Is technology the answer to innovating newsrooms in the MENA?

Senior news executives from across the region discussed the best ways forward for their industry, broaching topics from artificial intelligence to membership models. (Shutterstock)
Senior news executives from across the region discussed the best ways forward for their industry, broaching topics from artificial intelligence to membership models. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 18 March 2022

Is technology the answer to innovating newsrooms in the MENA?

Is technology the answer to innovating newsrooms in the MENA?
  • Expert panel analyzed “innovation in newsrooms” as part of the virtual Media Leaders eSummit
  • MENA news outlets are signing up to Google’s GNI challenge, exploring innovations in content creation 

DUBAI: As the ways in which news is gathered, published and consumed have radically changed in recent years, media organizations have been forced to find increasingly innovative ways to adapt.

The Google News Initiative last month launched its latest Middle East, Turkey and Africa Innovation Challenge, which invites innovators to apply for funding to help them realize their visions and implement new ideas that can challenge the status quo and shake up the industry.

On day three of the Middle Eastern Media Leaders e-Summit 2022 on Thursday, representatives of publishers in the region shared their approaches to innovation and what they hope to achieve.

During a panel discussion titled Innovation in Newsrooms, Yassine Majdi of TelQuel, a French-language Moroccan weekly news magazine, talked about the ways in which it attempts to engage the five million Moroccans living abroad, who represent about one in seven of the country’s nationals.

“We wanted to make news that targets them as well, which is why we entered the GNI challenge,” he said.

“We noticed a huge chunk of our subscribers are also part of the Moroccan diaspora so now we are rethinking the project, which means having a common environment for everyone.”

Innovation is a way for TelQuel to rethink the way its team works and reshape the media environment, he added.

“The diaspora helped us bring the whole environment, including podcasts and videos, together,” said Majdi.

He also spoke of the importance of presenting news in different ways that reflect generational shifts in the way it is consumed, for example through increased use of videos and podcasts. He said the process is not primarily a technological change, but more a case of challenging preconceptions.

Majdi said that journalists can be reluctant to accept new approaches and adjustments to the traditional ways in which news is presented but “there is a huge change going on and innovation means being able to accept and embrace this change. What everyone is trying to do is get a direct link with our audience so that the contact is more direct. We are trying to be more customized and focused on them and we are trying to do what is right for them.”

Kareem Sakka, publisher at Raseef22, an Arabic media network based in Beirut, spoke about its social mission as a non-profit organization that delivers interesting stories each day to 400 million readers in 22 Arab countries.

“We wanted to let them know we care about the things they care about and we have to leave the content open for everyone,” he said. “So we thought about how we could get closer to our readers and we discovered the whole world of possibilities through the GNI challenge.”

He believes that the future value of media lies in a thorough understanding of the target audience.

“We were lucky to work with good developers who were fluent in what we are doing,” Sakka added.

The objective of Raseef22 is to be a hybrid news source with a member-focused newsroom that caters to all readers who are interested in human rights, freedom of speech and democracy, he said, and to help achieve this it works with local journalists across the region, from Mauritania to Oman.

“The GNI challenge opened our eyes to the possibilities and made us have a two-way relationship with readers to run a tight-knit club with them,” he added. “A few memberships can really make us grow.”

Sakka said that all media organizations must evolve to become forums that encourage calls to action, rather than just “dishing the bad news.” The aim of his organization is to have an effect on civil society and promote change by giving people a chance to communicate with each other.

“That membership program will allow some sort of communication area to open to members,” he added. “We want to make people sit down together.”

Mina Al-Oraibi, editor-in-chief at the UAE-based English-language daily newspaper The National, said that a desire to reach wider audiences had encouraged it to enter the GNI Innovation Challenge.

“It was a great opportunity because we got to brainstorm,” she said. “We came up with a proposal to introduce articles on our site in English and Arabic to open us up to a bigger audience. This is where we decided that we would try to develop the translation and audio technology.”

Innovation is required throughout the news industry, according to Al-Oraibi, to address the challenge of operating a 24-hour news cycle.

“It’s one of the primary challenges you face,” she said. “One of the challenges we often have is that unless you have a huge budget with hundreds of developers, coders and technology (experts) on staff, you are often just adopting technology that’s already there, which is not the best way to serve your strategic vision and it can be quite demotivating to your team.”

She described changes to the news landscape, both in terms of the events happening globally but also in the technology used to cover them and how people consume information, and highlighted the need for innovation to ensure newsrooms remain healthy and effective and ahead of the curve.

“The challenge is funding, money, and finding the right resources (and) someone who understands journalism and technology,” she said.

“Partnerships are really important. We structured it into our newsroom — we have product meetings and brainstorming sessions, which are very important.”

Apple and Amazon resume advertising on Twitter — reports

Apple and Amazon resume advertising on Twitter — reports
Updated 05 December 2022

Apple and Amazon resume advertising on Twitter — reports

Apple and Amazon resume advertising on Twitter — reports Inc. and Apple Inc. are planning to resume advertising on Twitter, according to media reports on Saturday.
The developments follow an email sent by Twitter on Thursday to advertising agencies offering advertisers incentives to increase their spending on the platform, an effort to jump-start its business after Elon Musk’s takeover prompted many companies to pull back.
Twitter billed the offer as the “biggest advertiser incentive ever on Twitter,” according to the email reviewed by Reuters. US advertisers who book $500,000 in incremental spending will qualify to have their spending matched with a “100 percent value add,” up to a $1 million cap, the email said.
On Saturday, a Platformer News reporter tweeted that Amazon is planning to resume advertising on Twitter at about $100 million a year, pending some security tweaks to the company’s ads platform.
However, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters that Amazon had never stopped advertising on Twitter.
Separately, during a Twitter Spaces conversation, Musk announced that Apple is the largest advertiser on Twitter and has “fully resumed” advertising on the platform, according to a Bloomberg report.
Musk’s first month as Twitter’s owner has included a slashing of staff including employees who work on content moderation and incidents of spammers impersonating major public companies, which has spooked the advertising industry.
Many companies from General Mills Inc. to luxury automaker Audi of America stopped or paused advertising on Twitter since the acquisition, and Musk said in November that the company had seen a “massive” drop in revenue.
Apple and Twitter did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment on the matter.

Twitter Files: All you need to know about Elon Musk’s latest revelations

Twitter Files: All you need to know about Elon Musk’s latest revelations
Updated 03 December 2022

Twitter Files: All you need to know about Elon Musk’s latest revelations

Twitter Files: All you need to know about Elon Musk’s latest revelations
  • The thread included snippets related to the 2020 Hunter Biden story

A tweet on Friday by journalist Matt Taibbi released the “Twitter Files” Elon Musk has been teasing since Monday, claiming they unmasked the suppression of free speech by the social media platform.

Taibbi, who typed “The Twitter Files” in all caps, wrote, in his rather dramatic opening tweets, that the thread will “tell an incredible story from inside one of the world’s largest and most influential social media platforms.”

Twitter CEO Musk said in a tweet on Monday: “The public deserves to know what really happened,” and promoting the lengthy thread on Friday, he wrote, “Here we go!!” with two popcorn emojis.

The thread, peppered with snippets and screenshots described by Taibbi as “internal documents,” detailed the company’s call to block a 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden shortly before the presidential election.

Several of the snippets showed Twitter executives rushing to make a difficult moderation decision, which Taibbi described as “extraordinary steps to suppress the story,” about the New York Post article.

On Oct. 14, 2020, the New York Post alleged that it had obtained emails providing evidence that Hunter Biden had introduced his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to “a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company.”

Twitter’s policies prohibit the distribution of “hacked materials,” according to NBC News, and it cited the relevant policy as one of the reasons it had blocked the article, confirming that the content was not the concern.

Among the screenshots were also emails from unnamed individuals in the Biden administration, requesting that Twitter act against specific tweets.

NBC News reported that “many, if not all, of the tweets in question violated Twitter rules,” and “at least three of those tweets involved photographs of Hunter Biden.”

On Friday, Musk faced the pressure of having to make a tough moderation decision of his own, when rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, posted an image of a swastika inside the Star of David, violating the platform’s policy against incitement of violence and prompting Twitter to suspend Ye’s account.

While most comments supported Taibbi’s thread, one Twitter user wrote: “Really, Mr. Musk? This is an old, very stale story.” Another user, Collin Rugg, whose profile description says he was “banned from Twitter at 75k followers for supporting Trump,” wrote: “Elon Musk is going up against some of the most powerful people in America. Pray for him.”

US Senator for Kentucky Rand Paul retweeted the thread, saying: “This is better than a Friday night movie. Everyone should read this and everyone should thank Elon Musk for bringing this public.”

Daily Mail delays public release of privacy breach court allegations

Daily Mail delays public release of privacy breach court allegations
Updated 03 December 2022

Daily Mail delays public release of privacy breach court allegations

Daily Mail delays public release of privacy breach court allegations
  • Lawyers acting for Prince Harry, Elton John and others claim clients were victims of ‘abhorrent criminal activity’

The Daily Mail is seeking to delay the publication of court allegations made by high-profile claimants surrounding the newspaper’s journalism practices.

The potentially damaging allegations, made by lawyers acting for Prince Harry, Doreen Lawrence, Elton John and other high-profile individuals, should have been formally acknowledged by the Daily Mail within 14 days from when they were served, automatically making their details available for public and media scrutiny, according to The Guardian.

, which also includes Sadie Frost, David Furnish and Liz Hurley, filed court cases against Associated Newspapers, the Mail’s parent company, in early October.

Lawyers representing the group said they had “compelling and highly distressing evidence” that their clients had been the “victims of abhorrent criminal activity and gross breaches of privacy” by Associated Newspapers over many years.

The lawyers claimed that the Daily Mail’s parent company misused private information, alleging that listening devices may have been placed in the homes of the celebrities.

Paul Dacre, now editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers, told the Leveson Inquiry in 2012 while editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail that his newspaper had never engaged in illegal behavior such as phone hacking.

Dacre is speculated to be on Boris Johnson’s resignation honors list, but Labour MPs have demanded that the honor be delayed pending the outcome of the legal case.

Sources with knowledge of the case said that the paperwork setting out the allegations against the Daily Mail and its sister title is still private due to legal intervention by Associated Newspapers, which has delayed formal acknowledgment — and therefore publication — of the claims.

The allegations come despite the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday’s long record of campaigning against “secret justice” and promoting transparency in the court system. A spokespeople for the Daily Mail’s parent company did not respond to multiple requests for comment on why the company had yet to acknowledge the claims.

Associated Newspapers has been accused of hiring private investigators to secretly place listening devices inside cars and homes, commissioning individuals to surreptitiously listen in to, and record, private telephone calls, paying police officials for sensitive inside information, impersonating individuals to obtain medical information by deception, and accessing bank accounts, credit histories and financial transactions through illicit means and manipulation.

The Daily Mail previously dismissed the claims as “preposterous smears,” alleging that the legal cases consisted of “unsubstantiated and highly defamatory claims based on no credible evidence.” The paper said that the proceedings “appear to be nothing more than a pre-planned and orchestrated attempt to drag the Mail titles into the phone-hacking scandal.”

Former Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes is also filing proceedings against Associated Newspapers. His claims are believed to center around allegations of voicemail interception by the newspaper.

The major allegations are the first to be leveled against the Daily Mail by high-profile individuals in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal and 2011 closure of the News of the World.

Twitter exec says moving fast on moderation, as harmful content surges

A Twitter logo hangs outside the company's San Francisco offices on Nov. 1, 2022. (AP)
A Twitter logo hangs outside the company's San Francisco offices on Nov. 1, 2022. (AP)
Updated 03 December 2022

Twitter exec says moving fast on moderation, as harmful content surges

A Twitter logo hangs outside the company's San Francisco offices on Nov. 1, 2022. (AP)
  • Twitter is restricting hashtags and search results frequently associated with abuse, like those aimed at looking up “teen” pornography

SAN FRANCISCO: Elon Musk’s Twitter is leaning heavily on automation to moderate content, doing away with certain manual reviews and favoring restrictions on distribution rather than removing certain speech outright, its new head of trust and safety told Reuters.
Twitter is also more aggressively restricting abuse-prone hashtags and search results in areas including child exploitation, regardless of potential impacts on “benign uses” of those terms, said Twitter Vice President of Trust and Safety Product Ella Irwin.
“The biggest thing that’s changed is the team is fully empowered to move fast and be as aggressive as possible,” Irwin said on Thursday, in the first interview a Twitter executive has given since Musk’s acquisition of the social media company in late October.
Her comments come as researchers are reporting a surge in hate speech on the social media service, after Musk announced an amnesty for accounts suspended under the company’s previous leadership that had not broken the law or engaged in “egregious spam.”
The company has faced pointed questions about its ability and willingness to moderate harmful and illegal content since Musk slashed half of Twitter’s staff and issued an ultimatum to work long hours that resulted in the loss of hundreds more employees.
And advertisers, Twitter’s main revenue source, have fled the platform over concerns about brand safety.
On Friday, Musk vowed “significant reinforcement of content moderation and protection of freedom of speech” in a meeting with France President Emmanuel Macron.
Irwin said Musk encouraged the team to worry less about how their actions would affect user growth or revenue, saying safety was the company’s top priority. “He emphasizes that every single day, multiple times a day,” she said.
The approach to safety Irwin described at least in part reflects an acceleration of changes that were already being planned since last year around Twitter’s handling of hateful conduct and other policy violations, according to former employees familiar with that work.
One approach, captured in the industry mantra “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach,” entails leaving up certain tweets that violate the company’s policies but barring them from appearing in places like the home timeline and search.
Twitter has long deployed such “visibility filtering” tools around misinformation and had already incorporated them into its official hateful conduct policy before the Musk acquisition. The approach allows for more freewheeling speech while cutting down on the potential harms associated with viral abusive content.
The number of tweets containing hateful content on Twitter rose sharply in the week before Musk tweeted on Nov. 23 that impressions, or views, of hateful speech were declining, according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate – in one example of researchers pointing to the prevalence of such content, while Musk touts a reduction in visibility.
Tweets containing words that were anti-Black that week were triple the number seen in the month before Musk took over, while tweets containing a gay slur were up 31 percent, the researchers said.
Irwin, who joined the company in June and previously held safety roles at other companies including and Google, pushed back on suggestions that Twitter did not have the resources or willingness to protect the platform.
She said layoffs did not significantly impact full-time employees or contractors working on what the company referred to as its “Health” divisions, including in “critical areas” like child safety and content moderation.
Two sources familiar with the cuts said that more than 50 percent of the Health engineering unit was laid off. Irwin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the assertion, but previously denied that the Health team was severely impacted by layoffs.
She added that the number of people working on child safety had not changed since the acquisition, and that the product manager for the team was still there. Irwin said Twitter backfilled some positions for people who left the company, though she declined to provide specific figures for the extent of the turnover.
She said Musk was focused on using automation more, arguing that the company had in the past erred on the side of using time- and labor-intensive human reviews of harmful content.
“He’s encouraged the team to take more risks, move fast, get the platform safe,” she said.
On child safety, for instance, Irwin said Twitter had shifted toward automatically taking down tweets reported by trusted figures with a track record of accurately flagging harmful posts.
Carolina Christofoletti, a threat intelligence researcher at TRM Labs who specializes in child sexual abuse material, said she has noticed Twitter recently taking down some content as fast as 30 seconds after she reports it, without acknowledging receipt of her report or confirmation of its decision.
In the interview on Thursday, Irwin said Twitter took down about 44,000 accounts involved in child safety violations, in collaboration with cybersecurity group Ghost Data.
Twitter is also restricting hashtags and search results frequently associated with abuse, like those aimed at looking up “teen” pornography. Past concerns about the impact of such restrictions on permitted uses of the terms were gone, she said.
The use of “trusted reporters” was “something we’ve discussed in the past at Twitter, but there was some hesitancy and frankly just some delay,” said Irwin.
“I think we now have the ability to actually move forward with things like that,” she said.


Hate speech on the rise on Twitter despite Elon Musk’s claims

A view of the Twitter logo at its corporate headquarters in San Francisco, California, U.S. November 18, 2022. (REUTERS)
A view of the Twitter logo at its corporate headquarters in San Francisco, California, U.S. November 18, 2022. (REUTERS)
Updated 02 December 2022

Hate speech on the rise on Twitter despite Elon Musk’s claims

A view of the Twitter logo at its corporate headquarters in San Francisco, California, U.S. November 18, 2022. (REUTERS)
  • Data from researchers reveals a sharp increase in racial slurs and other offensive terms on the platform immediately after the billionaire’s takeover of the platform
  • In the 12 days after Musk’s takeover, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue tracked 450 new Twitter accounts linked to Daesh, a 69 percent increase on the previous 12 days

DUBAI: On Nov. 4, just over a week after he completed his takeover of Twitter, billionaire Elon Musk Tweeted that the platform had “seen hateful speech at times this week decline *below* our prior norms, contrary to what you may read in the press.”

However, newly published data from several organizations suggests otherwise.

In the first 12 days following the takeover, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue tracked 450 newly created Twitter accounts linked to Daesh, a 69 percent increase compared with the previous 12 days.

Meanwhile, the Center for Countering Digital Hate said that in the week beginning Oct. 31, the first full week the platform was under the ownership of Musk, one particular racial slur appeared in tweets and retweets 26,228 times, triple the 2022 average for that slur. A derogatory term used to attack another group was mentioned in 33,926 tweets and retweets, a 53 percent increase on the 2022 average.

Musk’s takeover of Twitter has been controversial from the moment he announced it. It came as social media platforms had been under increasing scrutiny for some time over their policies on content moderation and efforts to combat hate speech.

Musk, however, describes himself as a “free speech absolutist” and said he wanted to change the way in which content is moderated on the platform. During a TED Talk in April, the same month he reached his agreement to buy Twitter, he talked about his plans for moderation and suggested he might make Twitter’s algorithm open source.

On Oct. 28, the day after his takeover was completed, he announced his plans to form “a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints.”

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On Nov. 4 he said: “Twitter’s strong commitment to content moderation remains absolutely unchanged.”

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But CCDH’s analysis revealed that despite early claims by Musk and Twitter’s head of trust and safety at the time, Yoel Roth, that the platform had succeeded in reducing the number of times hate speech was seen on Twitter’s search and trending pages, the actual volume of hateful tweets on the platform increased.

Before Musk bought Twitter, for example, slurs against Black Americans appeared on the platform an average of 1,282 times a day. In the days after, the number increased to 3,876 times a day, The New York Times reported. Antisemitic posts increased by more than 61 percent in the two weeks following Musk’s arrival, it added.

A separate study by the Network Contagion Research Institute found an increase of nearly 500 percent in the use of a derogatory racial term for Black people in the 12 hours immediately following the shift of ownership to Musk.

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Analysts note that an escalation in hate speech on Twitter is not only dangerous for users and society as a whole, but also represents a threat to the company itself. According to research and information center Media Matters for America, 50 of the platform’s top 100 advertisers have either announced they will no longer advertise on Twitter or have simply stopped.

Collectively, they accounted for nearly $2 billion in advertising revenue on the platform since 2020 and more than $750 million in 2022 alone.

Roth quit the company last month and later said: “I realized that even if I spent all day, every day trying to avert whatever the next disaster was, there were going to be the ones that got through.

Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, said that Musk’s Twitter is a cacophony of dictatorship, egotism and blatant disregard for the advice of experts.

If it continues, he warned, “under Musk’s leadership, Twitter will become a fever swamp of dangerous conspiracy theories, partisan chicanery and operationalized harassment.”