Facebook whistleblower’s damning testimony | First Thing

Frances Haugen gave evidence to UK parliament calling for urgent regulation. Plus, FDA to debate authorizing Covid shots for children

Good morning.

The Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen gave evidence to parliament in the UK on Monday, calling for urgent regulation to rein in the company’s management and reduce the harm being done to society.

Mark Zuckerberg “has unilateral control over 3 billion people” with his unassailable position at the top of Facebook, she said, adding that the company’s internal culture prioritised profitability over its impact on the world.

“There is no will at the top to make sure these systems are run in an adequately safe way,” Haugen said. “Until we bring in a counterweight, these things will be operated for the shareholders’ interest and not the public interest.”

  • What is Haugen doing in the UK? Haugen, a former Facebook employee who released tens of thousands of damaging documents about its inner workings, traveled to London from the US to back UK government proposals to regulate social media platforms and make them take some responsibility for content on their sites.

  • What is the problem with Facebook? Haugen said much of the blame for the world’s increasingly polarized politics lay with the radicalizing impact of social networks, especially Facebook groups.

  • Why is Zuckerberg being so closely scrutinized? Facebook’s ownership is structured so that Zuckerberg, as founder of the company, has a special class of share that means he alone ultimately controls the business. This gives him enormous control over the eponymous social network as well as the Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp.

FDA to debate authorizing Pfizer’s Covid vaccine for children aged five to 11

A woman receives a vaccine
The Food and Drug Administration will debate whether children aged five to 11 will be given Covid vaccines. Photograph: Robin Utrecht/Rex/Shutterstock

Independent experts with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will debate today whether to recommend the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11. Vaccines are currently authorized for children aged 12 and older.

Vaccine authorization for young children has been widely anticipated by parents in the US, as a wave of the Delta variant of Covid took hold across the country while many students were returning to classrooms.

The advisory committee will hear evidence from Pfizer and regulators, debate whether to recommend emergency authorization of child-size vaccines, and then vote on a recommendation.

  • If the committee approves the vaccine, does that mean it will go ahead? Regulators do not always follow independent committees’ advice, but they usually do.

  • What does the president have to say? The Biden administration also sees it as an important next step in the vaccine rollout program, which has slowed considerably.

Suspect held after two killed in shooting at Idaho shopping mall

First responders assist people who were inside the Boise Towne Square shopping mall when a man opened fire.
First responders assist people who were inside the Boise Towne Square shopping mall when a man opened fire. Photograph: Darin Oswald/AP

A suspect is in custody after two people were killed and four injured, including a police officer, during a shooting at a shopping mall on Monday in Boise, Idaho.

At a news conference, authorities said officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect. The majority of the mall has been cleared but police were still looking for any additional victims.

Police said the shooting was reported to law enforcement at about 1.50pm on Monday, and when officers arrived they spotted someone who matched a description of the suspect.

  • What did witnesses say? Cheri Gypin, of Boise, who was with a friend in the mall, said she heard several large bangs and thought something had fallen from the ceiling. About 60 people, including families pushing strollers, came running at them, some shouting that there was a shooter.

  • What do we know about the victims? Investigators are working with hospital officials to notify family members of those injured and killed in the shooting. The Boise mayor, Lauren McLean, asked members of the public and the news media to give the victims and their families privacy.

  • Why did the shooter open fire? The Boise police chief, Ryan Lee, said that was still unknown. “We really cannot at this time speak to any motivation behind it,” he said.

Abandoned children found living in Texas apartment with brother’s remains

Police tape at the scene in Texas.
Police tape at the scene in Texas. Photograph: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

The skeletal remains of a child and three surviving siblings who appeared to have been abandoned were found inside an apartment in the Houston area.

The plight of the children came to light on Sunday afternoon when one of them, a 15-year-old, called the Harris county sheriff’s office and said his nine-year-old brother had been dead for a year and the body was inside the apartment, the office said.

Deputies found the teenager and two siblings, aged 10 and seven, living alone in the apartment, said the sheriff, Ed Gonzalez. “It appears that the remains had been there for an extended period of time,” he said. “And I emphasize extended.”

The children’s mother and her boyfriend were located, questioned and released without charges being filed.

  • What were the conditions like inside the apartment? Gonzalez said the children had been “living in pretty deplorable conditions”, which were “very disturbing”.

  • Were the surviving children OK? The younger children appeared malnourished and had physical injuries, Gonzalez said. All three were taken to hospital to be assessed and treated.

  • What happens now? An investigation is being conducted by the sheriff’s office homicide, child abuse and crime scene units. The Texas department of family and protective services said it was seeking emergency custody of the children “to ensure the safety of the children”.

In other news…

Hippos float in the lake at Hacienda Napoles Park, once the private estate of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, who imported three female hippos and one male decades ago in Puerto Triunfo, Colombia.
Hippos float in the lake at Hacienda Napoles Park, once the private estate of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, who imported three female hippos and one male decades ago in Puerto Triunfo, Colombia. Photograph: Fernando Vergara/AP

Stat of the day: Facebook’s profit topped $9bn during its most recent financial quarter

Facebook’s profit exceeded $9bn during its most recent financial quarter, clearing investor predictions, even as the company faces an onslaught of negative publicity over a release of whistleblower documents.

The company revealed in its earnings report that it had a 6% year-on-year increase in daily active users, reaching an average of 1.93 billion for September 2021. Its revenue grew 35% to $29.01bn, thanks to a boom in online advertising.

Facebook’s financial wins came amid intense scrutiny, after a consortium of news organizations published stories based on documents leaked by Haugen.

Don’t miss this: Squid Game’s creator says: ‘I’m not that rich. It’s not like Netflix paid me a bonus’

The series’ director, Hwang Dong-hyuk, speaks to two of the cast.
The series’ director, Hwang Dong-hyuk, speaks to two of the cast. Photograph: Netflix/AFP/Getty Images

The Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries has interviewed Hwang Dong-hyuk, the creator, writer and director of the smash-hit TV show Squid Game, who said he had not received a cut of the estimated £650m his show made for Netflix.

“I’m not that rich,” he said. “But I do have enough. I have enough to put food on the table. And it’s not like Netflix is paying me a bonus. Netflix paid me according to the original contract.”

The 50-year-old film-maker had the idea for the show in 2009, when his family took out loans to make it through the financial crisis. He is in talks with Netflix about a second season.

Or this: Why people believe Covid conspiracy theories – could folklore hold the answer?

An anti-vax protester holds a Bill Gates poster during a demonstration in Bulgaria.
An anti-vax protester holds a Bill Gates poster during a demonstration in Bulgaria. Photograph: Belish/Rex/Shutterstock

A Guardian interactive shows how researchers have mapped the web of connections underpinning coronavirus conspiracy theories, opening a new way of understanding and challenging them.

Using Danish witchcraft folklore as a model, the researchers from UCLA and Berkeley analysed thousands of social media posts with an artificial intelligence tool and extracted the key people, things and relationships.

The tool enabled them to piece together the underlying stories in coronavirus conspiracy theories from fragments in online posts. One discovery from the research identifies Bill Gates as the reason why conspiracy theorists connect 5G with the virus. With Gates’ background in computer technology and vaccination programs, he served as a shortcut for these storytellers to link the two.

Last Thing: Hiker lost on US mountain ignored calls from rescuers because he didn’t recognize the number

Mount Elbert, Colorado
A man who became lost for 24 hours while hiking a trail on Mount Elbert, Colorado, ignored repeated phone calls from a search and rescue team. Photograph: Alamy

Ever missed an important call because you didn’t recognize the number? A man who became lost for 24 hours while hiking on Colorado’s highest mountain ignored repeated phone calls from rescue teams because they came from an unknown number, authorities say.

The hiker was reported missing at about 8pm on 18 October after failing to return to where he was staying, Lake County search and rescue said. Multiple rescue teams were deployed to Mount Elbert but they could not find him on the 4,401-metre (14,440ft) peak.

Eventually the hiker turned up safe and well after finding his way back to his car, apparently having no idea anyone was out looking for him.

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