Facebook owner Meta adds tool to guard against harassment in metaverse

Its new “personal boundary” tool will make users feel like they have nearly four feet between their virtual avatar and others. (File/AFP)
Its new “personal boundary” tool will make users feel like they have nearly four feet between their virtual avatar and others. (File/AFP)
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Updated 07 February 2022

Facebook owner Meta adds tool to guard against harassment in metaverse

Its new “personal boundary” tool will make users feel like they have nearly four feet between their virtual avatar and others. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook adds tool to safeguard against harassment and maintain personal space boundaries in the metaverse

LONDON: Facebook’s parent Meta Platforms said on Friday it is launching a tool for people using its virtual reality social platforms to maintain personal space boundaries, as concerns have mounted about user safety and sexual harassment in the metaverse.
Its new “personal boundary” tool will make users feel like they have nearly four feet (1.2 meters) between their virtual avatar and others when they access the immersive Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues apps through VR headsets.
The company said in a blog post that this new default setting would make it easier to avoid unwanted interactions. The change comes as users of VR platforms including Horizon Worlds have raised alarms about virtual groping and other abusive behavior.
Facebook Inc. changed its name to Meta, and has invested heavily in virtual and augmented reality to reflect its new bet on the metaverse, a futuristic idea of a network of virtual environments accessed via different devices where users can work, socialize and play.
Horizon Worlds, an expansive VR social platform, and Horizon Venues, which is focused on virtual events, are early iterations of metaverse-like spaces.
Shares of Meta, which is pouring billions of dollars into its metaverse ambitions, plummeted 26 percent on Thursday in the biggest single-day slide in market value for a US company, after the social media giant issued a dismal forecast, blaming Apple Inc’s privacy changes and increased competition.
The company has long been under scrutiny from global lawmakers and regulators over its handling of problematic content and abuses on its existing social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
Meta said the new tool built on its current “hand harassment measures,” where an avatar’s hands would disappear if they invaded someone’s personal space. It also currently has a “Safe Zone” feature where people can activate a bubble around their avatar if they feel threatened.
Meta’s vice president of Horizon Vivek Sharma said in the blog that the company believed the new personal boundaries would help set “behavioral norms.”
“It’s an important step, and there’s still much more work to be done. We’ll continue to test and explore new ways to help people feel comfortable in VR,” said Sharma.
He said in the future, Meta would look at the possibility of adding in controls like letting people change the size of their personal boundary.
For now, the company noted users will have to “extend their arms to be able to high-five or fist bump other people’s avatars.”


Indian students defy ban on BBC’s Modi documentary despite arrests

Indian students defy ban on BBC’s Modi documentary despite arrests
Updated 28 January 2023

Indian students defy ban on BBC’s Modi documentary despite arrests

Indian students defy ban on BBC’s Modi documentary despite arrests
  • Documentary investigates Narendra Modi’s role in the deadly Gujarat riots in 2002
  • Government sees the British broadcaster’s program as ‘manipulation by foreign power’

NEW DELHI: Indian students are defying a ban on a BBC program examining Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s past, despite arrests and attempts by authorities to prevent them from organizing screenings.

The two-part program, “India: The Modi Question,” examines claims about Modi’s role in the 2002 riots in Gujarat that left more than 1,000 dead, most of them Muslims.

Modi was serving as chief minister of the western state when the violence broke out.

The government banned the documentary over the weekend using emergency powers under information technology laws, but students continued to organize screenings across the country.

At least 13 students of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi were detained for 24 hours on Wednesday, after they tried to show the documentary at their campus. 

HIGHLIGHTS

• Documentary investigates Narendra Modi’s role in the deadly Gujarat riots in 2002.

• Government sees the British broadcaster’s program as ‘manipulation by foreign power.’

“We were handed over to the police by the proctor of Jamia Islamia University. On Friday, the Jamia authorities shut down all the facilities for students,” one of the arrested, Azeez Shareef from the Students Federation of India, told Arab News.

“We grew up with a certain idea of India, with secular values and democratic principles, but this government has attacked everything.”

Earlier this week, authorities cut off electricity at Jawaharlal Nehru University when students gathered to screen the documentary.

“We wanted to screen the documentary so that youth can form their own opinion,” said Aishe Ghosh, president of Jawaharlal Nehru Students Union.

“The new generation does not remember what happened in Gujarat in 2002 because they were too young. But when we see today’s reality, it’s important for the young generation to make the link that the same political party that is in power in Delhi was responsible in some form or another in manufacturing a pogrom in the state of Gujarat.”

She added that universities are where students should have “space to debate and discuss and differ.”

As the government ban means the film cannot be streamed or shared on social media — and Twitter and YouTube have complied with a government request to take down links to the documentary — students argue there is no explicit ban on screenings.

“Where is the order to ban the documentary?” said Abhisek Nandan, president of the Student Union of the University of Hyderabad, which has organized a screening and discussion on the first episode of the program.

“The documentary carries the truth about Gujarati riots that journalists and civil society groups have been telling for the last 20 years.”

Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party sees the British broadcaster’s film as manipulation and an assault on India’s judicial system.

“A foreign power undermining the judicial system of India is not the right thing to do. The entire episode of the Gujarat riot has minutely been scrutinized by all, including the judiciary,” BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Mittal told Arab News.

In 2013, a court in Gujarat found Modi not directly responsible for the riots. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling in 2022.

“The documentary is an assault on the judicial system of this country. That’s why it is not permitted,” Mittal said.

“The country is right in not allowing manipulation by a foreign power.”

The film could undermine Modi’s reputation at a time when India is chairing the Group of 20 largest economies and will host the G20 summit this year.

“It’s obvious that PM Modi realized that the documentary had the potential to hurt his reputation at a time when he could least afford it,” political analyst Sanjay Kapoor told Arab News.  

“For him, the G20 platform provided him an opportunity to showcase himself as a world leader, and he didn’t want his image to be sullied as someone who was complicit in the Gujarat genocide.”

 

 


Saudi Arabia’s KAICIID launches journalism program for Arabs

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 27 January 2023

Saudi Arabia’s KAICIID launches journalism program for Arabs

Photo/Shutterstock
  • KAICIID’s secretary-general, Dr. Zuhair Alharthi, said that the second edition of the fellowship program was launched following the success achieved in the first edition, which helped journalists combat hate speech and promote a culture of dialogue

RIYADH: The King Abdullah International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, KAICIID, announced on Thursday the launch of the second edition of its Journalism Fellowship Program for Dialogue in the Arab region.

The program targets a new group of male and female journalists from the Arab region who will receive training on dialogue journalism, conduct professional reports that focus on matters related to interfaith and intercultural dialogue, religious relations, identity, and conflicts.

The aim is to enhance pluralism, diversity, peaceful coexistence, set ethical standards of journalism, and to combat hate speech.

KAICIID’s secretary-general, Dr. Zuhair Alharthi, said that the second edition of the fellowship program was launched following the success achieved in the first edition, which helped journalists combat hate speech and promote a culture of dialogue.

According to the approved schedule for the program, selected candidates will be invited for interviews by late February, with the program to begin online in March followed by on-the-ground training in April.

As per the admission rules to the program, a relevant committee should select between 20 to 25 journalists between the ages of 28 and 40.

They must be working in print, audio, or digital media, and have at least five years of experience in journalism or in other related fields; they must have a professional record in sensitive conflict environments, and they need to be citizens of an Arab country.

Wasim Haddad, the director of programs in the Arab region, said: “This program is one of the main axes within the center’s work strategy in the Arab region, which primarily aims at building social cohesion and promoting the values of dialogue and common citizenship through intensified work and building partnerships with religious leaders, policy makers, the youth, and women as main pillars of change in the region, as it is clear to everyone the leading roles the media can play in this regard.”

 

 


BBC Arabic stops broadcasting after 85 years

BBC Arabic stops broadcasting after 85 years
Updated 27 January 2023

BBC Arabic stops broadcasting after 85 years

BBC Arabic stops broadcasting after 85 years
  • The move comes as part of the World Service's cost cuts

LONDON: BBC Arabic went off-air on Friday, bringing an end to its 85 years of radio broadcasts.

However, the BBC online service will continue.

BBC Arabic, the BBC Empire Service’s first foreign language radio broadcast, aired for the first time on Jan. 3, 1938.

The Arabic-speaking network announced earlier this month that it would gradually reduce its service before finally closing.

The network covered the Second World War, the Suez crisis of 1956, Arab-Israeli wars, Palestinian uprisings and the invasion of Iraq among other major events in the Arab world.

“The broadcast will end at 1 p.m. London time,” BBC Arabic radio’s editor, Adel Soliman, told Middle East Eye.

“But we have prepared special content since Monday, with key interviews and contributions from our audience about how the BBC played a role in their lives, and talks with ex-BBC staff, highlighting their career,” he added.

In September 2022, the World Service announced the suspension of several of its foreign language stations, including Arabic and Persian, as part of a plan to cut costs, saying it was obliged to take this action by the UK government’s license fee freeze.

Under the cost-cutting plan, 382 people across all BBC offices will lose their jobs, saving the broadcaster £28.5 million (about $35.3 million) annually.


Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza
Updated 27 January 2023

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza
  • The ruling prohibits anyone from sharing links to Meduza's website

LONDON: Russia on Thursday declared Meduza, its most prominent independent news website, an “undesirable organization,” banning the outlet’s operation on Russian territory under the threat of felony prosecution.

Russia’s prosecutor-general said in an official statement that Meduza, which was founded by Russian journalists in Latvia, “threatens the foundations of constitutional order and the security of the Russian Federation.”

The ruling prohibits the outlet’s activities in Russia as well as any reference to it, even by posting a hyperlink on social media. Anyone who fails to cooperate may face a prison sentence of up to six years, according to The Guardian.

Russian officials previously labeled Meduza a “foreign agent,” hindering the news website’s ability to raise funds through advertising and forcing it to shift to a crowdfunding model.

“We believe in what we do. We believe in freedom of speech. We believe in a democratic Russia. The bigger the pressure, the harder we will stand up to it,” Meduza said in a statement.

With the onset of the Ukraine war in February 2022, the Russian government banned several outlets, including Echo of Moscow and TV Rain, the country’s only independent news channel.

Russian lawmakers introduced a bill in May 2022 outlawing “discrediting the armed forces,” with a prison sentence of up to 15 years for criticizing the Russian military.

Russia has been cracking down on “undesirable organizations” since 2015, according to Meduza, granting the prosecutor-general the power to label as such any organization that purportedly imperils the country’s “constitutional-order foundations” or national security.


Starzplay to launch first Arabic original series ‘Kaboos’

Starzplay to launch first Arabic original series ‘Kaboos’
Updated 27 January 2023

Starzplay to launch first Arabic original series ‘Kaboos’

Starzplay to launch first Arabic original series ‘Kaboos’
  • TV series described as modern-day retelling of Arab folklore is set to stream in February

LONDON: Video-streaming platform Starzplay announced on Thursday the launch of its first Arabic-language original series created in collaboration with Academy Award-winning Emirati production company Image Nation Abu Dhabi.

The new show, “Kaboos,” features five standalone episodes and has been described as a modern-day retelling of Arab folklore.

Nadim Dada, VP of programming and content acquisition at Starzplay, said the show is “our biggest content asset this year, our very first Arabic language original, and we are very excited to roll out the production across the Middle East.”

Filmed across Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and the UAE, the series takes viewers on a journey through urban legends of the region, with spine-chilling modern takes on stories inspired by local mythology.

The series, which spans a variety of genres from classic horror stories to noir psychological thrillers, features leading directors from across the region.

Emirati filmmakers Hana Kazim and Majid Al-Ansari, Iraqi director Yasir Al-Yasiri, Egyptian filmmaker and visual artist Ahmed Khaled, and Los Angeles-based Bahraini director Hala Matar each directed an episode.

“Image Nation Abu Dhabi constantly looks for challenging new projects that enable regional filmmakers to share the region’s contemporary heritage and culture with the world through Arabic-language content,” Ben Ross, chief content officer, said.

“Kaboos” balances terrifying horror scenes with storylines that explore human nature, offering nostalgic tales to Arab audiences, while introducing global viewers to the eerie world of Arab folklore, he added.

The series, which has been produced by Al-Yasiri’s and Mansoor Al Feeli’s media company, Abu Dhabi-based Starship Entertainment, is set to stream on Starzplay from Feb. 9.