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Opinion: Fresh hell awaits in 2018 for May

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, wrote: “EU leaders agree to move on to the second ph..

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, wrote: "EU leaders agree to move on to the second phase of #Brexit talks. Congratulations PM @theresa_may."As May headed home from Belgium on Thursday night, she would have been confident that her terrible year was about to end on a positive note. This would be some achievement after a 2017 in which she lost her government's majority in an election she didn't need to call and when Brexit talks seemed to be forever stuck at first base.May had just been applauded by fellow European leaders at a dinner designed to back the deal on the first stage of the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. The dinner was a prelude to the formal approval of the deal Friday by the remaining 27 EU countries — agreeing on Britain's proposed financial settlement with the bloc, a tentative arrangement on the future of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the rights of European citizens living in the UK.As May must know by now, however, a success one day can be overturned the next. Tusk's tweet gives the green light to the next stage — but a lot could still happen in the final days of 2017.However genuine Thursday evening's applause in Brussels might have been for the Prime Minister — and it was "not very enthusiastic," according to Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern — she is increasingly weak at home. On Wednesday evening, lawmakers from her own side defeated May on a key vote on her government's Brexit legislation. A second rebellion on a measure to enshrine in law the date of leaving the EU looms next week — and there have been reports in the British media that May is considering backing down on this, rather than suffering a second defeat. In the last six weeks, the Prime Minister has lost two Cabinet ministers, and an official investigation hangs over a third. These events are unrelated to Brexit but have nevertheless added to the sense of crisis in Downing Street.For May, the deal approved Friday was hard-fought and hard-won. It almost fell apart earlier this month when Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland on whom May's Conservative government relies on for a working majority in the British Parliament, withdrew support for a draft that would have seen Northern Ireland be subject to different customs arrangements than the rest of the UK. Frantic phone calls between the two women averted a disaster, and a new deal was struck a week ago.After six months of wrangling over the first phase of negotiations, not helped by conflicting comments from May's Brexit minister, David Davis, getting this deal is a real achievement. Yet this is only phase one: The more contentious issues will arise in the next one when Britain and the EU wrangle over post-Brexit trading arrangements. Talks on how long the transition period — designed to avoid a cliff edge for British businesses after Brexit happens — could begin as early as next week, and then discussions over trade will likely start in March. Yet not even May's Cabinet is in agreement on what a British-EU trade deal should look like, so the mood on both sides of the channel is far from jubilant.As Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said Friday morning: "The second phase will be significantly harder than the first and the first was very difficult." Whether Brexit will happen "depends on the British Parliament and British people."In a sign that EU leaders have finally reached the business end of Brexit negotiations, May held informal talks over apéritifs with key European power brokers — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron — before the formal dinner began Thursday evening. Merkel sounded a note of caution Friday morning, saying there was "much more work to be done and time is of the essence."The year may end on a high for the Prime Minister, but there are plenty more hurdles for her to jump over in 2018. She knows it, her colleagues — and opponents — in the UK know it and crucially, so do her European counterparts.


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Pope expresses support for same-sex civil union laws in new documentary

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 17:54

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals s..

Issued on:

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals should be protected by civil union laws, in some of the clearest language he has used on the rights of gay people.

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"Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it," Pope Francis says in the documentary "Francesco" by Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky.

"What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that," he said.

The pope appeared to be referring to when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and opposed legislation to approve same sex marriages but supported some kind of legal protection for the rights of gay couples.

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told Reuters that the pope's comments in the film were some of the clearest language the pontiff has used on the subject since his election in 2013.

The pope, who early in his papacy made the now-famous "Who am I to judge?" remark about homosexuals trying to live a Christian life, spoke in a section of the film about Andrea Rubera, a gay man who with his partner adopted three children.

Rubera says in the film that he went to a morning Mass the pope said in his Vatican residence and gave him a letter explaining his situation.

He told the pope that he and his partner wanted to bring the children up as Catholics in the local parish but did not want to cause any trauma for the children. It was not clear in which country RuberaRead More – Source

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Popping the digital filter bubble

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and ..

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and get 2 totally different results? The answer is online echo chambers and digital filter bubbles – social media and search engines that skew our access to information and algorithms that artificially promote content they think should suit us. Those invisible chains shrink our freedom to learn and be confronted with new ideas. Want to break free? France 24 can help you pop the filter bubbles around you!

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Social networks have revolutionised how we access information. In France, over a quarter of people get their news from social networks – second only to television. And for young people, the change is even more drastic: 47% of the under-35s say their primary source of information is social media (Ifop, 2019). And we’re not just passive consumers of information online now – everyone can also generate content, leading to a vast quantity of news and views online.

Sifting through that ever-growing mountain of information forces search engines and social media to use algorithms – to sort the wheat they think will interest us, from the chaff they assume won’t. For Jérôme Duberry of the University of Geneva, it’s a simple calculation: “if a web-user has a given profile, then they will be fed information of a certain type”. Posts that seem to appear at random on our Twitter or Facebook timelines are in fact carefully chosen according to what the platform already knows about us – interests, friends, “likes”. Highlighting content that is tailored specifically to our interests filters out topics from outside our comfort zone – reinforcing our beliefs.

Online rights are human rights

But social networks are only one aspect of the digital echo chambers. Search engines are also key – once again due to their reliance on algorithms. Google’s search results are generated from our own online history, mixed with that of thousands of other users. The goal for the search engine is to maximise user engagement by finding results that are most likely to prompt interest (and sales) from the user – and so generate advertising revenue.

For Jérôme Duberry, those gatekeepers limit our access to knowledge: “it’s as if there was someone standing in front of the university library, who asks you a bunch of questions about who you are, and only then gives you access to a limited number of books. And you never get the chance to see all the books on offer, and you never know the criteria for those limits.”

The consequences of these so-called Filter Bubbles are far-reaching. For Tristan Mendès France, specialist in Digital Cultures at the University of Paris, “being informed via social networks means an internet user is in a closed-circuit of information”.

Blinkered online views, democratic bad news

For many academics, those echo chambers could threaten the health of our democracies, suggesting the algorithms could contribute to the polarisation of society. By limiting our access to views similar to our own and excluding contradictory opinions, our beliefs may be reinforced – but at the expense of a diversity of opinions.

And that could undermine the very basis of our democracies. For Jerôme Duberry, the Filter Bubbles “could lead to us questioning the value of a vote. Today, we lend a great deal of importance to the vote, which is the extension of a person’s opinion. But that individual’s opinion is targeted by interest groups using an impressive array of techniques.”

That isn’t the only distortion that algorithms have created. They have also allowed more radical views to predominate. Youtube’s algorithm is blind to the actual content of a video – its choice of what will be most visible is made according to which videos are viewed all the way to the end. But for Tristan Mendès France, “it is generally the most activist or militant internet users that view videos all the way through”. That provokes “extra-visibility” for otherwise marginal content – at the expense of more nuanced or balanced views, or indeed verified information.

Escaping the echo chamber

So what happens to the spirit of debate in a world where your online habits reinforce your beliefs? Is the echo chamber a philosophical prison? And how easy is it to get back out into the fresh air of contradictory views?

In the US, the movement opposing algRead More – Source

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‘Well, this is Iceland’: Earthquake interrupts Prime Minister’s interview

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post wh..

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post when her house started to shake, visibly startling the Icelandic leader."Oh my god, there's an earthquake," she said with a gasp. "Sorry, there was an earthquake right now. Wow."But Jakobsdottir quickly pivoted back to the matter at hand, laughing: "Well this is Iceland" and continuing her response to the question."Yes I'm perfectly fine, the house is still strong, so no worries," she later added.Jakobsdottir, 44, has been Iceland's Prime Minister since 2017.The 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck on Tuesday afternoon 10 kilometers southwest of Hafnarfjordur, a coastal town near the capital of Reykjavík, according to the United States Geological Survey, which measures quakes worldwide.The tremble led to reports of damage around the capital. Earthquakes are common in Iceland, which boats a sweeping landscape dotted with dozens of volcanoes. Jakobsdottir isn't the first world leader to be interrupted by a quake this year; in May, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was discussing lifting coronavirus restrictions


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