Pilot’s letter found after plane’s 435 days in Covid-19 storage


A “chilling” handwritten letter has been discovered more than 400 days after it was penned, poignantly summarising the mammoth toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

Delta Airlines pilot Chris Dennis left a note inside the cockpit of Delta ship 3009 after parking it in the Victorville airport in the California desert on March 23 last year.

It was one of hundreds of planes, including several owned by Qantas, which were grounded when Covid-19 immobilised the population and forced widespread travel bans.

Last week, the Delta plane was assigned to First Officer Nick P, who was tasked with “waking up” the plane for the first time in more than a year.

“One thing he didn’t expect to find was Chris’ letter, tucked away on a tray table in the flight deck,” Delta said.

RELATED: Qantas’ Project Sunrise flights may be Sydney only for years

The letter’s 57 words “captured so much of the uncertainty and emotion we all felt in March 2020” a post to the airline’s Facebook page read.

“Hey pilots, it’s March 23rd and we just arrived from MSP [Minneapolis – Saint Paul International Airport]. Very chilling to see so much of our fleet here in the desert,” Mr Dennis’ letter read.

“If you are here to pick it up then the light must be at the end of the tunnel. Amazing how fast it changed. Have a safe flight bringing it out of storage.”

The letter “underscored the gravity of the trip”, according to the airline, which announced the plane was being prepared to “take to the skies again” after 435 days.

Mr Dennis described seeing the hundreds of aircraft parked for storage as “chilling, apocalyptic and surreal” in a post he shared to Facebook the day after he left the letter.

RELATED: Leaders at G7 demand new probe into origins of Covid-19

“Today was a day I will remember for the rest of my life. A trip opened up to bring a Delta A321 to Victorville, CA for storage. I had no idea what I would see or the emotions I would feel,” he wrote.

“Chilling, apocalyptic, surreal … all words that still don’t fit what is happening in the world. Each one of these aircraft represents hundreds of jobs, if not more.”

In two weeks of mandatory quarantine at the time, his post served as a stark reminder of how aggressively the virus took hold of life as we knew it.

More than 400 people agreed with an unofficial petition calling for the A321 to be given a “custom paint scheme” to symbolise the “spirit of America” or “hope”.

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Nine’s Google, Facebook deals formalised


Nine Entertainment Co will receive hundreds of millions of dollars to support its newsrooms over the next five years after formalising deals with Google and Facebook for use of content on their platforms.

Industry sources, who spoke anonymously because they had signed non-disclosure agreements, said the two deals were signed early on Tuesday morning, after months of negotiations and the introduction of landmark new media bargaining laws.

The two deals are in addition to the agreements struck with News Corp Australia, owner of The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun, and Seven West Media. The sources said Nine would receive well over $35 million in cash annually from Google over the next five years, while the Facebook figure is estimated to be half of that amount annually over three years.

The negotiations between Google and Facebook were led by Nine’s chief digital and publishing officer Chris Janz.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Nine has not said publicly where it intends to invest the money received from the two platforms, but former chief executive Hugh Marks said it would be used to support journalism. The media company owns The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, as well as a television network, radio stations 2GB and 3AW, streaming service Stan and a majority stake in real-estate listings company Domain. News Corp said it was hiring 100 journalists after signing the deals.

Nine confirmed the news in a statement on the ASX and said it expected growth in publishing earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation to be between $30 to $40 million this financial year.

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“The deal with Facebook is for the supply of news video clips and access to digital news articles on Facebook news products,” the statement said. “The 5-year agreement with Google includes the supply of news content (excluding video) for Google’s News Showcase and other products. Google will also expand its marketing initiatives across Nine’s platforms.”

In a note to staff, Nine chief executive Mike Sneesby said the deals would contribute to helping journalism thrive.

“There has been discussion about how the revenue from these deals will impact our business and while the precise dollar value of the deals are commercial-in-confidence, they will play a role in evolving Nine to a world where the majority of our revenue is digitally led,” Mr Sneesby said. “These deals will contribute to supporting the world-class journalism on which our business thrives and to give us the opportunity to pursue growth that will continue to underpin the long-term strength of our business.”

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China slams US over virus probe, Facebook reverses lab theory ban



China hit out at the “dark history” of the US intelligence community on Thursday local time, after US President Joe Biden ordered a probe into the Covid-19 origins which threatens to set the course for relations between world’s top economies.

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Research finds anti-vaxxer and conspiracy theory Facebook pages skyrocket during COVID-19


Support for anti-vaxxer and conspiracy groups has skyrocketed since COVID-19 hit Australia’s shores, prompting calls for social media platforms to do more to quash fake news.

Digital advocacy group Reset Australia identified and monitored 13 controversial public Facebook groups between January 2020 and March 2021.

Memberships grew by 280 per cent in the 14 months alone to more than 115,000 people.

Reset Australia executive director Chris Cooper said while the results confirmed what the organisation had long suspected, it was still surprising to see them in black and white.

“The role of social media is contributing to vaccine hesitancy,” he told NCA NewsWire.

The study’s results coincide with research by the University of Melbourne that found the percentage of Australians willing to get the COVID-19 jab had dropped from 74 to 66 per cent between October and February.

This is despite Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration deeming each of the vaccines authorised for use to be “safe and effective”.

The Reset Australia research found interactions with anti-vaxxer and conspiracy-led Facebook groups surged at the same time as national lockdown measures were introduced in March 2020 and then again during Melbourne’s restrictions between July and October.

“We know that during these moments, particularly lockdowns … that created an opportunity for these kinds of groups to capitalise on the uncertainty felt by people,” Mr Cooper said.

“Because they’re also trying to keep people engaged, there also tended to be more sensationalist content at that time.”

Mr Cooper said while social media conglomerates did remove problematic sites, more pressure was needed.

“It’s up to us, public health officials and journalists to call Facebook out,” he said.

Reset Australia has developed a policy in response to the findings that would force social media companies to generate a live list of the most popular COVID-19-related URLs shared on its platforms.

“Such a live list would help Australian public health authorities identify anti-vaccination narratives to inform community engagement responses,” the report stated.

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Facebook LIVE: Peated Whiskey Tasting


The team at Wigs Cellar has rustled up a range of peaty whiskies from around the globe for a winter warmer tasting: The Lagavulin 8yo (Islay), Connemara Original (Ireland) and The Hellyers Road ‘Peated’ (Tasmania).

Each tasting flight includes a 100ml sample bottle of each whiskey on trial and can be picked up in store or via free, contactless delivery.

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Australian model Adut Akech takes legal action over South Sudanese Facebook page posts



South Sudanese-Australian model Adut Akech has said she is taking legal action against the owners of a Facebook page for “defamation of character”.

On Thursday, Akech posted on her Facebook page that her lawyers had reached out to the owners of the Juba Eye Facebook page, which labels itself the “biggest South Sudan national, political, celebrity gossip, sports and entertainment news website”.

She said she had “kept her mouth shut” for almost a year while the page posted “steady” harassment of her.

She did not identify which posts she was referring to, but the Juba Eye page had posted what it claimed was an interview with her on May 10 and 11.

“I am booked and too busy living my life and dreams to pay any mind, especially to such uneducated, stupid people,” she said in her Facebook post.

Akech said her lawyers had reached out to the unnamed team behind the page to let them know that she was suing them for defamation of character.

“Juba Eye your time is up! I’ve just about had it to my core and today this stops,” she said.

“To the illiterate, disgusting pieces of s*** behind this page, you got the right one today I’ll tell you that.”

Page issues public apology

On Saturday night, the Juba Eye page released an “official apology”.

The statement said the page was “legitimate in our endeavours to deliver the most accurate and unbiased news” to people in South Sudan.

“As a multinational page across many borders, authenticity should be our first priority. Our incentives are very clear, and that’s to engage in what does not in any way subordinate any person, organisation or ethnicity,” the statement read.

“We take it on our chin that Juba Eye is fully responsible for the actions that have led the model to her animosity and antitrust.”

Akech spent part of her childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya before moving to Adelaide with her family at the age of seven.

She has modelled for Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Calvin Klein, Prada and Versace and was named in Time magazine’s “Most Influential Teens of 2018”.

She was also selected by British Vogue guest editor Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, as one of 15 women on the cover of the Forces for Change edition in 2019.

That same year, Melbourne’s Lord Mayor met with Akech after a public relations agency employed by the council sent the wrong photo of the model to a celebrity magazine.

At the time, Akech said she felt “angry” and “disrespected” after Who magazine used the photo of model Flavia Lazarus and claimed it was her.

The public relations agency, OPR, and Who magazine later released statements apologising for the mistake.

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Man who announced murder plans on Facebook sentenced to at least 20 years for killing ex-wife’s boyfriend


Warning: This story contains details that readers may find distressing.

Osmond Roy Greig, 43, was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Supreme Court today for the murder of Daryl Corcoran at Alexandra Hills in 2016.

Greig pleaded guilty to murder, burglary in the night and breaching a court order.

Crown prosecutor Dzenita Balic said it was a “premeditated murder” in which Greig went to the house armed with an axe and two knives.

Ms Balic said he used the axe to break into the house, went straight to the bedroom and started attacking Mr Corcoran with knives.

Mr Corcoran, 37, was stabbed 86 times in the face, throat, abdomen and back and died from blood loss.

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Marc Benioff Says Facebook CEO Should Make Final Call on Trump Ban


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Loan sharks target new victims via WhatsApp and Facebook


Criminals have been using social media – from dating sites to local community groups – to find, threaten and control people in debt

Local WhatsApp groups have been one of the silver linings of the pandemic, creating community ties and support networks. Yet loan sharks are increasingly using these groups to extort money from their victims, according to England’s Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), an organisation that prosecutes illegal lenders and supports victims.

Such lenders are also targeting their victims online – the IMLT’s 2020 victim statistics report shows that one in 10 victims met the loan shark via social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Snapchat and Facebook, or through dating websites. Criminals are also creating their own WhatsApp and Facebook groups that appear to be for local communities but are actually ways to maintain control over their victims, according to Tony Quigley, the head of the IMLT. “It looks like a local community group,” he said. “They will say ‘come and join the group’, ‘see what’s going on’. But it has a more sinister side to it.”

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Former Facebook employee Sophie Zhang claims dictators are using the platform to harass citizens


A former Facebook employee has warned the social network giant is still open to being manipulated by foreign dictators despite concerns being raised within the company.

Sophie Zhang, who worked at the company between 2018 and 2020, said that while employed at Facebook’s headquarters in Silicon Valley as a low-level data analyst, she noticed that autocratic leaders across the world were using the platform to persuade and sometimes harass their own citizens through fake accounts.

Ms Zhang said she raised the alarm within the company multiple times, but says the protocol within Facebook has hardly changed.

“The current situation is not working,” she told 7.30 from northern California. 

“Facebook is failing its duty to the democracy, to the society, and it’s not good enough.”

Ms Zhang said the worst example of autocratic governments manipulating Facebook was in Azerbaijan, where 2.1 million fake accounts had been created, with many dodgy profiles harassing opposition politicians, their supporters and legitimate news sites.

The Azerbaijani government is widely accused of committing human rights abuses.

“They were mainly focused on one thing, and that was writing comments on why the opposition was terrible,” she said. 

Ms Zhang said it was not even her job to find the malpractice.

“This wasn’t even that hard to find. I’m not some kind of genius or anything,” she said. 

“Rather, what I found was extraordinarily low-hanging fruit that was there because no one had bothered to look for it.

Ms Zhang said she even raised the issue with Facebook vice-president Guy Rosen, who is said to be close to company founder Mark Zuckerberg.

“As a low-level data analyst, this was like a private in the Australian Army going to speak to Scott Morrison,” Ms Zhang said of her encounter with Mr Rosen.

“It just wouldn’t happen.”

Fake profiles for people who did not exist

A year before her discovery of the dirty tricks in Azerbaijan, Ms Zhang said she also discovered the Honduran government was attempting to manipulate its citizens through fake pages.

Ms Zhang said that a loophole in Facebook’s policy allows a single user to control hundreds of pages, which can be set up and used as individual profiles, liking and commenting on content.

She said this was the technique used in Honduras to create a false sense of popularity around the widely condemned president, Juan Orlando Hernández.

She said that 80 per cent of the “likes” on his posts were from fake pages set up by people within his government.

Generic picture of Facebook user
Sophie says a loophole in Facebook’s policy allows a single user to control hundreds of pages.(

Reuters: Dado Ruvic

)

“Unfortunately, we saw Honduras at the forefront of bad social media,” she told 7.30.

Ms Zhang said she was fired by Facebook because of her repeated warnings to management, and upon her departure, she wrote a 7,000-word memo outlining her experiences at the company, telling her colleagues: “I know that I have blood on my hands by now.”

“I thought it was important to give Facebook a final chance to fix the situation, because that’s what I’d been doing from the start,” she told 7.30. 

But Facebook denies Ms Zhang’s claims, with a spokesperson telling 7.30 that the former employee was fired over her performance.

“We fundamentally disagree with Ms Zhang’s characterisation of our priorities and efforts to root out abuse on our platform,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“We aggressively go after abuse around the world and have specialised teams focused on this work. As a result, we’ve already taken down more than 100 networks of coordinated inauthentic behaviour.”

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