Facebook removing sexism and hate speech posts - but finding it difficult

Getting rid of racist, sexist and other hateful remarks on Facebook is more challenging than weeding out other types of unacceptable posts because computer programs still stumble over the nuances of human language, the company revealed overnight NZT.

Facebook also released statistics that quantified how pervasive fake accounts have become on its influential service, despite a long-standing policy requiring people to set up accounts under their real-life identities.

From October to December alone, Facebook disabled nearly 1.3 billion accounts - and that doesn't even count all the times the company blocked bogus profiles before they could be set up.

Had the company not shut down all those fake accounts, its audience of monthly users would have swelled beyond its current 2.2 billion and probably created more potentially offensive material for Facebook to weed out.

Facebook's self-assessment showed its screening system is far better at scrubbing graphic violence, gratuitous nudity and terrorist propaganda. Automated tools detected 86 percent to 99.5 percent of the violations Facebook identified in those categories.

For hate speech, Facebook's human reviewers and computer algorithms identified just 38 percent of the violations. The rest came after Facebook users flagged the offending content for review.

All told, Facebook took action on nearly 1.6 billion pieces of content during the six months ending in March, a tiny fraction of all the activity on its social network, according to the company.

The report marked Facebook's first breakdown on how much material it removes for violating its policies. It didn't disclose how long it takes Facebook to remove material violating its standards. The report also doesn't cover how much inappropriate content Facebook missed.

"Even if they remove 100 million posts that are offensive, there will be one or two that have some really bad stuff and those will be the ones everyone winds up talking about on the cable-TV news," said Timothy Carone, who teaches about technology at the University of Notre Dame.

The report also doesn't address how Facebook is tacking another vexing issue - the proliferation of fake news stories planted by Russian agents and other fabricators trying to sway elections and public opinion.

Fake accounts on Facebook have been drawing more attention because Russian agents used them to buy ads to try to influence the 2016 election in the U.S.

Even though it has been focusing on shutting down bogus accounts, Facebook has said that 3 to 4 percent of its active monthly users are fake. That means as many as 88 million fake Facebook accounts were still slipping through the cracks in the company's policing system through March.

It's not surprising that Facebook's automated programs have the greatest difficulty trying to figure out differences between permissible opinions and despicable language that crosses the line, Carone said.

"It's like trying to figure out the equivalent between screaming 'Fire!' in a crowded theater when there is none and the equivalent of saying something that is uncomfortable but qualifies as free speech," he said.

Facebook said it removed 2.5 million pieces of content deemed unacceptable hate speech during the first three months of this year, up from 1.6 million during the previous quarter. The company credited better detection, even as it said computer programs have trouble understanding context and tone of language.

Facebook took down 3.4 million pieces of graphic violence during the first three months of this year, nearly triple the 1.2 million during the previous three months. In this case, better detection was only part of the reason. Facebook said users were more aggressively posting images of violence in places like war-torn Syria.

The increased transparency comes as the Menlo Park, California, company tries to make amends for a privacy scandal triggered by loose policies that allowed a data-mining company with ties to President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign to harvest personal information on as many as 87 million users.

The content screening has nothing to do with privacy protection, though, and is aimed at maintaining a family-friendly atmosphere for users and advertisers.

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Hopes for Brexit deal foiled by Irish border issue

Only two days ahead of a summit once seen as the moment when Britain and the European Union would have to reach a Brexit deal, both sides are still refusing to blink over the question of the Irish border.

European Union Source: 1 NEWS

A flurry of diplomatic meetings over the weekend had raised hopes for an agreement on Britain's divorce from the bloc. But they were disappointed by the issue that has dogged the talks for months — how to ensure that no hard border is created between the EU's Ireland and Britain's Northern Ireland once Brexit happens on March 29.

The EU has proposed keeping Northern Ireland in a customs union to avoid a hard border between it and Ireland. Yet fears are that such a border could revive tensions between Northern Ireland's pro-Irish Catholic community and its pro-U.K. Protestant one. Decades ago, over 3,700 people were killed in Northern Ireland amid 30 years of violence between the two groups and Britain, which ended with a 1998 peace deal.

Britain says it will only accept that EU Brexit plan if it is temporary and does not hive Northern Ireland off permanently from the rest of the U.K. in terms of customs arrangements.

British Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman James Slack said Monday that negotiations are stuck because the EU "continues to insist on the possibility of a customs border down the Irish Sea." Britain feels that move will effectively split up the U.K., which is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The acrimony means it is almost impossible that EU leaders will reach a deal at their summit, which begins Wednesday. The British and EU parliaments need to approve any deal, a process that could take months ahead of Britain's official exit on March 29.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, perhaps the strongest voice in the EU, insisted that May should not count on the EU to blink first for fear of losing valuable business. Merkel said Germany wants an orderly departure of Britain from the bloc "but not at any price."

EU negotiators and leaders have said that Britain should not seek to cherry-pick the best parts of staying in the EU and leave the tough parts out in its withdrawal agreement and future relations.

"We must not allow our single market, which is really our competitive advantage, to be destroyed by such a withdrawal," Merkel said told Germany's main exporters' association. "And if it doesn't work out this week, we must continue negotiating, that is clear — but time is pressing."

Britain refuses to be pinned down on a date for a fixed Brexit deal.

"Whether we do (it) this week or not, who knows?" British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told reporters in Luxembourg, where EU foreign ministers are meeting.

If Britain leaves the EU without an agreement on future relations, there could be chaos — tariffs would go up on trade, airlines could no longer have permits to fly between the two regions, and freight could be lined up for miles at border crossings as customs checks are restored overnight.

To avoid this, the prospect of an extra EU meeting in November was raised, but only if there was decisive progress this week.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney admitted to being "frustrated" by the delay, saying that apart from Britain, Ireland is the country with most to lose from Brexit.

Coveney suggested that May is reneging on part of Britain's commitment to ensure that no hard border involving lengthy customs checks and controls emerges on the Irish island.

He said Britain agreed in December and again in March that an unpopular EU "backstop" guarantee would remain in place until a better solution is found, but now appears to only want it used for a limited time.

"A backstop cannot be time-limited. That's new. It hasn't been there before," he said. "Nobody wants to ever trigger the backstop, but it needs to be there as an insurance mechanism to calm nerves that we're not going to see physical border infrastructure re-emerging."

Britain denied it is reneging on its December commitment to avoid a hard Irish border.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, meanwhile, said he foresees no Brexit problems between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar, the British territory on the border of Spain.

"It's not a rock in the way," Borrell said, referring to Gibraltar's nickname. He added the Irish border problem is "more difficult to solve than Gibraltar."

May is under intense pressure from her Conservative Party and its parliamentary allies not to give any more ground in Brexit negotiations, especially on the border issue. May's political allies in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party, stand ready to scuttle a Brexit deal over the Irish border issue.

DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said "it is probably inevitable that we will end up with a no-deal scenario" over Brexit because he felt was no Brexit agreement that would be accepted by Britain's Parliament.


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Turkey says joint 'inspection' planned at Saudi consulate

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are expected to conduct a joint "inspection" of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing nearly two weeks ago, Turkish authorities said.

The US President said he would inflict severe punishment if the kingdom was found responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s death.
Source: Breakfast

The announcement from an official at Turkey's Foreign Ministry comes as international concern continues to grow over the writer's disappearance. American lawmakers have threatened tough punitive action against the Saudis, and Germany, France and Britain have jointly called for a "credible investigation" into Khashoggi's disappearance.

The Foreign Ministry official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations. Officials in Saudi Arabia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Turkish officials have said they fear a Saudi hit team that flew into and out of Turkey on Oct. 2 killed and dismembered Khashoggi, who had written Washington Post columns critically of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The kingdom has called such allegations "baseless" but has not offered any evidence Khashoggi ever left the consulate.

Such a search would be an extraordinary development, as embassies and consulates under the Vienna Convention are technically foreign soil. Saudi Arabia may have agreed to the search in order to appease its Western allies and the international community.

However, it remained unclear what evidence, if any, would remain nearly two weeks after Khashoggi's disappearance. As if to drive the point home, a cleaning crew with mops, trash bags and cartons of milk walked in past journalists waiting outside the consulate on Monday.

President Donald Trump has said Saudi Arabia could face "severe punishment" if it was proven it was involved in Khashoggi's disappearance. Trump tweeted Monday that he had spoken with Saudi King Salman, "who denies any knowledge" of what happened to Khashoggi.

"He said that they are working closely with Turkey to find answer," Trump wrote. "I am immediately sending our Secretary of State (Mike Pompeo) to meet with King!"

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia warned that if it "receives any action, it will respond with greater action, and that the kingdom's economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy."

"The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures or repeating false accusations," said the statement, carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

The statement did not elaborate. However, a column published in English a short time later by the general manager of the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya satellite news network suggested Saudi Arabia could use its oil production as a weapon. Benchmark Brent crude is trading at around $80 a barrel, and Trump has criticized OPEC and Saudi Arabia over rising prices.

Saudi media followed on from that statement in television broadcasts and newspaper front pages Monday.

The Arabic-language daily Okaz wrote a headline on Monday in English warning: "Don't Test Our Patience." It showed a clenched fist made of a crowd of people in the country's green color.

The Saudi Gazette trumpeted: "Enough Is Enough," while the Arab News said: "Saudi Arabia 'will not be bullied'."

The Arab News' headline was above a front-page editorial by Dubai-based real-estate tycoon Khalaf al-Habtoor, calling on Gulf Arab nations to boycott international firms now backing out of a planned economic summit in Riyadh later this month.

"Together we must prove we will not be bullied or else, mark my words, once they have finished kicking the kingdom, we will be next in line," al-Habtoor said.

Already, international business leaders are pulling out of the kingdom's upcoming investment forum, a high-profile event known as "Davos in the Desert," though it has no association with the World Economic Forum. They include the CEO of Uber, a company in which Saudi Arabia has invested billions of dollars; billionaire Richard Branson; JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Jamie Dimon; and Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford.

News that the CEO of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi, would pull out of the conference drew angry responses across the region. The foreign minister of the neighboring island kingdom of Bahrain, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, tweeted Sunday night that there should be a boycott of the ride-hailing app both there and in Saudi Arabia.

Late Sunday, Saudi King Salman spoke by telephone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about Khashoggi. Turkey said Erdogan "stressed the forming of a joint working group to probe the case." Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, said King Salman thanked Erdogan "for welcoming the kingdom's proposal" for forming the working group.

The king said Turkey and Saudi Arabia enjoy close relations and "that no one will get to undermine the strength of this relationship," according to a statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency. While Turkey and the kingdom differ on political issues, Saudi investments are a crucial lifeline for Ankara amid trouble with its national currency, the Turkish lira.

Prince Mohammed, King Salman's son, has aggressively pitched the kingdom as a destination for foreign investment. But Khashoggi's disappearance has led several business leaders and media outlets to back out of the upcoming investment conference in Riyadh, called the Future Investment Initiative.

The Saudi stock exchange, only months earlier viewed as a darling of frontier investors, plunged as much as 7 percent at one point Sunday before closing down over 4 percent. On Monday, Riyadh's Tadawul exchange closed up 4 percent.

Concerns appeared to spread Monday to Japan's SoftBank, which has invested tens of billions of dollars of Saudi government funds. SoftBank was down over 7 percent in trading on Tokyo's stock exchange.

Khashoggi has written extensively for the Post about Saudi Arabia, criticizing its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women's rights activists after the lifting of a ban on women driving. Those policies are all seen as initiatives of the crown prince.


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Trump says Saudi king denies knowledge of missing journalist

President Donald Trump said on Monday (Tuesday NZ Time) he has spoken with Saudi Arabia's king, who "denies any knowledge" of what happened to the Saudi journalist who disappeared after entering the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul last week. Trump said he is dispatching Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the region.

Donald Trump and Saudi King Salman. Source: Associated Press

Trump has been under pressure to take action on the suspected murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who has been living and writing in the United States, including columns critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Turkish officials say that they believe Saudi agents killed and dismembered Khashoggi after he entered the consulate and that Turkey has audio and video recordings of it.

The kingdom has called the allegations "baseless" but has offered no evidence the writer left the consulate.

On Monday (local time), Trump tweeted that he "just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened 'to our Saudi Arabian citizen.' He said that they are working closely with Turkey to find answers. I am immediately sending our Secretary of State to meet with King!"

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow declined to speculate on what Trump might do after the president promised "severe punishment" in a "60 Minutes" interview if the U.S. determines that Khashoggi was indeed killed inside the Saudi consulate.

Saudi Arabia has pledged to economically retaliate for any U.S. punitive action.

Trump has said repeatedly he does not want to halt a proposed $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia — as some in Congress have suggested — because it would harm the U.S. economically.

"We will take stern action with the Saudis if necessary," Kudlow said. "The United States is the dominant energy player so we're in pretty good shape, in my opinion, with our energy boom to cover any shortfalls. We'll wait and see, but rest assured that when the president says we will take actions if we find out bad outcomes, he means it."

Kudlow said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would be attending a previously scheduled Saudi conference this week to address terrorist financing but those plans could change as details of the investigation become available.

Sens. Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake, members of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Congress is prepared to move quickly and firmly if Trump fails to adequately respond to the Oct. 2 disappearance of Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor. Rubio said U.S.-Saudi relations may need to be "completely revised" and stressed the U.S. would lose credibility on human rights if the Trump administration remained silent.

He also said Mnuchin should skip the Saudi conference.

"I don't think any of our government officials should be going and pretending it's business as usual until we know what's happened here," said Rubio, R-Fla.

Rubio declined to rule out a halt to the arms sales, stressing that the U.S. must send a message to repressive governments worldwide.

"There's not enough money in the world for us to buy back our credibility on human rights if we do not move forward and take swift action," Rubio said. "Arms sales are important not because of the money but because it also provides leverage over their future behavior."

Flake said if the Saudis did, in fact, kill Khashoggi, Congress might specifically curtail U.S. military aid to Saudi-led forces in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of Gulf states in a military campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The U.S. provides weaponry, intelligence and logistical support for the bombing campaign.

"I do think that arms sales will be affected. Certainly our involvement in Yemen with Saudi Arabia will be affected," said Flake, R-Ariz.

More than 20 Republican and Democratic senators instructed Trump last week to order an investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance under legislation that authorizes sanctions for perpetrators of extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross human rights violations. The writer had been living in self-exile in Virginia for the past year. The lawmakers' letter was a preliminary step under the Global Magnitsky Act toward taking punitive action.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has reviewed the U.S. intelligence into what happened to Khashoggi, has said, "The likelihood is he was killed on the day he walked into the consulate."

Trump visited the kingdom on his first overseas trip as president and has touted U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia.


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Duke and Duchess of Sussex announce they're expecting their first baby

Kensington Palace says Prince Harry and his wife the Duchess of Sussex are expecting a child in autumn next year.

The palace says the couple has "appreciated all of the support they have received from people around the world since their wedding in May and are delighted to be able to share this happy news with the public."

The announcement Monday comes as Harry and the former Meghan Markle arrived in Sydney at the start of a 16-day visit to Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand.

The trip officially begins on Tuesday and will see the couple watch the Invictus Games, visit a Sydney zoo and visit the rural Flying Doctor service.

The royals touched down this morning in Sydney, part of their first tour as a married couple. Source: Associated Press

Meghan Markle and husband Prince Harry took a trip to the English county.
Source: BBC


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