John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for the ‘Guardian RSS’ Category

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In Sri Lanka, Facebook’s dominance has cost lives | John Harris

Monday, May 7th, 2018

As the tech giant spreads to poor countries around the globe, a pattern of false information leading to violence is emerging

For the past six weeks or so, the snowballing story of Facebook’s crisis has been framed almost exclusively in terms of the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, the ethics of privacy and data harvesting, and the role the platform seems to have played in the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit referendum.

Last week the whole saga reached a fascinating point with news that if Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t voluntarily agree to testify before the Commons culture select committee, he will be the subject of a formal summons, actionable the next time he enters the UK.

Related: Sri Lanka accuses Facebook over hate speech after deadly riots

Related: The Guardian view on free speech online: let law decide the limits | Editorial

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Ten million British jobs could be gone in 15 years. No one knows what happens next | John Harris

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

The reality of automation is becoming clear – and it’s terrifying. So why is there so little thinking among politicians about those who will be affected?

Plenty of people may not have heard of the retail firm Shop Direct. Its roots go back to the distant heyday of catalogue shopping, and two giants of that era, Littlewoods and Great Universal Stores. Now it is the parent company behind the online fashion brand Very and the reinvented Littlewoods.com. All this may sound innocuous enough. But in two areas of Greater Manchester, Shop Direct is newly notorious.

Until now, what the modern corporate vernacular calls “fulfilment” – in other words, packing up people’s orders and seeing to returns – has been dealt with at three Shop Direct sites, in Chadderton and Shaw, near Oldham, and in Little Hulton, three miles south of Bolton. But the company now has plans to transfer all such tasks to a “fully automated”, 500,000 sq ft “distribution and returns centre” located in a logistics park in the east Midlands. The compulsory consultation period begins tomorrow, and the shopworkers’ union Usdaw and local politicians are up in arms: if it happens in full, the move will entail the loss of 1,177 full-time posts, and 815 roles currently performed by agency workers; on the new site there will only be jobs for about 500 people. At a time when apparently low unemployment figures blind people to the fragility and insecurity of so much work, the story is a compelling straw in the wind: probably the starkest example I have yet seen of this era of automation, and the disruption and pain it threatens.

Related: Workers at risk as robots set to replace 66m jobs, warns OECD

Related: The Guardian view on automation: put human needs first | Editorial

Related: Disappearing jobs around the world – in pictures

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Ukip may have collapsed, but where it led others will follow | John Harris

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

The party pioneered online activism and showed how anti-immigration nastiness can shape the wider debate

A walking ghost will be contesting next week’s local elections in England. Or rather, some of them. The party in question will be on the ballot paper in only one in eight seats: 75% fewer than it managed on the last comparable occasion, in places where the vast majority of its candidates now stand no chance of winning. Its most visible recent activity was a fundraising drive to stave off bankruptcy, after a grim mini-scandal centred on racist Facebook posts and texts sent by the girlfriend of a leader who managed five months in the job.

Such is the fate of what remains of Ukip: a force that, let’s not forget, attracted nearly 4 million votes in the 2015 general election, and spread no end of fear among Tory and Labour politicians. Along the way – and this may seem obvious, but is worth reprising – it laid the ground for Britain’s departure from the EU, and was a huge part of why David Cameron was panicked enough to call the 2016 referendum. Any schadenfreude, then, should be a kept to a minimum: for all that Ukip’s affairs now suggest closing time at a pub that has run out of beer, the people involved presumably take heart from the fact that they have achieved just about everything they ever wanted.

Related: Ukip investigates Peterborough candidate’s Twitter history

Related: HMS Brexit sticks it to the man – by tossing two dead fish overboard | John Crace

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The sinister segregation policies excluding children who don’t ‘fit in’ | John Harris

Monday, April 16th, 2018

I thought ignorant prejudice against disabled people and those with special needs was on the way out. But this government is turning back the clock to a nastier age

Human progress is slow to happen and sometimes hard to see: in an era as troubled as ours, the world can easily look as though it is regressing at speed. But look back, and you may see how far we have come. I grew up in a world where grim words such as “handicapped” and “retarded” were part of everyday speech, and disabled people were too often shut away. People put money in charity tins to salve their consciences, and then went back to their ignorance. A sure sign of the way society kept some people at arm’s length was the inhuman use of the definite article: people knew about “the deaf”, “the blind” and “the disabled”, but didn’t give them much thought.

Related: Families crowdfund legal action against special needs budget cuts

There are concerns about academies either excluding kids with special needs or pushing parents to choose other schools

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‘I couldn’t hold my newborn son’: the families split by visa laws

Sunday, April 15th, 2018

You meet a foreign partner and dream of a life together. But unless you have enough money, UK visa rules make it almost impossible

Laura Clarke is 29. She lives in Rugby, with her parents, and her 16-month-old son, Elijah. Every day she shows Elijah a picture of his father, her partner Biniyam Tesfaye. It’s the best she can do: he lives over 3,700 miles away in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “He’s missing out on his son, and his son’s missing out on him,” she says. “We show Elijah pictures, but he’s not actually seeing him, so he’s not even using the word ‘Dada’ or ‘Daddy’. The longer this goes on, the more it will affect him.”

Clarke and Tesfaye first got together when she was teaching English at a primary school in Addis Ababa; he was one of her colleagues: “We met on my first day. We were friends for about a month, and then after that, things started to develop,” she says.

It was a really happy time. But knowing I had to go back really hurt

Forty per cent of people who work in this country are too poor to marry who they want

He’s already missing one parent: it’s not fair for me to put him into childcare so he’s missing two

They’re eight hours ahead. We get 10 or 20 minutes on Skype in the morning

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