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New Study Suggests Social Media Harms May Be Overstated

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  • A study by researchers at the University of Oxford found that the amount of time young people spend on social media has little impact on their overall life satisfaction.
  • The researchers argue that society should instead focus less on screen time and more on whether particular aspects of online behavior or content are harmful.
  • Similar studies have been conducted in the past giving conflicting conclusions on social media’s impact, however, the research team says that this is partly because data is limited.
  • They are asking tech companies to collaborate with researchers to better explore social media’s effects on overall health and well being.  

Study Finds “Trivial” Impact on Life Satisfaction

Time spent on social media has only a “trivial” impact on happiness among adolescents, according to a new study from the University of Oxford.

The research team conducted a study involving more than 12,000 UK adolescents between 2009 and 2017. Researchers asked the thousands of participants to share how much time they spent using social media on a normal school day. The participants were also asked to rate how satisfied they were with different aspects of life.

The study found that the amount of screentime only had a small negative impact on how happy the children felt about life. Instead family, friends, and school life all had a greater impact on well being.

“99.75% of a young person’s life satisfaction across a year has nothing to do with whether they are using more or less social media,” said Professor Andrew Przybylski, co-author of the research from Oxford University.

The team did say that the effects of time spent on social media had a wider impact on girls over boys, but even so, they said the effects remain very small.

“On an individual basis, time shouldn’t be the thing that parents are worrying about,” said Przybylski. “Thinking about social media like it’s a black box that has kind of a ticking clock on top of it – that way of thinking about screen time is almost certainly wrong.”

Talk to Your Children

Instead, Przybylski said that there are other avenues that researchers need to explore. “It is entirely possible that there are other, specific, aspects of social media that are really not good for kids … or that there are some young people who are more or less vulnerable because of some background factor,” he said.

The research team added that parents should worry less about how much time their children spend on social media sites and instead talk to them about their specific experiences.

“Just as things went awry offline, things will also go awry online, and it is really important for that communication channel to be open,” said Amy Orben, co-study author and psychology lecturer at the University of Oxford

Conflicting Data

The question of the potential impact social media has on young people is one that has been asked many times before, and has resulted in conflicting data. Some studies have suggested that social media could be hurting children’s mental health, while others have said it has positive effects on socialization.

However, Przybylski says that studies are often based on limited evidence and do not give the full picture. In fact, the research team suggested that other studies may have failed to account for the fact that some teens who were already more depressed to begin with may spend more of their time on social media.

“With most of the current debate based on lacklustre evidence, this study represents an important step towards mapping the effects of technology on wellbeing,” said Przybylski

But even this particular study had its limitations. It relies on self-based reported time on social media and does not include how exactly that time was spent or on what platforms.

The researchers at Oxford are urging tech companies to release data on how people use social media in order to help them understand more about the impact technology has on younger people’s lives.

“Access is key to understanding the many roles that social media plays in the lives of young people,” Orben said.

“What this shows us is we need to stop looking at social media as a whole and we need to start thinking about the nuances.”

Dr. Max Davie, officer for health improvement at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, told the Guardian that he also supported the call for companies to work with scientists, calling the study“the first small step.”

However, he said there were other issues that needed to be explored. For instance, he suggested more research should be done to analyze screen time’s interference with activities like sleep, exercise and time with family or friends.

Despite its limitations, Professor Liz Twigg from Portsmouth University, who is currently leading a large-scale study of the impact of social media on children, welcomed the study.

“As the authors themselves recognise, no study like this provides definitive evidence, but this one certainly provides compelling evidence,” she said.

See what others are saying: (Sky News) (BBC) (The Guardian)


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U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.

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The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.


New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle

A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.

Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.

In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.

The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.

Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.

However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”

The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased. 

In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.

High Court Ruling

The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.” 

“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”

Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.

If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.

Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.

U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe

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The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.


More Information About Omicron

Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.

One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.

Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa —  where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.

Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.

In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.

Studies on Vaccine Efficacy 

Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.

On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.

According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses. 

By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.

Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.

Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)

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40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox

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The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.


Camels Booted From Beauty Contest

More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.

The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.

However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”

Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.

An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.

“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”

While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.

In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (The Guardian) (ABC News)

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