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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.

“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.

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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.

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.

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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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WATCH: Franklin Graham tells Jeanine Pirro coronavirus pandemic is because of people sinning

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Franklin Graham blamed sinners for the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic during a Saturday night appearance on Fox News.

Host Jeanine Pirro noted the growing death toll and wondered how God could let that happen.

"Well, I don't think it's God's plan for this to happen," Graham said.

"It's because of the sin that's in the world, judge," he argued.

"Man has turned his back on God, we have sinned against him, and we need to ask for God's forgiveness and that's what Easter's all about," he continued.

"This pandemic, this is the result of a fallen world that has turned its back on God," he added.

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Drought causing water shortage amid coronavirus crisis in Chile

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With historically low river flows and reservoirs running dry due to drought, people in central Chile have found themselves particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic.

Years of resource exploitation and lax legislation have allowed most reservoirs in that part of the country to run dry.

"There are now 400,000 families, nearly 1.5 million people approximately, whose supply of 50 liters of water a day depends on tankers," Rodrigo Mundaca, spokesman for the Movement for the Defense of Water, the Earth and the Protection of the Environment, told AFP.

One of the main pieces of advice to protect people against coronavirus is to wash your hands regularly.

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Trump warns of ‘tough week’ ahead — after the United States surpassed 300,000 coronavirus victims

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US President Donald Trump warned Americans on Saturday to brace for a "very horrendous" number of coronavirus deaths in the coming days as the total number of global fatalities from the pandemic soared past 60,000.

As confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States surpassed 300,000 with more than 8,300 deaths, there was some encouraging news in Italy and Spain.

Europe continues to bear the brunt of the epidemic, however, accounting for over 45,000 of the worldwide deaths, and Britain reported a new daily high in fatalities.

There are now more than 1.17 million confirmed coronavirus cases around the world and there have been 63,437 deaths since the virus emerged in China late last year.

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