The dark side of Facebook

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The dark side of Facebook

Dark money, as we have seen through the Trump election and the EU referendum, poses a grave threat to democracies all over the world.

Today we learn of a global web of alt-right pressure groups, think-tanks, Putin-controlled Russian trolls, and a US tech billionaire using their wealth and influence to propagate a cult movement around one particularly hideous goon in our country.

Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, is founder of the English Defence League and a vile anti-Islamist. He is also the chosen puppet of this global fascist movement and, as of last month, an adviser to Ukip. 

But it's not just the dark money that is funding Yaxley-Lennon.  Today's Guardian investigation reveals that he has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds around the world, in broad daylight, through the Facebook Donate button - a tool solely designed for charity.

Facebook's contempt for democratic accountability is once again to the fore. Single-handedly its founder Mark Zuckerberg is - through his contempt for social responsibility - making the strongest case for an independent and powerful social media regulator.

Facebook has now withdrawn Yaxley-Lennon's access to the donate tool. But Zuckerberg needs to go much further. 

Today I call on him to give a full explanation of how this dire breach of Facebook regulation occurred, pledge that it will never happen again, and, as an apology, make a match-fund donation to Hope not hate.



The final whistle


I'm delighted that gambling operators are adopting Labour's proposal of a whistle-to-whistle ban on gambling advertising during live sport.

With over 430,000 problem gamblers in the country, many of them children, the number of adverts during live sports had clearly reached crisis levels.

There was clear public support for these restrictions and I'm glad that for once the industry, led by the Remote Gambling Association, has taken its responsibilities seriously and listened.

The proposal was among a number that came out the gambling addiction review I co-ordinated with Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth. In case the industry, or the government, want to adopt any more of our ideas, hit the pic for a video I made earlier.



Priti vacant

We've heard more than our fair share of ignorance about borders from the Tory benches on Brexit - notably Jacob Rees-Mogg's knowledge of the Irish border, and Dominic Raab's nursery school intervention on the Dover-Calais crossing.

But Priti Patel hit a new low on Friday with her call for the UK to use the threat of food shortages against Ireland if there is a no-deal Brexit to drop the backstop.

Her comments are an insult to all the people of Ireland. They display ignorance to history and a political insensitivity that is unworthy of an MP. She should retract and apologise.



Now read this

Joanna Trollope and Joanne Harris are among authors warning the government about the impact of Brexit on publishing. Failing to protect the UK's position on issues such as exhaustion of rights - losing the ability to control distribution and resale of books - would 'fatally undermine the whole UK publishing industry' according to Trollope. 

As Chocolat author Harris says, the British are world leaders at creativity. But she adds: 'We can't just assume that our creative industries will have the same importance if we lose our easy access to European markets.'

And speaking of great authors I was delighted to present Cath Senker with the Society of Authors' educational writing award on Wednesday for her brilliant and heart-wrenching delve into the lives of refugees and informative look at the causes and realities of mass migrations, Far From Home. 

Photos: Jim Christian, Seren Boyd, Cath Senker (Winner) and Amy Lame



Bleak hostels

Five children in every school will wake up on Christmas Day in temporary accommodation. Shelter says 10,000 will be in B&Bs and hostels, and many are sharing beds and bathrooms.

At the same time there are 500,000 more people in poverty than 5 years ago. The government merely says it does "not agree" with a damning report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

But as my colleague Margaret Greenwood says: "There is something seriously wrong when the number of people in work in poverty is increasing faster than employment."

I would add there's something rotten in a government that does not help a nation's children.


Tory slow boat

It is five months since Gavin Williamson agreed to consider giving our nuclear veterans a medal. In that time one veteran has died, on average, every week. Yet there is no sign of the committee he pledged to form, nor of any evidence gathered. Not good enough.


In the firing line

As Donald Trump feeds populist falsehoods about "fake news" and "nasty" journalists, and as autocrats seize power around the globe, the truth itself is under attack.

This year's roll call of journalists killed stands at 78. Thirty-one, like Jamal Khashoggi, murdered in the line of duty. Another 326 have been imprisoned - many for challenging the state - according to today's chilling report from the human rights group Article 19.

It says that the demonisation of reporters from inside the White House is emboldening copycat "strongman" populist leaders and public officials, and that the rise of giant social media platforms means "the space for meaningful discussion and communication is under siege".

"As new ways to express ourselves emerge, new ways to silence rise up to meet them," concludes the report.

Journalism is under threat as never before. For the sake of our freedoms, democracies and human rights we must stand and support those who speak truth to power.


A seat fit for Jim

On that note, good on the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). Their Brighton and Sussex branch has just made Jim Acosta an honorary member. They've even reserved a seat at branch meetings for the CNN correspondent who was stripped of his White House press pass by Donald Trump. Now reinstated, Acosta has said he'll attempt to attend when he can. 



Netflix's the finger


Revenues of around £1.2bn and a corporation tax bill of £15.8m might be good business - but it's very bad behaviour on the part of Netflix.

By claiming to employ only 14 people in the UK and shuffling cash to Dublin and Amsterdam, they're cheating their customers - and everyone else - of the benefits of those tax revenues.

What do the Tories propose? A new digital sales tax at 2% - which is a pittance. And a 2% corporation tax CUT - to heal the pain.

This week it emerged HMRC are on the trail of Netflix's tax avoidance. Let's hope the taxman can do a better job than this government at bringing the company to book.


Switch it on


This week I have been promoting an urgent call-to-arms from Age UK over plans to scrap free TV licences for the over 75s. For more than one million older citizens, the TV is their constant companion and window on the world.

Yet the Government has broken its manifesto promise, and is using the BBC to do its austerity bidding - by scrapping the licence.

Please support this #SwitchedOff petition. Let's empower the voice of the lonely and isolated, and say NO to another government attack on the most vulnerable in our society.


Activity nation


New research out this week shows the nation needs to get more active. Figures from Sport England reveal one in three children in England does fewer than 30 minutes of physical activity a day. And a study from the Local Government Association highlights that more than 11m people do nothing or very little exercise each week.

The message is that we need inclusive policies to ensure everyone lives an active, healthy life. Not just the better off who can afford gym memberships. Losing your job, feeling isolated and having underlying health issues are all factors that stop people from getting up and out.

The good news though is councils and community projects are helping break down barriers. It's never too late to learn to ride a bike, or overcome a fear of water or start swimming lengths.



Going the extra mile

I can't say how proud I am of pupils and teachers at Hargate Primary School in my West Brom East constituency. They put on an awesome performance when I joined them for The Daily Mile challenge last month. So much so, they were crowned champions and won the £1,000 first prize for the the MP Daily Mile challenge. They have kept up the pace and are doing the Daily Mile everyday.  Here's another look at the video we made that day.


Peer for the people

Sir David Attenborough, chosen to represent the world's people at the UN Climate Change Summit, delivered an electrifying call-to-arms to save our planet.

"Leaders of the world, you must lead. The continuation of civilisations and the natural world upon which we depend is in your hands,” he declared.

Surely, it is long overdue that Sir David Attenborough, a truly great Briton, was made The People's Peer.


Spot the difference


This is what happens when you “share” your Spotify account with a thirteen year old dude for a year...




Farewell Pete



If you never fell in love with The Buzzcocks, you should've.  Pete Shelley perfected three-minutes of pop-punk. His musical legacy has out-lived what, by any prediction of the late 70s, should have been the band's sell-by-date. Rightly so.

As people reflected on his sad early death this week, I was enthralled by this BBC account of the inspiration behind Shelley's best-known song. Farewell to a wonderful lyricist and songsmith.