World News Briefs For Sunday, 16 Feb 2020
Howdy Australia!! - Coronavirus for the first time kills a patient outside of Asia - Social media is accused of failing democracy - A tragedy was avoidable on so many levels - And more in your CareerSpot Global News Briefs:
The failure of the big social media companies to curb lies and disinformation is threatening free elections around the world - and some 80 countries around the globe will go to the polls this year. A report from the Kofi Annan Foundation (.pdf link) presented at the annual Munich Security Conference is sparking a sense of alarm among delegates. "For the foreseeable future, elections in the democracies of the global south will be focal points for networked hate speech, disinformation, external interference, and domestic manipulation," the report bleakly predicted. Fake elections result in increased mistrust and increase, often violent, unrest.
One of the report's presenters, former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, points the finger directly at Cambridge Analytica, the UK-cyber mischief firm that played a large role in the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit. Ilves alleges the company was contracted to manipulate election results in Kenya in 2013 and 2017: "When they saw their plan had worked, they began employing similar methods in a trans-Atlantic context," says Ilves.
The Annan Report is calling on lawmakers to force social media companies to divulge comprehensive data about who exactly has paid and who is paying for political ads. Authors are also calling on political candidates and parties to reject fake information and manipulated images, and to set clear parameters on what can be included in a political ad. And they're recommending governments and social media companies work together to cooperate on election security, like Facebook and Germany did in 2017.
Also at the Munich Security Conference, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo disappeared into a secret meeting in Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's hotel room on Friday. The US Department of State did not disclose the meeting nor its subject, and later brushed it off as a "pull aside" encounter. However, the Russians did circulate photos on Facebook showing Pompeo in the hotel hallway with Lavrov and others.
Last year, participants of the Munich conference called it "a Requiem for the West". This year, French President Emmanuel Macron presented a vision for a strong, united Europe with greater sovereignty and new military power which he described as "not a project against NATO or instead of NATO". Specifically, he insisted that as the European Union's sole-remaining nuclear power following the Brexit, nuclear decisions should be conducted with NATO. But increasingly, "We cannot always go through the United States, no, we have to think in a European way as well," said Macron.
UN World Health Organization (WHO) chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says he was glad to see plenty of hand sanitizer stations at the Munich Security Conference, and insists that washing one's hands is so far the easiest way to protect against the coronavirus outbreak. An elderly Chinese tourist in France is Europe's first fatality in the Covid-19 outbreak, and the first outside Asia. Another three deaths were logged in the Phillippines, Japan, and Hong Kong; the rest of the outbreak's 1,527 fatalities happened in mainland China, and overwhelmingly in Wuhan City and surrounding Hubei province. Covid-19 has infected more than 67,000 people globally, the vast majority of whom are in China.
Families of young men murdered by Colombia's army accuse former army chief Mario Montoya this week of "making a mockery" of them and of withholding key information behind the widespread execution of civilians. It is believed that 2,248 people were killed in the "False Positives" scandal, in which military members wrongly identified citizens as Leftist rebels and summarily executed them to boost their "kill" numbers - going as far as to strip some bodies and dress them up in rebel fatigues. Rights groups say Montoya is playing dumb at a government inquiry into the scandal, and could be the key in determining how much right-wing former presidents Juan Manuel Santos and Alvaro Uribe knew or were involved.
A fire swept an orphanage in Haiti, killing 15 children ranging in age from infants to ten years old. The operation was run by an evangelical cult from the US called the "Church of Bible Understanding" which had been banned from running such facilities since 2012. Haiti police raided another home also run by the group and rescued several dozen children, despite protests from employees. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and rescuers didn't have oxygen bottles or other kit to help the children before they were transported to hospital. "They could have been saved," said Civil Protection official Jean-Francois Robenty, "We didn't have the equipment to save their lives."