15 years on, has Twitter done more harm than good in the Middle East?

Twitter has arguably become a toxic breeding ground for hate speech it has become, especially in the Arab world. (File/AFP)
Twitter has arguably become a toxic breeding ground for hate speech it has become, especially in the Arab world. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 28 March 2021

15 years on, has Twitter done more harm than good in the Middle East?

Twitter has arguably become a toxic breeding ground for hate speech it has become, especially in the Arab world. (File/AFP)
  • Despite Twitter’s updated policy against hate speech, accounts that do just that are still present on the platform

LONDON: One week ago, Twitter’s staff worldwide were awarded a day off in celebration of the social networking platform’s 15th anniversary.

However, while they enjoyed the spoils of the company’s success, the same can’t be said for the many who have suffered from the barrage of negativity and harmful content the microblogging site has failed to counter time and again.

“They (Twitter) don’t dedicate as much effort to see that their own content is actually violating their own policies in Arabic, as they would in English, which is a big issue,” media researcher Azza Masri told Arab News.

Indeed, the platform has arguably become a toxic breeding ground for hate speech it has become, especially in the Arab world.

Despite Twitter’s updated policy on hate speech, which clearly states that users must “not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin,” accounts that do just that are still present on the platform.

“There is a definite laissez-faire attitude with the application or the enforcement of these community standards on Arabic language content, but also, any kind of non-English, or non-European language. That is an issue,” Masri said.

Accounts in the Arab world, such as those of exiled Egyptian cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi and terrorist-designated Qais Al-Khazali – both of whom have featured in Arab News’ Preachers of Hate series – remain active.

“Throughout history, God has imposed upon them (the Jews) people who would punish them for their corruption,” Al-Qaradawi said in one of many hate-filled fatwas.

“The last punishment was that of Hitler. This was a divine punishment for them. Next time, God willing, it will be done at the hands of the faithful believers,” he added.

Even accounts belonging to regular users with not a big following have been found to harass and abuse others online without having their tweets taken down immediately or soon enough.

In one instance highlighted by Masri, content doxing – revealing identity information about someone online – of a Lebanese individual from October 2019 still remained on Twitter despite repeated flags to the company’s policy teams.

Meanwhile a Twitter spokesperson told Arab News that “Increasing the health of the public conversation has been an essential focus area for years. If people don’t feel their conversations are safe from abuse and harassment, we know they won’t feel comfortable participating in the public conversation.”

“Our focus is in three key areas - product, policies and enforcement. We’ve simplified our rules, we’ve expanded our policy and enforcement to address the rise of misinformation around the world, and we’ve focused on enforcing our rules proactively.”

Not just Twitter, not just Arab world

The problem is not unique to accounts in the Arab world. In India, for example, social media platforms, including Facebook, have been continuously criticized for fostering space that allows users to spread hate speech.

“These platforms and these companies don’t take the measures to protect people or users – all of its users – from harm, then the work starts at the platform level, not at the user level,” Masri added.

BBC journalist and author, Gavin Esler, told Arab News: “If you have something on your platform, you in some way must be accountable for it.

“We’ve got these very, very big organizations who somehow claim that they are not responsible for the things that we get from them, which is just logically unacceptable to me,” he said.




This image posted by the office of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei on Twitter shows a figure of former US President Donald Trump playing golf under the shadow of a warplane alongside a pledge to avenge a deadly 2020 drone strike the former president ordered. (Twitter photo)

In early January, Twitter took measures and banned then-outgoing US President Donald Trump following the Capitol Hill riots for his tweets that were alleged to have incited violence from a mob of far-right protesters.

Although Twitter has a specific mandate for dealing with the accounts of world leaders, it insists they are not immune to its enforcement policies. Yet some continue to tweet and post comments considered objectionable – and even dangerous – by many.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for example, cannot be compared to Trump in terms of number of followers or reach on Twitter, but his activity on the platform follows a similarly dangerous pattern.

In January, Khamenei posted false claims across his multiple accounts – in English, Spanish, Farsi, Arabic, and Russian – that coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines developed in the US and the UK were “completely untrustworthy,” that France had “HIV-tainted blood supplies,” and it was “not unlikely that they (Western countries) would want to contaminate other nations.”

This followed years of similarly dangerous and damaging tweets in which Khamenei incited violence against other nations. In May last year, he said that Iran would “support and assist any nation or any group anywhere who opposes and fights the Zionist regime.”

And the list goes on. Lebanon’s deputy speaker of parliament, Elie Ferzli, recently used offensive language to respond to a tweet criticizing him.

Even in the US, the platform has become a space for company leaders to indirectly threaten employees, with the country’s National Labor Relations Board on Friday finding that a 2018 tweet from Tesla CEO Elon Musk unlawfully threatened workers with loss of stock options if they chose to be represented by the United Auto Workers union.

Way forward?

Regardless of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms’ claims that they only act as content aggregators rather than content producers, the problem remains.

“That’s like saying any kind of news organization is just an aggregator of all the stuff that various journalists happen to want to have (on their sites). Facebook makes it sound as if it is some kind of urinal, in which case people pee in every so often,” Esler added.

Russia recently acted and threatened to block Twitter for one month if the social media giant failed to remove banned content, which included the suicide of minors and indecent images of children, as well as information on drug use.

While the platform has complied and started taking down the content, Russia’s state regulator Roskomnadzor argued that the speed of removal was “unsatisfactory,” given that two-thirds of all demands were still being ignored.

In a statement, the regulator said: “Roskomnadzor reported that, after the adoption of measures to slow Twitter traffic on March 10, the social network began work on removing content banned in Russia, but only one-third. The rate at which the social network deletes banned information is unsatisfactory.

“We regret that only the use of technical enforcement measures to enforce Russian laws forced the American social network to recognize the existence of information that is absolutely evil in all countries of the world, and to take measures to remove it.”

Actions such as these, as well as Australia’s bitter standoff with Facebook over a proposed law that would force it to pay news publishers for content, have sparked fierce debate over the ethical standpoint of these platforms – namely when it comes to freedom of speech.

Esler said: “Nobody has the freedom of speech in a crowded theater to shout bomb or fire, that’s not freedom of speech.”


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.


Turkey ranks highest in world for attacks and threats against female journalists

Turkey ranks highest in world for attacks and threats against female journalists
Updated 07 May 2021

Turkey ranks highest in world for attacks and threats against female journalists

Turkey ranks highest in world for attacks and threats against female journalists

ANKARA: A new report from the Coalition for Women In Journalism (CFWIJ) states that Turkey is “the leading country for attacks and threats against women journalists” this year.

Between January and April, 114 female journalists were attacked or threatened in Turkey the New York-based media organization revealed — more than in any other country in the world.

The CFWIJ’s First Quarterly Report for 2021 coincidentally coincided with Izzet Ulvi Yonter, deputy leader of the Turkish government’s coalition partner Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), targeting female anchor Ebru Baki for her coverage of the MHP’s draft constitution proposal.

Yonter referred to the broadcaster as a “so-called journalist who distorts the facts and shows her intolerance against the MHP,” and said her attempts to “discredit” their draft proposal were “offensive and crude.”

Yonter’s criticism was followed on May 5 by the resignation of Bulent Aydemir, Haberturk TV’s chief editor and Baki’s co-anchor on the morning program.

The program was taken off air on Thursday, triggering a nationwide social media campaign using “I don’t watch Haberturk TV” as hashtag.

CFWIJ’s report said that, in Turkey, “Almost 50 women journalists appeared before the court to fight baseless charges; 20 suffered heavy workplace bullying at the newsrooms; 15 female journalists were subjected to police violence while covering the news, 14 were detained; three women journalists were sentenced to prison, and three were expelled. While one journalist was threatened with intimidation, another became the target of racist rhetoric” during the period covered.

Scott Griffen, deputy director at the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of journalists and editors defending media freedom, told Arab News: “Women journalists face a double threat: They are attacked for their work and they are attacked for their gender — a reflection of … sexism in society. IPI’s own research has shown that online attacks on female journalists tend to be more vicious and the insults and threats are often of a sexual nature.”

According to Griffen, attacks on women journalists are part of a broader trend, which is an effort by those in power to smear and undermine critical journalism and diverse voices.

Referring to Yonter’s attack on Baki, he said: “This incident shows that a political party, in this case the MHP, is unable to accept criticism and simply does not — or does not want to — understand the role of journalism in society. Politicians are required to accept criticism, even harsh criticism. Ebru Baki was doing her job, and the attacks on her are unacceptable.”

Griffen thinks that one consequence of these attacks is the risk of a rise in self-censorship.

“Journalists who are faced with such vicious attacks may decide to reconsider their reporting to avoid such abuse in the future, or they may even decide to leave the profession. And this is a huge loss for the public,” he said. “It means that stories are not being told, and diverse voices are not being heard. And, of course, that is what the attackers want. They wish to push critical voices out of the public sphere.”

Male journalists in Turkey have also been the targets of verbal and physical attacks. Recently, dissident journalist Levent Gultekin was beaten by a mob in the middle of a street in Istanbul, shortly after he criticized the MHP and its former leader. Gultekin was verbally attacked by the MHP deputy leader just before the assault.

“The crackdown against critical and independent media in Turkey is worsening every single day with new attacks from political figures. And female journalists who are reporting on critical issues that are sensitive to the government or its political allies are not immune from the attacks,” Renan Akyavas, Turkey program coordinator of IPI, told Arab News.

IPI’s own recent research also confirms that female journalists are more likely targets of online harassment for their critical reporting and views, she added.

The trend of public figures targeting journalists to silence dissident voices has been on the rise, Akyavas said. “We especially see an increasing trend of attacks by the ultra-nationalist MHP’s leaders and representatives to intimidate journalists, even in response to mild criticism.

“The targeting of Ebru Baki and Haberturk TV is only the latest example of this attitude, which is simply unacceptable coming from a governing alliance party. The MHP leadership must … protect fundamental rights and the safety of journalists, instead of threatening them,” she continued.

Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention — and the protection it provided against domestic violence — in March triggered further threats and violence against women reporters, the CFWIJ report underlined.

Akyavas agrees. “The withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention had been a huge disappointment for women in Turkey fighting for their rights and gender equality. Impunity for crimes and violence against women has become a new norm for the country,” she said, adding that this trend will cease only if Turkish authorities show a genuine will to protect and implement women’s rights.

“Women journalists in Turkey must continue their courageous reporting, as their fundamental rights and freedom of expression were guaranteed and fully protected by the Turkish constitution. At IPI, we will continue our solidarity with them and our support for critical and independent journalism to provide the public with factual, objective news,” Akyavas continued.

The Turkish Journalists’ Association, TGC, released a statement on Thursday criticizing the way women journalists have been targeted by the MHP just because they smiled on air. “Such an attitude targets our colleagues’ safety and security. We call on the government and its partners to respect the law,” it noted.


TikTok joins coalition to protect children from online abuse

TikTok reiterated its commitment to minors’ safety on the platform, and emphasized its zero tolerance for any content that perpetuates the abuse, harm, endangerment or exploitation of children. (Reuters/File Photo)
TikTok reiterated its commitment to minors’ safety on the platform, and emphasized its zero tolerance for any content that perpetuates the abuse, harm, endangerment or exploitation of children. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 06 May 2021

TikTok joins coalition to protect children from online abuse

TikTok reiterated its commitment to minors’ safety on the platform, and emphasized its zero tolerance for any content that perpetuates the abuse, harm, endangerment or exploitation of children. (Reuters/File Photo)

LONDON: Networking platform TikTok announced on Wednesday that it has joined the Technology Coalition, an organization that works to protect children from online sexual exploitation and abuse. 

Through this membership, TikTok aims to advance protections for children online and offline. 

TikTok reiterated its commitment to minors’ safety on the platform, and emphasized its zero tolerance for any content that perpetuates the abuse, harm, endangerment or exploitation of children, as outlined in the Community Guidelines. 

The announcement also features TikTok’s endorsement of the International Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, in an effort to ensure a consistent and strong response to exploitation across services.