Facebook wrongfully suppressed Palestinians during May violence, says HRW

During the fierce escalation in fighting between Palestinian militants and Israeli troops, many Palestinians took to social media to highlight injustices. (Reuters/File Photo)
During the fierce escalation in fighting between Palestinian militants and Israeli troops, many Palestinians took to social media to highlight injustices. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 08 October 2021

Facebook wrongfully suppressed Palestinians during May violence, says HRW

During the fierce escalation in fighting between Palestinian militants and Israeli troops, many Palestinians took to social media to highlight injustices. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, censored content documenting alleged human rights violations by Israel
  • In one case, Facebook’s automatic censor removed content because it mentioned al-Aqsa mosque

LONDON: An investigation by Human Rights Watch has found that social media giant Facebook wrongfully silenced Palestinian content, including documentation of Israeli human rights violations, during the flare-up in violence that occurred in May this year.

“Facebook has wrongfully removed and suppressed content by Palestinians and their supporters, including about human rights abuses carried out in Israel and Palestine during the May 2021 hostilities,” HRW said on Friday.

During the fierce escalation in fighting between Palestinian militants and Israeli troops, many Palestinians took to Facebook and other social media platforms, such as Instagram — which is owned by Facebook — to document what they viewed as violations of human rights by Israeli forces.

But soon, observers noticed that engagement on their content was low, and in some cases, posts were removed entirely from the networks.

In one instance, HRW said, Instagram deleted a photograph of a destroyed building, which was captioned: “This is a photo of my family’s building before it was struck by Israeli missiles on Saturday May 15, 2021. We have three apartments in this building.”

In another case, Instagram “removed the reposting of a political cartoon whose message was that Palestinians are oppressed and not fighting a religious war with Israel.”

Following an internal investigation, Facebook admitted that it made errors in some of its decisions, but HRW said the “company’s acknowledgment of errors and attempts to correct some of them are insufficient and do not address the scale and scope of reported content restrictions.”

Nor do they “adequately explain why they occurred in the first place,” HRW added.

In one perplexing instance, Instagram removed a screenshot of headlines and photos from three New York Times opinion articles for which the Instagram user added commentary that urged Palestinians to “never concede” their rights. 

HRW said that the post “did not transform the material in any way that could reasonably be construed as incitement to violence or hatred.”

All those uploads were removed for containing hate speech or symbols of hate speech. “These removals suggest that Instagram is restricting freedom of expression on matters of public interest,” HRW said.

In other instances, Facebook attached warnings of “upsetting” content to some posts that raised awareness of human rights issues and did not include violence or racism.

Some seemingly well-intentioned filtering tools ultimately contributed to the silencing of Palestinian voices. According to Buzzfeed News, some posts were censored for mentioning “Al-Aqsa mosque” — one of the holiest sites in Islam and the most revered place for Muslims in Jerusalem — because there is a terrorist group named the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. 

“This kind of automatic content removal hampers journalism and other writing, and jeopardizes the future ability of judicial mechanisms to provide remedy for victims and accountability for perpetrators of serious crimes,” said HRW.

Deborah Brown, senior digital rights researcher and advocate at HRW, said: “Facebook has suppressed content posted by Palestinians and their supporters speaking out about human rights issues in Israel and Palestine.

 “With the space for such advocacy under threat in many parts of the world, Facebook censorship threatens to restrict a critical platform for learning and engaging on these issues.”

HRW suggested that Facebook conducts an independent investigation into the censorship during the conflict, and said that the social media company must make the findings of any investigation available to the public.


Meta removes Iran-based fake accounts targeting Instagram users in Scotland

Meta removes Iran-based fake accounts targeting Instagram users in Scotland
Updated 44 sec ago

Meta removes Iran-based fake accounts targeting Instagram users in Scotland

Meta removes Iran-based fake accounts targeting Instagram users in Scotland
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.

TikTok advises advertisers to ‘lean in’ this Ramadan

Short-form video platform TikTok held a virtual session this week for advertisers planning their media budgets for Ramadan. (Supplied)
Short-form video platform TikTok held a virtual session this week for advertisers planning their media budgets for Ramadan. (Supplied)
Updated 20 January 2022

TikTok advises advertisers to ‘lean in’ this Ramadan

Short-form video platform TikTok held a virtual session this week for advertisers planning their media budgets for Ramadan. (Supplied)
  • Short-form video platform shares data and tips for advertising during holy month

DUBAI: Short-form video platform TikTok held a virtual session this week for advertisers planning their media budgets for Ramadan.

Historically, the holy month has attracted big money from advertisers, as consumers spend more on everything from household goods to luxury gifts in the period leading up to Ramadan as well as throughout the month.

Up to 75 percent of Muslims say they would like brands to cater to them during the fasting period, yet one-third of online users in MENA and Turkey block digital ads.

This reveals a disconnect between what audiences want and what brands are providing, according to Dana El Hassan, platform strategist at TikTok.

Brands need to be “part of the conversation and community” in order to provide an uninterrupted online experience for consumers, she said.

This is especially true on TikTok, where 61 percent of users believe brands are part of the open community.

El Hassan said that brands should focus on culture, content and commerce in order to integrate with the TikTok community.

A total of 89 percent of users look to TikTok for ideas on home decor, iftar and fashion during Ramadan, giving brands the chance to be a part of the cultural nuances of the month.

Last year, the entertainment category grew 1.7 times during Ramadan, which means brands have an opportunity to engage with a community seeking distraction, said El Hassan.

Additionally, over 50 percent of TikTok users agree that the platform has helped them decide what to buy and they spend 66 percent more on shopping than non-TikTok users during Ramadan.

The platform’s “entertaining, creative-centric and community-led content allows brands to turn inspiration into action, driving consumers to add to cart but also to heart,” added El Hassan.

Once brands decide to be on TikTok, they need to be mindful of their strategy.

Yasmin Mustafa, brand strategy lead, cautioned advertisers against adopting the same approach throughout the month. “Users’ attitudes and behaviors change and shift,” she said. Users are in preparation mode before Ramadan, and in a more celebratory mood toward the end of the month.

TikTok serves as a “stabilizer” by “providing lighthearted content and a sense of togetherness, enabling people to celebrate together,” added Mustafa. This is reflected in the numbers, with users remaining hyper-engaged throughout the month.

“If brands want to be relatable this Ramadan, they need to acknowledge the various sub-moments of Ramadan that are normally forgotten,” she said.

After brands have understood the audience mindset, content is key.

“Create with a TikTok-first mindset,” advised Rita Wehbe, head of the Shop, TikTok’s in-house service offering for brands. One such way is using sound effectively. For example, last year telco Orange’s Ramadan tune was used in 87,000 videos by TikTok users.

Lea Bitar, client partner at TikTok, said that third-party research shows the platform is 10 times more cost-efficient in driving brand awareness and consideration than TV, which typically dominates media spending during the holy month.

Last Ramadan, TikTok campaigns delivered 2.6 times more ad memorability and five times more purchase motivation than industry standards. The platform also drove an average lift of 4.1 percent in offline sales, according to a study conducted last Ramadan on three household and personal care brands in Saudi Arabia.

A winning Ramadan strategy includes planning, optimizing and measuring, said Bitar.

Brands can plan for impact by leveraging TikTok’s suite of solutions and selecting the right mix to hit their business goals and optimize their approach by using new features that the platform will add during Ramadan, such as affinity targeting and dayparting.


Home Centre unveils new brand identity, opening of 2 stores in KSA

Home Centre unveils new brand identity, opening of 2 stores in KSA
Updated 20 January 2022

Home Centre unveils new brand identity, opening of 2 stores in KSA

Home Centre unveils new brand identity, opening of 2 stores in KSA
  • Home furnishings retailer celebrates 25th anniversary by revealing new logo, growth proposition

DUBAI: Home furnishings retailer Home Centre has launched a new customer-centric campaign to mark its 25th anniversary celebrations.

As well as the “Inspired by You” campaign, the company has unveiled a new brand logo and proposition as part of its continued growth plan.

With more than 70 stores throughout the Middle East and North Africa region and Indian subcontinent, the firm aims to strengthen its value and provide products, services, and experiences based on customer demands, senior executives said during a virtual event.

The coronavirus pandemic has seen many home dining tables turned into workstations and living rooms becoming playgrounds. The rapid change in consumer habits has resulted in a boom in house moves and home renovations, contributing to making 2021 the Home Centre’s best ever year, its chief executive officer, Sameer Jain, told the online gathering.

The versatility of home spaces had been reflected in the brand’s products, stores, and brand identity with a logo designed to take on many different forms, he said.

Home Centre bosses maintain that Saudi Arabia is an important market for the company with more than 70 percent of its staff (of which 50 percent are women) in the country being Saudi nationals in line with its commitment to Vision 2030 objectives for the diversification of employment opportunities and creation of jobs for women in the Kingdom’s private sector.

The firm plans to open new stores in Hail and Makkah, which will take its total number of outlets in Saudi Arabia to 30 and will be launching a new concept store in Mirdif, Dubai, which is set to be the largest in the Middle East at more than 80,000 square feet.

The new stores aim to offer a different shopping experience to customers with inspirational rooms and a strategic layout designed to display furniture and coordinated home accessories in proximity. In addition, the stores offer click-and-collect and personalized design services.

Despite the significant investment in retail stores, Jain told Arab News that e-commerce had seen strong growth over the last two years. He pointed out that being customer-centric meant that “we don’t want to decide how you shop; we want you to decide how you shop.”

He noted that Home Centre was one of the fastest-growing home retail brands in the e-commerce space.

“We started our e-commerce journey nearly seven years ago, and today we have double-digit revenues coming from e-commerce in all our markets and they are tending to grow even higher in some markets like Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” Jain added.


Online Controversy: Israeli comedian’s viral satirical video mocking UAE normalization divides viewers

Noam Shuster-Eliassi, who speaks Arabic fluently and is a strong advocate of Palestinian rights, criticized the peace agreement between Israel and the UAE. (Facebook)
Noam Shuster-Eliassi, who speaks Arabic fluently and is a strong advocate of Palestinian rights, criticized the peace agreement between Israel and the UAE. (Facebook)
Updated 20 January 2022

Online Controversy: Israeli comedian’s viral satirical video mocking UAE normalization divides viewers

Noam Shuster-Eliassi, who speaks Arabic fluently and is a strong advocate of Palestinian rights, criticized the peace agreement between Israel and the UAE. (Facebook)
  • The song “Dubai, Dubai” was performed by Israeli comedian and activist Noam Shuster-Eliassi

LONDON: An Arabic-language satirical Israeli song criticising normalization between Israel and the UAE has gone viral in the Middle East this week, causing a stir online.

The song “Dubai, Dubai” was performed by Israeli comedian and activist Noam Shuster-Eliassi and appeared as part of a comedy sketch on the Arabic-language station Makan 33’s “Shu-Esmo” program.

Shuster-Eliassi, who speaks Arabic fluently and is a strong advocate of Palestinian rights, criticized the peace agreement between Israel and the UAE, highlighting the hypocrisy of Israel’s position on Arab countries. 

The parody song begins with the comedian introducing herself as “Haifa Wannabe,” a reference to the famous Arab singer Haifa Wehbe. 

Shuster-Eliassi then goes on to say that she’s “going to sing an original song I wrote in Arabic in celebration of the peace treaty with Dubai, but in general — it’s very important for me to send out a message of love and peace, particularly if it is found 4,000 kilometers away from here.”

The song’s lyrics include: “At the end of the tunnel there is light, and if only all of the Arabs, like those who are in Dubai who have money, would love the people of Israel and not throw us into the sea.

“There is nothing quite like Arabs who have millions, and who have forgotten the members of their people who underwent a Naqba, who have forgotten Palestine. In Dubai, they forgot the siege on Gaza, how nice would it be if only all the Arabs were from Dubai.”

Noam Shuster-Eliassi told Arab News: "People around the world are not used to hearing Israelis in Arabic. And if they do it’s usually for intelligence purposes, I’m a comedian and my role is to make people think critically and laugh and I use my Arabic to do so as well

"So it’s not something common that a Jewish girl uses her mic to criticize what is going on here but I’m super proud and happy to be part of an all Arabic speaking satire show that is not afraid to make sketches like that.”

The song went viral on Arab media outlets sparking a storm from supporters, particularly on social media sites. 

One user, Ahmad Ghanim, tweeted: “The song is a mix of Hebrew and Arabic, and speaks of cooperation between UAE and Israel against the Palestinians. It also speaks about how Arabs have forgotten about Palestine and the suffering of its people. We sincerely appreciate what (the singer) is doing.”

Another said: “This is the best thing I’ve seen on Twitter in a while.” 

Meanwhile, Shuster-Eliassi tweeted: “Have you ever recovered from covid for the 2nd time while causing a diplomatic incident with a viral video mocking a ‘peace’ agreement between 2 governments who were never at conflict, trade weapons anyways and ignore Palestinian human right? Don’t try this at home.” 

 


‘Building bridges’: Annahar opens Dubai bureau

Annahr Al-Arabi opened offices in Dubai. (Supplied)
Annahr Al-Arabi opened offices in Dubai. (Supplied)
Updated 19 January 2022

‘Building bridges’: Annahar opens Dubai bureau

Annahr Al-Arabi opened offices in Dubai. (Supplied)

LONDON: Lebanon’s Annahar Media Group announced on Wednesday the opening of its Dubai bureau, aimed at consolidating its longstanding presence in the Arab world.

“We’re building the bridges that we dream about between Lebanon and the Arab world and the Gulf,” Annahar CEO Nayla Tueni told Arab News. “I salute all the journalists who are fighting for survival in Lebanon.”

Lebanon’s ties with Arab Gulf states deteriorated over the course of 2021. Diplomats from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other countries were recalled following comments by Lebanon’s then-information minister in which he praised the Iran-backed Houthi militia and criticized the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen. Before that, Lebanon’s then-foreign minister blamed Saudi Arabia for the rise of Daesh.

Deciding on launching a physical presence in Dubai after such a turbulent political year between Lebanon and the Gulf is a way to showcase how the country’s political squabbles do not represent its citizens, Tueni said.

During the opening ceremony at the Dubai Press Club, Mona Al-Marri, director general of the Government of Dubai Media Office, described the opening as a “historic moment” that “will take digital media to a whole new level in the Arab region” and “consolidates relations with the UAE.”

The announcement comes as newspapers in Lebanon struggle to keep their doors open in light of the country’s economic crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ramifications of the 2020 Beirut Port blast.

Annahar Al-Arabi, the newspaper’s latest edition that focuses on pan-Arab coverage, launched on August 4, 2020, the same day of the port explosion that left hundreds dead and thousands injured and homeless.