English soccer at breaking point over abuse on social media

English soccer at breaking point over abuse on social media
English football has reached breaking point with players, coaches, referees and officials aghast at the ongoing proliferation of hate aimed at them on Instagram and Twitter. (AFP)
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Updated 14 February 2021

English soccer at breaking point over abuse on social media

English soccer at breaking point over abuse on social media
  • English football has reached breaking point with players, coaches, referees and officials aghast at the ongoing proliferation of hate aimed at them on Instagram and Twitter

LONDON: Death threats. Racist abuse. Sexist slurs. And social media accounts allowed to stay active even after spreading bile.
English football has reached breaking point with players, coaches, referees and officials aghast at the ongoing proliferation of hate aimed at them on Instagram and Twitter.
A week that began with the Premier League’s most high profile referee reporting threats of physical harm to police and more Black players targeted by racist users, drew a pledge by Instagram to clamp down on hate but undercut by leniency shown toward abusers.
It’s why English football leaders have taken their concerns to the top of the social media giants, uniting for an unprecedented joint letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter counterpart Jack Dorsey that demands the platforms stop being “havens for abuse” by taking tougher action to eradicate the viciousness.
“Your inaction has created the belief in the minds of the anonymous perpetrators that they are beyond reach,” read the letter whose signatories included officials from the English Football Association, the Premier League, Women’s Super League and the organizations representing players, managers and referees.
One of world football’s leading anti-discrimination officials believes it could be time to log off until meaningful action is taken.
“What they probably need to do now is to have their own boycott,” said Piara Powar, executive director of the FARE network. “Can you imagine if Premier League clubs, even symbolically for one day this year called for a boycott of social media use by their fans, didn’t post anything for a day, and then kept doing that until the platforms showed some serious intent?
“Because there’s no question, although the issues in football are probably a scratch on the back of what Facebook is facing globally, if the level of engagement that football brings ... they just wouldn’t want to lose that.”
But the platforms that allow clubs and players to engage with fans — and monetize sponsorships — can also be used as a force for good.
Manchester United and England striker Marcus Rashford showed just that by using Twitter in particular in the last year to campaign against child poverty. He utilized his ever-growing following of more than four million to pressure the government into providing free school meals during the pandemic.
“It wasn’t here 10-15 years ago and we’re privileged to have it, to connect with people all over the world with different cultures and religions,” Rashford told broadcaster Sky Sports. “To see people use it in a negative way is stupid. Hopefully they can sort out that.”
Rashford knows how disturbing the platforms can be as he was targeted with racist messages along with United teammates Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial after a defeat to Sheffield United last month.
Rashford wants racist users “deleted straight away.” Facebook, which owns Instagram, this week pledged to disable accounts that send abusive direct messages as part of a push to show it would act on racism. This is being enforced almost two years after players in England boycotted social media for 24 hours. And it became clearer when Facebook was pressed on the policy that only a repeated number of unspecified racist messages would see a user banned.
“That isn’t really a position that’s acceptable to many people,” Powar said.
Instagram’s lack of a zero tolerance approach meant the account that racially abused Swansea player Yan Dhanda after an FA Cup loss to Manchester City on Wednesday will remain active, with only some messaging functions disabled for an unspecified period of time.
“We think it’s important people have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes,” said a statement from Facebook owner Instagram. “If they continue to break our rules this account will be removed.”
That does not go far enough for Swansea, which said it was “shocked and surprised by the leniency shown” over such toxic conduct.
“It is appalling that Facebook cannot empathize more with the victim of such offensive messages,” the south Wales club said in a statement on Saturday.
The police appear more determined to intervene and prosecute offenders who have hurled hatred online, beyond stadiums which are closed to fans during the pandemic. The government is also introducing legislation — the online safety bill — that could see social media companies fined for failing to protect their users.
The letter from the English football authorities to Dorsey and Zuckerberg asked for an improved verification process that ensures users provide accurate identification information and are barred from registering with a new account if banned. The need to submit identification documentation has been cautioned against by those highlighting how anonymity on the platforms can assist engagement by victims of domestic abuse, whistleblowers and those trying to communicate from danger zones.
Social media can still do more to detect abuse on their services.
“The failure to take down and challenge the worst type sort of racism, sexism we’ve seen has really left them untouched,” said Powar, whose FARE network investigates discrimination in football for governing bodies. “They just don’t seem to see it as a priority because there’s no question that they have the technical capability.”
Even staying off the sites yourself isn’t enough to escape being targeted with threats of violence, as managers and referees have discovered.
Referee Mike Dean contacted the police after receiving death threats through family accounts after sending players off in matches last week.
“Online abuse is unacceptable in any walk of life,” said Mike Riley, a former Premier League referee who is general manager of England’s refereeing body, “and more needs to be done to tackle the problem.”
Newcastle manager Steve Bruce has been alarmed by the menacing messages aimed at him via the account of son Alex, a former Hull and Ipswich defender.
“It’s really horrible stuff,” Bruce said. “Things like someone saying they hope I die of COVID.”
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta still has accounts but doesn’t log in himself anymore because of the vitriol.
“I prefer not to read because it would affect me personally much more the moment somebody wants to touch my family,” Arteta said. “The club was aware of it and we tried to do something about it and ... can we do something about it? That’s what I am pushing for.”
It’s why players still take a knee before kickoff, as they have done since June as part of the Black Lives Matter campaign.
“This is us taking a stand against racism,” said Aston Villa defender Neil Taylor, who is trying to encourage more fellow British Asians into the sport. “I don’t think we’ll ever fully eradicate it, but we’re now trying to create a society which calls people out on it.”


The Academy for Cultural Diplomacy: Turning soft power into smart power

The Academy for Cultural Diplomacy: Turning soft power into smart power
Updated 12 April 2021

The Academy for Cultural Diplomacy: Turning soft power into smart power

The Academy for Cultural Diplomacy: Turning soft power into smart power
  • Over the past two decades the ICD has grown to become one of Europe’s leading cultural exchange organizations, with programs extending to every continent of the world
  • The academy, quickly expanded to a major campus in Berlin in 2014, and then in 2020 opened its second campus in a castle, Schloss Bornheim, outside of the former capital of Germany, Bonn

LONDON: During a childhood trip to Israel and Palestine, Mark Donfried witnessed, for the first-time, serious violence between peoples who share their roots within one culture.

From that moment on, he decided to commit his personal and professional life to building cultural bridges with the goal of preventing further conflicts – and in 1999 he founded the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD) in New York, before moving it to Berlin.

“At the time when the ICD was founded, cultural diplomacy had fallen by the wayside and had been thrown away by most governments who did not see the benefit of using it,” Donfried told Arab News.

Over the past two decades the ICD has grown to become one of Europe’s leading cultural exchange organizations, with programs extending to every continent of the world.

Read the full report co-published with the Academy of Cultural Diplomacy on Arab News Research & Studies here

In that time, the organization has dedicated its time to running research projects and hosting forums around the world to promote the strategies of cultural diplomacy among the current and next generation of global leaders.

“With the emergence of digital revolutions and rapidly evolving social network platforms, the simple private citizens were able to now immediately publicly critique any politician, government, or corporation,” Donfried said.

“Suddenly governments and corporations started to look for new tools to build better relations with their citizens and their consumers.”

It was no wonder that, parallel to the evolution of the social media, “corporate social responsibility” departments have emerged in almost all major global companies, he said.

In 2011, Donfried decided that cultural diplomacy needed to break into mainstream academia – and so the Academy for Cultural Diplomacy was established offering first ever master programs in cultural diplomacy resulting in training thousands of students from around the world including ambassadors, members of parliament, CEOs and academics.

Read the full report co-published with the Academy of Cultural Diplomacy on Arab News Research & Studies here

The academy, quickly expanded to a major campus in Berlin in 2014, and then in 2020 opened its second campus in a castle, Schloss Bornheim, outside of the former capital of Germany, Bonn.

“Cultural diplomacy can ease and slow the deterioration of human and international relations and can serve as a kind of ‘vaccine’ to help protect individuals, nations and companies from attacks or conflicts,” he said.

“Cultural diplomacy cannot directly save lives; however, indirectly it has proven over the last decades that it does have the power to transcend international borders, tear down walls and change the way the hearts and minds of entire groups and nations think and act.”


Yemeni journalists call for release of 4 sentenced to death by Houthis

Yemeni journalists call for release of 4 sentenced to death by Houthis
Updated 11 April 2021

Yemeni journalists call for release of 4 sentenced to death by Houthis

Yemeni journalists call for release of 4 sentenced to death by Houthis
  • 10 detained in 2015 say they were tortured, convicted of ‘collaborating with the enemy’
  • Amnesty International: Trial based on ‘trumped up charges’

LONDON: Four Yemeni journalists formerly imprisoned and tortured by the Houthi militia have called for the release of four of their colleagues currently facing the death penalty.

They were among 10 journalists arrested in the capital Sanaa in 2015, and say they were subjected to torture, including being starved and placed in solitary confinement, before being put on trial in 2020.

All 10, having been detained shortly after the intervention of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, were convicted of “collaborating with the enemy” and “spreading false news and rumors,” but six were released and left the country.

Now living in Cairo, Abdel-Khaleq Amran, Akram Al-Walidi, Hareth Hamid and Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, alongside family members of the four facing execution, say not enough is being done to secure their colleagues’ freedom.

“We would need to write books to (fully) describe what we went through and suffered in these detention facilities. Only God knows the hardships and suffering of our families in our absence,” they said in a statement.

“And there are still four journalists, who were sentenced to death inside these dark prisons, waiting for fate to intervene to save their lives and bring them back to their children.”

Amnesty International, which said the trial was based on “trumped up charges,” added that none of the detained had been permitted a lawyer or family members to be present, and had seen appeals rejected.

The mother of one detainee told The Observer: “My son is just a civilian, he’s not a soldier, he didn’t fight anyone, he wasn’t involved in politics. He didn’t deserve something like this for seven years.”

She added: “We went everywhere, we talked to everyone but no one really helped us. I’m crying everyday, and I can’t sleep.”

Al-Mansouri’s brother Abdullah said: “We still don’t know why some of the journalists were released and others condemned to death. They were targeted to make an example for others.”

Adding that his brother had been “a healthy young man when he was first detained,” he said the Houthis had denied him medical treatment in captivity, leading to him developing diabetes and kidney issues.

Buthaina Faroq, a Yemeni activist who was forced to flee the country, said the journalists still in captivity are likely being used as leverage.

“These four colleagues are being used by the Houthis as pawns, to blackmail both the international community and the Yemeni government,” she added.

“Every single day is important for them stuck in prison. The Houthis are unpredictable, they could decide to keep them or execute them at any moment.”

According to Reporters Without Borders, the four detained journalists are among at least 20 members of the media being held by the Houthis or by Al-Qaeda in Yemen.
Throughout the conflict, the Houthis have been known to target journalists. Their leader Abdul-Malik Badreddin Al-Houthi is known to have called journalists “more dangerous than those fighting on the front lines.”

As well as torture, the Houthis are thought to deliberately imprison people in military areas likely to be targeted by coalition airstrikes.


Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated political show hosts axed in Egypt

The presenters hosted politically-fueled shows that were axed from Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated television stations Al-Sharq and Mekameleen. (Screenshot)
The presenters hosted politically-fueled shows that were axed from Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated television stations Al-Sharq and Mekameleen. (Screenshot)
Updated 11 April 2021

Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated political show hosts axed in Egypt

The presenters hosted politically-fueled shows that were axed from Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated television stations Al-Sharq and Mekameleen. (Screenshot)
  • Ankara-based Egyptian journalists, Moataz Matar and Muhammad Nasir, are known to be affiliated with the terrorist-designated Muslim Brotherhood

CAIRO: Two Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated presenters - known for their anti-Egyptian rhetoric - have said they are on "open leave" after their politically-fueled shows were axed from television stations Al-Sharq and Mekameleen.

Egyptian journalists, Moataz Matar and Muhammad Nasir, based in Ankara and known to be affiliated with the terrorist-designated Muslim Brotherhood, shared Twitter posts on Saturday that suggested the looming suspension of their shows. 

Matar announced Saturday evening that his program “With Moataz” on the Al-Sharq channel had come to an end, saying that he was going to be on open leave.

He also described the move as “one he had never desired.”

Matar added in a statement he recited on the program that the program’s halt came in order “to avoid any embarrassment that might fall on Turkey” in a reference to his continuous criticism of the Egyptian government.

Meanwhile, Nasir said on Twitter that he was also going to be on vacation during Ramadan from his show on Mekameleen channel.

It was reported earlier in March that Turkey demanded both satellite channels - which are affiliated to the Brotherhood - to halt airing political shows critical of Egypt according to sources cited by Al Arabiya TV.

The step came following statements by Turkey aimed at easing tensions with Egypt after eight years of disputes between the two countries.


Palestinian short film ‘The Present’ wins BAFTA award

Palestinian short film ‘The Present’ wins BAFTA award
Updated 11 April 2021

Palestinian short film ‘The Present’ wins BAFTA award

Palestinian short film ‘The Present’ wins BAFTA award

DUBAI: Palestinian-British filmmaker Farah Nabulsi’s short film “The Present” has won the award for Best Short Film at the 2021 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) ceremony, which took place on Saturday. 

Nabulsi’s movie beat out “Eyelash,” “Lizard,” “Lucky Break” and “Curvy.” 

“The Present” tells the story of Yusef, played by renowned Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri, and his daughter Yasmine, played by young actress Maryam Kanj, who set out in Palestine’s West Bank to buy his wife a gift.

The film is also in the running for the “Best Live Action Short Film” category at the upcoming 2021 Oscars. 

It is competing against Doug Roland’s “Feeling Through,” Elvira Lind’s short drama “The Letter Room,” Travon Free’s “Two Distant Strangers” and the Tomer Shushan-directed “White Eye.”


Hamas attacks Al Arabiya TV for exposing prisoner mistreatment

Al-Shahateet, originally from Dura, southwest of Hebron, was released with serious psychological injuries. (Screenshot)
Al-Shahateet, originally from Dura, southwest of Hebron, was released with serious psychological injuries. (Screenshot)
Updated 10 April 2021

Hamas attacks Al Arabiya TV for exposing prisoner mistreatment

Al-Shahateet, originally from Dura, southwest of Hebron, was released with serious psychological injuries. (Screenshot)
  • Prisoners loyal to Hamas were accused of physically beating Al-Shahateet due to an organizational dispute with the leader of Hamas

LONDON: Hamas issued a statement attacking Al Arabiya TV on Friday for exposing the mistreatment of Mansour Al-Shahateet, a prisoner who was released from an Israeli jail after a 17-year sentence.

Prisoners loyal to Hamas were accused of physically beating Al-Shahateet due to an organizational dispute with Yahya Al-Sinwar, the leader of Hamas, who was also serving a prison sentence.

Al-Shahateet, originally from Dura, southwest of Hebron, was released with serious psychological injuries after being kept in solitary confinement for long periods of time. Hamas prisoners who were confined with Al-Shahateet reportedly refused to stay in detention with him after he was severely beaten, and requested that he be transferred to solitary confinement.

Al-Shahateet’s health was neglected and his mental state deteriorated rapidly. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas requested that the Ministry of Health provide him with the necessary medical treatment.