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Upended by frat boys: International lawmakers slam Facebook’s effect on politics

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Facebook came under fire on Tuesday from lawmakers from several countries who accused the firm of undermining democratic institutions and left out an empty chair for chief executive Mark Zuckerberg after he declined to be questioned.

Facebook is being investigated by lawmakers in Britain after consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, obtained the personal data of 87 million Facebook users from a researcher, drawing attention to the use of data analytics in politics.

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Concerns over the social media giant’s practices, the role of political adverts and possible foreign interference in the 2016 Brexit vote and U.S. elections are among the topics being investigated by British and European regulators.

“We’ve never seen anything quite like Facebook, where, while we were playing on our phones and apps, our democratic institutions … seem to have been upended by frat-boy billionaires from California,” Canadian lawmaker Charlie Angus said at a special international hearing at Britain’s parliament.

“So Mr Zuckerberg’s decision not to appear here at Westminster (Britain’s parliament) to me speaks volumes,” he said, later suggesting Facebook could be broken up to help address the issues.

Facebook says it complies with EU data protection laws, but Richard Allan, the company’s vice president of policy solutions who appeared in Zuckerberg’s stead, admitted it had made mistakes.

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“I’m not going to disagree with you that we’ve damaged public trust through some of the actions we’ve taken,” Allan told the hearing.

RUSSIAN IP
The 24 representatives from nine countries, who demanded answers from Facebook over its use and treatment of data, posed for a picture with an empty chair behind a desk with a nameplate for Zuckerberg on it.

Facebook has faced a barrage of criticism from users and lawmakers after it said last year that Russian agents used its platform to spread disinformation before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, an accusation Moscow denies.

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Legal documents reviewed by Reuters show how the investigation by British lawmakers has led them to seize documents relating to Facebook from app developer Six4Three, which is in a legal dispute with Facebook.

Damian Collins, chair of the culture committee which convened the hearing, said he would not release those documents on Tuesday as he was not in a position to do so, although he has said previously the committee has the legal power to.

However, he did refer to one item in the documents, alleging a Facebook engineer had “notified the company in October 2014 that entities with Russian IP addresses have been using a Pinterest API key to pull over 3 billion data points a day.”

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API refers to Application Programming Interfaces, which have been restricted by Facebook in light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Allan said the documents were “a partial set of information that was obtained by a hostile litigant.”

“Any information that you have seen that’s contained within that cache of emails is at best partial and at worst potentially misleading,” he said.

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In a separate response to the issue raised by Collins, Facebook in a statement said “the engineers who had flagged these initial concerns subsequently looked into this further and found no evidence of specific Russian activity”.

Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Mark Potter


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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Hate crimes under Trump reach highest level in 16 years: FBI

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Under President Donald Trump, the United States is experiencing an epidemic of hate crimes. And according to the FBI's annual report, 2018 marked the worst year for hate-fueled violence in almost two decades.

As Axios noted, the report found that since 2017, aggravated assaults increased 4 percent, simple assaults increased 15 percent, and intimidation increased 13 percent. Attacks against Hispanics rose nearly 13 percent, attacks against transgender people rose 34 percent, and attacks against people with disabilities rose 37 percent.

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Australian diplomat tells Bill Barr’s anti-Russia prosecutor he wasn’t part of any secret plot against Trump

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As the impeachment proceedings continue into President Donald Trump, Attorney General William Barr is hard at work on trying to discredit the Russia investigation and potentially prosecute federal officials involved in it, as U.S. Attorney John Durham helps him conduct a criminal probe into how the FBI began looking at the Trump campaign.

But if Barr is hoping that this investigation helps his boss, he may be in for a disappointment. According to the conservative Washington Examiner, Durham recently interviewed the former Australian diplomat whose warnings to U.S. officials triggered the Russia investigation, and his response did not support the GOP narrative.

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Trump trying to fire inspector general is a confession he ‘did something criminal’: Nicolle Wallace

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MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace on Tuesday explained why President Donald Trump attempting to fire inspector general who validated the White House whistleblower complaint.

"We’re back with breaking news from The New York Times that could have implications for Donald Trump’s impeachment," Wallace reported. "Donald Trump, based on a new report in The Times has considered firing the inspector general -- the one who looked at the whistleblower’s complaint on Donald Trump’s Ukraine conduct and deemed it credible and urgent."

Wallace read from the new report.

"President Trump has discussed dismissing the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, because Mr. Atkinson reported a whistleblower’s complaint about Mr. Trump’s interactions with Ukraine to Congress after concluding it was credible, according to four people familiar with the discussions," The Times reported. "Mr. Trump first expressed his dismay about Mr. Atkinson around the time the whistleblower’s complaint became public in September. In recent weeks, he has continued to raise with aides the possibility of firing him, one of the people said."

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