Facebook to Start Removing Bogus Claims About COVID Vaccines

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Facebook will begin removing false claims about COVID-19 vaccines from its social media platform, the company said Thursday, as part of an ongoing campaign to combat the spread of misinformation about them.“This is another way that we are applying our policy to remove misinformation about the virus that could lead to imminent physical harm,” Facebook said in a blog post.   The social media giant said it will begin removing information about the vaccines that has been discredited by public health experts in the coming weeks.  The decision, which also applies to Instagram, comes as the first COVID-19 vaccines are about to become available.Britain may start vaccinations within days after becoming the first country to give emergency authorization for a vaccine developed by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.Facebook has taken similar steps in recent months. The company removed 12 million posts with coronavirus misinformation from March to October, including a video post from President Donald Trump declaring that children are “virtually immune” to the coronavirus. Facebook has also banned ads discouraging vaccinations and promoted articles on an information center debunking misinformation about COVID-19.
 

Federal Lawsuit Alleges Facebook Discriminates Against US Workers 

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The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit Thursday saying social media giant Facebook was discriminating against U.S. workers and hiring cheaper foreign workers instead.Many of the temporary workers the DOJ accused Facebook of giving hiring preferences to were foreign workers with H-1B visas.H1-B visas allow U.S. companies to hire foreign workers in “specialty occupations.” Critics say companies, particularly in technology, exploit the visa program to hire foreigners for less money.The DOJ further alleged that Facebook “refused” to consider qualified U.S. workers for over 2,600 open jobs paying an average annual salary of $156,000.The move came after a two-year investigation into Facebook’s hiring practices, The New York Times reported.“Our message to workers is clear: If companies deny employment opportunities by illegally preferring temporary visa holders, the Department of Justice will hold them accountable,” Eric S. Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, told the Times. “Our message to all employers — including those in the technology sector — is clear: You cannot illegally prefer to recruit, consider or hire temporary visa holders over U.S. workers.””Facebook has been cooperating with the DOJ in its review of this issue,” company spokesman Daniel Roberts told Reuters. “And while we dispute the allegations in the complaint, we cannot comment further on pending litigation.”Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, with a personal wealth of about $100 billion, has long advocated for immigrants to work in the tech sector, the Times reported. In 2013, he created Fwd.us, a nonprofit advocating steps to make it easier to hire immigrants for technology jobs, according to the Times.The DOJ case against Facebook is another problem for Silicon Valley, which has come under fire in recent years for antitrust violations, anticompetitive practices, privacy concerns and content that some find offensive.

Twitter Prohibits Dehumanizing Posts Targeting Race, Ethnicity

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Twitter has enacted stricter content rules, adding to its list of prohibited conduct any language that “dehumanizes people on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin.”The social media company announced the update to its policy on Wednesday.Twitter said it would remove any offending posts that users report and would also work to detect content that violates its policies. Violators could have their accounts suspended.”Research shows that dehumanizing speech can lead to real-world harm, and we want to ensure that more people — globally — are protected,” the company said.The new rules are Twitter’s latest attempt to respond to abusive posters on its platform. In March, it prohibited tweets targeting people based on age, disability or disease, and in 2019 banned posts targeting a person’s religion or caste.

European Space Agency Signs Deal to Remove Debris from Orbit

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The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed a $102 million contract with a Swiss start-up company to purchase a unique service: the first-ever removal of an item of space debris from orbit.
 
The company, ClearSpace SA, will capture part of a used rocket using what is described as a “tentacle,” and then dragging it down for reentry. The object to be removed from orbit is a so-called Vespa payload adapter that was used in 2013 to hold and then release a satellite. It weighs about 112 kilograms.
 
Experts have long warned that hundreds of thousands of pieces of space debris circling the planet — including an astronaut’s lost mirror — pose a threat to functioning satellites and even the International Space Station (ISS).
 
During a remote news conference regarding the contract late Tuesday, ESA Director General Jan Woerner said there are more than a million pieces of space debris orbiting the Earth. He said there have already been cases in which satellites and spacecraft have been hit by the debris.
 
The ESA says the deal with ClearSpace SA will lead to the “first active debris removal mission” in 2025, in which a custom-made spacecraft, known as the ClearSpace-1, will rendezvous with, capture and take down the Vespa payload adapter for reentry.
 
ClearSpace SA CEO Luc Piguet says the company hopes to expand such operations in the future to include multiple object removal, and even servicing and refueling spacecraft.  
 
“When we look toward the future, what we can see already today is that there’s more than 5,000 nonfunctional objects in orbit, which essentially are, if you want, clients that need some sort of service. And every year, we add 74 new objects to this list,” Piguet says.

Singapore OKs Lab-grown Chicken

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It might look like chicken. It might taste like chicken. But it doesn’t come from a chicken, it comes from a lab. For chicken lovers in Singapore, this lab-grown chicken will soon be available in nugget form as the country has given the OK for San Francisco-based startup Eat Just to sell the meat. It is the first regulatory approval for so-called clean meat, according to Reuters. “I would imagine what will happen is the U.S., Western Europe and others will see what Singapore has been able to do, the rigors of the framework that they put together. And I would imagine that they will try to use it as a template to put their own framework together,” said CEO Josh Tetrick in an interview with Reuters. FILE – CEO and founder of Eat Just Josh Tetrick sits on bags of plant protein at the Eat Just facility in Appleton, Minnesota, December 2019. (Eat Just, Inc./Handout via REUTERS)Cultured meat uses fat or muscle cells from an animal which are placed into a culture that nourishes the cells, causing them to grow, according to NBC News. The next step involves putting the cells into a bioreactor that further supports growth.  The industry is still in its early stages, and the products come with a big price tag. For example, in 2013, a cultured hamburger made by a Dutch startup cost $280,000 per patty, according to NBC News. Eat Just’s chicken is not nearly as expensive, with a price comparable to premium chicken, Tetrick told NBC. But for Singapore, which only produces about 10% of its own food, the investment in lab-grown meat could pay off in the long term. According to Reuters, there are more than 20 firms around the world exploring the lab-grown meat market, which Barclays bank says could be worth $140 million by 2029. It is unclear if Eat Just’s meat could be approved for sale in the U.S. For now, Eat Just is aiming small. The company told NBC News that when its chicken does finally go to market in Singapore, it will be at just one restaurant. 
 

Facebook Oversight Board Announces First Six Cases

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Facebook’s oversight board has announced the first cases it’s going to examine to determine if it will overturn the social media giant’s decisions to delete content. Created in October, the board’s apparent role will be to assess cases of Facebook and Instagram users who say their content was wrongly removed. “As the Board cannot hear every appeal, we are prioritizing cases that have the potential to affect lots of users around the world, are of critical importance to public discourse or raise important questions about Facebook’s policies,” the board said in a statement accompanying the announcement Tuesday. Of the first six cases the board will review, three involve so-called hate speech, a nudity case, a “dangerous individuals” case and a case about potential misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic. Reuters reports that since October, the board has received 20,000 cases for possible review. The COVID-19 case involved a post that was removed for “violence and incitement” because it was critical of France’s coronavirus strategy of “purportedly refusing authorization for use of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin against COVID-19 but authorizing promotional mail for remdesivir.” “Facebook removed it for violating its policy on Violence and Incitement, and in its referral indicated to the Oversight Board that this case presents an example of the challenges faced when addressing the risk of offline harm that can be caused by misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic,” the case synopsis says. Hate speech casesHate speech cases include a post by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, which said, “Muslims have a right to be angry and kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past.” Facebook says it was hate speech, but the poster said it was posted to draw attention to Mahathir’s “horrible words.” Another alleged hate speech post is of “two well-known photos of a deceased child lying fully clothed on a beach at the water’s edge” accompanied by Burmese text asking why there has been “no retaliation against China for its treatment of Uighur Muslims, in contrast to the recent killings in France relating to cartoons,” according to the synopsis. The poster argued the content should not have been removed because it “meant to disagree with people who think the killer is right and to emphasize that human lives matter more than religious ideologies.” The third hate speech case involves the removal of content showing the destruction of churches in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. The poster said, “their intention was to demonstrate the destruction of cultural and religious monuments.” In a case Facebook says violated its nudity policy, a post about breast cancer prevention was removed for showing breasts. Another case is about the removal of an alleged quote attributed to Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, which the poster said made a point about current politics. The 20-member board will be divided into five-member panels to which the cases will be assigned, according to USA Today. The board said it is seeking public comment on the cases through December 8. Then, the board has 90 days to decide about each case.   

Facebook, Google ‘Zones Without Human Rights’ in Vietnam, Amnesty Says

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Facebook and Google are becoming “zones without human rights” in Vietnam, Amnesty International warned Tuesday, accusing the tech giants of helping to censor peaceful opposition and political freedom in the country. Amnesty warned that although they were “once the great hope for the rise of freedom of expression in the country, social media platforms are rapidly becoming areas without human rights.” Information Minister Nguyen Manh Hung said last month that tech companies were complying with demands to remove “bad news, propaganda against the party and the state” at a faster rate than ever before, according to state media. FILE – Vietnam’s then-acting Minister of Information and Communication Nguyen Manh Hung attends the World Economic Forum on ASEAN at the Convention Center in Hanoi, Vietnam, Sept. 12, 2018.The same article states that this year Facebook complied with 95% of government requests and YouTube, 90%. A Facebook spokesperson told AFP that the platform is working hard to defend freedom of expression around the world.  “Over the past few months, we have experienced additional pressure from the Vietnamese government to limit more content, however we will do our best to ensure that our services remain accessible, so that people can continue to express themselves,” he clarified. Google and the Vietnamese authorities did not respond to AFP’s requests. Communist Vietnam has long imprisoned its dissidents but has been criticized in recent years for targeting users of Facebook, a social network popular with activists in the country where independent media is banned. The social network admitted earlier this year that it was blocking content deemed illegal by the authorities, while its latest transparency report reveals an increase in six months of nearly 1,000% of content censored by order of the government. Amnesty International said in a report published Tuesday that it had collected the testimonies of 11 activists whose publications were banned by Facebook in Vietnam this year. The human rights organization also said that three other people have suffered similar censorship of their content on YouTube, owned by Google. One of them, Nguyen Van Trang, who fled an arrest warrant in Vietnam for his involvement in a pro-democracy group, said that Facebook had since May restricted the visibility of all its publications about Communist Party boss Nguyen Phu Trong and senior member Tran Quoc Vuong. Trang also said that some of his posts on controversial issues such as the land dispute have been made inaccessible by YouTube in Vietnam. Obstruction of ‘the progress of a nation’ “I am angry,” he told AFP. “For activists, these platforms play an important role in influencing people on progressive values like democracy, human rights, civil society.” “The compromise of Facebook and Google is not only to block information, but also to hamper the progress of a nation, where the inhabitants do not have many opportunities to participate in political activities,” he added. Vietnam is now the country that generates the most revenue for Facebook and Google in Southeast Asia, according to industry experts. More than 53 million people use Facebook in Vietnam, more than half of the population. The platform is also an important marketing tool for the local economy. 
 

Solomon Islands Plans to Ban Facebook to Preserve ‘National Unity’

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The government of the Solomon Islands has defended its plans to ban Facebook, insisting the move would preserve “national unity.” Ministers say the world’s largest social media platform has been “grossly abused.” But critics insist a ban is an attempt to shut down criticism of the government’s economic policies.Facebook helps connect the people of a tropical archipelago that stretches over more than 1,400 kilometers of the South Pacific.  
 
But the government believes the social media platform is being “grossly abused.” Officials in the capital, Honiara, are to discuss blocking Facebook with internet companies because of concerns about defamation and cyber bullying.
 
Authorities want to regulate users’ behavior to protect the community from “vile abusive language” online. Until new laws can be passed, there would be a temporary ban on Facebook.  
 
Minister of Communications Peter Shanel Agovaka told Radio New Zealand Pacific that tough regulations are needed.
 
“Coming with freedom of expression and freedom of the media is a lot of responsibility. You don’t just go out and say things out of the ordinary to your neighbors. It’s about using it wisely, communicate, share information and so on, and not to abuse people,” Agovaka said.
 
It is unclear, however, how a ban on Facebook would work.
 
Critics say the move would breach the constitutional rights of Solomon Islanders and attempt to shut down dissent. Opposition politicians call the proposals “pathetic,” while Amnesty International says any such ban would be a ‘brazen attack on human rights.”  
 
Facebook has said it was contacting authorities to discuss the plans.
 
Any ban would put the Pacific island nation alongside just four other countries where the social media platform is outlawed: China, Iran, North Korea and Syria.
 
The Solomon Islands is home to about 685,000 people. While the archipelago stretches across a vast area of ocean, its land mass is comparable to that of Albania.  
 
About 20% of the population has access to the internet.