Myanmar activists welcome Zuckerberg’s 24-hour target to block hate speech on Facebook

Updated 13 April 2018
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Myanmar activists welcome Zuckerberg’s 24-hour target to block hate speech on Facebook

  • Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state and crossed into Bangladesh
  • Facebook is hiring dozens more Burmese-language speakers to remove threatening content.

WASHINGTON/YANGON: Myanmar civil society groups welcomed a commitment by Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg to tackle hate speech within 24 hours as the social media giant fights messages inciting violence, but urged it to deploy more resources in the country.

Zuckerberg said on Tuesday his company would step up efforts to block hate messages in Myanmar as he faced questioning by the US Congress about electoral interference and hate speech on the platform.

Facebook has been accused by human rights advocates of not doing enough to weed out hate messages on its social-media network in Myanmar, where it has become a near-ubiquitous communications tool following the opening up of the economy.

In an email, the representatives of several civil society groups in Myanmar hailed the 24-hour timeline as “historic,” but said Facebook had failed to set up an effective mechanism in the country for swifter detection and removal of threatening posts.

“This is a historic commitment from Facebook to a 24-hour review time, and one we have been begging for,” Yangon-based social media analyst Victoire Rio said on Wednesday.

“It is still unclear how they intend to demonstrate that they are meeting these targets ... We will continue to monitor them,” said Rio, who was involved in an email exchange between Zuckerberg and civil society groups in Myanmar regarding Facebook’s effectiveness in detecting and curbing hate speech.

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state and crossed into Bangladesh since insurgent attacks sparked a security crackdown last August, the United Nations and aid agencies have said.

The UN and the US described the situation as ethnic cleansing, an accusation Myanmar denies.

“What’s happening in Myanmar is a terrible tragedy, and we need to do more,” Zuckerberg said during a 5-hour joint hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee.

UN officials investigating a possible genocide in Myanmar said last month that Facebook had been a source of anti-Rohingya propaganda.

Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, said in March that social media had played a “determining role” in Myanmar.

“It has ... substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict ... within the public,” he said.

Zuckerberg said Facebook was hiring dozens more Burmese-language speakers to remove threatening content.

“It’s hard to do it without people who speak the local language, and we need to ramp up our effort there dramatically,” he said, adding that Facebook was also asking civil society groups to help identify figures the network needed to ban.

He said a Facebook team would make undisclosed product changes in Myanmar and other countries battling ethnic violence.

But Jes Petersen, chief executive of Yangon-based Phandeeyar, which helped Facebook translate its Burmese-language community standards, said Zuckerberg’s commitment would be too little for a country with nearly 30 million users.

“It is not even close. It will be interesting to see how Facebook meet their 24-hour commitment here — but a mammoth expansion of Burmese-speaking staff is going to be needed.”


Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

Updated 17 September 2018
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Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

  • Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, ‘The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,’ at the Venice Film Festival
  • Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film ‘The Insult’

LONDON: Arabic cinema has increasingly captured the imagination of movie-lovers around the world this year, with Arab film-makers winning award nominations and securing high-profile screenings at major film festivals.
This month the Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, “The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,” at the Venice Film Festival. Al-Mansour previously wrote and directed the film “Wadjda,” which was the first foreign-language Oscar entry from Saudi Arabia in 2014.
Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film “The Insult.”
“Arab cinema’s profile has been on the rise. There are several different Arab movies being shown at Venice (film festival) this year,” said Joseph Fahim, an Egyptian film critic and the curator of this year’s London-based Safar Film Festival, which runs on Sept. 13-18.
Daniel Gorman, the director of London’s biannual Shubbak festival, which showcases mainly contemporary Arabic culture, art and film, said he that has seen the appeal of Arabic film grow in the UK.
“There is a huge interest and appetite for creative work coming from across the Arab world and there is strong interest in the UK to hear the voices of people from across the region, in an area that is generally represented in headlines in newspapers. Film is an excellent way of doing that,” he said.
Festivals have played a vital role in boosting awareness of Arab film, he said.
“(They) are able to bring new audiences to new work as they bring this concentrated moment of activity. A festival tends to have a bit more reach in terms of media coverage and audience awareness.
“(It) brings people along to something which they might not go to as a one-off screening,” Gorman said, explaining how the Shubbak festival also works with local schools and community groups to increase access to Arabic film and art.
This year’s Safar film festival — which is in its fourth year and organized by the Arab British Center — has focused on the theme of literature and film in the Arab world.
Fahim has created a program that includes movies dating back to the 1960s that have been buried deep in their respective country’s archives, as well as new films that have not been screened in London yet.
One of the films included is the Tunisian “In the Land of Tararanni,” originally released in 1973 and based on a collection of short stories by Ali Dougai.
It was one of the more tricky recordings to track down, said Nadia El-Sebai, executive director at the Arab British Center.
“There are films in this program that audiences will have no idea how many people it took to get that film,” she said, explaining the lengthy negotiations with ministries of culture, national archives and old friends and contacts to track down the much sought-after recordings.
There were other movies they had to give up on ever finding, including those lost in Syria or Iraq, or old versions of films that have not yet been digitised by national archives, she said.
More recent festival entries include this year’s Egyptian film “Poisonous Roses,” adapted from a 1990s cult novel, as well as the European premiere of the work of an Iraqi filmmaker — “Stories of Passers Through” — which traces the stories of Iraqis exiled from their country during the Saddam Hussein regime.
The literary theme of this year’s festival was chosen as a reaction to the growing popularity of contemporary Arab cinema, with the event’s organizers wanting to delve into the history of Arabic film.
“We are delighted by the increasing access to Arabic cinema. There are more films plugged into the London film festival this year. We have other other festivals — the Shubbak festival (in London), and the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival,” said El-Sebai.
“For this year’s edition we thought we would like to take the opportunity to go a little deeper into the history and heritage of Arabic cinema, and the industry,” she said.
“Safar is taking place just before London Film Festival (LFF), which was another motivation for us to look at something a bit different as we are definitely going to see really amazing contemporary films at the London Film Festival,” she said.
The LFF — which begins on Oct. 10 — is set to feature work by Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan as well as the Saudi Arabian director Mahmoud Sabbagh’s latest dark comedy “Amra and the Second Marriage,” among other Arab productions.
Fahim was also keen to use the Safar event as a way of bringing audiences’ attention to a broader range of Arabic movies, highlighting the heritage of the film industry.
“It is reminding people that Arab cinema did not spring out today — there is a long history,” he said, adding that he wanted to question audience expectations.
“There have been a flood of amazing images from Arab cinema being displayed at festivals and most critics had no idea what they were. The more I spoke to people, the more I realized that there is a certain expectation of what Arab movies should be,” he said.
“We wanted to challenge what people expect from Arab cinema … I am tired of seeing Lawrence of Arabia a gazillion times on the big screen,” he said.
He said the selected films in the festival will hopefully challenge preconceptions. He referred to the inclusion of the 1964 Egyptian film — “The Search” — based on the writer Naguib Mahfouz’s novel. “It is a crime noir. It is essentially an existential noir and I don’t think many people will expect to see that,” he said.
Arabic cinema, however, needs to be better promoted, he said, noting a dearth of adequate film critics.
“At the big festivals it sometimes feels like Arab cinema is the bottom priority for critics,” he said.
“We need more perceptive writing. I could name you on one hand the film critics who know their stuff. That needs to change. Maybe we need to have more different voices. Film criticism is still being dominated by white male writers — although it has been developing — but that is still the norm,” he said.