The World Today for November 09, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

Meta Problematic

WORLD

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg had a chance late last year to stand up to the communist leaders of Vietnam. Instead, as the Washington Post explained, he blinked.

Vietnamese officials asked Zuckerberg to stop the posts of government critics. Refusing their requests could have jeopardized more than $1 billion in annual revenues. Zuckerberg proceeded to censor “anti-state” posts, curtailing free speech, according to human rights activists.

In some countries, such as the US, critics of Facebook charge that the company overreaches in its acceptance of free speech to the point that the social network disseminates misinformation. Around the world, as the whistleblower who released the so-called Facebook Papers suggested, the Silicon Valley company’s actions have been equally controversial but often more complex.

For example, in India, the company’s biggest market, Facebook generated an “inundation of hate speech, misinformation and celebrations of violence,” the New York Times wrote, citing an internal Facebook report the company had hidden from the public. Fake accounts and bots were attempting to alter elections. Misinformation about the coronavirus was the norm. Images of dead bodies designed to stoke outrage between ethnic and religious groups were common fare on newsfeeds.

Meanwhile, after researchers discovered that people in the Middle East were using Facebook to lure and entrap victims of human trafficking from Africa and South Asia, tech giant Apple threatened to pull Facebook off its app store platform, the Associated Press reported. That major decision, if enacted, would surely have moved financial markets around the globe. Facebook promised to make changes but later the social network’s executives admitted to themselves that they were “under-enforcing on confirmed abusive activity.”

Would-be employers-victimizers in Kuwait could use Facebook-owned Instagram to rate and buy slaves, for example, the BBC added. In response, Facebook banned a hashtag used in keyword searches on the social network.

In Ethiopia, Facebook permitted hate speech and incendiary language that led to violence, according to CNN. The company failed to add staff, especially workers who can read the many different local languages that people use in the sprawling nation. Today, arguably in part due to Facebook’s influence, Ethiopia is in the throes of a bloody civil war.

Similarly, European political parties complained to Facebook in 2019 that, after the social network changed the algorithms that connect people on the platform, they had to adopt increasingly extreme policy positions and negative public statements in order to maintain engagement among their followers, CBS News reported. Far-right political parties in Poland who seek to amplify their xenophobic views weren’t complaining, however, added Stars and Stripes.

Who would have ever thought a like button would cause so much trouble.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Back In the Saddle

PAKISTAN

Pakistan lifted a ban against a radical Islamist party responsible for organizing an anti-France protest last month that resulted in the deaths of six police officers and four demonstrators, the Associated Press reported Monday.

The move followed an agreement between the government and the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan (TLP) last week that would end the party’s march to the capital of Islamabad.

Government officials lifted the ban on Sunday and the TLP announced the end of the march a day later and urged their followers to return to the city of Lahore to await the release of party leader Saad Rizvi.

Pakistan outlawed the TLP last year over a series of violent protests following the publication of cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad – which is considered blasphemous in Islam. The radical party also demanded the expulsion of France’s ambassador to Pakistan after French President Emmanuel Macron defended the cartoons as freedom of expression.

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo later republished the images to mark the opening of the trial over the deadly 2015 attack against the publication for the original caricatures. The move enraged many Muslims worldwide.

Besides the lifting of the ban, authorities also released more than 1,000 detained TLP supporters and said they are in the process of releasing Rizvi.

The government’s move was criticized but officials say the ban was lifted in the “larger national interest” amid assurances the party would refrain from violent activities in the future.

The controversial party received prominence in the 2018 elections after campaigning on the issue of defending Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which call for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam.

A Race to the Bottom

ETHIOPIA

Ethiopian rebel forces advanced toward the capital, Addis Ababa, this week, marking a turning point in a civil war that began a year ago, CNBC reported Monday.

Ethiopia has been plagued by a civil conflict in the Tigray region between government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Federal forces initially succeeded in overthrowing the TPLF but the tide turned in June when Tigrayan fighters took back the regional capital.

Over the weekend, nine anti-government groups announced an alliance called the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces with the goal of overthrowing the government. The alliance also includes the TPLF.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has issued a six-month state of emergency and instituted a draft.

Some have expressed concern that authorities have been arresting Tigrayans in the capital, sparking fears of ethnically motivated violence, Reuters reported.

The tense situation risks plunging Africa’s second-most populous nation into chaos, and has prompted regional and international powers to press for negotiations between the warring parties. The hostilities have forced the United States and Canada to withdraw their non-essential diplomatic staff in Ethiopia.

The conflict in Tigray has killed thousands, displaced more than two million and left 400,000 people in the region facing famine.

United Nation officials and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission released a joint report last week saying that “all parties to the conflict in Tigray have, to varying degrees, committed violations of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law, some of which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The US has threatened to impose more sanctions on the country if the violence continues. Even so, tens of thousands of Ethiopians marched in the capital Sunday to denounce the US and support Abiy.

YES, No

CZECH REPUBLIC

A coalition of five parties signed a power-sharing agreement Monday to form a new government in the Czech Republic, a move that comes a month after the country’s legislative elections, Euronews reported.

The new partnership is made up of two political coalitions that won a majority of votes in last month’s polls, including the liberal Pirate Party and STAN – a group of mayors – which came in third with more than 15 percent of the vote.

The five-party coalition will hold 108 seats in the 200-seat lower house and plans to form an 18-member government.

The agreement will send the ANO (YES) party of outgoing populist Prime Minister Andrej Babis into the opposition. Babis narrowly lost the election with 27.1 percent of the vote.

President Milos Zeman had initially planned to reappoint Babis – his ally – as prime minister but the offer was refused. The president – currently hospitalized – said he would appoint coalition candidate Petr Fiala as prime minister.

Meanwhile, lawmakers convened in parliament on Monday to elect a new speaker and other parliamentary officials.

The two key priorities of the new government are to tackle the rising Covid-19 cases and high inflation caused by surging energy prices.

DISCOVERIES

Changing History

Egyptian mummification had an earlier start than previously believed, a discovery that could rewrite history books about ancient Egypt, The Guardian’s Observer reported.

In 2019, archaeologists discovered the mummified body of Khuwy, a high-ranking nobleman buried at the Saqqara necropolis, south of Cairo.

Analysis of Khuwy’s remains and hieroglyphs in his tomb revealed that he lived more than 4,000 years ago during Egypt’s Old Kingdom – making him one of the oldest mummies ever discovered.

But what struck researchers was how well his body was mummified: His body was bathed in high-quality resin and was covered in very fine linen cloth. This suggested that the intricate burial practice occurred 1,000 years earlier than previously thought.

“This would completely turn our understanding of the evolution of mummification on its head,” said Salima Ikram, head of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo. “The materials used, their origins, and the trade routes associated with them will dramatically impact our understanding of Old Kingdom Egypt.”

Ikram explained that Old Kingdom mummification processes were “relatively simple” and not always successful but Khuwy’s body proves that ancient embalmers had mastered their craft earlier than believed.

Khuwy’s discovery will be detailed in the fourth episode –“Rise of the Mummies” – of National Geographic’s documentary series, “Lost Treasures of Egypt,” on Nov. 28.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 250,415,749

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,057,244

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 7,293,241,463

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 46,613,210 (+0.27%)
  2. India: 34,377,113 (+0.03%)
  3. Brazil: 21,886,077 (+0.03%)
  4. UK: 9,379,287 (+0.35%)
  5. Russia: 8,689,818 (+0.44%)
  6. Turkey: 8,261,473 (+0.34%)
  7. France: 7,321,767 (+0.03%)
  8. Iran: 5,996,155 (+0.14%)
  9. Argentina: 5,298,069 (+0.02%)
  10. Spain: 5,032,056 (+0.13%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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