MOSCOW: A Moscow court on Thursday again fined Google for failing to remove banned content as foreign tech giants face mounting pressure in Russia.
In recent months, Russia has been taking legal action against foreign tech companies for not deleting content banned by the authorities, including pornographic material or posts deemed extremist or condoning drugs or suicide.
On Thursday, the Tagansky district court slapped Google with three fines totalling six million rubles ($80,850) for the violation, according to the official Telegram channel of Moscow courts.
Earlier this week, the US company was hit with five other fines totalling 14 million rubles over the same charges.
Last month Google was fined three million rubles for breaching data storage laws.
According to the RIA Novosti news agency, Google has so far been fined 32.5 million rubles in Russia.
It was the first time the company was penalized under the controversial law that requires the personal data of Russian users to be stored on servers within Russia.
Moscow has recently ramped up pressure on foreign tech companies, especially social networks, after accusing them early this year of not removing posts calling for minors to join protests in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Facebook has been handed fines for failing to remove illegal content, while Twitter has had its service speeds in Russia throttled.
In recent years, the Russian government has also been tightening control over the Internet under the pretext of fighting extremism and protecting minors.
But government critics have denounced official oversight of the web as a means to stifle debate and silence dissent.
Turkish court orders imprisonment of journalist Sadaf Kabas for ‘insulting’ Erdogan
The law on insulting the president carries a jail sentence of between one and four years
Updated 23 January 2022
ANKARA: A Turkish court on Saturday ordered well-known journalist Sedef Kabas to be jailed pending trial on a charge of insulting President Tayyip Erdogan, CNN Turk said, targeting her with a law under which tens of thousands have been prosecuted.
Police detained Kabas at around 2 a.m. (2300 GMT) and took her first to Istanbul's main police station before transferring her to the city's main courthouse, where a court subsequently ruled in favour of her formal arrest, the broadcaster said.
The alleged insult was in the form of a palace-related proverb that Kabas expressed both on an opposition television channel and on her Twitter account, drawing condemnation from government officials.
"The honor of the presidency's office is the honor of our country... I condemn the vulgar insults made against our president and his office," Fahrettin Altun, head of Turkey's Communications Directorate, wrote on Twitter.
Merdan Yanardag, chief editor of the Tele 1 channel on which Kabas made the comment, sharply criticised her arrest.
"Her detention overnight at 2 a.m. because of a proverb is unacceptable," he wrote on Twitter. "This stance is an attempt to intimidate journalists, the media and society."
The law on insulting the president carries a jail sentence of between one and four years.
Last October, Europe's top human rights court called on Turkey to change the legislation after ruling that a man's detention under the law violated his freedom of expression.
Thousands have been charged and sentenced over the crime of insulting Erdogan in the seven years since he moved from being prime minister to president.
In 2020, 31,297 investigation were launched in relation to the charge, 7,790 cases were filed and 3,325 resulted in convictions, according to Justice Ministry data. Those numbers were slightly lower than the previous year.
Since 2014, the year Erdogan became president, 160,169 investigations were launched over insulting the president, 35,507 cases were filed and there were 12,881 convictions.
MSNBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin condemns media bias towards Israel
MSNBC and Peacock TV host discusses why paying attention to “smaller” stories between Israel and Palestine explains the wider conflict
Updated 22 January 2022
DUBAI: MSNBC anchor Ayman Mohyeldin repeatedly condemned the mainstream media bias towards Israel, saying “the media only pays attention when war breaks out between Israel and Hamas.”
During his segment on Peacock TV, Mohyeldin discussed a number of "small" stories that went under the radar including the American citizen who was found dead after being held in Israeli custody and the anti-occupation activist killed after being struck by an Israeli police truck.
It seems like the media only pays attention when war breaks out between Israel and Hamas.
If you want to understand why those larger conflicts erupt, @AymanM explains you first need to pay attention to these “smaller” stories that go under the radar. pic.twitter.com/6M6UEU0loQ
Last week, a prominent activist named Suleiman al-Hathaleen from the South Hebron Hills was hit by a police tow truck after blocking its path, dying a few days later after succumbing to his wounds.
Meanwhile, an elderly Palestinian American named Omar Assad Majid this month died shortly after being detained by Israeli forces. Reports suggest he died of a heart attack while in handcuffs.
Mohyedldin demanded an investigation of his treatment, blasting the US’ mild response to the matter after it said it was seeking “clarification” from Israeli authorities.
“If this would have happened in the UK, is that all we would have said? That we're seeking clarification?” he wondered aloud.
Finally, Mohyeldin touched on the latest eviction in Sheikh Jarrah, where Israeli police destroyed this week a Palestinian family’s home that has been at the center of an anti-forced expulsion campaign in the town east of Jerusalem.
“If you want to understand why those larger conflicts erupt [between Israel and Hamas], you must first pay attention to these “smaller” stories that go under the radar,” he said.
Vistas Media Acquisition Co. shareholders approve business combination with Anghami
Vistas Media Acquisition Co. shares rose more than 20 percent in premarket trading on Friday
Updated 21 January 2022
NEW YORK: Shareholders of Vistas Media Acquisition Co. on Wednesday voted to approve a business combination with Anghami, one of the leading music streaming platforms in the Middle East and North Africa region.
The proposal was supported by approximately 98 percent of the publicly traded special-purpose acquisition firm’s shareowners.
The special meeting vote followed last year’s announcement by the companies of the launch of Vibe Music Arabia, a joint venture record label between Sony Music Entertainment Middle East, and Anghami.
Vistas Media Acquisition Co. shares rose more than 20 percent in premarket trading on Friday after the approval announcement, according to Market Watch.
Should flaunting wealth on social media be deemed vulgar?
Rise of luxury content on social media reflects different reality as businesses struggle in post-pandemic world
Updated 22 January 2022
DUBAI: With 1 million followers, Busra Duran’s Instagram presence is nothing short of a fairytale. From traveling through Moscow to sipping drinks in Dubai, Duran is living the life of a classic luxury influencer in the Middle East.
In fact, it is why she moved from Turkey to Dubai. “This is where the big brands are,” her husband Gokhan Gunduz told The Guardian. “She’s showing off her lifestyle in Dubai, to attract people. It’s not just Busra who benefits — Dubai benefits too.”
Duran is, of course, one of the many social media influencers whose accounts are flooded with pictures and videos of exotic locations, fancy restaurants, the latest beauty treatments, and so on.
The same is true for many Lebanese influencers whose Instagram accounts tell stories of travel, food, beauty, and shopping. There is, of course, no mention of closed businesses, lost jobs, ill health, or abandoned homes. The reality of the country’s condition is betrayed by its social media accounts.
Lebanon’s economy contracted by 20 percent in 2020, according to data from the World Bank, and 35 percent of businesses shut down stores or closed branches in 2021, according to the Beirut Traders Association.
The Lebanese are a resilient people. Through bombings and assassinations, the country has survived, and its people have found success and happiness in Lebanon and other countries.
However, now, with the Lebanese pound trading on the black market at nearly 20 times its value two years ago, many are struggling to afford even basic necessities, let alone a holiday or fancy night out. The economic situation in the country is the worst it has been in more than 150 years. Prices have skyrocketed in Lebanon, which imports more than 80 percent of its basic goods.
But such stories are not posted on Instagram.
Flaunting wealth on social media can have a dire impact on the emotional and mental well-being of users — especially when people are struggling for basic necessities and businesses are shutting down.
Aditi Bhatia, a lecturer in psychology at Middlesex University Dubai, told Arab News: “At a time when many have suffered financial losses themselves, seeing wealth or luxury being flaunted on social media is likely to remind people of their own inadequacies and also create a false impression of their peer group.”
“We live in a world in which many people across the globe are without basic necessities or otherwise in need, and that’s an unfortunate reality in both good times and bad,” said Dubai-based influencer Becky Jefferies. “But I don’t see social media as a cause — or solution — to economic challenges on a micro or macro level.”
“That said, I do feel that influencers should assume a certain level of responsibility when it comes to how they utilize their personal platforms. Many of them have earned the trust of a mass audience and should therefore be mindful about doing the right thing, such as not tolerating or spreading hate, or not feeding into unrealistic beauty standards,” Jefferies added.
Despite several influencers and celebrities trying to show the reality of life on social media, much of the content tends to highlight the good parts of their lives, not the bad. “People tend to selectively share a higher number of personal successes online than failures,” Bhatia said.
She noted that the social comparison theory suggested “that humans have an innate need to compare themselves with others, in order to make sense of their own abilities and social standing.”
According to the theory, people either made upward comparisons by comparing themselves to those they considered better or more successful, or downward comparisons by comparing themselves to those they felt were worse off or less successful.
“Individuals who tend to make more upward social comparisons can experience a range of negative mental health effects such as low self-esteem, increased stress, self-harm, depressive symptoms, and loneliness,” Bhatia added.
In February last year, Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, announced it had banned almost 4,000 users for deliberately showing off their wealth. In November, Xiaohongshu, an app similar to Instagram, said its team had disciplined 240 accounts since May for posting “wealth-bragging content.”
The moves are part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s nationwide effort to redistribute wealth. Authorities have ordered social media platforms to remove any content that flaunts wealth, although the standards for determining content that qualifies are vague.
Speaking at a news conference last year, Zhang Yongjun, a senior official at China’s cyberspace administration, said: “The standard is the effect the content has. Can the spread of this content inspire people to be healthy, ambitious, and work harder for a beautiful life? Or does it cater to people’s vulgar desires?”
Despite the potential ill-effects of flaunting wealth on social media, regional authorities seem unlikely to regulate such content.
Fiona Robertson, partner, head of Cedar White Bradley’s media and technology practice, said: “China doesn’t allow a lot of content that we would consider benign. And that’s just the very controlling nature of the Chinese government, which we don’t have here.”
She pointed out that every country and government had its “thing” when it came to media regulation.
“The UK, for example, is very big on defamation. In this region, privacy is a big thing and breaching that privacy is taken very seriously. In the US, they take nudity in mainstream media very seriously.
“It’s just common worldwide and everyone has these rules that they have to comply with,” she added.
The region does have other rules, however, that social media influencers are expected to comply with. Last year, a Bangladeshi waiter in Dubai was sentenced to six months in prison after he added fake gunshots to a TikTok video.
Soon after, a social media influencer was jailed for three months and fined 100,000 Emirati dirhams ($27,225) following video footage that showed him driving a luxury vehicle at more than 205 kilometers an hour in Abu Dhabi. The passenger who recorded him also received a similar fine and both men were suspended from driving for six months and the car and their phones were confiscated. They were also banned from using their social media accounts for six months.
The Commercial Compliance and Consumer Protection sector in Dubai Economy fined a car showroom last October for a misleading campaign that offered cars with special specifications, benefits, and gifts for consumers buying through a social media influencer.
“Dubai Economy holds the trader responsible for any misleading campaign found on the social media account of the company or conducted through a social media promoter,” the CCCP said in a statement.
Robertson said that liability often lay with the brand that the influencer was working with, an important consideration when brands used foreign influencers. “The influencers themselves are not licensed underneath our local laws so effectively, they haven’t necessarily signed up to the compliance that the brands themselves should and would have,” she added.
Around 85 percent of luxury consumers use social media, with each using an average of three platforms, according to a Deloitte study. It is no surprise then that social media plays a huge role for luxury brands, just like influencers play a huge role within social media.
“It’s important to keep in mind that many influential social accounts are just another medium for brands to reach people,” said Jefferies. “Faulting influencers for posting about their experiences would arguably be like denouncing brands for advertising premium goods and services.
“The fact that social media can encourage audiences to get out of their houses and try that new restaurant, shop at that new local boutique, or travel to that cool destination, it’s a positive thing — including for the economy,” added Jefferies.
On TikTok, for instance, users like to share specifics on what they are buying and make recommendations to their audiences leading to the hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, which amassed 4.6 billion views in 2021.
In the US alone, Generation Zs and millennials represent approximately $350 billion of spending power, according to management consulting firm McKinsey. These younger consumer groups — the biggest users of social media — have unprecedentedly higher spending power today. And while that may not be reflected in the world’s economies, it is on social media.
“Social media today has evolved to serve many roles beyond connecting people and providing a source of entertainment, one of which is giving individuals a voice and enabling access to information that could otherwise be censored, carefully spun, or filtered out by traditional news outlets,” said Jefferies.
She added: “Some influential users choose to use their platform in a positive way and some don’t. If some followers find certain types of content to be offensive or tone-deaf, they have the freedom to unfollow, just like we all have the freedom to share or say anything (in accordance with each platform’s respective community guidelines) — and that’s the beauty of social media.”
Meta removes Iran-based fake accounts targeting Instagram users in Scotland
The network used fake accounts to pose as locals in England and Scotland
The accounts posted commentary about Scottish independence and organized their content around common hashtags promoting the cause
Updated 20 January 2022
DUBAI: Facebook parent Meta Platforms removed a network of fake accounts that originated in Iran and targeted Instagram users in Scotland with content supporting Scottish independence, the company’s investigators said on Thursday.
The network used fake accounts to pose as locals in England and Scotland, posting photos and memes about current events and criticism of the United Kingdom’s government, Meta said.
The accounts posted commentary about Scottish independence and organized their content around common hashtags promoting the cause, though they at times misspelled them, the company said. The accounts also posted about football and UK cities, likely to make the fictitious personas seem more authentic.
The network used photos of media personalities and celebrities from the UK and Iran as well as profile pictures likely created through AI techniques, Meta said.
In a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, Scots voted 55 percent-45 percent to remain in the United Kingdom, but both Brexit and the British government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis have bolstered support for independence among Scots and demands for a second vote.
Meta said its investigation found links to individuals in Iraq, including people with a background in teaching English as a foreign language.
It said the operation had some connections with a small Iran-based network it previously removed in December 2020, which mostly targeted Arabic, French and English-speaking audiences using fake accounts, but did not provide further details on who might be behind the activity.
“We’ve seen a range of operations coming from Iran over the last few years,” said Ben Nimmo, Meta’s global threat intelligence lead for influence operations, in a press briefing. “It’s not a monolithic environment.”
The social media company said it had removed eight Facebook accounts and 126 Instagram accounts as part of this network in December for violating its rules against coordinated inauthentic behavior.