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Facebook under fresh pressure as whistleblower prepares to give evidence to MPs

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The company has been plunged into a crisis since Frances Haugen released thousands of pages of internal research documents secretly copied before leaving her job in the firm’s civic integrity unit.

A Facebook whistleblower whose claims have rocked the social media giant has launched a fresh attack on Mark Zuckerberg, accusing him of not being willing to protect public safety.

The latest broadside by former employee Frances Haugen comes as she prepares to give evidence to MPs at Westminster.

Her intervention ramps up the pressure on the embattled $1trn (£750bn) company, which has been plunged into a crisis since she released thousands of pages of internal research documents secretly copied before leaving her job in the firm’s civic integrity unit.

Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen
Image:Ms Haugen is to face questions from MPs scrutinising the draft Online Safety Bill

It comes amid newspaper reports that workers repeatedly warned Facebook was being flooded with misinformation claiming that the 2020 US presidential election result was being rigged.

Workers reportedly believed more should have been done to tackle it.Advertisement

It has fuelled renewed concerns about Facebook’s role in the 6 January Capitol riots, in which a mob seeking to overturn the election result stormed Congress.

Separate leaked documents also reveal Facebook in India wavered in curbing hate speech and anti-Muslim content on its platform and lacked enough local language moderators to stop misinformation, which at times sparked violence.

Criticising Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a interview with The Observer newspaper, Ms Haugen said: “Right now, Mark is unaccountable.

“He has all the control.

“He has no oversight, and he has not demonstrated that he is willing to govern the company at the level that is necessary for public safety.”

The outage lasted for almost six hours and affected billions of users
Image:Facebook is reportedly planning to rebrand with a name change

She said she had leaked the documents because she realised the company would not change otherwise.

Ms Haugen made her comments ahead of facing questions from a UK parliamentary committee scrutinising the draft Online Safety Bill, which aims to regulate tech firms and social media in a bid to curb cyber abuse and threats.

She has already levelled a series allegations against the social network, saying its platforms “harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy”, and that it refused to act because executives put profits above safety.

Ms Haugen has also accused the tech giant of being aware of the apparent harm Instagram could have on some teenagers and their body image, and said the firm had been dishonest in its public fight against hate content and misinformation by concealing research that showed it amplified such content.

Mr Zuckerberg has rejected the claims made by Ms Haugen, saying her attacks on the company were “misrepresenting” the work it does and that it “cares deeply about issues like safety, well-being and mental health”.

He added: “At the heart of these accusations is this idea that we prioritise profit over safety and well-being. That’s just not true.”

Facebook is reportedly planning to rebrand its business name in an apparent bid to distance its wider business from the string of controversies that have engulfed it in recent years.

Among its latest big ideas is the so-called metaverse, a 3D online world the firm wants to lead the way on building, in which people can meet, play and work virtually, often using virtual reality headsets.

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Science & Tech

Meta: UK competition regulator tells Facebook owner to sell GIF library Giphy

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The investigation into the acquisition has been acrimonious, with Meta previously being fined £50m by the CMA for deliberately refusing to comply with the regulator’s inquiries.

Facebook’s owner Meta has been issued a legally binding order to sell the GIF library Giphy after an investigation found the takeover “could harm social media users and UK advertisers”.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an in-depth investigation into the deal in April after raising a number of concerns. It subsequently warned of the potential forced sale in August.

Giphy – a website for making and sharing animated images, known as GIFs – was acquired by Facebook (now Meta) in May last year to integrate the GIFs with Instagram, but the CMA has now ordered the acquisition to be unravelled.

Sky News understands Facebook intends to appeal the CMA’s decision. It has four weeks to do so and the appeal would go to a the Competition Appeal Tribunal, which is independent of the CMA.

Meta could potentially challenge that ruling in the UK courts, but only on points of law.Advertisement

Facebook has rebranded to Meta
Image:Facebook’s parent company was renamed Meta last month

Stuart McIntosh, who chaired the independent inquiry into the acquisition, said: “The tie-up between Facebook and Giphy has already removed a potential challenger in the display advertising market.

“Without action, it will also allow Facebook to increase its significant market power in social media even further, through controlling competitors’ access to Giphy GIFs.

“By requiring Facebook to sell Giphy, we are protecting millions of social media users and promoting competition and innovation in digital advertising,” Mr McIntosh explained.

The investigation into the acquisition has seen points of acrimony, with Meta being fined a record £50m by the CMA for deliberately refusing to comply with the regulator’s inquiries.

Meta argued that it has been in compliance with the competition watchdog’s primary orders at all times.

At the time of the fine, the company complained that the CMA delayed for seven months a request to amend these orders which was eventually agreed in what the company described as nearly an identical manner to what had been requested.

When Facebook first merged with Giphy it terminated the image library’s advertising services, “removing an important source of potential competition” according to the CMA.

This was considered “particularly concerning given that Facebook controls nearly half of the £7 billion display advertising market in the UK”.

However in Meta’s response to the preliminary findings, the social media giant described the acquisition as a simple vertical merger and said that Giphy was financially troubled and suggested that its attempts to monetise its GIF library for display advertising were unsuccessful.

“If GIF paid alignments were the promising business model that the CMA believes they are, then one would expect to encounter them in the real-world at scale… Yet that is not the case,” the response stated.

According to the regulator, the acquisition potentially also enabled the social media giant to change the terms of access to the GIF library for its competitors.

“For example, Facebook could require Giphy customers, such as TikTok, Twitter and Snapchat, to provide more user data in order to access Giphy GIFs.

“Such actions could increase Facebook’s market power, which is already significant,” the regulator said.

In its review of the merger, the CMA said it risked entrenching Meta’s market dominance, noting that its platforms (Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp) already accounted for 73% of all user time spent on social media in the UK.

A spokesperson for Meta said: “We disagree with this decision. We are reviewing the decision and considering all options, including appeal. Both consumers and Giphy are better off with the support of our infrastructure, talent, and resources.

“Together, Meta and Giphy would enhance Giphy’s product for the millions of people, businesses, developers and API partners in the UK and around the world who use Giphy every day, providing more choices for everyone.”

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COVID-19: Mild and moderate cases during pregnancy doesn’t harm babies’ brains, finds study

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Parents should be reassured, there is “no evidence that a maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection has any effect on the brain development of the unborn child” say scientists.

Mild and moderate coronavirus infections in pregnant women appear to have no effect on the brain of the developing foetus according to a new study.

Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic “there is evidence that pregnant women are more vulnerable” to the coronavirus, according to a study presented to the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

The new study aims to identify what the possible consequences are for the unborn child if the mother is infected during pregnancy, and to study the likelihood of the virus being passed on to the foetus.

“Women infected with SARS-CoV-2 during pregnancy are concerned that the virus may affect the development of their unborn child, as is the case with some other viral infections,” said Dr Sophia Stoecklein, senior author of the study.Advertisement

“So far, although there are a few reports of vertical transmission to the foetus, the exact risk and impact remain largely unclear,” added Dr Stoecklein, from the department of radiology at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.

“The aim of our study was to fill this gap in knowledge regarding the impact of a maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection on foetal brain development,” she added.

MRI scans were used to study 33 pregnant women who were infected with COVID-19 during their pregnancy, with the women roughly 28 weeks into the pregnancies at the time of the scan.

The scans were evaluated by radiologists with years of experience in foetal MRIs who found that the brain development in the assessed areas was age-appropriate in all of the children, with no findings indicating any infection affected the brains.

“In our study, there was no evidence that a maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection has any effect on the brain development of the unborn child,” Dr Stoecklein said. “This fact should help to reassure affected parents.”

But she cautioned that only mothers with mild to moderate symptoms who were not hospitalised were included in the study, meaning the impact of “severe infection on brain development in the foetus has not been conclusively determined”.

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Science & Tech

Earth’s water may have come from the Sun, new research finds

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Researchers at the University of Glasgow say there is evidence that particles emitted by the Sun created water on the surface of dust grains on asteroids which hit Earth.

The origin of Earth’s water continues to be debated by scientists – whether it was here when the planet formed or if it had an extraterrestrial source.

But new research points the finger at a previously uncounted point of origin: the Sun at the centre of our solar system.

According to astronomers, solar radiation may have created water on the surface of dust grains carried on asteroids that smashed in to our planet billions of years ago.

Alaska has been hit by an earthquake. File pic: iStock.
Image:Water covers 70% of the Earth’s surface – but scientists aren’t sure where it came from

Water covers more than 70% of our planet’s surface, but the exact source has puzzled scientists for decades if not longer.

A new study published in the journal Nature Astronomy suggests it has found a source which perfectly matches the isotopic signature of water on Earth.Advertisement

The research, led by scientists at the University of Glasgow, used a process called atom probe tomography to analyse different asteroid samples – some of which carry water and others which orbit too close to the Sun to do so.

Dr Luke Daly, from the University of Glasgow and the study’s lead author, said: “The solar winds are streams of mostly hydrogen and helium ions which flow constantly from the Sun out into space.

“When those hydrogen ions hit an airless surface like an asteroid or a space-borne dust particle, they penetrate a few tens of nanometres below the surface, where they can affect the chemical composition of the rock.

“Over time, the ‘space weathering’ effect of the hydrogen ions can eject enough oxygen atoms from materials in the rock to create H2O – water – trapped within minerals on the asteroid.

“Crucially, this solar wind-derived water produced by the early solar system is isotopically light.”

“That strongly suggests that fine-grained dust, buffeted by the solar wind and drawn into the forming Earth billions of years ago, could be the source of the missing reservoir of the planet’s water,” Dr Daly added.Thousands of people could still be killed by a completely unpredictable asteroid impact

Professor Bland at Curtin University explained that the existing theory that water was carried to Earth in the final stages of its formation by water-carrying asteroids didn’t hold up to examination.

“Previous testing of the isotopic ‘fingerprint’ of these asteroids found they, on average, didn’t match with the water found on Earth meaning there was at least one other unaccounted for source,” he said.

“Our research suggests the solar wind created water on the surface of tiny dust grains and this isotopically lighter water likely provided the remainder of the Earth’s water,” added the professor, who works at the Space Science and Technology Centre at Curtin University.

“This new solar wind theory is based on meticulous atom-by-atom analysis of miniscule fragments of an S-type near-Earth asteroid known as Itokawa, samples of which were collected by the Japanese space probe Hayabusa and returned to Earth in 2010.

“Our world-class atom probe tomography system here at Curtin University allowed us to take an incredibly detailed look inside the first 50 nanometres or so of the surface of Itokawa dust grains, which we found contained enough water that, if scaled up, would amount to about 20 litres for every cubic metre of rock,” added Professor Bland.

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