News brief: Biden-Putin call, Instagram hearing, Glenn Foster dies in custody
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:
By positioning thousands of troops near the border with Ukraine, Russia sent an unmistakable message.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, said, in effect, lovely country you got here, be a shame if anything happened to it. Russia made it clear it wants Ukraine to stay out of NATO, the U.S.-led alliance. In a video call yesterday, President Biden spelled out consequences if Russian forces crossed the border.
ELLIOTT: Joining us now from Moscow is NPR's Charles Maynes. Good morning. Charles, what do we know about the tone of this call?
CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Well, both just - both sides described the talks as tense but businesslike. Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, says the president warned Putin that an invasion would result in heavy economic penalties for Russia levied by the U.S. and its European allies. And we're told he spelled them out to Putin in detail. Now, U.S. officials have said these sanctions would be more high impact than past penalties. Some have suggested this would mean cutting Russia off from the global banking system, for example, or perhaps ending a major new Russian gas pipeline deal to Europe. But I spoke with Ivan Kurilla, a political scientist at the European University in St. Petersburg, and he's skeptical sanctions will change the Kremlin's calculus.
IVAN KURILLA: Well, if the aim of the sanctions to weaken Russian economy, well, they probably work, not to a large extent, but they work. But if sanctions are targeted in changing the policy as well, I do not see the major change of the policy. The Kremlin will survive.
ELLIOTT: So he does not think that this pressure is going to mean anything. What are the Russians saying about the talks?
MAYNES: Well, a lot of people here are still trying to figure out what, if anything, has fundamentally shifted from this exchange. Take the troop buildup. Putin's presidential adviser was asked if Russia would pull back its forces. And he noted that they're already on Russian territory. In other words, where should we pull them back to? This adviser also said Biden had listened to Putin's concerns and promised to discuss Russia's views with NATO allies. So the general take here is that it's better these talks took place than have they not and that also that Putin's military buildup had, at the very least, forced the U.S. to listen to Russia's grievances.
ELLIOTT: So let's talk about those grievances. What is it exactly that Putin wants here?
MAYNES: Well, you know, Putin wants guarantees against NATO expansion eastward, which isn't exactly a new idea, but Putin is saying it's not just about keeping Ukraine from becoming a member of the alliance. It's about keeping NATO out of Ukrainian territory, period. And this is what Putin is now calling his red line. The issue really is this - Russia sees growing cooperation between Kyiv and NATO for now through military trainings and limited weapons assistance. But Putin's imagining a day when Ukraine invites NATO to place missile systems on its soil that could target Moscow in minutes. So never mind no one in NATO is talking about doing that, Putin says this is an existential threat to Russia. Now, the irony here is that all of this NATO-Ukrainian cooperation really accelerated due to Russia's own aggressive actions against Ukraine, beginning with the annexation of Crimea and later its proxy war in east Ukraine in 2014.
ELLIOTT: And briefly, Charles, what are we hearing from Ukraine?
MAYNES: Well, alarmingly, the Ukrainian government noted an uptick in fighting in east Ukraine even as the talks got underway. It accused Russia of sending tanks and snipers to try and provoke returned fire. And, you know, that's worrisome because there is always this concern by the U.S. and others that Russia could provoke Ukraine in a way that would allow the Kremlin to justify military actions it really wanted to take anyway.
ELLIOTT: Thanks very much, NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow.
MAYNES: Thank you.
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ELLIOTT: What is Instagram doing to keep its youngest users safe?
INSKEEP: That's what a Senate committee wants to know today from Adam Mosseri, who's the top executive at the social media platform. Instagram is controlled by Facebook, and when a whistleblower left Facebook with internal documents, some of them focused on Instagram. One internal study gave Instagram warning signs about effects on the mental health of young people.
ELLIOTT: Reporter Jeff Horwitz broke that story for The Wall Street Journal and joins us now. Now, before we go to Jeff, we should note that Instagram's parent company, Meta, formerly Facebook, pays NPR to license NPR content. Jeff, good morning.
JEFF HORWITZ: Good morning.
ELLIOTT: What do we expect the line of questioning from senators today to the head of Instagram?
HORWITZ: So this is a bit of a rematch. Adam Mosseri's the second executive from Meta Platforms Inc, which is the renamed Facebook, to talk to Congress about the effects of the company's products on children's mental health. The first time Antigone Davis, who is kind of a more safety-focused overall executive rather than product-focused person, kind of got yelled at for a lengthy period for things that kind of weren't under her normal lines of authority or perhaps even familiarity in terms of the company's products. So what we're expecting this time is Mr. Mosseri to get grilled pretty hard by a number of senators from both parties since this is kind of a bipartisan issue in some respects on, first, the underlying research and, second, whether or not Instagram has done enough to respond and to actually alter its product based on what the company knows internally.
ELLIOTT: Now, you and your Wall Street Journal colleagues first reported on this whistleblower, who has since testified before Congress. Remind us now what that reporting revealed.
HORWITZ: Sure. So the whistleblower was Frances Haugen, and she left the company with a fairly astounding number of internal records detailing what Facebook knows about itself. So one big thing related to children was that for a significant number of users, in fact, basically young users who are coming to the app at a emotionally vulnerable time, Instagram can worsen body image issues and potentially cause negative social comparison, which can be everything from sort of feeling bad about yourself up to, you know, thoughts of suicide. And beyond that, though, there was also a lot of research about the company's awareness of its problems with human trafficking, the ability and, in fact, tendency of Facebook's algorithms to distort public discourse by prioritizing angry content and sort of basic - and then there was also a secret set of protections for VIP accounts that Facebook hadn't perhaps been fully forthright about the details of in public.
ELLIOTT: OK. So, briefly, Instagram has tried to put in some new safety tools ahead of this. What are they?
HORWITZ: Well, a lot of it is opt-in limits and nudges and parental controls. So people can kind of choose to perhaps get reminded by Instagram when they've been going down a bit of a rabbit hole or parents can have a little more access to their kid's accounts.
ELLIOTT: Well, we'll see if that's enough for Congress. We're running out of time now. Thanks so much. Jeff Horwitz is a reporter with The Wall Street Journal. Thank you.
HORWITZ: Thank you.
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ELLIOTT: A former NFL player died in police custody in Alabama Monday.
INSKEEP: Glenn Foster Jr. was once a defensive lineman for the New Orleans Saints. Last Friday, he was in a small town called Reform, Ala., which is outside Tuscaloosa. Police say they attempted a traffic stop, which led to a chase and finally his arrest. He died three days later while being transported from jail to a medical facility.
ELLIOTT: We're joined now by Ramon Antonio Vargas, a reporter with The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.
RAMON ANTONIO VARGAS: Thank you for having me.
ELLIOTT: Tell us a little bit about Glenn Foster Jr. and what you've been able to learn about the circumstances surrounding his death.
VARGAS: Sure. Glenn Foster grew up in Chicago and made the NFL as an undrafted rookie coming out of the University of Illinois. He had a very strong pre-season in 2013 as a rookie to latch on to the Saints and played well his first year, had a tougher second year and then was out of the NFL by 2015, which is a kind of a more common experience for players of his background. He was in - he started a granite countertop business in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas. And he was headed to a business trip in Atlanta when - was going through Alabama when I guess police found him driving about - allegedly found hin driving about 90 miles an hour in a 45-mile-an-hour zone. There was a nine-mile chase that followed. And police ultimately used spike strips to disable his car, which led to a crash. He was taken - the police booked him into jail on various traffic charges. And I guess he was - there was - I guess officials were concerned about his behavior and his family worked with the police in Reform to bring him to get evaluated at a hospital in Alabama. But before then, there was...
ELLIOTT: Now, that's because his parent - according to his parents, he had a history of bipolar disorder, right?
VARGAS: He was diagnosed with bipolar - he had a diagnosis - a bipolar diagnosis about 10 years ago, had mostly balanced - had managed the illness, I guess, through his playing career and through the beginning of his business career. But they suspect that he was struggling with that more recently. And there was a fight at the jail, which I guess kind of delayed his release. He was booked in connection with that. And then he was put into the custody of the agency that runs the jail, which is the Pickens County Sheriff's Office. And he arrived to the hospital - he was taken to the hospital in a police cruiser. And he arrived dead. Now, there's an autopsy pending to determine what his cause of death was.
ELLIOTT: And what are law enforcement officials saying? What's the state of the investigation here?
VARGAS: There's very - the Alabama State Bureau of Investigation has taken over the investigation and is saying very little. Obviously, the family at a minimum suggests that a delay in potentially lifesaving care is to blame for Glenn Foster Jr.'s death. But obviously there's a lot that could have happened between then - before then.
ELLIOTT: Ramon Antonio Vargas with The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate, thank you.
VARGAS: Thank you so much.
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