Facebook: Fake scientist used to spread anti-US propaganda

Facebook uncovered fake accounts affiliated with the network that had also waded into US politics last year. (File/AFP)
Facebook uncovered fake accounts affiliated with the network that had also waded into US politics last year. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 December 2021

Facebook: Fake scientist used to spread anti-US propaganda

Facebook uncovered fake accounts affiliated with the network that had also waded into US politics last year. (File/AFP)
  • 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.”


Netflix meets outrage in Egypt with risque comedy-drama

Netflix meets outrage in Egypt with risque comedy-drama
Updated 11 sec ago

Netflix meets outrage in Egypt with risque comedy-drama

Netflix meets outrage in Egypt with risque comedy-drama

CAIRO: Netflix's first Arabic film production was always set to be a big event, but within days of its release, public opinion in Egypt was so inflamed that critics called for a ban on the platform.
"Ashab wala Aaz" -- one of countless remakes of the Italian comedy-drama "Perfetti Sconosciutti" (Perfect Strangers) -- features renowned actors from Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan.
The movie is about a group of friends meeting for dinner and deciding to make the night more interesting by agreeing to share every text message, email and phone call received with the rest of the group.
As events unfold, the game reveals shocking truths about members of the group as it touches on topics from adultery and premarital sex to homosexuality, all widely considered taboos in Egypt.
The film, which was released on January 20, immediately shot up to the most-watched list in Egypt.
But in the ensuing fracas, lawsuits have been filed against the culture ministry and the censor's office for allowing the film to be streamed, and MPs have called for a special session to discuss whether to ban Netflix altogether.
Online, many slammed celebrated Egyptian actress Mona Zaki, who took part in what they dubbed a "disgraceful" movie.
Amid the storm, the US streaming giant has refrained from commenting.

Lawmaker Mostafa Bakry argued Netflix should be banned altogether as he called for an urgent meeting in parliament to discuss it.
Premarital sex is also taboo in Egypt, where in extreme cases it may provoke "honour killings", especially in rural areas.
"This network targets Egyptian and Arab citizens ... we should ban Netflix," Bakri said in an interview with a private TV channel.
He said the film includes "more than 20 suggestive profanities which shocked Egyptian families".
Netflix rated the one-and-a-half hour long feature as not suitable for those under 16 years old, though it did not include any nudity or sex scenes.
Egyptian film critic Tarek Shennawy said he was "surprised" at the attack on actress Mona Zaki.
Zaki, who played the part of a wife trapped in an unsatisfying marriage, was particularly criticised for a scene in which she removes her underwear from under her dress.
On social media, many viewed the scene as a source of shame for her husband -- renowned actor Ahmed Helmi -- and their daughter.
"How did Ahmed Helmi allow his wife to play this part in the movie," one user asked on Twitter.
Another questioned how Zaki "was not afraid for her daughter to see her this bold".
But Shennawy argued that "the movie's content should not affect the personal or national honour of those who took part in it".
"We are confusing fiction with reality and this is very weird."


Mobile app downloads in UAE jump 15 percent in 2021, report shows

Mobile app downloads in UAE jump 15 percent in 2021, report shows
Updated 25 January 2022

Mobile app downloads in UAE jump 15 percent in 2021, report shows

Mobile app downloads in UAE jump 15 percent in 2021, report shows
  • UAE marketers spent $74m in 2021 on Android app installs

DUBAI: With consumers spending 3.8 trillion hours on mobile devices in 2021, it is no surprise that marketers are also spending more on mobile advertising.

UAE marketers spent $74 million in 2021 on Android app installs, representing a 35 percent year-on-year growth, according to a new report by global attribution company AppsFlyer.

A massive 84 percent of UAE businesses said that they consider mobile apps a “must” to remain relevant to their customers.

Overall app installs on iOS and Android devices grew by 15 percent last year. The study found that finance apps were among the most popular, with installs growing by 55 percent.

Retail or shopping apps also increased in popularity, especially during shopping seasons such as Ramadan and White Friday. Total installs of shopping apps in the UAE increased by 24 percent on White Friday (Nov. 26) compared with an average of the previous three Fridays in November.

“Propelled by forward-thinking government initiatives and use of apps, the UAE’s mobile-first economy has been one of the key markets that has quickly shifted to digital in recent years. Many brands are now recognizing that mobile needs to be at the forefront of their business activity,” said Samer Saad, Middle East regional manager of AppsFlyer.

Over 91 percent of UAE organizations now offer mobile apps, with the report highlighting “customer acquisition” and “customer retention and loyalty” as the top two reasons behind the focus on mobile apps.

The investment in mobile is paying off, with over 40 percent saying they believe there has been at least a 26 percent increase in mobile-driven revenues for their organization in the past 12 months.

UAE shoppers’ mobile-friendliness was most evident during the shopping periods of Ramadan and White Friday.

During the holy month, there was a 10 percent increase in overall installs for shopping apps and a massive 71 percent increase for finance apps, compared with the same period in 2020. In fact, in-app spending on both shopping and finance apps recorded triple-digit growth through Ramadan.

Overall spending on shopping apps during White Friday increased by 43 percent despite the number of installs dropping by 41 percent compared with the previous year, suggesting that the average spend per consumer is now higher than in the previous year.

“Looking ahead to 2022, the signs look positive for businesses looking to acquire more customers through their mobile devices. However, as this space becomes more competitive, just providing an app will no longer be enough. Organizations that leverage the power of mobile marketing to offer personalized experiences to their customers will rapidly pull ahead of the pack,” Saad said.


Facebook parent Meta creates powerful AI supercomputer

Facebook employees take a photo with the company's new name and logo outside its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Oct. 28, 2021. (AP)
Facebook employees take a photo with the company's new name and logo outside its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Oct. 28, 2021. (AP)
Updated 25 January 2022

Facebook parent Meta creates powerful AI supercomputer

Facebook employees take a photo with the company's new name and logo outside its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Oct. 28, 2021. (AP)
  • The computer, which is already up and running but is still being built, is called AI Research SuperCluster

MENLO PARK, California: Facebook’s parent company Meta on Monday said it has created what it believes is among the fastest artificial intelligence supercomputers running today.
The social media giant said it hopes the machine will help lay the groundwork for its building of the metaverse, a virtual reality construct intended to supplant the Internet as we know it today.
Facebook said it believes the computer will be the fastest in the world once it is fully built around the middle of the year.
Supercomputers are extremely fast and powerful machines built to do complex calculations not possible with a regular home computer. Meta did not disclose where the computer is located or how much it is costing to build.
The computer, which is already up and running but is still being built, is called AI Research SuperCluster. Meta says it will help its AI researchers build “new and better” artificial intelligence models that can learn from “trillions” of examples and work across hundreds of different languages simultaneously and analyze text, images and video together.
The way Meta is defining the power of its computer is different from how conventional and more technically powerful supercomputers are measured because it relies on the performance of graphics-processing chips, which are useful for running “deep learning” algorithms that can understand what’s in an image, analyze text and translate between languages, said Tuomas Sandholm, a computer science professor and co-director of the AI center at Carnegie Mellon University.
“We hope RSC will help us build entirely new AI systems that can, for example, power real-time voice translations to large groups of people, each speaking a different language, so they can seamlessly collaborate on a research project or play an AR game together,” Meta said in a blog post.
The company said its supercomputer will incorporate “real-world examples” from its own systems into training its AI. It says its previous efforts used only open-source and other publicly available data sets.
“They are going to, for the first time, put their customer data on their AI research computer,” Sandholm said. “That would be a really big change to give AI researchers and algorithms access to all that data.”


Biden caught insulting Fox News journalist

Biden caught insulting Fox News journalist
Updated 25 January 2022

Biden caught insulting Fox News journalist

Biden caught insulting Fox News journalist

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden was caught on a live microphone Monday calling a Fox News journalist a “stupid son of a bitch” on the sidelines of a White House photo op.
As journalists were leaving the room after the event, a reporter from Fox News, the favorite channel of conservatives, asked whether inflation is a political liability.
The Democratic leader, possibly unaware that his microphone was still on, began by deadpanning: “It’s a great asset. More inflation.”
And then muttered, “What a stupid son of a bitch,” before glancing briefly down.
A pool reporter who was in the room at the time admitted to not being able to hear what Biden actually said over the noise.
But he added that he would “direct your attention to video of the event if you are curious how the president really feels about being asked about inflation from Fox’s Peter Doocy.”
Doocy shrugged the insult off in a later interview on Fox.
“Yeah nobody has fact-checked him yet and said it’s not true,” he said, nonchalantly.


Meta to integrate WhatsApp with Workplace

Meta to integrate WhatsApp with Workplace
Updated 24 January 2022

Meta to integrate WhatsApp with Workplace

Meta to integrate WhatsApp with Workplace
  • Update aims to ease communication between businesses, front-line workers

DUBAI: Meta will launch the integration of WhatsApp with its Workplace platform, with the aim of easing communication between business and employee, especially front-line workers.

The new update, which will release later this year, will allow companies to share posts from Workplace over WhatsApp. The announcement comes on the back of a research report, “Deskless Not Voiceless,” which surveyed 7,000 front-line workers and 1,350 C-suite executives in seven countries.

An overwhelming 94 percent of C-suite executives said that they need to start prioritizing front-line tech in the way that they have historically prioritized office and desk-based technology.

Almost half (45 percent) of front-line workers said that they feel disconnected from their company’s headquarters. Moreover, 75 percent do not completely trust their employers to be transparent about company news and updates.

“At Workplace, we strongly believe that the most successful organizations empower their front-line employees to make a difference and listen to their ideas. So it’s disappointing to see there’s still a clear disconnect between the front line and HQ in 2021,” said Ujjwal Singh, Workplace head of product.

“Our integration with WhatsApp is designed to help fix that,” he added.

Virgin Atlantic and AstraZeneca both use Workplace to stay connected with employees.

“Our front-line teams — whether on the ground or in the skies — are constantly on the move; Workplace allows them to remain connected to Virgin Atlantic, wherever they are in the world and whenever suits them,” said Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic.

AstraZeneca started using Workplace as a test for its global manufacturing and supply teams in 2017 and rolled it out across the entire company by 2018. Today, 70,000 employees in 10 countries use the platform as a way to stay in touch and share ideas.

For example, the company held an event on Workplace, which saw employees submit 56,000 ideas in two weeks, and another event designed to understand lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in 24,000 ideas being shared.

“Workplace has been key to AstraZeneca’s high employee engagement rates by helping us drive tangible change and adjust to the changing nature of how we all work,” said Alun Metford, head of internal communications at AstraZeneca.

“It will play a central role as we adjust to the next normal,” he added.