Facebook news goes dark in Australia as content spat escalates

Facebook news goes dark in Australia as content spat escalates
Facebook’s drastic move represents a split from Alphabet Inc-owned Google after they initially joined together to campaign against the laws. (File/AFP)
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Updated 18 February 2021

Facebook news goes dark in Australia as content spat escalates

Facebook news goes dark in Australia as content spat escalates
  • The move was swiftly criticized by news producers, politicians and human rights advocates
  • Frydenberg said Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg gave no warning of the news shutdown when the pair spoke over the weekend

SYDNEY: Australians woke to empty news feeds on their Facebook Inc. pages on Thursday after the social media giant blocked all media content in a surprise and dramatic escalation of a dispute with the government over paying for content.
The move was swiftly criticized by news producers, politicians and human rights advocates, particularly as it became clear that official health pages, emergency safety warnings and welfare networks had all been scrubbed from the site along with news.
“Facebook was wrong, Facebook’s actions were unnecessary, they were heavy-handed, and they will damage its reputation here in Australia,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told a televised news conference.
Frydenberg said Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg gave no warning of the news shutdown when the pair spoke over the weekend about looming laws that will force both Facebook and search engine giant Google to pay local publishers for content.
The two men had a subsequent conversation on Thursday morning which was “constructive,” Frydenberg said, adding they discussed what he called “differing interpretations” about how the new Media Bargaining Code would work.
Facebook’s drastic move represents a split from Alphabet Inc-owned Google after they initially joined together to campaign against the laws. Both had threatened to cancel services in Australia, but Google has instead sealed preemptive deals with several outlets in recent days.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. was the latest to announce a deal in which it will receive “significant payments” from Google in return for providing content for the search engine’s News Showcase account.
Google declined to comment on the Facebook decision on Thursday.
The Australian law would require Facebook and Google to reach commercial deals with news outlets whose links drive traffic to their platforms, or be subjected to forced arbitration to agree a price.
Facebook said in its statement that the law, which is expected to be passed by parliament within days, “fundamentally misunderstands” the relationship between itself and publishers and it faced a stark choice of attempting to comply or banning news content.
Blank Pages

The changes made by Facebook wiped clean pages operated by news outlets and removed posts by individual users sharing Australian news, three days before the country begins a nationwide vaccination program to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Lisa Davies, editor of daily The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, owned by Nine Entertainment Co. Ltd, tweeted: “Facebook has exponentially increased the opportunity for misinformation, dangerous radicalism and conspiracy theories to abound on its platform.”
The Facebook pages of Nine and News Corp, which together dominate the country’s metro newspaper market, and the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corp, which acts as a central information source during natural disasters, were blank.
Also affected were several major state government accounts, including those providing advice on the coronavirus pandemic and bushfire threats at the height of the summer season, and scores of charity and non-governmental organization accounts.
“This is UNACCEPTABLE,” tweeted Brianna Casey, chief executive of hunger relief charity Foodbank.
“Demand for food relief has never been higher than during this pandemic, and one of our primary comms tools to help connect people with #foodrelief info & advice is now unavailable. Hours matter when you have nothing to eat. SORT THIS OUT!“
SOME PAGES RESTORED
By mid-afternoon, many government-backed Facebook pages were restored but several charity pages and all media sites remained dark, including those of international outlets like the New York Times, the BBC and News Corp’s Wall Street Journal.
A Facebook representative in Australia did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the situation. Facebook Australia’s own page was down for a period of time before being restored.
“This is an alarming and dangerous turn of events,” said Human Rights Watch in a statement. “Cutting off access to vital information to an entire country in the dead of the night is unconscionable.”
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said Facebook had sent the message to Australians that “you will not find content on our platform which comes from an organization which employs professional journalists, which has editorial policies, which has fact-checking processes.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt said Facebook pages of numerous community health projects had been shuttered and “the fact that the kids cancer project could be affected, is, frankly a disgrace.”


Unilever releases new podcast series for International Women’s Day

Unilever releases new podcast series for International Women’s Day
Updated 08 March 2021

Unilever releases new podcast series for International Women’s Day

Unilever releases new podcast series for International Women’s Day
  • New miniseries tells the stories of six Saudi women

DUBAI: Unilever’s Miraa has partnered with regional podcast network Finyal Media to release a six-episode podcast series titled “A Breath, a Step, a Mirror” for International Women’s Day.

Miraa is an Arabic-only regional publication for, by and about Arab women, focusing on health, beauty and lifestyle.

The podcast series delves into the lives of six women from Saudi Arabia who write a letter to a younger version of themselves.

“With the launch of our new podcast, our hope is that the personal and intimate stories and growth journeys of our hosts inspire more women to look beyond their challenges and rise above judgments to pursue their growth and goals,” said Sonia Kapoor, senior content manager at Unilever and Miraa.

From encouraging their younger selves to break free of rigid molds to wishing they had had the confidence to be themselves instead of trying to please others, these women tell stories that are a reflection of their journeys and a chance to explore what they might have done differently.

“We look forward to women across the region having the chance to listen to the series, and we hope these stories will help other young Arab women to grow in confidence and reach their true potential as we mark another International Women’s Day,” added Leila Hamadeh, co-founder and CEO of Finyal Media.

The first season, produced in collaboration with Lux, was released in the first week of March, with more seasons expected throughout the year.

The series is available on all podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Anghami, Deezer and Spotify.


Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him

Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him
Updated 06 March 2021

Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him

Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him
  • Bloomberg published news that the Biden administration was considering sanctions against the central bank governor
  • Both Salemeh and the US State department deny the claim

LONDON: Lebanese Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh announced on Friday that he will be taking legal action against Bloomberg after it published an article claiming that the US is considering sanctioning him, a move the US State Department denies.

“We have seen reports about possible sanctions of Riad Salameh. They are untrue,” a State Department spokesperson told Arab News.

Last week, Bloomberg published news that the Biden administration was considering sanctions against the central bank governor, a claim both Salemeh and the US State department deny.

An investigation into possible money laundering and embezzlement has been opened by Swiss authorities.

Salemeh, his brother and assistant were also being probed over multimillion-dollar transfers out of the country at a time when Lebanese citizens were allowed minimum withdrawal amounts from their bank accounts.

The country’s currency hit 10,000 Lebanese pounds to one US dollar on Wednesday, an unprecedented mark that sparked a resurgence of protests that have been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lebanon witnessed nationwide protests in October 2018 calling for the end of widespread corruption and worsening economic conditions that have since seen more than half the population living below the poverty line.

The country’s current economic and financial crisis has been largely blamed on Salemeh due to his long tenure, having headed the central bank for 28 years after assuming control in 1993.


Why the world needs to take deepfakes seriously

Why the  world needs to take deepfakes seriously
Updated 06 March 2021

Why the world needs to take deepfakes seriously

Why the  world needs to take deepfakes seriously
  • Report highlights danger Artificial Intelligence can pose; warns of danger to politics, media 

LONDON: In 1938, American filmmaker Orson Welles’ narration of H.G. Wells’ alien invasion novel “The War of the Worlds” caused panic and pandemonium for listeners in the US who believed the tale to be a public broadcast by the government.

The next day, headlines across newspapers read “Radio Listeners in Panic, Taking War Drama as Fact.” Historical research, however, suggested that the actual panic itself was overstated by the media, as the broadcast itself had few listeners.
Fast-forward to 2021 with the long arms of social media and the internet, what would happen if a video showing US President Joe Biden sitting in the Oval Office announcing that he will be striking Iran imminently were to appear? Or if a video showing French President Emmanuel Macron crassly insulting Muslims surfaced?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, called deep learning, which generates images of fake events, known as deepfakes, allows for the creation of a moving image that looks and sounds exactly like Biden or Macron, but isn’t them, to speak and say whatever the creator wants, with most observers unable to tell if it is fake.

“Even before deep fakes, social media has platforms, and the different services have led to some threats on users in our region, especially women and other vulnerable communities,” Mohamed Najem, executive director of SMEX, a digital-rights organization focusing on Arabic-speaking countries, told Arab News.
“Deep fakes bring more serious threats to the aforementioned groups, especially if (criminals) want to destroy someone’s reputation — women, especially, are at risk, with them having gained more freedom within different conservative communities, which could see them suffer real damage” he added.

Recently, a series of very convincing TikTok videos showing Actor Tom Cruise doing multiple activities has left millions confused as to whether or not it really is the famous actor. Other known deepfakes show former US President Barack Obama calling his successor Donald Trump a “dipsh*t” and Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaking about stealing users’ private data.
According to a report published last year by University College London (UCL), deepfakes rank as the most serious AI crime threat.
“As the capabilities of AI-based technologies expand, so too has their potential for criminal exploitation. To adequately prepare for possible AI threats, we need to identify what these threats might be, and how they may impact our lives,” author Lewis Griffin stated in the report.

Crimes in the digital realm can be easily shared, repeated, and even sold, allowing criminal techniques to be marketed.

Among the most serious concerns posed by fake content such as deepfakes is that, as they are so difficult to identify, they could be used for all manner of dubious purposes, ranging from discrediting a politician or a public figure to blackmail.
“Unlike many traditional crimes, crimes in the digital realm can be easily shared, repeated, and even sold, allowing criminal techniques to be marketed and for crime to be provided as a service. This means criminals may be able to outsource the more challenging aspects of their AI-based crime,” co-author Dr. Matthew Caldwell stated in the report.
To make matters worse, the rise in convincing deepfakes could in turn play a major role in discrediting major news institutions.
“If even a small fraction of visual evidence is proven to be convincing fakes, it becomes much easier to discredit genuine evidence, undermining criminal investigation and the credibility of political and social institutions that rely on trustworthy communications,” the report stated.
“Social media platforms need to understand the threats and act on them. Unfortunately there is no trust in governments in our region to do the right thing; my assumption is that they will use this to restrict more speech and criminalize it, which will lead to more closure of civic spaces,” Najem said.
The UCL report goes on to note that awareness and changes in people’s behaviors toward the spread and creation of these videos might be the only effective line of defense. While so far many of the videos popping up on social media are fun — of politicians singing and dancing, say, or Nicholas Cage’s face on Wonder Woman’s body — things may take a sharper, darker turn soon.


Lebanese media outlet Sawt Beirut International launches English-language edition

Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app. (Supplied)
Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app. (Supplied)
Updated 05 March 2021

Lebanese media outlet Sawt Beirut International launches English-language edition

Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app. (Supplied)
  • Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app

LONDON: Sawt Beirut International (SBI) launched an English-language edition of its news website with the aim of reaching the Lebanese diaspora abroad.

“The English-language website will take Lebanon and Beirut’s voice to all the Lebanese diaspora living in Europe or the US,” SBI Chariman and CEO Jerry Maher told Arab News. “It’s for those who can speak Arabic but can’t read Arabic.”

SBI is a Lebanese media outlet that is on a mission to fight corruption and hold accountable the country’s politicians.

“We can share with them the pains the country is going through and allow them to take part in the change that is coming. We want them to be part of the next phase of Lebanon and understand all that is going on in the country.”

The English-language website will also be coupled with a mobile app, similar to the Arabic version. Maher says SBI is planning a French and Spanish version in the future.

“We are focusing on political, economic and social issues on the news website so Lebanese abroad will know exactly what is going on in the country, where the problem is and how they can help solve it,” the SBI founder said.

Maher said the new website will include a “stories” feature similar to other social-media outlets like Facebook and Instagram.


YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos

YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos
Updated 05 March 2021

YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos

YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos
  • The company said it was monitoring the situation for any content that might violate its rules
  • YouTube said it had terminated around 20 channels and removed over 160 videos in the past couple months

BANGKOK: YouTube has removed five channels run by Myanmar’s military for violating its community guidelines and terms of service.
The company said Friday that it terminated channels of broadcasters Myawaddy Media, MRTV, WD Online Broadcasting, MWD Variety and MWD Myanmar. The decision follows a Feb. 1 military coup that ousted the country’s elected government, provoking massive public protests.
“We have terminated a number of channels and removed several videos from YouTube in accordance with our community guidelines and applicable laws,” YouTube said in an emailed statement.
The company said it was monitoring the situation for any content that might violate its rules.
YouTube said it had terminated around 20 channels and removed over 160 videos in the past couple months for violating its policies regarding hate speech and harassment, spam and deceptive practices, violent or graphic content policy and violations of its terms of service.
In December, it pulled 34 channels as part of an investigation into content uploaded in a coordinated influence campaign. That campaign uploaded content about elections in Myanmar, regional conflicts and news related to the US, China and Malaysia, the company said.
The decision by YouTube followed Facebook’s earlier announcement that it had removed all Myanmar military-linked pages from its site and from Instagram, which it also owns.