Instagram under fire for not removing harmful content quickly

A teenager has hit out at Instagram, after she says graphic images of self-harm on the site, encouraged her to make multiple suicide attempts.

Anna Hodge is now 18 years old and was first diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) at the age of 11.

Her depression became more severe as she entered her teenage years and as well as struggling with anorexia – she began self-harming.

She was eventually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and depression.

Speaking to Sky News about her experience she said: “You feel such a build-up you need to do something and self-harm was that something for me.”

Image: Anna Hodge told Sky News that Instagram is not doing enough to remove harmful content

At first, she found the online mental health community a helpful source of support.

But she later discovered there was a darker side.

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Instagram failing to remove graphic self-harm images

Instagram failing to remove graphic self-harm images

Sky News finds numerous disturbing videos and pictures on the social media website without encountering any filters or warnings.

“The more people you follow the more chances there are of seeing things that aren’t appropriate… Instagram suggests accounts to follow and you go down a bit of a rabbit hole.”

“Once you’ve talked to these people and you feel like you’ve bonded you don’t want to unfollow when they post harmful things because you don’t want to upset them.”

Anna added: “If you’ve had some of those [negative] thoughts too, it reinforces that pattern of negative thinking in your head, it kind of encourages it.”

Anna Hodge

Image: Anna is now out of hospital and recovering from multiple suicide attempts and self-harming

Now out of hospital, she also runs a recovery account on Instagram that encourages body positivity and positive mental health and regularly reports content to the site – but is frustrated by how often posts fail to be removed.

She estimates only 30% are ever taken down.

View this post on Instagram

♡ I know that when you’re in a dark place you probably won’t believe this – you can’t see the point of anything, including living, when we’re just going to die one day anyway. ♡ But that’s focusing on the wrong thing. We are all going to die, it’s inevitable, and that can be really scary – but we’re forgetting that there’s a whole lot of time in between. There are hopefully many years inbetween you being born and you dying in which you get to LIVE. ♡ Maybe you don’t believe that we’re all here for a reason, but just think of all the billions of coincidences that had to occur in order for you to be here today. We may as well make the most of this miracle we’ve been given. ♡ Think of all the laughs, the tears, the hugs, the kisses, the smiles, the friends, the family, the falling in love, the exhilaration, the things we get to see and do…think of all the living. And then vow to do it the best we can, to eke out every ounce of life we can, while we can. Love, Anna x

A post shared by Anna Zoe (she/her) (@hopingforhappy) on

“They just say ‘we’ve reviewed your content and it’s not against our guidelines’.”

“They need to listen to people with these issues, listen to what they think is harmful and not what the big Instagram bosses think is harmful.”

Social media companies have faced criticism over the secrecy that surrounds their reporting and monitoring processes.

Image: Instagram is a photo sharing platform, with upwards of 375m users

Instagram’s policy has always been not to allow content that encourages or promotes self-harm or suicide.

Despite this, harmful content that Sky News reported, which included encouraging users to self-harm, remains on the platform two months later.

Charities like Samaritans, who are helping advise Instagram, say their goals will be hard to achieve without more transparency.

Harriet Edwards, Samaritans, policy manager said: “Critically, they need to ensure they’re bringing people with them, making sure the public know these improvements are being made and making sure they know why these changes are being made.”

Instagram have been criticised for not taking down harmful content on their platforms

Image: Content reported by Sky News still remains on the platform, 2 months after it was reported

Instagram said in a statement: “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of the people who use Instagram.”

“We were clear that it would take time to build new technology and train teams to enforce the new policy, and people posting or searching for this content would be sent resources.”

“This week, the policy came into effect. Now when people report this content, it should be removed and the person who posted it will be sent resources. We are committed to doing everything we can to remove this type of content from Instagram, but it will take time.”

1.5 million jobs are at 'high risk' of automation

More than 1.5 million people in England are in jobs where there is a “high risk” of automation, according to the Office for National Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Women, those in part-time roles and young people are likeliest to be affected by technology – including software and robots – taking some of their responsibilities in the future.

According to the ONS study, women hold 70% of the jobs in danger of being lost as a result of automation.

It said that the role and experience – not working patterns – were the biggest factors in determining risk.

The study concluded that it was possible that automation has already had an effect on the labour market, as the proportion of jobs at a high risk of automation has fallen from an earlier reading of 8.1% to 7.4%.

Self-service checkouts are one example of automation taking tasks away from human workers.

Image: Till operators are among those most at risk as self-service and online grocery shopping grow

The ONS has suggested that new jobs in the economy are likelier to be more complex and require less routine skills.

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Where a person lives is also a factor, it said, because a local economy can be quite focused on a certain industry – such as agriculture.

The report said: “It is not so much that robots are taking over, but that routine and repetitive tasks can be carried out more quickly and efficiently by an algorithm written by a human, or a machine designed for one specific function.

“The risk of automation tends to be higher for lower-skilled roles for this reason.”

The three occupations with the highest probability of automation were waiters and waitresses, shelf fillers and those with entry-level sales roles, according to the study.

The three at the lowest risk were medical practitioners, higher education teaching professionals and “senior professionals of educational establishments”.

Apple streaming? Big reveal expected at special event

Apple is expected to make a grand product announcement at its special event later – and it may be the culmination of years of rumoured deals with Hollywood stars.

It follows a week of product news from the company, including new AirPods, a new iMac and a new iPad – begging the question: what will be the focus of the main event?

:: What’s expected?

Well, across the globe, sales of devices are slowing – especially the upmarket expensive devices which Apple is famous for.

For the iPhone maker, which has spent the last year neck-and-neck with Amazon and Microsoft as the most valuable business in the world, this has meant a significant slip in revenues.

Both of those rivals generate substantial revenues from something which Apple doesn’t: Services. This seems to be set to change. According to reports, Apple has invested roughly $2bn in the Apple streaming service it’s expected to unveil.

:: What would Apple’s streaming service be like?

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At the moment, Apple’s TV app aggregates videos from a range of different video services, including Netflix and iPlayer. But ultimately, the TV app is just an intermediary that sends users away to the real service provider’s app when the users want to actually stream the video.

Image: The current Apple TV app on iPhone and iPad

This could be set to a change with a completely integrated Apple video streaming service. Crucially, the company isn’t expected to directly try to rival Netflix or Hulu. Instead, analysts expect Apple’s service to offer subscribers access to those platforms, as well as original Apple shows, by streaming through its own app.

The original shows will be a sweetener (albeit an expensive one for Apple to produce) to a subscription service users will access via the TV app on iPhones, rather than having multiple other apps and subscriptions.

:: Will it be iPhone only?

The lack of an app on non-Apple devices, including Android phones and Windows computers, could limit Apple’s financial gains from the move.

A picture taken on February 8, 2019 in Paris shows a smartphone and its earphones as an audio podcast is being played. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Image: iTunes was limited to Apple devices at first

The company faced a similar issue when it launched iTunes, and quickly realised it had to open the platform out to rivals’ operating systems.

If the company doesn’t open up the service away from iPhones and iPads, the whole project could be little more than an added sell for its core products.

Considering the shrinking market for those products, and the company’s investment in original programming, that would be a significant bet from the company.

Some reports suggest there will be up to 25 original series in the new service, and that the company has invested around $2bn in producing these shows.

Apple has signed up a number of stars for original programming

Image: Apple has signed up a number of stars for original programming

:: What kind of shows does Apple have in mind?

Apple is believed to have signed up Oprah Winfrey to contribute to its original shows, alongside a number of other Hollywood stars.

Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston are reportedly to star in a comedy about morning television, although reported creative differences among staff have apparently made production difficult.

Apple is also rumoured to be rebooting Steven Spielberg’s fantasy and sci-fi series from the 1980s, Amazing Stories, which features independent self-contained episodes similar to a family friendly-style Black Mirror.

Trailers for these shows will undoubtedly form a core part of the launch event.

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - AUGUST 07: Carpool Karaoke Series Executive Producer James Corden speaks at Apple Music Launch Party Carpool Karaoke: The Series with James Corden on August 7, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Apple)

Image: Apple previously produced two series of Carpool Karaoke

:: Has Apple made original shows before?

Yes – but they haven’t all gone down well with critics.

A reality television show called Planet of the Apps – in which app developers offered “elevator pitches” for their apps to celebrities in actual lifts – cancelled after a single season.

More recently, the company developed a whole series based on the Carpool Karaoke segment of The Late Late Show with James Corden.

Although the series won an Emmy award for outstanding short form variety series last year, the general response towards celebrities talking to celebrities-style shows has been fairly muted.

Apple News service may be updated too

Image: Apple News service may be updated too

:: What about the news service?

The company already operates Apple News, an app which aggregates and syndicates news stories from media organisations, including stories from Sky News.

A subscription news service is among those suggested to be in the pipeline, in which users would pay Apple to access stories via the app from pay-walled sites.

But there have been reports that some media organisations who already run their own subscription services have decided not to join the programme – put down to the 50% cut Apple is apparently requesting.

The firm insists the news app gives media outlets exposure to a bigger audience – but according to reports, The New York Times and The Washington Post are among those to have declined to be involved.

The size of the cut is probably a significant indicator of the iPhone maker’s business model when it comes to online services.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY SOREN BILLING: This photo illustration shows a woman as she uses the iPhone application of Swedish music streaming service Spotify on March 7, 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden. Sweden is at the forefront of a global recovery in music sales driven by streaming music services such as Spotify. AFP PHOTO/JONATHAN NACKSTRAND (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Image: Spotify accused Apple of ‘unfair’ business practices

Recently, it fought with Spotify over alleged anti-competitive practices.

Spotify’s chief executive accused the company of taking an “unfair” 30% cut when users purchased an upgrade on Spotify’s plan through the App Store.

:: Why is Apple doing all of this?

Product news has dominated the week leading up to Monday’s event, which is significant. The company has made a deliberate decision make sure the media’s attention is on its new TV service.

Sales of devices are slowing, and its most recent financial report confirmed a 5% drop in overall revenues. Sales of its flagship product, the iPhone, were 15% lower. Meanwhile, companies including Netflix and Disney are seeing continued growth in the video streaming market.

Amid the scandal over Apple slowing down old phones and an offer to replace batteries freely, the American company sold 10 million fewer phones in 2018 than in 2017.

Gartner’s senior research director Anshul Gupta told Sky News at the time that incremental technological changes meant that Apple’s premium market offering wasn’t bringing out the new buyers.

Its options are simple: Charge even more for each smartphone, or make those smartphones generate more money. Unique Apple-only services are one way to do that.

Breakthrough as monkey is born from frozen testicular tissue

A baby monkey, Grady, is the first one to be born from experimental technology using frozen testicular tissue.

The scientists successfully froze and then thawed testicular tissue using a technique that could offer hope to young cancer patients.

Professor Kyle Orwig and his team have worked years for this achievement.

“Well, her name’s Grady, which stands for graft derived baby,” he said.

“She was born on 16 April of last year and now she is 11 months old and she plays and behaves just like every other monkey that was born in a normal way,” said Prof Orwig.

The experiment saw the scientists, from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, remove a testis from five young rhesus macaques and freeze the testicular tissue.

Image: Grady was born in April 2018

The animals then underwent chemotherapy. As they approached puberty, the tissue samples were thawed by the researchers and implanted back in the monkeys – along with fresh tissue from the remaining testis.

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After a few months, the tissue had produced sperm, which was then used to generate embryos and transferred to females.

Prof Orwig’s main goal was to keep sperm-producing cells safe from the cancer treatment.

Sperm is produced during puberty when there are hormonal changes which activate an increase in testosterone.

Treatments like chemotherapy can lead to infertility. While it is possible for men to freeze their sperm ahead of any such treatment, pre-pubescent males are too young to produce it

Grady’s father was subjected to chemotherapy at just three years old. Before he got the treatment, researches removed testicular tissue removed before he reached maturity.

“We used some of the sperm, that was freshly isolated to fertilise eggs and that worked, but we did not establish a pregnancy that time.

“So we froze the rest of the sperm and then some months later we came back, brought that sperm out and fertilised eggs and that time we were successful to establish a pregnancy and finally to produce a healthy baby,” Prof Orwig said.

It's an achievement lead scientist Professor Kyle Orwig and his team have worked years for.

Image: Professor Kyle Orwig led the team of scientists

The study was published in journal Science

The University of Pittsburgh and a few other hospitals have been freezing young boys’ testicular tissue ahead of cancer treatment on an experimental basis.

One of the boys, Dylan Hanlon, had his tissue banked back in 2011 when he was nine.

He had a rare childhood cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma, in his soft tissue.

Doctors said he needed nine months of intensive chemotherapy. The treatment was successful and next week Dylan will be 18.

Currently, no one is sure whether he is fertile, or whether he will need to use his banked tissue in the future.

Christine Hanlon, Dylan’s mother, welcomed news of the experiment.

“I’m very hopeful that these children are able to have an opportunity, with this procedure going forward, that they may be able to survive whatever journey they’re on and have as close to a normal life going forward if they choose to do that, and start their own family.

“I think it’s wonderful.”

Researchers have removed and frozen strips of ovaries harbouring egg follicles from young women before cancer treatment.

They transplant the tissue back into the abdomen a few years later.

NASA puts Mars 2020 rover though its paces

Scientists at NASA have been putting the Mars 2020 rover through its paces in a series of drills simulating the mission in California.

Although the rover isn’t set to land on the red planet until the early afternoon of 18 February 2021, there won’t be much time for deliberation when it is heading towards the martian surface.

The rover, which has a mass of 1,050kg (2,313lbs), could easily simply add to the craters on the planet’s surface.

In the hope of avoiding this, the rover has been put through a gruelling series of simulations testing the configurations of processors, sensors and transmitters.

The exercise was called Systems Test 1, or ST1, and was the first time that the Mars 2020 engineering team was able to test the rover’s major components.

For a fortnight more than 70 engineers and technicians put its software and electrical systems through their paces.

Image: Technicians working on ST1. Pic: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This was vital because instruments on this mission are different from those used on previous missions to Mars, and its location on Mars – the Jezero Crater – is a completely different environment too.

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The Jezero Crater was selected from more than 60 candidate locations which were studied, analysed and debated by the mission team and planetary science community.

“The landing site in Jezero Crater offers geologically rich terrain, with landforms reaching as far back as 3.6 billion years old, that could potentially answer important questions in planetary evolution and astrobiology,” said NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen.

“Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionise how we think about Mars and its ability to harbour life.”

Mission scientists believe the 28-mile-wide (45km) crater was once home to an ancient river delta and is a prime location to have preserved ancient organic molecules and evidence of microbial life.

“The Mars community has long coveted the scientific value of sites such as Jezero Crater, and a previous mission contemplated going there, but the challenges with safely landing were considered prohibitive,” explained Ken Farley.

“But what was once out of reach is now conceivable, thanks to the 2020 engineering team and advances in Mars entry, descent and landing technologies,” added Mr Farley, a project scientist for Mars 2020.

NASA has announced the rover will land in the Jezero crater. Pic: NASA

Image: NASA has announced the rover will land in the Jezero crater. Pic: NASA

“ST1 was a massive undertaking,” said Heather Bottom, systems engineer for the Mars 2020 mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“Virtual workstations and test beds are an important part of the process,” added Ms Bottom.

“But the tens of thousands of individual components that make up the electronics of this mission are not all going to act, or react, exactly like a test bed.

“Seeing the flight software and the actual flight hardware working together is the best way to build confidence in our processes. Test like you fly.”

Google signals the end of the games console

Google has moved into the games industry by launching a new platform called Stadia, which will remove the need for consoles by streaming to any device.

Launched alongside a new controller, the gaming platform will see all of the computation for the games done by cloud computing – meaning the only thing gamers will need is a screen and an internet connection.

The goal, according to the web giant, is to make games available at high resolution and 60 frames per second, with surround sound.

The specs match those of the top consoles on the market, although there are very few games which support such high quality graphics.

Image: An image of the game available on Stadia. Pic: Google

Stadia will launch later this year in select countries, including the US, the UK, Canada and much of Europe – although a price hasn’t been announced.

Google said that its global network of data centres makes the platform possible, but its combination with YouTube is what the company is really banking on for development.

“In a world where there are more than 200 million people watching game-related content daily on YouTube, Stadia makes many of those games playable with the press of a button.

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“If you watch one of your favourite creators playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, simply click the ‘play now’ button.

“Seconds later, you’ll be running around ancient Greece in your own game/on your own adventure-no downloads, no updates, no patches and no installs.”

To complement this Google will be launching its own controller, which will connect directly to the company’s data centres via WiFi.

This, it is hoped, will tackle the lag issues between users pressing a button and the computer registering the command when streaming games.

Shares in Google’s parent company Alphabet were trading almost 1% up after the announcement.

Snapchat admits age verification failures to MPs

Executives at Snapchat have been grilled by MPs over the company’s system to verify the age of its users and ensure they’re over 13.

One MP told the company that he had been able to sign up for the app after telling it he was just 12 years old; when the system told him he must be older, he was simply able to change the age he gave.

During a hearing before a parliamentary committee, the company’s representatives accepted its age verification systems when users signed up for the platform weren’t robust enough.

Its senior director for public policy, Stephen Collins, and its director of creative strategy, Will Scougal, said that Snapchat did not want underage users on its platform.

They stressed that there was no commercial advantage to having children under the age of 13 on the app.

They said they do have methods to check if users are underage at sign-up, mainly by tracking cookies in web browsers, but that these don’t work when people sign up for the app instead of creating their account using the web.

Mr Collins added that Snapchat did analyse its users’ behaviour to identify whether underage users had got past its rules, but admitted there wasn’t a “foolproof way” to prevent this from happening.

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He agreed that in some cases its age verification processes “did not work”.

Image: Snapchat filters were criticised for encouraging body dysmorphia

He also told the committee that Snapchat, which has 186 million daily active users, was working with the Home Office to develop a “robust age verification” system.

A spokesperson for the Home Office confirmed that the company was part of a group of technology companies and experts it has brought together to consider how to do age verification online.

They said: “We want the UK to be the safest place to be online, especially for children. The home secretary and culture secretary have both reminded tech firms about their responsibilities towards their users.”

It added: “We expect tech companies to remove child sexual abuse content when they find it, stop online grooming, shut down live streaming of abuse and, where necessary, have robust age verification measures in place to keep children safe.

“Our forthcoming Online Harms white paper will set out a range of measures to tackle online harms and set clear responsibilities for tech companies to keep UK citizens safe.”

The white paper is expected to make social networks liable for the content on their platforms.

The Snapchat executives were also asked if the company was concerned whether the app’s filters were encouraging body dysmorphia by showing young girls unrealistic versions of their bodies.

Body dysmorphia, or body dysmorphic disorder, is defined by the NHS as “a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others.”

According to the executives, the filters were simply a “fun way” of providing a different look at the real world, but they acknowledged that “more research was needed” on the effects of beauty apps.

The MPs, from the digital, culture, media and sport committee, also criticised Snapchat for developing features which contributed to it being “addictive” for younger users, specifically singling out the “streaks” feature.

Streaks are a feature which marks friendships on Snapchat with a flame and a number showing how many days the individuals have been in constant communication.

According to MPs, young people are often giving friends access to their accounts so that certain streaks may be maintained.

Although the executives from the company said that streaks weren’t an integral part of the app, the MPs responded that they served a similar purpose to likes on Facebook and retweets on Twitter.

Mr Collins responded that the company would be revisiting the feature.

Scientists propose levitating objects with light

Scientists are researching a way to move objects using only light which could open the door to interstellar travel.

Although the research by a team at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is still theoretical, its applications could lead to enormous changes.

With funding provided by the US Air Force, researchers believe that the method could be used to develop a spacecraft which could travel to the nearest planet outside our solar system within 20 years – powered only by light.

Their work is described in a paper published in the journal Nature Photonics and was completed in the Harry Atwater laboratory. It proposes using tiny nanoscale patterns of light to move much larger objects. A sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometres thick.

It is based on research from decades ago, when scientists developed “optical tweezers” which could allow them to manipulate nanoparticles using the pressure from a laser beam.

This kind of research formed the basis for the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics, but the so-called tweezers were only able to move very small objects very small distances.

Dr Ognjen Ilic, first author in the study, gave an analogy: “One can levitate a ping pong ball using a steady stream of air from a hair dryer.

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“But it wouldn’t work if the ping pong ball were too big, or if it were too far away from the hair dryer, and so on,” he explained.

However the new research means that objects which are metres wide could be manipulated with a light beam.

Image: The technology could allow for interstellar flight, say the researchers

The key is to create a specific tiny pattern on the object’s surface, which would interact with the light in such a way as to propel the object to move.

According to the research, the light source doesn’t need to be a focused beam, and could be millions of miles away.

“There is an audaciously interesting application to use this technique as a means for propulsion of a new generation of spacecraft” said Professor Harry Atwater, who is also the director of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis.

“We’re a long way from actually doing that, but we are in the process of testing out the principles.”

The theory is that such a spacecraft could be covered with these nanoscale pattern structures and then accelerated away from the planet by a laser based on Earth.

Because the spacecraft doesn’t need to carry fuel, it could reach speeds close to the speed of light, and possibly travel to other stars.

Carbon monoxide detectors could reveal aliens

Carbon monoxide (CO), a deadly gas to humans, is being considered an indicator of life on distant planets.

For many years astronomers had believed that a build-up of CO in the atmospheres of distant planets would be a good sign that those planet would be unable to harbour life.

There are estimated to be hundreds of billions of planets in the Milky Way, and scientists are trying to narrow down which ones to point their telescopes at.

However that may easier said than done, according to a team of researchers from the University of California, Riverside, who have now produced evidence suggesting that planets shouldn’t be discounted because of the presence of carbon monoxide in their atospheres.

In their study published in the Astrophysical Journal, the team argues that “celestial carbon monoxide detectors may actually alert us to a distant world teeming with simple life forms”.

Dr Edward Schwieterman’s team has devised two scenarios in which carbon monoxide would build up in the atmospheres of planets which harbour life.

He said: “With the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope two years from now, astronomers will be able to analyse the atmospheres of some rocky exoplanets.

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“It would be a shame to overlook an inhabited world because we did not consider all the possibilities,” added Dr Schwieterman, lead author of the study and a NASA fellow.

Image: Another new NASA telescope could find 1,400 planets. Pic: NASA

In the first scenario which Dr Schwieterman’s team developed, they noted although the modern Earth’s oxygen-rich atmosphere doesn’t allow carbon monoxide to build up because of chemical reactions in the atmosphere, this wasn’t always the case.

Three billion years ago, the Earth’s oceans were already teeming with microbial life, but the atmosphere was almost devoid of oxygen – and the sun was much dimmer.

According to their simulated models of the ancient Earth’s atmosphere, it could have had CO levels of roughly 100 parts per million (ppm) which is magnitudes higher than the parts per billion in the atmosphere today.

“That means we could expect high carbon monoxide abundances in the atmospheres of inhabited but oxygen-poor exoplanets orbiting stars like our own sun,” said Professor Timothy Lyons, one of the study’s co-authors.

“This is a perfect example of our team’s mission to use the Earth’s past as a guide in the search for life elsewhere in the universe,” added Professor Lyons, who is a director at UCR’s Alternative Earths Astrobiology Centre.

There is a limited distance from stars in which planets could sustain life. Pic: NASA

Image: There is a limited distance from stars in which planets could sustain life. Pic: NASA

The team’s second scenario features an even more favourable situation for CO build-up, and describes the environment around red dwarf stars like Proxima Centauri, the star nearest to our sun, only 4.2 light years away.

Around stars like Proxima Centauri, if the planets were inhabited and had a lot of oxygen, then there would also be an abundance of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere, from hundreds of pps up to several percent.

“Given the different astrophysical context for these planets, we should not be surprised to find microbial biospheres promoting high levels of carbon monoxide,” Dr Schwieterman said.

“However, these would certainly not be good places for human or animal life as we know it on Earth.”

Rocky planets the size of Earth have been discovered in the habitable zones of stars such as Proxima Centauri, and thus could harbour liquid water.

Scientists say these planets would ideal for deeper study using NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in March 2021.

Official Brexit campaign fined for spam messages

The official Brexit campaign has been fined £40,000 for sending thousands of unsolicited text messages during the 2016 referendum campaign.

The Information Commissioner’s Office said it found that Vote Leave sent a total of 196,154 messages promoting the aims of the campaign, with the majority including a link to its website.

Vote Leave was unable to prove that the people who received the messages had given their consent, the ICO said – a key part of electronic marketing law.

Director of investigations Steve Eckersley said: “Spam texts are a real nuisance for millions of people and we will take action against organisations who disregard the law.

“Direct marketing is not just about selling products and services, it’s also about promoting an organisation’s aims and ideals.

“Political campaigns and parties, like any other organisations, have to comply with the law.”

According to the ICO, Vote Leave told them that the information it used to contact people was obtained through website enquiries, text responses to promotional leaflets and entrants to a football competition.

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After the referendum, the group claimed it had deleted evidence of the consent relied upon to send the messages, the ICO said.

But a Vote Leave spokesman said this was done with the agreement of the ICO.

“So their decision to prosecute us now feels particularly vindictive,” he continued.

“Both during and after the referendum, Vote Leave complied with both the letter and spirit of the law.

“We have exchanged 46 letters with the ICO since the referendum, most of them refuting conspiracy theories peddled by people unhappy with the referendum result.

“To be fined £40,000 for fewer than 20 complaints which they were aware of over two years ago, shows their desperation to pin something on us after we had rebutted all of their other ludicrous theories.”

Meanwhile, another pro-Brexit campaign group has been fined £9,000 by the Electoral Commission for failing to report two donations during the referendum campaign.

Labour Leave, which was set up by Brexit-supporting Labour MPs, received 11 donations worth £420,000 during the campaign.

It failed to report two of them.

The Electoral Commission said the group had a responsibility to accurately report donations “so the public could see where the money they used for campaigns came from”.

“The responsible person for Labour Leave had an important legal duty to accurately report all donations,” said director of regulation Louise Edwards.

“In this case, they failed to do so which led to a disappointing lack of transparency into the group’s finances.”

The campaign group said the fine was “disproportionate” for what were “two administrative mistakes made”, but had accepted the penalty and paid it in full.

Labour Leave was required to disclose before the 2016 vote which donations it received.

After polling day, it had to submit a spending return showing all donations accepted.

Ms Edwards said the Electoral Commission found that two donations, each worth £10,000, had not been declared either before or after the referendum.

These were non-cash donations of office space – from Better for the Country Ltd and John Mills Ltd, the latter the firm run by Labour Leave chairman John Mills.

Labour Leave was fined £1,000 for not including the donations in pre-vote returns and £8,000 for doing the same post-referendum.

A Labour Leave spokesperson told Sky News: “The Electoral Commission’s rules around reporting are long, complex, confusing and unclear.

“Mr Mills had hoped that in their investigation the Electoral Commission would have given people the benefit of the doubt if they had shown they have gone to significant lengths to try to declare all details in the right way.

“Mr Mills provided the Electoral Commission with comprehensive, unredacted, audited accounts, detailing all incoming and outgoings. It would be difficult to be more transparent than that.

“Again, Labour Leave has accepted the result of the Electoral Commission, and paid the fine in full and before the payment deadline.”

The Electoral Commission also announced it had received £6,250 in fines from the Conservatives for inaccurate reporting relating to the 2017 election.

In addition, the party has paid another £5,050 for inaccurate quarterly donations and transactions reports.

The Lib Dems, meanwhile, have been hit with a £4,750 fine for inaccurate quarterly donations reports.

Ms Edwards said: “The reporting requirements are clear, so it is always disappointing when parties – especially well-funded ones – fail to provide accurate reports.”

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