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?

Two Palestinian journalists shot, injured by Israeli soldiers

Two Palestinian journalists shot, injured by Israeli soldiers
Updated 16 sec ago

Two Palestinian journalists shot, injured by Israeli soldiers

Two Palestinian journalists shot, injured by Israeli soldiers
  • Media watchdog calls for a ‘thorough and transparent’ investigation

LONDON: Israeli Defense Forces have been accused of shooting and injuring two Palestinian journalists who were covering events in the occupied area of the West Bank.

Photojournalists Louay Samhan and Mahmoud Fawzy were reporting on a raid in the village of Deir al-Hatab, near the city of Nablus, when IDF opened fire and injured the two reporters.

A 21-year-old Palestinian man, Alaa Zaghal, was killed, and four other people injured in the incident.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said: “Israeli authorities must conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the shooting of two Palestinian journalists, and take all necessary precautions to ensure that the Israel Defense Force does not shoot at journalists doing their work.”

According to sources, Samhan and Fawzy, who were working for the Palestinian Authority-funded Palestine TV, were wearing helmets and blue vests that read “Press” on the front and back when they were shot on Wednesday.

A video of the incident shows the two journalists being shot in the hand and leg, respectively, before receiving medical attention. These facts were confirmed by Israeli reports and a statement by the journalists’ employer.

Palestinian Red Crescent Society confirmed on Thursday that Samhan and Fawzy were treated in hospital and are in a stable condition.

According to news reports, at the time of the incident IDF was carrying out a raid at the home of Hamas militant suspect Salman Amran.

It has been reported that during the raid Amran barricaded himself in the house and returned fire before being arrested.

In May, IDF was criticized after Al Jazeera’s Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed by soldiers as she was reporting on an Israeli raid in Jenin.

Israeli officials first disputed that IDF soldiers shot Abu Akleh, but they later acknowledged that it was likely their fire resulted in her death.

Justin Shilad, CPJ’s senior Middle East and North Africa researcher, said: “Even after Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing generated outrage worldwide, the Israel Defense Forces have again fired on clearly marked journalists while they do their jobs.

“Israeli authorities must investigate this shooting immediately and implement procedures to ensure that journalists are not targets.”

Since March, the number of Israeli raids in the West Bank has surged, with news reports accusing the IDF of conducting near-daily raids of Palestinian homes, towns and villages.

Saudis praise energy minister’s response in dealing with media questions

Saudis praise energy minister’s response in dealing with media questions
Updated 07 October 2022

Saudis praise energy minister’s response in dealing with media questions

Saudis praise energy minister’s response in dealing with media questions
  • Commentators on social media were impressed by how he reacted during a press conference at the OPEC+ meeting in Vienna this week

LONDON: Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman is earning praise on social media for his response to a journalist during a press conference at the OPEC+ meeting in Vienna this week.

On Wednesday, a video went viral in which the Saudi Energy Minister is seen snapping at Reuters reporter Alex Lawler and refusing to answer his questions. Instead, he tells the journalist that he is unhappy with news stories published by the agency that suggested Saudi Arabia and Russia are working together to manipulate global oil prices.

“You have got it wrong twice,” Prince Abdulaziz told the reporter in reference to a Reuters report. “You (Reuters) did not do a proper job.”

He added that despite speaking with a Reuters journalist to clarify the facts, the agency did not retract or correct the story and instead published another report repeating the claims.

“I acted in a very respectful way, emanating from respecting the agency, but you elected to choose a phantom Saudi source,” the minister continued. He then declined to answer any questions from Lawler.

As the video spread on social media sites, many people praised the minister for his response and stance.

One person wrote: “Prince Abdulaziz isn’t having it! Not today, Reuters.”



Another user simply said: “Roasted…”



Later during the conference, when CNBC reporter Hadley Gamble asked the minister about suggestions that the OPEC+ decision to cut oil production was an affront to the West, an irritated Prince Abdulaziz said: “Show me where is the act of belligerence. Period.”

It was not the first abrupt encounter between the energy minister and Gamble. Last year, when the American journalist asked a question relating to an International Energy Agency report on achieving net-zero carbon emissions, the prince dismissed the report as a “La La Land” fantasy.

His approach to the media on Wednesday was on display even as he arrived at the OPEC+ conference in Vienna. When a journalist asked him if there was a consensus to cut oil production, he ignored the question and replied: “It is a sunny day and will continue to be a sunny day.”

In October last year, during a ceremony for the signing of an electrical interconnection project between Saudi and Egypt, the minister raised a few eyebrows when he went off on a tangent to highlight the fact that his nurse is Egyptian.

It came as he said he has strong ties to the Egyptian people and added: “I believe we will be happy and proud if we support every Saudi and Egyptian citizen, and if every person who loves Egypt and Saudi has electricity in their smile,” referring to the lyrics of an Egyptian song.

Saudi Arabia, UAE most valuable national brands in Middle East

Saudi Arabia, UAE most valuable national brands in Middle East
The UAE ranked highest globally in brand performance, with a score of 80.5 out of 100. (Shutterstock/file)
Updated 07 October 2022

Saudi Arabia, UAE most valuable national brands in Middle East

Saudi Arabia, UAE most valuable national brands in Middle East
  • Kingdom catching up to UAE as region’s No. 1
  • Russia’s value down $144bn in year

LONDON: Middle Eastern nations have seen the value of their brand grow this year, while Russia’s has fallen by billions of dollars, according to a report by a London-based consultancy firm.

the firm said that Saudi Arabia’s nation brand value had increased 7 percent to $768 billion.

Brand Finance, a brand valuation company, measures the relative strength of national brands through a balanced scorecard of metrics evaluating brand investment, equity, and performance. 

The Kingdom is catching up with the UAE, which has the most valuable nation brand in the Middle East, up 3 percent to $772 billion. Israel is third at $393 billion, up 17 percent, while Qatar is fourth having seen its value fall by 3 percent to $217 billion. 

Andrew Campbell, the managing director of Brand Finance Middle East, told Arab News that the Saudi value had grown “significantly” thanks to its efforts to open up to the world.

“Saudi Arabia is being recognised world-wide for opening up to increased business and trade. Further, the opening of tourism by leveraging its cultural heritage is leading to high ratings for influence and familiarity across the world,” he said.

The UAE ranked highest globally in brand performance, with a score of 80.5 out of 100 in part due to a successful coronavirus pandemic response that allowed it to open for business sooner than many other countries.

Campbell noted that the UAE had received “global acclaim for its response to COVID-19. The UAE is attracting more trade, tourism, investment, and talent than other nation brands.”

Russia suffered the largest drop in brand value in the world this year, down $144 billion compared to 2021. 

It means the country’s brand value has fallen by a third from its pre-pandemic figure of $960 billion. It is now placed at 24th among the world’s top 100 nations, sitting between Belgium ($647 billion) and Austria ($570 billion).

The US leads the chart at $26.5 trillion, while China is second at $21.5 trillion. In third place is Germany, at $4,500 billion.

Biden signs order to implement EU-US data privacy framework

Biden signs order to implement EU-US data privacy framework
Updated 07 October 2022

Biden signs order to implement EU-US data privacy framework

Biden signs order to implement EU-US data privacy framework
  • Deal comes after Europe’s top court threw out two previous pacts due to concerns about US surveillance

LONDON: US President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order to implement a European Union-United States data transfer framework announced in March that adopts new American intelligence gathering privacy safeguards.
The deal seeks to end the limbo in which thousands of companies found themselves after Europe’s top court threw out two previous pacts due to concerns about US surveillance.
US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told reporters the executive order “is the culmination of our joint effort to restore trust and stability to transatlantic data flows” and “will ensure the privacy of EU personal data.”
The framework addresses the concerns of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which in July 2020 struck down the prior EU-US Privacy Shield framework as a valid data transfer mechanism under EU law.
European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders said he was “quite sure” there would be a fresh legal challenge, but he was confident that the pact met the demands of the court.
“We have a real improvement relative to the Privacy Shield.... It’s totally different,” he told Reuters in an interview. “Maybe the third attempt will be the good one.”
The White House said “transatlantic data flows are critical to enabling the $7.1 trillion EU-US economic relationship” and the framework “will restore an important legal basis for transatlantic data flows.”
The US Chamber of Commerce and Microsoft welcomed the executive order, but digital rights activist group Access Now and European consumer organization BEUC said it did not appear that people’s rights were being sufficiently protected.
The White House said Biden’s order bolstered current “privacy and civil liberties safeguards” for US intelligence gathering and created an independent, binding multi-layer redress mechanism for individuals who believe their personal data was illegally collected by US intelligence agencies.
Reynders said it would take about six months to complete a complex approval process, noting the previous system only had redress to an ombudsperson inside the US administration, which the EU court rejected.
Biden’s order adopts new safeguards on the activities of US intelligence gathering, requiring they do only what is necessary and proportionate, and creates a two-step system of redress — first to an intelligence agency watchdog then to a court with independent judges, whose decisions would bind the agencies.
Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in March said the provisional agreement offered stronger legal protections and addressed the EU court’s concerns.
Raimondo on Friday will transmit a series of letters to the EU from US agencies “outlining the operation and enforcement of the EU-US data privacy framework” that “will form the basis for the European Commission’s assessment in a new adequacy decision,” she said.
Under the order, the Civil Liberties Protection Officer (CLPO) in the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence will investigate complaints and make decisions.
The US Justice Department is establishing a Data Protection Review Court to independently review CLPO’s decisions. Judges with experience in data privacy and national security will be appointed from outside the US government.
European privacy activists have threatened to challenge the framework if they did not think it adequately protects privacy. Austrian Max Schrems, whose legal challenges have brought down the previous two EU-US data flow systems, said he still needed to analyze the package.
“At first sight it seems that the core issues were not solved and it will be back to the CJEU (EU court) sooner or later,” he said.

Judge halts Twitter-Musk case, sets Oct. 28 deadline to close deal

Judge halts Twitter-Musk case, sets Oct. 28 deadline to close deal
Updated 07 October 2022

Judge halts Twitter-Musk case, sets Oct. 28 deadline to close deal

Judge halts Twitter-Musk case, sets Oct. 28 deadline to close deal
  • The trial was due to start on October 17

NEW YORK: A US judge on Thursday suspended litigation in the saga over Elon Musk’s proposed $44-billion takeover of Twitter, giving the parties until October 28 to finalize the on-again, off-again megadeal.
Delaware Judge Kathaleen McCormick, ruling on a Musk request to freeze the case that had drawn a biting retort from Twitter, said a trial originally scheduled to begin in 11 days could be rescheduled for next month if a deal is not finalized.
“If the transaction does not close by 5 p.m. on October 28, 2022, the parties are instructed to contact me by email that evening to obtain November 2022 trial dates,” McCormick said in the order.
The move buys time for a potential reconciliation between two parties that began squabbling as soon as Musk sealed an agreement in April to purchase the influential social media site for $54.20 per share.
With an October 17 trial date on Twitter’s breach-of-contract suits against Musk looming, the unpredictable Tesla boss did an about-face on Tuesday, reviving his $44-billion takeover plan on condition the Delaware court halt the lawsuit against him.
Twitter said Tuesday it expects to close the buyout deal at the $54.20 price in a statement that did not address Musk’s demands over freezing the litigation.
Legal briefs filed earlier Thursday shed further light on prickly proceedings characterized by mutual distrust.
“There is no need for an expedited trial to order Defendants to do what they are already doing and this action is now moot,” said a filing prepared by Musk’s attorneys that alluded to his latest offer.
“Yet, Twitter will not take yes for an answer. Astonishingly they have insisted on proceeding with this litigation, recklessly putting the deal at risk and gambling with their stockholders interests.”
The filing said Twitter had opposed a suspension on the “theoretical possibility” of lack of financing for the transaction, adding that Musk has access to financing to close the deal “on or around October 28.”

Twitter refuted those arguments, noting that Musk’s side had still not committed to a closing date and calling Musk’s latest appeal “an invitation to further mischief and delay,” Twitter attorneys said in a filing to the Delaware court.
“’Trust us,’ they say, ‘we mean it this time,’” Twitter lawyers said in a brief that described Musk as seeking an “indefinite” time frame to close the deal.
“The obstacle to terminating this litigation is not, as Defendants say, that Twitter is unwilling to take yes for an answer. The obstacle is that Defendants still refuse to accept their contractual obligations.
“Until Defendants commit to close as required, Twitter is entitled to its day in court to... prove Defendants’ breaches so as to ensure complete relief in the event the closing should for any reason not occur,” they said.
Analysts say the litigation provides leverage to Twitter against the risk of another shift by Musk.
US media have reported that the talks are stuck in part on Musk’s assertion that the deal is contingent on billions of dollars in debt financing by major banks.
Twitter “thought they had a deal before,” said Adam Badawi, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “So to actually accept something from (Musk), it’s going to have to be as ironclad as it possibly can.”
But experts were eyeing the latest court twist as beneficial for Musk.
“I think it’s definitely an advantage to him. I mean, he obviously very much wanted to delay this,” Ann Lipton, a law professor at Tulane University, told AFP.
But she noted the advantage would shift to Twitter should Musk not seal the deal by October 28.
“If somehow that doesn’t happen, I think that Twitter will have a stronger case that he’s been acting in bad faith all along, which... justifies whatever equitable remedies would be appropriate for that,” Lipton added.
A serial entrepreneur made rich through his success with Tesla electric cars, Musk began to step back from the Twitter deal soon after it was agreed.
Musk said in July he was canceling the purchase because he was misled by Twitter concerning the number of fake “bot” accounts, allegations rejected by the company.
Twitter, meanwhile, has sought to prove Musk was contriving excuses to walk away — simply because he changed his mind.
Musk’s potential stewardship of the influential social media site has sparked worry from activists who fear he could open the gates to more abusive and misinformative posts.
Shares of Twitter, which surged on Tuesday’s news of Musk’s reversal, fell 3.7 percent to $49.39.