Twitter launches spam awareness drive in MENA

Twitter launched the campaign on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 27 November 2019

Twitter launches spam awareness drive in MENA

  • Twitter wants to educate people about the safety tools they can make use of to identify spam behavior

RIYADH: A major campaign to raise awareness about internet spam among social media users in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region was launched by Twitter on Monday.

The platform shared a series of videos in Arabic on its @TwitterMENA account as part of a safety drive aimed at helping people to identify and report unsolicited online communications.

George Salama, Twitter’s MENA head of public policy, government and philanthropy, told Arab News: “We have launched the social awareness campaign to educate people on Twitter about how to deal with spam and to highlight our efforts around the health of the public conversation in the region.

“We want to educate people about the safety tools they can make use of, such as the ability to report the type of spam, in addition to tips and techniques to help identify spam behavior.”

He said spam was a kind of platform manipulation and could take many forms. It could be commercially motivated to divert attention from a Twitter conversation to certain products and initiatives or associated to inauthentic engagements that attempted to make accounts appear more popular than they were.

Sometimes referred to as junk, it could also take the form of coordinated activity that attempted to artificially influence conversations through the use of multiple accounts, fake accounts or automation, Salama added.

“We use the term (anti-spam challenges) to describe our process for confirming whether a human is in control of an account we suspect is engaging in platform manipulation.”

FASTFACTS

• Twitter challenged 291 million accounts for spammy behavior in the 12 months between July 2018 and June 2019.

• 50 percent fewer accounts were challenged in the first half of 2019 compared with the second half of 2018.

• Approximately 75 percent of challenged accounts failed the tests and were ultimately suspended.

For example, Twitter may require an account holder to verify a phone number or email address, or complete a reCAPTCHA test (to tell humans and robot software apps apart), he said, adding that these challenges were simple for authentic platform users to solve, but difficult or costly for spam and malicious account owners to complete.

“Accounts which fail to complete a challenge within a specified period of time may be suspended. We challenged 291 million accounts for spammy behavior in the 12 months between July 2018 and June 2019,” said Salama, noting that 50 percent fewer accounts were challenged in the first half of 2019 compared with the second half of 2018.

The Twitter official pointed out that approximately 75 percent of challenged accounts failed the tests and were ultimately suspended.




George Salama, Twitter head of public policy & government relations for MENA. (Photo/Supplied)

“We have made a number of investments in machine learning including the acquisition of Fabula AI (a London startup), which focused initially on expanding applications to stop spam,” he said.

Machine learning played a key role in Twitter’s attempts to serve the public conversation, he said, and Fabula AI had employed a world-class team of researchers to detect network manipulation. 

“In September, we expanded our policies to prohibit financial scams. We want Twitter to be a place where people can make human connections and find reliable information.”

Salama added that Twitter wanted to stop people from using its services to deceive others into sending them money or personal financial information via scam tactics, phishing, or other fraudulent methods.

“Using scam tactics on Twitter to obtain money or private financial information is prohibited under this policy. People are not allowed to create accounts, post tweets, or send direct messages that solicit engagement in such fraudulent schemes,” he added.


Tearing down the wall: Saudi restaurants adjust to the abolishment of gender segregation

Updated 28 January 2020

Tearing down the wall: Saudi restaurants adjust to the abolishment of gender segregation

  • New law urges restaurants to remove segregation in entrance and separate seating arrangements
  • Many restaurants have already begun to implement the law, but others stubbornly refuse

RIYADH: Saudi diners are still chewing over the Kingdom’s move to end the long-standing legal requirement for restaurants to have separate entrances for males and families.

As a result of reforms — involving 103 rules and regulations, manuals, models, and standards aimed at making life easier for citizens and visitors — men and women no longer have to enter restaurants through separate doors.

Naif Al-Otaibi, general manager of public relations and media at the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs, said gender-segregation was now a matter of choice.

“It’s optional. We did not specify the number of entry points, so the investor is free to have multiple entry points and segregate (males from females) in their restaurant,” he told Arab News.

Many restaurants and cafes in Saudi Arabia, including American coffee chain Starbucks, typically have separate sections for families (women on their own or accompanied by men) and males.

The AlShaya Group, operator of Starbucks, The Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s among others, has said it will end gender segregation in stores and eateries that were opened before the new rule came into effect.

“We at Alshaya are planning to transform the old stores’ designs following the new desegregation law, but that will take place over the course of the next two years,” the company told Arab News.

An employee at one of Starbucks’ gender-segregated outlets said maintenance contractors had recently conducted an inspection of the site with a view to commencing remodeling work. “They will take out the wall that separates the male area from the families section,” the staff member told Arab News.

“They will also remove the signs at the entry points that say, ‘families’ and ‘males’ and merge the two separate sections.”

Just a few years ago all of this was unthinkable in a very different Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom had a strict policy of not allowing women to dine in a restaurant without a mahram (male guardian). They would be turned away if they did not comply with the rule.

Recalling an incident that happened 20 years ago, “D.K.,” a 37-year-old Saudi woman who wished to remain anonymous, said she found herself inside one of the white vehicles belonging to the religious police whose official job description was the “prevention of vice and promotion of virtue.”

She had been dining with her friends at a McDonald’s restaurant without a mahram.

But D.K. is amazed by the changes that have taken place since, and said the ending of gender segregation in restaurants was a huge step forward for the Kingdom.

She praised King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for advancing women’s empowerment by increasing their employment opportunities, enhancing the quality of their social life and expanding their personal freedoms.

While these steps might seem unimpressive to the average person in the West, cumulatively they were opening up the Kingdom in a big way, D.K. told Arab News, though she admitted that some conservative sections of Saudi society still wished to see the continuation of gender segregation in restaurants.

However, most restaurant owners were eager to move with the changing times.

Al-Amin Mahmoud, a 35-year-old father-of-four from Madinah, takes his family every weekend to a different restaurant. While in Jeddah on a short vacation, he faced a problem when he discovered that some restaurants did not have separate sections for males and families.

“I respect that decision, but I did not feel comfortable. I knew that the decision had been implemented. However, for me, having grown up in a conservative family and society, it does not suit me,” he told Arab News.

Father-of-three Habib Saleh, 41, said that businesses had the option to accept or reject the gender-desegregation decision.

“This is akin to the decision to ban sheesha from restaurants. Many people objected, saying smoking sheesha was the main reason they frequented the restaurants in the first place. Some restaurants who implemented the rule naturally lost regular customers, which affected their revenue,” he added.

Saleh pointed out that when considering applying the new rules, some business owners faced the same dilemma of having to be prepared to lose some customers.

“It will take time before people get used to it. Of course, people will either reject it or be suspicious about it at first. And we have to keep in mind that some of the people who are objecting to this decision do not mind eating in mixed restaurants when they are abroad. So, there is some amount of contradiction. 

“We have to remember that the segregation rule was in force for more than 30 years, so don’t think that people will accept it quickly,” he said.

For his part, Abdulrahman Al-Harbi, an architect, believes implementing the desegregation law will improve the bottom lines of restaurants in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Harbi said not only would managing a restaurant become easier but construction bills would also shrink. “I prefer open spaces. A good designer can provide clever privacy solutions to customers in different ways. 

“If we want to call ourselves a civilized society, we must get used to a mixed-gender environment,” he added.

Abdul Aziz Al-Qahtani, the owner of Bicicleta Coffee Shop in Riyadh, said that since opening a new branch in the capital’s U Walk, only one cashier counter was required.

“We had customers coming in and asking for separate sections, but we have to keep pace with development,” he said. “This change in the law has reduced costs in many areas for us. Now we don’t need two cashiers to serve a family section and a male section.

“We also don’t have to have large spaces any more to be able to divide it up into two sections.”