Zuckerberg’s cash fuels GOP suspicion and new election rules

A spokesman for Zuckerberg declined to address the wave of new legislation. (File/AFP)
A spokesman for Zuckerberg declined to address the wave of new legislation. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 August 2021

Zuckerberg’s cash fuels GOP suspicion and new election rules

A spokesman for Zuckerberg declined to address the wave of new legislation. (File/AFP)
  • Conservatives have long accused the tech mogul’s social media platform of censoring right-wing voices as part of its campaign against misinformation
  • Zuckerberg’s money was largely distributed through a nonpartisan foundation that had liberal roots

DENVER: When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $400 million to help fund election offices as they scrambled to deal with the coronavirus pandemic late last summer, he said he hoped he would never have to do it again.
Republican legislatures are granting him that wish.
At least eight GOP-controlled states have passed bans on donations to election offices this year as Republicans try to block outside funding of voting operations. The legislation often comes as part of Republican packages that also put new limits on how voters can cast ballots and impose new requirements on county or city-based election officials.
The response is spurred by anger and suspicion on the right that Zuckerberg’s money benefited Democrats in 2020. Conservatives have long accused the tech mogul’s social media platform of censoring right-wing voices as part of its campaign against misinformation.
Zuckerberg’s money was largely distributed through a nonpartisan foundation that had liberal roots. Conservative groups cite analyzes that the money went disproportionately to Democratic-leaning counties in key states such as Florida and Pennsylvania.
“People saw that, and looked around, and they were increasingly concerned about why would you have a billionaire funding our elections through the backdoor,” said Jessica Anderson, executive director of the conservative group Heritage Action, which has pushed the bans in several states.
But many election officials say that effort short-sighted and fueled by paranoia. Election offices, they argue, are chronically underfunded and now cannot benefit from donations that still flow to so many other branches of government, including police, schools and libraries.
Furthermore, they say there is no sign of favoritism in the distribution of the grants from Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. Elections are more expensive in populous urban areas, and especially more so last year, when states scrambled to shift to mail voting to deal with the pandemic. Metro areas had to buy expensive equipment to open and sort mail ballots, a task that smaller, more GOP-leaning counties could do by hand or with less gear.
Also, Republican-leaning areas were already discouraged from accepting election grants due to conservative suspicion of Zuckerberg. The Republican attorney general of Louisiana last year ordered his state’s election offices to turn down grants from the nonprofit, the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which distributed $350 million of the Zuckerberg money.
“Every election department that applied, received funding,” said CTCL’s executive director, Tiana Epps-Johnson, adding that the distribution of the money “reflects those who chose to apply.”
A spokesman for Zuckerberg declined to address the wave of new legislation.
“When our nation’s election infrastructure faced unprecedented challenges last year due to the pandemic, Mark and Priscilla stepped up to close a funding gap and granted $350 million to the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonpartisan, 501 (c)(3) organization,” said Ben LaBolt. “Mark made clear this was a unique effort to address the unprecedented challenge of the pandemic and his preference for elections to be publicly funded.”
The center distributed grants to 2,500 election offices nationwide, from Alaska to Florida. The money was spent in a wide variety of ways — protective gear for poll workers, public education campaigns promoting new methods to vote during the pandemic, and new trucks to haul voting equipment.
In northern Arizona, sprawling Coconino County used its $614,000 grant to hire more election workers, particularly Navajo speakers who could do outreach on a reservation, and set up drive-up sites for voters to drop off ballots, said county recorder Patty Hansen.
She said it was the first time she had enough money to expand outreach to the entire county, which is among the biggest in land size in the country at 18,600 square miles but is sparsely populated.
“Because of the legislation passed and signed by the governor, we will never be able to get a grant like that ever again,” she said. “They’re cutting off a funding source to be able to provide these additional requirements they’re putting on us.”
Election officials have long complained they were underfunded, but never more so than last year when they had to instantly revamp their entire operations at the peak of the pandemic. There was a huge shift to mail voting, while even in-person voting required new protective measures, and hazard pay for poll workers.
Democrats pushed for an extra $2 billion for election offices in the initial coronavirus aid bill in April but only got $400 million. After a spring and summer of troubled primaries and partisan deadlock over more funding, Zuckerberg stepped in. He and Chan donated a total of $400 million to election offices — $350 million in the form of grants to local offices that were distributed through CTCL.
The selection of CTCL raised eyebrows among some conservatives because of the group’s roots. Some of its founders, including Epps-Johnson, once were at the New Organizing Institute, which provided data and training to liberal activists Still, CTCL has become respected among election officials and includes a Republican, Pam Anderson, former elected clerk of a suburban Denver-area county, on its board. In an interview, she said the group was “100 percent nonpartisan.”
Other Republican election officials have also vouched for the impartiality of the program. “I don’t see why governments should be barred from trying to work with the private sector in securing grant funds,” said Brian Mead, a Republican election director in Licking County, Ohio, outside Columbus, which received $77,000 from CTCL. “If we can work with the private sector and secure funds where we save our taxpayers money, I think that’s a good thing,” Mead said.
That did not mollify conservatives, especially after the initial grants went to major, Democratic-voting cities. In Pennsylvania, one of the central battlegrounds of the presidential election, Philadelphia, with an annual election budget of $12.3 million, received $10 million from CTCL. The conservative Foundation for Government Accountability found that in Pennsylvania, Democratic-voting counties received an average of $4.99 per voter, while Republican-voting ones got $1.12 per voter.
In Florida, the differential was also dramatic, with one-third of the $18 million in total money going to Democratic-leaning Palm Beach County, and an additional $2.4 million for Miami-Dade County, which backed Democrat Joe Biden, albeit more narrowly than expected. Republican Donald Trump won the state.
“If Charles Koch was doing this, well, for many of these people the shoe would be on the other foot,” said Hayden Dublois, a researcher at the Foundation for Government Accountability, referring to the conservative billionaire.
In some states, including Georgia and Texas, the new laws require all donations to local election offices to be distributed by the secretary of state. In Arizona, Kansas, Iowa and elsewhere, they are banned altogether.
Anderson, the Republican CTCL board member, said that will do real damage.
“If you want to block this funding, then I want to ask if the legislators are funding elections?” Anderson said. “Because so many states don’t.”


Instagram reveals new features to protect teens and support parents online

Instagram reveals new features to protect teens and support parents online
Updated 07 December 2021

Instagram reveals new features to protect teens and support parents online

Instagram reveals new features to protect teens and support parents online
  • Move comes after the social media platform came under scrutiny

DUBAI: Instagram has announced new additions to its safety features for teens, which will be rolled out next year.

The move comes after the social media platform came under scrutiny following research that was revealed by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen on how the platform affects teens.

The leaked research documents showed that 32 percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse; 13.5 percent of teen girls said Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse and 17 percent of teen girls said Instagram makes eating disorders worse.

Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, wrote in a blog post: “Every day I see the positive impact that Instagram has for young people everywhere. I’m proud that our platform is a place where teens can spend time with the people they care about, explore their interests, and explore who they are.

“I want to make sure that it stays that way, which means above all keeping them safe on Instagram.”

The new features seek to implement tighter controls on what is recommended to teens, barring people from tagging or mentioning teens who don’t follow them, nudging teens towards different topics if they’ve been dwelling on one topic for a long time, and tightening controls on search, explore, hashtags and suggested accounts recommendations. Teens will also be able to bulk delete content they have posted.

The new features aim to help parents to be more involved in their teens’ Instagram experience, starting March 2022, Mosseri said. Instagram has created an educational hub for parents and guardians, which will include additional resources, such as product tutorials and tips from experts, to help them discuss social media use with their teens.

In addition, Instagram is piloting a tool that will give teens the option to notify their parents if they report someone, thereby providing their parents the opportunity to talk about it with them.

Mosseri announced the launch of “Take a Break,” a new feature for teens, in US, UK, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. It is not being launched in the Middle East currently but will be introduced later as part of a phased rollout.

If someone has been scrolling for a certain amount of time, Instagram will ask them to “take a break” from the platform and suggest that they set reminders to take more breaks in the future. Instagram said early test results seem to be promising with 90 percent of teens keeping the reminders on once they set them.

“As always, I’m grateful to the experts and researchers who lend us their expertise in critical areas like child development, teen mental health and online safety, and I continue to welcome productive collaboration with lawmakers and policymakers on our shared goal of creating an online world that both benefits and protects many generations to come,” Mosseri said.


Rohingya refugees sue Facebook for $150 billion over Myanmar violence

Rohingya Muslim children refugees, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wait squashed against each other to receive food handouts at Thaingkhali refugee camp, Bangladesh on Oct. 21, 2017. (AP)
Rohingya Muslim children refugees, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wait squashed against each other to receive food handouts at Thaingkhali refugee camp, Bangladesh on Oct. 21, 2017. (AP)
Updated 07 December 2021

Rohingya refugees sue Facebook for $150 billion over Myanmar violence

Rohingya Muslim children refugees, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wait squashed against each other to receive food handouts at Thaingkhali refugee camp, Bangladesh on Oct. 21, 2017. (AP)
  • Facebook has said it is protected from liability over content posted by users by a US Internet law known as Section 230, which holds that online platforms are not liable for content posted by third parties

CALIFORNIA: Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are suing Meta Platforms Inc, formerly known as Facebook, for $150 billion over allegations that the social media company did not take action against anti-Rohingya hate speech that contributed to violence.
A US class-action complaint, filed in California on Monday by law firms Edelson PC and Fields PLLC, argues that the company’s failures to police content and its platform’s design contributed to real-world violence faced by the Rohingya community. In a coordinated action, British lawyers also submitted a letter of notice to Facebook’s London office.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment about the lawsuit. The company has said it was “too slow to prevent misinformation and hate” in Myanmar and has said it has since taken steps to crack down on platform abuses in the region, including banning the military from Facebook and Instagram after the Feb. 1 coup.
Facebook has said it is protected from liability over content posted by users by a US Internet law known as Section 230, which holds that online platforms are not liable for content posted by third parties. The complaint says it seeks to apply Burmese law to the claims if Section 230 is raised as a defense.
Although US courts can apply foreign law to cases where the alleged harms and activity by companies took place in other countries, two legal experts interviewed by Reuters said they did not know of a successful precedent for foreign law being invoked in lawsuits against social media companies where Section 230 protections could apply.
Anupam Chander, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, said that invoking Burmese law wasn’t “inappropriate.” But he predicted that “It’s unlikely to be successful,” saying that “It would be odd for Congress to have foreclosed actions under US law but permitted them to proceed under foreign law.”
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 after a military crackdown that refugees said included mass killings and rape. Rights groups documented killings of civilians and burning of villages.
Myanmar authorities say they were battling an insurgency and deny carrying out systematic atrocities.
In 2018, UN human rights investigators said the use of Facebook had played a key role in spreading hate speech that fueled the violence. A Reuters investigation https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/myanmar-facebook-hate that year, cited in the US complaint, found more than 1,000 examples of posts, comments and images attacking the Rohingya and other Muslims on Facebook.
The International Criminal Court has opened a case into the accusations of crimes in the region. In September, a US federal judge ordered Facebook to release records of accounts connected to anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar that the social media giant had shut down.
The new class-action lawsuit references claims by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who leaked a cache https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-whistleblower-says-transparency-needed-fix-social-media-ills-2021-12-03 of internal documents this year, that the company does not police abusive content in countries where such speech is likely to cause the most harm.
The complaint also cites recent media reports, including a Reuters report https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/information-combat-inside-fight-myanmars-soul-2021-11-01 last month, that Myanmar’s military was using fake social media accounts to engage in what is widely referred to in the military as “information combat.”


Local agency ThinkSmart launches creative content hub in Dubai, UAE

Local agency ThinkSmart launches creative content hub in Dubai, UAE
Updated 06 December 2021

Local agency ThinkSmart launches creative content hub in Dubai, UAE

Local agency ThinkSmart launches creative content hub in Dubai, UAE
  • Located in Al Quoz Creative Zone, the hub will support social media content creators

DUBAI: Dubai-based production and public relations company ThinkSmart has launched a creative content hub called the ThinkSmart Hub in Dubai’s Al Quoz Creative Zone.

Featuring a first-of-its-kind infrastructure, the hub aims to support and boost content creation for social media users on platforms including Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok, YouTube, and podcast platforms.

The launch of the hub comes after Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum announced that residents of the zone renovating their properties would be exempt from rent for up to two years.

“We endeavor to provide a thriving space that optimizes the creative bent of content creators,” said Lina Nihad Husri, CEO, ThinkSmart Hub.

The hub provides “novel ideas and support” to anyone in the social media space — from brands to individual creators — and houses “diverse themes and decorations under one roof to suit content needs,” she explained. The decor will change every quarter based on occasions and festivals to ensure that creators have enough diversity in their shoots.

Commenting on the location of the hub, Husri said: “We chose to be at the Al Quoz Creative Zone following its announcement and launch in April 2021 by Sheikh Hamdan…because it is an incubator for everyone in the field of content and art creation, and we want to be an integral part of this ecosystem and will offer complete support to all content creators and artists.”


Shahid VIP Mobile strikes exclusive partnership with Orange Morocco and Tunisia

Shahid VIP Mobile strikes exclusive partnership with Orange Morocco and Tunisia
Updated 06 December 2021

Shahid VIP Mobile strikes exclusive partnership with Orange Morocco and Tunisia

Shahid VIP Mobile strikes exclusive partnership with Orange Morocco and Tunisia
  • Shahid VIP Mobile will offer the best of the platform’s shows and movies

DUBAI: Shahid VIP, the premium subscription-based service of Shahid, is launching via a new mobile-only package in Morocco and Tunisia.

The service will be available through telecom operator Orange for approximately $2 in both countries. Users who sign up before the end of December will also receive a free two-month introductory offer with Orange Telecom.

Shahid VIP Mobile, which can be accessed either via a single smartphone or tablet device, will offer the best of the platform’s shows and movies, including the new hit Moroccan TV series “Hayat,” as well “Salmat Abou El Banat,” “Masha’aer,” “Stalk,” and “Inside.”

“Given that we are more connected than ever on mobile, it is only natural for the way we consume content to change and evolve,” said Natasha Matos-Hemingway, group chief commercial officer, video on demand, at MBC Group.

“We have found that many individuals and households now prefer to watch their favorite shows on their smartphone instead of the television, for example, which is why we are teaming up with key partners to provide more ways of accessing Shahid VIP,” she added.

The high smartphone penetration and data usage in the region have resulted in more and more viewers streaming content on their mobile devices. Subsequently, streaming services are optimizing the mobile experience be it through app development or partnerships with telecom partners.

Matos-Hemingway said: “There’s no doubt that there are more partnerships of this kind to come.”


Fatafeat to release 1st-ever podcast in partnership with Deezer

Fatafeat to release 1st-ever podcast in partnership with Deezer
Updated 06 December 2021

Fatafeat to release 1st-ever podcast in partnership with Deezer

Fatafeat to release 1st-ever podcast in partnership with Deezer
  • New episodes on Arabic food network will go live on Dec. 20

DUBAI: Middle Eastern food and lifestyle TV channel Fatafeat is to launch its first-ever podcast series in an exclusive collaboration with global audio streaming service Deezer.

Through the partnership deal, Fatafeat — which is part of Discovery Inc. — and Deezer aim to provide a high-quality food-related podcast in the region celebrating the best of Arabic cuisine.

Mazen Abdallah, director of international brand partnerships, Deezer. (Supplied)

Mazen Abdallah, Deezer’s director of international brand partnerships, said: “Our promise to our users has always been offering the largest and most diverse library in the region. We want to make sure our listeners can find all interesting content on Deezer, from music to self-help, history, business, or cooking.”

The podcast series, which will be available for streaming across the Middle East and North Africa region, will see new episodes dropping weekly featuring recipes, talk shows, songs, and comedy news.

Layla Tamim, head of ad sales and brand partnerships MENA, Discovery Inc. (Supplied)

Layla Tamim, head of ad sales and brand partnerships for the MENA region at Discovery Inc., said: “We are driven to help spur people’s passions. With food being such an integral part of Middle East life, we are extremely excited to announce our latest partnership between Fatafeat and Deezer.”

The first episode will go live on Dec. 20.