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‘A torrent of abuse’: victims pin hopes on UK online safety bill | Online abuse

The online safety bill is a landmark piece of legislation that aims to stop damage to people online, ranging from racist tweets to the harmful content sent by powerful algorithms.

The revised bill, published on Thursday, will impose a duty of care on tech firms to protect users from harmful content, or face large fines from the communications watchdog.

The Guardian has spoken to people who have suffered from the kind of damage that the bill is trying to prevent and penalise.


1

Gina Miller, 56, victim of racist and sexist abuse

Gina Miller
Gina Miller. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Miller is clear about the motivation for the online hatred she has suffered over the years: “It was a torrent of abuse that came from my being a woman of colour.”

The transparency campaigner says the abuse began in 2015 when she highlighted concerns over the financial and charity sectors. This escalated when she spearheaded successful court cases against the government’s actions over Brexit.

She says Facebook and Twitter were the worst platforms for hosting racist messages. “The messages that were posted ranged from things like saying ‘Go back home you dirty foreigner’ to ‘This woman should be killed’,” says Miller, who was born in British Guiana, now Guyana, to parents of Indian descent.

Miller welcomes the fact that the bill will criminalise digital “pile-ons” where victims are subjected to abuse online from multiple people simultaneously. It will also ensure that big tech platforms prioritise tackling specific types of “legal but harmful” content, which is expected to include racist abuse.


2

Ian Russell, 58, father of Molly Russell

Ian Russell
Ian Russell. Photograph: Ken McKay/ITV/Rex

Molly, 14, from Harrow in north-west London, viewed content on Instagram and other social media platforms linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide before taking her own life in November 2017.

Her father, Ian, says social media platforms have been allowed to regulate themselves, a laissez-faire approach that failed his family. “Social media has been allowed to evolve in a self-regulated manner. That clearly does not work, otherwise tragedies like Molly’s would not have happened.”

Ian says social media has shown its “good side” recently with its role in the coronavirus pandemic and the Ukraine conflict, but young people need greater protection when using platforms. “We need regulation so that when young people use social media, which they should do, because it does tremendous good, that they are protected from the harm it can cause.”

The legislation, which applies to tech firms that produce user-generated content as well as search engines, will require companies to put in place systems that spot illegal content, such as posts that promote or facilitating suicide. Platforms will also need to ensure that their algorithms, which curate what a user sees, do not target vulnerable users with inappropriate content.


3

Jill, 75, online advert victim

Scam adverts will be included in the scope of the bill, meaning that the largest social media platforms will be required to prevent paid-for fraudulent adverts appearing on their sites. This includes adverts carrying fake celebrity endorsements.

It will be too late for Jill, a retired psychotherapist living in Cambridgeshire. Jill, who asked for her surname to be withheld, lost more than £30,000 in 2020 after clicking on an advert on Facebook for a cryptocurrency investment carrying a fake “endorsement” from the Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden.

“It’s terribly distressing and it all started with one small advert on Facebook. They need to police these adverts,” she says. “It affected my family because they were very upset and angry. It cast a cloud over us for a couple of years.”

Meaden has said in a statement on her website that she has no association with – or made investments in – bitcoin trading platforms. “I have taken steps to get the unauthorised material removed and am taking appropriate action on the individuals and/or companies who have decided to scam people in this way,” she wrote.


4

Katie Scott, 24, eating disorder survivor

Young people looking at phones
The bill will impose a duty of care on tech firms to protect users. Photograph: Justin Lambert/Getty Images

Scott says she encountered online content as a teenager that encouraged her eating disorder, including people posting ideas for extreme diets.

“From the ages of 14-18, I would access a lot of harmful content on Tumblr and Instagram. This content was often referred to as pro-anorexia content, which was essentially a community of people encouraging each other to participate in dangerous behaviour,” says Scott, from Reading. “Viewing this content online made me feel less aware of how dangerous my behaviour was. It felt like an external manifestation of the disorder that was already in my head.”

Scott says there needs to be a dedicated effort to prevent this content from being so widely accessible. She says similar content still exists on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. “There needs to be more done than just shutting down and reporting accounts that promote eating disorders. The accounts need to be identified sooner, with more of an emphasis on keeping on top of new hashtags or spaces developing.”

The list of legal but harmful content that the government expects tech firms to tackle will be set out in secondary legislation. But the press release accompanying the revised bill indicates that content relating to self-harm and eating disorders will be among the areas covered.


5

Frida, 21, grooming survivor

Frida says social media platforms left her vulnerable to being groomed online at 13, after a man in his 30s contacted her on Facebook. The resulting online relationship lasted for years, an experience that left Frida with long-term depression.

“At the time, I was really miserable at school. I was getting bullied and didn’t really have any friends, so I didn’t have anything to lose,” says Frida, whose name has been changed.

She says there were few safeguarding regulations at Facebook to protect her from the abuse. “There were increased risks with things like end-to-end encryption, for example, or the fact that my abuser was able to so easily add and message me, and cross-platform risk.” She says the initial contact on Facebook soon moved to messaging on WhatsApp – which is encrypted, meaning the messages can be viewed only by the sender and recipient.

“So much of what I interacted with on Facebook left me at risk,” says Frida, who has campaigned with the NSPCC, the child protection charity, to strengthen the bill. “What I’d like to see in this online safety bill is more focus on risk and what increases risk. I’d like to see a culture of safety by design being implemented on apps like Facebook.”

The bill’s duty of care is split into several parts, including a requirement to protect children from illegal activity such as grooming. Tech companies will have to carry out risk assessments detailing how abuse could occur on their platforms and how to prevent it. These risk assessments will be overseen by Ofcom, the communications watchdog, which has been charged with implementing the legislation.

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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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