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What The Fuck Is Going On In Politics: The Weekly Rundown

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

What’s happening with the impeachment inquiry? What’s going on in Lebanon? How are things going for Facebook? Here’s everything you need to know.

By Julie Ngalle, Atiya Chowdhury, and Chloé Meley

National Politics: 

Brexit Update:  

As you’ve probably noticed, the UK did not leave the EU on the 31st of October. Instead, the EU has agreed to Johnson’s request for an extension, which means the deadline has been extended to January 2020. 

In the meantime, we’ll have a General Election, which is set to take place on the 12th of December. Parliament will dissolve on the 6th of November, which is when parties will start their five-week electoral campaign. 

The future of Brexit will be determined by the outcome of this election. If the Conservatives maintain or expand their majority, they’ll push for Johnson’s deal. Labour has promised to organise a second referendum if they win a majority. Liberal Democrats are in favour of revoking Article 50, effectively canceling Brexit, while the Brexit Party wants a no deal Brexit. 

Who is Samira Ahmed and why is she suing the BBC? 

On the 28th of October, Samira Ahmed filed a lawsuit against the BBC claiming close to £700.000 over gender pay gap allegations. Before getting into that, let’s give this story more context: 

Samira Ahmed is a daytime presenter and journalist who has been working for the BBC since 1990. Over those 19 years, Ahmed has evolved from being a news trainee to reporter and is currently the host of BBC News Channel’s Newswatch, a segment where viewers and listeners are given the opportunity to criticise news stories covered by the channel, with the presenter reviewing these criticisms with the relevant people. 

Jeremy Vine joined the BBC three years before his colleague Samira Ahmed as a radio news reader. He is most famous for hosting his own programme on BBC radio 2. He is also known for being the presenter of the segment Points of View on BBC One, also a show which reviews letters and criticism that the public has addressed to the BBC, this time about their television programmes.

According to Ahmed, Jeremy Vine was paid up to £3000 per episode of Points of View, while she was paid only £465 per episode for her work on Newswatch. The basis of the legal proceedings filed against the BBC is that despite both presenters having a very similar job presenting 15-minute segments based on an identical concept, the salary gap between both is substantial. In fact, it was also pointed out that Newswatch actually attracted more viewers than Points of View did. Ahmed was very confused as to what would justify such a big disparity in their remuneration and claims the only possible answer is gender.

This is not the first time the BBC has faced allegations of unequal pay between men and women and this emerging scandal only fuels debates concerning the BBC’s values but also the place of women in British society and labour market. 

International Politics: 

What are the updates on the impeachment inquiry?

If you need a bit more information about what that impeachment stuff is about, check out our rundown from three weeks ago. 

As for what’s new, on the 31st of October, the House of Representatives voted 232 to 196 to endorse the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump. All 194 Republicans and two Democrats voted against, while 231 Democrats and one independent voted in favour. This does not mean that Trump is going to be impeached, but simply that the impeachment investigation is going forward. Essentially, the inquiry has been formalised. 

Several House committees will continue to gather evidence before presenting it to the House Judiciary Committee, which will have to vote on the articles of impeachment (formal charges) brought against Trump. Those articles of impeachment will then be advanced to a vote by the full House. With a simple majority, the President will be charged. However, that still would not mean the President would be impeached. For that, the Senate, which is currently Republican-controlled, would have to convict Trump. 

What’s going on with Facebook right now, and what does it have to do with democracy?

As you may already know, Facebook has been in the middle of several scandals relating to poor data protection and advertising policies. For starters, last year, it was revealed that users’ personal information and data had been used for political advertisement during the 2016 US presidential elections and the Brexit campaign. The marketing campaigns were managed by a company called Cambridge Analytica, who were responsible for acquiring all this data without users’ knowledge or consent. Not only did Facebook users felt that their privacy had been violated, but claims were also made that this could be considered a new form of propaganda. Indeed, Cambridge Analytica gained access to viewers’ messages, feeds and timelines in order to garner enough information to establish detailed profiles, which in turn helped them pinpoint what kind of post would most affect which kind of viewer and persuade them to swing to one particular side. 

In the middle of this, Mark Zuckerberg managed to cause even more outrage after trying to justify the company’s new policy regarding political advertisement. Indeed, the policy stated that Facebook was not planning on fact-checking the political advertisement promoted on the website. This is essentially allowing false advertisement and fake news to circulate freely. When questioned on how ethical and honest the decision was, all Facebook’s CEO had to say was that he believed in democratic values such as freedom of speech, that “lying was bad”, that he was hopeful politicians would not manipulate social media for political purposes, and concluded that individuals were perfectly capable of being critical of the information they read before forging an opinion. 

Many people pointed out how ironic and hypocritical these claims were. Some are saying that Zuckerberg talking about democracy and freedom is a little bit inappropriate when Facebook is caught in the middle of a scandal about illegally harvested data used to influence people’s political decisions. Others also found it unacceptable to use democratic values as an excuse to hide the real motivations behind this policy, which are believed to be primarily financial. Indeed, online advertising plays a central role across social media platforms, and is part of the company’s business model. Whether all those claims are accurate or not, what is certain is that Facebook’s popularity is decreasing by the minute and citizens’ trust in politicians and their campaigns is as well. 

What does the resignation of Lebanon’s Prime Minister mean for the future of the country? 

On Tuesday 29th October, Lebanon saw its Prime Minister Saad Hariri resign from his position following massive peaceful protests that erupted on the 17th of October to denounce the Lebanese government’s failure to deliver on economic and social reforms. However, even though Hariri has resigned, President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, are still in power. Hariri’s resignation is considered by many not to be sufficient proof that the ruling elite is willing to change the status quo, and until sweeping socio-economic reforms are actually put in place, protests are likely to continue. 

Without the presence of a solid government, a caretaker government could emerge which would be dealing predominantly with administrative issues and have barely any political power. In the past, this has led to the elite political class exploiting this political vacuum to maintain their own political power. Alternatively, we could also see a rescue government put in place made up of public officials. Whichever is put in place though, both these types of governments would become a ploy for the elite to stall the much-needed socio-economic reforms.

Something else to keep in mind is the presence of Hezbollah, which is a central player in all of this. The organisation’s leader has denounced the protests, which he sees as evidence of foreign interference in Lebanon’s domestic affairs. Tensions between Hezbollah supporters and anti-government protesters might undermine the popular unity that has defined the protests so far.

Nevertheless, hope remains high among protesters. Indeed, they view Hariri’s resignation as the first step in the overhaul of a sectarian government. A formation of a transitional government made up of members from various civil organisations could be the next step. 

What does Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death mean for the terrorist organisation and global security? 

On the 28th of October, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed by US troops, and Trump has not yet stopped bragging about it. The information was later confirmed by the terrorist organisation itself. After a manhunt that lasted for about nine years, the death of the organisation’s leader was widely celebrated across the country. Although ISIS’ power and influence has been decreasing for years now, they still pose a significant threat. The killing of their leader was therefore seen as a necessary step closer to the eradication of the organisation. 

However, many are worried the world might be chanting victory too soon as backlash from this event is far from impossible. Indeed, for one, the impact of al-Baghdadi’s on the organisation has already been questioned as terrorism specialists explained the organisation already worked very independently and did not rely on its leader’s supervision and orders much. His death therefore does not necessarily stop all activities and a successor was appointed within three days anyways. 

Furthermore, the leader’s death could still generate more hatred and encourage fighters to seek revenge. French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner warned for example that  Islamist propaganda was very likely to increase in the hours and days following the event and advised the country’s military and security forces to be extra vigilant as the country was not immune to attacks and increased violence perpetrated in the name of the deceased leader. It can only be assumed that, whatever the impact of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death on the terrorist organisation, the terrorist threat lives on. 

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