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Western News – Expert insights: Why social media companies need to be reined in – Western News

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In September, the Wall Street Journal released the Facebook Files. Drawing on thousands of documents leaked by whistle blower and former employee Frances Haugen, the Facebook Files show that the company knows their practices harm young people, but fails to act, choosing corporate profit over public good.

The Facebook Files are damning for the company, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp. However, it isn’t the only social media company that compromises young people’s internationally protected rights and well-being by prioritizing profits.

As researchers and experts on children’s rights, online privacy and equality and the online risks, harms and rewards that young people face, the news over the past few weeks didn’t surprise us.

Harvested personal data

Harvesting and commodifying personal data (including children’s data) underpins the internet financial model — a model that social psychologist and philosopher Shoshana Zuboff has dubbed surveillance capitalism .

Social media companies make money under this model by collecting, analyzing and selling the personal information of users. To increase the flow of this valuable data they work to engage more people, for more time, through more interactions.

Ultimately, the value in harvested personal data lies in the detailed personal profiles the data supports — profiles that are used to feed the algorithms that shape our newsfeeds, personalize our search results, help us get a job (or hinder) and determine the advertisements we receive.

In a self-reinforcing turn, these same data are used to shape our online environments to encourage disclosure of even more data — and the process repeats.

Surveillance capitalism

Recent research confirms that the deliberate design, algorithmic and policy choices made by social media companies (that lie at the heart of surveillance capitalism) directly expose young people to harmful content. However, the harms of surveillance capitalism extend well beyond this.

Our research in both Canada and the United Kingdom has repeatedly uncovered young people’s concern with how social media companies and policy-makers are failing them. Rather than respecting young people’s rights to expression, to be free from discrimination and to participate in decisions affecting themselves, social media companies monitor young people to bombard them with unsolicited content in service of corporate profits.

As a result, young people have often reported to us that they feel pressured to conform to stereotypical profiles used to steer their behaviour and shape their environment for profit.

For example, teen girls have told us that even though using Instagram and Snapchat created anxiety and insecurity about their bodies, they found it almost impossible to “switch off” the platforms. They also told us how the limited protection provided by default privacy settings leaves them vulnerable to unwanted “dick pics” and requests to send intimate images to men they don’t know.

Several girls and their parents told us that this can sometimes lead to extreme outcomes, including school refusal, self harm and, in a few cases, attempting suicide.

The surveillance capitalism financial model that underlies social media ensures that companies do everything they can to keep young people engaged.

Young people have told us that they want more freedom and control when using these spaces — so they are as public or private as they like, without fear of being monitored or profiled, or that their data are being farmed out to corporations.

Teenagers also told us how they rarely bother to report harmful content to the platforms. This isn’t because they don’t know how, but instead because they have learned from experience that it doesn’t help. Some platforms were too slow to respond, others didn’t respond at all and some said that what was reported didn’t breach community standards, so they weren’t willing to help.

Removing toxic content hurts the bottom line

These responses aren’t surprising. For years, we have known about the lack of resources to moderate content and deal with online harassment.

Haugen’s recent testimony at a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing and earlier reports about other social media platforms highlight an even deeper profit motivation. Profit depends on meaningful social engagement, and harmful, toxic and divisive content drives engagement.

Basically, removing toxic content would hurt the corporate bottom line.

Guiding principles that centre children’s rights

So, what should be done in light of the recent, though not unprecedented, revelations in the Facebook Files? The issues are undoubtedly complex, but we have come up with a list of guiding principles that centre children’s rights and prioritize what young people have told us about what they need:

  1. Young people must be directly engaged in the development of relevant policy.
  2. All related policy initiatives should be evaluated on an ongoing basis using a children’s rights assessment framework.
  3. Social media companies should be stopped from launching products for children and from collecting their data for profiling purposes.
  4. Governments should invest more resources into providing fast, free, easy-to-access informal responses and support for those targeted by online harms (learning from existing models like Australia’s eSafety Commissioner and Nova Scotia’s CyberScan unit).
  5. We need laws that ensure that social media companies are both transparent and accountable, especially when it comes to content moderation.
  6. Government agencies (including police) should enforce existing laws against hateful, sexually violent and harassing content. Thought should be given to expanding platform liability for provoking and perpetuating these kinds of content.
  7. Educational initiatives should prioritize familiarizing young people, the adults who support them and corporations with children’s rights, rather than focusing on a “safety” discourse that makes young people responsible for their own protection. This way, we can work together to disrupt the surveillance capitalism model that endangers them in the first place.The Conversation

Kaitlynn Mendes, Professor of Gender, Media and Sociology, Western University; Jacquelyn Burkell, Associate Professor, Information and Media Studies, Western University; Jane Bailey, Professor of Law and Co-Leader of The eQuality Project, L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa, and Valerie Steeves, Full Professor, Department of Criminology, L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Ethiopian gov’t forces in control of Chifra: State media – Aljazeera.com

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Dead bodies seen ‘everywhere on the streets’ of town in Afar region as Al Jazeera gains exclusive access to front line of escalating conflict.

Ethiopia’s state-run broadcaster has said government forces were in control of the town of Chifra in Afar region, their first major seizure since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said earlier this week he would head to the front lines to lead federal troops against fighters from the northern Tigray region.

Tens of thousands of people have died and millions displaced since the war between Ethiopian federal and allied troops, and the Tigrayan forces, broke out in November 2020. The conflict has also caused a massive humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of thousands of people facing famine.

The Tigrayan forces captured Chifra, on the border between the northern Afar and Amhara regions, after fighting intensified last month.

“Ethiopian Defense Forces and Afar Special Forces have controlled Chifra,” the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation said on its Twitter account on Sunday, without providing further details.

There was no immediate comment by the Tigrayan forces.

‘Dead bodies everywhere’

Much of northern Ethiopia is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is heavily restricted, making battlefield claims difficult to corroborate. Al Jazeera, however, was able to gain exclusive access to Chifra, the first international news organisation to do so.

Reporting from “the heart” of the town, Al Jazeera Arabic’s correspondent Mohammed Taha Tewekel said the Tigrayan forces “were driven out of this strategic area” by pro-government militia from the Afar region, but also noted “gunfire could be heard from all directions” for hours.

“It [Chifra] has been the epicentre of military operations during the past 40 days,” Tewekel said during a live broadcast, with gunfire ringing in the background.

“The scenes we witnessed are very appalling. Dead bodies everywhere on the streets. It is living proof of the ferociousness of the fighting. There are clear signs of the lack of humanity in this conflict. The town’s commercial shops were totally destroyed, even the mosques were not spared. All the residents have fled for their lives and the town has turned into military barracks for the Afari fighters,” he added.

The Afari fighters “have seized the city” and are now advancing towards the towns of Bati and Kombolcha, the correspondent said.

Chifra is west of the town of Mille, which Tigrayan forces have been trying to capture for weeks, because it lies along the highway linking landlocked Ethiopia to Djibouti, the Horn of Africa’s main port.

State-affiliated Fana Broadcasting reported on Friday that Abiy was on the front line with the army fighting the Tigrayan forces in Afar.

“The morale of the army is very exciting,” he said in the remarks broadcast on Friday, promising to capture Chifra “today”.

After months of tension, Abiy in November 2020 sent troops to Tigray to remove the region’s governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in response to what the government said was an attack on federal army camps. The TPLF, which dominated the federal government for nearly three decades until Abiy took office in 2018, said federal forces and its allies launched a “coordinated attack” against it.

The prime minister promised a swift victory and government forces seized Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, in late November. By June, however, the Tigrayan forces had retaken most of the region and pushed into the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions.

The Tigrayan forces recently reported major territorial gains, claiming this week to have seized a town just 220km (135 miles) from the capital, Addis Ababa.

International alarm about the escalating conflict has deepened, with several foreign countries urging their citizens to leave as mediation attempts by the United Nations and the United States have so far failed to yield any results.

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Trump challenges media and Democrats to debate his electoral fraud lie – The Guardian

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Trump challenges media and Democrats to debate his electoral fraud lie  The Guardian



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Social Media Firms 'On the Hook' Under New Aussie Defamation Law – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — Social media platforms will be required to reveal the identities of anonymous online trolls or face making defamation payouts under new legislation proposed by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

People who believe they have been defamed online will be able to get court orders directing online giants such as Twitter Inc. and Meta Platforms Inc., the company formerly known as Facebook, to identify the individuals responsible for posts, Morrison said at a press conference Sunday. If the social media platforms fail to do so, they will have to pay defamation costs.

“The online world presents many great opportunities, but it comes with some real risks and we must address these,” he said. The government “is making sure people are responsible for what they say” and ensuring companies “are on the hook” for damaging material posted to their platforms, he added.

Under the current law, social media companies are not considered to be the publishers of material posted to their platforms. If a user makes defamatory comments on a Facebook page, for instance, legal responsibility lies with the owner of the page. The bill is due to be discussed in parliament this week, and comes after the country’s highest court ruled that media companies can be held liable for comments left on their accounts by members of the public.

A spokeswoman for Meta said the company is waiting to see the proposals in more detail before commenting. Twitter didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment made outside of office hours.

Australia’s eSafety commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, said previously that such a policy would be difficult to execute. “It would be very challenging, I would think, for Facebook for example to re-identify or identify its 2.7 billion users,” she said last year during a Senate Estimates hearing.

In February, Meta’s Facebook responded to a separate attempt to regulate how it does business in Australia with a show of force. It briefly blocked all news sharing in the country in response to a proposal that it should be required to pay publishers for that content.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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