EU report: Illicit drug sales moved online during lockdowns

Criminal groups relied less on human couriers and turned instead to shipping containers and commercial supply chains to smuggle illicit substances. (File/AFP).
Criminal groups relied less on human couriers and turned instead to shipping containers and commercial supply chains to smuggle illicit substances. (File/AFP).
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Updated 09 June 2021

EU report: Illicit drug sales moved online during lockdowns

Criminal groups relied less on human couriers and turned instead to shipping containers and commercial supply chains to smuggle illicit substances. (File/AFP).
  • The coronavirus pandemic helped move drug sales from streets to encrypted messaging and social media platforms.
  • Criminal groups also adapted to travel restrictions and border closures by relying less on human couriers and turning instead to shipping containers.

MADRID: Illegal drug production on European soil increased during the coronavirus pandemic last year as lockdowns helped move drug sales from streets to encrypted online platforms, according to an analysis of continental drug trends released Wednesday.

The 2021 European Drug Report says criminal groups also adapted to travel restrictions and border closures by relying less on human couriers and turning instead to shipping containers and commercial supply chains to smuggle illicit substances.

The report is produced annually by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction drawing data from the European Union’s 27 member countries, Turkey and Norway.

Its authors said that while strict stay-at-home orders in most countries disrupted street drug sales, the market moved to encrypted messaging and social media platforms for negotiating purchases and to home delivery services for distribution.

“This draws attention to whether a long-term impact of the pandemic could be the further digitalization of drug markets,” the EMCDDA report states..
There were 46 new drugs detected in 2020 alone, including new synthetic cannabinoids and opioids, the report said.

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said “the highly pure and potent substances” found in the surveyed countries were a cause of special concern.

Illegal drug usage in general, she warned, carries environmental, health and security risks for the EU.

The issue “corrupts the fabric of our society, fueling violence and risking the health and security of our citizens,” Johansson said in a statement.

The EMCDDA described the European drug market as “dynamic and adaptive,” as well as “resilient to COVID-19 restrictions,” with patterns of drug use “increasingly complex.”

The report raises specific concerns around the misuse of benzodiazepines, which are prescribed for treating anxiety but have been linked to poisonings and deaths from unauthorized use.

Amphetamine and methamphetamine production is on the rise, the report said. Cannabis availability did not decline during the pandemic, according to 2020 preliminary data, it said.

Although cannabis use remained stable at high levels, authorities across Europe seized a record 235 tons of cocaine in 2019, up from 195 tons the year before.


Trump announces plans to launch new social network ‘TRUTH Social’

Trump announces plans to launch new social network ‘TRUTH Social’
Updated 21 October 2021

Trump announces plans to launch new social network ‘TRUTH Social’

Trump announces plans to launch new social network ‘TRUTH Social’

WASHINGTON: Former US president Donald Trump announced plans Wednesday to launch his own social networking platform called “TRUTH Social,” which is expected to begin its beta launch for “invited guests” next month.
The long-awaited platform will be owned by Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG), which also intends to launch a subscription video on-demand service that will feature “non-woke” entertainment programming, the group said in a statement.
“I created TRUTH Social and TMTG to stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech,” Trump, who was banned from Twitter and Facebook in the wake of the Capitol insurrection carried out by his supporters on January 6 this year, was quoted as saying in the statement.
“We live in a world where the Taliban has a huge presence on Twitter, yet your favorite American President has been silenced. This is unacceptable,” he continued.
The Trump Media & Technology Group will merge with blank check company Digital Acquisition Corp. to make TMTG a publicly-listed company, the statement said.
“The transaction values Trump Media & Technology Group at an initial enterprise value of $875 Million, with a potential additional earnout of $825 Million in additional shares (at the valuation they are granted) for a cumulative valuation of up to $1.7 Billion depending on the performance of the stock price post-business combination,” it stated.
Ever since he was banned from the world’s dominant social networks as punishment for stirring up the mob that ransacked Congress on January 6, Trump has been looking for ways to reclaim his Internet platform.
In May he launched a blog called “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” which was touted as a a major new outlet.
But Trump, who was also banned from Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat in the wake of the Capitol mayhem, canceled the blog just a month later.
Former Trump aide Jason Miller launched a social network called Gettr earlier this year, but the former president has not yet joined it.
 


UAE ranked 11th on major global brand strength index, beating US, UK

UAE ranked 11th on major global brand strength index, beating US, UK
Updated 21 October 2021

UAE ranked 11th on major global brand strength index, beating US, UK

UAE ranked 11th on major global brand strength index, beating US, UK
  • The top five positions are taken by Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Germany, followed by Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand

LONDON: The UAE climbed three spots from last year’s global Brand Strength Index, beating both the UK and the US, to be ranked 11th among the world’s strongest nation brands. 

Brand Finance gave the UAE a score of 79.1 out of 100, marking “the latest confirmation of the excellence of the Emirati model in strategic planning and development,” according to Minister of Cabinet Affairs Mohammed Al-Gergawi.

He told The National: “It confirms the nation’s success in establishing modern, open, transparent and interactive media communication with the public around the world, through which it has been able to present its many inspiring success stories.”

Similar metrics demonstrated a rise in UAE’s economic ranking and financial value.

“The rise in the economic value of the UAE’s national brand from 18th to 17th position this year is a clear indication of the country’s global reputation and competitiveness in various fields,” added Al-Gergawi.

The top five positions are taken by Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Germany, followed by Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand.

“There is no doubt that achieving 11 percent brand value growth, from $672 billion to $749 billion, is a major achievement in the 50th year of the UAE and underlines how quickly our nation has established its name and global identity as a developed and pioneering country. It is an exceptional success story that will be told to all generations,” Al-Gergawi added. 

Brand Finance, a brand valuation company, measures the relative strength of national brands through a balanced scorecard of metrics evaluating brand investment, equity, and performance. 

Andrew Campbell, managing director at Brand Finance Middle East, said that the UAE is “challenging the Western status quo in ranking.” 

He added: “As the UAE celebrates its Golden Jubilee year, it continues to fly the flag high, promoting the nation’s achievements across the world through ground-breaking initiatives like the Emirates Mars Mission and serving as the gateway to the region by hosting the world for 182 days at Expo 2020 Dubai.”

Not only did the UAE score high on brand strength, but the country also stood out for its COVID-19 response, getting top marks on the influence and business and trade pillars, while also scoring strongly on the education and science pillars. 

While Switzerland continued to dominate the market as the world’s strongest nation brand, other countries took a fall. 

The UK, US, Japan, and France have all fallen out of the top 10 strongest nation brands following perceptions on how they handled the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The UK fell dramatically from 2nd to 14th position with a score of 77.4, while the US dropped from 4th to 17th with a score of 75.1. 

Despite their brand strength taking a hit, however, these nations all still feature in an unchanged top 10 when ranked by nation brand value.


Facebook paying fine to settle US suit on discrimination

Critics of the practice contend that the foreign nationals will work for lower wages than US citizens. (File/AFP)
Critics of the practice contend that the foreign nationals will work for lower wages than US citizens. (File/AFP)
Updated 20 October 2021

Facebook paying fine to settle US suit on discrimination

Critics of the practice contend that the foreign nationals will work for lower wages than US citizens. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook is paying a hefty fine to resolve allegations that it discriminated against US workers in favor of foreigners with special visas to fill high-paying jobs
  • Facebook sponsored the visa holders for “green cards” authorizing them to work permanently.

WASHINGTON: Facebook is paying a $4.75 million fine and up to $9.5 million to eligible victims to resolve the Justice Department’s allegations that it discriminated against US workers in favor of foreigners with special visas to fill high-paying jobs.
Facebook also agreed in the settlement announced Tuesday to train its employees in anti-discrimination rules and to conduct more widespread advertising and recruitment for job opportunities in its permanent labor certification program, which allows an employer to hire a foreign worker to work permanently.
The department’s civil rights division said the social network giant “routinely refused” to recruit, consider or hire US workers, a group that includes US citizens and nationals, people granted asylum, refugees and lawful permanent residents, for positions it had reserved for temporary visa holders.
Facebook sponsored the visa holders for “green cards” authorizing them to work permanently. The so-called H-1B visas are a staple of Silicon Valley, widely used by software programmers and other employees of major US technology companies.
Critics of the practice contend that the foreign nationals will work for lower wages than US citizens. The tech companies maintain that’s not the case, that they turn to foreign nationals because they have trouble finding qualified programmers and other engineers who are US citizens.
“In principle, Facebook is doing a good thing by applying for green cards for its workers, but it has also learned how to game the system to avoid hiring US tech workers,” said Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “Facebook started lobbying to change the system more to its liking starting back in 2013 when the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate was being negotiated.”
The settlement terms announced Tuesday are the largest civil penalty and back-pay award ever recovered by the civil rights division in the 35-year history of enforcing anti-discrimination rules under the Immigration and Nationality Act, officials said. The back pay would be awarded to people deemed to have been unfairly denied employment.
The government said Facebook intentionally created a hiring system in which it denied qualified US workers a fair opportunity to learn about and apply for jobs that it instead sought to channel to temporary visa holders.
“Facebook is not above the law and must comply with our nation’s federal civil rights laws, which prohibit discriminatory recruitment and hiring practices,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke told reporters in a telephone conference. “Companies cannot set aside certain positions for temporary visa holders because of their citizenship or immigration status.”
Facebook also agreed in a separate settlement with the Labor Department to expand its recruitment for US workers and to be subject to ongoing audits to ensure compliance.
The company based in Menlo Park, California, said it believes it met the government’s standards in its practices. It said it agreed to the settlements to end the litigation and move ahead with its permanent labor certification program — which it called an important part of its “overall immigration program.”
“These resolutions will enable us to continue our focus on hiring the best builders from both the US and around the world, and supporting our internal community of highly skilled visa holders who are seeking permanent residence,” Facebook said in a statement.
Facebook says it ended the April-June quarter this year with over 63,400 full-time employees globally and has 3,000 current job openings.
The lawsuit was filed against Facebook last December by the Justice Department under the Trump administration. The alleged violations are said to have occurred from at least Jan. 1, 2018 to at least Sept. 18, 2019.
A $4.75 million fine and $9.5 million in back pay are a trifle for a company valued at $1 trillion with revenue of nearly $86 billion last year. But the announcement comes at a time of intense public discomfort and scrutiny for Facebook.
Public allegations and testimony to Congress from a former Facebook data scientist that the company disregarded internal research showing harm to children have raised a public outcry and calls for stricter government oversight of the company. The former employee, Frances Haugen, accused Facebook of prioritizing profit over safety and being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation.
The company is also awaiting a federal judge’s ruling in an epic antitrust suit filed against it by the Federal Trade Commission. Calls from critics and lawmakers of both parties to break up the behemoth company are intensifying.


Britain fines Facebook $70 mln for breaching order in Giphy deal

Facebook had refused to report all the required information, despite multiple warnings, the CAM said. (File/Twitter)
Facebook had refused to report all the required information, despite multiple warnings, the CAM said. (File/Twitter)
Updated 20 October 2021

Britain fines Facebook $70 mln for breaching order in Giphy deal

Facebook had refused to report all the required information, despite multiple warnings, the CAM said. (File/Twitter)

LONDON: Britain’s competition regulator has fined Facebook 50.5 million pounds ($69.6 million) for breaching an order imposed during its investigation into the US social media giant’s purchase of GIF platform Giphy, the agency said on Wednesday.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said Facebook had deliberately failed to comply with its order, and the penalty served as a warning that no company was above the law.
Facebook said it strongly disagreed.
The CMA said Facebook had failed to provide full updates about its compliance with requirements to continue to compete with Giphy and not integrate its operations with Giphy’s while its investigation was ongoing.
Facebook had refused to report all the required information, despite multiple warnings, the CAM said, and it therefore considered the failure to comply deliberate.
“We warned Facebook that its refusal to provide us with important information was a breach of the order but, even after losing its appeal in two separate courts, Facebook continued to disregard its legal obligations,” said Joel Bamford, senior director of mergers at the CMA.
“This should serve as a warning to any company that thinks it is above the law.”
Facebook said: “We strongly disagree with the CMA’s unfair decision to punish Facebook for a best effort compliance approach, which the CMA itself ultimately approved.
“We will review the CMA’s decision and consider our options.”


Social media is driving a new world of marketing, says major report

Social media is driving a new world of marketing, says major report
Updated 20 October 2021

Social media is driving a new world of marketing, says major report

Social media is driving a new world of marketing, says major report
  • WARC, TikTok and Publicis Groupe’s report “From Discovery to Purchase: The Role of Community Commerce” reveals the potential of creator-driven marketing for brand growth

DUBAI: WARC, TikTok and advertising conglomerate Publicis Groupe have together released a report exploring the role of social communities in influencing purchase decisions.

“As social media’s popularity and influence continue to grow, community commerce is rapidly evolving to provide an innovative, effective and fast-paced way for brands and retailers to sell directly to consumers,” said Alex Brownsell, a senior editor at WARC.

The report, titled “From Discovery to Purchase: The Role of Community Commerce,” said social commerce describes the growing retail opportunities and solutions presented by social media. Community commerce is a narrower subset that specifically refers to entertaining, compelling content, often by creators, that just happens to feature brands.

As more people spend time on social media, community commerce sits at the intersection of community, shopping and entertainment. With a non-intrusive and authentic approach, brands can fit seamlessly into this social environment and engage with audiences by connecting around specific interests or hashtags.

“The intersection of community, shopping and entertainment is what’s really different about TikTok. I can move from being entertained by my favorite creators into a shopping moment — or telling my friends about it or sharing it — pretty easily,” said Amy Lanzi, EVP, North America practice lead, Publicis Commerce.

Social platforms have disrupted the path to purchase by spontaneously inspiring users to shop as they discover new products. In fact, social platforms inspired 70 percent of consumers to shop, even when they were not looking to, according to the report.

Moreover, an average of 85 percent have purchased a product or service after seeing it advertized or reviewed on social media and 77 percent said that social platforms helped them get ideas about brands and products they had never thought of before.

“The funnel has collapsed and impulse buying is at an all-time high; people are spending more time on social media platforms, so why not go where the consumer is?” said Ryan Hartsfield, social media director at Monster Energy.

Up until now, beauty and fashion categories were the leaders in the social media space, said Daniela Mercado, head of mobile marketing, Samsung Electronics America. Because of their success, more expensive categories — like luxury and automotive — are now following.

Due to this emerging consumer behavior, brands have an opportunity to connect with their audiences in an entirely new way and spur on-the-spot decisions. An effective way of doing this is by partnering with creators who already have the followers and the ability to inspire and influence them.

Content creators boost discovery (78 percent), educate and inform their audiences (76 percent), and inspire their audiences to try new products (73 percent). Creators and social communities are the new version of “word-of-mouth,” making it a powerful medium for brands.

“Influencers are really important because they each have their own reason for loving our brands. It’s fun to discover why someone is using our products, and we like to elevate and share those voices of discovery because they are authentic and true,” said Kevin Shapiro, SVP, US marketing in consumer beauty, Coty.

The report also found that the purchase funnel has collapsed, with the line between content and commerce becoming increasingly blurry. On average, across social media platforms, only 14 percent of purchases were planned.

It is evident that the rise of community commerce presents great potential for brands. However, it’s important for brands to stay true to the platform they choose and the creators they work with.

“We need to remember that people don’t go on social media to purchase — they go to interact, to check on their friends and favorite celebrities, to engage with content and follow their interests,” said Krinio Christaras, head of media and consumer experience MENAP, Mondelēz International.

She added: “With great content — be it user-generated content, the use of influencers, or brand content — that’s fit for the platform, you give them a great experience, and through that, you give them that opportunity to buy.”

FAST FACTS

On average, 77 percent say that social platforms help them get ideas about brands and products they’d never thought of before.

85 percent have purchased a product or service after seeing it advertised or reviewed on social media.

Social platforms inspire 70 percent of consumers to shop.

Across social media platforms, on average, only 14 percent of purchases were planned.

Content creators boost discovery (78 percent), educate and inform their audiences (76 percent), and inspire their audiences to try new products (73 percent).