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 not safer under Elon Musk, says former head of trust and safety

Twitter not safer under Elon Musk, says former head of trust and safety
Updated 30 November 2022

Twitter not safer under Elon Musk, says former head of trust and safety

Twitter not safer under Elon Musk, says former head of trust and safety
  • Twitter under Musk began to stray from its adherence to written and publicly available policies toward content decisions made unilaterally by Musk, which Roth cited as a reason for his resignation

CALIFORNIA: Twitter's former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth on Tuesday said the social media company was not safer under new owner Elon Musk, warning in his first interview since resigning this month that the company no longer had enough staff for safety work.
Roth had tweeted after Musk's takeover that by some measures, Twitter safety had improved under the billionaire's ownership.
Asked in an interview at the Knight Foundation conference on Tuesday whether he still felt that way, Roth said: "No."
Roth was a Twitter veteran who helped steer the social media platform through several watershed decisions, including the move to permanently suspend its most famous user, former U.S. President Donald Trump, last year.
His departure further rattled advertisers, many of whom backed away from Twitter after Musk laid off half of the staff, including many involved with content moderation.
Before Musk assumed the helm at Twitter, about 2,200 people globally were focused on content moderation work, said Roth. He said he did not know the number after the acquisition because the corporate directory had been turned off.
Twitter under Musk began to stray from its adherence to written and publicly available policies toward content decisions made unilaterally by Musk, which Roth cited as a reason for his resignation.
"One of my limits was if Twitter starts being ruled by dictatorial edict rather than by policy ... there's no longer a need for me in my role, doing what I do," he said.
The revamp of the Twitter Blue premium subscription, which would allow users to pay for a verified checkmark on their account, launched despite warnings and advice from the trust and safety team, Roth said.
The launch was quickly beset by spammers impersonating major public companies such as Eli Lilly, Nestle and Lockheed Martin.
Roth also said Tuesday that Twitter erred in restricting the dissemination of a New York Post article that made claims about then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son shortly before the 2020 presidential election.
But he defended Twitter's decision to permanently suspend Trump for risk of further incitement of violence after the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
"We saw the clearest possible example of what it looked like for things to move from online to off," Roth said. "We saw people dead in the Capitol."
Musk tweeted on Nov. 19 that Trump's account would be reinstated after a slim majority voted in favor of the move in a surprise Twitter poll.

 


Twitter blue verified set to launch on Apple’s iOS app — Information

Smartphone with displayed Twitter app is seen placed on Apple logo in this illustration taken, November 29, 2022. (REUTERS)
Smartphone with displayed Twitter app is seen placed on Apple logo in this illustration taken, November 29, 2022. (REUTERS)
Updated 30 November 2022

Twitter blue verified set to launch on Apple’s iOS app — Information

Smartphone with displayed Twitter app is seen placed on Apple logo in this illustration taken, November 29, 2022. (REUTERS)

SAN FRANCISCO: Twitter Inc’s Blue verified service is scheduled to roll out on Friday, but only on Apple’s iOS mobile software, the Information reported on Tuesday, citing a person briefed on the plans.
As Twitter plans to launch the subscription offering via an update to Twitter’s iOS app, it needs Apple’s approval as part of the standard app review process, the report said, adding that the company would update its Android app later.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
This comes a day after new owner Elon Musk accused Apple of threatening to block the Twitter from its app store without saying why in a series of tweets that also said the iPhone maker had stopped advertising on the social media platform.
The billionaire CEO of Twitter and Tesla said Apple was pressuring Twitter over content moderation demands.

 


Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange

Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange
Updated 29 November 2022

Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange

Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange
  • Guardian, NYT, Le Monde, El País and Der Spiegel editors and publishers said the indictment threatens freedom of the press.

WASHINGTON: The United States should end its prosecution of Julian Assange, leading media outlets from the United States and Europe that had collaborated with the WikiLeaks founder said on Monday, citing press freedom concerns.
“This indictment sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens to undermine America’s First Amendment and the freedom of the press,” editors and publishers of the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El País said in an open letter.
Assange is wanted by US authorities on 18 counts, including a spying charge, related to WikiLeaks’ release of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables. His supporters say he is an anti-establishment hero who has been victimized because he exposed US wrongdoing, including in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Monday marked 12 years since those media outlets collaborated to release excerpts from over 250,000 documents obtained by Assange in the so-called “Cablegate” leak.
The material was leaked to WikiLeaks by the then-American soldier Chelsea Manning and revealed the inner workings of US diplomacy around the globe. The documents exposed “corruption, diplomatic scandals, and spy affairs on an international scale,” the letter said.
In August, a group of journalists and lawyers sued the CIA and its former director, Mike Pompeo, over allegations the intelligence agency spied on them when they visited Assange during his stay in Ecuador’s embassy in London.
Assange spent seven years in the embassy before being dragged out and jailed in 2019 for breaching bail conditions. He has remained in prison in London while his extradition case is decided. If extradited to the United States, he faces a sentence of up to 175 years in an American maximum security prison.
His legal team has appealed to the High Court in London to block his extradition in a legal battle that has dragged on for more than a decade.
“Publishing is not a crime,” the media outlets said in their letter on Monday.


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.