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

Meta removes Iran-based fake accounts targeting Instagram users in Scotland
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. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 January 2022

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

Meta removes Iran-based fake accounts targeting Instagram users in Scotland
  • The network used fake accounts to pose as locals in England and Scotland
  • The accounts posted commentary about Scottish independence and organized their content around common hashtags promoting the cause

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.


Fake news or free expression: Top CEO Conference panel examines the hazards of digital media age

Fake news or free expression: Top CEO Conference panel examines the hazards of digital media age
Updated 18 May 2022

Fake news or free expression: Top CEO Conference panel examines the hazards of digital media age

Fake news or free expression: Top CEO Conference panel examines the hazards of digital media age
  • Top CEO Conference panel explores the case for digital media regulation to fight misinformation 
  • Examples of truth-telling and conspiracy theories show social media can be a double-edged sword

DUBAI: Fake news, a term popularized by former US President Donald Trump to berate sections of the media, is viewed by many in civil society and the business community as one of the most harmful phenomena of the digital age.

There are several recent examples of misinformation, or indeed deliberate disinformation, published online and then amplified by social media, having real-world consequences, from stirring up ethnic tensions to undermining public health initiatives. 

Take, for instance, the case of Edgar Welch, a 28-year-old father of two from Salisbury, North Carolina, who in December 2016 read an article online about an alleged elite pedophile ring operating out of a pizzeria in Washington D.C.

“Pizzagate,” as it became known, was a far-right conspiracy theory, which sought to connect several high-ranking Democratic Party officials with an alleged human trafficking and child sex ring linked to a restaurant named Comet Ping Pong.

After reading the article, Welch picked up a gun and drove the full six hours from his home to Washington D.C. where he opened fire on the restaurant. No one was injured in the attack, and the allegations have since been thoroughly debunked. 

Compare this example with the footage that emerged on May 13 of Israeli security forces attacking Palestinian pallbearers carrying the coffin of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead two days earlier. 

Thanks to video captured by witnesses on their smartphones and shared on social media, the whole world was able to bear witness to this shocking incident instantaneously, spurring world leaders to condemn the funeral assault.  

During a panel discussion at the Top CEO Conference in Dubai on May 17, both of these incidents were raised as examples of the tremendous power of social media as a means, on the one hand, of spreading misinformation, and, on the other, of exposing the truth. 

It is because of the positive traits of social media as a weapon of truth that media outlets and civil society are cautious about onerous government regulation of these platforms, which might undermine freedom of expression.

“Nobody is against freedom, but we should also be against chaos,” Faisal J. Abbas, the editor-in-chief of Arab News, told Tuesday’s panel. 

“We are talking about billions of people, billions of posts, it is physically impossible to monitor everything and by the time they get to it, the damage would most probably have been done.  

“If you remember from 2016 the fake story which was spreading on Facebook and other platforms about the pizzeria that had a child abuse ring, and somebody took a gun and went and shot up the place.

“The story got more views than the rebuttals. The more crazy the news, the more content it creates, the more websites like Facebook get traction,” Abbas said. 

“There is no end to fake news but we must continue to battle it.”  

Indeed, the digital transformation, which has revolutionized the sharing of information in just a matter of years, has left regulators and companies fighting to keep up with some of its more damaging manifestations.

Hussein Freijeh, general manager of Snap Inc. MENA, who also participated in Tuesday’s panel, said that the efforts of governments to regulate online platforms should not “take away the responsibility of the tech platforms” to tackle fake news.

“When we talk about regulations, there is a component of thoughtful regulation with the government, and we want to engage in that, and help the government to come up with what that means,” Freijeh told Arab News on the sidelines of Tuesday’s forum. 

“Then there is self-regulation, or platform regulation. And this is our responsibility and how we deal with product design, and how to do the policy to control that. 

“And then (there is) self-responsibility from (content) creators and the community, and that is an educational process. It requires a lot of technology to allow self-regulation, and it is a process that we have to commit to.” 

While fake news was in no way created by social media, the sheer speed and accessibility these networks provide means that harmful and malicious behavior now has a greater reach than ever before. 

“Social media gave people freedom,” Khaled Janahi, chairman of Vision 3, told Tuesday’s panel. But, he warned, people need to use it correctly.  

In separate comments to Arab News, Thomas Hughes, executive director of Meta’s oversight board, said that social media companies have a role to play in combating fake news. 

“Content moderation policies have to be crafted in a way that reflects the kinds of standards we want to set globally,” he said. 

“As the (oversight) board cannot hear every appeal, when we select cases, we are thinking about what kind of precedent our decision might create, and we prioritize cases that have the potential to affect lots of users around the world, are of critical importance to public discourse or raise important questions about Meta’s policies.” 

He added that Meta — formerly known as Facebook — has already issued more than 100 recommendations and committed to implementing the majority of them. 

But conflicts like those raging in Ukraine and Ethiopia, according to Hughes, add fuel to the fire of fake news. 

Conflict and instability “unfortunately, go hand in hand with rises in mis- and disinformation — although this issue is very much global,” he told Arab News.

Journalists can play a key role in tackling fake news, according to Hughes, which is why many of Meta’s board members have worked in the traditional media in the past. 

“They feel passionately about these issues and about ensuring that more is done to protect journalists and free speech, while also working to protect people from harm.”


Senior Jerusalem Catholics condemn behavior of Israeli police at journalist’s funeral

Senior Jerusalem Catholics condemn behavior of Israeli police at journalist’s funeral
Updated 17 May 2022

Senior Jerusalem Catholics condemn behavior of Israeli police at journalist’s funeral

Senior Jerusalem Catholics condemn behavior of Israeli police at journalist’s funeral
  • The Vatican’s representative in the holy city claims raid on funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh on Friday breached 1993 religious freedom agreement
  • Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem slams ‘severe violation of international norms and regulations’

LONDON: Senior Roman Catholic figures in Jerusalem said Israel “brutally” violated religious freedom in the city after police confronted mourners at the funeral procession of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on Friday.

Police beat people carrying Abu Akleh’s coffin from St. Joseph Hospital and fired stun grenades at the crowd.

Monsignor Tomasz Grysa, the Vatican’s representative in Jerusalem, said the incident violated a 1993 agreement between the Holy See and Israel that “upholds and observes the human right of freedom of religion, which in this case has been brutally violated.”

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Roman Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem, added: “The Israel Police’s invasion and disproportionate use of force — attacking mourners, striking them with batons, using smoke grenades, shooting rubber bullets, frightening the hospital patients — is a severe violation of international norms and regulations, including the fundamental human right of freedom of religion.”

The statements came as part of a series of condemnations made in a press conference at St. Joseph Hospital by the leaders of 15 religious denominations based in the city.

Jamil Koussa, the hospital’s director, said he believed the police targeted Abu Akleh’s coffin, not just the mourners, in an effort to intimidate and “horrify” onlookers.

A number of medical staff were also injured by the police after they stormed the hospital. Dr. Mohammed Hmeidat, who works in the neonatal intensive care unit, told the BBC he was burned by a stun grenade.

“One of them was very close to my feet, and [it] exploded. After that, we hurried to the emergency department and [the police] also followed us [there],” he said.

Israeli law enforcement warned Jerusalem’s religious figures against making “extreme statements, which include assertions about events that are still being examined, only stir up emotions and are not responsible.

“We expect clerics to help calm the area and avoid statements that agitate it.”

Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera journalist and a Christian, was shot while covering an Israeli military raid in a Palestinian refugee camp in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on Wednesday.

The Israel Defense Forces initially denied they were responsible for her death, but amid evidence from eyewitnesses that the fatal shot came from IDF personnel, they have since opened an investigation into the activity of their soldiers during the operation.

Israeli police, meanwhile, claimed intervention in her funeral was necessary as the journalist’s family had planned to use a hearse to transport the coffin from the hospital but the crowd had threatened the driver and appropriated the body against their wishes.

“Police were present at the incident to maintain public order and to allow the funeral to take place when there were extremists on the ground who provoked and engaged in an attempt to turn the funeral into a violent event,” the police said in a statement.

However, Abu Akleh’s brother, Tony Abu Akleh, told the BBC: “Everybody saw the pallbearers beaten savagely by batons without any mercy, without any respect to the funeral, to the dead.

“This was a national funeral for all the Palestinians to participate in…[The police] had no business to do [what they did] at the gate.”

Abu Akleh’s niece, Lina, told the BBC: “I honestly was very afraid…because [the police] started throwing stun grenades, and one of them actually threatened to beat me if I don’t move out of the way,” she said.


Breaking the news on the frontlines of war — Arizh Mukhammed on finding her ‘courage’

Breaking the news on the frontlines of war — Arizh Mukhammed on finding her ‘courage’
Updated 18 May 2022

Breaking the news on the frontlines of war — Arizh Mukhammed on finding her ‘courage’

Breaking the news on the frontlines of war — Arizh Mukhammed on finding her ‘courage’

The old adage that women have to work twice as hard for half the recognition clearly applies to war correspondent Arizh Mukhammed.

Working as a Sky News Arabia reporter based in Moscow, she has the demanding role of reporting from the frontlines of the Russia-Ukraine war.

The half-Russian, half-Syrian speaks three languages and holds a doctorate in pharmacology but describes her current role as one of the most challenging and rewarding of her life.

“Reporting about the war is an extraordinary, unpredictable event; I was shocked when it began, and I was the only one on the team who spoke Russian,” she said in an interview on the sidelines of the Arab Women’s Forum in Dubai.

“I hate wars and conflicts. I struggled in the areas controlled by Russian forces and was not allowed on the Ukrainian side. Like any human being, I had fears and wondered if what I was doing was useful and balanced. At the same time, it’s a new step in my career, and I have to move forward and rely on my skills. I had to find courage.”

 

 

Often, Mukhammed has time to do a single take with no room for error.

“I have to accurately portray the facts with no option of redoing a shot,” she said. “And I dislike the word ‘truth’ because each side has their version of ‘truth.’ It’s not a reporter’s job to provide analysis. My job is to report the facts on the ground, be neutral, and not express an opinion about one side being right and another wrong. War is complex.”

Mukhammed spoke on a panel alongside other esteemed war reporters at the Arab Women’s Forum, including Alhadath senior news anchor Christiane Baissary, about the trials and rewards of the job. Having other female role models helped them carve their path.


Read More: Arab Women Forum kicks off in Dubai


“I came to journalism from another field, but honestly, Shireen Abu Akleh is the one I knew from my childhood from her Al Jazeera days,” she said.

Akleh was a world-renowned journalist. Press circles across the world mourned her death.

“Nobody in the Arab World doesn’t know her. She was famous for her coverage in danger zones and for getting out. So, when I heard the sad news, everyone I knew, even friends and family not related to journalism, was deeply affected. She had a magnetic charisma. I like her language, her voice. I am so sad to lose an idol.”

While pursuing her doctorate in Moscow, Mukhammed yearned for the Arabic language and wanted to work in a field where she could better utilize her bilingual skills. She soon landed a career in media, translating between Russian and Arabic. She joined Sky News Arabia when they opened their Moscow Bureau.

“I prefer not to categorize myself as a war reporter. I am prepared to report on politics and business wherever the story carries me,” she said. “My advice to a young female reporter is to educate herself, always look at two sides of a story and assess if you are objective enough to report on a story.”


There isn’t enough moderation in Arabic and non-English languages, Meta Oversight Board’s Head of Global Engagement tells forum in Dubai

There isn’t enough moderation in Arabic and non-English languages, Meta Oversight Board’s Head of Global Engagement tells forum in Dubai
Updated 18 May 2022

There isn’t enough moderation in Arabic and non-English languages, Meta Oversight Board’s Head of Global Engagement tells forum in Dubai

There isn’t enough moderation in Arabic and non-English languages, Meta Oversight Board’s Head of Global Engagement tells forum in Dubai
  • When it comes to content moderation, Meta and its various social-media platforms have time and again attracted criticism

DUBAI: There is not enough Arabic and non-English-language content moderation online, the head of global engagement for Meta’s Oversight Board, Rachel Wolbers, said at the the Top CEO and Arab Women Forum conference in Dubai on Tuesday.

“Meta –Facebook– is really taking a lot of initiative to try to figure out a way to outsource some of these really difficult decisions ” Wolbers told the audience.

“I'm definitely not here to apologise or defend Facebook in any circumstance, and some of the problems that they (Facebook) had in 2016 still continue to this day, the challenge of misinformation and disinformation is a really big one,” she added.

“I would not ignore that the company is not doing enough; the board is constantly pushing for this — it is not well developed, not well invested in” in comparison to English-language moderation, she continued.

“we have specifically called out the company to produce a lot more transparency around their content moderation and Arabic and potential biases that the company may be building into their content moderation Arabic.”

When it comes to content moderation, Meta and its various social-media platforms have time and again attracted criticism as racism, extremism and anti-social behavior surfaced across them. The company set up the independent Oversight Board to moderate such content.

However, Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas questioned whether the board can truly make a significant difference.

“As much as I am in favor of having an oversight board at Facebook, at Twitter or at Snap or TikTok…how much say do they really have?” he asked. “How much can they really do?”

(Supplied)

Snap Inc’s MENA GM Hussein Freijeh claimed that social-media technology itself was neither good nor bad — it depends on the user.

“Snapchat works with regional cultural dynamics in terms of security and content. Snapchat is considered a useful tool for content creators,” Freijeh said.

While fake news was in no way created by social media, the sheer speed and accessibility the networks provide means that harmful and malicious behavior now has a greater reach than ever before.

“Social media gave people freedom,” Khaled Janahi, the Chairman of Vision 3, told the panel but warned that people needed to use it correctly.

Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas questioned whether the board can truly make a significant difference. (AN Photo/Zubiya Shaikh)

Abbas said: “Nobody is against freedom but we should also be against chaos.”

He explained: “We are talking about billions of people, billions of posts, it is physically impossible to monitor everything and by the time they get to it, the damage would most probably have been done.

“If you remember from 2016 the fake story which was spreading on Facebook and other platforms about the pizzeria that had a child abuse ring, and somebody took a gun and went and shot up the place,” the editor continued, referring to PizzaGate — a conspiracy theory that received widespread attention on social media and led to severe consequences, including the ‘creation’ of a fake newspaper, the Denver Guardian, which claimed to have hacked into former secretary of state and presidential runner-up Hillary Clinton’s emails and discovered a Democrat-run child prostitution ring.

“The story got more views than the rebuttals. The more crazy the news, the more content it creates, the more websites like Facebook get traction,” Abbas said. “There is no end to fake news but we must continue to battle it.”


Russia not planning to block YouTube, says digital development minister

Russia not planning to block YouTube, says digital development minister
Updated 17 May 2022

Russia not planning to block YouTube, says digital development minister

Russia not planning to block YouTube, says digital development minister
  • Russia has blocked other foreign social media platforms
  • Moscow restricted access to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in early March

Russia is not planning to block Alphabet Inc’s YouTube, the minister for digital development said on Tuesday, acknowledging that such a move would likely see Russian users suffer and should therefore be avoided.
Russia has blocked other foreign social media platforms, but despite months of fines and threats against YouTube for failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal and for restricting access to some Russian media, it has stopped short of delivering a killer blow to the video-hosting service.
With around 90 million monthly users in Russia, YouTube is extremely popular and plays an important role in the digital economy. Though Russia has domestic versions of other social media, a viable YouTube alternative on that scale is yet to emerge.
“We are not planning to close YouTube,” Maksut Shadaev, who is also minister of communications and mass media, told an educational forum. “Above all, when we restrict something, we should clearly understand that our users won’t suffer.”
Competition is the engine of progress and blocking is an extreme measure, he told a vast auditorium of mostly young Russians, some scattered around the room on bean bags.
Alphabet’s Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Simmering tensions between Moscow and Big Tech erupted into a full-on information battle after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Russia restricted access to Twitter and Meta Platform’s Facebook and Instagram in early March. It vowed in April to punish Google for shutting out Russian state-funded media globally on YouTube, accusing it of spreading fakes about what Russia calls its special military operation in Ukraine.