Will Facebook’s new policy for the Ukraine-Russia war open the floodgates for hate speech?

Analysis Will Facebook’s new policy for the Ukraine-Russia war open the floodgates for hate speech?
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Updated 22 March 2022

Will Facebook’s new policy for the Ukraine-Russia war open the floodgates for hate speech?

Will Facebook’s new policy for the Ukraine-Russia war open the floodgates for hate speech?
  • Company has been criticized for allowing calls for violence against Russian invaders on its social network
  • Move is a way for Facebook to show its support for Ukraine, ‘but it’s just business,’ author and journalist Ignacio Hutin says

DUBAI: After an internal policy leak, Facebook’s parent company Meta announced it would allow posts urging violence against “Russian invaders,” as missiles continued to rain down on Ukraine.

This means that statements like “death to Russian soldiers,” “kill those Russian invaders” or even “may God destroy Russia for the invasion” will not be taken down if reported, and thus highlights another controversial double standard in how media and big tech is dealing with the conflict.

“As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine we have temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules, like violent speech such as ‘death to the Russian invaders,’” a Meta spokesperson said of the policy change, while claiming the company “still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians.”

Reuters, one of the first news outlets to report on the update, tweeted: “Facebook and Instagram to temporarily allow calls for violence against Russians.”

The news agency said Facebook would also allow praise for the right-wing extremist, neo-Nazi group Azov Battalion, which before the war was prohibited on the platform.

“It’s a business and right now the important thing for business in the Western world is to show support to Ukraine, no matter how. So Facebook’s way to show that support is (by) allowing hate messages toward Russians,” said Ignacio Hutin, journalist and author of “Ukraine: Chronicle from the Frontline” and “Ukraine/Donbass: A renewed Cold War.”

Hutin, who visited the Donbass during the war that tore the region after 2014, added: “I don’t think that’s related to the invasion itself. I don’t even think Facebook cares about the Russian invasion. I think Facebook is a profit-making business. But I just can’t agree with that kind of decision … It just promotes hate.”

While Meta is a private company, its social media platforms must abide by the laws of the countries in which they operate. In fact, just two weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Meta’s operations in Europe were threatened with closure due to European data regulations that prevented it from transferring, storing and processing Europeans’ data on US-based servers.

Meta’s decision also goes against its own values. When Marne Levine was vice president of global public policy, she said: “Facebook’s responsibility prohibits ‘hate speech.’ While there is no universally accepted definition of hate speech, as a platform we (Facebook) define the term to mean direct and serious attacks on any protected category of people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or disease. We work hard to remove hate speech quickly.”

Facebook has often been criticized for allowing hate speech and calls for violence on its platform, and has been described as “the place where calls for violence thrive.” An Associated Press report said it was used to “foment division and incite offline violence” in Myanmar.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a member of Meta’s oversight board and former prime minister of Denmark, declined to comment on the issue.

In the past decade, more than five conflicts and wars have broken out across the globe, and Facebook has made headlines for deleting content or promoting violence.

In May last year, as the Palestine-Israel conflict raged on, Facebook had its own battle in the Middle East, for its reputation. During the global focus on the evictions of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah district in occupied East Jerusalem, Facebook and Instagram were accused of “silencing pro-Palestinian voices” on the platforms. Some users reported that their posts were taken down for simply bearing the hashtag “#SaveSheikhJarrah.”

Facebook also deleted hundreds of posts condemning the evictions, suspension of accounts and censoring of content on a hashtag that included the name of one of Islam’s holiest mosques. The company acknowledged the accusations and blamed it on a technical fault.

The alleged glitches put the social networking giant under the microscope as not only did it ban posts against invaders in that context but it also silenced many voices from an oppressed, occupied and evicted community.

“Of course it is hypocritical. But it’s just business, it’s not about coherence,” Hutin said.

“It’s like the month of the LGBT pride: companies in some countries change their avatars and include the rainbow flag, but in countries where they know that won’t be well received, they don’t. Is it hypocritical? Sure. But it’s just business.”

Using the social media monitoring tool Talkwalker, it was found that from Feb. 24 to date the words “Russia” and “Russian” had a 44-46 percent negative sentiment on social media. In the same period of last year the figures were 27 percent globally and 8.7 percent in Europe. The phrase “Death to Russians” has been used more than 470 times since Feb. 24, against zero mentions during the same period of last year.

Russians are being blamed for supporting President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine, and the attacks are not just online. Russians in the US have reported being verbally threatened and their businesses being vandalized.

Milana Shevarkova, a 30-year-old Russian national working as a senior client consultant in the US, said on the “saddening recent event of Russia invading Ukraine” that she disagreed with the social network’s policy updates.

“If this is acceptable, then they should allow all content on social media where comments are not regulated, banned or softened.”

A final error with Facebook’s policy update to allow posts calling for violence against Russian soldiers is a logical one. According to Reuters, one of Meta’s emails said the update was applicable only in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine.

But if the policy team at Facebook genuinely believe in their amendments, why are they not allowed globally? And on what basis were these countries selected? They are not all ex-USSR states. They do not all border Russia. They are not all states that have animosity toward Russia. They are not all at war Russia or been invaded by it. The package makes zero sense.

Days before the announcement of the new policy, Nick Clegg, president of global affairs at Meta, issued a statement saying the company had received requests from governments and the EU to take steps in relation to Russian state-controlled media and had responded by restricting access to RT and Sputnik across Europe. So could the policy change to allow posts calling for violence against Russian soldiers be part of what the company was asked to do by EU governments, as further retaliation against Moscow?


Twitter owner Musk signals new ‘war’ against Apple

Twitter owner Musk signals new ‘war’ against Apple
Updated 29 November 2022

Twitter owner Musk signals new ‘war’ against Apple

Twitter owner Musk signals new ‘war’ against Apple
  • Musk on Monday also called Apple’s fee on transactions through its App Store a “secret 30 percent tax”

SAN FRANCISCO: Twitter owner Elon Musk on Monday opened fire against Apple over its tight control of what is allowed on the App Store, saying the iPhone maker has threatened to oust his recently acquired social media platform.
Musk also joined the chorus crying foul over a 30 percent fee Apple collects on transactions via its App Store — the sole gateway for applications to get onto its billion plus mobile devices.
A series of tweets fired off by Musk included a meme of a car with his first name on it veering onto a highway off-ramp labeled “Go to War,” instead of continuing onwards toward “Pay 30 percent.”
The billionaire CEO also tweeted that Apple has “threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store, but won’t tell us why.”
Apple did not immediately reply to an AFP request for comment.
Both Apple and Google require social networking services on their app stores to have effective systems for moderating harmful or abusive content.
But since taking over Twitter last month, Musk has cut around half of Twitter’s workforce, including many employees tasked with fighting disinformation, while an unknown number of others have voluntarily quit.
He has also reinstated previously banned accounts, including that of former president Donald Trump.
Yoel Roth, the former head of trust and safety at Twitter who left after Musk took over, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that “failure to adhere to Apple’s and Google’s guidelines would be catastrophic,” and risk “expulsion from their app stores.”
Describing himself as a “free speech absolutist,” Musk believes that all content permitted by law should be allowed on Twitter, and on Monday described his actions as a “revolution against online censorship in America.”
He also tweeted that he planned to publish “Twitter Files on free speech suppression,” but without clarifying what data he had in mind to share with the public.
Though Musk says Twitter is seeing record high engagement with him at the helm, his approach has startled the company’s major moneymaker — advertisers.
In recent weeks, half of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers have announced they are suspending or have otherwise “seemingly stopped advertising on Twitter,” an analysis conducted by nonprofit watchdog group Media Matters found.
Musk on Monday accused Apple of also having “mostly stopped advertising on Twitter.”
“Do they hate free speech in America?” he asked, before replying with a tweet tagging Apple CEO Tim Cook.
In the first three months of 2022, Apple was the top advertiser on Twitter, spending some $48 million on ads which accounted for more than 4 percent of the social media platform’s revenue, according to a Washington Post report citing an internal Twitter document.
Sarah Roberts, an information studies expert at University of California, Los Angeles, told AFP that “Musk didn’t understand that Twitter itself was a brand, had cachet.”
“Now companies don’t even want to be associated with it. It’s not even that they worry about the content. Twitter is a tainted brand, a brand non grata companies don’t want to be associated with,” she added.

Musk on Monday also called Apple’s fee on transactions through its App Store a “secret 30 percent tax.”
He shared a video released last year by Fortnite maker Epic Games that portrayed Apple as an oppressor in a mocking spin on a famous “1984” ad for Macintosh computers.
Apple has clashed in court with Epic, which has sought to break Apple’s grip on the App Store, accusing the iPhone maker of operating a monopoly in its shop for digital goods or services.
A federal judge last year ordered Apple to loosen control of its App Store payment options, but said Epic had failed to prove that antitrust violations had taken place.
Musk’s controversial moves at Twitter, along with the possibility he will need to sell more Tesla shares to keep the social media platform afloat, has taken shine off of the electric car company and its stock, according to Wedbush analyst Dan Ives.
“The Musk vs Apple new battle is not what investors want to see,” Ives said in a tweet.
“(Wall) Street wants less drama, not more as this Twitter situation remains the gift that keeps on giving for the Tesla bears with every day a new chapter.”

 


Fox News reporter deletes inaccurate video after being challenged by Arab News reporter on TikTok

Fox News reporter deletes inaccurate video after being challenged by Arab News reporter on TikTok
Updated 29 November 2022

Fox News reporter deletes inaccurate video after being challenged by Arab News reporter on TikTok

Fox News reporter deletes inaccurate video after being challenged by Arab News reporter on TikTok
  • American sports reporter Jenny Taft said, ‘I just had to go through a special gate in Qatar for ladies only. Um, I don’t feel that special,” while pulling a sarcastic and smug face
  • Lama Alhamawi explained that gender-segregated gates reflect respect for personal boundaries, and that journalists have a responsibility not to spread misinformation or biased rhetoric

LONDON: A Fox Sports reporter whose post on TikTok poked fun at gender-segregated entrances and security-searches at World Cup venues in Qatar deleted her video after being challenged by an Arab News reporter on Monday.

“I just had to go through a special gate in Qatar for ladies only. Um, I don’t feel that special,” Jenny Taft of Fox Sports said in the video while pulling a sarcastic and smug face.

Arab News reporter Lama Alhamawi took the opportunity to explain to Taft the reason for this and promptly put the American reporter firmly in her place.

“As a fellow reporter, as a fellow journalist that’s years younger than you, that’s traveled to different countries covering various topics around the world, I’m going to give you some advice,” Alhamawi said.

“As journalists, we have a responsibility to uphold. We have a responsibility to do our due diligence to fully understand and investigate a topic before spreading any information, misinformation or biased rhetoric, as you did in this video.

“Now, let’s talk about the special gate you talked about … It’s a matter of one word that perfectly explains the special gate: respect. It’s a matter of respecting someone’s boundaries, their beliefs, their religious beliefs. A woman does not want to be searched by men, a man does not want to be searched by a woman.

“It’s a matter of respecting someone’s religious beliefs and boundaries and making them feel comfortable as they’re entering this country. Now, you hinted at the idea that it was based on discrimination or sexism. But it’s far from that: It’s a level of respect. The best word to describe it is respect.

Alhamawi told Taft it is about providing a level of respect and not aimed at being discriminatory. 

“Now, judging by the way you conducted your video and executed it, that’s a word that’s foreign to you and something that you maybe don’t quite understand.”

Alhamawi garnered praise and support for calling out the veteran sports journalist.

“Absolutely spot on! I’m sick of seeing ignorant people judge,” one user wrote.

“Thank you Lama, for shedding light on this and for replying to it the best way possible,” said another.

Someone else wrote: “Beautifully said. Thank you for educating everyone with such grace.”

Following Alhamawai’s video and the barrage of supportive comments it attracted, Taft deleted her video.


Irish watchdog fines Meta 265M euros in latest privacy case

Meta's logo can be seen on a sign at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2022. (AP)
Meta's logo can be seen on a sign at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2022. (AP)
Updated 29 November 2022

Irish watchdog fines Meta 265M euros in latest privacy case

Meta's logo can be seen on a sign at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2022. (AP)
  • Meta said the data had been “scraped” from Facebook using tools designed to help people find their friends through phone numbers using search and contact import features

LONDON: Irish regulators slapped Facebook parent Meta with a 265 million-euro ($277 million) fine Monday, the company’s latest punishment for breaching strict European Union data privacy rules.
The Data Protection Commission said Meta Platforms infringed sections of the EU rules, known as the General Data Protection Regulation, that require technical and organizational measures aimed at protecting user data.
The watchdog opened an investigation last year into news reports that data on more 533 million users was found dumped online. The data was found on a website for hackers and included names, Facebook IDs, phone numbers, locations, birthdates and email addresses for people from more than 100 countries, according to the reports.
Meta said the data had been “scraped” from Facebook using tools designed to help people find their friends through phone numbers using search and contact import features. The watchdog said it investigated the automated scraping carried out between May 2018 and September 2019.
The company said it had “cooperated fully” with the Irish watchdog.
“We made changes to our systems during the time in question, including removing the ability to scrape our features in this way using phone numbers,” Meta said in a statement. “Unauthorized data scraping is unacceptable and against our rules.”
Along with the fine, the commission said it also imposed on Meta a “range of corrective measures,” which weren’t specified.
When asked if Meta would appeal, a spokesman said, “We are still reviewing this decision carefully.”
It’s the latest in a series of punishments that the Irish watchdog has levied against Meta over the past two years.
The company, based in Menlo Park, California, has its European headquarters in Dublin, which makes the Irish authority its lead privacy regulator under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, in a system known as “one-stop shop.”
The Irish watchdog fined Meta-owned Instagram 405 million euros in September after it found that the platform mishandled teenagers’ personal information. Meta was fined 17 million euro fines in March for its handling of a dozen data breach notifications.
Last year, the watchdog fined Meta’s chat service WhatsApp 225 million euros for violating rules on sharing people’s data with other Meta companies.

 


Former Shahid exec launches regional production company The Yard Films

Former Shahid exec launches regional production company The Yard Films
Updated 29 November 2022

Former Shahid exec launches regional production company The Yard Films

Former Shahid exec launches regional production company The Yard Films
  • Jakob Mejlhede Andersen co-founded the business, which will be based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with former Shine International CEO Camilla Hammer
  • The executive team also includes Phil Rostom, a 15-year veteran of the industry in the Middle East and North Africa

DUBAI: Jakob Mejlhede Andersen, former chief content officer of MBC’s streaming platform Shahid, has teamed up with former Shine International CEO Camilla Hammer to launch The Yard Films, a regional production and development company.

The executive team behind the business, which will be based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, also includes Phil Rostom, an industry veteran who has worked across the Middle East and North Africa for more than 15 years.

The founders said the new company will develop and produce original scripted and non-scripted content for local and international markets, targeted in particular at millennial and Gen Z audiences.

Andersen, who was involved in the production of more than 200 Nordic and Arabic scripted and non-scripted projects during his tenures at Shahid and Stockholm-based streaming service Viaplay, said: “It’s our ambition to produce and deliver groundbreaking content for the buoyant Arabic streaming market.”

“We aim to work in partnerships with the excellent local creative scene across the entire MENA region.”

Hammer said that the company’s team believes “in partnerships within the region and internationally.”

She added: “There is a wealth of stories across the Middle East that have a strong interest not only from local but also international platforms.”


Iranian filmmaker Reza Dormishian barred from travel, passport confiscated

Iranian filmmaker Reza Dormishian barred from travel, passport confiscated
Updated 28 November 2022

Iranian filmmaker Reza Dormishian barred from travel, passport confiscated

Iranian filmmaker Reza Dormishian barred from travel, passport confiscated
  • Dormishian is only the latest in a long line of filmmakers to face Iran’s arbitrary detention policies

DUBAI: Iran has barred filmmaker Reza Dormishian from leaving the country. 

Dormishian was due to travel to the International Film Festival of India in Goa, where his film “A Minor” was scheduled to play.

On his arrival at the airport, his passport was confiscated. It is unclear if he was arrested and, if so, what the charges will be.

However, it is understood that the authorities’ action is the result of his recent social media posts about the Iranian government.

“Throughout the nationwide protests in Iran, Dormishian shared various posts on his Instagram account to show support for the significant developments,” sources close to him said, according to media reports.

In his most recent post, Dormishian had said: “I would die for a hair strand of Iranian people.

“I would die for the youth who are gone with the wind, from Balochistan to Kurdistan.

“What is my curfew worth?”

 

 

Dormishian is only the latest in a long line of filmmakers to face Iran’s arbitrary detention policies.

In July, acclaimed director Jafar Panahi was ordered to serve a six-year jail sentence, handed down a decade ago, after he attempted to find information about fellow filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad, who had been detained earlier.

Last month, Iranian filmmaker Mani Haghighi was prevented from leaving Iran to attend the BFI London Film Festival, where his latest film “Subtraction” was being screened.

And earlier this month, co-directors Farnaz and Mohammadreza Jurabchian were barred from traveling to the Netherlands for the International Documentary Film Festival where their film “Silent House” had its world premiere.

Directed by Dariush Mehrjui and produced by Dormishian, “A Minor” played in India on Thursday and Friday last week.