If You Want A US Visa You’ll Now Have To Hand Over A Whole Lot More Data To Trump

In before everyone makes finstas to hide from the US government.

The US State Department has announced that nearly all applicants for US visas will now have to submit their social media usernames and five years’ worth of email addresses and phone numbers as part of their applications.

This includes people travelling to the US to work or study, but does not currently apply to those applying for visa waivers, which I just confirmed by applying for one, which I needed to do anyway.

If you’re only visiting the US for a short period of time, you’ll be applying for an ESTA visa waiver, and while that application does ask if you have the plague or plan on engaging in terrorist acts, it leaves it up to you to decide whether or not to hand over your social media handles.

Previously, only people who required “extra scrutiny” were required to submit their social media details. That included people who had travelled to parts of the world controlled by terrorist organisations, which was roughly 65,000 applicants a year. The new rules will affect 14.7 million people annually.

The State Department’s argument is that collecting this information “will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity.” When Trump first proposed the new rules last year, the American Civil Liberties Union said that there was “no evidence that such social media monitoring is effective or fair”.

In addition to social media details, applicants will also have to submit five years’ worth of email addresses and phone numbers. Thank god the era of embarrassing Hotmail email addresses is over.

But seriously, this sets a fairly disturbing precedent, and the information gleaned from applicants’ social media pages could be used to deny them visas for all sorts of vague reasons. What if a journalist who has reported on Trump in a critical way wants to visit the US for a conference? What if an activist who has organised protests against American government policies wants to study in the US? Will they be allowed to enter, or will the information found on their social media profiles be held against them?

As former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark said on Twitter, “if an authoritarian regime was demanding such information from visa applicants, wouldn’t eyebrows be raised?”

Consider my eyebrows raised.

Move Over, Fake Avril: That Conspiracy Theory About A Fake Melania Trump Is Back And Better Than Ever

Who doesn't love a good conspiracy theory?

Since at least 2017, people in certain corners of the internet have managed to convince themselves and others that Melania Trump doesn’t make her own public appearances, and instead relies on a body double.

There are different reasons for this: she doesn’t like her husband and doesn’t want to spend any time near him, she’s escaped the White House and is on the lam, she doesn’t care about public appearances, or that the Trump White House is so unreliable that they would even lie about the identity of Trump’s wife.

The conspiracy originally kicked off after Melania was spotted wearing sunglasses and one Twitter user suggested she wasn’t actually Melania. Then it spiralled from there.

Now, the conspiracy theory has been revived because yet again, Melania was photographed wearing sunglasses, and it’s obviously a body double because that’s what a body double would do to try and hide the fact they’re a body double.

The evidence that this woman isn’t Melania seems to be focused on the shape of her chin. If a chin expert could weigh in and give us a definitive answer, that would be much appreciated.

Some people seem to think Melania’s bodyguard, who doesn’t actually look like Melania at all, might act as her body double as well as her body guard.

It’s obvious that a lot of people are joking, but some are incredibly serious. A general distrust of Trump, combined with a distrust of the media, means that some people are susceptible to believing conspiracy theories that implicate the media in some sort of widespread cover-up.

What the point of this cover-up would be, I don’t know. I haven’t seen anyone suggest she’s dead, à la the Avril Lavigne/Melissa conspiracy theory, so do people believe that the media is colluding with Trump to hide the fact that Melania can’t be bothered to attend public events sometimes? That seems like a lot of effort for not much reward.

Regardless, be careful of falling down the #FakeMelania rabbit hole, friends – you might emerge a completely different person.

The US Government Has Reopened After The Longest-Ever Shutdown, But It’s Only Brief

The government only has enough funding until February 15th.

After the longest government shutdown in American history, President Trump has agreed to temporarily reopen the government.

He announced that a deal had been reached to reopen the government, but only for 3 weeks while lawmakers try to make a deal regarding immigration and border security. The 35-day shutdown ends without the allocation of the $5.7 billion Trump demanded for his border wall.

That doesn’t mean he’s given up on building the wall, though. Speaking to reporters, Trump referenced his ability to declare a national emergency to build the border wall, although as The Guardian points out, many legal experts disagree.

Trump praised the “extraordinary devotion” of federal employees who continued to work throughout the shutdown, and said that he will “make sure that all employees receive their backpay very quickly”. Roughly 1800 GoFundMes have been created in the past six weeks to support federal employees who weren’t being paid as a result of the shutdown.

The announcement follows yesterday’s arrest of one of Trump’s former advisers, Roger Stone. He was charged with witness tampering, obstruction of an official proceeding, and making false statements.

The temporary nature of the funding means that if there’s no deal by February 15th, Trump can shut down the government once more, as he clearly stated in a tweet this morning, writing: “…in 21 days, if no deal is done, it’s off to the races!”

Nonetheless, this three-week reprieve will come as a relief to the 800,000 federal employees who continued working throughout the shutdown. Here’s hoping the Democrats continue to refuse to fund Trump’s wall, and that he just accepts defeat and doesn’t throw the country into chaos again. But that doesn’t sound very Trump-like, does it? Shame.

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