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Facebook to verify ads with postcards after Russian meddling



Facebook will soon rely on centuries-old technology to try to prevent foreign meddling in U.S. elections: the post office.

Baffled in 2016 by Russian agents who bought ads to sway the U.S. presidential campaign, Facebook’s global politics and government outreach director, Katie Harbath, told a meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State in Washington on Saturday that the company would send postcards to potential buyers of political ads to confirm they reside in the U.S.

The recipient would then have to enter a code in Facebook to continue buying the ad. The method will first apply to ads that name candidates ahead of the midterm elections in November, said Facebook spokesman Andy Stone.

The plan was unveiled a day after special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians with interfering in the presidential election. Mueller’s indictment described how Russian agents stole social security numbers and other information from real Americans and used them to create bank and PayPal accounts in order to buy online ads. Agents also recruited Americans to do things such as hold up signs at rallies organized to create content for Russian-created social media posts.

Facebook uncovered some 3,000 Russian-linked ads on Facebook and Instagram bought before and after the November 2016 election that it says may have been seen by as many as 150 million users. But ads were only part of the problem, as the Mueller indictments say that Russian agents also set up fake pages with names such as “Secured Borders,” ″Blacktivist” and “United Muslims of America” that had hundreds of thousands of followers.

Facebook did not say how the new postcard method of verification would prevent foreign agents from setting up local mailing addresses and hiring people in the U.S. to check them. But Stone said the method was “one piece of a much larger effort to address foreign electoral influence on our platform.”

Facebook’s efforts largely center around verifying people on the platform are who they say they are. To catch duplicitous ad-buyers, for instance, it is now testing out in Canada a system that allows people to see which ads are being bought by a Facebook page — say, a candidate’s — even if the person checking the ad is not in the group to whom the ad was intended to be shown.

Stone said Facebook was also able to detect and remove “tens of thousands” of fake Facebook pages in advance of French, German and British elections last year using improved machine learning techniques.

The company has said it would double the number of people working on its safety and security team to 20,000 this year and add 1,000 people to review advertising content.

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WHO says pandemic has caused more ‘mass trauma’ than WWII and will last for years



Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) speaks after Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases during the 148th session of the Executive Board on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, January 21, 2021.

Christopher Black | WHO | via Reuters

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused mass trauma on a larger scale than World War II, and the impact will last “for many years to come,” the World Health Organization’s top official said Friday.

“After the Second World War, the world has experienced mass trauma, because Second World War affected many, many lives. And now, even with this Covid pandemic, with bigger magnitude, more lives have been affected,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference Friday. “Almost the whole world is affected, each and every individual on the surface of the world actually has been affected.”

“And that means mass trauma, which is beyond proportion, even bigger than what the world experienced after the Second World War,” he added, noting the effect on mental health. “And when there is mass trauma, it affects communities for many years to come.”

His comments came in response to a question about whether countries should take the pandemic’s impact on the economy and mental health into account more as they chart their paths forward. Tedros’ deputies emphasized that mental health ought to be prioritized.

“The answer is absolutely yes,” Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said. “There are variations in terms of the impact that this has had on individuals, whether you have lost a loved one, or a family member or friend to this virus. Whether you’ve lost your job, children who haven’t been in school, people who are forced to stay home in very difficult situations.”

Kerkhove added that the world is still in the “acute phase” of the pandemic, when the virus is tearing through communities, killing tens of thousands every week. She added, though, that the mental health toll of the pandemic will emerge as a major issue in the long term, saying that “there needs to be a lot more emphasis by governments, by communities, by families, by individuals to look after our well-being.”

Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, urged people to not just highlight the mental health toll of the pandemic as a problem, but to also discuss solutions.

“It’s one thing to say that mental health is and psychological health is under pressure — that’s true — but also the opposite of that has to be what we’re doing to support and provide psychosocial support to people and communities,” he said.

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Black and Hispanic women aren’t sharing in the job market recovery



A woman waits in line as food is distributed at the Ebenezer Seventh-day Adventist church on July 22, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images

Friday’s employment report pointed to further signs of a recovery in the U.S. economy, with 379,000 net jobs added and the unemployment rate falling to 6.2%.

But despite the encouraging top-line numbers, the job-market’s 2020 swoon and its 2021 recovery have not fallen equally across the U.S. labor force.

Employment data was worse for minority groups, particularly women of color, than for White workers during the early days of the Covid-19 recession. The recovery has been more sluggish for minority groups, too.

The divergence in the job market’s recovery was evident in Friday’s jobs report, which showed a decline in the white unemployment rate and an increase in the Black unemployment rate.

For white workers, the unemployment rate fell to 5.6% in February, below the national rate. But for Black and Hispanic workers, reported jobless rates were 9.9% and 8.5%, respectively, remaining above the U.S. figures as they have been throughout the pandemic.

White unemployment peaked at 14.1% in April 2020. Black unemployment peaked at 16.7% in both April and May. Hispanic unemployment peaked at 18.9% in April.

Tougher for women

But as stark as the race- and ethnicity-based disparities are, the recession’s unequal impact is more pronounced in analysis that includes race and gender.

Black and Hispanic women, in particular, have suffered some of the steepest spikes in unemployment and largest drops in labor force participation rate since the pandemic began.

Total employment for Black women is 9.7% lower than it was in February 2020, before Covid-19 hit the U.S., with that figure for Hispanic women close behind at 8.6% lower. Employment for white men, white women, and Black men is down 5%, 5.4% and 5.9%, respectively, since February 2020.

Though explanations for this trend vary, some economists suggest occupational segregation — that is, prevalence of a demographic in a given industry — is a likely culprit.

“Whoever was hit the hardest takes the longest to recover,” said Kate Bahn, an economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a think tank founded by Democratic political consultant John Podesta. “Once we are long into the recovery, employment levels and income levels may not fully recover for years.”

“Women are slightly more represented in some sectors like leisure and hospitality and food service,” Bahn added. “We’ve also lost health care jobs, particularly low wage health care jobs that are disproportionately held by women of color.”

Economists hope that President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, expected to pass the Senate this weekend, will not only hasten the broad economic recovery but assist those who saw their jobs cut. The bill contains $1,400 stimulus checks, an extension of weekly unemployment payouts of $300 to September and $350 billion in aid to state to local governments.

Janelle Jones, the first Black woman to be chief Labor economist, wrote last month that this trend is also apparent in the public sector, which saw steep layoffs at the state and local levels over the past 12 months.

“Losses in local and state government and leisure and hospitality have disproportionate impacts on Black women’s employment. Black women are nearly one in four public sector workers,” Jones wrote in a blog post dated Feb. 9. “Half a million Black women have left the labor market since January 2020.”

Breaking the February jobs report down by industry, a surge in hiring at restaurants and bars helped lead the broader hospitality sector up 355,000 jobs last month. Those gains help offset the losses it’s accrued over the last 12 months. Leisure and hospitality as a whole is is down 3.5 million jobs, or 20%, versus February 2020.

Government payrolls lost 86,000 workers last month as layoffs continued in public education

Participation a concern

While high unemployment rates tend to garner attention and are perhaps easier to understand, a significant drop in the number of women either working or seeking work can prove more insidious in the longer term.

Labor force participation for Black women plunged from 63.9% in February 2020 to 59.5% in April 2020, the lowest rate since 1993. The February jobs report showed that figure had improved slightly since April to 59.7%.

Historically, women who dropped out of the workforce during a recession to care for their kids often struggled to return, being unable to find a job in their prior role or unable to command the same wage.

The Covid recession might end up even worse for women. Unlike prior economic downturns, the disease forced thousands of children out of school and back into the home, where the duties of childcare continue to more often fall on women. And especially on mothers in families that cannot afford childcare.

Historically, Black women have fared better than Black men in the labor market, said Kristen Broady, a fellow in economics studies at the Brookings Institution and policy director of the think tank’s Hamilton Project.

Unemployment rates for Black women, who Broady said are more likely to have a college education, are typically lower than those for Black men. But the unique nature of the Covid recession and resulting childcare issues have disproportionately impacted Black women’s ability to work.

“In other recessions, children were still in schools,” said Broady. “If you can’t afford child care and are a single mom, you can’t go to work. And that’s more likely to affect black and Hispanic women.”

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U.S., EU to suspend tariffs in effort to resolve Boeing-Airbus trade dispute



Boeing and Airbus square off at the 2013 Paris Air Show.

Fabrice Dimier | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The U.S. and the European union will suspend tariffs for four months tied to a long-running dispute over illegal subsidies for Boeing and Airbus, the president of the European Commission said Friday.

This is breaking news. Check back for updates.

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