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5 things to know for October 4: Congress, Covid-19, Facebook, Brazil, oil spill – CNN

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Here’s what you need to know to Get Up to Speed and On with Your Day.

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        1. Congress

          Liberal and moderate Democrats are still at odds over crucial, high-dollar parts of Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. Remember, there are two bills at play here: an infrastructure bill and one focused on social spending and climate. The latter is causing particular concern, with a proposed price tag of $3.5 trillion. Moderate Democrats have balked at the figure and suggested a pared-down version of as little as $1.5 trillion. That’s been rejected by progressives, who are also vowing to withhold their votes on the roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill if details of the other bill aren’t ironed out first. The disagreements led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to delay bringing the infrastructure bill to the floor for a vote late last week and will undoubtedly continue this week. Though Dems are facing criticism for how long it’s taking to agree on these key issues, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin assured that the party won’t let the US default on its debt on October 18. 

          2. Coronavirus

          A new oral medicine that fights viral infection could give doctors a big leg-up in fighting Covid-19, but experts agree the best way to curb deaths and end the pandemic is still vaccination. Drug makers Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics say their pill, molnupiravir, can reduce risk of Covid-19 hospitalization and death by 50%. They will seek emergency authorization for the antiviral medication from the FDA. Meanwhile, vaccination rates are still holding at about 56% among eligible Americans. Covid-19 has taken the lives of more than 700,000 people in the US, and about 200,000 of those deaths have occurred since vaccinations became widely available. The CDC has also updated its guidance on holiday celebrations as we enter a potentially treacherous winter. It recommends getting vaccinated before gatherings, wearing masks and celebrating virtually. 

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          3. Facebook

          The Facebook whistleblower who released tens of thousands of pages of internal research and documents from the company has revealed herself as Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager who worked on civic integrity issues at the company. The documents have sparked a firestorm at the company and have even led to the Senate grilling a Facebook exec over the platform’s effect on young users. On “60 Minutes,” Haugen said the company knows its platforms are used to spread hate, violence and misinformation and has tried to hide that evidence. Facebook has aggressively pushed back against the reports, calling many of the claims “misleading.” Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, has pushed back on some related claims, saying for instance that it is “ludicrous” to assign blame to Facebook over the January 6 Capitol riot. Clegg also said the company will never be able to control all content on its site but may be open to more regulation. 

          4. Brazil

          Protesters gathered across Brazil this weekend to call for the impeachment of President Jair Bolsonaro amid worsening economic conditions, hunger, unemployment and other persistent effects of the pandemic. This is not the first time Brazilians have organized to protest Bolsonaro, who has remained defiant in his handling of Covid-19 even as nearly a staggering 600,000 Brazilians have lost their lives to the virus. Bolsonaro’s approval rating has been on a continuous decline, and polls show more than half the country now considers his presidency to be bad or awful. This is especially important because Brazil is holding a presidential election next year, and there’s a possibility Bolsonaro could be ousted in favor of a more popular politician, like former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. 

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          5. Oil spill

          A pipeline breach in the Pacific Ocean has dumped more than 3,000 barrels of oil — equal to about 126,000 gallons of post-production crude — along the Southern California coast. Dead birds and wildlife have been washing up on Huntington Beach in Orange County, and experts worry the spill could infiltrate wetlands and other vulnerable areas, creating an ecological disaster.  The National Transportation Safety Board is sending investigators to gather information and assess the source of the oil spill, which as of yesterday morning had not fully stopped. The pipeline is owned by the oil and gas company Amplify Energy, which has pledged to participate in the recovery.

          BREAKFAST BROWSE

          ‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ becomes biggest opening of the pandemic

          Why everyone loves Fat Bear Week

          What’s not to love? (Voting ends tomorrow, if you still want to cast your lot on some delightfully zaftig bears.)

          A California billionaire is in trouble for tormenting his neighbors with loud music — again

          Plant-based meat was all the rage. Now plant-based seafood is taking the spotlight

          “Plant-based fish” is a bizarre phrase, but let’s be honest: It also sounds pretty delicious.

          Florida woman wins $2 million with Mega Millions tickets — twice

          At what point do you stop being excited about how lucky you are and start getting a little mystified about how lucky you are?

          THIS JUST IN …

          Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

          The 2021 award goes to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for identifying the receptors that allow humans to perceive temperature and touch.

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          TODAY’S NUMBER

          3,200

          That’s about how many pedophiles are estimated to have worked in the French Catholic Church since 1950, according to an independent commission on sexual abuse.

          TODAY’S QUOTE

          “North Korea has no reasons to provoke or hurt the South.”

          North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who vowed last week to restart communication with South Korea. Indeed, lines of communication between the two countries were restored today for the first time in months. 

          TODAY’S WEATHER

          AND FINALLY

            Relax 

            Start off the week with a little zen … and some little zen gardens, created by artist Yuki Kawae. (Click here to view.) 

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            FACEBOOK

            Facebook Adds New Trend Insights in Creator Studio, Which Could Help Shape Your Posting Strategy

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            Facebook’s looking to provide more content insight within Creator Studio with the rollout of a new ‘Inspiration Hub’ element, which highlights trending content and hashtags within categories related to your business Page.

            Facebook Inspiration Hub

            As you can see in these screenshots, posted by social media expert Matt Navarra, when it becomes available to you, you’ll be able to access the new Inspiration Hub from the Home tab in Creator Studio.

            At the right side of the screen, you can see the first of the new insights, with trending hashtags and videos from the last 24 hours, posted by Pages similar to yours, displayed above a ‘See more’ prompt.

            When you tap through to the new hub, you’ll have a range of additional filters to check out trending content from across Facebook, including Page category, content type, region, and more.

            Facebook Inspiration Hub

            That could be hugely valuable in learning what Facebook users are responding to, and what people within your target market are engaging with in the app.

            The Hub also includes insights into trending hashtags, within your chosen timeframe, which may further assist in tapping into trending discussions.

            Facebook Inspiration Hub

            How valuable hashtags are on Facebook is still up for debate, but you’ll also note that you can filter the displayed results by platform, so you can additionally display Instagram hashtag trends as well, which could be very valuable in maximizing your reach.

            Much of this type of info has been available within CrowdTangle, Facebook’s analytics platform for journalists, for some time, but not everyone can access CrowdTangle data, which could make this an even more valuable proposition for many marketers.

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            Of course, overall performance really relates to your own creative, and thinking through the action that you want your audience to take when reading your posts. But in terms of detecting new content trends, including hashtag usage, caption length, videos versus image posts, and more, there’s a lot that could be gleaned from these tools and filters.

            It’s a significant analytics addition – we’ve asked Facebook for more info on the rollout of the new option, and whether it’s already beyond test mode, etc. We’ll update this post if/when we hear back.

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            FACEBOOK

            Meta Updates Policy on Cryptocurrency Ads, Opening the Door to More Crypto Promotions in its Apps

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            With cryptocurrencies gaining momentum, in line with the broader Web 3.0 push, Meta has today announced an update to its ad policies around cryptocurrencies, which will open the door to more crypto advertisers on its platforms.

            As per Meta:

            Starting today, we’re updating our eligibility criteria for running ads about cryptocurrency on our platform by expanding the number of regulatory licenses we accept from three to 27. We are also making the list of eligible licenses publicly available on our policy page.”

            Essentially, in order to run any crypto ads in Meta’s apps, that currency needs to adhere to regional licensing provisions, which vary by nation. With crypto becoming more accepted, Meta’s now looking to enable more crypto companies to publish ads on its platform, which will provide expanded opportunity for recognized crypto providers to promote their products, while also enabling Meta to make more money from crypto ads.

            “Previously, advertisers could submit an application and include information such as any licenses they obtained, whether they are traded on a public stock exchange, and other relevant public background on their business. However, over the years the cryptocurrency landscape has matured and stabilized and experienced an increase in government regulation, which has helped to set clearer responsibilities and expectations for the industry. Going forward, we will be moving away from using a variety of signals to confirm eligibility and instead requiring one of these 27 licenses.”

            Is that a good move? Well, as Meta notes, the crypto marketplace is maturing, and there’s now much wider recognition of cryptocurrencies as a legitimate form of payment. But they’re also not supported by most local financial regulators, which reduced transaction protection and oversight, which also brings a level of risk in such process.

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            But then again, all crypto providers are required to clearly outline any such risks, and most also highlight the ongoing market volatility in the space. This expanded level of overall transparency means that most people who are investing in crypto have at least some awareness of these elements, which likely does diminish the risk factor in such promotions within Meta’s apps.

            But as crypto adoption continues to expand, more of these risks will become apparent, and while much of the crypto community is built on good faith, and a sense of community around building something new, there are questions as to how much that can hold at scale, and what that will then mean for evolving scams and criminal activity, especially as more vulnerable investors are brought into the mix.

            Broader promotional capacity through Meta’s apps will certainly help to boost exposure in this respect – though again, the relative risk factors are lessened by expanded regulatory oversight outside of the company.

            You can read more about Meta’s expanded crypto ad regulations here.

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            FACEBOOK

            Meta Outlines Evolving Safety Measures in Messaging as it Seeks to Allay Fears Around the Expansion of E2E Encryption

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            Amid rising concern about Meta’s move to roll out end-to-end encryption by default to all of its messaging apps, Meta’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis has today sought to provide a level of reassurance that Meta is indeed aware of the risks and dangers that such protection can pose, and that it is building safeguards into its processes to protect against potential misuse.

            Though the measures outlined don’t exactly address all the issues raised by analysts and safety groups around the world.

            As a quick recap, back in 2019, Facebook announced its plan to merge the messaging functionalities of Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, which would then provide users with a universal inbox, with all of your message threads from each app accessible on either platform.

            The idea is that this will simplify cross-connection, while also opening the door to more opportunities for brands to connect with users in the messaging tool of their choice – but it also, inherently, means that the data protection method for its messaging tools must rise to the level of WhatsApp, its most secure messaging platform, which already includes E2E encryption as the default.

            Various child safety experts raised the alarm, and several months after Facebook’s initial announcement, representatives from the UK, US and Australian Governments sent an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting that the company abandon its integration plan.

            Meta has pushed ahead, despite specific concerns that the expansion of encryption will see its messaging tools used by child trafficking and exploitation groups, and now, as it closes in on the next stage, Meta’s working to counter such claims, with Davis outlining six key elements which she believes will ensure safety within this push.

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            Davis has explained the various measures that Meta has added on this front, including:

            • Detection tools to stop adults from repeatedly setting up new profiles in an attempt to connect minors that they don’t know
            • Safety notices in Messenger, which provide tips on spotting suspicious behavior
            • The capacity to filter messages with selected keywords on Instagram
            • More filtering options in chat requests to help avoid unwanted contact
            • Improved education prompts to help detect spammers and scammers in messages
            • New processes to make it easier to report potential harm, including an option to select “involves a child”, which will then prioritize the report for review and action

            Meta messaging security options

            Which are all good, all important steps in detection, while Davis also notes that its reporting process “decrypts portions of the conversation that were previously encrypted and unavailable to us so that we can take immediate action if violations are detected”.

            That’ll no doubt raise an eyebrow or two among WhatsApp users – but the problem here is that, overall, the broader concern is that such protections will facilitate usage by criminal groups, and the reliance on self-reporting in this respect is not going to have any impact on these networks operating, at scale, under a more protected messaging framework within Meta’s app eco-system.

            Governments have called for ‘backdoor access’ to break Meta’s encryption for investigations into such activity, which Meta says is both not possible and will not be built into its future framework. The elements outlined by Davis do little to address this specific need, and without the capacity to better detect such, it’s hard to see any of the groups opposed to Meta’s expanded encryption changing their stance, and accepting that the merging of all of the platform’s DM options will not also see a rise in criminal activity organized via the same apps.

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            Of course, the counterargument could be that encryption is already available on WhatsApp, and that criminal activity of this type can already be undertaken within WhatsApp alone. But with a combined user count of 3.58 billion people per month across its family of apps, that’s a significantly broader interconnection of people than WhatsApp’s 2 billion active users, which, arguably, could open the door to far more potential harm and danger in this respect.

            Really, there’s no right answer here. Privacy advocates will argue that encryption should be the standard, and that more people are actually more protected, on balance, by enhanced security measures. But there is also an undeniable risk in shielding even more criminal groups from detection.

            Either way, right now, Meta seems determined to push ahead with the plan, which will weld all of its messaging tools together, and also make it more difficult to break-up its network, if any antitrust decisions don’t go Meta’s way, and it’s potentially pressed to sell-off Instagram or WhatsApp as a result.

            But expect more debate to be had, in more countries, as Meta continues to justify its decision, and regulatory and law enforcement groups seek more options to help maintain a level of accessibility for criminal investigations and detection.

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