Iranians fear new bill will restrict Internet even further

Iranians fear new bill will restrict Internet even further
As the coronavirus ravages Iran, a growing number of people have turned to Instagram to make a living. (AP)
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Updated 04 August 2021

Iranians fear new bill will restrict Internet even further

Iranians fear new bill will restrict Internet even further
  • The law would also criminalize the sale and distribution of virtual private networks and proxies
  • Bill has yet to be approved by Iran’s hard-liner dominated parliament, but it is already stirring anxiety among young Iranians

TEHRAN: For Ali Hedieloo, a 40-year-old making wooden furniture in Iran’s capital, Instagram is more than just a surfeit of glossy images. Like an estimated 1 million other Iranians, it’s how he finds customers, as the app has exploded into a massive e-commerce service in the sanctions-hit country.
But now, the social media platform has come under threat. Iran moved last week toward further government restrictions on Instagram and other apps, as hard-line lawmakers agreed to discuss a bill that many fear will undermine communication, wipe out livelihoods and open the door to the banning of key social media tools.
“I and the people working here are likely to lose our jobs if this bill becomes effective,” said Hedieloo from his dimly lit workshop in the southern suburbs of Tehran, where he sands bleached wood and snaps photos of adorned desks to advertise.
The bill has yet to be approved by Iran’s hard-liner dominated parliament, but it is already stirring anxiety among young Iranians, avid social media users, online business owners and entrepreneurs. Iran is a country with some 94 million Internet devices in use among its over 80 million people. Nearly 70 percent of Iran’s population uses smartphones.
Over 900,000 Iranians have signed a petition opposing the bill. The protest comes at a tense time for Iran, with Ebrahim Raisi, the former judiciary chief and hard-line protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, assuming the country’s highest civilian position this week. Journalists, civil society advocates and government critics have raised the alarm about the possible increase of social repression once he takes office.
The draft legislation, first proposed this spring by conservative lawmakers, requires major foreign tech giants such as Facebook to register with the Iranian government and be subject to its oversight and data ownership rules.
Companies that host unregistered social media apps in Iran would risk penalties, with authorities empowered to slow down access to the companies’ services as a way to force them to comply. Lawmakers have noted that the crippling US sanctions on Iran make the registration of American tech companies in the country impossible, effectively ensuring their ban.
The law would also criminalize the sale and distribution of virtual private networks and proxies — a critical way Iranians access long-blocked social media platforms like Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and YouTube. It also would bar government officials from running accounts on banned social media platforms, which they now use to communicate with citizens and the press. Even the office of the supreme leader has a Twitter account with over 890,000 followers.
And finally, the bill takes control of the Internet away from the civilian government and places it under the armed forces.
The bill’s goal, according to its authors, is to “protect users and their rights.” Hard-liners in the government have long viewed social messaging and media services as part of a “soft war” by the West against the Islamic Republic. Over time, Iran has created what some have called the “halal” Internet — the Islamic Republic’s own locally controlled version of the Internet aimed at restricting what the public can see.
Supporters of the bill, such as hard-line lawmaker Ali Yazdikhah, have hailed it as a step toward an independent Iranian Internet, where “people will start to prefer locally developed services” over foreign companies.
“There is no reason to worry, online businesses will stay, and even we promise that they will expand too,” he said.
Internet advocates, however, fear the measures will tip the country toward an even more tightly controlled model like China, whose “Great Firewall” blocks access to thousands of foreign websites and slows others.
Iran’s outgoing Information Technology Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, whom the hard-line judiciary summoned for prosecution earlier this year over his refusal to block Instagram, warned that the bill would curtail access to information and lead to full-blown bans of popular messaging apps. In a letter to Raisi last month, he urged the president-elect to reconsider the bill.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Social media is a highly contested space in Iran, where the government retains tight control over newspapers and remains the only entity allowed to broadcast on television and radio. Over recent years, anti-government protesters have used social media as a communication tool to mobilize and spread their message, prompting authorities to cripple Internet services.
During the turmoil in the fall of 2019, for instance, the government imposed a near-complete Internet blackout. Even scattered demonstrations, such as the recent protests over water shortages in Iran’s southwest, have seen disruptions of mobile Internet service.
But many ordinary Iranians, reeling from harsh American sanctions that have severed access to international banking systems and triggered runaway inflation, remain more preoccupied with the bill’s potential financial fallout.
As the coronavirus ravages Iran, a growing number of people like Hedieloo have turned to Instagram to make a living — tutoring and selling homemade goods and art. Over 190,000 businesses moved online over the past year.
Although much about the bill’s fate remains uncertain, experts say it already has sent a chill through commerce on Instagram, where once-hopeful users now doubt they have a future on the app.
“I and everyone else who is working in cyberspace is worried,” said Milad Nouri, a software developer and technology analyst. “This includes a teenager playing online games, a YouTuber making money from their channel, an influencer, an online shop based on Instagram.”
He added: “Everyone is somehow stressed.”


South African Muslim woman becomes head of oldest media watchdog

South African Muslim woman becomes head of oldest media watchdog
Updated 18 September 2021

South African Muslim woman becomes head of oldest media watchdog

South African Muslim woman becomes head of oldest media watchdog
  • Khadija Patel, an investigative journalist and fourth-generation Muslim of Asian background, is the first female Chair of the International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Patel, an investigative journalist, was editor in chief of South African’s Mail & Guardian and is now active in mentoring young journalists

AMMAN: South Africa’s leading media figure has been elected as the 35th chairperson of the International Press Institute, the world’s oldest media watchdog.

Khadija Patel, an investigative journalist and fourth-generation Muslim of Asian background, became the first woman, first non-European/American and first Muslim to ever become chair of the prestigious organization.

Set up in 1950 in New York City by 34 male editors and publishers and one female editor, the Vienna-based press institute has, in addition to Khadija, two other women in leadership positions: Italian Barbara Trionfi as executive director and Jordanian Etaf Roudan as an executive board member.

Speaking at the Vienna City Hall, Patel related her upbringing in South Africa where Muslim women were not encouraged to enter the media field. 

“I was 12 when I told my mother that I wanted to become a journalist,” Patel told fellow journalists from around the world. “After a long pause, my mother said journalism is not an appropriate career for Muslim women.”

In addition to becoming an investigative journalist, Patel was editor in chief of South African’s Mail & Guardian and is now active in supporting young journalists in her position as head of programs for South Africa’s International Fund for Public Interest Media.

Speaking about the profession, Khadija said being a journalist is the best job in the world. “The pay is not great, but it brings joy to its practitioners. Stories about repression, stories about abuse of power, stories about corruption need also to exist. 

“We are complex beings. Our experiences are complex because there is no singular Hungarian or South African or Belarusian experience. Despite the complexity, journalism does allow us to understand each other better to bring joy to each other. 

“For me, it is a bridge to inform, and at its most basic level, it is a bridge for each other. In a time when hatred abounds, journalism allows us to be nice to each other and to bring joy to each other.”

Patel told Arab News: “I’m humbled by the volume of support that has greeted the news of my election to this position. I hope that I can repay that support by ensuring the IPI is led well during a particularly trying time for journalists around the world. And I hope we can inspire new generations of journalists around the world to do the same.”

Trionfi said: “We are thrilled to welcome Khadija Patel as IPI’s new board chair and greatly look forward to working with her to address the challenges facing independent journalism across the globe. 

“It is no surprise that Khadija earned the trust of her fellow board members to take over the chair position, and her deep experience as a journalist and editor make her perfectly suited to this role.”

Separately, the IPI General Assembly elected 10 new executive board members, including five journalists from the Arab region: 

Raheem Adedoyin, chairman, editorial board, Herald Newspapers, Nigeria. 

Walid Batrawi, media and communications expert, Palestine.

John Daniszewskivice president, Standards, editor at large, The Associated Press, US.  

Mбrton Gergely, editor in chief, HVG, Hungary. 

Emre Kızılkaya, project editor of journo.com.tr, Turkey. 

Elizaveta Osetinskaya, journalist and media manager, founder of The Bell, Russia.  

Etaf Roudan, Radio Al-Balad manager, Community Media Network, Jordan. 

Hiroki Sugita, columnist and associate executive director, Kyodo News, Japan. 

Jussi Tuulensuusenior editor in chief, Aamulehti, Finland. 

Sami Zeidan, principal presenter, Al Jazeera Media Network, Qatar.


‘Wall of Grief’ project by Indian journalists documents hidden toll of pandemic

 A health worker inoculates a man with a dose of Covishield vaccine against the Covid-19 coronavirus at a vaccination centre in Srinagar on September 17, 2021. (AFP)
A health worker inoculates a man with a dose of Covishield vaccine against the Covid-19 coronavirus at a vaccination centre in Srinagar on September 17, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 18 September 2021

‘Wall of Grief’ project by Indian journalists documents hidden toll of pandemic

 A health worker inoculates a man with a dose of Covishield vaccine against the Covid-19 coronavirus at a vaccination centre in Srinagar on September 17, 2021. (AFP)
  • “The projection of Gujarat itself after extrapolating the data is 218,000 — far higher that what the government claims”

NEW DELHI: A group of Indian journalists are documenting the everyday information of their dead compatriots in the wake of a devastating second wave of COVID-19 in the subcontinent earlier this year.
The online memorial project, “Wall of Grief,” aims to show the reality of the situation, which saw hundreds of thousands of Indians killed, according to official data. However, some suspect that the true number could be much higher.
Wall of Grief was launched in late August by The Reporters’ Collective, which says its aim is to “visualize the scale” of casualties amid the pandemic.
The project is supported by independent news agency 101Reporters and the Delhi-based National Foundation for India, an independent grant organization for public welfare and social transformation.
It functions as a database and a public depository containing the name, age, gender, occupation, and place of, and date of death, of each COVID-19 victim.
“We want to document all the deaths that have gone unacknowledged and unaccounted for,” one of the project’s coordinators, Tapasya, told Arab News on Friday.
The idea emerged when the collective went to work on a story about underreported COVID-19 deaths in the western Indian state of Gujarat. When reporters analyzed excess deaths data from a few dozen municipalities that covered only 6 percent of the state’s population, the number of deaths was about 16,000, compared with the 10,000 that the government had cited as Gujarat’s total coronavirus death toll.
“The data from Gujarat was quite shocking for me,” Tapasya said. “The projection of Gujarat itself after extrapolating the data is 218,000 — far higher that what the government claims.”

FASTFACTS

• Database shows name, age, gender and occupation of ‘untold’ COVID-19 victims.

• Official figures say disease has killed 440k people in India, but many say real number could be up to 11 times higher.

According to official figures, the pandemic has claimed more than 440,000 lives in India, most of them during the deadly second wave between March and June this year.
While their own count is still ongoing, the TRC have so far recorded death statistics in 13 of India’s 28 states.
“If from only one state you have almost half of the national figure of 440,000, then the overall result is going to be very shocking,” Tapasya warned.
Their expectations are supported by a study released earlier this week by the University of Michigan, the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata and Delhi School of Economics, which projected the country’s actual death toll to be between four and 11 times higher than official number.
Led by epidemiologist Bhramar Mukherjee, the study warned that India could have lost up to 4.9 million people to the disease.
Despite requests by Arab News, Indian Health Ministry officials and representatives of the government-run Indian Council for Medical Research declined to comment on COVID-19 death figures.
“Everyone knows that no matter what the official figures are, the actual number is much more,” Mayank Aggarwal, who leads Wall of Grief with Tapasya, told Arab News.
But for Aggarwal, the purpose of the project is not only formal documentation.
“This project should trigger conversations and bring people together to question the system and make it more accountable,” he said.
It is also meant to help open spaces for those who are grieving lost family members and friends, he added.
“We wanted to have a common space where people can come together and share their grief — a space that does not allow us to forget what happened to us.”


Who streams the most content in Saudi Arabia?

Who streams the most content in Saudi Arabia?
Updated 17 September 2021

Who streams the most content in Saudi Arabia?

Who streams the most content in Saudi Arabia?
  • YouGov’s latest research sheds light on streamers’ content consumption and habits 

DUBAI: The last two years have seen an unprecedented rise in the popularity of streaming services, and Saudi Arabia is no exception.

The latest research from analytics firm YouGov shows that Generation Z audiences are the most regular users of streaming services in KSA, with 72 percent claiming to use any catch-up or streaming service on a regular basis.

The study found that there is an inverse relationship between age and on-demand streaming, which means that younger audiences stream the most content. After Gen Z, millennials are the most regular consumers of streaming services (69 percent), followed by Generation X (61 percent) and baby boomers (45 percent).

Despite the growth of regional streaming services, Netflix appears to be the most popular streaming service in Saudi Arabia, with 37 percent of residents using it.

The global streaming giant is widely favored by younger audiences. Compared to the overall online population in the country, nearly three in five (59 percent) Gen Z streamers claim to use Netflix, followed by 56 percent of millennials.

Consumption of other streaming platforms is also much higher among these young adults. Compared to the overall online population, millennial streamers are heavier consumers of Amazon Prime (19 percent) and Shahid (24 percent).

When looking closely at the attitudes of streamers, the study found that streaming has massively affected how these audiences consume TV.

Fifty percent of Gen Z streamers and 46 percent of millennials agree with the statement, “Live TV is a thing of the past,” while 48 percent of millennial streamers said that streaming services have changed TV watching for them, versus 43 percent of Gen Z streamers. The latter, however, have been raised in the digital age, with streaming more native to them than TV watching.

Nearly half of Gen Z streamers (49 percent) claim people reach out to them regarding suggestions for new music, movies and TV shows. When it comes to attitudes toward watching films, nearly a quarter of Gen Z streamers say they prefer to watch movies via pay-to-own or pay-to-view streaming services, even though watching films in cinemas or theatres is their top preference.

It is fairly evident that the younger generation is used to having media “on-demand,” suggested the report, presenting a huge opportunity for streaming services in the Kingdom.


Reporter refused entry to Lebanon’s presidential palace to cover cabinet meeting

Al Jadeed correspondent Layal Saad during her live broadcast minutes after she was denied entry to Baabda Presidential Palace to cover the Lebanese cabinet's meeting. (Al Jadeed)
Al Jadeed correspondent Layal Saad during her live broadcast minutes after she was denied entry to Baabda Presidential Palace to cover the Lebanese cabinet's meeting. (Al Jadeed)
Updated 17 September 2021

Reporter refused entry to Lebanon’s presidential palace to cover cabinet meeting

Al Jadeed correspondent Layal Saad during her live broadcast minutes after she was denied entry to Baabda Presidential Palace to cover the Lebanese cabinet's meeting. (Al Jadeed)
  • Layal Saad said she was barred because of a previous incident in which she was verbally abused for referring to the president as ‘Aoun’ and not ‘his excellency President Aoun’
  • Al-Jadeed TV said it will take legal action because Baabda Palace is ‘the people’s palace’ and ‘the law doesn’t prohibit any citizen from entering any public facility’

BEIRUT: A Lebanese journalist was denied entry to Baabda Presidential Palace to cover a cabinet meeting on Thursday because of an incident that happened there last month.

In a live report, Al-Jadeed TV reporter Layal Saad said she was told by a representative of the palace’s press office that she could not enter the building. She added that she “was not allowed to do her journalistic duty” because of the previous confrontation.

Saad, who has covered events at the palace for five years, was reportedly subjected to verbal abuse by a security officer on Aug. 21. At the time she said that while the podium was being prepared for speeches, the officer overheard her asking colleagues, in reference to President Michel Aoun, ‘Is Aoun giving a speech?’ The man came up to her, she added, stood very close and spoke to her angrily and abusively, telling her: “You address him by saying ‘his excellency the president, General Michel Aoun,’ and not just ‘Aoun.’”

Saad said this incident was the reason why she was denied entry to the palace on Thursday. In a live broadcast she said: “Some of the palace’s staff and presidential advisors called me after August’s incident and apologized, saying it was a mistake that shouldn’t have happened.”

She added that was told the officer should not have spoken to her because only press office staff should deal with journalists.

“The employee (who refused to let Saad into the palace on Thursday) told me that the previous incident remains unresolved,” she said. “The president’s media advisor, Rafic Chlala, is the one who asked him to notify me that I could not enter the palace to cover the meeting … they didn’t want anyone from the security staff to speak to me.”

Saad added that she was told to ask her employers to send another correspondent.

Al-Jadeed TV responded to the palace by firmly stating it “will not assign any colleague to replace Layal Saad. It is not a matter of alternatives anymore but rather it has become about the core of freedoms and the transformation of Baabda palace into a tool of suppressing words and existence.”

Saying “Layal Saad or nobody,” it added: “Facing this ban, the channel finds itself compelled to file a lawsuit against the pertinent authorities at Baabda Palace, which is the people’s palace. The law doesn’t prohibit any citizen from entering any public facility.”

Saad told Arab News that palace staff must not be allowed to treat the building as “their own private house because it’s a public facility and any citizen can enter.”

She added that although she is not personally taking legal action against palace authorities, her employers intend to.

“The lawsuit will be lodged against any staff and advisors involved in issuing the ban and I am not sure if that includes the presidency … that’s up to the lawyers to talk about it,” she said.

The president’s press office said the management of Al-Jadeed had been asked to replace Saad with another reporter, and that other journalists had been assigned to cover the palace recently without any problems.

It added that Al-Jadeed was reminded that the same restriction continued to apply as a result of the incident in August, but this time the channel sent Saad anyway to cover the cabinet session and she was asked to leave.


Facebook to target harmful coordination by real accounts using playbook against fake networks

Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. (File/AFP)
Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 September 2021

Facebook to target harmful coordination by real accounts using playbook against fake networks

Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook is taking a more aggressive approach to shut down coordinated groups of real-user accounts engaging in certain harmful activities
  • The move could have major implications for how the social media giant handles political and other coordinated movements

LONDON: Facebook is taking a more aggressive approach to shut down coordinated groups of real-user accounts engaging in certain harmful activities on its platform, using the same strategy its security teams take against campaigns using fake accounts, the company told Reuters.
The new approach, reported here for the first time, uses the tactics usually taken by Facebook’s security teams for wholesale shutdowns of networks engaged in influence operations that use false accounts to manipulate public debate, such as Russian troll farms.
It could have major implications for how the social media giant handles political and other coordinated movements breaking its rules, at a time when Facebook’s approach to abuses on its platforms is under heavy scrutiny from global lawmakers and civil society groups.
Facebook said it now plans to take this same network-level approach with groups of coordinated real accounts that systemically break its rules, through mass reporting, where many users falsely report a target’s content or account to get it shut down, or brigading, a type of online harassment where users might coordinate to target an individual through mass posts or comments.
The expansion, which a spokeswoman said was in its early stages, means Facebook’s security teams could identify core movements driving such behavior and take more sweeping actions than the company removing posts or individual accounts as it otherwise might.
In April, BuzzFeed News published a leaked Facebook internal report about the company’s role in the Jan. 6 riot on the US Capitol and its challenges in curbing the fast-growing ‘Stop the Steal’ movement, where one of the findings was Facebook had “little policy around coordinated authentic harm.”
Facebook’s security experts, who are separate from the company’s content moderators and handle threats from adversaries trying to evade its rules, started cracking down on influence operations using fake accounts in 2017, following the 2016 US election in which US intelligence officials concluded Russia had used social media platforms as part of a cyber-influence campaign — a claim Moscow has denied.
Facebook dubbed this banned activity by the groups of fake accounts “coordinated inauthentic behavior” (CIB), and its security teams started announcing sweeping takedowns in monthly reports. The security teams also handle some specific threats that may not use fake accounts, such as fraud or cyber-espionage networks or overt influence operations like some state media campaigns.
Sources said teams at the company had long debated how it should intervene at a network level for large movements of real user accounts systemically breaking its rules.
In July, Reuters reported on the Vietnam army’s online information warfare unit, who engaged in actions including mass reporting of accounts to Facebook but also often used their real names.
Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. Others have criticized the company over allegations of censorship, anti-conservative bias or inconsistent enforcement.
An expansion of Facebook’s network disruption models to affect authentic accounts raises further questions about how changes might impact types of public debate, online movements and campaign tactics across the political spectrum.
High-profile instances of coordinated activity around last year’s US election, from teens and K-pop fans claiming they used TikTok to sabotage a rally for former President Donald Trump in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to political campaigns paying online meme-makers, have also sparked debates on how platforms should define and approach coordinated campaigns.