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Facebook’s chaotic news ban in Australia blocks pages for fire services, charities and politicians

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By Ben Westcott, Angus Watson and Hilary Whiteman, CNN Business
Updated 5:35 AM ET, Thu February 18, 2021

Canberra, Australia (CNN Business) — Fire and emergency services. Domestic violence charities. State health agencies.

Facebook’s sudden and dramatic decision to block people from sharing news in Australia has had unexpected consequences for a wide range of government organizations and service groups, who woke up Thursday to find that their pages had been inexplicably swept up in the company’s far-reaching ban, too.
The American social media giant said Wednesday that it would stop people in Australia from sharing or viewing news from local and international outlets in response to proposed legislation in the country that would force tech firms to pay news publishers for content.
Although some of the pages have now been reinstated — and Facebook says it will reverse pages “inadvertently impacted” by its move — questions remain in Australia about why they were pulled down by Facebook in the first place.

    ‘Sort this out’

    FoodBank Australia Chief Executive Brianna Casey tweeted that her organization, a major hunger relief charity in the country, could no longer access its page on Thursday.
    “Demand for food relief has never been higher than during this pandemic,” she said. “Hours matter when you have nothing to eat. SORT THIS OUT!”
    Many other charities, including the 1800Respect domestic violence support line and a range of health organizations working with Indigenous Australians, also found their pages blocked Thursday.
    So did state and territory health departments, including those of Queensland and South Australia.
    “Facebook isn’t the only way we reach people but it’s an significant one,” said Robert Hoge, the executive director of strategic communications at Queensland Health, in a statement. Queensland is Australia’s third-most populous state and home to the city of Brisbane.
    “We are in the process of rolling out the first phase of our COVID-19 vaccine program and social media is a key tool with which to communicate this information,” he said, adding that Facebook had gotten this decision “wrong.”
    Queensland Health and 1800Respect were among the pages that had been reinstated by midday.
    Much of the criticism was directed at Facebook, which Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said during a press conference had given the government no warning of its imminent ban.
    “We are in the midst of a once in a century global pandemic,” Brendan Crabb, director and CEO of the Melbourne-based Burnet Institute medical research group told CNN Business. “Has there ever been a time when the general population is more in need of quality, highly reliable, up-to-date health information?”
    At least one Australian politician also found his professional page affected. In Western Australia, which will hold a state election in just a few weeks, opposition leader Zak Kirkup’s Facebook page was blocked. But Premier Mark McGowan’s was still accessible.
    While many pages run by government branches and other services were blocked, the ban on sharing content did not appear to be universal. For example, while some users reported that the page for the Western Australian Department of Fire and Emergency Service was blocked, Queenland’s fire and emergency service pages were left untouched.
    Facebook said in a statement that government pages “should not be impacted” by the announcement, adding that its actions were focused on “restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content.”
    As the proposed law “does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted,” the company said, adding that it would reverse the effects on any pages “that are inadvertently impacted.”
    The initial rollout of the ban outraged some Australian politicians, who took the opportunity to point out that Facebook continues to struggle to contain the distribution of misinformation on its platform.
    Greens Party Senator Larissa Waters said on Twitter that blocking access to Facebook pages for women’s domestic violence services was “utterly reprehensible.”
    “They allow fake news to spread and now block real news AND SUPPORT SERVICES so they don’t have to pay journos whose content they profit off,” she tweeted.
    Facebook said Thursday that its “commitment to combat misinformation” has not changed, adding that it is directing people to “authoritative health information” on the coronavirus, for example.

    Months of tension

    Facebook’s move follows months of tension between Big Tech firms and the Australian government. The country is working to pass legislation that would force tech platforms to pay news publishers for content posted to their sites — instead of being freely distributed, as that content is now.
    The two sides need each other: The platforms need publishers to populate their search results and feeds, providing users local, up-to-date and reliable information on what’s happening. And publishers need the platforms to help drive audience numbers to their sites. But for years, publishers have said platforms like Google (GOOGL) and Facebook (FB) take unfair advantage of the news media, giving them little in return.
    Facebook and Google, though, have argued that Australia’s legislation is unworkable and unfairly punishes them.
    Facebook had been working with Australia for years to find a solution that “recognizes the realities of how our services work,” wrote William Easton, managing director for Facebook Australia and New Zealand, in a blog post on the company’s website Wednesday.
    “Unfortunately this legislation does not do that,” Easton said, adding that the new ban was made with a “heavy heart.” “Instead it seeks to penalise Facebook for content it didn’t take or ask for.”
    While Google had also threatened to take drastic action, saying last month that it could shut down search in Australia if the legislation passed, the company has now appeared to take a different approach than Facebook. It recently announced a three-year deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp (NWS) in which the tech giant will pay to license News Corp content.
    Facebook’s sudden imposition of the ban, meanwhile, may reflect poorly on that company, according to Tai Neilson, an expert in journalism and digital media at Australia’s Macquarie University.
    Neilson said in a commentary that Facebook’s rapid removal of Australian news content raised questions about how serious it is about cracking down on dangerous misinformation on its platform, much of which has lingered for years without being banned.
      “Facebook already suffers from a lack of good will amongst the public and this may be the last straw for many Facebook users,” Neilson said.
      — Michelle Toh contributed to this report.

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      Nigeria crashed aircraft was on rescue mission for kidnapped schoolchildren

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      By Nimi Princewill, CNN
      Updated 10:13 AM ET, Mon February 22, 2021

      Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) — Nigeria’s airforce has said its plane, which crashed shortly after take-off from Abuja airport on Sunday morning — killing everyone on board — was on a mission to rescue the schoolchildren kidnapped last week.

      A spokesman told CNN the aircraft was on surveillance operations in Niger State as part of efforts to rescue at least 42 schoolchildren and staff members taken by gunmen from the Government Science School Kagara last Wednesday. One student died during the attack.
      Air Vice-Marshal Ibikunle Daramola told CNN on Monday afternoon that the air force had donated the military plane to a joint task force coordinating the rescue operation in Kagara.
      “The rescue effort is being coordinated by a multi-agency team… the crashed aircraft was part of the air force’s contribution to the rescue mission,” he added.
        Daramola told CNN that the airforce would continue to support the rescue operation.
          He added that all families of the personnel have been informed, and an investigation launched.
          The ongoing rescue efforts followed a directive by President Muhammadu Buhari to the armed forces and police to ensure all captives are rescued.

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          Protests in Haiti as political standoff continues

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          By Caitlin Hu and Etant Dupain, CNN
          Updated 7:44 PM ET, Sun February 21, 2021

          (CNN) — Large crowds of Haitians took to the streets again on Sunday, as a standoff between President Jovenel Moise and the country’s opposition movement stretched into its third week.

          “Those of us fighting, who want another Haiti, a Haiti pearl of the Antilles, say no to the dictatorship,” one protester told Reuters in capital city Port-au-Prince, where Haitian opposition and civil society groups had called the demonstration. Another criticized the United States and international organizations for supporting the President.
          At the heart of protests is a dispute over the President’s term limit: Moise has served only four years of the usual five, and says his term ends in 2022 — a stance backed by the United States, United Nations and Organization of American States.
          Protesters, however, say he should have stepped down February 7, citing a constitutional provision that starts the clock once a president is elected, rather than when he takes office.
            “We want the international community (to) understand that the Haiti people won’t back down on their demands. Jovenel Moise must leave the national palace for a peaceful transition that can lead us to the elections,” opposition leader André Michel told CNN on Sunday.
            This month’s protests also reflect years of increasing bitterness in Haiti over the country’s economic pain and violent crime. Killings and a wave of hundreds of kidnappings in particular have driven public outrage, according to a recent United Nations report, which recorded a monthly average of 84 demonstrations in the second half of 2020.
            Moise has blamed his administration’s poor record in dealing with such fundamental issues on the country’s system of governance, and on complications and lack of clarity in the constitution itself. “Since the beginning of my term, the country has never known stability,” he acknowledged in a February 12 tweet.
            With an eye toward empowering the office of the president for the future, he has vowed to hold a referendum on changes to the constitution in April. This will be his legacy project, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, told CNN.
            However, critics are skeptical of the legitimacy of any constitutional changes made in the current political climate and without institutional checks and balances in place. General elections are expected to follow in the fall.
              In a speech last Sunday, amid celebrations for Carnival, which he celebrated with large crowds of supporters and revelers, Moise expressed his determination to see the country through another year.
              “Haiti is for me, for my kids, for the people here dancing. The people who don’t want me to do the people’s work will stop, or I will make them stop. I was elected to do a job, and I will do it,” he said.

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              Oil spill leads Israel to close beaches as it faces ‘severe ecological disaster’

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              By Sharif Paget
              Updated 1:41 PM ET, Mon February 22, 2021

              (CNN) — Israeli authorities are trying to locate the source of a suspected oil spill that has been described as one of the most severe ecological disasters to hit the country, threatening wildlife, forcing beaches to close and prompting a mass cleanup.

              Blobs of sticky tar started washing up on the country’s Mediterranean shores last week. Images posted on official government accounts showed sea birds and turtles covered in tar and sticky oil.
              “The enormous amounts of tar emitted in recent days to the shores of Israel from south to north caused one of the most severe ecological disasters to hit Israel,” the country’s Nature and Parks Authority said Sunday.
              The extent of the pollution is so bad, Israel’s Ministry of Interior issued an advisory Sunday urging people to stay away from the country’s beaches.
                A massive cleanup is underway but the Nature and Parks Authority said it would take a long time to make the marine area safe again. It has established a registration and information center for volunteers who wish to help.
                “I was very impressed by the exemplary voluntarism of the citizens who came to clean up the beaches. We must maintain our beaches, our country and the environment,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s office.
                “I have just spoken with the Egyptian Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister who has come to us, and we proposed that every ship that you see here be powered by natural gas instead of polluting fuel, as happened here,” he continued.
                Gamliel said it was their “moral obligation to the public is to locate those responsible for the event,” according to the statement.
                  “We have the possibility of suing the insurance company of the ship that is responsible for the pollution and we will do everything to locate it,” she said.
                  In a separate statement posted to her Twitter account, Gamliel said, “We are making every effort to find those responsible for the disaster, and we will bring to the government’s approval tomorrow a proposal for resolutions to rehabilitate the environment.”

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                  Seven dead in Nigerian military plane crash

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                  Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) Seven people were killed when a Nigerian military plane crashed on approach to Abuja airport on Sunday, a spokesman for Nigeria’s Air Force said.

                  “All 7 personnel on board died in the crash,” Air Vice Marshal Ibikunle Daramola said on Twitter.
                  He added that the Chief of the Air Staff has ordered an immediate investigation into the incident.
                  “A military aircraft King Air 350 has just crashed short of our Abuja runway after reporting engine failure enroute [to] Minna. It appears to be fatal,” said the country’s aviation minister, Hadi Sirika, confirming the incident in a statement.
                   

                  AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT

                  This is to confirm that a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Beechcraft KingAir B350i aircraft crashed while returning to the Abuja Airport after reporting engine failure enroute Minna. First responders are at the scene. Sadly, all 7 personnel on board died in the crash

                  — Air Vice Marshal Ibikunle Daramola (@KunleDaramola3) February 21, 2021

                   
                  In a follow-up communication Sunday afternoon, a spokesman at the Ministry of Aviation, James Odaudu, said the “aircraft reported engine failure at time 10:39 and crashed landed on the final approach path of Abuja Runway 22 at time 10:48UTC.”
                  Odaudu said fire fighters have been deployed to the scene to put out a raging blaze that had engulfed the airplane.
                  An aviation worker who asked not to be named — citing lack of official clearance to talk to the press — told CNN that he witnessed the crash.
                  “The crash occurred not very far from the runway. The pilot had tried returning to the runway after taking off,” he said.
                  The worker said the pilot swerved the plane to its crash site which is in a desolate area. He said the aircraft narrowly avoided warehouses and makeshift settlements around the Nnamdi Azikwe International airport.

                   

                   
                   
                   
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                  Why Britain’s anti-immigration politicians are opening the doors to thousands of Hong Kongers

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                  By Tara John, CNN
                  Updated 7:29 PM ET, Sat February 20, 2021

                  (CNN) — Eighteen months ago, Malcolm was at the vanguard of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

                  Full of bravado and often clad in black, the 21-year-old oversaw a group of 60 combative front-liners who embraced confrontational tactics against the police while demanding greater democracy in the former British colony.
                  Today, he is applying for asylum in the United Kingdom, and separated from his family in Hong Kong where he feels he can longer visit. Malcom believes if he returns to the Chinese city he could be arrested under a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong last June, which scaled up penalties against dissent to include punishments as severe as life imprisonment.
                  Since then, nearly 100 activists have been arrested under the new law. When Hong Kong police apprehended a protester friend of Malcolm’s in October, he booked a red-eye flight to London. Malcolm asked CNN not to use his real name, for fear that his family — who remain in Hong Kong — could face repercussions.
                    The British government has called the security law a clear violation of the “one country, two systems” policy meant to ensure Hong Kong’s autonomy from Beijing until 2047. In its wake, the UK has opened a six-year pathway to British citizenship for holders of British National (Overseas) passports (BN(O)), a special visa category created for Hong Kong nationals before the 1997 transfer of power.
                    Sze has settled into London life: She already has strong opinions on the snail’s pace of London buses and is counting the days to when lockdown ends and she can go shopping on Oxford Street.
                    While it can be hard to find the authentic Cantonese cuisine she grew up eating in Hong Kong, Sze marvels at how much cheaper food is at British supermarkets.
                    “The food quality is better, the price is cheaper and the rent is cheaper,” she told CNN.
                    Sze cannot get a job until her BN(O) visa is approved, but she is optimistic that the UK’s coronavirus-induced economic slump will not get in the way of her finding work. “I am open to any [job] option — it really depends on how much savings I have,” she said.
                      But her biggest concern is the fate of fellow dissidents going through the asylum process, and whether her compatriots who move to the UK will give up the fight for independence back home.
                      “Hong Kongers should never give up, no matter if they’ve left Hong Kong or not,” she said.

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