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Facebook ‘lacks willpower’ to tackle misinformation in Africa | Social media

Facebook has been accused of failing to invest sufficiently to combat misinformation as it pursues rapid growth in Africa, where the Covid pandemic has highlighted the outsize role played by social media in online discourse.

Traditional media and governments have an increasingly limited ability to control information flows on the continent, as social media platforms including Facebook seek to expand rapidly, though largely without fanfare.

“Facebook are losing users left, right and centre in the global north, so where are the new users coming from? The global south,” said Anri van der Spuy, a senior researcher at Research ICT Africa, a thinktank.

Sub-Saharan Africa has a population of 1.1 billion and, at an average of about 30%, internet use is three times higher than a decade ago.

Toussaint Nothias, research director at the Digital Civil Society Lab of Stanford University, who has worked extensively on Facebook, said it was “generally accepted” that Facebook had launched an “aggressive expansion” in the global south to win new users following a decline in the developed world.

“Africa has a young growing population and so offers opportunities for Facebook to become an entry to the internet, via Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram or whatever. That can be monetised down the line,” he said.

A Covid testing site in the Alexandra township in April 2020.
A Covid testing site in the Alexandra township in South Africa in April 2020. Photograph: Jérôme Delay/AP

Many – but not all – academic studies have linked Covid vaccine hesitancy with misinformation circulating on social media in Africa, as elsewhere.

In some parts of the continent, such as South Africa, hesitancy was the biggest challenge facing vaccination campaigns.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, has talked of an “infodemic”, which she defines as “a glut of information with misinformation in the mix [which] makes it hard to know what is right and real”.

False information circulating on social media included claims that black people cannot contract Covid-19 or that it can be cured with steam or traditional remedies such as herbal tea. Conspiracy theories describing plots by western companies or governments to test vaccines in Africa or slow demographic growth have also spread widely.

“The regulation side is very problematic,” said van der Spuy. “It has not been resolved in the global north either but the risks are much bigger in the south … you don’t have the same safety net of literacy skills and ability to cross-check nor the safeguard of adequate policies or capable institutions … Facebook is investing in addressing some of these challenges, but not nearly enough.”

Facebook relies on an expanding network of hundreds of third-party factcheckers across Africa to initiate investigations and respond to complaints from users. If concerns are found to be justified, warnings are attached to posts, which are also downgraded in the algorithms that direct traffic. Some accounts are taken down.

A man walks past a Covid-19 vaccination banner pasted in front of a clinic in in Lagos in December last year.
A man walks past a Covid-19 vaccination banner pasted in front of a clinic in in Lagos in December last year. Photograph: Akintunde Akinleye/EPA

A spokesperson for Meta, which owns Facebook, described misinformation as a complex and constantly evolving societal challenge for which there is no “silver bullet”.

But, they said, Facebook now employed a global team of 40,000 working on safety and security, including 15,000 people who review content in more than 70 languages – including Amharic, Somali, Swahili and Hausa, among others.

This helped the company “debunk false claims in local languages, including claims related to elections and vaccines”.

“We’ve also made changes to our policies and products to ensure fewer people see false information and are made aware of it when they do, and have been highlighting reliable vaccine information through our global Covid-19 information centre,” the spokesperson said.

However, posts are not usually removed unless seen as directly encouraging violence or hate, leading to concerns that some may be viewed by large audiences even after being flagged as false or misleading.

“They do take things down occasionally but it takes a long time,” said Stuart Jones, director of the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change in South Africa, which monitors social media in the country.

Facebook claims that more than 95% of the time when people see a factchecking labels, they don’t go on to view the original content.

Other platforms are also struggling to contain misinformation.

“Social media [in South Africa], especially Twitter, is dominated by anti-vaccine voices,” said Jones.

“We’ve not identified organised networks but dealing with people with very loud voices speaking often and very passionately. The pro-vaccine voices are more moderate and don’t get the same outrage and aren’t shared as much. So the algorithms kick in and it just all runs away.”

A health worker administering a Covid vaccine dose in Serrekunda on the outskirts of Banjul in Gambia in September last year.
A health worker administering a Covid vaccine dose in Serrekunda on the outskirts of Banjul in Gambia in September last year. Photograph: Léo Corrêa/AP

Frances Haugen, a former manager at Facebook turned whistleblower, has said that her concerns over an apparent lack of safety controls in non-English language markets, such as Africa and the Middle East, were a key factor in her decision to go public.

“I did what I thought was necessary to save the lives of people, especially in the global south, who I think are being endangered by Facebook’s prioritisation of profits over people,” Haugen told the Guardian last year.

Workers at factchecking organisations across Africa who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity said they were confident their work made some difference but worried that the impact was very limited.

“What we do is important and does stop some people reading stuff that simply isn’t true. But I worry that it really is just a tiny fraction of what’s out there,” one said.

Some say it is difficult to judge to what extent Facebook’s downgrading of such posts in news feeds restricts exposure and worry that the company has not released a breakdown of figures for funding of factchecking operations in Africa.

“There seems to be as little as possible real investment on the continent in terms of engaging people directly or hiring people with real local knowledge,” said Grace Mutung’u, a policy researcher and lawyer based in Nairobi, Kenya.

“It is a matter of accountability. If you take up such a huge responsibility in society, you should equally invest in solving the problems that come out of it. They have the resources, what is lacking is the willpower.”

Officials at the WHO say they are concerned about encrypted private applications such as WhatsApp, which remain “invisible”, as it is impossible to know what is being said or shared, and very difficult to intervene to stem the flow of false information.

WhatsApp is also owned by Meta, which owns Facebook. The company said it was taking steps to address the problem.

Nothias said that there was no easy obvious solution to the problem of content moderation, but “simple things” such as committing greater resources would help.

“Currently, in comparison to the wealth of the company and its social responsibility … it is pretty minimal,” he said.

“They are just not taking it seriously enough, or putting enough money into it. When you consider it really just is a question of their social responsibility against their duty to their investors, it’s not so hard to understand. They are just a corporation.”

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.


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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.


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Aviation and Telecom Industries Reach Compromise on 5G Deployment

The Voice Of EU | In a significant development, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest mobile network operators in the United States, have agreed to delay the deployment of 5G services following requests from the aviation industry and the Biden administration. This decision marks a crucial compromise in the long-standing dispute between the two industries, which had raised concerns over the potential interference of 5G with flight signals.
The aviation industry, led by United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, had been vocal about the risks of 5G deployment, citing concerns over the safety of flight operations. Kirby had urged AT&T and Verizon to delay their plans, warning that proceeding with the deployment would be a “catastrophic failure of government.” The US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue further highlighted the need for a solution.
In response, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Steve Dickson sent a letter to the mobile networks, requesting a two-week delay to reassess the potential risks. Initially, AT&T and Verizon were hesitant, citing the aviation industry’s two-year preparation window. However, they eventually agreed to the short delay, pushing the deployment to January 19.
The crux of the issue lies in the potential interference between 5G signals and flight equipment, particularly radar altimeters. The C-Band spectrum used by 5G networks is close to the frequencies employed by these critical safety devices. The FAA requires accurate and reliable radar altimeters to ensure safe flight operations.

Airlines in the US have been at loggerheads with mobile networks over the deployment of 5G and its potential impact on flight safety.

Despite the concerns, both the FAA and the telecoms industry agree that 5G mobile networks and airline travel can coexist safely. In fact, they already do in nearly 40 countries where US airlines operate regularly. The key lies in reducing power levels around airports and fostering cross-industry collaboration prior to deployment.
The FAA has been working to find a solution in the United States, and the additional two-week delay will allow for further assessment and preparation. AT&T and Verizon have also agreed to not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months, similar to restrictions imposed in France.
President Joe Biden hailed the decision to delay as “a significant step in the right direction.” The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and South Korea have also reported no unsafe interference with radio waves since the deployment of 5G in their regions.
As the aviation and telecom industries continue to work together, it is clear that safe coexistence is possible. The delay in 5G deployment is a crucial step towards finding a solution that prioritizes both safety and innovation. With ongoing collaboration and technical assessments, the United States can join the growing list of countries where 5G and airlines coexist without issue.

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