Extremist content online increased during coronavirus lockdowns

Extremist content online increased during coronavirus lockdowns
A man, member of the Proud Boys and other similar groups, gestures the OK sign that is now seen as a symbol of white supremacy. (File/AFP)
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Updated 27 November 2020

Extremist content online increased during coronavirus lockdowns

Extremist content online increased during coronavirus lockdowns
  • Provisional data suggests that “while the pandemic has reduced overall terrorist activity, in many countries there has been little impact”
  • Figures released on Thursday by the UK Home Office showed a rise in the number of people referred to its counter-extremism program for the first time in four years

LONDON: Extreme Islamist and far-right content on social media increased markedly during the COVID-19 lockdown period between April and July this year, according to the 2020 Global Terrorism Index.

“It should be no surprise … to see extremists of all stripes, including far-right and jihadist groups, opportunistically using the ongoing pandemic to advance their movements and ideologies,” Milo Comerford of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) wrote in the report, which is published annually by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

“A range of malign actors have been using COVID-19 as a ‘wedge issue’ to promote conspiracy theories, target minority communities and outsider groups, contest government legitimacy, and call for extreme violence,” Comerford continued.

Although the report does not include hard data from the first wave of lockdowns across the world, provisional data suggests that “while the pandemic has reduced overall terrorist activity, in many countries there has been little impact.”

The report shows that administrators of pro-Daesh pages on Facebook have used a number of strategies to evade being banned or removed, including content masking, coordinated ‘raids’ and hijacking hashtags.

“Pandemic-related ISIS content tracked by ISD researchers generated over half a million views, and we have even seen the strategic use of paid ads to spread ISIS content and attempt to drown out other COVID-19-related posts,” Comerford wrote, referring to the extremist group by its English acronym.

The report also states that hundreds of extreme far-right groups saw a rise in membership during lockdown. One white-supremacist channel drew more than 6,000 new users in March alone.

“(Social media) has provided a means for extremists — including those from the far right — to challenge mainstream messaging and promulgate twisted perversions of the truth, to amplify conspiracy theories, and spread sickening and divisive images, messages and themes intended to stoke anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, and racism, as well as distrust in systems of government and governance,” UK Security Minister James Brokenshire said during a speech at the Royal United Services Institute on Thursday. “Terrorism, in whatever form, seeks to divide us and undermine our shared values.”

Figures released on Thursday by the UK Home Office showed a rise in the number of people referred to its counter-extremism program for the first time in four years.

The data showed that 3,203 of a total 6,287 referrals were for individuals with a mixed, unstable or unclear ideology, and that 1,487 referrals were related to Islamist radicalization, and 1,387 related to right-wing radicalization.

“The opportunities for mobilization represented by COVID-19 has helped catalyze these increasingly disparate and diverse violent extremism challenges,” Comerford wrote.

“The trends indicated by the Global Terrorism Index, and confirmed by extremist mobilization during COVID-19, show the need to understand the rapidly changing manifestations and organizing principles of violent extremism.”


Taliban strike journalists at Kabul women’s rights protest

Taliban strike journalists at Kabul women’s rights protest
Updated 31 min 12 sec ago

Taliban strike journalists at Kabul women’s rights protest

Taliban strike journalists at Kabul women’s rights protest
  • One foreign journalist was struck with the butt of a rifle by one Taliban fighter
  • Afghans have staged street protests across the country since the Taliban returned to power

KABUL: The Taliban struck several journalists to prevent media coverage of a women’s rights protest in Kabul on Thursday.
A group of about 20 women marched from near the ministry of education to the ministry of finance in the Afghan capital.
Wearing colorful headscarves they chanted slogans including: “Don’t politicize education,” as traffic drove by shortly before 10 am.
The women held placards saying: “We don’t have the rights to study and work,” and” “Joblessness, poverty, hunger,” as they walked with their arms in the air.
The Taliban authorities allowed the women to walk freely for around an hour and a half, AFP journalists saw.
However, one foreign journalist was struck with the butt of a rifle by one Taliban fighter, who swore and kicked the photographer in the back as another punched him.
At least two more journalists were hit as they scattered, pursued by Taliban fighters swinging fists and launching kicks.
Zahra Mohammadi, one of the protest organizers, said the women were marching despite the risks they face.
“The situation is that the Taliban don’t respect anything: not journalists — foreign and local — or women,” she said.
“The schools must reopen to girls. But the Taliban took this right from us.”
High school girls have been blocked from returning to classes for more than a month, while many women have been banned from returning to work since the Taliban seized power in mid-August.
“My message to all girls and women is this: ‘Don’t be afraid of the Taliban, even if your family doesn’t allow you to leave your home. Don’t be afraid. Go out, make sacrifices, fight for your rights’,” Mohammadi said.
“We have to make this sacrifice so that the next generation will be in peace.”
Children walked alongside the protest in downtown Kabul, although it was unclear if they were part of the organized group.
Some Taliban fighters policing the march wore full camouflaged combat gear, including body armor, helmets and knee pads, while others were wearing traditional Afghan clothing.
Their weapons included US-made M16 assault rifles and AK-47s.
Unthinkable under the hard-line Islamist group’s last rule in the 1990s, Afghans have staged street protests across the country since the Taliban returned to power, sometimes with several hundred people and many with women at forefront.
But a ban on unauthorized demonstrations has meant protests against Afghanistan’s new masters have dwindled.


Trump announces plans to launch new social network ‘TRUTH Social’

Trump announces plans to launch new social network ‘TRUTH Social’
Updated 21 October 2021

Trump announces plans to launch new social network ‘TRUTH Social’

Trump announces plans to launch new social network ‘TRUTH Social’

WASHINGTON: Former US president Donald Trump announced plans Wednesday to launch his own social networking platform called “TRUTH Social,” which is expected to begin its beta launch for “invited guests” next month.
The long-awaited platform will be owned by Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG), which also intends to launch a subscription video on-demand service that will feature “non-woke” entertainment programming, the group said in a statement.
“I created TRUTH Social and TMTG to stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech,” Trump, who was banned from Twitter and Facebook in the wake of the Capitol insurrection carried out by his supporters on January 6 this year, was quoted as saying in the statement.
“We live in a world where the Taliban has a huge presence on Twitter, yet your favorite American President has been silenced. This is unacceptable,” he continued.
The Trump Media & Technology Group will merge with blank check company Digital Acquisition Corp. to make TMTG a publicly-listed company, the statement said.
“The transaction values Trump Media & Technology Group at an initial enterprise value of $875 Million, with a potential additional earnout of $825 Million in additional shares (at the valuation they are granted) for a cumulative valuation of up to $1.7 Billion depending on the performance of the stock price post-business combination,” it stated.
Ever since he was banned from the world’s dominant social networks as punishment for stirring up the mob that ransacked Congress on January 6, Trump has been looking for ways to reclaim his Internet platform.
In May he launched a blog called “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” which was touted as a a major new outlet.
But Trump, who was also banned from Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat in the wake of the Capitol mayhem, canceled the blog just a month later.
Former Trump aide Jason Miller launched a social network called Gettr earlier this year, but the former president has not yet joined it.
 


UAE ranked 11th on major global brand strength index, beating US, UK

UAE ranked 11th on major global brand strength index, beating US, UK
Updated 21 October 2021

UAE ranked 11th on major global brand strength index, beating US, UK

UAE ranked 11th on major global brand strength index, beating US, UK
  • The top five positions are taken by Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Germany, followed by Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand

LONDON: The UAE climbed three spots from last year’s global Brand Strength Index, beating both the UK and the US, to be ranked 11th among the world’s strongest nation brands. 

Brand Finance gave the UAE a score of 79.1 out of 100, marking “the latest confirmation of the excellence of the Emirati model in strategic planning and development,” according to Minister of Cabinet Affairs Mohammed Al-Gergawi.

He told The National: “It confirms the nation’s success in establishing modern, open, transparent and interactive media communication with the public around the world, through which it has been able to present its many inspiring success stories.”

Similar metrics demonstrated a rise in UAE’s economic ranking and financial value.

“The rise in the economic value of the UAE’s national brand from 18th to 17th position this year is a clear indication of the country’s global reputation and competitiveness in various fields,” added Al-Gergawi.

The top five positions are taken by Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Germany, followed by Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand.

“There is no doubt that achieving 11 percent brand value growth, from $672 billion to $749 billion, is a major achievement in the 50th year of the UAE and underlines how quickly our nation has established its name and global identity as a developed and pioneering country. It is an exceptional success story that will be told to all generations,” Al-Gergawi added. 

Brand Finance, a brand valuation company, measures the relative strength of national brands through a balanced scorecard of metrics evaluating brand investment, equity, and performance. 

Andrew Campbell, managing director at Brand Finance Middle East, said that the UAE is “challenging the Western status quo in ranking.” 

He added: “As the UAE celebrates its Golden Jubilee year, it continues to fly the flag high, promoting the nation’s achievements across the world through ground-breaking initiatives like the Emirates Mars Mission and serving as the gateway to the region by hosting the world for 182 days at Expo 2020 Dubai.”

Not only did the UAE score high on brand strength, but the country also stood out for its COVID-19 response, getting top marks on the influence and business and trade pillars, while also scoring strongly on the education and science pillars. 

While Switzerland continued to dominate the market as the world’s strongest nation brand, other countries took a fall. 

The UK, US, Japan, and France have all fallen out of the top 10 strongest nation brands following perceptions on how they handled the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The UK fell dramatically from 2nd to 14th position with a score of 77.4, while the US dropped from 4th to 17th with a score of 75.1. 

Despite their brand strength taking a hit, however, these nations all still feature in an unchanged top 10 when ranked by nation brand value.


Facebook paying fine to settle US suit on discrimination

Critics of the practice contend that the foreign nationals will work for lower wages than US citizens. (File/AFP)
Critics of the practice contend that the foreign nationals will work for lower wages than US citizens. (File/AFP)
Updated 20 October 2021

Facebook paying fine to settle US suit on discrimination

Critics of the practice contend that the foreign nationals will work for lower wages than US citizens. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook is paying a hefty fine to resolve allegations that it discriminated against US workers in favor of foreigners with special visas to fill high-paying jobs
  • Facebook sponsored the visa holders for “green cards” authorizing them to work permanently.

WASHINGTON: Facebook is paying a $4.75 million fine and up to $9.5 million to eligible victims to resolve the Justice Department’s allegations that it discriminated against US workers in favor of foreigners with special visas to fill high-paying jobs.
Facebook also agreed in the settlement announced Tuesday to train its employees in anti-discrimination rules and to conduct more widespread advertising and recruitment for job opportunities in its permanent labor certification program, which allows an employer to hire a foreign worker to work permanently.
The department’s civil rights division said the social network giant “routinely refused” to recruit, consider or hire US workers, a group that includes US citizens and nationals, people granted asylum, refugees and lawful permanent residents, for positions it had reserved for temporary visa holders.
Facebook sponsored the visa holders for “green cards” authorizing them to work permanently. The so-called H-1B visas are a staple of Silicon Valley, widely used by software programmers and other employees of major US technology companies.
Critics of the practice contend that the foreign nationals will work for lower wages than US citizens. The tech companies maintain that’s not the case, that they turn to foreign nationals because they have trouble finding qualified programmers and other engineers who are US citizens.
“In principle, Facebook is doing a good thing by applying for green cards for its workers, but it has also learned how to game the system to avoid hiring US tech workers,” said Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “Facebook started lobbying to change the system more to its liking starting back in 2013 when the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate was being negotiated.”
The settlement terms announced Tuesday are the largest civil penalty and back-pay award ever recovered by the civil rights division in the 35-year history of enforcing anti-discrimination rules under the Immigration and Nationality Act, officials said. The back pay would be awarded to people deemed to have been unfairly denied employment.
The government said Facebook intentionally created a hiring system in which it denied qualified US workers a fair opportunity to learn about and apply for jobs that it instead sought to channel to temporary visa holders.
“Facebook is not above the law and must comply with our nation’s federal civil rights laws, which prohibit discriminatory recruitment and hiring practices,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke told reporters in a telephone conference. “Companies cannot set aside certain positions for temporary visa holders because of their citizenship or immigration status.”
Facebook also agreed in a separate settlement with the Labor Department to expand its recruitment for US workers and to be subject to ongoing audits to ensure compliance.
The company based in Menlo Park, California, said it believes it met the government’s standards in its practices. It said it agreed to the settlements to end the litigation and move ahead with its permanent labor certification program — which it called an important part of its “overall immigration program.”
“These resolutions will enable us to continue our focus on hiring the best builders from both the US and around the world, and supporting our internal community of highly skilled visa holders who are seeking permanent residence,” Facebook said in a statement.
Facebook says it ended the April-June quarter this year with over 63,400 full-time employees globally and has 3,000 current job openings.
The lawsuit was filed against Facebook last December by the Justice Department under the Trump administration. The alleged violations are said to have occurred from at least Jan. 1, 2018 to at least Sept. 18, 2019.
A $4.75 million fine and $9.5 million in back pay are a trifle for a company valued at $1 trillion with revenue of nearly $86 billion last year. But the announcement comes at a time of intense public discomfort and scrutiny for Facebook.
Public allegations and testimony to Congress from a former Facebook data scientist that the company disregarded internal research showing harm to children have raised a public outcry and calls for stricter government oversight of the company. The former employee, Frances Haugen, accused Facebook of prioritizing profit over safety and being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation.
The company is also awaiting a federal judge’s ruling in an epic antitrust suit filed against it by the Federal Trade Commission. Calls from critics and lawmakers of both parties to break up the behemoth company are intensifying.


Britain fines Facebook $70 mln for breaching order in Giphy deal

Facebook had refused to report all the required information, despite multiple warnings, the CAM said. (File/Twitter)
Facebook had refused to report all the required information, despite multiple warnings, the CAM said. (File/Twitter)
Updated 20 October 2021

Britain fines Facebook $70 mln for breaching order in Giphy deal

Facebook had refused to report all the required information, despite multiple warnings, the CAM said. (File/Twitter)

LONDON: Britain’s competition regulator has fined Facebook 50.5 million pounds ($69.6 million) for breaching an order imposed during its investigation into the US social media giant’s purchase of GIF platform Giphy, the agency said on Wednesday.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said Facebook had deliberately failed to comply with its order, and the penalty served as a warning that no company was above the law.
Facebook said it strongly disagreed.
The CMA said Facebook had failed to provide full updates about its compliance with requirements to continue to compete with Giphy and not integrate its operations with Giphy’s while its investigation was ongoing.
Facebook had refused to report all the required information, despite multiple warnings, the CAM said, and it therefore considered the failure to comply deliberate.
“We warned Facebook that its refusal to provide us with important information was a breach of the order but, even after losing its appeal in two separate courts, Facebook continued to disregard its legal obligations,” said Joel Bamford, senior director of mergers at the CMA.
“This should serve as a warning to any company that thinks it is above the law.”
Facebook said: “We strongly disagree with the CMA’s unfair decision to punish Facebook for a best effort compliance approach, which the CMA itself ultimately approved.
“We will review the CMA’s decision and consider our options.”