July 9, 2020

The Great Firewall of Censorship, Big Tech & Business vs. Civil Rights

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The Great Firewall of Censorship, Big Tech & Business vs. Civil Rights

In this week’s episode, we talk about big tech companies and their participation, both good and bad, in the fight for civil rights around the world. 

As Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Zoom all announce intentions to stop complying with orders to hand over data to the Chinese government. A move that is said will almost guarantee they be blocked from use by Chinese citizens.

All the while on North American shores, Facebook fails its first-ever civil rights audit conducted by lawyers and civil rights experts.

And lastly, in the news that has me genuinely dumbfounded, the lines between government and religion continue to blur in the United States as the Supreme Court Rules to let religious employers deny workers birth control.

All this and a little bit more this week in the news, welcome to Future Lens Today.

Facebook Just Failed Its First-Ever Civil Rights Audit

Facebook has faced criticism from civil rights groups for years for the company’s inability to deal with hate speech and misinformation targeting minorities and religious groups. But a recent Civil Rights audit is the first time the scale of the problem facing CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been laid bare for everyone to see.

The audit was conducted by lawyers and civil rights experts, and their 100-page report describes a “seesaw of progress and setbacks” at Facebook, on everything from bias in the company’s algorithms to its content moderation.

In recent months, Zuckerberg has championed free speech on his network rather than focusing on protecting minority groups. His support of free expression was most clearly seen in his decision not to take down or flag incendiary comments from Trump, who threatened Black Lives Matter protesters in a Facebook post.

Facebook said at the time it left the post untouched because it didn’t violate its Violence and Incitement policies, which allow leaders to post about government use of force if the message is intended as a warning.

But rather than creating a level playing field, the result of Zuckerberg’s policies is a two-tier system where ordinary users are treated differently to politicians, a situation that could have dire effects on the outcome of the November election, the auditors warned.

“When it means that powerful politicians do not have to abide by the same rules that everyone else does, a hierarchy of speech is created that privileges certain voices over less powerful voices,” the report says. “Facebook has been far too reluctant to adopt strong rules to limit misinformation and voter suppression. With less than five months before a presidential election, it confounds the auditors as to why Facebook has failed to grasp the urgency.”

While this story continues to unfold, all I can say is that when scrolling infinitely on your favorite social media platforms, play close attention to the news you’re being fed by its algorithms. It may have conditioned you to view the world a specific way and suppressed news that changes your mind on topics supported by the highest-paid ads bidder.

China's Great Firewall of Censorship Is Already Going Up Around Hong Kong

Next up we’re talking China and its great firewall of censorship. This week the government in Hong Kong was granted sweeping powers to censor, block, and erase online content while secretly tracking all of our digital footprints.

It's been less than a week since Beijing’s draconian new national security law came into effect, but already Hong Kong’s online world has been struct hard. With news agency reporting the fact that “China Thinks It Can Arrest Basically Anyone on the planet for Criticizing Communism”.

For ordinary citizens, the new rules have rendered them silent. Social media accounts and WhatsApp groups are being erased, with many fearing that Beijing will use what they say online against them.

Facebook has made the decision to temporarily pause processing government requests for user data, a move it announced Monday alongside other U.S. tech giants like Twitter, Google, and Microsoft.

Apple says it is “assessing” the situation, noting that it doesn’t get requests directly from the Hong Kong government.

The companies have made these decisions in the wake of the national security law that came into force late last Tuesday, just hours after it had first been made public.

While the world is distracted by the impacts of a global Pandemic, the world’s biggest tech giants are picking sides and decisions that impact billions of people on what seems to be a weekly basis.

We’ll be keeping on eye on the news as things continue to change.

The Supreme Court Just Ruled to Let Religious Employers Deny Workers Birth Control

Now for the story that shocked me the most this week, is a story that started In 2017, when the Trump administration issued new rules that allowed private employers with religious and moral objections to avoid covering birth control. This week the supreme court has ruled to let employers deny their workers birth control coverage if they have religious or moral objections.

It’s easy to glaze over the fact that business owners are now allowed to pick and choose what they would like to cover in regards to an individuals health benefits, but the more important matter is that it sets a precedent for anyone who is of a religious group to make these decisions on behalf of their employees. 

It grants a stepping stone for religious groups to make all-encompassing decisions on behalf of the US people.

As a Canadian citizen, all I can imagine while looking towards our neighbors is the late fictional story of the handmaid’s tale and wonder if this is how it all started.

Bonus News

In any case, we have some bonus news pieces this week that I believed to be a nice change of pace to the topics covered.

Robotic lab assistant is 1,000 times faster at conducting research

As researchers have developed what they say is a breakthrough robotic lab assistant, able to move around a laboratory and conduct scientific experiments just like a human. They would be able to operate around the clock, performing experiments up to 1,000 times faster than a human lab assistant.

Andy Cooper, a professor whose lab developed the robot says that “The idea is not to do things we would do faster, but to do bigger, more ambitious things we wouldn’t otherwise try to tackle”.

You can view links to sources, as well as a video of the robot in action on our website.

Novavax: Operation Warp Speed commits $1.6 billion to Covid-19 vaccine maker

And last but not least. Let’s talk about the latest news in regards to the battle against the COVID-19 Pandemic, as "Operation Warp Speed," the federal government's Covid-19 vaccine program comes into effect.  On Tuesday the government announced the largest Covid-19 vaccine contract to date -- a $1.6 billion contract with Novavax, a Maryland biotech company.

"It speaks to the confidence that they have in our platform to be able to develop a vaccine," Stanley Erck, Novavax's president and CEO, said Monday in an interview with CNN.

While it’s best to be prepared to wear masks and social distance for the long-haul, Stanley said Novavax's vaccine could be on the market by the first quarter of next year.

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