Social media giants ‘violated’ Palestinians’ digital rights: report

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were all used widely by Palestinian citizens and activists to share information on evictions from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. (Reuters/File Photo)
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were all used widely by Palestinian citizens and activists to share information on evictions from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 21 May 2021

Social media giants ‘violated’ Palestinians’ digital rights: report

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were all used widely by Palestinian citizens and activists to share information on evictions from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Digital rights monitor 7amleh said it has documented 500 cases of what it called digital rights violations of Palestinians
  • In one notable case of erroneous censorship, Instagram’s algorithm deemed the al-Aqsa mosque a terrorist organization

LONDON: There was a “dramatic increase” in censorship of Palestinians engaging in political speech on social media during the period of intense fighting between Israel and Gaza-based militants.

A report by 7amleh, The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, seen by The Independent, said that social media companies’ moderation attempts and codes of conduct have resulted in numerous citizens being censored.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were all used widely by Palestinian citizens and activists to share information on evictions from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, among other hotbutton issues among Palestinains.

According to The Independent, 7amleh said it had documented 500 cases of what it called digital rights violations of Palestinians from May 6 to May 18.

These violations include content being taken down and accounts being removed or their visibility restricted.

Of the 500 instances, half were related to Instagram, and its parent company Facebook was found to have carried out 179 cases of censorship or other rights violations.

Facebook also engaged in geo-blocking — geographically targeted content moderation — with “a number of these cases (documented) for activists from the occupied Palestinian territory,” according to 7amleh.

The rights organization said that 45 percent of reported violations on Instagram were related to the abrupt removal of stories.

Instagram did not respond directly to 7amleh about 143 of the cases submitted, but confirmed that “only one case violated the community standards.” According to 7amleh, nearly 70 percent of reported rights violations occurred after the problem seemed to have been addressed.

Aside from content moderation problems, a number of dramatic cases of harmful and offensive content moderation occurred throughout the nearly two weeks of violence. 

One notable example saw Instagram removing posts with hashtags for the al-Aqsa mosque — the third holiest site in Islam — after the tech company’s moderation system mistakenly deemed the mosque a terrorist organization.

Facebook told The Independent: “We know there have been several issues that have impacted people’s ability to share on our apps, including a technical bug that affected Stories around the world, and an error that temporarily restricted content from being viewed on the Al Aqsa hashtag page. While these have been fixed, they should never have happened in the first place.” 

The company also explained that it “understand(s) that the word ‘Zionist’ is frequently used in important political debate ... that’s why we allow critical discussion of Zionists, but remove attacks against them in specific instances when context suggests the word is being used as a proxy for Jews or Israelis, both of which are protected characteristics under our hate speech policies.”

Social media is seen as an important tool by Palestinian activists and citizens who use it to tell their own stories in a global media system that, they believe, does not always portray their struggle accurately.

Marwa Fatafta, a policy manager at Access Now, told The Independent that she also believes that Facebook’s content moderation policy is biased against the Palestinians.

“Facebook's rules related to Israel-Palestinian have always been opaque and one-sided,” she said. “It's no secret that Facebook often bows to government pressure and converts such demands into rules governing online speech. But that’s only half of the story (as) social media platforms rely on algorithms to moderate speech at scale and being blind to context as they are, lots of legitimate content get flagged and taken down.” 

Such issues stress the need for algorithmic transparency, which Fatafta says is “clearly biased.”

According to 7amleh, social media companies should hire specific fact checkers for the Israel-Palestine conflict, allow people to access geo-spatial data for humanitarian purposes, provide transparency on takedown requests, and conduct human rights assessments “that include the impact of Israel on Palestinians in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.”

Censorship and bias have been issues for years, however, and the escalation of violence over the past two weeks “only scaled it up and made it more pronounced,” said Fatafta.

She continued: “Social media has been a life-line for Palestinian activists deprived of access to mainstream media, and despite the ceasefire, the reality of occupation and oppression continues. So Palestinians will continue to use social media to organize and dissent.”

Fatafta added: “The main question here is: would social media companies learn their lessons this time?”


Snap’s stock drops as iPhone privacy controls pinch ad sales

In a statement, Snap CEO said the company has had to recalibrate its operations. (Twitter/AFP)
Updated 22 October 2021

Snap’s stock drops as iPhone privacy controls pinch ad sales

In a statement, Snap CEO said the company has had to recalibrate its operations. (Twitter/AFP)
  • Third-quarter earnings call reveals slump due to Apple’s privacy changes to iOS software on iPhones

SANTA MONICA: Snapchat’s corporate parent, Snap Inc., revealed during its third-quarter earnings call that its ad sales were being hit by a privacy crackdown rolled out on Apple’s iPhones earlier this year.

The disclosure raised investor fears that the app’s financial growth was going into tailspin, sparking a sell-off in after-hours trading that could foreshadow one of the biggest one-day drops in the company’s stock since it went public in 2017.

Snap’s shares plunged by nearly 22 percent in Thursday’s extended trading. If the decrease was mirrored in Friday’s regular trading session, it would approach the stock’s previous one-day nadir in May 2018 when its price also plummeted by nearly 22 percent — a decline which would wipe out nearly $30 billion in shareholder wealth.

The alarms set off by Snap’s disappointing performance could foreshadow troubles for other apps that may be having more problems tracking their users’ online activities because of an Apple update to the iPhone’s iOS software released in April.

The change blocks online tracking on iPhones unless a user grants explicit permission to do so, making it difficult for companies that sell ads based on the information they collect about people’s interests and location.

In a statement, Snap chief executive officer, Evan Spiegel, said the company has had to recalibrate its operations to “navigate significant headwinds, including changes to the iOS platform that impact the way advertising is targeted.”

Facebook, an outspoken critic of Apple’s new privacy controls, had already told investors that its ad sales could suffer because of the change, but Snap’s results indicated the blow may be even bigger than Wall Street anticipated. Facebook’s shares shed more than 4 percent in Thursday’s extending trading. The social networking company is scheduled to release its latest quarterly results on Monday.

Snap reported revenue of $1.07 billion for the July to September period, a 57 percent increase from the same time last year, but that was about $30 million below the projections of Wall Street analysts who steer investor expectations.

Perhaps even more troubling to investors, Snap predicted its revenue for the current quarter would range from $1.17 billion to $1.21 billion, whereas analysts had been forecasting revenue of $1.36 billion, according to FactSet.


Report: Advertising money on TV and social media is double daily consumption

Report: Advertising money on TV and social media is double daily consumption
Updated 22 October 2021

Report: Advertising money on TV and social media is double daily consumption

Report: Advertising money on TV and social media is double daily consumption
  • New report by WARC says social media spend would need to reduce by $94.3 billion to mirror global consumption levels next year

DUBAI: Advertiser spend on TV and social media is highly inflated in relation to daily consumption, according to a new WARC analysis of advertising spend forecasts for 100 markets worldwide and the results of a survey by GlobalWebIndex of more than 715,000 consumers.

“The study shines a light on divergences between media investment and consumption, two metrics which are rarely seen to be in lockstep with one another,” said James McDonald, managing editor, WARC Data, and author of the report.

The analysis finds that, as of the first quarter of 2021, social media attracts more investment from advertisers than linear TV for the first time— however, both media channels draw far more advertising budgets than the average consumer spends with these channels each day.

Social media, for example, is forecast to account for 39.1 percent of 2022 ad spend among the eight media studied in the report: Linear TV, online video, social media, print press, online press, podcasts, broadcast radio and online audio.

However, social media has a 21.4 percent share of daily media consumption— a discrepancy of 17.7 percentage points, which is valued at $94.3 billion.

Since Q2 2016, social media has accounted for more than two hours of daily media consumption and is expected to reach two and a half hours during the second half of next year.

Linear TV ad spend, on the other hand, is twice the daily consumption and is forecast to account for a 31.5 percent share of advertising spend next year, compared to a 16.1 percent share of daily media consumption. This would equate to an investment gap of $86.9 billion worldwide next year.

“The seemingly inflated investment gap actually speaks more to the enduring power of the medium — its vast reach combined with attentive audiences and the heightened impact of audiovisual creative. These traits allow it to command a premium in the media mix, one which is likely to sustain even as social media further grows its share of budgets,” McDonald said.

While linear TV spend is inflated in relation to its consumption, online video is now close to parity after years of underinvestment. It is worth noting that the world’s largest online video platform, Netflix, is predominantly ad-free, while platforms such as YouTube are prone to adblocking on desktop and mobile devices.

Still, advertisers are forecast to spend $71.9 billion on online video this year — a 13.6 percent share of the eight studied media, which compares to a 12.9 percent of media consumption.

The most heavily undervalued media channels are undeniably audio and online press. Podcasts are undervalued by a massive $40 billion. Even with one in three Internet users now listening to a podcast each month, the advertising rates are much higher than even TV, which is well known to be a premium medium with high advertising costs.

Online press also appears to be another heavy undervalued medium: Advertisers would need to spend $58 billion on online press ads globally next year to achieve parity with consumption levels. However, the forecast spend is only $12.8 billion.

Consumers already spend a fifth of their media day in social feeds and are forecast to spend twice as long with social media than with online press next year signaling a dire future for online press.

Print press investment is now on a par with daily consumption on a global level, but advertisers would need to spend $45.3 billion more on online press to mirror these levels. This has led to publishers diversifying their business models to counter the shortfall in advertising revenue with 76 percent of publishers prioritizing subscriptions this year.


Facebook’s oversight board seeks details on VIPs’ treatment

Facebook is generally not bound under the oversight board’s rules to follow its recommendations. (File/AFP)
Facebook is generally not bound under the oversight board’s rules to follow its recommendations. (File/AFP)
Updated 22 October 2021

Facebook’s oversight board seeks details on VIPs’ treatment

Facebook is generally not bound under the oversight board’s rules to follow its recommendations. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook's oversight board says the company has failed to fully disclose information on its VIP exemption rules
  • “XCheck,” or cross-check, is an internal system that exempts high-profile users from some or all of Facebook's content rules

WASHINGTON: Facebook’s semi-independent oversight board says the company has failed to fully disclose information on its internal system that exempts high-profile users from some or all of its content rules.
Facebook “has not been fully forthcoming” with the overseers about its “XCheck,” or cross-check, system the board said in a report Thursday. It also said it will review the system and recommend how the social network giant could change it.
The board started looking into the XCheck system last month after The Wall Street Journal reported that many VIP users abuse it, posting material that would cause ordinary users to be sanctioned — including for harassment and incitement of violence. For certain elite users, Facebook’s rules don’t seem to apply, according to the Journal article.
Facebook is generally not bound under the oversight board’s rules to follow its recommendations.
“We believe the board’s work has been impactful, which is why we asked the board for input into our cross-check system, and we will strive to be clearer in our explanations to them going forward,” Facebook said in a statement Thursday.
The report said Facebook wrongly failed to mention the XCheck system when it asked the board earlier this year to rule on its ban on former President Donald Trump’s accounts following the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
“Facebook only mentioned cross-check to the board when we asked whether Mr. Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content-moderation processes,” the report said.
In May, the board upheld Facebook’s suspension of Trump’s accounts, which came out of concern that he incited violence leading to the Jan. 6 riot. But the overseers told Facebook to specify how long the suspension would last. Facebook later announced that Trump’s accounts would be suspended for two years, freezing his presence on the social network until early 2023, to be followed by a reassessment.
The board said Thursday that for its review, Facebook agreed to provide the internal company documents on the XCheck system that were referenced in the Journal article. Facebook documents were leaked to the newspaper by Frances Haugen, a former product manager in the company’s civic integrity unit who also provided them to Congress and went public this month with a far-reaching condemnation of the company.
Haugen’s accusations of possible serious harm to some young people from Facebook’s Instagram photo-sharing platform raised outrage among lawmakers and the public.
The board said in its report that in some cases, “Facebook failed to provide relevant information to the board, while in other instances, the information it did provide was incomplete.”
In a briefing to the board, “Facebook admitted it should not have said that (XCheck) only applied to a ‘small number of decisions,’” the report said. “Facebook noted that for teams operating at the scale of millions of content decisions a day, the numbers involved ... seem relatively small, but recognized its phrasing could come across as misleading.”


Report: 71 percent of parents in Saudi Arabia use Snapchat

Report: 71 percent of parents in Saudi Arabia use Snapchat
Updated 21 October 2021

Report: 71 percent of parents in Saudi Arabia use Snapchat

Report: 71 percent of parents in Saudi Arabia use Snapchat
  • New study by Kantar and Snap reveals that Snapchat is popular among both parents and younger people
  • Snapchat plays major role in advertising, marketing for older audiences

DUBAI: Snapchat, which has a monthly addressable reach of 19.5 million in Saudi Arabia, is not only popular with younger audiences in the Kingdom, but also with parents, according to a recent study conducted by Kantar and Snap.

The study has found that 71 percent of parents in Saudi Arabia now use Snapchat and that advertising on the platform plays an influential role in their purchase decisions. 

Among these parents, almost 90 percent feel positive about the advertising they see on Snapchat across product categories, and over 80 percent said that this advertising influences their purchase decisions.

More than 90 percent take action after seeing an ad that interests them. The actions include clicking on an ad, reading product reviews online, or discussing with friends and family members.

Snapchat parents are also quite democratic in including other family members when making purchasing decisions. A majority (68 percent) of Snapchat parents claim that their children influence their purchase decisions in some way, and most parents with teenage or adult children rely on their kids to make purchases on behalf of the household.

Parents with teenage children allow the teens to shop for the family regularly for technology products (61 percent), mobile apps and streaming services (73 percent), and household goods (47 percent).

“Rather than a fragmented advertising model that caters to different age groups through different mediums, Snapchat delivers great value by reaching parents, alongside their teenage and adult children, on a single platform,” said Abdulla Alhammadi, regional business lead at Snap Inc.           

FAST FACTS

• 71 percent of parents in Saudi Arabia are on Snapchat.

• Over 80 percent of parents on Snapchat say that advertising on the platform influences their purchase decisions.

• Almost 90 percent of parents on Snapchat feel positive about the advertising that they see.

• More than 90 percent of parents on Snapchat take action after seeing an ad that interests them.

• Parents with teenage children allow the teens to shop for the family regularly for technology products (61 percent), mobile apps and streaming services (73 percent), and household goods (47 percent).


Senator asks Facebook CEO to testify on Instagram and kids

Senator asks Facebook CEO to testify on Instagram and kids
Updated 22 October 2021

Senator asks Facebook CEO to testify on Instagram and kids

Senator asks Facebook CEO to testify on Instagram and kids
  • US senator asks Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify on Instagram’s effects on children
  • The Federal Trade Commission has also filed a major antitrust lawsuit against Facebook

WASHINGTON: The senator leading a probe of Facebook’s Instagram and its impact on young people is asking Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before the panel that has heard far-reaching criticisms from a former employee of the company.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, who heads the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, called in a sharply worded letter Wednesday for the Facebook founder to testify on Instagram’s effects on children.
“Parents across America are deeply disturbed by ongoing reports that Facebook knows that Instagram can cause destructive and lasting harms to many teens and children, especially to their mental health and wellbeing,” Blumenthal said in the letter addressed to Zuckerberg. “Those parents, and the twenty million teens that use your app, have a right to know the truth about the safety of Instagram.”
In the wake of former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen’s testimony early this month, Blumenthal told Zuckerberg, “Facebook representatives, including yourself, have doubled down on evasive answers, keeping hidden several reports on teen health, offering noncommittal and vague plans for action at an unspecified time down the road, and even turning to personal attacks on Ms. Haugen.”
Blumenthal did offer, however, that either Zuckerberg or the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, could appear before his committee.
“It is urgent and necessary for you or Mr. Adam Mosseri to testify to set the record straight and provide members of Congress and parents with a plan on how you are going to protect our kids,” he told Zuckerberg.
A spokesman for Facebook, based in Menlo Park, California, confirmed receipt of Blumenthal’s letter but declined any comment.
As public discomfort and scrutiny of the social network giant has grown in recent weeks, the focus has homed in on Zuckerberg, who controls more than 50 percent of Facebook’s voting shares.
Haugen, who buttressed her statements with tens of thousands of pages of internal research documents she secretly copied before leaving her job in the company’s civic integrity unit, accused Facebook of prioritizing profit over safety and being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation.
“In the end, the buck stops with Mark,” Haugen said in her testimony. “There is no one currently holding Mark accountable but himself.”
On Tuesday, the attorney general of the District of Columbia added Zuckerberg as a defendant in a 2018 lawsuit he filed against Facebook on the privacy of users’ personal data. The action by Attorney General Karl Racine seeks to hold Zuckerberg personally liable in addition to Facebook in the case involving data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica, which gathered details on as many as 87 million Facebook users without their permission.
The Facebook users’ data is alleged to have been used to manipulate the 2016 presidential election.
“These allegations are as meritless today as they were more than three years ago, when the District filed its complaint. We will continue to defend ourselves vigorously and focus on the facts,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said.
Racine’s office said it was the first time a US regulator specifically named Zuckerberg in a legal action. He and the company could face millions of dollars in penalties if violations of law were found.
The Federal Trade Commission has filed a major antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, and various state attorneys general also have taken legal action against the company.
“Based on the evidence we gathered in this case over the past two years ... it’s clear Mr. Zuckerberg knowingly and actively participated in each decision that led to Cambridge Analytica’s mass collection of Facebook user data, and Facebook’s misrepresentations to users about how secure their data was,” Racine said in a statement. “The evidence further demonstrates that Mr. Zuckerberg also participated in misleading the public and government officials about Facebook’s role.”