A rural town in central Texas is home to the largest bitcoin mining facility in North America, bringing jobs and welcomed vitality into the community. But critics warn the operations are part of a volatile new industry. Deana Mitchell has the story.
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Instagram is blocking posts that mention abortion from public view, in some cases requiring its users to confirm their age before letting them view posts that offer up information about the procedure.
Over the last day, several Instagram accounts run by abortion rights advocacy groups have found their posts or stories hidden with a warning that described the posts as “sensitive content.” Instagram said it was working to fix the problem Tuesday, describing it as a bug.
In one example, Instagram covered a post on a page with more than 25,000 followers that shared text reading: “Abortion in America How You Can Help.” The post went on to encourage followers to donate money to abortion organizations and to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strip constitutional protections for abortion.
The post was covered with a warning from Instagram, reading “This photo may contain graphic or violent content.”
Instagram’s latest snafu follows an Associated Press report that Facebook and Instagram were deleting posts that offered to mail abortion pills to women living in states that now ban abortion procedures. The tech platforms said they were deleting the posts because they violated policies against selling or gifting certain products, including pharmaceuticals, drugs and firearms.
Yet, the AP’s review found that similar posts offering to mail a gun or marijuana were not removed by Facebook. The company did not respond to questions about the discrepancy.
Berlin photographer Zoe Noble runs the Instagram page whose post referencing abortion was blocked for viewing. The page, which celebrates women who decide not to have children, has been live for over a year. Monday was the first time a post mentioning abortion was restricted by Instagram, although Noble has mentioned it many times before.
“I was really confused because we’ve never had this happen before, and we’ve talked about abortion before,” Noble said. “I was really shocked that the word abortion seemed to be flagged.”
The platform offers no way for users to dispute the restriction.
The AP identified nearly a dozen other posts that mentioned the word “abortion” and were subsequently covered up by Instagram. All of the posts were informational in nature, and none of the posts featured photos of abortions. An Instagram post by an AP reporter that asked people if they were experiencing the problem was also covered by the company on Tuesday and required users to enter their age in order to view it.
The AP inquired about the problem on Tuesday morning. Hours later, Instagram’s communication department acknowledged the problem on Twitter, describing it as a glitch. A spokesman for Instagram-owner Meta Platforms Inc. said in an email that the company does not place age restrictions around its abortion content.
“We’re hearing that people around the world are seeing our ‘sensitivity screens,’ on many different types of content when they shouldn’t be. We’re looking into this bug and working on a fix now,” the company tweeted.
Tech companies like Meta can hide details about how posts or keywords have been promoted or hidden from view, said Brooke Erin Duffy, a professor at Cornell University who studies social media.
“This can all take place behind the scenes, and it can be attributed to a glitch,” Duffy said. “We don’t know what happened. That’s what’s chilling about this.
Future waves of COVID-19 might be predicted using internet search data, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
In the study, researchers watched the number of COVID-related Google searches made across the country and used that information, together with conventional COVID-19 metrics such as confirmed cases, to predict hospital admission rates weeks in advance.
Using the search data provided by Google Trends, scientists were able to build a computational model to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations. Google Trends is an online portal that provides data on Google search volumes in real time.
“If you have a bunch of people searching for ‘COVID testing sites near me’ … you’re going to still feel the effects of that downstream at the hospital level in terms of admissions,” said data scientist Philip Turk of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, who was not involved in the study. “That gives health care administrators and leaders advance warning to prepare for surges — to stock up on personal protective equipment and staffing and to anticipate a surge coming at them.”
For predictions one or two weeks in advance, the new computer model stacks up well against existing ones. It beats the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “national ensemble” forecast, which combines models made by many research teams — though there are some single models that outperform it.
According to study co-author Shihao Yang, a data scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the new model’s value is its unique perspective — a data source that is independent of conventional metrics. Yang is working to add the new model to the CDC’s COVID-19 forecasting hub.
Watching trends in how often people Google certain terms, like “cough” or “COVID-19 vaccine,” could help fill in the gaps in places with sparse testing or weak health care systems.
Yang also thinks that his model will be especially useful when new variants pop up. It did a good job of predicting spikes in hospitalizations thought to be associated with new variants such as omicron, without the time delays typical of many other models.
“It’s like an earthquake,” Yang said. “Google search will tell me a few hours ahead that a tsunami is hitting. … A few hours is enough for me to get prepared, allocate resources and inform my staff. I think that’s the information that we are providing here. It’s that window from the earthquake to when the tsunami hit the shore where my model really shines.”
The model considers Google search volumes for 256 COVID-19-specific terms, such as “loss of taste,” “COVID-19 vaccine” and “cough,” together with core statistics like case counts and vaccination rates. It also has temporal and spatial components — terms representing the delay between today’s data and the future hospitalizations it predicts, and how closely connected different states are.
Every week, the model retrains itself using the past 56 days’ worth of data. This keeps the model from being weighed down by older data that don’t reflect how the virus acts now.
Turk previously developed a different model to predict COVID-19 hospitalizations on a local level for the Charlotte, North Carolina, metropolitan area. The new model developed by Yang and his colleagues uses a different method and is the first to make state- and national-level predictions using search data.
Turk was surprised by “just how harmonious” the result was with his earlier work.
“I mean, they’re basically looking at two different models, two different paths,” he said. “It’s a great example of science coming together.”
Using Google search data to make public health forecasts has downsides. For one, Google could stop allowing researchers to use the data at any time, something Yang admits is concerning to his colleagues.
‘Noise’ in searches
Additionally, search data are messy, with lots of random behavior that researchers call “noise,” and the quality varies regionally, so the information needs to be smoothed out during analysis using statistical methods.
Local linguistic quirks can introduce problems because people from different regions sometimes use different words to describe the same thing, as can media coverage when it either raises or calms pandemic fears, Yang said. Privacy protections also introduce complications — user data are aggregated and injected with extra noise before publishing, a protection that makes it impossible to fish out individual users’ information from the public dataset.
Running the model with search data alone didn’t work as well as the model with search data and conventional metrics. Taking out search data and using only conventional COVID-19 metrics to make predictions also hurt the new model’s performance. This indicates that, for this model, the magic is in the mix — both conventional COVID-19 metrics and Google Trends data contain information that is useful for predicting hospitalizations.
“The fact that the data is valuable, and [the] data [is] difficult to process are two independent questions. There [is] information in there,” Yang said. “I can talk to my mom about this. It’s very simple, just intuitive. … If we are able to capture that intuition, I think that’s what makes things work.”
NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has successfully completed its first rocket launch from a commercial space facility outside of the United States. A 13-meter rocket blasted off Monday from a site in the Australian outback.
A 13-meter sub-orbital rocket took off from the newly built Arnhem Space Centre in Australia’s Northern Territory Monday. Lift-off was delayed by about two hours because of strong winds and heavy rain.
The launch was the first of its kind in Australia in more than 25 years and the first of three scheduled NASA missions from the site.
Researchers hope the information gathered from the flights will help them understand how light from a star could affect the habitability of nearby planets. They have said that this type of study can only be carried out in the Southern Hemisphere.
The unmanned flight briefly scanned the Milky Way, measuring X-Ray emissions and analyzing the structure of stars.
Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University, told Australian television that the launch is part of a project to boost the domestic space industry.
“When you build a satellite you have to go overseas to do it and so the fact that we are now seeing this build-up of launching from Australia this is, kind of, that final piece of the puzzle to having, you know, a really massive industry in this sector of space and then we see that that, kind of, the first group that says, yes, we want to do it, we want to be a part of the story is Nasa, you know, it just, kind of, gives the street cred[ibility] so to speak that you are on the right track from what you are thinking,” he said.
The Arnhem Space Center is the world’s only commercially owned equatorial launch facility.
The center is built on Aboriginal land. Tribal elders hope the project will provide jobs and opportunities for young First Nations people.
Officials said the center combines one of the “oldest cultures in the world with some of the most advanced technology ever.”
The next NASA rocket will be launched in the Northern Territory on July 4, and the third will take off on July 12.
About 75 NASA staff have travelled to northern Australia for all three launches.
Australia is working to increase its capabilities in space. This year, it announced a new defense agency that would work to counter China and Russia’s ambitions in space. Along with the United States, the two countries are reported to have tested weapons that could destroy a satellite.
The Australian Space Agency was created in July 2018 to “support the growth and transformation” of the nation’s space industry.”
Coinciding with unrelenting cyberattacks against Ukraine, state-backed Russian hackers have engaged in “strategic espionage” against governments, think tanks, businesses and aid groups in 42 countries supporting Kyiv, Microsoft said in a report Wednesday.
“Since the start of the war, the Russian targeting [of Ukraine’s allies] has been successful 29 percent of the time,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote, with data stolen in at least one-quarter of the successful network intrusions.
“As a coalition of countries has come together to defend Ukraine, Russian intelligence agencies have stepped up network penetration and espionage activities targeting allied governments outside Ukraine,” Smith said.
Nearly two-thirds of the cyberespionage targets involved NATO members. The United States was the prime target and Poland, the main conduit for military assistance flowing to Ukraine, was No. 2. In the past two months, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Turkey have seen stepped-up targeting.
A striking exception is Estonia, where Microsoft said it has detected no Russian cyber intrusions since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The company credited Estonia’s adoption of cloud computing, where it’s easier to detect intruders. “Significant collective defensive weaknesses remain” among some other European governments, Microsoft said, without identifying them.
Half of the 128 organizations targeted are government agencies and 12% are nongovernmental agencies, typically think tanks or humanitarian groups, according to the 28-page report. Other targets include telecommunications, energy and defense companies.
Microsoft said Ukraine’s cyber defenses “have proven stronger” overall than Russia’s capabilities in “waves of destructive cyberattacks against 48 distinct Ukrainian agencies and enterprises.” Moscow’s military hackers have been cautious not to unleash destructive data-destroying worms that could spread outside Ukraine, as the NotPetya virus did in 2017, the report noted.
“During the past month, as the Russian military moved to concentrate its attacks in the Donbas region, the number of destructive attacks has fallen,” according to the report, “Defending Ukraine: Early Lessons from the Cyber War.” The Redmond, Washington, company has unique insight in the domain due to the ubiquity of its software and threat detection teams.
Microsoft said Ukraine has also set an example in data safeguarding. Ukraine went from storing its data locally on servers in government buildings a week before the Russian invasion — making them vulnerable to aerial attack — to dispersing that data in the cloud, hosted in data centers across Europe.
The report also assessed Russian disinformation and propaganda aimed at “undermining Western unity and deflecting criticism of Russian military war crimes” and wooing people in nonaligned countries.
Using artificial intelligence tools, Microsoft said, it estimated “Russian cyber influence operations successfully increased the spread of Russian propaganda after the war began by 216 percent in Ukraine and 82 percent in the United States.”
Twitter’s board has recommended unanimously that shareholders approve the proposed $44 billion sale of the company to billionaire and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, according to a regulatory filing Tuesday.
Musk reiterated his desire to move forward with the acquisition last week during a virtual meeting with Twitter employees, though shares of Twitter remain far below his offering price, signaling considerable doubt that it will happen.
Shares rose about 3% to $38.98 before the opening bell Tuesday, far short of the $54.20 per-share that Musk has offered for each share. The company’s stock last reached that level on April 5 when it offered Musk a seat on the board before he had offered to buy all of Twitter.
In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission detailing on Tuesday detailing a litter to investors, Twitter’s board of directors said that it “unanimously recommends that you vote (for) the adoption of the merger agreement.” If the deal were to close now, investors in the company would pocket a profit of $15.22 for each share they own.
“I’m in a cryptocurrency chat group at work,” software engineer Adam Hickey of San Diego, California told VOA.
Over the last few days, Hickey said, members of the group have been writing things like, “Bloodbath” and, “Are we still good?”
“It shook me, honestly,” he admitted. “I just had to stop looking at my balance. At one point, months ago, my investment in crypto had tripled. Now I’m down 40%.”
Hickey is far from alone. Serious and casual investors across the United States have seen the value of their investments in the publicly available digital asset known as cryptocurrency shrink dramatically in recent months, with steep plunges recorded in just the last week.
The value of bitcoin, the most popular form of cryptocurrency, has dropped more than 70% since its peak in November of last year, erasing more than 18 months of growth and causing many investors to wonder if this is the bottom, or if the worst is still to come.
“I have to remind myself that when I got into bitcoin in 2017, it was more of something I just kind of hoped would be the next Amazon.com,” Hickey said. Like many others, Hickey dreamed cryptocurrency could be a way to get rich in the long-term, or at least would be a part of his retirement savings.
“I’ve always seen it as a long-term investment. Still, this is the most nervous I’ve been about it,” he said. “You hear people on social media saying this is all a Ponzi scheme. Now I’m having thoughts like maybe those warnings are right – that the people pushing bitcoin so hard are the ones who bought it at the earliest low prices. Of course they want people to buy and drive the value back up. It’s good for them, but is it good for me?”
Those skeptical of cryptocurrency point to its lack of regulatory oversight from government as a major reason for concern, making it susceptible to scams and wild price fluctuations.
“I’ve always seen it as a highly speculative investment,” said Marigny deMauriac, a certified financial planner in New Orleans, Louisiana. “This isn’t something any individual should have the majority of their wealth in unless they’re looking to take a significant amount of unnecessary risk.”
“I tell my clients to stay clear of investing any significant portion of their wealth in cryptocurrency, or any other highly speculative investment type,” deMaruiac told VOA. Many of the most ardent cryptocurrency supporters, however, invest precisely because it isn’t tied to governments as traditional currencies are. Digital currency’s demonstrated capacity for meteoric rises is a big part of its appeal.
Steve Ryan, a self-employed poker player living in Las Vegas, Nevada, began investing in digital currency nearly a decade ago. “I’ve been in it for so long, I understand this stuff much better than your average person who only read about it on the internet a year or two ago,” he said.
Ryan invested on the advice of entrepreneurial friends; back when a single bitcoin sold for only a couple of hundred dollars as opposed to the tens of thousands they sell for today.
“Most of my money is in crypto, and I wish I had kept more in there rather than selling some of it,” he told VOA. “Even after this downturn, I’d be a multimillionaire had I kept it all in.”
U.S. inflation at 40-year highs has caused the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates, sending jitters throughout financial markets. At the same time, some Americans have lost their appetite for riskier investments.
Many have sold their cryptocurrency holdings and reinvested in safer, more stable assets. At the end of last week, the value of one share of bitcoin dropped below $18,000 from a high late last year of more than $64,000. The total crypto market value dropped from a peak of $3.2 trillion to below $1 trillion.
“I’m definitely worried today,” Ryan said on Saturday as bitcoin reached its lowest point since December 2020.
Still, Ryan maintained he still believes in bitcoin.
“I’m worried because we’ve got a war going on in Europe, huge amounts of inflation, we’re trying to recover from the impacts of a pandemic, and governments might try to regulate bitcoin,” he said. “But I’m not worried about bitcoin itself – I think it’s as solid as ever. That’s how cycles work and this could prove to be one of the best times in history to get into crypto.”
Casual cryptocurrency investors may not be so sure, but many seem willing to hold on to what they have in the hopes of a rebound. “Of course, when it rose to over $60,000, I had big dreams that I could earn enough money to go on a big trip or to make a down payment on a property,” said Joe Frisard, a semi-retired resident of Atlanta, Georgia.
The downturn has lowered Frisard’s ambitions, he acknowledged, but he still planned on hanging on to the cryptocurrency he hadn’t already sold when it was closer to its peak. “I’ve lost a good bit of money in the stock market, too,” he said, “but I’m not looking to dump my stocks. They’re a long-term investment and I see bitcoin in a similar way.”
Weathering the storm
Gordon Henderson, a retired collegiate marching band director from Los Angeles, California, is also not panicking.
“I’m much more concerned about my stocks in my retirement fund than in my relatively small crypto holdings,” he said. Henderson remembers his father, at age 69 in 1987, converting his retirement fund to cash before a recession temporarily decimated the stock market.
“He was pretty proud of his timing,” Henderson recalled, “but in reality, he would have ended up with eight times more money if he had weathered the storm and kept his money in the stock market for another two decades. That’s how I look at cryptocurrency. I’ll hang onto it and maybe it will pay for college for my kids. If not, I was prepared for the loss.”
Colin Ash, an urban planner in New Orleans, Louisiana, has owned bitcoin for years, but said he thinks of it as “a fun gamble.”
“Of course, I wish I would have timed it perfectly and sold it all at the peak,” he said, “but it’s not realistic to think you can ever do that with any kind of investment. I think of it as something separate from the rest of my money. If something comes of it in the long run, then great. If not, at least I already sold some and paid off some debt.”
For Hickey in San Diego, as well as many other investors, the key is to not invest more than you can afford to lose, particularly with an asset as speculative as cryptocurrency.
“Under the current circumstances, with everything falling so far down, I’ve decided to halt my weekly recurring purchase of bitcoin,” he said. “I think I’m done investing for now.”
He paused for a moment, and then said, “Now, that’s kind of hard, because if you want to make money you should buy low and sell high. Bitcoin prices are low, so I’ll probably be back in before you know it.”
Amazon and Cartier joined forces Wednesday in U.S. court to accuse a social media influencer of working with Chinese firms to sell knock-offs of the luxury brand’s jewelry on the e-commerce giant’s site.
The online personality used sites like Instagram to pitch Cartier jewelry such as “Love bracelets” to followers and then provided links that led to counterfeit versions on Amazon, one of two lawsuits alleged.
The influencer appeared to be a woman in Handan, China, and the merchants involved in the “counterfeiting scheme” were traced to other Chinese cities, according to court documents.
“By using social media to promote counterfeit products, bad actors undermine trust and mislead customers,” Amazon associate general counsel Kebharu Smith said in a statement.
“We don’t just want to chase them away from Amazon — we want to stop them for good,” Smith added.
The Seattle-based e-commerce giant has booted vendors targeted in the suit from its platform and teamed with Cartier to urge a federal court to make them pay damages and legal costs for hawking knock-off jewelry there from June 2020 through June 2021.
The “sophisticated campaign” sought to avoid detection by having the social media influencer pitch jewelry as being Cartier, but the vendors made no mention of the luxury brand at their shops at Amazon, the lawsuit said.
Buyers, however, were sent jewelry bearing Cartier trademarks, the companies alleged in court documents.
A second lawsuit accuses an Amazon store operating under the name “YFXF” last year of selling counterfeit Cartier goods, disguising jewelry as unbranded at the website but sending buyers knock-offs bearing the company’s trademark.
Those involved in the scheme “advertised their counterfeit products on third-party social media websites by using ‘hidden links’ to direct their followers to the counterfeit Cartier products, while disguising the products as non-branded in the listings in the Amazon Store,” the lawsuit said.
The companies said that Instagram direct messages and shared links were used to instruct social media followers about how to buy knock-offs at Amazon.your ad here