The World Today for December 13, 2022

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Them’s Fightin’ Words

WORLD

When Twitter first launched, it was celebrated in India as a new kind of town square where free speech, productive dialogues and the exchange of ideas were possible.

“What we didn’t realize – because we took it for granted for so long – is that most people spoke with a great deal of freedom, and completely unconscious freedom,” Indian author Nilanjana Roy told New York Times columnist Lydia Polgreen. “You could criticize the government, debate certain religious practices. It seems unreal now.”

But, as minority and under-represented communities used the social media platform to get their voices heard, the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi took advantage of a backlash. Twitter filled up with attacks and calls for violence against Muslims, women, and lower-caste Indians. Today, Twitter is fighting the Indian government in court over censorship claims.

The new owner of Twitter, serial entrepreneur Elon Musk, hasn’t discussed how he might combat government suppression of free speech in developing countries like India. Seventy-five percent of Twitter’s nearly 240 million users are outside of the US. Many observers are fearful that Musk’s free-for-all attitude will encourage toxic activity on Twitter to increase, crowding out the vulnerable and empowering online populist mobs, NPR noted.

“The US has seen a sharp increase in hate speech, and that’s in English,” Global Project Against Hate and Extremism President Wendy Via told Grid, a new media outlet. “Imagine what the other countries are experiencing. And banned users are now evading the system by setting up new accounts often successfully because there are no global staff to report violations and take action.”

From Ethiopia to Nigeria to Myanmar, Twitter and other social media have exacerbated political, ethnic, and religious conflicts, NPR reported. Now, with mass layoffs in the company, Twitter’s human rights team is gone as are the investigators tracking state-backed domestic manipulation efforts and propaganda in high-risk countries including Honduras, Ethiopia and India.

And on Monday, Musk disbanded the Trust and Safety Council, a group of volunteers from around the world who tried to improve safety on the platform, according to NBC News.

Meanwhile, Musk, who also runs electric car company Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, has become empowered to dabble in foreign policy, making pronouncements about Russia and China: He suggested that Russia and Ukraine swap land in order to end their war – Ukraine would allow Russia to keep the Crimean peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014 – and proposed that China take over Taiwan, which China claims as part of its sovereign territory, the Washington Post reported.

As Foreign Policy magazine explained, Musk’s comments in these areas carry weight. The Starlink system of small satellites that he has put into orbit with SpaceX has provided Ukraine with crucial telecommunications, for example. When Musk doubled prices for the service in Ukraine, critics worried that he was putting undue pressure on Ukrainian forces who use the technology on the battlefield, trying to force them to the bargaining table with Russia.

At the same time, some of his actions as “Chief Twit” could become problematic because of his business interests, namely with China: By dominating the supply of multiple components critical to the fortunes of Tesla, the Chinese government holds so much leverage over Musk’s wealth that European and American security officials consider his ownership of Twitter to be a potential security threat. For example, they worry he might bend to Chinese wishes regarding content.

One region isn’t shy about putting Musk on notice to be careful: The European Union. Bloc officials threatened Twitter with a ban unless the billionaire abides by its strict rules on content moderation, the Financial Times reported. Musk was told he must adhere to a checklist of rules, including ditching an “arbitrary” approach to reinstating banned users and agreeing to an “extensive, independent audit” of the platform by next year, even as he was reminded to follow the bloc’s strict rules against online hate speech and disinformation.

This promises to be a regulatory battle for the ages.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Slow, Steady Wheels

UNITED KINGDOM

US authorities apprehended a Libyan man accused of making the bomb that destroyed a passenger plane over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, a major milestone in a decades-long investigation into the deadliest terrorist attack in the United Kingdom, NPR reported.

Scottish officials confirmed that the US took into custody Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, a former Libyan intelligence operative, this week.

Mas’ud is alleged to have built the bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 flying from London to New York on Dec. 21, 1988. The plane exploded over Lockerbie, killing 270 people, including 190 Americans.

The terrorist attack initiated the most complex investigation for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation in history: More than 10,000 people were interviewed around the world and investigators analyzed the largest crime scene in recent history – about 845 square miles of scattered debris.

Authorities initially discovered two tiny fragments in the rubble that allowed them to trace the bomb to a radio inside a bag and the explosives’ timer to a shirt.

A major breakthrough came in 2020 when Libyan officials detained Mas’ud and interviewed him about his involvement in the bombing. The former intelligence officer admitted to building the bomb that downed the plane.

That year, the US Department of Justice indicted Mas’ud on a number of charges, including causing the destruction of a vehicle using an explosive.

The department added that the suspect will make his first court appearance at the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

The Libyan’s arrest was welcomed by the victims’ families, who have been waiting for decades for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

New Friends

SAUDI ARABIA

Chinese President Xi Jinping ended his multiple-day visit to Saudi Arabia with a series of agreements that have bolstered concerns by the United States over China’s efforts to expand its influence worldwide, CNN reported.

Observers described the state visit as a snub to the US, as relations between the Saudis and Americans have become strained in recent months.

In a joint statement, China and Saudi Arabia said they would align on everything from “security to oil” and vowed deeper cooperation in other fields, including space research, digital infrastructure, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

One of the key areas mentioned during the visit was security. Historically, Saudi Arabia has relied on the US for military security and backing against regional foes in return for oil. But now Riyadh is seeking to diversify its options, including purchasing Chinese weapons, as well as cooperating closely with Beijing on security and defense.

During a summit between China and countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh during his visit, Xi said Beijing will continue to “import crude oil in a consistent manner and in large quantities from the GCC, as well as increase its natural gas imports” from the region. China is the world’s largest buyer of oil.

The Chinese leader also urged GCC countries to take advantage of the Shanghai Petrol and Gas Exchange “as a platform to conduct oil and gas sales using Chinese currency.” Analysts explained that such a move would strengthen the Chinese yuan currency and weaken the US dollar.

Even so, neither China nor Riyadh would confirm whether they were discussing shifting from the US dollar to the Chinese yuan in regard to oil trading.

Another key point agreed upon was the principle of non-interference, in which both countries affirmed not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs – such as by criticizing their human rights records. Criticism by Western countries over the two nations’ domestic and foreign policies, such as the killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Beijing’s claims over Taiwan and its treatment of minorities, is the cause of resentment in both those countries, analysts said.

They suggested that the visit underscores the waning influence of the US in the Middle East.

Still, Saudi Arabia was quick to dismiss polarization as counterproductive. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud emphasized that his country is “keen on working with all parties,” adding that it was important for the oil-rich kingdom to interact with its traditional partner as well as rising economies.

Free to Love

FRANCE

France will make condoms free for everyone aged 25 and under starting next year, a move aimed at curbing the rise of sexually transmitted infections in the country, Business Insider reported.

President Emmanuel Macron announced the decision in a Twitter video, saying it was part of a larger health initiative meant to improve public access to healthcare, including contraception and sexually transmitted infection (STI) screening.

It comes as France has seen a spike in STIs in recent years, especially gonorrhea and chlamydia. In the past two years, the country recorded a 30 percent national increase in STI rates.

Younger people have been particularly affected, which officials suggest could be mainly because of a lack of knowledge about prevention.

The plan would initially apply only to people between the ages of 18 to 25, but the president expanded it to include minors following an outcry from activists and the public.

Since 2018, the French government has reimbursed the cost of condoms to people who buy them in a pharmacy and have a prescription. The policy’s expansion is an effort to make more individuals aware of their right to access birth control measures.

Women up to the age of 25 can already access free birth control as of this year, in an effort to ensure that individuals can avoid undesired pregnancy.

DISCOVERIES

Remains of the Games

A big stadium game wouldn’t be the same without the snacks and drinks to consume while watching the excitement on the field.

The spectators at gladiatorial combats in ancient Rome’s Colosseum felt that way, too, ArtNet reported.

Italian archaeologists recently discovered the remnants of ancient snacks, coins and other artifacts while exploring the complex drainage system beneath the historic arena.

Researchers initially began exploring the Colosseum’s sewers last year to understand how the hydraulic systems that the showrunners created flooded the amphitheater’s tunnels and produced water spectacles.

But during their excavations, they unearthed the remains of various fruit, including figs and grapes, that were possibly thrown by tens of thousands of spectators that watched the shows.

The team also found a number of ancient coins, including a rare orichalcum sestertius coin, which was produced around 170-171 CE to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ ascension to power.

The bones of bears and big cats recovered during the search are most likely from animals forced to fight while guests ate their snacks. The researchers also discovered dice and a pin made of bone, and garment parts, such as shoe nails, leather, and studs.

Federica Rinaldi, the Colosseum’s lead archaeologist, said the discoveries illustrate the “experience and habits of those who came to this place during the long days dedicated to the performances.”

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