Social media platforms doing little to combat online hate speech in the Arab world: Experts 

Precious little has been done in the Arab world to hold Facebook and other social networking platforms to account for distributing extremist ideas, bigoted views and hate speech. (AFP/File Photo)
Precious little has been done in the Arab world to hold Facebook and other social networking platforms to account for distributing extremist ideas, bigoted views and hate speech. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 09 October 2021

Social media platforms doing little to combat online hate speech in the Arab world: Experts 

Precious little has been done in the Arab world to hold Facebook and other social networking platforms to account for distributing extremist ideas, bigoted views and hate speech. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Testimony of whistleblower Frances Haugen confirms lax approach to combating online extremism 
  • Facebook insists its technology proactively identifies hate speech in over 40 languages, including Arabic

LONDON: For a platform with at least 2.91 billion “friends,” Facebook has been creating a lot of enemies of late, even among its own ranks.

Just this week, former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before members of the US Senate, delivering a scathing overview of how the world’s largest social networking site prioritizes profits over public safety.

This is in spite of its own extensive internal research, leaked to US media, which demonstrates the harm that Facebook and its products are causing worldwide to communities, democratic institutions and to children with fragile body image.

Yet, precious little has been done in the Arab world, for instance, to hold Facebook and other social networking platforms to account for the extremist ideas, bigoted views and hate speech that continue to find their way to millions of users across the region despite their supposed policing of content.

“With even just a quick search in Arabic, I found 38 groups or pages currently on Facebook with over 100 followers or likes that feature unmistakable references in their titles to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the most infamous example of anti-Jewish disinformation and hate speech in history,” David Weinberg, Washington director for international affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, told Arab News.

“One would think that if Facebook were even casually interested in proactively searching for horrific hate speech that blatantly violates its terms of service and could lead to deadly violence, that these sorts of pages would have been an easy place for them to start.”

Indeed, although Facebook removed millions of posts featuring hate speech from its platforms in 2020, it still has a lot of ground to cover, especially in languages other than English.

“Facebook has not fixed the real problem. Instead, it has created PR stunts. What Haugen said exposed all their wrongdoing,” Mohamad Najem, the Beirut-based executive director of SMEX, a digital rights organization focusing on freedom of expression, online privacy and safety, told Arab News.

“Unfortunately, all these threats are increasing and tech companies are doing the minimum about it.”




Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing entitled 'Protecting Kids Online: Testimony from a Facebook Whistleblower' on Capitol Hill, October 05, 2021 in Washington, DC. (AFP)

Responding to the allegation on Friday, a Facebook spokesperson told Arab News: “We do not tolerate hate speech on our platforms. Which is why we continue to invest heavily in people, systems and technology to find and remove this content as quickly as possible. 

“We now have 40,000 people working on safety and security at Facebook and have invested $13 billion into it since 2016. Our technology proactively identifies hate speech in over 40 languages globally, including Arabic. 

“Whilst we recognize there is more work to do, we are continuing to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of harmful content. 

“As our most recent Community Standards Enforcement Report showed, we’re finding and removing more hate speech on our platforms than ever before: the prevalence of hate speech — the amount of that content people actually see — on Facebook is now 0.05 percent of content viewed and is down by almost 50 percent in the last three quarters.”

Although Facebook has come under particular scrutiny of late, it is not the sole offender. The perceived laxity of moderation on microblogging site Twitter has also caused alarm.

Despite recently updating its policy on hate speech, which states that users must “not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin,” accounts doing just that are still active on the platform.




Major social media services including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were hit by a massive outage on October 4, 2021, tracking sites showed, impacting potentially tens of millions of users.  (AFP)

“For example, Iran’s supreme leader is permitted to exploit Twitter using a broad array of accounts, including separate dedicated Twitter accounts, for his propaganda, not just in Persian, Arabic and English but also in Urdu, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian and Hindi,” Weinberg said.

“Twitter also permits the accounts of major media organs of Iranian-backed violent extremist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Even Facebook hasn’t generally been that lax.”

Indeed, accounts in the Arab world, such as those of exiled Egyptian cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi and designated terrorist Qais Al-Khazali — both of whom have been featured in Arab News’ “Preachers of Hate” series — remain active and prominent, with the former accumulating 3.2 million followers.

In one of his hate-filled posts, Al-Qaradawi wrote: “Throughout history, God has imposed upon them (the Jews) people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was that of Hitler. This was a divine punishment for them. Next time, God willing, it will be done at the hands of the faithful believers.”

The failure to consistently detect hate speech in languages other than English appears to be a common problem across social networking sites.

As Haugen pointed out in her Senate evidence, Facebook has “documentation that shows how much operational investment there was by different languages, and it showed a consistent pattern of underinvestment in languages that are not English.”




Haugen left Facebook in May and provided internal company documents about Facebook to journalists and others, alleging that Facebook consistently chooses profit over safety. (Getty via AFP)

As a result, extremist groups have been at liberty to exploit this lax approach to content moderation in other languages.

The consensus among experts is that, in the pursuit of profits, social media platforms may have increased social division, inspired hate attacks and created a global trust deficit that has led to an unprecedented blurring of the line between fact and fiction.

“I saw Facebook repeatedly encounter conflicts between its own profits and our safety,” Haugen told senators during her testimony on Tuesday.

“Facebook consistently resolved these conflicts in favor of its own profits. The result has been more division, more harm, more lies, more threats and more combat. In some cases, this dangerous online talk has led to actual violence that harms and even kills people.

“As long as Facebook is operating in the shadows, hiding its research from public scrutiny, it is unaccountable. Until the incentives change, Facebook will not change. Left alone, Facebook will continue to make choices that go against the common good. Our common good.”

The influence of social media companies on public attitudes and trust cannot be overstated. For instance, in 2020, a massive 79 percent of Arab youth obtained their news from social media, compared with just 25 percent in 2015, according to the Arab Youth Survey.




Supporters of US President Donald Trump, including Jake Angeli, a QAnon supporter known for his painted face and horned hat, protest in the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

Facebook and other popular Facebook-owned products, such as Instagram and WhatsApp, which experienced an almost six-hour global outage on Monday, have been repeatedly linked to outbreaks of violence, from the incitement of racial hatred in Myanmar against Rohingya Muslims to the storming of the Capitol in Washington by supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump in January this year.

The company’s own research shows it is “easier to inspire people to anger than to other emotions,” Haugen said in a recent CBS News interview for “60 Minutes.”

She added: “Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click on fewer ads, they’ll make less money.”

Many have applauded Haugen’s courage for coming forward and leaking thousands of internal documents that expose the firm’s inner workings — claims that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said are “just not true.”

In recent months, the social networking site has been fighting legal battles on multiple fronts. In Australia, the government has taken Facebook to court to settle its status as a publisher, which would make it liable for defamation in relation to content posted by third parties.

Russia, meanwhile, is trying to impose a stringent fine on the social media giant worth 5-10 percent of its annual turnover in response to a slew of alleged legal violations.




Although Facebook removed millions of posts featuring hate speech from its platforms in 2020, it still has a lot of ground to cover. (AFP/File Photo)

Earlier this year, the G7 group of nations, consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, signed a tax agreement stipulating that Facebook and other tech giants, including Amazon, must adhere to a global minimum corporate tax of at least 15 percent.

In Facebook’s defense, it must be said that its moderators face a grueling task, navigating the rules and regulations of various governments, combined with the growing sophistication of online extremists.

According to Jacob Berntsson, head of policy and research for Tech Against Terrorism, an initiative launched to fight online extremism while also protecting freedom of speech, terrorist organization have become more adept at using social networking platforms without falling foul of moderators.

“I think to be very clear, Facebook can certainly improve their response in this area, but it is very difficult when, for example, the legal status of the group isn’t particularly clear,” Berntsson told Arab News.

“I think it all goes to show that this is massively difficult, and content moderation on this scale is virtually impossible. So, there are always going to be mistakes. There are always going to be gaps.”

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Twitter: @Tarek_AliAhmad


Facebook: Fake scientist used to spread anti-US propaganda

Facebook: Fake scientist used to spread anti-US propaganda
Updated 3 min 14 sec ago

Facebook: Fake scientist used to spread anti-US propaganda

Facebook: Fake scientist used to spread anti-US propaganda
  • Disinformation network with ties to China used hundreds of fake social media accounts to spread anti-US propaganda, Facebook said
  • China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said in the past that the country’s government does not employ trickery on social media
A disinformation network with ties to China used hundreds of fake social media accounts — including one belonging to a fictitious Swiss biologist — to spread an unfounded claim that the US pressured scientists to blame China for the coronavirus, Facebook said Wednesday.
The company based in Menlo Park, California, did not directly attribute the network to the Chinese government. But it noted employees of Chinese state-run companies, and the country’s state-run media, worked to amplify the misleading claims, which were soon the subject of news headlines in China.
“In effect it worked like an online hall of mirrors, endlessly reflecting the original fake persona and its anti-US disinformation,” according to Ben Nimmo, who leads investigations into disinformation at Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram.
The operation began in July, when a Facebook account was created in the name of Wilson Edwards, a self-professed Swiss biologist. That same day, the account user claimed, without evidence, that US officials were using “enormous pressure and even intimidation” to get scientists to back calls for renewed investigations into the origin of the virus.
Within hours, hundreds of other accounts — some of which were created only that day — began liking, posting or linking to the post. Many of the accounts were later found to be fake, with some of the users posing as westerners and others using likely fabricated profile photos. Facebook said it found links between the accounts and a tech firm based in Chengdu, China, as well as to overseas employees of Chinese infrastructure companies.
Within a week of the initial post, large media outlets in China were reporting on the claims of US intimidation as if they had been made by a real scientist.
The operation was exposed when Swiss authorities announced in August that they had no record of any biologist with Edwards’ name. “If you exist, we would like to meet you!” the Swiss embassy in Beijing tweeted.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said in the past that the country’s government does not employ trickery on social media. Efforts to contact the companies cited in the report weren’t immediately successful on Wednesday.
In all, Meta removed about 600 accounts on Facebook and Instagram that were linked to the network, Nimmo told reporters on a call Wednesday that touched on the company’s response to several disinformation networks around the world.
Facebook uncovered fake accounts affiliated with the network that had also waded into US politics last year, with some posting memes that both attacked and supported ex-President Donald Trump. One post on Instagram called him “the worst president ever!” The group behind the effort also created accounts on Twitter, which has since suspended the account supposedly created by Edwards.
Nimmo said the network was easily spotted by its clumsy tactics. Several of the fake accounts sent out identical posts at similar times — a clear indication of coordination. Another person apparently working for the network posted instructions for reposting the claim in what Facebook determined was likely a sloppy mistake.
China’s disinformation networks have consistently been haphazard, said Bret Schafer, who heads the information manipulation team at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a non-partisan think tank in Washington.
The network unearthed by Facebook show that the Chinese are still working on their influence campaign strategy, unlike Russia, which has spent decades crafting disinformation campaigns that target unwitting Americans online and go undetected for years.
“It didn’t take long for this to be unraveled,” Schafer said. “The Chinese are still a bit sloppier with what they do. I can’t imagine the Russians doing something like this, where they just create a persona out of thin air.”

Hia Magazine unveils 'Hia Hub'

Hia Hub logo (Supplied)
Hia Hub logo (Supplied)
Updated 01 December 2021

Hia Magazine unveils 'Hia Hub'

Hia Hub logo (Supplied)

RIYADH, KSA: Driven by its ongoing commitment to excellence, authenticity, and women empowerment, Hia magazine today announced the launch of Hia Hub. A unique experience, Hia Hub will bring to life a series of art, culture, and creative activations, lectures, and exhibitions in Jax District - Riyadh, running from 5- 20 December 2021.

Hia Hub will house a series of exclusive events curated to provide an exceptional experience including:

“Waha” exhibition by Sarah Shakeel: Artist Sarah Shakeel creates a unique artistic experience at Hia Hub through her exhibition “Waha”. Showcasing her renowned style that combines reality with imagination, Shakeel will take guests to a desert scene sparkling with crystals, where a tent covered with Swarovski crystals will display the artist’s creations.

For full details and timings of the exhibition, please visit www.hiamag.com/hiahub

The Valentino Exhibition: A unique showcase presenting Valentino’s new Party Collection. The new collection celebrates the gradual return to life in preparation for the end of year holiday season. A fun collection displayed in a very chic home party setting, which will inspire visitors to rediscover the glamourous couture of these special occasions. Select numbers of fashion students will also be able to visit the Valentino exhibition at Hia Hub to experience the work of this leading fashion house up close.

Hia Hub Talks: Hia magazine has always been a source of inspiration for Arab women on issues of fashion, beauty and creativity. Hia Hub will provide a creative space where inspiring stories are shared, and pioneering dialogues and discussions on issues that resonate with the contemporary woman will take place. Talks will be hosted by regional and global female leaders in fashion, arts and culture, including CEOs of organizations like Threads Styling, Tasami and 500 Startups MENA. The stellar list of participants includes the international model Candice Swanepoel, who will share her thoughts on how core values of sustainability and community empowerment can create positive impact on the environment. Prior registration at www.hiamag.com/hiahub is required to attend all Talks.

Shows, workshops and masterclasses: Guests and visitors of Hia Hub will have a unique opportunity to explore the latest collections and offers, presented in partnership with international luxury brands. Visitors will also have the opportunity to attend exclusive masterclasses and workshops conducted by renowned experts in the design and beauty field, including international stylist Dani Michelle, who works with some of the biggest international stars such as Kendall Jenner and Kourtney Kardashian, and will provide an exclusive masterclass that can be pre-registered through hiamag.com/hiahub.

Another key participant in Hia Hub is Quormoz, a renowned Saudi design house which focuses on heritage and culture to showcase the best of local creative talent.

Mai Badr, Editor-in-chief of Hia magazine said: “The launch of Hia Hub asserts Hia magazine’s ongoing commitment to supporting creativity, art and culture and what these values represent for empowered women. We are immensely proud of our legacy and through Hia Hub we can provide an unparalleled platform to empower women in the region and build ambitious goals to inspire them, showcase their success stories and highlight their achievements.”

Hia Hub will take place in Jax District, D9, Diriyah, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Visit www.hiamag.com/hiahub for more details and to register for events.


Fox News host criticized for comparing US chief medical adviser to Nazi doctor

Prominent Jewish groups and the Auschwitz Museum condemned Logan’s comments, describing them as “shameful.” (File/AFP)
Prominent Jewish groups and the Auschwitz Museum condemned Logan’s comments, describing them as “shameful.” (File/AFP)
Updated 01 December 2021

Fox News host criticized for comparing US chief medical adviser to Nazi doctor

Prominent Jewish groups and the Auschwitz Museum condemned Logan’s comments, describing them as “shameful.” (File/AFP)
  • Fox News host and commentator Lara Logan was on Tuesday criticized for comparing America’s chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci to Nazi doctor

LONDON: Fox News host and commentator Lara Logan was on Tuesday criticized for comparing America’s chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci to Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.

During “Fox News Primetime” on Monday the journalist said that people had told her that Fauci did not represent science but rather Mengele, who was known as the Angel of Death for the atrocities he committed while performing medical experiments at the Auschwitz death camp.

During the TV show, Logan said: “What you see on Dr. Fauci — this is what people say to me: That he doesn’t represent science to them. He represents Josef Mengele.

“Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who did experiments on Jews during the Second World War and in the concentration camps. And I am talking about people all around the world are saying this,” she added.

Prominent Jewish groups and the Auschwitz Museum condemned Logan’s comments, describing them as “shameful.”

Meanwhile, the American Jewish Committee called on Logan, 50, to apologize. On her comments it said: “Utterly shameful. Josef Mengele earned his nickname by performing deadly and inhumane medical experiments on prisoners of the Holocaust, including children.

“There is no comparing the hell these victims went through to public health measures. An apology is needed.”

Head of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, said: “There’s absolutely no comparison between mask mandates, vaccine requirements, and other COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) mitigation efforts to what happened to Jews during the Holocaust.”


STARZPLAY hosts ‘House of Gucci’ UAE premiere

STARZPLAY hosts ‘House of Gucci’ UAE premiere
Updated 01 December 2021

STARZPLAY hosts ‘House of Gucci’ UAE premiere

STARZPLAY hosts ‘House of Gucci’ UAE premiere
  • The biographical drama will be available to stream on STARZPLAY after its theatrical release

DUBAI: STARZPLAY, in association with Gulf Films, hosted the UAE premiere of American biographical crime drama “House of Gucci” at the NOVO 7-Star cinema at IMG Worlds of Adventure in Dubai.

The premiere was the first look for select guests before the film’s official release in UAE cinemas. Following its theatrical release, the movie will be available to stream exclusively on STARZPLAY.

Currently, the platform is streaming a biographical documentary about the same story, “Lady Gucci,” via the Discovery+ add-on channel. In the 75-minute documentary, the former Mrs. Gucci, Patrizia Reggiani, tells her story in an exclusive interview.

The latest film “House of Gucci” has a star-studded cast featuring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Salma Hayek, and Jared Leto and is directed by acclaimed director Ridley Scott, known for films such as “Blade Runner,” “Black Hawk Down,” and “The Martian.”

The move marks STARZPLAY’s dominance in the regional streaming market. This year alone, the platform has made deals that saw it enter the Asian market as well as strengthen its foothold in the Middle East through partnerships with Abu Dhabi Media and Turkish content companies.


Google to ban political advertising ahead of Philippine elections

Google to ban political advertising ahead of Philippine elections
Updated 01 December 2021

Google to ban political advertising ahead of Philippine elections

Google to ban political advertising ahead of Philippine elections
  • Move comes amid pressure on social media platforms over their handling of political advertising during the US presidential election in 2020

MANILA: Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Wednesday it will ban political advertising on its platform in the run-up to Philippine elections in May next year to choose a successor to President Rodrigo Duterte.
The move comes amid pressure on social media platforms over their handling of political advertising during the US presidential election in 2020.
Social media platforms have become political battlegrounds in the Southeast Asian nation, with studies showing Filipinos top the rankings globally for time spent on social media.
Election advertisements that promote or oppose any political party or the candidacy of any person or party for public office, would not be allowed to run between Feb. 8 to May 9, 2022, Google said in an update to its political content policy.
The dates cover the period of campaigning in the Philippines up to election day on May 9.
Google said notifications would be sent to affected advertisers about the policy update.
Google has banned political advertising on its platform before, including in Canada’s federal election in 2019 and before an election in Singapore in 2020.
Social media platforms like Facebook have helped strengthen Duterte’s support base, with analysts regarding them as instrumental in his election victory in 2016 and a rout by his allies in mid-term polls last year.
The Philippines will choose a successor to Duterte, who under the constitution is not allowed to seek another term, but will be standing for a senator’s seat.