Facebook shuts fake accounts in Sudan, as fight for public opinion rages online

The battle for public opinion, much of it happening online, is intensifying as Sudan reels from economic crisis and a shaky transition to democracy. (File/Twitter)
The battle for public opinion, much of it happening online, is intensifying as Sudan reels from economic crisis and a shaky transition to democracy. (File/Twitter)
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Updated 20 October 2021

Facebook shuts fake accounts in Sudan, as fight for public opinion rages online

The battle for public opinion, much of it happening online, is intensifying as Sudan reels from economic crisis and a shaky transition to democracy. (File/Twitter)
  • Facebook removes two large networks targeting Sudanese users, one of which was linked to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF)
  • Earlier this month, Facebook said it had shut a network of almost 1,000 accounts and pages linked to the RSF

CAIRO/KHARTOUM: Facebook says it has shut down two large networks targeting users in Sudan in recent months, as civilian and military leaders spar with one another over the future of an interim power-sharing arrangement.
The battle for public opinion, much of it happening online, is intensifying as Sudan reels from economic crisis and a shaky transition to democracy following 30 years under President Omar Al-Bashir, who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2019.
Facebook said one of the networks of inauthentic pages it took down was linked to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the other was populated with people who researchers, hired by the civilian government, flagged as supporters of Bashir agitating for a military takeover.
This week, hundreds of protesters set up camp outside the presidential palace demanding that the military overhaul the cabinet, in what would effectively amount to a coup.
Earlier this month, Facebook said it had shut a network of almost 1,000 accounts and pages with 1.1 million followers run by people the company said were linked to the RSF.
The network boosted RSF official media feeds and other content related to the militia, led by powerful General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo who is deputy head of the ruling Sovereign Council and seen by some Sudanese as harboring political ambitions.
Representatives for the RSF and Dagalo did not respond to requests for comment. The government had no comment on the RSF-related takedown. Dagalo, widely known as Hemedti, denies he is out for personal empowerment and has said in the past that he is committed to the democratic transition to civilian rule.
Facebook’s director of threat disruption, David Agranovich, told Reuters the network was identified by the platform’s own internal investigation.
The company also said it removed a second network in June, after being tipped off by Valent Projects, an independent research firm hired by Sudan’s Information Ministry to look into activity linked to Bashir loyalists.
Facebook said the network comprised more than 100 accounts and pages and had more than 1.8 million followers.
The Sudanese government’s efforts to fight what it describes as ex-regime loyalists working to undermine the transition has not previously been reported.
Loyalists were “working systematically to tarnish the image of the government,” the ministry said in a statement to Reuters, referring to social media posts in the network identified by Valent.
In both networks, posts mimicked news media but offered skewed coverage of political events, according to Facebook and some independent researchers.
Those Sudanese with Internet access — estimated at about 30 percent of the 45 million population — depend heavily on social media for news.
The military-civilian partnership that replaced now-jailed Bashir in 2019 has been pushed to breaking point in recent weeks in the aftermath of what authorities called a failed coup attempt.
Civilian officials have accused both Bashir loyalists and the military of stirring up unrest, including in the east of the country where tribal protesters have been blocking shipping at Port Sudan, exacerbating shortages stemming from a long-running economic crisis.
Military leaders deny the accusations and say they are committed to the transition to democracy.

’AGITATION’
While Facebook says it uses technical signals on its platform to target groups working to mislead users about their identity, researchers like Valent Projects say they rely on analysis of content, noting for example when a single post is shared simultaneously by different accounts.
Valent Projects said the network it identified was more than three times larger than Facebook’s assessment, attracting more than 6 million followers and continuing to grow.
It was active as recently as this week, agitating for a military takeover as protesters gathered in central Khartoum, and last month in the aftermath of the coup attempt, said Valent Projects representatives.
“It looks like they were trying to give the impression of grassroots support for such a move,” said founder and director Amil Khan.
When asked about the differing assessments, Facebook’s Agranovich said the company was confident it had shut down the entire network and that other accounts Valent identified were not connected.
He said Facebook would continue to monitor for any revival of the network.
Some of the network’s posts say Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is not a Muslim and accuse his staff of being paid in dollars, a charge they have denied.
Contributors promote the return of Bashir, jailed on corruption and other charges and wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of atrocities in the Darfur conflict. Bashir has denied all charges.
The network amplified calls for civil disobedience in the east, said Zouhir Al Shimale, Valent Projects’ head of research.
It also promoted protests ahead of the June 30 anniversary of the coup in which Bashir took power in 1989, according to the research firm.
“People in Sudan thought there was just going to be a massive demonstration because they saw so much activity,” said Khan, citing a movement called Akhtona (“Get out of the way“) in local Arabic dialect. In the end some 3,500 people showed up.
Contacted by Reuters, three administrators of pages that Facebook left running denied being part of a network.
“The ruling bodies today categorize any criticism of their oppressive policies and poor economic and political management as being related to the former regime,” said one of them, who declined to be identified.
The information ministry said it took no legal measures against the pages or administrators. “The Sudanese government is committed to protecting freedom of expression,” it said.
Two takedowns previously announced by Facebook, in December 2020 and May 2021, targeted accounts boosting Dagalo and the RSF, according to researchers at Stanford Internet Observatory and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.
In both networks Facebook said it found links to the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA), the officially defunct group accused of meddling in the 2016 US elections.
Anna Bogacheva, who the United States accused of carrying out IRA operations to interfere with elections and political processes, declined to answer questions about IRA when reached by phone.
Agranovich said the most recently targeted network linked to the RSF did not reveal foreign links, and appeared part of a growing trend of domestic influence operations.


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.


CNN anchor Chris Cuomo suspended for helping his brother against sexual misconduct allegations 

 In this combination of photos New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, and his brother CNN anchor Chris Cuomo. (File/AFP)
In this combination of photos New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, and his brother CNN anchor Chris Cuomo. (File/AFP)
Updated 01 December 2021

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo suspended for helping his brother against sexual misconduct allegations 

 In this combination of photos New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, and his brother CNN anchor Chris Cuomo. (File/AFP)
  • CNN suspended prime time anchor Chris Cuomo “indefinitely, pending further evaluation” for helping his brother against sexual misconduct allegations

LONDON: CNN suspended prime time anchor Chris Cuomo “indefinitely, pending further evaluation,” on Tuesday after an investigation revealed that he helped his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, defend himself against sexual misconduct allegations.

The investigation, conducted by the New York Attorney General Letitia James, showed “a greater level of involvement” in Cuomo’s efforts to help his brother, Andrew, than previously known. 

Andrew Cuomo had resigned in August after he was accused by various women of sexual misconduct. Chris Cuomo’s efforts to help his brother were widely considered a breach of journalistic ethics in the media industry. 

At the time of Andrew’s resignation, Chris Cuomo had told CNN viewers that he was “not an advisor,” but “a brother.” 

However, the new evidence revealed that Cuomo used media contacts to find out details about the women accusing Andrew of sexual harassement. 

“When Chris admitted to us that he had offered advice to his brother’s staff, he broke our rules and we acknowledged that publicly,” CNN said in a statement shortly after Cuomo’s suspension. 

“But we also appreciated the unique position he was in and understood his need to put family first and job second. However, these documents point to a greater level of involvement in his brother’s efforts than we previously knew. As a result, we have suspended Chris indefinitely, pending further evaluation.”

The documents revealed heaps of emails and text messages that point to the extent of Cuomo’s involvement, particularly with the governor’s staff.

“Please let me help with the prep,” Cuomo texted a senior aide, Melissa DeRosa. “You need to trust me we are making mistakes we can't afford,” he added. 

Another set of messages revealed that Cuomo had texted DeRosa saying “I have a lead on the wedding girl,” a reference to Anna Ruch, a woman who accused Andrew Cuomo of attempting to kiss her at a wedding.