend on its gas and oil exports.
  • Composite Manufacturing: You’ll find plenty of world-class options if you’re looking for advanced composite manufacturing in Canada regardless of your industry. The Canadian composite manufacturing industry serves many national and international clients in sectors such as defence, transportation, marine, aerospace, medical, industrial, energy, home appliances, construction, and more.
  • Vehicle: Canada has a renowned automotive sector, producing light trucks, crossovers, SUVs, etc., with its technologically advanced factories. 95% of Canada’s automotive exports go to the United States.
  • Aluminum: The Great White North produces some of the best quality aluminum in the world. The United States happens to be Canada’s biggest importer of aluminum.
  • Meat and Dairy: Canada produces meat, beef, poultry, and dairy known for its quality. Unlike some countries, Canada doesn’t use harmful hormones in its meat industry.

3. Good Tax Treaties

Canada has many provisions that make business favourable for American companies. For example, a non-resident corporation that does not otherwise have a permanent establishment (PE) in Canada may do business without paying income tax on its profits. Canada also offers favourable corporate taxes, especially compared to the United States.

Aside from federal incentives, many provinces offer provincial incentives to do business in Canada. For example, many American films and TV shows are shot in Toronto because of lucrative tax enticements.

4. Favourable Exchange Rates

Not only is the Canadian dollar stable, but it usually hovers 20% lower than the United States. The favourable exchange rate makes it cost-effective for the United States to import goods and services from Canada.

However, the exchange rate isn’t so low that it discourages Canadians from travelling to the United States or buying American products. Many economists consider the exchange rate to be in the sweet spot.

5. Similar Culture

Canada speaks the same language, eats the same food, plays the same sports, and consumes the same entertainment. A similar coculture without language barriers makes it easier for Americans to do business with Canada.

Of course, there are some parts of Canada where French is the most popular language. Likewise, Spanish is more prevalent in certain places in the United States. However, these issues are easily overcome with business cards, translators, and technology.

6. Prominent Tech Industry

Many American technology companies are doing business with Canada because of the country’s prominence on the tech stage. For example, Toronto produces more tech occupations than the Bay Area, New York, and even Silicon Valley.

Toronto also has over 2,000 startups and over 14,000 tech companies. In the MaRS Center, Canada also has one of the world’s largest innovation hubs. Canada is also the first nation in the world to develop a national AI strategy. There are over 500 international AI firms in the country. The world’s biggest concentration of AI startups is in Canada.

Besides the national AI strategy, there is plenty of other support for tech development in the country that’s attractive to the United States. Canada invested $900m in high-tech innovation and funded startup incubators in 2015.

Additionally, Canada offers many tax breaks to companies for research and development. It also provides special visa programs for investors and entrepreneurs in the tech industry.

7. Qualified Labour Pool

Canada has the second-highest tertiary education levels worldwide for people between the ages of 25 and 34, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Canada’s highly skilled workforce stands at nearly 1.5 million people. Canada’s tech talent is also ranked highly for diversity.

These are just some of the many reasons why the United States enjoys doing business with Canada. Even with the economic climate changing, you can expect the partnership between the two countries to stand the test of time.

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10 Ways to Make Your LinkedIn Profile Stand Out in 2021 – Part 2

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Last week I provided 5 suggestions on how you can make your LinkedIn profile, which in 2021 is a non-negotiable must-have for job seekers, to stand out. The suggestions were:

 

  1. Add a headshot
  2. Create an eye-catching headline
  3. Craft an interesting summary
  4. Highlight your experience
  5. Use visual media

 

I’ll continue with my next 5 suggestions:

 

  1. Customize your URL

 

Your LinkedIn URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is the web address for your profile. The default URL will have your name and some random numbers and letters (https://www.linkedin.com/in/nick-kossovan-647e3b49). Customizing your profile URL (https://www.linkedin.com/in/nickkossovan/) makes your profile search engine friendly; therefore, you’re easier to find. As well a customized URL invites the person searching to make some positive assumptions about you:

 

  • You’re detail oriented.
  • You’re technologically savvy.
  • You understand the power of perception (Image is everything!).

 

James Wooden, one of the most revered coaches in the history of sports, is to have said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

 

To change your profile URL, go to the right side of your profile. There you’ll find an option to edit your URL. Use this option to make your URL concise and neat.

 

  1. Make connections

 

The more connections you have increases the likelihood of being found when hiring managers and recruiters, looking for potential candidates with your background, search on LinkedIn. Envision your number of connections as ‘the amount of gas in your tank.’

 

At the very least, you should aim to get over 500 connections. Anything below 500 LinkedIn will indicate your number of connections as an exact number (ex. 368). Above 500 connections, LinkedIn simply shows you have 500+ connections. Getting to 500 implies you’re a player on LinkedIn.

 

As much as possible, connect with individuals you know personally, have worked with, met in a professional capacity (tradeshow, conference), is in your city/region and industry/profession. If you’d like to connect with someone you haven’t met, send a note with your request explaining who you are and why you’d like to connect. (This’ll be my topic in next week’s column.)

 

  1. Ask for recommendations and skill endorsements

 

This is vital to making your profile stand out! Employers want to know that others think of your work.

 

When asking for a recommendation, or skill endorsements, think of all the people you’ve worked the past. Don’t just think of your past bosses; also think of colleagues, vendors, customers — anyone who can vouch for your work and professionalism.

 

Instructions on how to ask for, and give, a recommendation, can be found by going to the LinkedIn ‘Help’ field (Located by clicking on the drop-down arrow below the ‘Me’ icon in the upper right-hand corner.) and typing ‘Requesting a recommendation.’ Do the same for skill endorsements.

 

TIP: It’s good karma to write recommendations, and endorse skills, in return and to give unsolicited.

 

  1. Keep your profile active

 

LinkedIn is not simply an online resume — it’s a networking social media site. To get the most out of LinkedIn, you need to be constantly active (at least 3 times per week). Write posts and articles. Check out what is being posted, especially by your connections. Like and share posts that resonate with you. Engage with thoughtful comments that’ll put forward your expertise.

 

Join groups that align with your industry and professional interests. Groups are an excellent way to meet like-minded professionals with whom to network and share ideas and best practices.

 

  1. Check your LinkedIn profile strength

 

It’s in LinkedIn’s interest that you’re successful using their platform. Therefore, they’ve created a ‘Profile Strength Meter’ to gauge how robust your profile is. Basically, this gauge tells you completion level of your profile. Using the tips, you’ll be given, keep adding to your profile until your gauge rates you “All-Star.” For instructions on how to access your ‘Profile Strength Meter,’ use the LinkedIn’ Help’ field.

 

The 10 tips I offered is a starting point for building a LinkedIn profile that WOWs! Jobseekers need to make the most of their profile to stand out in a sea of candidates, sell their skills, and validate their accomplishments. Make it easy for the reader to get a feel for who you are professionally.

_________________________________________________

Nick Kossovan, a well-seasoned veteran of the corporate landscape, offers advice on searching for a job. You can send him your questions at artoffindingwork@gmail.com.

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Canadian National beats Canadian Pacific with $33.6 billion Kansas City bid

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U.S. railway operator Kansas City Southern said on Thursday that it had accepted Canadian National Railway Co’s $33.6 billion acquisition offer, upending a $29 billion deal with its competitor Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.

The development, first reported by Reuters, gives Canadian Pacific five business days to make a new offer for Kansas City Southern. Were Canadian Pacific to table a new offer, a bidding war could ensue.

Canadian Pacific had previously announced a deal to buy Kansas City Southern on March 21, before Canadian National said it had submitted a higher bid on April 20. The headline price in Canadian National’s cash-and-stock bid remains $325 per share as originally announced, though the company offered more of its shares to compensate for a decline in its stock price.

Canadian National has offered to cover the $700 million break-up fee Kansas City Southern will owe Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. It will also pay Kansas City Southern $1 billion if the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) rejects a voting trust structure it has put forward to complete the deal.

“We believe that Canadian Pacific’s negotiated agreement with Kansas City is the only true end-to-end Class I combination that is in the best interests of North American shippers and communities,” a Canadian Pacific spokeswoman said.

Canadian Pacific and larger rival Canadian National are in a race to take over the U.S. railroad operator, which would create the first direct railway linking Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

Either of them acquiring Kansas City Southern would create a North American railway spanning the United States, Mexico and Canada, as supply chains recover from COVID-19 pandemic-led disruptions.

The acquisition interest in Kansas City Southern also follows the ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement last year that removed the threat of trade tensions, which had escalated under former U.S. President Donald Trump.

The STB last week approved the voting trust for Canadian Pacific’s proposed acquisition. Canadian National has offered an identical arrangement.

(Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber, Aurora Ellis and Richard Chang)

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