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When Facebook blocks news, studies show the political risks that follow

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Since Meta blocked links to news in Canada last August to avoid paying fees to media companies, right-wing meme producer Jeff Ballingall says he has seen a surge in clicks for his Canada Proud Facebook page.

“Our numbers are growing and we’re reaching more and more people every day,” said Ballingall, who publishes up to 10 posts a day and has some 540,000 followers.

“Media is just going to get more tribal and more niche,” he added. “This is just igniting it further.”

Canada has become ground zero for Facebook’s battle with governments that have enacted or are considering laws that force internet giants – primarily the social media platform’s owner Meta, opens new tab and Alphabet’s, opens new tab Google – to pay media companies for links to news published on their platforms.

Facebook has blocked news sharing in Canada rather than pay, saying news holds no economic value to its business.

It is seen as likely to take a similar step in Australia should Canberra try to enforce its 2021 content licencing law after Facebook said it would not extend the deals it has with news publishers there. Facebook briefly blocked news in Australia ahead of the law.

The blocking of news links has led to profound and disturbing changes in the way Canadian Facebook users engage with information about politics, two unpublished studies shared with Reuters found.

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“The news being talked about in political groups is being replaced by memes,” said Taylor Owen, founding director of McGill University’s Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy, who worked on one of the studies.

“The ambient presence of journalism and true information in our feeds, the signals of reliability that were there, that’s gone.”

The lack of news on the platform and increased user engagement with opinion and non-verified content has the potential to undermine political discourse, particularly in election years, the studies’ researchers say. Both Canada and Australia go to the polls in 2025.

Other jurisdictions including California and Britain are also considering legislation to force internet giants to pay for news content. Indonesia introduced a similar law this year.

 

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In practice, Meta’s decision means that when someone makes a post with a link to a news article, Canadians will see a box with the message: “In response to Canadian government legislation, news content can’t be shared.”

Where once news posts on Facebook garnered between 5 million and 8 million views from Canadians per day, that has disappeared, according to the Media Ecosystem Observatory, a McGill University and University of Toronto project.

Although engagement with political influencer accounts such as partisan commentators, academics and media professionals was unchanged, reactions to image-based posts in Canadian political Facebook groups tripled to match the previous engagement with news posts, the study also found.

The research analysed some 40,000 posts and compared user activity before and after the blocking of news links on the pages of some 1,000 news publishers, 185 political influencers and 600 political groups.

A Meta spokesperson said the research confirmed the company’s view that people still come “to Facebook and Instagram even without news on the platform.”

Canadians can still access “authoritative information from a range of sources” on Facebook and the company’s fact-checking process was “committed to stopping the spread of misinformation on our services”, the spokesperson said.

A separate NewsGuard study conducted for Reuters found that likes, comments and shares of what it categorised as “unreliable” sources climbed to 6.9% in Canada in the 90 days after the ban, compared to 2.2% in the 90 days before.

“This is especially troubling,” said Gordon Crovitz, co-chief executive of New York-based NewsGuard, a fact-checking company which scores websites for accuracy.

Crovitz noted the change has come at a time when “we see a sharp uptick in the number of AI-generated news sites publishing false claims and growing numbers of faked audio, images and videos, including from hostile governments … intended to influence elections.”

Canadian Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge in an emailed statement to Reuters called Meta’s blocking of news an “unfortunate and reckless choice” that had left “disinformation and misinformation to spread on their platform … during need-to-know situations like wildfires, emergencies, local elections and other critical times”.

Asked about the studies, Australian Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones said via email: “Access to trusted, quality content is important for Australians, and it is in Meta’s own interest to support this content on its platforms.”

Jones, who will decide whether to hire an arbitrator to set Facebook’s media licencing arrangements, said the government had made clear its position to Meta that Australian news media businesses should be “fairly remunerated for news content used on digital platforms.”

Meta declined to comment on future business decisions in Australia but said it would continue engaging with the government.

Facebook remains the most popular social media platform for current affairs content, studies show, even though it has been declining as a news source for years amid an exodus of younger users to rivals and Meta’s strategy of de-prioritising politics in user feeds.

In Canada, where four-fifths of the population is on Facebook, 51% obtained news on the platform in 2023, the Media Ecosystem Observatory said.

Two-thirds of Australians are on Facebook and 32% used the platform for news last year, the University of Canberra said.

Unlike Facebook, Google has not indicated any changes to its deals with news publishers in Australia and reached a deal with the Canadian government to make payments to a fund that will support media outlets.

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Norway along with Ireland, Spain Recognise Palestine as Independent State

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Norway, Ireland and Spain recognized a Palestinian state on Wednesday(May 22) in a historic move that drew condemnation from Israel and jubilation from the Palestinians. Israel ordered back its ambassadors from Norway and Ireland.

It was a lightning cascade of announcements. First was Norway, whose Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said “there cannot be peace in the Middle East if there is no recognition.”

Gahr Store said the Scandinavian country will officially recognize a Palestinian state as of 28 May. “By recognizing a Palestinian state, Norway supports the Arab peace plan,” he said.

Several European Union countries have in the past weeks indicated that they plan to make the recognition, arguing a two-state solution is essential for lasting peace in the region.

Norway, which is not a member of the European Union but mirror its moves, has been an ardent supporter of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The terror has been committed by Hamas and militant groups who are not supporters of a two-state solution and the state of Israel,” the Norwegian government leader said. “Palestine has a fundamental right to an independent state.”

The move comes as Israeli forces have led assaults on the northern and southern edges of the Gaza Strip in May, causing a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of people, and sharply restricted the flow of aid, raising the risk of famine.

The Scandinavian country “will therefore regard Palestine as an independent state with all the rights and obligations that entails,” Gahr Store said.

The development comes more than 30 years after the first Oslo agreement was signed in 1993. Since then, “the Palestinians have taken important steps towards a two-state solution,” the Norwegian government said.

It said that the World Bank determined that a Palestinian state had met key criteria to function as a state in 2011, that national institutions have been built up to provide the population with important services.

“The war in Gaza and the constant expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank still mean that the situation in Palestine is more difficult than it has been in decades,” the Norwegian government said.

Also Wednesday, Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris made his announcement, saying it was a move coordinated with Spain and Norway, “an historic and important day for Ireland and for Palestine.” He said the move was intended to help move the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to resolution through a two-state solution.

The Irish prime minister said he thinks other countries will join Norway, Spain and Ireland in recognizing a Palestinian state “in the weeks ahead.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that his country will recognize a Palestinian state also on 28 May. Sanchez, Spain’s Socialist leader since 2018, made the expected announcement to the nation’s Parliament on Wednesday.

Sanchez has spent months touring European and Middle Eastern countries to garner support for the recognition of a Palestinian state, as well as a possible ceasefire in Gaza. He has said several times that he was committed to the move.

Earlier this month, Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Albares said he had informed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken of his government’s intention of recognizing a Palestinian state.

The fast-moving developments drew Israel’s condemnation. Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz ordered Israel’s ambassadors from Ireland and Norway to immediately return to Israel, as Norway said it would recognize a Palestinian state and Ireland was expected to do the same.

“Ireland and Norway intend to send a message today to the Palestinians and the whole world: terrorism pays,” Katz said.

He said that the recognition could impede efforts to return Israel’s hostages being held in Gaza and makes a cease-fire less likely by “rewarding the jihadists of Hamas and Iran.” He also threatened to recall Israel’s ambassador to Spain if the country takes a similar position.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed Norway’s recognition of a Palestinian state and called on other countries to follow.

In a statement carried by the official Wafa news agency, he says Norway’s decision, announced Wednesday, will enshrine “the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination” and support efforts to bring about a two-state solution with Israel.

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Key Officials Die in Helicopter Crash

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, along with the country’s foreign minister and several other officials, were found dead on Monday following a helicopter crash in a foggy, mountainous region in northwest Iran, state media reported. Raisi was 63 years old.

The crash occurred amidst ongoing regional tensions fueled by the Israel-Hamas conflict, during which Raisi, under the guidance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had recently ordered an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel. Raisi’s tenure saw Iran enrich uranium to near weapons-grade levels, escalating tensions with Western nations, while also supplying drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine and arming regional militia groups.

Domestically, Iran has been grappling with years of mass protests against its Shiite theocracy, driven by economic hardships and demands for women’s rights, making this incident particularly sensitive for Tehran.

State television did not immediately provide a cause for the crash, which took place in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. Among the deceased was Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, aged 60, as well as the governor of East Azerbaijan province, other officials, and bodyguards, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

Early Monday morning, Turkish authorities released drone footage showing a fire in the wilderness, suspected to be the helicopter wreckage. The footage’s coordinates indicated the fire was located about 20 kilometers south of the Azerbaijan-Iranian border on a steep mountain.

Footage from IRNA showed the crash site across a steep valley in a green mountain range, with soldiers speaking in the local Azeri language confirming the wreckage’s location.

Supreme Leader Khamenei had urged the public to pray for Raisi and the other officials’ safe return on Sunday night, expressing hope for their well-being.

“We hope that God the Almighty returns the dear president and his colleagues in full health to the arms of the nation,” Khamenei said, receiving an “amen” from the worshipers he addressed. However, he assured that Iran’s government would continue its operations. Under the Iranian constitution, the vice president assumes the presidency with Khamenei’s approval, and a new presidential election would be held within 50 days if the president dies.

First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber had already begun receiving calls from officials and foreign governments in Raisi’s absence. An emergency cabinet meeting was held, and a statement was issued, pledging to follow Raisi’s path and ensure the country’s management continues smoothly.

Raisi, a hard-liner and former head of the judiciary, was considered a protégé of Khamenei. Analysts had speculated that he might succeed the 85-year-old supreme leader after Khamenei’s death or resignation.

With Raisi’s passing, Mojtaba Khamenei, the 55-year-old son of the supreme leader, is the only other suggested successor. However, there are concerns about the position becoming hereditary, particularly given the Islamic Revolution’s overthrow of the Pahlavi monarchy in 1979.

Raisi won the 2021 presidential election, which had the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. He was sanctioned by the U.S. for his role in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

Under Raisi, Iran enriched uranium to near weapons-grade levels and impeded international inspections. The country also armed Russia in its war against Ukraine and launched a large-scale drone-and-missile attack on Israel during its conflict with Hamas. Iran continued to support proxy groups in the Middle East, including Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Mass protests have persisted in Iran, most notably following the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, who was detained for allegedly not wearing a hijab properly. The subsequent crackdown on protests resulted in over 500 deaths and more than 22,000 detentions.

In March, a United Nations panel found Iran responsible for the “physical violence” leading to Amini’s death.

Raisi is the second Iranian president to die in office; President Mohammad Ali Rajai was killed in a bomb blast in 1981 during the turbulent post-revolution period.

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Russia Aims to Increase Foreign Student Enrollment to 500K by 2030

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Russian President Vladimir Putin aims to bolster the count of foreign students in the nation’s universities to at least 500,000 by 2030, as outlined in a decree setting forth national development objectives.

The decree stipulates, “The number of foreign students pursuing higher education in Russian higher learning institutions and scientific organizations should rise to at least 500,000 by 2030.”

As per the Russian Education and Science Ministry, the current tally exceeds 355,000 foreign students studying in Russian universities. Acting Minister Valery Falkov previously highlighted Russia’s position as the world’s sixth-largest host of foreign students.

TASS calculations reveal a notable surge of over 20% in foreign student enrollment across Russian universities over the past five years. Predominantly, foreign applicants admitted to Russian universities hail from China, Vietnam, former Soviet republics, as well as various Asian and Middle Eastern countries.

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