Ray Hanania show discusses upcoming Iranian elections, recent Arab News exclusive with exiled crown prince

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Updated 04 June 2021

Ray Hanania show discusses upcoming Iranian elections, recent Arab News exclusive with exiled crown prince

Ray Hanania show discusses upcoming Iranian elections, recent Arab News exclusive with exiled crown prince

CHICAGO: The leading candidate in Iran’s June 18 elections is a man who has already been sanctioned by both the US and EU for human rights violations and brutality against dissidents, including the torture and killing of children, Ali Safavi, a board member of the world’s leading dissident organization, said on Wednesday.

Appearing on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” hosted by the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News, Safavi urged the West to condemn the elections which he called “a sham,” and end “appeasement” as a strategy to lure Iran away from its nuclear weapons program.

The lead candidate favored by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was Sayyid Ebrahim Raisol-Sadati, known as Ebrahim Raisi, who Khamenei appointed in March 2019 as Iran’s chief justice. Safavi noted that Raisi was dubbed by Iranians as “the henchman of 1988” because of his role in the massacre of more than 30,000 Iranian political prisoners that took place that year.

“Raisi became a prosecutor at the age of 19. He didn’t go to university. He didn’t even finish seminary school. All he has done in 41 years of his adult life has been issuing death sentences for dissidents. He was a key member of the ‘death commission’ in 1988 in Tehran where 30,000 were massacred upon a fatwa by (Ayatollah) Khomeini, the founder of this regime,” Safavi said.

“Khamenei wants to put him (Raisi) in charge precisely because he wants to suppress any form of dissent. The international community has to ask itself, are we going to deal with this man? Are we going to shake his bloodied hands?

“You know that Raisi is in two sanction lists of the treasurer department in the US and the EU list for violations of human rights. That is the key question. I think the Americans and the Europeans have to look themselves in the mirror and basically think about what they are going to do because Iranians reject this regime. They don’t want this regime,” Safavi added.

He said Khamenei was orchestrating Raisi’s rise in the tightly controlled election selection process to be one of the few candidates who could run, adding that this was Khamenei’s second attempt to get Raisi elected as president.

Accused of “many human rights abuses,” Raisi previously ran for president in 2017 but lost to the now outgoing president, Hassan Rouhani, who was first elected as president in 2013.

“Elections in Iran have never been about a democratic process where the people of Iran can express their views freely. It is in one short term, a travesty. It is neither fair nor free,” Safavi said.

“A vetting body, the Guardian Council with 12 members, six of whom are appointed by the Supreme Leader and six others by the judiciary chief who is himself appointed by the Supreme Leader, vet all of the candidates. And of course, whoever becomes a candidate must prove their heartfelt allegiance and practical loyalty to the Supreme Leader.

“This year there was a total of 592 candidates. Out of those 592, the Guardian Council eliminated all but seven,” he added.

The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned Raisi and several other members of Iran’s judiciary in March 2019.

According to the OFAC, they oversaw the practice of torture and execution of many dissidents, including children. The practices “involved torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners in Iran, including amputations,” the OFAC report said.

A UN report revealed that Iran’s judiciary sanctioned the execution of a number of child offenders, despite human rights law prohibitions against the death penalty for anyone under the age of 18. There are at least 90 child offenders currently on death row in Iran.

In addition, between September 2018 and July 2019, at least eight prominent lawyers were arrested for defending political prisoners and human rights defenders, many of whom have received lengthy sentences by Iran’s judiciary.

Raisi’s long history of brutality is widely documented. As deputy prosecutor general of Tehran, he participated in a so-called death commission that ordered the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

The following year he became the prosecutor general of Tehran serving until 1994. Raisi quickly rose in power, becoming the first deputy head of the judiciary from 2004 to 2014, involved in the brutal crackdown on Iran’s Green Movement protests that followed the chaotic and disorderly 2009 election. He became Iran’s prosecutor general from 2014 to 2016 before heading the judiciary.

Safavi said the responsibility to overthrow the regime rested on the people of Iran, but they needed the support of the West which had to stop its policies of appeasement.

“The task of overthrowing this regime rests singularly on the shoulders of the Iranian people and the organized resistance movement that is growing as we speak. It has gained tremendous traction and appeal within Iranian society. They are quite capable and willing, basically, to provide the kind of sacrifice that is needed to bring down such a murderous regime,” Safavi added.

“That said, I think now is a day of reckoning for the international community. As you know very well, for 40 years Western countries, the US included, has appeased this regime with the false narrative that by offering political and economic concessions they can strengthen the so-called moderates, the illusory moderates within this regime. Now, that game is over.

“So, the world community, Western democracies have to ask themselves a simple question. Are they willing to deal with a regime whose president has done nothing but executions in the past 41 years?”

Safavi described the situation for the Iranian population as dire.

“Iran is a horrible place to live. The economy is bankrupt. About 70 to 80 percent of Iranians live below the poverty line. There is the army of the hungry,” he said, noting some are resorting to extreme measures including selling body parts to help their families survive.

Safavi said that more than 300,000 Iranians had died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the largest per capita death rate in the world, although the regime claims only 80,000 had died.

“On the positive sides, Iranians are determined as never before to bring down this regime. Case in point, you saw the nationwide uprising in December 2017. You saw the uprising in January 2018. And then there was the nationwide uprising in November 2019 in which people rose up in 200 cities and the regime was able to overcome it only by murdering 1,500 protesters in cold blood,” Safavi added.

“But it has been unable to stop the growth and rise of opposition to this regime. And that is precisely why Khamenei had no choice other than to close ranks. He knows an uprising is simmering under the ashes waiting to erupt at any given time.”

Host of Arab News’ “Frankly Speaking” talk show, Frank Kane, also joined “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” to provide insight into his show’s mission and goals, reviewing past broadcasts from the first season and also talking about his latest episode with guest Reza Pahlavi, the exiled crown prince of Iran.

The second season of the flagship interview program “Frankly Speaking” launched on Sunday, May 30.

“The Ray Hanania Radio Show” is sponsored by Arab News and broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 radio and in Washington, D.C. on WDMV AM 700 radio. It is streamed live online at ArabRadio.us and on Facebook.com/ArabNews.


Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India

Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India
Updated 24 October 2021

Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India

Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India
  • Communal and religious tensions in India have a history of boiling over on social media and stoking violence
  • Facebook has become increasingly important in politics, and India is no different

NEW DELHI: Facebook in India has been selective in curbing hate speech, misinformation and inflammatory posts, particularly anti-Muslim content, according to leaked documents obtained by The Associated Press, even as the Internet giant’s own employees cast doubt over the its motivations and interests.
Based on research produced as recently as March of this year to company memos that date back to 2019, internal company documents on India highlight Facebook’s constant struggles in quashing abusive content on its platforms in the world’s biggest democracy and the company’s largest growth market. Communal and religious tensions in India have a history of boiling over on social media and stoking violence.
The files show that Facebook has been aware of the problems for years, raising questions over whether it has done enough to address the issues. Many critics and digital experts say it has failed to do so, especially in cases where members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are involved.
Across the world, Facebook has become increasingly important in politics, and India is no different.
Modi has been credited for leveraging the platform to his party’s advantage during elections, and reporting from The Wall Street Journal last year cast doubt over whether Facebook was selectively enforcing its policies on hate speech to avoid blowback from the BJP. Modi and Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have exuded bonhomie, memorialized by a 2015 image of the two hugging at the Facebook headquarters.
The leaked documents include a trove of internal company reports on hate speech and misinformation in India that in some cases appeared to have been intensified by its own “recommended” feature and algorithms. They also include the company staffers’ concerns over the mishandling of these issues and their discontent over the viral “malcontent” on the platform.
According to the documents, Facebook saw India as one of the most “at risk countries” in the world and identified both Hindi and Bengali languages as priorities for “automation on violating hostile speech.” Yet, Facebook didn’t have enough local language moderators or content-flagging in place to stop misinformation that at times led to real-world violence.
In a statement to the AP, Facebook said it has “invested significantly in technology to find hate speech in various languages, including Hindi and Bengali” which “reduced the amount of hate speech that people see by half” in 2021.
“Hate speech against marginalized groups, including Muslims, is on the rise globally. So we are improving enforcement and are committed to updating our policies as hate speech evolves online,” a company spokesperson said.
This AP story, along with others being published, is based on disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen’s legal counsel. The redacted versions were obtained by a consortium of news organizations, including the AP.
Back in February 2019 and ahead of a general election when concerns of misinformation were running high, a Facebook employee wanted to understand what a new user in India saw on their news feed if all they did was follow pages and groups solely recommended by the platform itself.
The employee created a test user account and kept it live for three weeks, a period during which an extraordinary event shook India — a militant attack in disputed Kashmir had killed over 40 Indian soldiers, bringing the country close to war with rival Pakistan.
In the note, titled “An Indian Test User’s Descent into a Sea of Polarizing, Nationalistic Messages,” the employee whose name is redacted said they were “shocked” by the content flooding the news feed. The person described the content as having “become a near constant barrage of polarizing nationalist content, misinformation, and violence and gore.”
Seemingly benign and innocuous groups recommended by Facebook quickly morphed into something else altogether, where hate speech, unverified rumors and viral content ran rampant.
The recommended groups were inundated with fake news, anti-Pakistan rhetoric and Islamophobic content. Much of the content was extremely graphic.
One included a man holding the bloodied head of another man covered in a Pakistani flag, with an Indian flag partially covering it. Its “Popular Across Facebook” feature showed a slew of unverified content related to the retaliatory Indian strikes into Pakistan after the bombings, including an image of a napalm bomb from a video game clip debunked by one of Facebook’s fact-check partners.
“Following this test user’s News Feed, I’ve seen more images of dead people in the past three weeks than I’ve seen in my entire life total,” the researcher wrote.
The report sparked deep concerns over what such divisive content could lead to in the real world, where local news outlets at the time were reporting on Kashmiris being attacked in the fallout.
“Should we as a company have an extra responsibility for preventing integrity harms that result from recommended content?” the researcher asked in their conclusion.
The memo, circulated with other employees, did not answer that question. But it did expose how the platform’s own algorithms or default settings played a part in producing such objectionable content. The employee noted that there were clear “blind spots,” particularly in “local language content.” They said they hoped these findings would start conversations on how to avoid such “integrity harms,” especially for those who “differ significantly” from the typical US user.
Even though the research was conducted during three weeks that weren’t an average representation, they acknowledged that it did show how such “unmoderated” and problematic content “could totally take over” during “a major crisis event.”
The Facebook spokesperson said the test study “inspired deeper, more rigorous analysis” of its recommendation systems and “contributed to product changes to improve them.”
“Separately, our work on curbing hate speech continues and we have further strengthened our hate classifiers, to include four Indian languages,” the spokesperson said.


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).