Twitter censors tweets critical of India’s handling of the pandemic at government request

A Covid-19 coronavirus patient lies on a stretcher outside a hospital in New Delhi on April 24, 2021. (AFP)
A Covid-19 coronavirus patient lies on a stretcher outside a hospital in New Delhi on April 24, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 25 April 2021

Twitter censors tweets critical of India’s handling of the pandemic at government request

A Covid-19 coronavirus patient lies on a stretcher outside a hospital in New Delhi on April 24, 2021. (AFP)
  • According to Indian daily MediaNama, Narendra Modi’s government sent Twitter an emergency order last week to remove the tweets
  • India is struggling with a “double mutant” strain of COVID-19, with the country posting the world’s highest single-day increase in cases for a fourth day

LONDON: Twitter has censored or removed more than 50 tweets that were critical of the way India’s government is handling the coronavirus pandemic, local media reported.

According to Indian daily MediaNama, Narendra Modi’s government sent Twitter an emergency order last week to remove the tweets – the disclosure notice was seen on the Lumen database.

The censored tweets belonged to, among others, an Indian parliamentarian, an actor, a minister, two film-makers and journalists.

In addition to tweets criticizing the government, others that hit out at Modi or even shared images of crematoriums and hospitals packed with COVID patients were also restricted.

India is struggling with a “double mutant” strain of COVID-19, with the country posting the world’s highest single-day increase in cases for a fourth day.

On Sunday reported India a record daily rise of 349,691 new coronavirus infections, taking its overall tally to 16.96 million infections.

According to health ministry data on Sunday a total of 2,767 people were reported dead in the previous 24 hours, taking total coronavirus fatalities to 192,311.


YouTube launches music charts in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE

YouTube launches music charts in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE
Updated 27 September 2021

YouTube launches music charts in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE

YouTube launches music charts in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE
  • New feature, website will list hottest, most popular songs in trio of countries

DUBAI: YouTube has announced the launch of YouTube Charts, a collection of the top songs and artists in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE.

Starting on Sept. 29, the charts will be released on a weekly basis offering the Arabic music industry a more streamlined and transparent approach to measuring the popularity of its tunes.

Liliana Abudalo, YouTube’s head of music for the Middle East and North Africa region, said: “I have seen firsthand the impact YouTube has had on the Arabic music industry. There has been a great shift in how artists release their work in terms of production and promotion on YouTube.

“YouTube Charts will help emerging and established artists highlight their success, and with more than 2 billion monthly logged-in users it will offer a more holistic representation of a song’s performance,” she added.

Over the years, YouTube has partnered with key music labels in the region to provide them with the tools and knowledge to help grow their music business on the platform. As of August, there were 170 music channels in MENA with more than 1 million subscribers, compared to only 18 in August 2017 – a growth of 800 percent in four years.

Liliana Abudalo, YouTube’s head of music for the Middle East and North Africa region. (Supplied)

Moe Hamzeh, managing director of Warner Music Middle East, said: “YouTube Music charts is a great platform for our artists here in the Middle East. It’s a way for fans to see at a glance which songs are popping across the region, and we hope that leads to them discovering more about the artists behind the songs and the rest of their music, and that’s another tool to help us build our artists’ careers.”

The top songs list in YouTube Charts will rank up to 100 tunes based on a number of factors such as streams on YouTube Music, views on a song’s video on YouTube, and how often a song is used in user-generated content on YouTube.

Three of the YouTube Charts will consist of the top 100 songs, artists, and music videos played on the platform over a seven-day period, along with a fourth tracking the top 20 newest and hottest music trends.

The charts will be updated every week on Sunday and will be available on YouTube Music as well as at charts.youtube.com.


Neo-Nazis are still on Facebook. And they’re making money

Members of the National Socialist Movement (NSM) and other white nationalists rally at Greenville Street Park in Newnan, Georgia. (File/AFP)
Members of the National Socialist Movement (NSM) and other white nationalists rally at Greenville Street Park in Newnan, Georgia. (File/AFP)
Updated 26 September 2021

Neo-Nazis are still on Facebook. And they’re making money

Members of the National Socialist Movement (NSM) and other white nationalists rally at Greenville Street Park in Newnan, Georgia. (File/AFP)
  • By carefully toeing the line of propriety, these key architects of Germany’s far-right use the power of mainstream social media to promote festivals, fashion brands, music labels and mixed martial arts tournaments that can generate millions in sales
  • Dozens of far-right groups that continue to leverage mainstream social media for profit, despite Facebook’s and other platforms’ repeated pledges to purge themselves of extremism

BRUSSELS: It’s the premier martial arts group in Europe for right-wing extremists. German authorities have twice banned their signature tournament. But Kampf der Nibelungen, or Battle of the Nibelungs, still thrives on Facebook, where organizers maintain multiple pages, as well as on Instagram and YouTube, which they use to spread their ideology, draw in recruits and make money through ticket sales and branded merchandise.
The Battle of the Nibelungs — a reference to a classic heroic epic much loved by the Nazis — is one of dozens of far-right groups that continue to leverage mainstream social media for profit, despite Facebook’s and other platforms’ repeated pledges to purge themselves of extremism.
All told, there are at least 54 Facebook profiles belonging to 39 entities that the German government and civil society groups have flagged as extremist, according to research shared with The Associated Press by the Counter Extremism Project, a non-profit policy and advocacy group formed to combat extremism. The groups have nearly 268,000 subscribers and friends on Facebook alone.
CEP also found 39 related Instagram profiles, 16 Twitter profiles and 34 YouTube channels, which have gotten over 9.5 million views. Nearly 60 percent of the profiles were explicitly aimed at making money, displaying prominent links to online shops or photos promoting merchandise.
Click on the big blue “view shop” button on the Erik & Sons Facebook page and you can buy a T-shirt that says, “My favorite color is white,” for 20 euros ($23). Deutsches Warenhaus offers “Refugees not welcome” stickers for just 2.50 euros ($3) and Aryan Brotherhood tube scarves with skull faces for 5.88 euros ($7). The Facebook feed of OPOS Records promotes new music and merchandise, including “True Aggression,” “Pride & Dignity,” and “One Family” T-shirts. The brand, which stands for “One People One Struggle,” also links to its online shop from Twitter and Instagram.
The people and organizations in CEP’s dataset are a who’s who of Germany’s far-right music and combat sports scenes. “They are the ones who build the infrastructure where people meet, make money, enjoy music and recruit,” said Alexander Ritzmann, the lead researcher on the project. “It’s most likely not the guys I’ve highlighted who will commit violent crimes. They’re too smart. They build the narratives and foster the activities of this milieu where violence then appears.”
CEP said it focused on groups that want to overthrow liberal democratic institutions and norms such as freedom of the press, protection of minorities and universal human dignity, and believe that the white race is under siege and needs to be preserved, with violence if necessary. None has been banned, but almost all have been described in German intelligence reports as extremist, CEP said.
On Facebook the groups seem harmless. They avoid blatant violations of platform rules, such as using hate speech or posting swastikas, which is generally illegal in Germany.
By carefully toeing the line of propriety, these key architects of Germany’s far-right use the power of mainstream social media to promote festivals, fashion brands, music labels and mixed martial arts tournaments that can generate millions in sales and connect like-minded thinkers from around the world.
But simply cutting off such groups could have unintended, damaging consequences.
“We don’t want to head down a path where we are telling sites they should remove people based on who they are but not what they do on the site,” said David Greene, civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco.
Giving platforms wide latitude to sanction organizations deemed undesirable could give repressive governments leverage to eliminate their critics. “That can have really serious human rights concerns,” he said. “The history of content moderation has shown us that it’s almost always to the disadvantage of marginalized and powerless people.”
German authorities banned the Battle of the Nibelungs event in 2019, on the grounds that it was not actually about sports, but instead was grooming fighters with combat skills for political struggle.
In 2020, as the coronavirus raged, organizers planned to stream the event online — using Instagram, among other places, to promote the webcast. A few weeks before the planned event, however, over a hundred black-clad police in balaclavas broke up a gathering at a motorcycle club in Magdeburg, where fights were being filmed for the broadcast, and hauled off the boxing ring, according to local media reports.
The Battle of the Nibelungs is a “central point of contact” for right-wing extremists, according to German government intelligence reports. The organization has been explicit about its political goals — namely to fight against the “rotting” liberal democratic order — and has drawn adherents from across Europe as well as the United States.
Members of a California white supremacist street fighting club called the Rise Above Movement, and its founder, Robert Rundo, have attended the Nibelungs tournament. In 2018 at least four Rise Above members were arrested on rioting charges for taking their combat training to the streets at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. A number of Battle of Nibelungs alums have landed in prison, including for manslaughter, assault and attacks on migrants.
National Socialism Today, which describes itself as a “magazine by nationalists for nationalists” has praised Battle of the Nibelungs and other groups for fostering a will to fight and motivating “activists to improve their readiness for combat.”
But there are no references to professionalized, anti-government violence on the group’s social media feeds. Instead, it’s positioned as a health-conscious lifestyle brand, which sells branded tea mugs and shoulder bags.
“Exploring nature. Enjoying home!” gushes one Facebook post above a photo of a musclebound guy on a mountaintop wearing Resistend-branded sportswear, one of the Nibelung tournament’s sponsors. All the men in the photos are pumped and white, and they are portrayed enjoying wholesome activities such as long runs and alpine treks.
Elsewhere on Facebook, Thorsten Heise – who has been convicted of incitement to hatred and called “one of the most prominent German neo-Nazis” by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in the German state of Thuringia — also maintains multiple pages.
Frank Kraemer, who the German government has described as a “right-wing extremist musician,” uses his Facebook page to direct people to his blog and his Sonnenkreuz online store, which sells white nationalist and coronavirus conspiracy books as well as sports nutrition products and “vaccine rebel” T-shirts for girls.
Battle of the Nibelungs declined to comment. Resistend, Heise and Kraemer didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Facebook told AP it employs 350 people whose primary job is to counter terrorism and organized hate, and that it is investigating the pages and accounts flagged in this reporting.
“We ban organizations and individuals that proclaim a violent mission, or are engaged in violence,” said a company spokesperson, who added that Facebook had banned more than 250 white supremacist organizations, including groups and individuals in Germany. The spokesperson said the company had removed over 6 million pieces of content tied to organized hate globally between April and June and is working to move even faster.
Google said it has no interest in giving visibility to hateful content on YouTube and was looking into the accounts identified in this reporting. The company said it worked with dozens of experts to update its policies on supremacist content in 2019, resulting in a five-fold spike in the number of channels and videos removed.
Twitter says it’s committed to ensuring that public conversation is “safe and healthy” on its platform and that it doesn’t tolerate violent extremist groups. “Threatening or promoting violent extremism is against our rules,” a spokesperson told AP, but did not comment on the specific accounts flagged in this reporting.
Robert Claus, who wrote a book on the extreme right martial arts scene, said that the sports brands in CEP’s data set are “all rooted in the militant far-right neo-Nazi scene in Germany and Europe.” One of the founders of the Battle of the Nibelungs, for example, is part of the violent Hammerskin network and another early supporter, the Russian neo-Nazi Denis Kapustin, also known as Denis Nikitin, has been barred from entering the European Union for ten years, he said.
Banning such groups from Facebook and other major platforms would potentially limit their access to new audiences, but it could also drive them deeper underground, making it more difficult to monitor their activities, he said.
“It’s dangerous because they can recruit people,” he said. “Prohibiting those accounts would interrupt their contact with their audience, but the key figures and their ideology won’t be gone.”
Thorsten Hindrichs, an expert in Germany’s far-right music scene who teaches at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, said there’s a danger that the apparently harmless appearance of Germany’s right-wing music heavyweights on Facebook and Twitter, which they mostly use to promote their brands, could help normalize the image of extremists.
Extreme right concerts in Germany were drawing around 2 million euros ($2.3 million) a year in revenue before the coronavirus pandemic, he estimated, not counting sales of CDs and branded merchandise. He said kicking extremist music groups off Facebook is unlikely to hit sales too hard, as there are other platforms they can turn to, like Telegram and Gab, to reach their followers. “Right-wing extremists aren’t stupid. They will always find ways to promote their stuff,” he said.
None of these groups’ activity on mainstream platforms is obviously illegal, though it may violate Facebook guidelines that bar “dangerous individuals and organizations” that advocate or engage in violence online or offline. Facebook says it doesn’t allow praise or support of Nazism, white supremacy, white nationalism or white separatism and bars people and groups that adhere to such “hate ideologies.”
Last week, Facebook  removed almost 150 accounts and pages linked to the German anti-lockdown Querdenken movement, under a new “social harm” policy, which targets groups that spread misinformation or incite violence but didn’t fit into the platform’s existing categories of bad actors.
But how these evolving rules will be applied remains murky and contested.
“If you do something wrong on the platform, it’s easier for a platform to justify an account suspension than to just throw someone out because of their ideology. That would be more difficult with respect to human rights,” said Daniel Holznagel, a Berlin judge who used to work for the German federal government on hate speech issues and also  contributed to CEP’s report. “It’s a foundation of our Western society and human rights that our legal regimes do not sanction an idea, an ideology, a thought.”
In the meantime, there’s news from the folks at the Battle of the Nibelungs. “Starting today you can also dress your smallest ones with us,” reads a June post on their Facebook feed. The new line of kids wear includes a shell-pink T-shirt for girls, priced at 13.90 euros ($16). A child pictured wearing the boy version, in black, already has boxing gloves on.


LinkedIn unveils top startups in Saudi Arabia 

LinkedIn has released its 2021 LinkedIn Top Startups list, identifying the top 10 startups in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
LinkedIn has released its 2021 LinkedIn Top Startups list, identifying the top 10 startups in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
Updated 24 September 2021

LinkedIn unveils top startups in Saudi Arabia 

LinkedIn has released its 2021 LinkedIn Top Startups list, identifying the top 10 startups in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
  • LinkedIn marked the Kingdom’s 91st National Day by revealing the first list of top startups in KSA

DUBAI: LinkedIn has released its 2021 LinkedIn Top Startups list, identifying the top 10 startups in Saudi Arabia. Based on data from the company and compiled by the LinkedIn News team, the Top Startups list globally is an annual ranking of the emerging startups to watch out for and work for.

In its inaugural year, the list from KSA highlights the Kingdom’s emerging startups through a four-pillar methodology that measures employment growth, engagement, job interest, and talent attraction. It showcases startups that are successfully navigating the evolution of consumer and business needs in the post-pandemic landscape.

Many are paving the way through the “Great Reshuffle,” a phrase coined by LinkedIn to signify the moment of unprecedented change in which employers and employees are rethinking how and why people work.

The startup funding rate in KSA, which was about $8 million per annum in 2016, surged to over $150 million in 2020 and continues to grow exponentially in 2021, according to business research firm Magnitt.

The top 10 companies on the list are:

- Sary

- Tamara

- Jahez International Co.

- The Chefz

- Salasa

- Zid

- Nejree

- Shgardi

- Hala

- Shift inc.

“Startups are a natural place to look to for forward thinking and innovation around the future of how we live and work. LinkedIn’s Top Startups list for KSA is the place to find the startups you should be paying attention to,” said Salma Altantawy, news editor for the Middle East and North Africa region at LinkedIn.

Based on the list, LinkedIn has identified three key trends driving the startup market in the Kingdom:

Convenience: The companies featured on the list are ones offering easy-to-use apps that have revolutionized the concept of convenience for customers and businesses in the country. Sary, for instance, connects small businesses with wholesalers to boost the supply chain, while Tamara aims to empower people with its buy now pay later business model.

Delivery: With people turning to e-commerce more and more during the pandemic, the convenience of using an app to order everything from groceries to sneakers has become second nature to most shoppers, explaining the success of companies such as Zid and The Chefz.

Logistics: Through innovation and technology, small companies are able to make a big impact. For example, Hala provides effective logistics solutions from warehousing to freight forwarding. Similarly, Shift inc. offers smart transportation solutions in an easy-to-use format.

“The startups — mostly in the apps, technology, information technology and business-to-business marketplace space — are innovative, contributing to the Kingdom’s growth and helping build the booming small to medium-sized enterprise ecosystem,” added Altantawy.


Burundian journalist briefly detained while investigating blast

Bujumbura was investigating a series of explosions this week that killed at least five people. (REUTERS)
Bujumbura was investigating a series of explosions this week that killed at least five people. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 September 2021

Burundian journalist briefly detained while investigating blast

Bujumbura was investigating a series of explosions this week that killed at least five people. (REUTERS)
  • Police on Friday briefly detained a journalist investigating a grenade attack in the commercial capital Bujumbura in Burundi

NAIROBI: Police on Friday briefly detained a journalist investigating a grenade attack in the commercial capital Bujumbura, his radio station said, after a series of explosions this week that killed at least five people.
Radio Bonesha FM had earlier said their reporter, Aimé-Richard Niyonkuru, had been mishandled and arrested by police in Bujumbura’s Kamenge neighborhood while he investigated a grenade incident that was said to have killed two people on Thursday.
“Radio Bonesha FM journalist arrested on Friday morning by the police has just been released. Aimé Richard Niyonkuru is still waiting for his recorder. He spent many hours at the Special Research Office under the hot sun,” the station said on Twitter.
Police spokespeople were not immediately available to comment on the arrest.
Burundi, a nation of about 11.5 million people, has suffered decades of war and ethnic and political violence. The United Nations says the youth wing of the ruling party and the security services are involved in the torture, gang-rape and murder of political opponents, charges the government denies.
On Monday, two grenade explosions hit a bus park in Bujumbura, while on Sunday a grenade attack in the administrative capital Gitega killed two, according to local media.
The Interior Ministry said “unidentified terrorists” were responsible for attacks in Bujumbura. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks.
An airport worker said on Monday there had also been an attack on the Bujumbura airport on Saturday, for which Congo-based rebel group Red Tabara claimed responsibility, saying it fired mortars as the president prepared to travel to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Sylvestre Nyandwi accused leaders of a suspended opposition party, MSD, of being behind the recent attacks, adding that authorities had issued international arrest warrants for them.


Podean wins The Drum startup agency of year award

Global Amazon agency and marketplace consultancy Podean has been named as startup agency of the year at The Drum advertising awards. (Supplied)
Global Amazon agency and marketplace consultancy Podean has been named as startup agency of the year at The Drum advertising awards. (Supplied)
Updated 24 September 2021

Podean wins The Drum startup agency of year award

Global Amazon agency and marketplace consultancy Podean has been named as startup agency of the year at The Drum advertising awards. (Supplied)
  • E-commerce firm specializing in Amazon advertising scoops international gong

DUBAI: Global Amazon agency and marketplace consultancy Podean has been named as startup agency of the year at The Drum advertising awards.

The gongs were judged by a panel of C-suite industry experts from leading firms and brands including Danielle Bassil of Digitas, Lucy Taylor from MullenLowe, Emma Montgomery from Leo Burnett, and OMD’s Stephen Li.

They evaluated agency nominees based on, “demonstrated innovative thinking to build and develop their business, shareholder value, outstanding client experience, and a talented and engaged team,” according to a statement.

The awards’ startup agency of the year category is dedicated to individual companies that are less than three years old and provide examples of how the new entity has set out to solve a need in the market, has been creative and innovative in terms of strategy, and has managed to cut through and build a profile in a crowded field.

Global chief executive officer, Travis Johnson, accepted the award during the virtual event, and thanked all Podean teams for their “dedication and constant focus on delivering innovation and results.”

Podean founder and CEO, Mark Power, said: “We knew from the start that e-commerce could be a more sophisticated and innovative discipline and that marketplaces must fit into a brand’s broader retail context. This award reinforces that our approach is the right one and one that delivers results for clients.

“I’m especially proud that the work we submitted – and that won – was contributed by our teams all around the world. We know we are not simply raising the bar in the US but also in the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and North Africa, Latin America, and EU regions,” he added.