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Weekly News Digest for October 8, 2021

Compiled by Trinity Gates, Dinah Gorayeb, Austin Myhre, and Charlotte Smith


North America


Former Employee Testifies against Facebook at Senate Hearing

On Tuesday, Frances Haugen, former data scientist at Facebook and now whistleblower, testified before a Senate subcommittee. In her testimony, she claimed that Facebook’s growth and profit comes at the expense of children, social trust, and democracy. While working at Facebook, Haugen came to the conclusion that the platform disseminated misinformation and foreigners took advantage of it. She also insisted that Facebook consistently prioritized its own growth over reinforcing safeguards, which contributes to public division and more dangerous online interactions.

Haugen also spoke on Facebook-owned Instagram’s alleged negative influence, citing a Facebook study that she leaked. The two separate reports found that 13.5% of teen girls in the United Kingdom indicated more frequent suicidal thoughts after using Instagram and that 17% of teen girls indicated that their eating disorders worsened after using Instagram. Ultimately, the hearing furthered bipartisan support for holding Facebook accountable for its actions.

On the bipartisan nature of this effort, subcommittee Chair Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) has said “If you closed your eyes, you wouldn't know if it was a Republican or a Democrat," because “every part of the country has the harms that are inflicted by Facebook and Instagram." Moreover, both Sen. Blumenthal and Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) proposed letting private citizens sue Facebook and other social media platforms for the harm done by their algorithms.


Asia and the Pacific

Japan to Double Defense Spending

On Friday, Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he was determined to protect Japan's territory and its people in an increasingly tough security environment. Afterward, Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) released a draft of their policy platform, which previews their official election manifesto. Although Japan only spends 1% of its GDP on defense, the draft indicates that the upcoming manifesto will call for a 100% increase in defense spending. The LDP should release its election manifesto ahead of an October 31st general election.


A Record Number of Chinese Warplanes Near Taiwanese Airspace

On Monday, 56 Chinese military planes entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. This sets a single-day record. Taiwan scrambled to deploy missile defense systems to monitor the Chinese planes. Only a day before, the United States publicly urged China to cease its provocative actions. However, China’s foreign ministry countered that the U.S.’s warships in the Taiwan Strait and arms sales to Taiwan are provocative.

China to Invest $3.5 Billion in Pakistani Port Project

After much deliberation, China announced it will proceed with a $3.5 billion port project in the coastal region of Karachi, Pakistan. Pakistan hopes the port will establish Karachi as a key maritime component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. However, critics attacked the plan, which will clear one of the largest slums in the world and relocate upwards of 1 million people. Pakistan maintains that the project will create a new urban economic zone with good housing and stable jobs.


Africa


Abiy Ahmed is Sworn in as Ethiopian Prime Minister

Early this week, Abiy Ahmed was sworn into his second term as Prime Minister in Ethiopia. He was sworn in for a five-year term, previously Ahmed was appointed in 2018 by its coalition government but Ahmed’s party this year won in a landslide in June. Ahmed is facing a lot of criticism on the international level for his handling of the conflict in northern Ethiopia. In addition, Ahmed’s focus is on the economy which is facing high inflation rates, around 20%, and efforts to ease it as best possible alongside President Sahle-Work Zewde.


Malaria Vaccine Receives Support from The World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended the distribution of the world's first malaria vaccine to young children in Sub-Saharan Africa and other at-risk regions. The vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline PLC is a result of three decades of hard work, and endorsement from WHO is the next big step for this vaccine in achieving support through investment and vaccine rollout. There are still major criticisms from those in the health field which include concerns over low efficacy of the vaccine, as well as the complexity and difficulty that the vaccine distribution will face in parts of the world where the vaccine is needed. The vaccine, Mosquirix, could save thousands of lives each year, and prevent severe cases of malaria from occurring in children.


Europe


The EU Diverges from US on COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Rollout

The Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency reached different conclusions on who should receive the third dose of the BioNTech/Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine. The FDA authorized the vaccine as a booster dose for everyone over 65 as well as those over 18 who are at risk of infection with underlying illnesses or are exposed to the virus often. In comparison, the European Medicines Agency authorized a third dose for all people over 18, given that they wait at least 16 months after receiving their second dose.

Marco Cavaleri, the EMA’s head of vaccine strategy, attributes the difference in vaccination policy between the world’s two biggest medicine regulators to complexity in the European ‘vaccine environment.’ While the United States mainly relied on vaccines from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna, Europe also approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. Although not officially authorized in the EU, Europe sees the use of vaccines from Russia and China. Therefore, Calaveri believes that it is better to maintain a broader approach to vaccination and to evaluate what is the most effective for the population at large. Moreover, Calaveri said that the EMA’s decision would allow EU countries to administer the booster vaccines if they decided to do so. Following this decision, at least 10 EU states started providing booster doses.


European Parliament Calls for Ban on Facial Recognition Technology

On Tuesday, the European Parliament called for a ban on the use of facial recognition technology by police as well as predictive policing, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to profile potential criminals. Support in favor of the resolution to ban this technology and practice was overwhelming. The European Parliament also desired a ban on private facial recognition databases such as the company Clearview AI and social scoring systems like the one used in China. The resolution also indicates how the European Parliament will likely vote in the coming negotiations regarding the AI Act, which proposes the restriction of remote biometric identification in public places to fight crimes such as terrorism. The lead negotiator of the AI Act, Brando Benifei, in the European Parliament emphasized the importance of a total ban of facial recognition technology, which contrasts with several EU countries who want to maintain the use of this technology to bolster security.


Latin America and the Caribbean


Anti-Vaccine Residents Attack Nurses in Guatemala

On October 5th, anti-vaccine villagers attacked nurses trying to administer the Covid-19 vaccine in Maguilá, Guatemala. The 11 workers were released after the police negotiated with the villagers, who destroyed approximately 50 Covid-19 vaccine doses. A nurse stated they were “verbally and physically attacked,” and they were “very scared because we had never been through something like this.” According to local media, residents rejected the vaccine after a villager experienced side effects after receiving the vaccine, which was interpreted as health problems. Gabriel Sandoval, the director of the provincial health department, stated “officials had previously encountered communities that rejected vaccination teams,” but it was the first time villagers showed “physical resistance.”

Guatemala has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Latin America. About 2.5 million people, or 25% of the eligible population, were fully vaccinated, although the country has reported 566,000 Covid-19 cases.

Puerto Rico Plans on Installing Free Internet in Public Housings

The government announced on October 6th its plan to offer free, high-speed internet to more than 300 public housing projects across the territory. According to the Public Housing Administrator, Alejandro Salgado, nearly all units will have internet access by the end of 2022 as part of its $11.8 million projects. Salgado continued that the services have already been established in some municipalities, such as Aguada, Arecibo, and Isabela.

Peru’s President Swears in New Prime Minister

On October 6th, President Pedro Castillo swore in Mirtha Vasquez as the new Prime Minister of the country, a left-wing former head of Congress, only hours after her predecessor resigned the post. This choice keeps the President, a member of the Marxist-Leninist party, on the left of the political spectrum, but with a more moderate cabinet. President Castillo announced the resignation of former Prime Minister, Guido Bellido, on Wednesday, stating “instability” in the country. Vasquez, the new Prime Minister, was head of Congress between 2020 and 2021and is known for defending Maxima Acuna, a peasant farmer in a prominent case against Newmont Mining Corp’s Yanacocha goldmine that drew headlines around the world.


Middle East


Iraq Holds Parliamentary Elections

On Friday, Iraq’s parliamentary election started with early voting around the country. This is the fifth election since the United States-led invasion in 2003, which overthrew Saddam Hussein. The election, originally scheduled for 2022, was moved up in response to youth-led pro-democracy protests that began in 2019. However, many voters are expected to stay away due to disdain for widespread corruption.

Of Iraq’s 40 million people, 60 percent are aged 25 and under. Despite the youth-led pro-democracy movement, early projections do not expect voter turnout to rise from the 2018 figure of 44.5 percent. Many still remain optimistic for change following the new electoral law that now divides the parliament into 83 constituencies, an increase from 18. This reform is aimed to weaken traditional political factions based on religion, ethnic, and clan affiliations. It is uncertain whether the reform will be sufficient to break long-standing coalitions, but many argue this is a first step in leveling the playing field.

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