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Facebook launches ‘war room’ to combat manipulation
18 October 2018, 8:01 PM

In Facebook‘s “War Room,” a nondescript space adorned with American and Brazilian flags, a team of 20 people monitors computer screens for signs of suspicious activity.

The freshly launched unit at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters in California is the nerve center for the fight against misinformation and manipulation of the largest social network by foreign actors trying to influence elections in the United States and elsewhere.

Inside, the walls have clocks showing the time in various regions of the US and Brazil, maps and TV screens showing CNN, Fox News and Twitter, and other monitors showing graphs of Facebook activity in real time.

Facebook, which has been blamed for doing too little to prevent misinformation efforts by Russia and others in the 2016 US election, now wants the world to know it is taking aggressive steps with initiatives like the war room.

“Our job is to detect … anyone trying to manipulate the public debate,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, a former White House cyber security policy director for the National Security Council who is now heading Facebook’s cyber security policy.

“We work to find and remove these actors.”

Facebook has been racing to get measures in place and began operating this nerve center — with a hastily taped “WAR ROOM” sign on the glass door — for the first round of the presidential vote in Brazil on October 7.

It didn’t take long to find false information and rumors being spread which could have had an impact on voters in Brazil.

“On election day, we saw a spike in voter suppression (messages) saying the election was delayed due to protests. That was not a true story,” said Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook’s head of civic engagement.

Chakrabarti said Facebook was able to remove these posts in a couple of hours before they went viral.

“It could have taken days.”

– Humans and machines –

At the unveiling of the war room for a small group of journalists including AFP this week, a man in a gray pork pie hat kept his eyes glued to his screen where a Brazilian flag was attached.

He said nothing but his mission was obvious — watching for any hints of interference with the second round of voting in Brazil on October 28.

The war room, which will ramp up activity for the November 6 midterm US elections, is the most concrete sign of Facebook’s efforts to weed out misinformation.

With experts in computer science, cybersecurity and legal specialists, the center is operating during peak times for the US and Brazil at present, with plans to eventually work 24/7.

The war room adds a human dimension to the artificial intelligence tools Facebook has already deployed to detect inauthentic or manipulative activity.

“Humans can adapt quickly to new threats,” Gleicher said of the latest effort.

Chakrabarti said the new center is an important part of coordinating activity — even for a company that has been built on remote communications among people in various parts of the world.

“There’s no substitute to face to face interactions,” he said.

The war room was activated just weeks ahead of the US vote, amid persistent fears of manipulation by Russia and other state entities, or efforts to polarize or inflame tensions.

The war room is part of stepped up security announced by Facebook that will be adding some 20,000 employees.

“With elections we need people to detect and remove (false information) as quickly as possible,” Chakrabarti said.

The human and computerized efforts to weed out bad information complement each other, according to Chakrabarti.

“If an anomaly is detected in an automated way, then a data scientist will investigate, will see if there is really a problem,” he said.

The efforts are also coordinated with Facebook’s fact-checking partners around the world including media organizations such as AFP and university experts.

Gleicher said the team will remain on high alert for any effort that could lead to false information going viral and potentially impacting the result of an election.

“We need to stay ahead of bad actors,” he said. “We keep shrinking the doorway. They keep trying to get in.”


The earthquake aftermath
Taking a toll: Indonesia quake-disaster in numbers – searched called off
11 October 2018, 12:53 PM

Indonesia has called off the search for those killed in a 7.5-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on Sulawesi island on September 28. Here are the latest figures from the disaster.

– 2,073 –

The total number of bodies recovered by Indonesian search and rescue teams, the national disaster agency said Thursday.

– 5,000 –

Those still believed missing somewhere beneath Balaroa and Petobo, two of Palu’s worst-hit areas.

Indonesia Thursday called off the grim search for those killed in the quake-tsunami, with no hope of retrieving around 5,000 bodies believed to be still buried under the ruins nearly two weeks after the disaster.

The magnitude 7.5-quake and a subsequent tsunami razed swathes of the city of Palu on Sulawesi island on September 28.

Rescuers had struggled to find remains in the twisted wreckage, a job made worse as mud hardened and bodies decomposed in the tropical heat.

“The search and rescue (SAR) operation for the victims will end this Thursday afternoon,” SAR field director in Palu, Bambang Suryo, told AFP.

“Considering the difficulty on the ground, we really need to consider the health and safety of our rescue personnel.”

Teams would however remain on standby in Palu until October 26, when a state of emergency is expected to be lifted.

The government earlier indicated that hard-hit areas would be left untouched as mass graves.

Parks and monuments are planned at three of these worst-hit areas — Balaroa, Petobo and Jono Oge — to commemorate the possibly thousands of dead who will never be found.

Those zones were all but destroyed by liquefaction, a phenomenon where the brute force of a quake turns soil to quicksand.

More than 200,000 people remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance in Palu, with clean drinking water and medical supplies still in short supply.

The United Nations has sought $50.5 million for immediate relief to help the victims.

Planeloads of donations have flown into Palu from the United States, Australia, the European Union and the Philippines, among many others.

Nearly 80,000 people were displaced by the disaster, many sheltering in tents outside their destroyed homes.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres will tour the disaster zone with Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla on Friday.

– ‘It will rise again’ –

Central Sulawesi governor Longki Djanggola said the survivors would be supported in their time of need.

“I am sure Central Sulawesi will rise again,” he said in a statement.

Humanitarian efforts have accelerated into the disaster-ravaged city, but the recovery effort was criticised for moving too slowly.

Looters ransacked shops in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, as food and water ran dry and convoys bringing life-saving relief were slow to arrive.

Getting vital supplies to the affected areas proved hugely challenging as flights into Palu were limited by its small airport, leaving aid workers facing gruelling overland journeys.

Indonesia initially refused international help, saying the military had the situation in hand.

Four days after the disaster, once the picture became clearer, President Joko Widodo reluctantly agreed to allow in overseas aid.

But earlier this week foreign aid workers were told to withdraw their personnel, frustrating some groups keen to help out on the ground.

Some foreign rescue teams were unable to access the disaster zone and deploy quickly to help search for the dead and missing.

“We just came here because the government of Indonesia asked for assistance,” said Marcus Butler from South African charity Gift of the Givers, which was denied permission to help with the search.

“They say there is no need for aid in Indonesia. But look at all these people,” he told AFP.

Indonesia sits along the world’s most tectonically active region, and its 260 million people are vulnerable to earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

Another earthquake rattled the region Thursday, killing at least three people in Java and sending tourists and IMF delegates in Bali for a major summit scrambling from hotels.

The 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Bali and Java islands in the early hours, jolting residents awake and sending them rushing into the streets.

A string of earthquakes in Lombok, in eastern Indonesia, killed more than 550 people over the summer.


Sierra Leone’s African Cup ties against Ghana scrapped
10 October 2018, 1:41 PM

Sierra Leone’s African Cup of Nations qualifiers against Ghana this week have been scrapped owing to the nation’s unresolved row with FIFA, the Confederation of African Football said Wednesday.

Sierra Leone was suspended by FIFA over government interference in football and was given a deadline of 1700 GMT on Tuesday by world football’s governing body to come up with guarantees that it had resolved the issue.

“Qualifier matches Ghana vs Sierra Leone & Sierra Leone vs Ghana on the 11th and 14th of October respectively have been cancelled…” CAF said in a tweet.

It added that the Sierra Leone Football Association had failed to supply the guarantees requested by FIFA to allow the suspension to be lifted.

The West African nation was rocked last week when FIFA suspended it for government interference.

The bustup is rooted in a move by the country’s anti-corruption commission to sack SLFA President Isha Johansen and General Secretary Christopher Kamara during an on-going probe into corruption and mismanagement.

FIFA had demanded that the pair be reinstated when it announced the suspension on October 5.

The aftermath the the earthquake
Indonesia mulls leaving quake-flattened villages as mass graves
6 October 2018, 9:45 PM

More bodies were unearthed from the earthquake-and-tsunami-ravaged Indonesian city of Palu on Saturday, as authorities move closer to calling off the search for the dead trapped under flattened communities and declaring them mass graves.

Officials said Saturday the death toll had climbed to 1,649, with more than a thousand feared still missing in the seaside city on Sulawesi island.

More than 82,000 military and civilian personnel, as well as volunteers, have descended on the devastated city, where relief groups say clean water and medical supplies are in short supply.

After days of delays, international aid has slowly begun trickling into the disaster zone where the UN says almost 200,000 people need humanitarian assistance.

But hopes of finding anyone alive a full eight days later have all but faded, as the search for survivors morphs into a grim gathering of the dead.

At the massive Balaroa government housing complex, where the sheer force of the quake turned the earth temporarily to mush, soldiers wearing masks to ward off the stench of death clambered over the giant mounds of mud, brick and cement.

Vast numbers of decomposing bodies could still be buried beneath this once-thriving neighbourhood, the search and rescue agency said.

Two soldiers who are part of the search emerged from a ditch with a body bag sagging in the middle but looking too light to be a corpse — they said they had found the heads of two adults and one child.

“There are no survivors here. We just find bodies, every day,” said army sergeant Syafaruddin, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

At the flattened Hotel Roa-Roa — where early optimism that survivors might be found faded as the days wore on — rescuers reviewed CCTV footage to get a sense of where the doomed guests could be buried.

In Petobo — another village all but wiped off the map — teams struggled to extract bodies from the muck, often dislodging limbs loosened by decomposition after more than a week exposed to the elements.

The search for survivors has not officially been called off.

But security minister Wiranto said the government had been discussing with local leaders and religious figures as to when the worst-hit areas would be declared mass graves, and left untouched.

“We have to make a decision as to when the search for the dead will end. Then, we later must decide when the area will be designated a mass grave,” he told reporters late Friday.

Concerns are growing that decomposing bodies could turn into a serious health hazard.

“Most of the bodies we have found are not intact, and that poses a danger for the rescuers. We have to be very careful to avoid contamination,” Yusuf Latif, a spokesman for Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, told AFP from Palu.

“We have vaccinated our teams, but we need to be extra cautious.”

While the World Health Organization says there is no evidence to suggest bodies in such disaster situations could spark an epidemic, it has warned that those handling corpses are at a risk of contracting diseases like tuberculosis, cholera, and bloodborne viruses.

Thousands of survivors continued to stream out of Palu to nearby cities in the aftermath of the disaster.

Hospitals remain overstretched and short on staff and supplies.

In Karawana village, nurse Iyong Lamatowa can offer little more than antibiotics and painkillers to treat those flocking to a makeshift clinic with badly-infected wounds.

Project HOPE, a medical NGO, said only two of its 82 staff in Palu had reported for duty since the quake.

“We still don’t know the fate of the clinic doctors, nurses and technicians who usually staff the clinic,” the organisation said in a statement.

Survivors have ransacked shops and supply trucks in the hunt for basic necessities, prompting security forces to round up dozens of suspected looters and warn that they will open fire on thieves.

Hundreds of people Saturday rushed a truck transporting gas cylinders for cooking while a supermarket that opened for business under military guard refused to allow people inside, instead passing goods through the door.

A convoy of five hundred trucks laden with donated food, cooking oil and other essentials was on its way to Palu, agriculture minister Amran Sulaiman said in the devastated city on Saturday.

“Palu’s ordeal is grief for all of us and that’s why everyone is lending a hand to help,” he said.

The United Nations said Friday it was seeking $50.5 million “for immediate relief” to help victims.

Jose Mourinho
United fightback spares Mourinho, Dier fires Spurs to victory
6 October 2018, 9:25 PM

Jose Mourinho was given a stay of execution as Manchester United staged a stirring fightback to beat Newcastle 3-2 thanks to Alexis Sanchez’s last-gasp winner, while Tottenham recovered from their European misery with a 1-0 victory over Cardiff on Saturday.

Mourinho had presided over United’s worst seven-game start to a season for 29 years amid the breakdown of his relationship with star midfielder Paul Pogba and several other key players.

A report on Friday evening claimed United’s hierarchy had lost patience with the toxic atmosphere and would sack Mourinho regardless of the Newcastle result.

But senior United sources strongly denied the suggestion Mourinho would be dismissed this weekend, insisting he retains the board’s support following a series of abysmal results.

Despite that vote of confidence, it was looking increasingly bleak for Mourinho when winless Newcastle raced into a two-goal in the first 10 minutes at Old Trafford.

But United clicked into gear and Chile forward Sanchez, who had been dropped by Mourinho, came off the bench to bag the winner after goals from Juan Mata and Anthony Martial dragged the hosts level.

United’s first win in five games in all competitions could buy Mourinho some much-needed breathing space heading into the international break.

Mourinho was in typically combative mood when he walked to the bench before kick-off, squirting a television camera with a water bottle, and within seven minutes the mood turned even more fractious.

United fell behind when Kenedy parted Mourinho’s defence with alarming ease, running onto Ayoze Perez’s pass and turning away from Ashley Young before firing home as Mourinho gestured furiously on the touchline.

There was worse to come for Mourinho three minutes later as Newcastle punished more shambolic defending, Young and his team-mates failing to get in a challenge as Japanese forward Yoshinori Muto scored on his first Premier League start.

Rafael Benitez’s side were the first visiting team ever to score two goals in the first 10 minutes of a Premier League game at Old Trafford.

Mourinho responded by making a bizarre 19th minute substitution as he hauled off defender Eric Bailly — one of the group said to be unhappy with the manager — and sent on Mata, once again moving young midfielder Scott McTominay to play at centre-back.

Jeers rang around Old Trafford at half-time and Mourinho, looking increasingly desperate, made more changes at the interval with Marouane Fellaini sent on for McTominay.

United finally responded to Mourinho in the second half, playing with far more passion as Mata reduced the deficit with a fine 70th minute free-kick before Martial fired the equaliser six minutes later.

That set the stage for Sanchez to apply the finishing touch in the 90th minute as Mourinho celebrated while his name was sung by relieved United fans at full-time.

At Wembley, Tottenham recovered from Wednesday’s damaging 4-2 Champions League loss to Barcelona.

Lionel Messi had tormented Tottenham with a mesmerising display, capped by two goals, that left the north Londoners in danger of missing the knockout stage.

But Mauricio Pochettino’s side made amends against Cardiff to move into third place in the table.

Cardiff boss Neil Warnock joked he would play 10 defenders in a bid to stifle Tottenham and he might have regretted not doing exactly that as the hosts went in front after eight minutes.

Davinson Sanchez saw his header blocked by Joe Bennett and the ball span into the path of Eric Dier, who swept home from close-range for his first club goal since April 2017.

Cardiff were reduced to 10 men when Joe Ralls was sent off for chopping down Lucas Moura in the 58th minute, with Warnock incensed after Tottenham’s players, including England captain Harry Kane, surrounded the referee to demand a red card.

“I don’t think it helped being surrounded by 15 white shirts. I don’t think he (Kane) needs to do that,” Warnock moaned.

“After Barcelona on Wednesday, the most important thing was to win. We created a lot of chances but we didn’t kill the game,” Pochettino said.

“It was a clear red card from my point of view. Neil Warnock can complain but it is not my business.”

Elsewhere, Wolves won 1-0 at Crystal Palace, Everton beat Leicester 2-1, Bournemouth routed Watford 4-0 and Burnley drew 1-1 with Huddersfield.



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