"I don t normally work from my garage," Adam Mosseri said when asked what it s like to run one of the biggest social media platforms in the world from his San Francisco home. For years, Instagram has been synonymous with travel and experiences. Its users fill their feeds with carefully filtered and cropped photos of exotic locations and colorful venues. But now, from his plywood-lined garage, Mosseri, Instagram s CEO, is telling his users to do what he s doing: stay at home. Over the past week the company launched a dedicated "Stay at Home" tab featured prominently in the Stories section at the top of its feed. As the name suggests, the feature offers a way for users to share updates on their stay-at-home life at a time as people in vast parts of America and across the world have essentially been not to go outside except for essentials to limit the spread of the coronavirus. And it might actually help raise awareness of the need to stay in. Mosseri revealed Tuesday that the "Stay at Home" Instagram stories were so popular it almost crashed the site in the hours after it went live. The fact that a well-intentioned new feature nearly took down the entire service is a reminder of just how many fires Instagram and Mosseri are working to put out at once amid the coronavirus outbreak. Among other pressing issues, he and his team must: keep their servers up and running while much of the world is forced to shift their lives online; try to encourage people on the platform to maintain social distancing; combating inaccurate and potentially dangerous misinformation about the coronavirus at a time when there is apparently an unprecedented amount of traffic on the site; and do all this while working outside the office. "Having our workforce, particularly our moderators, work from home, is creating all sort of challenges that we need to work through," Mosseri said in an interview with CNN Business over Skype on Tuesday from inside the garage that is now his de facto command center. "Just generally, the amount of output we should be able to expect on a per person basis is just going to go down," he said. "There is no way around that, which is why it is so important we get creative and make sure that we continue to make sure we keep people stay safe on the platform." Mosseri added that the company still needs to stay on top of a range of challenges like content related to child exploitation and terrorism. For years, Instagram s parent company, Facebook, has been trying to combat the spread of misinformation on its platforms. The coronavirus presents a whole new challenge as people around the globe are desperate for just about any information. Instagram s struggles in dealing with the anti-vaccine movement might not inspire much confidence in the company s ability to get ahead of false information about the coronavirus. But over the past few weeks and months it has brought in new rules and features specifically for the coronavirus crisis. Some of those features — like not recommending accounts that spread medical misinformation when people search terms related to the virus (which the company says will roll out in the coming days) — are steps critics of anti-vaccine accounts have been calling for for some time. Mosseri said the company s focus has been getting users accurate information about the virus — links to official government agencies have appeared at the top of users Instagram feeds around the world. The company, like other social media platforms, has taken other steps to highlight information from the World Health Organization. "I actually think search in general on platforms like ours gets way too much attention because it is not something people do that often. It is more important that people get good information when they come to the app in the first place," he said. Like other companies, Instagram and Facebook instructed employees to work from home before it became mandatory in many states. "We need to take care of our people if we are going to be able to help address the crisis and live up to our responsibility," Mosseri said. But new rules to tackle coronavirus misinformation and other initiatives, like banning ads for the sale of face masks (to help ensure they are available for medical workers in most need of them), require new protocols, staff training and sometimes new systems to implement, all of which is more difficult to do with staff working remotely. As a result, Mosseri said Facebook and Instagram staff that don t normally work on moderation are volunteering to help. Twitter and YouTube also warned that the shift to working from home and reliance on automated content moderation may lead to more mistakes. The heightened anxiety felt by users will likely only amplify errors. For example, last Tuesday there were widespread reports of Facebook suddenly marking posts from users about everything from the coronavirus to their pets as violating the platform s rules. The problem was fixed within a few hours and Facebook said it had nothing to do with the changes in its workforce With false claims about purported cures and preventative steps that can be take against the virus circulating online, ensuring the spread of accurate information is now literally a matter of life or death.
A worm-like creature that burrowed on the seafloor more than 500 million years ago may be key to the evolution of much of the animal kingdom. The organism, about the size of a grain of rice, is described as the earliest example yet found in the fossil record of a bilaterian. These are animals that have a front and back, two symmetrical sides, and openings at either end joined by a gut. The discovery is described in the journal PNAS. The scientists behind it say the development of bilateral symmetry was a critical step in the evolution of animal life. It gave organisms the ability to move purposefully and a common, yet successful way to organise their bodies. A multitude of animals, from worms to insects to dinosaurs to humans, are organised around this same basic bilaterian body plan. Scott Evans, of the University of California at Riverside, and colleagues have called the organism Ikaria wariootia. It lived 555 million years ago during what geologists term as the Ediacaran Period - the time in Earth history when life started to become multi-celled and much more complex. The discovery started with tiny burrows being identified in rocks in Nilpena, South Australia, some 15 years ago. Many who looked at these traces recognised they were likely made by bilaterians, but creatures presence in the ancient deposits was not obvious. It was only recently that Scott Evans and Mary Droser, a professor of geology at UC Riverside, noticed minuscule, oval impressions near some of the burrows. Three-dimensional laser scanning revealed the regular, consistent shape of a cylindrical body with a distinct head and tail and faintly grooved musculature. Ikaria wariootia ranged in size between 2mm and 7mm long, and about 1-2.5mm wide. The largest of the ovals was just the right size and shape to have made the long-recognised burrows. "We thought these animals should have existed during this interval, but always understood they would be difficult to recognise," Scott Evans said. "Once we had the 3D scans, we knew that we had made an important discovery." Ikaria wariootia probably spent its life burrowing through layers of sand on the ocean floor, looking for any organic matter on which it could feed.
Egyptian-American doctor Heba Mostafa said during an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm that she completely rejected the idea that coronavirus is man-made, amid unfounded conspiracy theories online claiming COVID-19 was created in a lab in China as a biological weapon or manufactured by the United States. Mostafa, who is currently an assistant professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University and director of the molecular virology laboratory at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, had her first press interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm, published on Sunday, during which she talked about the latest developments related to the coronavirus test. During the interview, Mostafa said that research has begun on the use of antibodies from patients who have contracted the virus and later recovered, adding that clinic trials from treatments have also started. In response to a question on whether coronavirus could be treated with malaria drugs, she responded that “no treatment for the virus has been approved so far,” adding that the “initial results” of novel antiviral drug Remdesivir were “promising.” While discussing the science behind the virus with Al-Masry Al-Youm, Mostafa also refuted claims that COVID-19 was man-made. “I am against the idea that (the virus) was created,” she said, adding that COVID-19 was in fact similar to the SARS virus. The conspiracy theories surrounding the virus have extended beyond social media, with Iran s supreme leader having refused US aid on Sunday to fight the virus, citing unfounded claims that COVID-19 could have been created by America. Johns Hopkins University announced earlier in March that it had made a breakthrough that would allow testing 1,000 people for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) per day, reducing pressure on laboratories and allowing governments to better isolate those infected with the respiratory illness and control its spread. Two specialists in microbiology developed the new test, one of whom was Mostafa. “We will be able to diagnose more cases. This will allow the control of exposure,” Mostafa said. The test, which Johns Hopkins used for the first time on March 11, analyzes nasal or oral swabs, and Johns Hopkins hopes it will help to address the need for wider COVID-19 testing. The World Health Organization has stressed that large-scale testing, isolation of confirmed cases, and efforts to trace those who have come in contact with confirmed cases remain the most important methods of containing the coronavirus outbreak. Mostafa commented previously that testing could reach 1,000 people per day in April. Conducting in-house tests reduces the burden on government laboratories, with the test results coming up in about 24 hours. Doctors hope to shorten this period to about three hours. Mostafa graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, Alexandria University, in 2004, and obtained her PhD in Microbiology from the University of Kansas in 2014. There have been over 300,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide and upwards of 15,000 deaths. Egypt has confirmed 327 cases of COVID-19 and 16 deaths, including two high-ranking military officials.
An Egyptian doctor, Heba Mostafa, was cited as contributing to a test for diagnosing the COVID-19 coronavirus. Mostafa is the director of the molecular virology lab and assistant professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Al-Masry Al-Youm contacted Mostafa to talk about the latest developments and steps underway regarding the test. The coronavirus test was developed quickly, she said, after the genome had been mapped in January by Chinese researchers. Immediately afterwards the diagnostic and research laboratories began developing the test s components, especially in China. She added that the test s purpose is to find the virus s genome in a patient sample, whether via nose or mouth. Mostafa said that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also developed a test, but it wasn t available for all labs. “At Johns Hopkins University, once the government allowed the laboratories to start developing its diagnostic tests to expand the diagnosis of the virus, we were one of the first academic laboratories to develop the test, and thus expanded the scope of diagnosis in Maryland,” Mostafa said. She said that though there is still no approved drug to treat the virus, the initial results of Remdesivir are promising. Experiments for treatment have now begun clinical research, with Remdesivir being the current treatment tried at this stage, alongside research on the use of antibodies from patients who contracted the virus and recovered. The virus has yet to mutate especially as genome examinations of samples from patients in China, Europe and America are all similar, Mostafa noted. She also dismissed claims that the coronavirus was man-made, explaining that the virus is part of the same family of the SARS virus. The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine announced on March 14 that clinical microbiologists Karen Carroll, M.D., and Mostafa have developed an in-house coronavirus screening test that may soon allow the health system to test as many as 1,000 people per day. “We will be able to diagnose more cases. This will allow the control of exposure,” said Mostafa. Johns Hopkins used the test, which analyzes a nasal or oral swab, for the first time on March 11, with roughly 85 tests performed in the first three days. These numbers are expected to ramp up quickly, reaching 180 people per day next week and 500 the week after that, says Mostafa. There could be 1,000 tests per day by early April, Mostafa says. The test returns results in about 24 hours, though doctors say they hope to shorten that time to as little as three hours.
Johns Hopkins University has made a breakthrough that would allow testing 1,000 people for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) per day, reducing pressure on laboratories and allowing governments to better isolate those infected with the respiratory illness and control its spread. Two specialists in microbiology developed the new test, one of whom is Egyptian-American doctor Heba Mostafa. “We will be able to diagnose more cases. This will allow the control of exposure,” said Mostafa, who is currently an assistant professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University and director of the molecular virology laboratory at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. “Johns Hopkins clinical microbiologists Karen Carroll, M.D., and Heba Mostafa, M.B.B.Ch., Ph.D., have developed an in-house coronavirus screening test that may soon allow the health system to test as many as 1,000 people per day,” John Hopkins official website read. The test, which Johns Hopkins used for the first time on March 11, analyzes a nasal or oral swabs, and Johns Hopkins hopes it will help to address the need for wider COVID-19 testing. The World Health Organization has stressed that large-scale testing, isolation of confirmed cases, and efforts to trace those who have come in contact with confirmed cases remain the most important methods of containing the coronavirus outbreak. Around 85 tests were conducted in the first three days, according to the university s website. “Capacity is expected to ramp up quickly, reaching 180 people per day next week and 500 the week after that,” Mostafa commented, adding that testing could reach 1,000 people per day in April. Conducting internal tests reduces the burden on government laboratories, with the test results coming up in about 24 hours. Doctors hope to shorten this period to about three hours. On February 29, the US Food and Drug Administration started allowing academic medical centers to develop their own tests for the coronavirus. More than 8,700 cases and around 150 deaths have been confirmed so far in the United States. Worldwide, COVID-19 has infected over 200,000 people, with upwards of 8,700 having died from complications of the virus.
The Trump administration is in discussions with the tech industry, including Facebook and Google, about how to use Americans cellphone location data to track the spread of the novel coronavirus. Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOGL) confirmed to CNN that they are exploring ways to use aggregated, anonymized data to help in the coronavirus effort, after the Washington Post first reported the matter on Tuesday. In response to CNN s questions, Apple (AAPL) said it has not been a part of the location data discussions. The location data conversations are part of a series of interactions between the White House and the tech industry about how Silicon Valley can contribute to the coronavirus response, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. Several informal working groups have been created under that initiative, including one focusing on expanding virtual education, another dealing with telehealth, a third examining how to limit the spread of coronavirus misinformation, and a fourth to explore the use of geolocation data for disease tracking. The State Department is also engaged on the issue after receiving requests from multiple foreign governments about tapping into tech companies knowledge of the movements of billions of people worldwide, according to one of the people familiar with the matter. So far, the government has merely asked for generalized location insights that could, for example, show changes in highway traffic patterns or grocery store visits, said another of the people familiar. But, two of the people said, it raises the prospect of the government asking for further, more granular information that could pose privacy risks. "I wish people would slow it down a bit, because I don t think people have fully thought it through," said one of the people, speaking on condition of anonymity to preserve professional relationships. Even inadvertent disclosure of the identity of an infected individual as a result of a detailed location tracking program could lead to social shaming, violence or worse, the person said. Tech companies aren t alone in maintaining vast troves of customer location data. Telecom carriers that handle the smartphone communications of millions of Americans also have access to detailed location information. But it is unclear whether the Trump administration has asked them to provide that data, and if so, how granular it might be. Spokespeople for Verizon (VZ), T-Mobile (TMUS) and Sprint (S) didn t immediately respond to a request for comment. Asked whether it has participated in the US government discussions about using location data, AT&T (T) spokesman Michael Balmoris responded with a one-word answer: "No." (CNN s parent company, WarnerMedia, is owned by AT&T.) The US is not the only country to consider technology-based tracking. Israel this week passed a proposal to track coronavirus patients on a far more detailed, individual level, using location tools that had previously been used only for counterterrorism purposes. Meanwhile, Hong Kong has used electronic wristbands to keep tabs on at-risk individuals. While the pandemic may provide more reasons to put privacy on the back burner, there need to be strong rules and safeguards regulating how data can be used in the current crisis, said Dipayan Ghosh, a former Facebook and Obama administration official who is now a fellow at Harvard University s Kennedy School of Government. "There is a tremendous risk that governments could use technological capacities to monitor the spread of the virus to actually surveil their citizens," he said. "Should governments decide to track their citizens, they should establish clear guidelines as to what powers they do have, how they will conduct any monitoring, and what steps they are taking to protect privacy." In a statement, Google said anonymized location data could help health officials "determine the impact of social distancing, similar to the way we show popular restaurant times and traffic patterns in Google Maps." The company added: "This work would follow our stringent privacy protocols and would not involve sharing data about any individual s location, movement, or contacts. We will provide more details when available." Google said it has not yet shared any such data, and that if it did, it would not be combined with that of other companies. Google also said that because users must opt in to location history tracking, the data will not be granular enough to support complex "contact tracing" to trace an infection back to its source. On a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg drew a distinction between sharing aggregate data in an anonymized fashion and raw, granular data about specific individuals. "I don t think that there are direct asks for access to people s data," he said. "It s kind of hypothetical, because nobody is asking for this." He added that some of the media reporting surrounding the issue has been "largely overstated." In a separate statement, Facebook told CNN that the company has published disaster maps populated with aggregated user location data since 2017. For example, Facebook has published maps tracking the movements of its users in response to California wildfires. As with Google, the location data Facebook collects comes from users who have opted into location sharing, Facebook said. The company has already provided mapping and location information to researchers in Taiwan and at Harvard University, and it is considering expanding the program. "In the coronavirus context, researchers and nonprofits can use the maps ... to understand and help combat the spread of the virus," Facebook s statement said.
Amazon says the coronavirus outbreak has caused a surge in online shopping, and now the online giant is adding 100,000 new full-time and part-time positions across the United States to keep up with the demand. The jobs will be Amazon s fulfillment centers and its delivery network. "We are seeing a significant increase in demand, which means our labor needs are unprecedented for this time of year," Amazon (AMZN) said in a blog post Monday. On Saturday, the company said customers could experience more extended delivery times than usual because of the high volume of orders as coronavirus spreads. The number of cases in the United States surpassed 4,000 on Monday. That announcement comes after Amazon has made speeding up shipments a key part of its business strategy over the past year. The company also said Saturday that it is out of stock on "some popular brands and items, especially in household staples categories." A search by CNN Business Monday showed that among the things Amazon appears to be out of are brand-name toilet paper and several types of brand-name disinfectant wipes. "We believe our role serving customers and the community during this time is a critical one, and we want to make sure people can get the items they need, when they need them," the company said in the post Saturday. "We are working around the clock with our selling partners to ensure availability on all of our products, and bring on additional capacity to deliver all of your orders." In addition to hiring thousands of new workers, Amazon said it is investing more than $350 million to raise pay for hourly employees in warehouse and distribution roles through April. It will pay an additional $2 USD per hour above the base hourly rate of $15 or more, depending on the region, in the United States, £2 more per hour in the United Kingdom and €2 more per hour in many European countries. The company said it is consulting with medical and health experts on recommended safety precautions within its facilities, and has implemented "social distancing in the workplace" and enhanced cleaning. During the outbreak, Amazon has also had to grapple with sellers on its site trying to capitalize on coronavirus inappropriately. Earlier this month, Amazon said it pulled more than 1 million products for price gouging or falsely advertising effectiveness against the coronavirus. "We actively monitor our store and remove offers that violate our policy," the company said in its blog post this weekend.
During a phone-in on Sunday with the Sada al-Balad TV channel, Minister of Communication and Information Technology Amr Talaat said that internet bundle download quotas have increased by 20 percent for free this month for all subscribers with the four companies operating in Egypt. The National Telecom Regulatory Authority will pay for the cost of this increase, he said, which is LE200 million. This increase aims to encourage people to stay at home longer, he explained. Talaat on Sunday also met with leaders of telecom companies and leaders of information technology companies. During the two meetings, several initiatives were agreed upon in support of the governmental decision to suspend schools and universities as an anti-coronavirus measure, with initiatives to support continued education during this period. Talaat said that the websites for the ministries of education and higher education are now freely accessible and will not be counted towards home internet package consumption. Educational content will be uploaded onto the sites, he explained, as platforms will be provided through which the ministries will host content that students can watch interactively with a teacher.
Egypt s Ministry of Health and Population announced Friday that it is cooperating with Facebook to push an initiative to raise awareness on coronavirus throughout Egypt. Health Ministry spokesperson Khaled Megahed said that the ministry, in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO), will provide the necessary information to Facebook which in turn will reach large swathes of people in the country. The initiative s purpose is to counter inaccurate information being spread about the disease, Megahed said. The Egyptian Ministry of Health and the WHO will therefore become the only sources of information on coronavirus in Egypt, he added. Megahed referred to an official website set to become the only source for user results on Facebook regarding the virus. The site will update periodically to ensure that only the most up-to-date and correct information reaches the public. The Ministry of Health announced Thursday the death of a 60-year-old woman from Daqahlia Governorate from the coronavirus, with the country having confirmed over 80 cases of the virus so far.
Greenland and Antarctica are shedding six times more ice than during the 1990s, driving sea level rise that could see annual flooding by 2100 in regions home today to some 400 million people, scientists have warned. The kilometres-thick ice sheets atop land masses at the planet s extremities sloughed off 6.4 trillion tonnes of mass from 1992 through 2017, adding nearly two centimetres (an inch) to the global watermark, according to an assessment by 89 researchers, the most comprehensive to date. Last summer s Arctic heatwave will likely top the 2011 record for polar ice sheet loss of 552 billion tonnes, they reported in a pair of studies, published Wednesday in Nature. That is roughly the equivalent of eight Olympic pools draining into the ocean every second. While less visible than climate-enhanced hurricanes, sea level rise may ultimately prove the most devastating of global warming impacts. Indeed, it is the added centimeters — perhaps added meters by the 22nd century — that make storm surges from climate-enhanced tropical cyclones so much more deadly and destructive, experts say. “Every centimetre of sea level rise leads to coastal flooding and coastal erosion, disrupting lives around the planet,” said University of Leeds professor Andrew Shepherd, who led the analysis along with Erik Ivins from NASA s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “If Antarctica and Greenland continue to track worst-case climate warming scenarios, they will cause an extra 17 centimeters of sea level rise by the end of the century,” he said in a statement. Irrefutable evidence That s about a third of the rise forecast for 2100 by the UN s climate science advisory panel (IPCC) under a scenario midway between a rapid drawdown of global greenhouse gases — seen by many as overly optimistic — and the unbridled expansion of fossil fuel use, also seen as unlikely. Melting glaciers and the expansion of ocean water as it warms accounted for most sea level rise through the 20th century, but ice sheet melt-off has become a major driver over the last decade. Almost all of the ice lost from Antarctica, and half of that from Greenland, has been triggered by warming ocean water speeding the movement of glaciers toward the sea. Oceans help humanity by absorbing more than 90 percent of the excess heat from global warming. The remainder of Greenland s ice losses is due to rising air temperature, which creates roaring rivers of ocean-bound melt-water in summer. The combined rate of mass loss from both ice sheets rose six-fold from 81 to 475 billion tonnes per year over less than three decades, the studies reported. The findings are grounded in decades of satellite data, in situ measurements, and computer modelling. “Satellite measurements provide prima facie, irrefutable evidence,” said Ivins. Point of no return The IPCC forecasts about half-a-metre of sea level rise by 2100 under the middle-of-the-road emissions scenario known as RCP4.5. If humanity defies the odds and achieves “carbon neutrality” by mid-century — which means any remaining emissions are somehow offset — sea level will likely be capped at 43 cm. The “worst case” pathway — which assumes carbon emissions continue unabated, or that Earth itself will begin to boost greenhouse gas concentrations — would see an 84 cm increase, according to an IPCC special report on oceans released in September. Over the last decade, sea level has risen about four millimetres per year. But moving into the 22nd century, the waterline is likely to go up ten times faster, even under an optimistic emissions scenario. Earth s average surface temperature has warmed one degree Celsius over preindustrial levels, but polar regions have heated up twice as much. Greenland and West Antarctica — which many scientists say has already passed a point-of-no-return and will shed all its ice eventually — together support enough frozen water to lift oceans about 13 meters. The rest of Antarctica, which is more stable, sits underneath more than 50 metres-worth of sea level rise.
Astronomers have observed a distant planet where it probably rains iron. It sounds like a science fiction movie, but this is the nature of some of the extreme worlds we re now discovering. Wasp-76b, as it s known, orbits so close in to its host star, its dayside temperatures exceed 2,400C - hot enough to vaporise metals. The planet s nightside, on the other hand, is 1,000 degrees cooler, allowing those metals to condense and rain out. It s a bizarre environment, according to Dr David Ehrenreich from the University of Geneva. "Imagine instead of a drizzle of water droplets, you have iron droplets splashing down," he told BBC News. The Swiss researcher and colleagues have just published their findings on this strange place in the journal Nature. The team describes how it used the new Espresso instrument at the Very Large Telescope in Chile to study the chemistry of Wasp-76b in fine detail. The planet, which is 390 light-years from us, is so close to its star it takes just 43 hours to complete one revolution. Another of the planet s interesting features is that it always presents the same face to the star - a behaviour scientists call being "tidally locked". Earth s Moon does exactly the same thing; we only ever see one side. This means, of course, the permanent dayside of Wasp-76b is being roasted. In fact, this hemisphere must be so hot that all clouds are dispersed, and all molecules in the atmosphere are broken apart into individual atoms. What s more, the extreme temperature difference this produces between the lit and unlit portions of the planet will be driving ferocious winds, up to 18,000km/h says Dr Ehrenreich s team. Using the Espresso spectrometer, the scientists detected a strong iron vapour signature at the evening frontier, or terminator, where the day on Wasp-76b transitions to night. But when the group observed the morning transition, the iron signal was gone. "What we surmise is that the iron is condensing on the nightside, which, although still hot at 1,400C, is cold enough that iron can condense as clouds, as rain, possibly as droplets. These could then fall into the deeper layers of the atmosphere which we can t access with our instrument," Dr Ehrenreich explained. Wasp-76b is a monster gas planet that s twice the width of our Jupiter. Its unusual name comes from the UK-led Wasp telescope system that detected the world four years ago. One of the scientists on the discovery team, Prof Don Pollacco from Warwick University, said it was hard to envisage such exotic worlds. "This thing orbits so close to its star, it s essentially dancing in the outer atmosphere of that star and being subjected to all kinds of physics that, to put it bluntly, we don t really understand," he told BBC News. "It will either end up in the star or the radiation field from the star will blow away the planet s atmosphere to leave just a hot, rocky core." Dr Ehrenreich is a fan of graphic novels and asked the Swiss illustrator Frederik Peeters to produce an interpretation of Wasp-76b. "Often with these discoveries, we see detailed 3D compositions where it s difficult for people to tell whether it s a real picture or just a computer-generated image. By putting some fun into it, we re not fooling anyone," he said.
The UK cannot go climate neutral much before 2050 unless people stop flying and eating red meat almost completely, a report says. But it warns that the British public do not look ready to take such steps and substantially change their lifestyle. The report challenges the views of campaign group Extinction Rebellion. It believes the UK target of climate neutrality by 2050 will result in harm to the climate. The claim comes from the government-funded research group Energy Systems Catapult, whose computer models are used by the Committee on Climate Change, which advises government. Its report says: "A number of groups have called for net zero to be accelerated to 2025, 2030 or 2040. "Achieving net zero significantly earlier than 2050 in our modelling exceeds even our most speculative measures, with rates of change for power, heat and road transport that push against the bounds of plausibility." Glimmer of good news But the authors offer some optimism too. They calculate that the UK can cut emissions fast enough to be climate neutral by 2050 – but only if ministers act much more quickly. They say the government urgently needs to invest in three key technologies: carbon capture and storage with bioenergy crops; hydrogen for a wide variety of uses; and advanced nuclear power. The report modelled options for society to 2050. It concluded that if decisions are made early, the cost of climate neutrality can be held down to 1-2% of national wealth - GDP. Scenarios rely on some technologies still in their infancy, which will be controversial. For instance, it draws heavily on burning energy crops, capturing the carbon emissions and burying them underground. It says hydrogen use will need to grow to supply industry, heat and heavy transport. Electricity generation will need to double with heavy reliance on solar power and offshore wind. Controversially, it calls for small, modular nuclear reactors to support three-quarters of heating in cities through district heating systems. Modular reactors are much smaller than conventional reactors, and brought to a site in a kit of parts to be assembled. It warns that livestock production for dairy and meat may need to be cut by 50% rather than the 20% currently envisaged by the Committee on Climate Change. And people will need to eat less meat and dairy by the same amount. The report s author, Scott Milne, said: “Whichever pathway the UK takes, innovation, investment and inducements across low-carbon technology, land use and lifestyle are essential to achieve net zero. Image copyrightSCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARYImage captionAdopting new technologies, such as hydrogen energy, will be crucial "And there are massive economic opportunities for the UK to lead the world in these areas." However, the report warns that the public do not appear ready for substantial lifestyle changes. It warns, for instance, that if people s homes are better insulated, they may choose to spend the same amount on heating to deliver a warmer home. It says: “Early evidence suggests a general willingness to adopt new technologies (such as new heating or mobility) as long as these can deliver the same experiences as before. “Conversely, approaching the subject of dietary change or aviation often elicits a more resistant and emotional response.” Some experts will be critical of the report s expectation that new technologies such as carbon capture and storage will be rapidly adopted. A recent report said it was unrealistic to expect that carbon capture and hydrogen will develop fast enough to achieve the net zero target. A spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion told BBC News: "The global response to coronavirus shows we can radically address crises if we put our minds to it. Meanwhile, the net zero date has not been put to the people of the UK. "The science tells us that net zero by 2050 means a hell of a lot worse than giving up flying and red meat - people are dying now around the world as you read this due to governmental inaction." The report was not welcomed by the National Beef Association. Its spokesman Neil Shand told BBC News that scientific studies typically underestimate the role of livestock in capturing carbon in the soil. He said: “It does seem rather unfortunate that the report links beef production and aviation in this way. “The timing is more than a little ironic; the shops are full of people panic-buying and it seems clear that the nation s food sector relies very heavily on imports, and the associated transport that brings them into the UK. "Food produced on their own doorstep, using a system where animal and non-animal foods are symbiotic requires very little air travel, and makes excellent use of the resources our beautiful country provides. Foreign travel does not have the same necessity." In addition, a report from a group of environmentally-minded business leaders has called on the government to show increased ambition and delivery of carbon-cutting policies to get the UK on track to meet climate goals. It said there was an urgent need especially for policies to bring low-carbon heating to people s homes.
The American space agency has a new name for the rover it will be sending to the Red Planet this summer. To date, the project has been known only by its code name - Mars 2020. From now on, it will be referred to as the Perseverance rover. The name came out of a schools competition that drew 28,000 entries. The Perseverance rover will begin the process of trying to bring rocks back to Earth for study. It will trundle through an equatorial crater, looking for the best samples it can cache for retrieval by a later mission. Scientists think this will be the best approach to establishing whether or not life has ever existed on Mars. Can we finally answer the big question about Mars? Europe s Mars rover to make pit stop for repair Nasa s naming competition asked children to submit their favoured name along with a supporting 150-word essay. An army of volunteers — educators, professionals and space enthusiasts — was employed to whittle down the avalanche of ideas into a more manageable shortlist of nine on which the public was then asked to vote. Nasa s director of science, Thomas Zurbuchen, announced the winner on Thursday. The name Perseverance was suggested by Alexander Mather, a 13-year-old student from Virginia. The competition follows in the tradition of previous Mars rover missions. Nasa s first wheeled robot, which landed on the planet in 1997, was called the Microrover Flight Experiment until a 12-year-old student from Connecticut suggested the name Sojourner, in honour of abolitionist and women s rights activist Sojourner Truth. The 2004 rovers Spirit and Opportunity got their names from an Arizona student, and the agency s most recent vehicle, Curiosity, received its moniker from an 11-year-old Kansas pupil. Alexander Mather, who wants to be a Nasa engineer when he grows up, had referenced some of these missions in his winning essay. He wrote: "Curiosity, Insight, Spirit, Opportunity. If you think about it, all of these names of past Mars rovers are qualities we possess as humans. "We re always curious and seek opportunity. We have the spirit and insight to explore the Moon, Mars and beyond. "But if rovers are to be the qualities of us as a race, we missed the most important thing: Perseverance. "We as humans evolved as creatures who could learn to adapt to any situation, no matter how harsh. We are a species of explorers, and we will meet many setbacks on the way to Mars. However, we can persevere. We, not as a nation, but as humans will not give up. The human race will always persevere into the future." Media captionDeputy project scientist Katie Stack Morgan describes the new rover s mission The Perseverance rover has recently arrived at Nasa s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin its final preparations for launch. This will take place between 17 July and 5 August. It s a seven-month cruise to the Red Planet. Engineers have targeted a touchdown for shortly after 20:30 GMT on Thursday, 18 February, 2021. Lori Glaze, director of the agency s planetary science division, said: "The Perseverance rover is going to be collecting samples. It s the first leg of the first round trip from Earth to Mars and back. We re hoping in the 2030s that we will be bringing those samples back here to Earth. That ll be incredibly cool." Three other missions are due to leave for Mars this year, including a rover from China and an orbiter from the United Arab Emirates. Europe is also supposed to be sending a rover called Rosalind Franklin but there is currently significant uncertainty over whether it will be ready in time.
They re as old as life itself but scientists can t say for sure if they re alive. They re written into our DNA, shaping the human saga through mutation and resilience. We touch hundreds of millions of them every day. As the novel coronavirus outbreak disrupts global markets and prompts unprecedented containment measures, it is worth asking a very basic question: what, precisely, is a virus? What are they made of? Where did they come from? And, perhaps most importantly, why are they trying to kill us? – Unimaginable numbers – The story of viruses is perhaps best told through mind-bending figures. According to Curtis Suttle, a virologist at the University of British Columbia, the physical properties of viruses make them hard for us to comprehend. Their tiny size, for starters. If each virus in a human body grew to the size of a pinhead, the average adult would become 150 kilometres (95 miles) tall. In a 2018 study, Suttle found more than 800 million viruses settle on each square metre of Earth every single day. In a tablespoon of seawater there are typically more viruses than there are people in Europe. “Most of us will swallow more than a billion viruses every time we go swimming,” said Suttle. “We are inundated by viruses.” A 2011 paper published in Nature Microbiology estimated that there are 1×10 to the power 31 (more than one quintillion, or 1 followed by 31 zeros) viruses on Earth. Lay them all end to end and they d stretch 100 million light years, or 1,000 times the breadth of the Milky Way. – The virus as concept – Viruses are best thought of as “molecular packages”, according to Teri Shors, professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and author of several books on the subject. “These packages have to be small enough to fit inside of a cell to cause infection,” she told AFP. Essentially strings of genetic material contained by a few protein molecules, viruses occupy a strange middle ground between the living and the inert. Since they don t have cells and do not produce energy through respiration — a key definition of living organisms — many scientists don t consider them to be alive. Yet, as soon as they enter their host, viruses spring into activity in ways rarely seen in nature, hacking cells with new genetic instructions to replicate at dizzying speed. Ed Rybicki, a virologist at the University of Cape Town, said viruses were “as much a concept as a thing”. “I consider viruses to be alive, because when they are in a cell, they ARE the cell,” he told AFP. Shors said that viruses were “metabolically inactive”. “Unless they can enter a warm body and get inside of a cell, viruses are inert,” she said. But once it infects its host, “the entire cellular machinery is entirely devoted to making viral progeny”, said Suttle. “This is the living virus.” – Origins – While their beginnings are uncertain, viruses have left their imprint on nearly all life on Earth, including humans. Around eight percent of the human genome is of viral origin — that is, the remnants of ancient viruses that have infected us, developing species-wide tolerance. But their story begins aeons before humans. “We think that viruses were there at the very beginning,” said Suttle. “Whatever primordial soup gave rise to cellular life, likely gave rise to viral life at the same time.” – Are all viruses bad? – Most viruses come to our attention because they make us sick. Recent years have seen widespread outbreaks of viral infectious diseases, from the coronavirus epidemic today to SARS in the early 2000s and Ebola in western and central Africa. But there are virtuous viruses too. “Nearly all viruses are in fact harmless to humans,” said Rybicki. Indeed, many viruses benefit human health, infecting other organisms that would otherwise do us harm. Another benefit: the carbon uptake of ocean algae, which helps purify the air we breathe, is greatly accelerated by viruses. And they have widespread healthcare applications. Besides vaccines derived from weakened viruses, an emerging area of treatment known as virology is developing new ways to treat chronic diseases such as cancer. “These viruses replicate in cancer cells but not healthy cells, so this treatment is not as toxic as classic cancer therapies,” said Shors. For Rybicki, who has spent most of his professional life trying to unlock their secrets, the most remarkable thing about viruses is how many more mysteries they still hold. “They are the most diverse organisms on our planet, and there are more of them than anything else — and we still know hardly anything about them.”
Amazon and Facebook are encouraging their employees in Seattle to stay home after workers for each company tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Amazon (AMZN) revealed earlier this week that one of its Seattle-based employees has been diagnosed with the virus. On Wednesday, Facebook said a contractor who works at one of its offices in Seattle had tested positive. Facebook (FB) has closed the facility, which the worker last visited on February 21, for the rest of this week. "We ve notified our employees and are following the advice of public health officials to prioritize everyone s health and safety," Facebook said in a statement. Both tech giants are encouraging employees in the Seattle area to work from home through the end of the month. "We are recommending that employees in Seattle [and] Bellevue who are able to work from home do so through the end of the month," an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. Google has also recommended that employees in its Washington offices work from home, if their positions allow for it, a spokesperson for the company confirmed to CNN Business on Thursday. The coronavirus outbreak has killed 11 people in the United States, the vast majority in Washington state, and sickened more than 100 people. There are more than 94,000 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide, and nearly 3,300 deaths, mostly in China. According to an email sent to staff, the Amazon employee infected with the coronavirus became ill on February 25 and has not been back to work since then. Amazon, which is based in Seattle, said it has directly notified all coworkers who had been in close contact with the patient. The worker was based at the downtown office building the company refers to as Amazon Brazil, according to the email. An Amazon spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the email to CNN earlier this week, adding, "We re supporting the affected employee."
Scientists say they have used the gene editing tool CRISPR inside someone s body for the first time, a new frontier for efforts to operate on DNA, the chemical code of life, to treat diseases. A patient recently had it done at the Casey Eye Institute at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland for an inherited form of blindness, the companies that make the treatment announced Wednesday. They would not give details on the patient or when the surgery occurred. It may take up to a month to see if it worked to restore vision. If the first few attempts seem safe, doctors plan to test it on 18 children and adults. “We literally have the potential to take people who are essentially blind and make them see,” said Charles Albright, chief scientific officer at Editas Medicine, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company developing the treatment with Dublin-based Allergan. “We think it could open up a whole new set of medicines to go in and change your DNA.” Dr. Jason Comander, an eye surgeon at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston, another hospital that plans to enroll patients in the study, said it marks “a new era in medicine” using a technology that “makes editing DNA much easier and much more effective.” Doctors first tried in-the-body gene editing in 2017 for a different inherited disease using a tool called zinc fingers. Many scientists believe CRISPR is a much easier tool for locating and cutting DNA at a specific spot, so interest in the new research is very high. The people in this study have Leber congenital amaurosis, caused by a gene mutation that keeps the body from making a protein needed to convert light into signals to the brain, which enables sight. They re often born with little vision and can lose even that within a few years. Scientists can t treat it with standard gene therapy — supplying a replacement gene — because the one needed is too big to fit inside the disabled viruses that are used to ferry it into cells. So they re aiming to edit, or delete the mutation by making two cuts on either side of it. The hope is that the ends of DNA will reconnect and allow the gene to work as it should. It s done in an hour-long surgery under general anesthesia. Through a tube the width of a hair, doctors drip three drops of fluid containing the gene editing machinery just beneath the retina, the lining at the back of the eye that contains the light-sensing cells. “Once the cell is edited, it s permanent and that cell will persist hopefully for the life of the patient,” because these cells don t divide, said one study leader not involved in this first case, Dr. Eric Pierce at Massachusetts Eye and Ear. Doctors think they need to fix one tenth to one third of the cells to restore vision. In animal tests, scientists were able to correct half of the cells with the treatment, Albright said. The eye surgery itself poses little risk, doctors say. Infections and bleeding are relatively rare complications. One of the biggest potential risks from gene editing is that CRISPR could make unintended changes in other genes, but the companies have done a lot to minimize that and to ensure that the treatment cuts only where it s intended to, Pierce said. He has consulted for Editas and helped test a gene therapy, Luxturna, that s sold for a different type of inherited blindness. Some independent experts were optimistic about the new study. “The gene editing approach is really exciting. We need technology that will be able to deal with problems like these large genes,” said Dr. Jean Bennett, a University of Pennsylvania researcher who helped test Luxturna at the Children s Hospital of Philadelphia. In one day, she had three calls from families seeking solutions to inherited blindness. “It s a terrible disease,” she said. “Right now they have nothing.” Dr. Kiran Musunuru, another gene editing expert at the University of Pennsylvania, said the treatment seems likely to work, based on tests in human tissue, mice and monkeys. The gene editing tool stays in the eye and does not travel to other parts of the body, so “if something goes wrong, the chance of harm is very small,” he said. “It makes for a good first step for doing gene editing in the body.” Although the new study is the first to use CRISPR to edit a gene inside the body, another company, Sangamo Therapeutics, has been testing zinc finger gene editing to treat metabolic diseases. Other scientists are using CRISPR to edit cells outside the body to try to treat cancer, sickle cell and some other diseases. All of these studies have been done in the open, with government regulators approval, unlike a Chinese scientist s work that brought international scorn in 2018. He Jiankui used CRISPR to edit embryos at the time of conception to try to make them resistant to infection with the AIDS virus. Changes to embryos DNA can pass to future generations, unlike the work being done now in adults to treat diseases.
Australian scientists are developing a satellite that can better identify where bushfires might start. The small spacecraft would carry infrared detectors specifically tuned to the country s dominant vegetation - in particular to its widespread eucalypt trees and shrubs. The satellite s data will be used to help assess the "fuel load" and moisture content of forests. Authorities could then take the necessary action to mitigate any risks. The 2019/2020 fire season was a record-breaker. Hot, dry weather and an abundant forest floor "litter layer" made for perfect ignition conditions. Flames ripped through more than 20% of the nation s temperate woodlands. Australia fires were far worse than any prediction A visual guide to Australia s bushfire crisis Australia s NSW launches inquiry into bushfires Australian researchers already use satellites to investigate fire potential. The camera on Europe s Sentinel-2 spacecraft, for example, has shortwave infrared channels that are very good at checking on the state of vegetation. But a group led from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra believes a bespoke mission could provide more accurate and more relevant information. At the core of the team s system would be new sensors that were originally developed for astronomy. These high-speed detectors could delineate reflected light into the very fine bands that are most characteristic of the properties of eucalypt species. "We re trying to detect small changes in the spectral signatures of the trees," explained Dr Marta Yebra, an InSpace Mission Specialist from the Fenner School of Environment and Society. "So we might look for structural changes such as changes in the number of leaves in the canopy; changes in the lignin content; changes in the water content. All this is related to the conditions that affect the amount of fuel available to fires." Prof Rob Sharp is an instrument scientist at the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics. He said the infrared detectors came out of R&D work for an upcoming super-telescope known as the Giant Magellan Telescope. He recalled: "We were also planning a small space telescope to go on the space station to do astronomy because that s what we understand. And then as the wheels started to turn we sort of realised, well, if we can do astronomy with it, what happens if we turn it round to look at the ground?" "There are really interesting applications in the infrared for not only the bushfire work but for agricultural monitoring; and also mineralogical surveys, which is a big deal here in Australia." The ANU team says it will take a couple of years to build, test and launch the spacecraft. It would be suitcase-sized and have a resolution on the ground of about 10m. Ultimately, the researchers would like to see a constellation of small spacecraft. This would bring "eyes overhead" more frequently. The country is currently beefing up its space activities. In July 2018, it took the decision to set up a national space agency.
Tesco is issuing new cards to 600,000 Clubcard account holders after unearthing a security issue. The supermarket giant said it believed a database of stolen usernames and passwords from other platforms had been tried out on its websites, and may have worked in some cases. No financial data was accessed and its systems have not been hacked, it added. It said this was a precautionary measure and apologised for the inconvenience. "We are aware of some fraudulent activity around the redemption of a small proportion of our customers Clubcard vouchers," a Tesco spokesperson said. "Our internal systems picked this up quickly and we immediately took steps to protect our customers and restrict access to their accounts." The supermarket said it had emailed everybody potentially affected, that nobody would lose their points and new vouchers would also be issued. How do companies use my reward card data? Tesco Clubcard changes anger customers One of those who received an email was Josh, who works in IT. "The email was very ambiguous," he said. "I thought it was because I d just used a new bank card. I didn t realise it was actually my account details that could have been compromised. "It worried me - I feel better now it s been clarified." Others responded in good humour on social media, questioning how much their points would actually be worth to a hacker. The UK loyalty scheme offers one point for every pound spent in store. Every 100 points are worth £1. The BBC understands about 19 million people have a Clubcard account. Jake Moore, cyber-security specialist at the firm Eset, told the BBC plenty of people still use simple passwords or similar log-ins for many different platforms. "Cyber-criminals can do a lot of damage with a large breached list simply containing names and emails or other trivial data," he said. "The big risk is via brute force attacking the accounts where criminals use leaked common password combinations against the emails to try to break into other personal accounts." Mr Moore suggested using password managers to generate and store uniquely different passwords, and two factor authentication where possible - in which a text message or email code is required as well as the password.
Egypt has announced an ambitious plan to expand mangrove forests by launching the largest mangrove planting project along the Red Sea, according to Sayyed Khalifa, director of the mangrove forestry project in the Governorate. The project is funded by the Ministry of Scientific Research, in cooperation with the ministries of Agriculture and Environment and the Red Sea Governorate, he said. The project comes as part of efforts to address the risks brought on by climate change, according to Khalifa. Khalifa added in a press statement on Thursday that the project also comes as part of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi s directives to expand environmental tourism projects and take advantage of natural reserves. Four plant nurseries have been established for mangrove trees in the Safaga, Hamata, and Shalateen areas of the Red Sea Governorate, as well as the Nabaq nature reserve in South Sinai. The nurseries have been built on a total area of 500 feddans and are set to produce 300,000 seedlings a year, according to Khalifa. Khalifa stressed that the project is one of a number of initiatives from the ministries to contribute to achieving sustainable development and reduce the negative impact of climate change in the country, especially in promising tourist areas like the Red Sea, where luxury resorts and world-class diving opportunities remain an important draw for foreign travelers. Khalifa explained that mangrove forests are critical for bees, which, as pollinators, play an important role in the ecosystem by supporting the growth of trees, flowers, and other plants. He went on to say that the establishment of apiaries in mangrove forests would also provide job opportunities and contribute to producing high-quality honey. Expansion of mangrove planting on the Red Sea coast aims to maximize economic, environmental and tourism returns through scientific research, which is also part of the ambitious plans of the state in further developing beaches and achieving sustainable development, according to Khalifa. Khalifa said that the expansion of the project should turn the Red Sea coast region into one of the most important tourist and environmental destinations in Egypt. The project will also contribute to improving the living conditions of local fishermen and workers, he added. He argued that the project will protect beaches from erosion resulting from rising sea levels, commenting as well that mangrove trees are home to birds and other animals, and help to reduce the excess salinity of the surrounding area. Mangrove trees are also linked with the growth of other organisms such as seaweed and coral reefs and play an important role in maintaining environmental stability and balance in the local ecosystem, Khalifa said. Mangroves are salt tolerant trees and shrubs that grow in the inter-tidal areas of tropical and subtropical coastlines. They can also adapt to grow in low-oxygen areas and in places where freshwater mixes with seawater. While most live in muddy soil, mangroves can also grow on coral rock or sand.
An Apple employee who died after his Tesla car hit a concrete barrier was playing a video game at the time of the crash, investigators believe. The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the car had been driving semi-autonomously using Tesla s Autopilot software. Tesla instructs drivers to keep their hands on the wheel in Autopilot mode. But the NTSB said more crashes were foreseeable if Tesla did not implement changes to its Autopilot system. The authority has published the results of a two-year investigation, following the crash in March 2018. Tesla s Autopilot software steered the vehicle into the triangular "gore area" at a motorway intersection, and accelerated into a concrete barrier. The front of the Tesla separated from the rear, causing two other drivers to crash. The Tesla driver, 38-year-old Walter Huang, was taken to hospital but died of his injuries. The other drivers survived. The NTSB said: The Tesla driver had not taken control of the car because he had been distracted by a smartphone video game The Tesla s collision avoidance system was "not designed to detect the crash [barrier]" Tesla s Autopilot system did not "provide an effective means of monitoring the driver s engagement" The use of Tesla s Autopilot software has been implicated in several crashes. The system lets the car operate semi-autonomously, changing lanes and adjusting its speed. But critics say the "Autopilot" branding makes some drivers think the car is driving fully autonomously. The NTSB said the driver had been "over-reliant" on the software. Tesla does instruct drivers to keep their hands on the wheel when using Autopilot, and an audible warning sounds if they fail to do so. But the NTSB said "monitoring of driver-applied steering wheel torque is an ineffective surrogate measure of driver engagement". "If Tesla does not incorporate system safeguards that limit the use of the Autopilot system to those conditions for which it was designed, continued use of the system beyond its operational design domain is foreseeable and the risk for future crashes will remain," it said. Recommendations The NTSB ended its report with several recommendations including: improving collision avoidance systems to include common obstacles such as traffic barriers evaluating Tesla s Autopilot to determine whether the ability to operate it "outside the intended operational design" posed an unreasonable risk to safety preventing automation complacency in drivers requiring all new passenger vehicles with semi-autonomous features to be equipped with a driver monitoring system that meets new standards It also suggested smartphone manufacturers should develop a "distracted driving lockout mechanism" to "disable any driver-distracting functions when a vehicle is in motion but that allows the device to be used in an emergency". And it urged Apple to "implement a company policy that bans the non-emergency use of portable electronic devices while driving by all employees and contractors". The NTSB also found a impact-absorbing crash barrier hit by the Tesla had been "in a damaged and non-operational condition at the time of the collision". It said the California Highway Patrol had failed to report damage following a previous crash and it was "likely" the Tesla driver would have survived the crash if the barrier had been replaced.
For decades, many of the biggest names in tech have leaned on a little-known law to avoid being held responsible for some of the most controversial content on their platforms. The companies have invoked this federal law, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, in one court case after another to dismiss potentially costly lawsuits over messages, videos and other content created by users. But now, big changes could be coming to Section 230 that might expose Facebook (FB), YouTube and others to more lawsuits over hate speech and misinformation for the first time in their histories. If it happens, there could be sweeping repercussions for the internet platforms millions of people use every day. As social media sites have become hotbeds of hateful, misleading and dangerous content, an increasingly vocal group of critics from government and civil society are pushing for changes to the law. Congress and the Justice Department are now studying the issue: A draft bill by Sen. Lindsey Graham as well as legislation introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley promise to dramatically reshape Section 230, and the DOJ last week held a public workshop to debate the matter. The push to rethink the law could become the latest flash point between Silicon Valley and the Trump administration. Together with state attorneys general, news publishers and online safety activists, Attorney General William Barr has elevated a campaign to weaken, if not repeal, the law, which dates back to 1996, years before companies like Facebook, Google (GOOGL) and their peers were founded. The proposals challenge the deeply held conviction in Silicon Valley that social media companies are just neutral platforms and conduits for information. And they could vastly expand the companies legal exposure, not only to federal prosecution but potentially state and private lawsuits. "No longer are tech companies the underdog upstarts," Barr said at last week s Justice Department workshop. "They have become titans of US industry. Given this change in the technology landscape, valid questions have been raised as to whether Section 230 s broad immunity is still necessary, at least in its current form." "The 26 words that created the internet" The original intent behind Section 230 was to nurture startups and entrepreneurs. One of its key architects, Sen. Ron Wyden, said as recently as last year that without the law, "all online media would face an onslaught of bad-faith lawsuits and pressure campaigns from the powerful." He s also said Section 230 encourages websites to remove objectionable content by creating a "good Samaritan" expectation: Under the law, tech companies can t be sued for trying to do the right thing, though the federal government can still sue platforms over criminal content. The seemingly simple language of Section 230 belies the sweeping impact it s had on the tech industry. Under Section 230, "interactive computer services" are considered legally separate from the users who generate their content. They can t be said to publish or "speak" the words of their users. In practice, courts have repeatedly accepted Section 230 as a defense against claims of defamation, negligence and other allegations. In the past, it s protected AOL, Craigslist, Google and Yahoo, building up a body of law so broad and influential that Section 230 has come to be described as "the 26 words that created the internet." The Internet Association, a major trade group that represents Amazon (AMZN), Facebook and Google, has called Section 230 a "fundamental pillar" of the modern internet, saying it protects not just tech companies but all groups that offer a space for online communications, including schools, libraries, churches, or neighborhood organizations. "Section 230 enables services that allows internet users to post their own content and engage with the content of others, whether that s friends, family, co-workers, companies posting jobs, someone posting an apartment for rent, fellow gamers, or complete strangers from the other side of the globe with a shared experience or interest," the association wrote to Barr in a letter last week. But the immense scrutiny facing Big Tech — on everything from election security to privacy — has created a ripe political environment for questioning Silicon Valley s most important legal shield. Are tech companies doing enough? At last weeks workshop, experts clashed over how much legal responsibility tech companies should bear for hosting malicious content created by its users. Social media companies say they re improving their ability to detect and take down content that violates their policies. "Section 230 protects the good actors who are cutting off the bad actors," Matt Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, a trade group that represents many large tech companies, said at Wednesday s DOJ event. Without the law s good Samaritan protections, the industry argues, much of that good-faith moderation might end. Weakening Section 230 could also force websites to vet every piece of content created by their users before it goes online, according to defenders of the law — a task that only large and already powerful players like Facebook may be able to afford. Smaller, competing innovators that could break the grip of Google and Facebook might be snuffed out, said Patrick Carome, a lawyer who has represented tech companies in cases involving Section 230, at last week s event. But critics accuse tech companies of abusing their legal immunity to turn a blind eye to some of the worst content on the internet. These critics allege that powerful online platforms allow harmful material to stay online because it drives engagement — and profit. "Their financial incentives in content distribution may not always align with what is best for the user," Barr said at the event. To help drive the message home, the Justice Department has turned to child abuse experts who say companies like Facebook must bear responsibility for the child pornography and sexual predators that lurk on its platform. Facebook said it took action against more than 24 million pieces of child exploitative content last year. Most of it, the company has said, was caught automatically by Facebook s filters and that "we remove much of this content before people see it." Despite those successes, child sexual abuse content is still a widespread problem, said Yiota Souras, general counsel for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, at Wednesday s event. Last year, the non-profit group received about 17 million reports of online child exploitation, including over 15 million linked to Facebook, nearly half a million concerning Google and tens of thousands related to Microsoft, Imgur and Snapchat, among others. One proposal backed by state attorneys general would amend Section 230 by giving them the power to sue platforms for hosting child abuse material, just like the federal government can. "We ll clean up your industry, instead of waiting for your industry to clean up itself," said Doug Peterson, Nebraska s attorney general, at the DOJ workshop. A fierce debate heats up over the future of the internet The Section 230 debate is tied to another politically charged tech issue: encryption, the technology that secures many everyday transactions ranging from iMessages to credit card swipes to sensitive business and government databases. Souras said online child exploitation will only get worse if Facebook moves ahead with plans to encrypt all messages on its platforms, scrambling their contents so that not even the company knows what child abusers may be saying — and to whom — in private. The thought of bad actors "going dark" has long been a fear of the FBI, which has asked companies like Apple for help decrypting the secure data of criminal suspects. But Apple and the tech industry have resisted. They ve argued that giving the authorities a special way to tap into encrypted communications will encourage hackers and foreign adversaries to exploit the same tool. If that happens, it could ultimately weaken digital security for millions of Americans. Some legal experts worry the Trump administration s push to impose new rules on tech companies could lead to broad expansions of government power. Those perceptions were reinforced earlier this month when Sen. Graham s draft bill on Section 230 began circulating around Washington. The bill seeks to withhold Section 230 s legal protections from tech companies unless they agree to implement "best practices" that would be designed by a commission and ultimately approved by the attorney general. Technology and legal experts slammed the bill, saying it would give Barr a blank check to write his own regulations designed to weaken encryption, expand domestic surveillance, and force tech companies to undermine user security using the threat of lawsuits. In other words, the deep, longstanding divide over encryption between tech and government may be driving some of the recent conversation around content policy. "Barr is cynically exploiting [child sexual abuse material] as a pretext for attacking the privacy of law-abiding Americans who would benefit from having secure communications tools," said Berin Szoka, president of the Washington-based think tank TechFreedom.
I always tell my friends who are subjected to verbal intimidation by some Islamists that they should not be angry with these insults, but rather to be happy because these insults indicate that our words are actually making some change. I find 3 kinds of those rude religious people: First, the negligent rabble and they know nothing about Islam and are used by the political Islam leaders to intimidate the opposition