Facebook to Remove ‘Fake News’ That Leads to Violence

Facebook says it will begin removing false information from its site that could lead to violence.

“There are certain forms of misinformation that have contributed to physical harm” in certain countries, the U.S. social media giant said in a statement Wednesday announcing the policy.

The company says it will work with local organizations to identify such information, including written posts and doctored photos.

Facebook has been accused for allowing users to spread hate speech and false information that has led to recent violence in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and India. Sri Lanka imposed a state of emergency in March after false news posted on Facebook led to deadly attacks on the country’s minority Muslim population by Buddhist mobs.

The California-based company was thrust into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign through the spread of misinformation among voters. It was revealed last September that Russians, using fake names, used social media to try to influence voters ahead of the election.

Facebook founder and chief operating officer Mark Zuckerberg sparked criticism Wednesday when he tried to explain the difference between misinformation and offensive speech. 

In an interview published by the technology news site Recode, Zuckerberg said he would not ban people who deny the Holocaust, the mass genocide of 6 million European Jews carried out by Nazi Germany.

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Report: Asia-Pacific Factories Lead in Using Digital Technology

She may not be the warmest waitress, but she serves a nice, hot cup of “Joe” at a café on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City.

Though this robotic barista is still getting help from her human counterpart, she is a signal that Asia is ahead of the curve in embracing new technologies ahead of the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

A recent report from PwC Global, a professional services firm, studied 1,155 manufacturing businesses based on how much they were embracing and incorporating innovations in technology, from drones to 3-D printing.

Across the board, companies in the Asia-Pacific region scored higher than their counterparts elsewhere in the world.

In Thailand, for instance, manufacturing companies have widely adopted new technologies to transform their operations.

“Many are using robots to assemble products at their factories to rely less on human labor, reduce costs, and boost overall efficiency,” said Vilaiporn Taweelappontong, consulting lead partner at PwC Thailand.

​ASEAN catches up

The report graded firms based on questions about the kinds of tools they were introducing into their workplaces. For example, manufacturers were asked if they made use of virtual reality; 44 percent in the Asia Pacific said they did compared with 34 percent in the United States and 19 percent in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

The regional group Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) reports that small and medium enterprises are using new technology to catch up to bigger rivals.

“Digitization is enabling SMEs across ASEAN to participate in cross-border trade, allowing them to grow and scale their businesses while reducing costs,” said Bidhan Roy, a general manager at Cisco Systems Pte Ltd.

​Benefits of youth

Observers say the Asia-Pacific region benefits from its youth.

The relatively young population means people are amenable to different work environments and business operations, as well as having a keen interest in using new technology.

Another advantage? The region’s economies are also somewhat young, with many just opening up to global trade in the last two decades. In addition its underdeveloped infrastructure has the ability to adapt for future needs, like public transit or drone deliveries.

“Asian companies have the advantage of setting up robust digital operations from essentially a blank slate in terms of factory automation, workforce, and even organizational IT [information technology] networks as a whole,” the PwC report said.

Baby steps

But more is needed to make these companies successful.

Cisco Systems’ Roy noted that small and medium firms “are at varying stages of maturity in terms of digital adoption” and could use collaboration with governments and corporations.

PwC Thailand’s Vilaiporn agreed on the benefit of collaboration.

“Thailand 4.0 will only be successful if both the government and private sectors understand their roles in fostering investment and focusing on research and development, as well as equipping the workforce with necessary skill sets and capabilities,” he said.

The “4.0” refers to the latest industrial revolution, which goes beyond mechanization and automation. It entails business processes becoming more efficient through a comprehensive application of technology, from smart devices to machine learning.

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Elon Musk Apologizes for Comments About Cave Rescue Diver

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has apologized for calling a British diver involved in the Thailand cave rescue a pedophile, saying he spoke in anger but was wrong to do so.

There was no immediate public reaction from diver Vern Unsworth to Musk’s latest tweets.

Musk’s initial tweet calling Unsworth a “pedo” was a response to a TV interview Unsworth gave. In it, he said Musk and SpaceX engineers orchestrated a “PR stunt” by sending a small submarine to help divers rescue the 12 Thai soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave. Unsworth said the submarine, which wasn’t used, wouldn’t have worked anyway.

“My words were spoken in anger after Mr. Unsworth said several untruths …” Musk tweeted.

“Nonetheless, his actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologize to Mr. Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader. The fault is mine and mine alone.”

Musk’s Sunday tweet, later deleted, had sent investors away from Tesla stock, which fell nearly 3 percent Monday but recovered 4.1 percent Tuesday. Unsworth told CNN earlier this week that he was considering legal action. He did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

In his latest tweets, Musk said the mini-sub was “built as an act of kindness & according to specifications from the dive team leader.”

Musk has 22.3 million followers and his active social media presence has sometimes worked well for Tesla. The company has said in its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it doesn’t need to advertise because it gets so much free media attention.

But straying away from defending his companies into personal insult brought Musk some unfavorable attention at a time when Tesla, worth more than $52 billion, is deep in debt and struggling for profitability. 

In northern Thailand on Wednesday, the 12 Thai soccer players and their coach answered questions from journalists, their first meeting with the media since their rescues last week. Doctors said all are healthy.

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Cute Robots Invade Smithsonian Museum

Known as the largest education, and research complex in the world, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC is a collection of 19 museums that house more than 140 million unique items. It’s no wonder it’s been called “the nation’s attic.” But there’s a novel addition to the venerable complex — a smart new technology that interacts with visitors. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti introduces us to the Smithsonian’s newest resident.

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Cute Robots Invade the Smithsonian

Known as the largest education, and research complex in the world, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC is a collection of 19 museums that house more than 140 million unique items. It’s no wonder it’s been called “the nation’s attic.” But there’s a novel addition to the venerable complex — a smart new technology that interacts with visitors. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti introduces us to the Smithsonian’s newest resident.

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Trade Pain: US Small Companies Hit by Import, Export Tariffs

Time and effort have gone down the drain for Steve Gould, who is scrambling to find new customers for his gin, whiskey and other spirits since the United States has taken a tough stance on trade issues.

Before the European Union retaliated against new U.S. tariffs with taxes of its own, Gould expected revenue from the EU at his Golden Moon Distillery in Colorado to reach $250,000 or $350,000 this year. Now he’s concerned that European exports will total just $25,000. Golden Moon already saw an effect when then-candidate Donald Trump made trade an issue during the 2016 campaign. Gould lost one of his Mexican importers and an investor, as overseas demand for small-distiller spirits was growing.

“We’ve lost years of work and hundreds of thousands of dollars in building relationships with offshore markets,” says Gould, who’s hoping to find new customers in countries like Japan. 

President Donald Trump’s aggressive trade policies are taking a toll on small U.S. manufacturers. The president has imposed tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports from most of the world, including Europe, Mexico and Canada, driving up costs for companies that rely on those metals. And he has slapped 25 percent taxes on $34 billion in Chinese imports in a separate trade dispute, targeting mostly machinery and industrial components so far. Trump’s tariffs have drawn retaliation from around the world. China is taxing American soybeans, among other things; the European Union has hit Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Kentucky bourbon; Canada has imposed tariffs on a range of products — from U.S. steel to dishwasher detergent.

More businesses could be feeling the pain as the trade disputes escalate — the administration on Tuesday threatened to impose 10 percent tariffs on thousands of Chinese products including fish, apples and burglar alarms. And China responded with a tariff threat of its own, although it didn’t say what U.S. exports would be targeted.

Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to tariffs because they lack the financial resources larger companies have to absorb higher costs. Large companies can move production overseas — as Harley-Davidson recently announced it would do to escape 25 percent retaliatory tariffs in Europe. But “if you’re a small firm, it’s much harder to do that; you don’t have an international network of production locations,” says Lee Branstetter, professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.

Shifting manufacturing away from items that use components that are being taxed is also harder since small businesses tend to make fewer products, he says. And if tariffs make it too expensive to export to their current markets, small companies may not be able to afford the effort of finding new ones.

Small-business owners have been growing more confident over the past year as the economy has been strong, and they’ve been hiring at a steady if not robust pace. But those hurt by tariffs are can lose their optimism and appetite for growth within a few months.

“They have narrow profit margins and it’s a tax,” says Kent Jones, an economics professor at Babson College. “That lowers their profit margins and increases the possibility of layoffs and even bankruptcies.”

Yacht company

Bertram Yachts is one company finding it trickier to maneuver. The U.S. has put a 25 percent tariff on hundreds of boat parts imported from China, where most marine components are made. And European countries have imposed a 25 percent tariff on U.S.-made boats. Last year, Bertram exported about a third of its boats, with half going to Europe.

“We have been squeezed on both sides,” says Peter Truslow, CEO of the Tampa, Florida-based boat maker.

Truslow doesn’t know how the tariffs will affect the company’s sales and profits, but dealers he’s spoken to in Europe have already gotten cancellations on boats that run into the millions of dollars. Bertram plans to try to build up its strong U.S. business and seek more customers in countries that aren’t involved in trade disputes with the U.S., including Japan and Australia.

Still, the company’s growth and job creation stand to slow. “It’s probably going to be more about a reduction in hiring than it is about layoffs,” Truslow says.

The ripples are being felt across the industry, says Tom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association trade group. He estimates there are about 1,000 manufacturers, almost all small or mid-size businesses, and says some parts can only be bought from China.

Metal fabrication

Matt Barton’s metal fabrication company, which makes custom replacement parts for farm equipment, outdoor signs and people who race hot rods, is paying its suppliers up to 20 percent more for metals than it did a year ago.

Prices had soared as much as 40 percent months ago amid expectations of U.S. tariffs on aluminum and steel. They have since steadied, but are expected to remain high for three to six months. Barton’s Pittsboro, Indiana-based company, The Hero Lab, is absorbing part of the increases. Some racing customers are still delaying orders.

“What they budgeted to cost $1,000 now is now $1,200 or $1,500,” Barton says. “They’re pushing their orders back four to six weeks, waiting for a few more paychecks to come in.”

Cheese maker

Jeff Schwager’s cheese company, Sartori, is selling products to Mexico at break-even prices because of that nation’s retaliatory 25 percent tariff. Twelve percent of the Plymouth, Wisconsin-based company’s revenue comes from exports, which is the fastest-growing segment of the business.

Sartori and its Mexican importer are each absorbing half the costs of the tariff. Schwager, the CEO, doesn’t see leaving the Mexican market as an option.

“If you lose space on the grocery store shelf, or you’re taken out of recipes in restaurants, that takes years to get back,” he says. He hopes the trade dispute can be resolved and tariffs rolled back.

Flatware maker

But some small manufacturers believe they can benefit from a trade dispute. Greg Owens, president of flatware maker Sherrill Manufacturing, says if his competitors in China are hit by U.S. tariffs, he could see revenue increase.

“They would have to raise the retail price, which would allow us to raise our prices,” says Owens, whose company is located in Sherrill, New York. In turn, Owens says, that would allow “long overdue” raises for workers and upgrades to capital equipment.

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Solar Power Seen as Tool Against Extremism in Sahel

Grinding poverty and climate change are pushing communities in West

Africa’s Sahel region into the arms of extremist groups like Boko Haram, but providing people with clean energy could help slow that trend, said a top international official.

Rachel Kyte, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All, set up by the United Nations, learned on a trip to Niger this month how women and girls are being recruited by Islamist militants who offer them work, food and other essentials.

Kyte, who serves as the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative on energy access, said Boko Haram “is moving into the provision of basic social services.”

At the same time, in impoverished Niger, recurring and more intense drought “is absolutely punishing,” she said. 

The Islamist group is based in northeast Nigeria but active in other West African states.

Kyte said villagers need better ways to grow crops to feed their families and boost incomes to make them less susceptible to the extremists targeting them.

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, who visited Niger with Kyte, last week spelled out the links between climate change stresses and regional insecurity in remarks to the U.N. Security Council.

In rural Niger, where only about 1 percent of people have access to electric power, supplying cheap and green energy — mainly from the sun — could make a difference, Kyte said.

Irrigation, cold storage

For example, solar pumps could drive simple, efficient irrigation systems, and installing small-scale local grids could power cold storage, enabling villagers to process their crops and earn more money, she noted.

“It just became very, very clear that without energy, there’s no way to improve incomes — without energy, it’s going to be difficult to bring productivity into the rural economy,” Kyte said in an interview from New York after the visit,

organized by the United Nations and the African Union.

In addition, equipping hospitals and clinics with solar systems in both cities and rural areas could reduce patient infections and increase the number of operations for common problems like fistula by supplying reliable power, Kyte said.

Solar energy could be a way to “beat back and build the resilience of a community to climate change, but also beat back violent extremism,” while “lifting up women and girls whose situation there is just dire,” she added.

Kyte urged government donors and international development banks to think about how access to clean, modern energy enables people to get sufficient food and medical treatment, and earn a decent living.

In a place like Niger, having electricity can be a decisive factor in whether people leave their homes and head north to Europe seeking a better life, she added.

It can also reduce the financial need for poor families to marry their daughters off early.

“This is about using aid money and development finance … to start building a different value proposition for these people that is something that will allow them to stay where they come from, and would allow girls to be part of that economic future,” she said.

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