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


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 19 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.”

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.


New podcast ‘Decision Points’ to highlight world-changing moments in time

New podcast ‘Decision Points’ to highlight world-changing moments in time
Updated 19 January 2022

New podcast ‘Decision Points’ to highlight world-changing moments in time

New podcast ‘Decision Points’ to highlight world-changing moments in time
  • Rising Giants Network’s original podcast will focus on historic political, financial, technological decisions

DUBAI; Middle East story-telling company Rising Giants Network has launched its first paid subscription-based podcast, “Decision Points.”

Hosted by commentator and voice artist, Abdullah Mansour, the show, recorded in Saudi dialect, will discuss moments in political, financial, and technological history that changed the world.

Basel Anabtawi, chief executive officer and co-founder of RGN, told Arab News: “Our goal is to highlight how one decision can alter the course of history.

“These decisions include moments such as when Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook) decided not to return to university resulting in the social media revolution; or when (former US President) Harry Truman decided to drop the atomic bomb, which ended World War II and started the arms race; or even when the (investment banking firm) Lehman Brothers decided to file for bankruptcy, which began a domino effect that resulted in the global recession.”

The show will pinpoint the moment these decisions were made followed by a deep dive into their consequences and aftermath.

“Decision Points” marks RGN’s foray into paid subscription-based podcasting under the banner of RGN Originals. Although the network has produced original shows before, such as “Beirut Blast,” the new show will be available on Apple Podcasts for 4.99 Emirati dirhams ($1.36).

With podcast listenership rapidly increasing in the region, the network has a new slate of shows ready to be released in the first quarter alone.

“We are planning seven new shows (under RGN Originals) at the moment, which would all be released this month,” Anabtawi said.

In March, RGN will also release a scripted show related to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, “Al-Tikriti,” followed by “Al-Rasool,” “7 Bharat,” and the second season of “Hakawati” during Ramadan.

“This (“Decision Points”) is not our first scripted show, but we’ve learned from our previous efforts that what best retains an audience is gripping and riveting content,” Anabtawi added.

“Decision Points” consists of five episodes with a new episode dropping every month.


Netflix to add 25 new Korean titles in 2022

Netflix to add 25 new Korean titles in 2022
Updated 19 January 2022

Netflix to add 25 new Korean titles in 2022

Netflix to add 25 new Korean titles in 2022
  • Global viewing hours of Korean shows grow sixfold in a year

DUBAI: Streaming giant Netflix saw a sixfold increase in global viewing hours of its Korean shows compared with 2020.

“Squid Game,” the platform’s biggest show, led the way with a massive 95 percent of its viewership coming from outside South Korea.

The dystopian drama is the most-viewed Netflix show in 94 countries, with many of its viewers going on to explore more Korean content on the platform.

Two months after the release of “Squid Game,” Netflix launched another Korean show, “Hellbound,” which racked up 43.48 million viewing hours, making it the No.1 show in 34 countries and among the top 10 Netflix shows in 93 countries.

The Korean production “The Silent Sea,” which launched last year, also made it to the top spot on the weekly non-English top 10 lists for its premiere.

The popularity of these shows is also reflected in popular culture, with “Squid Game” merchandise and the striking costume of the characters becoming a Halloween favorite.

Netflix launched more than 130 South Korean titles between 2016 and 2021, and with the increasing popularity and demand for Korean content, the platform is set to launch 25 new shows this year.

These include shows such as “All of Us Are Dead,” “Juvenile Justice,” “Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area,” and movies such as “Seoul Vibe,” “Love and Leashes” and “Carter.”

“We believe this is a slate that showcases more of the inventive and gripping Korean storytelling that the world has come to love,” said Don Kang, vice president of content for Korea, Netflix, in a blog post.

He added: “To do that, we will continue to invest in Korea’s creative ecosystem and, together, we will keep on showing the world that ‘Made in Korea’ means ‘Well-Made’.”


UK bans ad showing girl eating cheese while hanging upside down

UK bans ad showing girl eating cheese while hanging upside down. (Shutterstock)
UK bans ad showing girl eating cheese while hanging upside down. (Shutterstock)
Updated 19 January 2022

UK bans ad showing girl eating cheese while hanging upside down

UK bans ad showing girl eating cheese while hanging upside down. (Shutterstock)
  • Mondelez said the ad was aimed at parents, and had been shown only on programming for adults

LONDON: Britain’s advertising regulator has banned a TV ad that showed a girl eating cheese while hanging upside down, saying it could promote behavior that could lead to choking.
The ad for Dairylea cheese, a brand of US snacks giant Mondelez, had been shown on British video-on-demand services in August last year.
It featured two girls, aged six and eight, hanging upside down from a soccer goalpost, discussing where food went when you hang upside down. One of the girls then ate a piece of Dairylea cheese.
The Advertising Standards Authority said children could try to emulate the girls, and one person had complained that a three-year-old relative had eaten food while hanging upside down after seeing the ad.
Mondelez said the ad was aimed at parents, and had been shown only on programming for adults. The girls were close enough to the ground to be safe from falling, and adults supervising them could be seen in the background. However, the ASA concluded these were not sufficient factors to reduce the risk of harm.