India tells social media firms to take down ‘Indian variant’ posts

India tells social media firms to take down ‘Indian variant’ posts
Neha Sharma (L) mourns next to a relative after her mother Anita Sharma died due to the Covid-19 coronavirus, outside a hospital in Amritsar on May 21, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 23 May 2021

India tells social media firms to take down ‘Indian variant’ posts

India tells social media firms to take down ‘Indian variant’ posts
  • The B.1.617 variant was first detected in India last year and has been blamed for much of a devastating Covid-19 wave that has battered South Asian nations in recent weeks
  • The ministry told social media companies to “remove all the content” that refers to the “Indian variant”

NEW DELHI: India’s government has ordered social media platforms to take down content that refers to the “Indian variant” of the coronavirus.
The B.1.617 variant was first detected in India last year and has been blamed for much of a devastating Covid-19 wave that has battered South Asian nations in recent weeks.
It has spread to Britain and at least 43 other countries, where “Indian variant” has become a widely used term.
The government order, sent Friday by the electronics and information technology ministry, highlighted government sensitivity to accusations that it has mishandled the new surge.
In it, the ministry told social media companies to “remove all the content” that refers to the “Indian variant.”
“It has come to our knowledge that a false statement is being circulated online which implies that an ‘Indian variant’ of coronavirus is spreading across the countries. This is completely FALSE,” read the letter, obtained by AFP.
The ministry cited previous calls to curb “false news and misinformation” about the pandemic on social media as a basis for the order.
It argued that the World Health Organization did not link any country to the B.1.617 variant.
The WHO declared the strain a “global concern” last week as it spread around the world.
Several countries have banned or put severe restrictions on passengers from India since the variant emerged.
Many health experts and governments have used country names to describe new coronavirus variants that have emerged in Britain, Brazil and South Africa.
Indian government officials have regularly used the term “UK variant” since the mutant British strain started spreading in India.
The right-wing government has been criticized for its efforts to contain the new pandemic wave. India has faced severe shortages of oxygen, vaccines, hospital beds and life-saving drugs.
The government last month ordered Twitter and Facebook to remove dozens of posts critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handling of the crisis.
India on Saturday reported another 257,000 cases and 4,194 deaths in 24 hours, taking its total to 26.2 million infections and 295,525 deaths.
Almost half of the deaths have been recorded since late March when the new surge started battering the nation of 1.3 billion people.
The capital, New Delhi, meanwhile stopped vaccine shots for people aged under 45 because it has run out of jabs.

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Facebook rebrands as Meta to emphasize ‘metaverse’ vision

 Zuckerberg said the name “Facebook” just doesn’t encompass “everything we do” any more. (AFP)
Zuckerberg said the name “Facebook” just doesn’t encompass “everything we do” any more. (AFP)
Updated 28 October 2021

Facebook rebrands as Meta to emphasize ‘metaverse’ vision

 Zuckerberg said the name “Facebook” just doesn’t encompass “everything we do” any more. (AFP)
  • Skeptics point out that it also appears to be an attempt to change the subject from the Facebook Papers

OAKLAND, California: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his company is rebranding itself as Meta in an effort to encompass its virtual-reality vision for the future, what Zuckerberg calls the “metaverse.”
Skeptics point out that it also appears to be an attempt to change the subject from the Facebook Papers, a leaked document trove that has revealed the ways Facebook ignored internal reports and warnings of the harms its social network created or magnified across the world.

Zuckerberg says he expects the metaverse to reach a billion people within the next decade. The metaverse, he says, will be a place people will be able to interact, work and create products and content in what he hopes will be a new ecosystem that creates “millions” of jobs for creators.
The announcement comes amid an existential crisis for Facebook. It faces legislative and regulatory scrutiny in many parts of the world following revelations in the Facebook Papers.
In explaining the rebrand, Zuckerberg said the name “Facebook” just doesn’t encompass “everything we do” any more. In addition to its primary social network, that now includes Instagram, Messenger, its Quest VR headset, its Horizon VR platform and more.

 


Netflix’s first Arabic reality series debuts next month

Netflix’s first Arabic reality series debuts next month
Updated 28 October 2021

Netflix’s first Arabic reality series debuts next month

Netflix’s first Arabic reality series debuts next month
  • ‘The Fastest,’ a six-part series about cars and the people that drive them, will debut on Nov. 23

DUBAI: “The Fastest,” Netflix’s first Arabic-language unscripted series, will debut on Nov. 23.

The first season will feature six episodes as participants customize and optimize their cars for drag races across different terrains in the Middle East, with the winning racer receiving a cash reward.

“‘The Fastest' is our first unscripted Arab Netflix series and it will deliver on the tenets of our content strategy with its authenticity, representation, and creativity,” said said Lucy Leveugle, Netflix’s director of nonfiction originals for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“We know that the Arab world has a particular love for fast cars and thrilling experiences, so ‘The Fastest’ will put the best of the best through their paces for fans from the Middle East and beyond.”

Featuring male and female drivers from different backgrounds across the region, the series is as much about the personal stories of the drivers as it is about racing.

“In a journey combining wild adventure with a human element, we will witness the inspirational stories of the drivers and what pushes them forward,” the streaming giant said in a statement.

Tarek Al-Harbi, the popular Saudi actor, comedian, and social media sensation, is the narrator of the show guiding viewers through the twists and turns.

 

 

“Our goal is to have a slate of content as diverse as our audience and we are excited to introduce a new content format for Netflix. We want to provide Arab storytellers with the tools they need to bring their vision to life, whether that’s scripted or unscripted,” added Leveugle.

The show is also a testament to Netflix’s commitment to the Arab world. Just this month, it launched a Palestinian Stories collection showcasing films from some of the Arab world’s finest filmmakers, and earlier this year it announced a new hardship fund, valued at $500,000, in collaboration with the Arab Fund for Arts & Culture to support those most affected by the coronavirus disease pandemic in the Arab region’s film and TV community.

It also has deals in place with Saudi Arabian production and financing group Telfaz11 to produce eight new films and with Saudi animation studio Myrkott to produce Saudi-focused shows and films along with a first-look option on the company’s upcoming projects.

“The Fastest” debuts on Nov. 23 and will be available in 190 countries around the world with 31 subtitles.


Results of WFA’s first diversity, equity and inclusion census released

Results of WFA’s first diversity, equity and inclusion census released
Updated 28 October 2021

Results of WFA’s first diversity, equity and inclusion census released

Results of WFA’s first diversity, equity and inclusion census released
  • Most common forms of discrimination globally were reported on the basis of age and family status

DUBAI: The initial results of the first census on diversity, equity and inclusion initiated by the World Federation of Advertisers to assess diversity challenges facing the marketing and advertising industry have been released.

Initial results identified key challenges around family status, age, and gender as well as ethnicity and disability.

It found clear gaps in lived experiences when these groups were compared to the industry average, both in individual markets and globally. For example, on Kantar’s Inclusion Index, which is generated by asking questions about people’s sense of belonging, the absence of discrimination, and the presence of negative behavior, men scored at 69 percent compared to women at 61 percent.
“This has been a Herculean but long-overdue effort. For the very first time, we hear and see the marketing industry in all its different facets and nuance,” said Stephan Loerke, CEO of the WFA.

Despite these serious concerns, the marketing sector still outperformed every other category analyzed by research partner Kantar, scoring an overall 64 percent on the index, ahead of the next highest sector, health and pharmaceuticals, on 60 percent.

The research effort was led by the WFA in close collaboration with agency associations including the European Association of Communication Agencies, Voxcomm, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week, The Effies, GlobalWebIndex, Campaign, the International Advertising Association and Kantar.

The most common forms of discrimination identified by the survey were family, status and age, with 27 percent agreeing that their company does not treat all employees fairly regardless of family status and 27 percent agreeing that their company does not treat all employees equally regardless of age. Thirty-six percent of respondents agreed that age can hinder one’s career, while 40 percent of women agreed that family status could hinder one’s career.

These statistics reflect a key finding from the census: Women’s experiences are notably poorer than men’s. There is also strong evidence of a gender pay gap in some markets. In the US and Canada, for example, the gap is worst among industry starters, with a 13 percent gap in the US and a 20 percent gap in Canada.

There were similar findings for ethnic minorities, who scored lower on key sentiments, such as “I feel like I belong at my company,” than ethnic majority groups in nearly all markets. In the US, 17 percent said they faced discrimination based on their racial background. In a number of markets, this was also reflected by a pay gap. However, in many markets surveyed, ethnic minorities or foreign nationals reported being paid more than the ethnic majority.

In an industry struggling to find the right talent, the lack of diversity and inclusion is of grave concern, with 17 percent saying they were likely to leave their current company as a result of the lack of inclusion and/or discrimination they had experienced. Fifteen percent said they would leave the industry entirely.

The Netherlands performed best as a country on this issue, with only 9 percent saying they would find new employment within the industry.

“There is a confidence and strong sense of belonging that rings true of the marketing industry,” said Loerke.

However, there are significant minorities in all countries saying they witness negative behaviors and discrimination on account of their age, family status, gender, ethnicity, race, disability, mental health and sexuality, he added.

“No company or industry can ignore this; a line has been drawn in the sand and we now know where progress must be made. The onus on us all now is to work together to make our industry fairer, more diverse and more inclusive — and to measure our common progress in a second wave in the spring of 2023,” he said.

The results are based on more than 10,000 responses from 27 markets around the world conducted from June to July 2021, with the online survey identifying not just the demographics of participants but also their sense of belonging, as well as experience of discrimination and demeaning behavior.

The full findings for each specific market will be shared later this year. The results will also feed into the work of the WFA Diversity and Inclusion Task Force as well as national action plans led by WFA national associations around the world.


Facebook, Google, Twitter face grilling by British lawmakers

Facebook, Google, Twitter face grilling by British lawmakers
Updated 28 October 2021

Facebook, Google, Twitter face grilling by British lawmakers

Facebook, Google, Twitter face grilling by British lawmakers
  • Governments on both sides of the Atlantic want tougher rules aimed at protecting social media users

LONDON: British lawmakers are set to grill Facebook and other tech giants Thursday over how they handle online safety as European efforts to regulate social media companies gain momentum.
Representatives from Facebook, Google, Twitter and TikTok will be questioned by members of a parliamentary committee scrutinizing the British government’s draft online safety legislation.
Governments on both sides of the Atlantic want tougher rules aimed at protecting social media users, especially younger ones, but the United Kingdom’s efforts are much further along. UK lawmakers are questioning researchers, journalists, tech executives and other experts for a report to the government on how to improve the final version of the online safety bill.
The hearing comes the same week YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat were questioned by a US Senate panel. They provided little firm commitment for US legislation bolstering protection of children from online harm, which lawmakers say ranges from eating disorders, sexually explicit content and material promoting addictive drugs.
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen appeared before the UK committee this week, telling members that the company’s systems make online hate worse and that it has little incentive to fix the problem. She said time is running out to regulate social media companies that use artificial intelligence systems to determine what content people see.
Haugen was a Facebook data scientist who copied internal research documents and turned them over to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. They also were provided to a group of media outlets, including The Associated Press, which reported numerous stories about how Facebook prioritized profits over safety and hid its own research from investors and the public.
The UK’s online safety bill calls for a regulator to ensure tech companies comply with rules requiring them to remove dangerous or harmful content or face penalties worth up to 10 percent of annual global revenue. The European Union is working on similar digital rules.
British lawmakers are still grappling with thorny issues such as ensuring privacy and free speech and defining legal but harmful content, including online bullying and advocacy of self-harm.
They’re also trying to get a handle on misinformation that flourishes on social media.
Maria Ressa, a Filipino journalist who shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her fight for freedom of expression under grave risks, acknowledged the challenge, telling the committee on Wednesday that a law to curb disinformation is needed.
“Regulation is our last hope,” Ressa said. “The problem is that you will be a model for everyone else around the the world, so you must be a gold standard, that’s tough.” At the same time, “doing nothing pushes the world closer to fascism,” she added.


MBC to close office in Lebanon and relocate to Saudi Arabia

MBC to close office in Lebanon and relocate to Saudi Arabia
Updated 27 October 2021

MBC to close office in Lebanon and relocate to Saudi Arabia

MBC to close office in Lebanon and relocate to Saudi Arabia
  • Staff reportedly offered a choice of moving to Riyadh or resigning

LONDON: Saudi-owned broadcaster MBC Group announced on Wednesday that it plans to shut its office in Beirut “soon” and relocate to Riyadh.

The company said the reason for the move is a push by authorities in the Kingdom to relocate all state-owned media and broadcasting companies to Saudi Arabia.

While the headquarters of MBC is currently in Dubai, the Lebanon branch was a prominent production office. The company has reportedly offered staff the choice of moving to Riyadh or resigning.

The decision to move the offices of Saudi media companies to Riyadh from other cities in the region, such as Beirut and Dubai, is the result of plans by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to establish the Kingdom as a regional business hub.

News of the move comes a day after George Kordahi, the Lebanese information minister and a former MBC presenter, caused controversy with his comments about Saudi Arabia and the war in Yemen.

When asked during an appearance on Barlamanasha3b TV what he thinks about the situation in Yemen, Kordahi said: “They (the Houthis) are defending themselves.”

He added: “Are they attacking anyone? In my opinion, this Yemeni war is absurd and should stop.”