South Africa attempts to curb unrest through social media tracing

Stores and warehouses in South Africa were hit by looters on July 13, for a fifth day running despite the troops President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed to try to quell unrest that has claimed 72 lives. (AFP)
Stores and warehouses in South Africa were hit by looters on July 13, for a fifth day running despite the troops President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed to try to quell unrest that has claimed 72 lives. (AFP)
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Updated 14 July 2021

South Africa attempts to curb unrest through social media tracing

Stores and warehouses in South Africa were hit by looters on July 13, for a fifth day running despite the troops President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed to try to quell unrest that has claimed 72 lives. (AFP)
  • Current President Cyril Ramaphosa described the situation in the country as the worst protests since the end of apartheid

LONDON: Following days of violent protests, the South African government has turned to tracing social media platforms for content that incites violence on Wednesday to crack down on demonstrators and spiralling unrest.

The government urged social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to trace and remove posts of those inciting violence and looting.

Prompted by the jailing of former President Jacob Zuka, protests erupted in the country last week as frustrations aggravated over poverty, corruption and inequality. Protests soon turned violent and left more than 72 people dead and a further 1,300 in prison. 

Current President Cyril Ramaphosa described the situation in the country as the worst protests since the end of apartheid.

According to the South African police minister, Bheki Cele, a group of ministers are “monitoring all social media platforms and we are tracking those who are sharing false information and calling for civil disobedience.”

Using social media platforms as means to contain violence is not new. In Cuba, a similar decision by the government restricted access to social media sites including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Telegram as anti-government protests erupted. 

Countries across Africa, such as eSwatini, Senegal, Nigeria, Uganda, Niger, and the DRC, have increasingly been using tracking software, internet shutdowns and social media monitoring during protests and elections.

Africa Check, a fact-checking organization, indicated that some of the videos and pictures shared on social media to depict the South African protests are actually from other countries.

A similar phenomenon recently took place during May’s resurgence of the Palestine-Israel conflict, where social media platforms flagged several photos with a “media manipulation warning” and “false information” as those photos were depicting entirely different contexts.

One warning was on a video posted by a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supposedly showing Hamas firing rockets towards Israel during the latest round of violence. The clip was in fact posted on YouTube in 2018 and the description said it was filmed in the Syrian city of Daraa.


Palestinian activist twins feature in 2021 TIME 100 list 

The siblings, along with their family, were threatened with forceful removal from their home in Sheikh Jarrah by Israeli settlers. (AFP)
The siblings, along with their family, were threatened with forceful removal from their home in Sheikh Jarrah by Israeli settlers. (AFP)
Updated 3 min 3 sec ago

Palestinian activist twins feature in 2021 TIME 100 list 

The siblings, along with their family, were threatened with forceful removal from their home in Sheikh Jarrah by Israeli settlers. (AFP)
  • Palestinian rights activists and twins Muna and Mohammed El-Kurd have been named in TIME magazine’s 2021 list of the 100 most influential people in the world

LONDON: Palestinian rights activists and twins Muna and Mohammed El-Kurd have been named in TIME magazine’s 2021 list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

For the past few months, the 23-year-old twins have provided the world with a window into living under occupation in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, becoming the faces of a global campaign to halt forcible displacement.

The siblings, along with their family, were threatened with forceful removal from their home in Sheikh Jarrah by Israeli settlers last April, an action which sparked the following tension and conflict that unfolded in Palestine.

In June this year, the siblings were temporarily detained and questioned by Israeli forces over their activism.

A month before that, tensions in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood spilled into the nearby Old City, where Israeli forces attacked worshipers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Hamas militants in Gaza responded with attacks on Israel.

“Through online  posts and media appearances, sibling activists Mohammed and Muna El-Kurd provided the world with a window into living under occupation in East Jerusalem this spring — helping to prompt an international shift in rhetoric in regard to Israel and Palestine,” TIME said.

Mohammad El-Kurd, took to twitter to say that although being named to the list was a “positive” development, “symbolism is not enough to truly support the Palestinian cause.” 

Recently, Mohammed El-Kurd was named the Palestinian Correspondent for The Nation magazine in the US after urging the publication to start a Palestinian bureau.

 


Facebook should be fined if it withholds evidence of harm to platform users: UK MPs

The fine could cost Facebook around £6 billion. (File/AFP)
The fine could cost Facebook around £6 billion. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 min 38 sec ago

Facebook should be fined if it withholds evidence of harm to platform users: UK MPs

The fine could cost Facebook around £6 billion. (File/AFP)
  • British MPs say social networking giant Facebook should face heavy fines if it withheld evidence that the platform had caused harm to users
  • Leaked internal documents showed that 13 percent of British users and 6 percent of American users who have had suicidal thoughts actually traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram

LONDON: British MPs on Wednesday said social networking giant Facebook should face heavy fines if it withheld evidence that the platform had caused harm to users.

Damian Collins, a Conservative MP and chair of the joint committee on the draft online safety bill, said: “If they have important information like this and they kept that information from the regulator then I think they should be punished.

“There would be fines. The bill creates a duty of care. If there are harms being caused and a company is trying to hide that information from the regulator, then that would be quite a serious breach in duty of care,” he added.

The bill proposes fines of up to 10 percent of a company’s annual turnover, which in Facebook’s case would be around £6 billion ($8.27 billion).

Facebook is under political pressure following reports that the platform knew its subsidiary company, Instagram, was harming the mental health of teenage girls.

Leaked internal documents showed that 13 percent of British users and 6 percent of American users who have had suicidal thoughts actually traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram.

Social media firms are required under the draft bill to submit to Ofcom, the British communications watchdog, a risk assessment of content that causes harm to users.

The new revelation comes as social media platforms face increased criticism for failing to maintain online safety.

On Saturday, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick accused tech giants of making it harder to identify and stop terrorists. She warned that the heavily relied upon end-to-end messaging encryption feature was making it “impossible in some cases” for the police to do their jobs.

And British Home Secretary Priti Patel recently launched the new Safety Tech Challenge Fund for technologies to keep children safe online, particularly to protect them from sex abuse.


‘No journalist should die’: EU calls for better media safety

“No journalist should die or be harmed because of their job,” said Vera Jourova, the commission vice president for values and transparency. (AFP)
“No journalist should die or be harmed because of their job,” said Vera Jourova, the commission vice president for values and transparency. (AFP)
Updated 16 September 2021

‘No journalist should die’: EU calls for better media safety

“No journalist should die or be harmed because of their job,” said Vera Jourova, the commission vice president for values and transparency. (AFP)
  • The EU asks member countries to better protect journalists amid rise in physical attacks and online threats against media professionals
  • 908 journalists and media workers were attacked across the 27-nation bloc in 2020

BRUSSELS: The European Union’s executive arm asked its member countries Thursday to better protect journalists amid a rise of physical attacks and online threats against media professionals.
According to the European Commission, 908 journalists and media workers were attacked across the 27-nation bloc in 2020. A total of 23 journalists have been killed in the EU since 1992, with the majority of the killings taking place over the past six years.
“No journalist should die or be harmed because of their job. We need to support and protect journalists; they are essential for democracy,” said Vera Jourova, the commission vice president for values and transparency. “The pandemic has showed more than ever the key role of journalists to inform us. And the urgent need for public authorities to do more to protect them.”
Murders of reporters remain rare in Europe, but the killings of journalists in Slovakia and Malta in recent years have raised concerns about reporters’ safety in developed, democratic societies.
Earlier this year, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen expressed support to investigative journalism after the killing of Peter R. de Vries, a renowned Dutch journalist who reported on the violent underworld of the Netherlands.
The commission’s non-binding proposals include recommendations for EU countries to ensure fair and effective investigations and prosecutions, and to provide protection to those under threat, with a strong focus on female journalists.
According to the EU, 73 percent of female journalists have experienced online violence and the commission said EU countries should “support initiatives aimed at empowering women journalists and professionals belonging to minority groups and those reporting on equality issues.”
The bloc’s executive arm also proposed the creation of support services, including helplines, legal advice, and psychological support. It insisted on the need to ensure reporters’ safety during demonstrations, where most of the attacks take place.
“Member states should provide regular training for law enforcement authorities to ensure that journalists and other media professionals are able to work safely and without restrictions during such events,” the commission said.
Noting that digital and online safety has become a “major concern” because of online attacks but also the risks of illegal surveillance, the executive branch also encouraged EU countries to improve cooperation between media and cybersecurity bodies.
“Relevant national cybersecurity bodies should, upon request, assist journalists who seek to determine whether their devices or online accounts have been compromised, in obtaining the services of cybersecurity forensic investigators,” the commission said.
The proposals were unveiled just months after the commission’s annual report on adherence to the rule of law concluded that democratic standards were eroding in several member countries. That report notably singled out Slovenia, which currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the European Council, for attacks against the Balkan nation’s media.
“This is not only Slovenia, we see the very aggressive rhetoric in some other member states,” Jourova said, adding that the EU will keep putting pressure on member countries where continuous issues are spotted.


Twitter ban in Nigeria to end ‘very soon’, information minister says

The Twitter ban would be removed before the end of this year. (File/AFP)
The Twitter ban would be removed before the end of this year. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 September 2021

Twitter ban in Nigeria to end ‘very soon’, information minister says

The Twitter ban would be removed before the end of this year. (File/AFP)
  • Nigeria to end its ban on Twitter in a “few more days,” according to information minister
  • The government suspended Twitter after it removed a post from President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish regional secessionists

ABUJA: Nigeria said on Wednesday it expects to end its ban on Twitter in a “few more days,” raising hopes among users eager to return to the social media platform three months after the suspension took effect.
The ban, announced in June, has hurt Nigerian businesses and drawn widespread condemnation for its damaging effect on freedom of expression and the ease of doing business in Africa’s most populous nation.
But Information Minister Lai Mohammed told a post cabinet media briefing the government was aware of the anxiety the ban had created among Nigerians.
“If the operation has been suspended for about 100 days now, I can tell you that we’re just actually talking about a few, just a few more days now,” Mohammed said without giving a time frame.
When pressed further, Mohammed said authorities and Twitter officials had to “dot the I’s and cross the T’s” before reaching a final agreement.
“It’s just going to be very, very soon, just take my word for that,” he said.
The government suspended Twitter after it removed a post from President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish regional secessionists.
It was a culmination of months of tension. Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey’s posts encouraging donations to anti-police brutality protests last October and Twitter posts from Nnamdi Kanu, a Biafran separatist leader currently on trial in Abuja, infuriated authorities.
Last month, Mohammed told Reuters the Twitter ban would be removed before the end of this year, adding that the government was awaiting a response on three final requests made of the social media platform.
The ban is just one area of concern for free speech advocates. Nigeria dropped five spots, to 120, in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, which described Nigeria as one of the most dangerous and difficult West Africa countries for journalists.


WhatsApp launches test of in-app business directory

In recent years, WhatsApp also has also launched shopping tools like product catalogs and shopping carts. (File/AFP)
In recent years, WhatsApp also has also launched shopping tools like product catalogs and shopping carts. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 September 2021

WhatsApp launches test of in-app business directory

In recent years, WhatsApp also has also launched shopping tools like product catalogs and shopping carts. (File/AFP)
  • WhatsApp launches a new feature to make it possible to search for businesses within its app for the first time
  • The feature will be tested in São Paulo, Brazil, and will allow users to find shops and services through a directory in the app

LONDON: Facebook’s messaging service WhatsApp on Wednesday launched a new feature to make it possible to search for businesses within its app for the first time, the company told Reuters.
The test in São Paulo, Brazil, which allows WhatsApp users to find shops and services through a directory in the app, is the latest feature in Facebook’s drive to bolster ecommerce on its services.
“This could be ... the primary way that people start a commerce process in WhatsApp,” Matt Idema, Facebook’s vice president of business messaging, said in an interview this week.
WhatsApp, unlike Facebook and Instagram, does not run ads in its app. Idema said previously businesses were promoting their WhatsApp numbers on packaging or websites or using Facebook ads to bring users into chats on WhatsApp.
The messaging service has increasingly courted business users, with a specialized app for small firms and an API, or type of software interface, for larger businesses to connect their systems, which generates revenue.
As online retail has continued to boom during the COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook has pushed in-app shopping features across its apps. In June, Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s Shops feature would expand to WhatsApp in several countries. In recent years, WhatsApp also has also launched shopping tools like product catalogs and shopping carts.
WhatsApp said the new test would include thousands of businesses in categories like food, retail and local services across certain São Paulo neighborhoods. Idema said India and Indonesia were good next candidates to expand the feature.
The company, which has faced user backlash amid confusion over privacy updates and was fined by the Irish data protection regulator over privacy breaches, said it will not know or store the location of people’s search or results through the new directory feature.
Idema did not rule out the possibility that WhatsApp could introduce in-app ads in the future.
“There’s definitely a route on ads, which is Facebook’s core business model, that over the long term I think in some form or another will be part of the business model for WhatsApp,” he said. WhatsApp says about one million advertisers currently use Facebook and Instagram’s ‘click to WhatsApp’ ads to send users to the messaging app.
Idema said WhatsApp, which Facebook bought for $19 billion in a landmark 2014 deal but which has been slow to monetize its features, was also excited about non-ad models like building software to help businesses to manage their services across Facebook’s apps.