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.”


Interview: CNN exec talks journalism in a digital world

Interview: CNN exec talks journalism in a digital world
Updated 09 May 2021

Interview: CNN exec talks journalism in a digital world

Interview: CNN exec talks journalism in a digital world
  • Caroline Faraj, Vice President for Arabic Services at CNN, shares the news channel’s growth and strategy

DUBAI: With more and more people consuming news online, it has become increasingly important for news outlets — print or TV — to digitize their offerings.

CNN, one of the biggest news outlets in the world, broke all records last year with CNN Digital reaching its largest and most engaged global audience. In the region, CNN Arabic registered its highest year on record for average monthly unique visitors, which was up 34 percent from 2019 largely driven by record-high levels of mobile consumption which grew by 24 percent from 2019.

Arab News spoke to Caroline Faraj, vice president for Arabic Services at CNN, to learn more about the growth story and future strategy of CNN Arabic.

Can you share how much of the traffic is organic, versus from other sources such as social media?

It is a significant strength and differentiator that the vast majority of CNN Digital and CNN Arabic’s traffic comes to us directly. CNN is one of the few remaining destinations on the Internet where people seek out our home page or coverage of a particular story as they associate us with trusted news and information. While it is important for us to have a social presence, we are much less reliant on traffic referral from those platforms than other media due to the strength of our brand, both globally and with CNN Arabic.

What is the strategy to drive growth?

CNN Arabic is the Middle East’s leading independent news platform. What makes us stand out is that independence and our credible, authentic, factful reporting and the huge trust in the CNN brand which has tremendous value for our audience. We offer a global perspective, both on international news and on stories that are more regionally relevant or focused.

Being part of the world’s largest news network, with journalists working on stories from every continent, is an enormous asset in terms of the renowned quality of our journalism, the resources and wealth of talent in our teams and the recognition and confidence that the audience has in us. As we’ve seen with the record audience numbers, CNN is more essential than ever before in providing trusted news.

Our audience is powerful; the caliber of our audience differentiates us from other news media. Political leaders, CEOs, celebrities and people at the top of their industry, actively share, reference and act upon our reporting. We reach these audiences at scale including opinion-formers, change-makers, high-spenders, travelers and business decision-makers.

Having an impact, creating change and being an essential trusted news source is key to maintaining and driving growth among our influential audience and reaching new and younger audiences.

Analysis from a recent brand study that we conducted showed that with the news events of 2020 and the outlook for 2021, 91 percent of consumers from the Middle East and Africa region feel the role of international news media is now more important than ever.

Our strategy is based on constant innovation and responding to the audience and their consumption habits, the formats and the stories that they’re engaging with. The closer we are to our audience the better we are in offering and curating the content they are interested in.

Underpinning everything is a data-led approach that analyzes audience trends and behavior to give insight on where we can grow and serve our audience even better in the future. For example, our analysis shows that our Arabic audience expands well beyond the region and there are growth opportunities with Arabic speakers in the US. Along with breaking news, we know that business, technology, travel, sports and entertainment are key areas of interest for our audiences.

Another area for growth is in our products such as audio and newsletters. Globally downloads of CNN audio content increased by over 75 percent in 2020 compared to 2019 and there’s been a huge demand for CNN newsletters as subscriptions grew by 90 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. We’re currently developing concepts for Arabic audiences.

How did CNN Arabic adapt to digital and mobile?

CNN Arabic has been a digital destination from the outset when we launched almost 20 years ago. As a digital-first brand, we have been well ahead of many of the competitors. Mobile has been at the core of our offering ever since the introduction of the smartphone. It will remain a focus, in line with the Middle Eastern audience’s preference, as we’re currently seeing the majority of traffic on mobile, which is at almost 90 percent in some cases.

What are your plans for the future?

We are listening to our audience’s needs and making changes as part of our commitment to them. Plans include expanding into audio and newsletters, which as I mentioned we’re seeing huge growth in globally. The product portfolio will grow, content formats will evolve and become more immersive and we’re exploring a move into events.

An area that I am very passionate about is training the next generation of journalists. For many years we’ve offered internships at CNN Arabic; we’ve had more than 120 interns from around the world and have provided training courses in the region. This has been formalized this year through the CNN Academy Abu Dhabi, which I was proud to be part of. As we look to the future, I am keen for CNN Arabic to bring this level of training for Arabic speakers that want to learn about the skills of our trade.

From a commercial perspective, we are also looking forward to working with more brands. CNN Arabic is the ideal platform if an advertiser wants to reach Arabic audiences at scale in a premium environment. We work closely with our commercial partners to develop innovative solutions and ensure that their messages cut through in sponsorships, digital advertising and audience targeting.

How has news media changed in the past few years – especially during the pandemic – both from a user consumption perspective as well as from a media owner perspective?

People can get news in numerous different ways and are surrounded by so many of sources of information. The pandemic has certainly prompted behavioral changes and accelerated the need and appreciation for factual, trustworthy and accurate reporting. With the growing prevalence of information sources, people are turning to brands they trust for news and information. We’ve seen that with our record-breaking traffic. Even though there are more sources than ever, and more platforms than ever, we had our best year on record.

We’ve also seen changes in consumption habits with round the clock engagement as audiences are regularly checking in on the latest news on their phone and we’re seeing high demand for video content.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between news media and companies such as Facebook and Google and the consequent idea of these companies compensating publishers?

We work with all the major platforms, and last year we partnered with Facebook on a campaign about maintaining community and connection during Ramadan.

When working with any of the platforms, publishers need to have a path to revenue. It’s important for us to have a presence on various platforms, but our focus is on our owned and operated platforms, such as with the move of the Go There show from Facebook onto our own website and mobile apps.


Turkey’s media regulator warns Spotify over critical content

Turkey’s media regulator warns Spotify over critical content
Updated 09 May 2021

Turkey’s media regulator warns Spotify over critical content

Turkey’s media regulator warns Spotify over critical content
  • The digital platform has gained a wide audience recently as one of the last remaining outlets for free speech in Turkey
  • Spotify was granted an operating license by Turkey for 10 years after applying on Oct. 15 

ANKARA: Turkey’s media watchdog has warned online audio streaming giant Spotify to “regulate its content” in line with Turkish legislation or risk critical items being removed or cut. 

In a surprise move late on Friday, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) said that it will consider removing or cutting all content found “inappropriate” — a term that is open to interpretation when applied to high-profile critical podcasts that attract large audiences. 

Spotify was granted an operating license by Turkey for 10 years after applying on Oct. 15. But its digital content is open to monitoring by the country’s media regulator. 

The digital platform has gained a wide audience recently as one of the last remaining outlets for free speech in Turkey, especially with its podcasts providing critical reporting and commentary on Turkish domestic politics. 

Spotify offers a relative free space in a media environment in which almost 90 percent of companies are related to pro-government conglomerates. 

“The RTUK’s move to regulate the content of streaming companies is another example of the Turkish government’s efforts to tighten its grip on online content,” Cathryn Grothe, research associate at Freedom House, told Arab News. 

Grothe said that the move is part of a long decline in internet freedom, characterized by restrictive regulations such as the social media law, blocked websites, and heavy-handed crackdowns on independent media and journalists. 

“Streaming services such as Spotify create a unique space where people can express themselves, relate to loved ones and friends over shared music or podcasts, and engage on a range of important issues, including human rights and politics,” she said. 

Grothe believes the threat from the Turkish government could encourage Spotify to restrict essential information for people in Turkey, effectively shrinking the remaining opportunities for free expression, journalism and artistic freedom.

Utku Cakirozer, a journalist and MP from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, said that restrictions over digital media had been discussed since 2019. 

“Such legislative constraints will only boost the global perception about the extent of censorship in Turkey. If you tend to ban a digital platform just after it is granted a license, it will go away sooner or later. You cannot expect them to accept such restrictions forever,” he told Arab News. 

Experts believe the RTUK’s latest statement signals growing censorship of the podcast sector in Turkey. 

Orhan Sener, a journalist who has been preparing a podcast for a year about technological developments in the country, said that content developers and journalists at Spotify have been self-censoring to avoid drawing government ire. 

“This trend will grow after the media regulator’s move. I don’t expect an absolute and omnipresent censorship on Spotify podcasts in the short run because the company attaches high importance to Turkey’s vast market, but Turkish journalists will have to revise their content to a certain extent to preserve their place in this sector,” he told Arab News. 

Sener said that a potential restriction on podcast content shows that the government is unwilling to tolerate any dissident voice, even if comes from the digital sphere. 


Twitter rolls out Tip Jar – allowing users to send money to favorite accounts

Twitter rolls out Tip Jar – allowing users to send money to favorite accounts
Updated 07 May 2021

Twitter rolls out Tip Jar – allowing users to send money to favorite accounts

Twitter rolls out Tip Jar – allowing users to send money to favorite accounts
  • Users will be able to connect their Twitter accounts via Tip Jar to various online payment vendors, including Bandcamp, Cash App, Patreon, PayPal or Venmo
  • The company hopes this will encourage people to show their support for creators they follow by tipping them

LONDON: Twitter announced on Thursday the roll-out of Tip Jar, a new in-app payment feature that allows users to send money to their favorite accounts. 

Users with access to the new feature will be able to connect their Twitter accounts with Tip Jar to various online payment vendors, including Bandcamp, Cash App, Patreon, PayPal or Venmo. The company hopes this will encourage people to show their support for creators they follow by tipping them. 

Twitter announced that the Tip Jar feature will initially be added to the profiles of a limited group of people around the world who use Twitter in English, including journalists, creators, experts and nonprofit organizations. Meanwhile, users wishing to send money to these selected profiles can already start doing so. 

People use Twitter to fundraise or collect payment from their followers, but until recently they were forced to link external payment methods after tweets, which did not prove to be very efficient. Now, a Tip Jar icon will be featured next to the "Follow" button on a user’s page. 

Twitter launched this feature in an attempt to boost its user base and will reportedly take no cut of the money sent through Tip Jar. 


TBWA\RAAD wins regional creative mandate for UAE’s largest tertiary hospital

TBWA\RAAD wins regional creative mandate for UAE’s largest tertiary hospital
Updated 07 May 2021

TBWA\RAAD wins regional creative mandate for UAE’s largest tertiary hospital

TBWA\RAAD wins regional creative mandate for UAE’s largest tertiary hospital
  • The agency will lead the regional advertising and marketing activities of Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City

DUBAI: The UAE’s largest tertiary hospital has appointed TBWA\RAAD as its creative agency of record.

The agency will lead the regional advertising and marketing activities of Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (SSMC), a joint-venture partnership between Abu Dhabi Health Services Co. (SEHA) and Mayo Clinic.

Ramez Youssef, marketing and public affairs director at SSMC, said: “We were thoroughly impressed by TBWA\RAAD’s strategic approach, which was particularly aligned with our brand’s ambition to provide excellence and innovation in healthcare services.”

The new partnership will come into effect this month and will see TBWA\RAAD and SSMC collaborate on developing the brand’s communication, messaging, and content strategy across multiple platforms.

Reda Raad, group chief executive officer at TBWA\RAAD, said: “We are looking forward to disrupting healthcare with SSMC and developing creative ideas that will help reinforce the brand’s position on a global scale as the leading hub for medical excellence and as a pioneer in innovation, driving the future of healthcare in Abu Dhabi and in the region.”


Saudi journalist experiences empowerment of women as observer and participant

Saudi journalist experiences empowerment of women as observer and participant
Updated 07 May 2021

Saudi journalist experiences empowerment of women as observer and participant

Saudi journalist experiences empowerment of women as observer and participant
  • There is a general trend of inclusion of women in all sectors of employment in Saudi Arabia

Not only does she report on the growing empowerment of women in Saudi Arabia, journalist Deema Al-Khudair said that every day she gets to experience the advances and greater freedoms women in the Kingdom now enjoy as a result of the ongoing reforms under her nation’s Vision 2030 development plan.

During an interview on “The Ray Hanania Show” on the US Arab Radio Network on Wednesday, Al-Khudair, a reporter with Arab News, talked about her experiences and some of the stories she has worked on that reveal the changing role of women in Saudi society.

Recently, for example, she wrote a story about women who work as security guards in the women’s prayer section at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. It was exciting, she said, to see them proudly working on an equal footing with male security guards.

There is a general trend of inclusion of women in all sectors of employment in Saudi Arabia, said Al-Khudair, including the military.

“Women have been enrolling in the military for about three years now,” she said. “But for them to be noticed (working) in the Two Holy Mosques is still relatively new.

“The female security guards in Makkah (started working there around the time of the) last Hajj season. Most of these women I interviewed at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah told me they have been working there for six months.”

Previously, the women’s prayer section was monitored by women who received only the most basic training and support. Thanks to the reforms, all that has changed.

“They receive firearms training, self-defense (instruction), learned about fitness, and they took courses in Islamic studies, computer education and English to (help them) speak with foreigners visiting the mosque,” said Al-Khudair “Anything men went through, they received the same training.”

The female guards are very proud of their new roles and the advances they have made.

“All of the women feel very empowered,” she said. “One of the women I interviewed told me her whole family has a military background — all of her brothers are in the military — and this job made her feel included. She felt right at home.”

Al-Khudair said she began her journalism career in 2017, soon after Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman unveiled his Vision 2030 project. The success of the initiative, an ambitious program of development and diversification in preparation for the post-oil age, depends in part on the expansion of the rights and freedoms of Saudi women.

In June 2018, for example, women in the Kingdom were granted the right to drive. Their child-custody rights were also reformed, and they were given the right to attend sporting events, among many other new freedoms.

Al-Khudair, who works on the local-news desk at Arab News, covering Saudi issues, said the past few years have been an exciting time for Saudi women.

“Honestly, I am so proud of them, myself, as a Saudi woman,” she said. “Throughout my job as a journalist I have witnessed all the changes the Kingdom went through.”

For example, she added, she has interviewed female athletes, successful businesswomen and other high-ranking Saudi women.”

Al-Khudair has written stories on many topics but said she has a special fondness for stories about children.

“Some of my favorite stories are children’s stories,” she said. For example, she interviewed a 7-year-old gymnast who said her ambition is to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics.

The nation’s youngsters can even make her smile when writing about serious issues such as the coronavirus crisis.

“During the pandemic last year, we were all upset about the lockdown and I wanted to find a way to make the situation lighter. So, I interviewed children,” Al-Khudair said.

“I wanted to find out what they knew about the coronavirus. I laughed through the whole article — they thought it was some green monster that was going to turn people into zombies. I loved that article.”

* The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 radio, and in Washington DC on WDMV AM 700 Radio. The show is streamed live on Facebook.com/ArabNews and the podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify and many other podcasting providers. For more information on this and other interviews, visit ArabNews.com/RayRadioShow.