The World Today for July 10, 2018

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NEED TO KNOW

INDIA

Deadly Fake News

American regulators are investigating how Facebook might have aided and abetted bad actors who allegedly used fake news to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

As troubling as those developments might seem, the situation is arguably worse in the world’s largest democracy: India.

As the Washington Post recently reported, a number of people have been murdered since May due to rumors circulated on WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging service.

In the latest incident, a mob bludgeoned five men to death after rumors circulated on the app that a child trafficking gang was targeting children in the area. The victims were nomadic beggars, members of an underclass against whom many Indians would have an implicit negative bias, making their killers more likely to suspect them.

Dehumanization of groups perceived as “the other” has led to similar mob killings in India, a trend that has become more common in recent years, noted a scholar interviewed by HuffPost India. Hindu mobs have attacked and killed Muslims for allegedly eating beef, for example. “Why is there disempowerment, thingification and othering happening in a democracy?” Irfan Ahmad, a senior research fellow with the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, in Germany, said in the interview. “Lynching is a manifestation of that malaise in our democratic experiment.”

Such rumors sometimes proved deadly even before WhatsApp, helping spark violence in the 1992 Hindu-Muslim riots in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, for instance. But technology seems to be hastening Indians’ alienation from one another.

Around 200 million Indians use WhatsApp monthly, more than any other country, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.

In one sense, like Facebook in the US, WhatsApp and other technology provide a virtual town square to people who would not be able to communicate otherwise. Citizens, activists, political campaigners and others use the messaging service to keep in touch with friends, clients and constituents.

But, unlike an old-time town square, voices on social media are disembodied. It’s difficult to know who is circulating a message and whether their motives are honest or manipulative.

WhatsApp has instituted some controls to curb fake news, like giving group administrators control over posts and telling users when a message has been forwarded rather than composed by the sender. Forwarding of messages of unknown origin is a way in which lies and misinformation can spread like wildfire.

WhatsApp’s new controls might help, but they won’t solve the problem.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tasked his government with finding a solution, India Today wrote.

But Modi’s past attempts at tackling fake news fizzled, the New York Times explained, after a hue and cry from Indian journalists who feared the prime minister’s proposed sanctions against fake news would curb freedom of the press.

The problem of fake news is likely to become more pronounced in the run-up to elections next year when Modi faces the voters – an experiment he might want to protect for his own political sake.

WANT TO KNOW

JAPAN

Killer Rains

The death toll from deadly rains sweeping Japan rose to 122 people on Tuesday as search teams abandoned hope of finding new survivors in areas devastated by flooding and landslides.

Dozens more remain missing, Agence France-Presse reported. The disaster has prompted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to cancel a planned four-country foreign trip, and he was expected to visit the disaster-hit region later this week.

More than 70,000 emergency workers have been deployed in the search and rescue operation in parts of central and western Japan. But they acknowledged the odds of finding more survivors are getting slimmer by the hour.

Meanwhile, Typhoon Maria, see-sawing between an equivalent of a Category 4 and Category 5 storm since late last week, could clip Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and Taiwan before slamming into China’s central coast on Wednesday, the Earther website reported.

Already struggling to respond to the present disaster, Japan could see its resources further stretched if the storm does hit the Ryukyu Islands, a small archipelago on the southern edge of Japan, as forecast.

TURKEY

All in the Family

In the wake of constitutional changes geared to make him more powerful and a tighter-than-expected election, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan named his son-in-law to head a new ministry of treasury and finance, combining what used to be the two most powerful economic jobs.

In appointing Berat Albayrak, a former energy minister who entered parliament for the first time in 2015, to the position, Erdogan effectively removes the last investor-friendly members of his finance team, Bloomberg reported. Both former Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek and former Finance Minister Naci Agbal were left out of Erdogan’s new cabinet.

Sworn in Monday, Erdogan also made good on a campaign promise to take more direct control over monetary policy, issuing a decree that strips the central bank governor of any say in selecting his deputies and setting the stage for another decree that is “certain” to give him the power to choose the central bank governor, Cemil Ertem, a senior aide to Erdogan, said on Twitter.

Turkey’s currency has declined about 20 percent this year – a problem for companies burdened with foreign debt.

FRANCE

Striving for Greatness

French President Emmanuel Macron wants to make France great again, too.

In his yearly address to both houses of parliament on Monday, he pledged to overhaul the welfare state and cut public spending, saying his only guiding principle is “French greatness,” the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported.

That may not sit so well with voters, however. His approval ratings have declined among the poor and working class, and in a recent poll, less than a third of respondents said they believe his policies – including loosening labor laws, cutting corporate taxes and slashing the country’s wealth tax – are fair.

Claiming his goal is to “build the welfare state of the 21st century” Macron outlined a shift from redistribution to a Nordic-style system of “flexi-benefits” designed to improve the lives of workers not with rigid protections for their jobs but with looser labor laws that boost the economy, the paper said.

The central message: His reforms are geared at “getting people out of poverty,” not distributing benefits that keep them poor.

DISCOVERIES

No Good Deed…

Good intentions don’t always translate into good results, a fact that can be especially problematic in the world of art restoration.

The Church of St. Michael in the Spanish town of Estella learned that the hard way when it contracted the town’s local arts-and-crafts teacher to restore a 500-year-old statue depicting the legend of St. George’s battle against a dragon, the Guardian reported.

The unflattering result left the effigy with a rosy pink face, a lazy eye and a stunned expression, the Guardian wrote.

The town’s mayor, Koldo Leoz, chastised the church for contracting the teacher without first consulting the council of the Navarre region of northeastern Spain, where Estella is located.

He’s called on real restorers to assess whether the statue can be returned to its original state.

“This is an expert job, [so] it should have been done by experts,” said Leoz.

A local paper called it “Navarre’s own Ecce Homo,” referring to a similarly disastrous restoration six years ago when a Spanish woman’s attempt to restore a fresco of Jesus Christ titled “Ecce Homo” resulted in a botched work dubbed the “Monkey Christ.”

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