LONDON: Lebanon joined the UAE, Saudi Arabia and 11 other countries across the world on Tuesday to prohibit the new Pixar animated film “Lightyear” from screening in cinemas.
The animated film, scheduled for worldwide release on Thursday, features a scene involving a same-sex kiss between two of its characters.
While Lebanon did not immediately offer any official justification for the decision, the UAE’s Media Regulatory Office said on Monday that the film “violates the country’s media content standards.”
Indonesia, Egypt, and Malaysia are among the countries to prevent the “Toy Story” spin-off from commercial screening.
Lebanon does not have a consistent policy toward film and media censorship. Films such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” which depicted the life of Freddie Mercury, were allowed to screen across the country.
Meanwhile, Marvel’s “Eternals” was heavily edited, to cut out scenes of same-sex relationships.
Notably, “Eternals” was also banned from screening across cinemas in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar.
Films such as “West Side Story” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” were also banned in various countries across the region, including the UAE, for including trans and homosexual characters.
The UAE later removed the ban on “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” opting instead for a 21+ rating.
Burkina junta orders France 24 off air after Al-Qaeda interview
Burkina Faso has been battling a jihadist insurgency since 2015
France 24 has been accused of ‘legitimising the terrorist message’ in the country
Updated 27 March 2023
OUAGADOUGOU: The military junta in Burkina Faso on Monday suspended all broadcasts by the France 24 news channel in the west African country after it interviewed the head of Al-Qaeda North Africa.
Burkina Faso, which witnessed two coups last year, is battling a jihadist insurgency that spilled over from neighboring Mali in 2015.
“By opening its channel to the head of AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), France 24 not only acts as a communications agency for these terrorists but also offers ... legitimacy to terrorist actions and hate speech,” the junta spokesman said, referring to a March 6 interview with AQIM head Abu Ubaydah Yusuf Al-Annabi.
“Therefore the government has decided... to suspend sine die the diffusion of France 24 programs on all national territory,” spokesman Jean-Emmanuel Ouedraogo said.
The France 24 broadcast was cut around 0900 GMT on Monday, AFP journalists said.
On March 6, France 24 broadcast written replies given by Al-Annabi to 17 questions posed by the news channel’s specialist on jihadist issues, Wassim Nasr.
“We believe this is part of a process of legitimising the terrorist message and we know about the effects of this message in this country,” Ouedraogo later told RTB national television.
In Paris, France 24 hit back branding the Burkinabe government statement “outrageous and defamatory.”
“The management of France 24 condemns this decision and disputes the baseless accusations calling into question the channel’s professionalism,” the broadcaster said.
It stressed that the AQIM chief’s interview had not been directly aired but used as an account to confirm that the group had detained a French hostage who was released in Niger last week.
“The security crisis the country (Burkina Faso) is going through must not be a pretext for muzzling the media,” France 24 said.
The French foreign ministry also issued a statement saying it “regrets” the suspension and voicing “constant and determined commitment in favor of press freedom.”
In December, the Burkina junta suspended Radio France Internationale (RFI), which belongs to the same France Medias Monde group as France 24, accusing the radio station of airing a “message of intimidation” attributed to a “terrorist chief.”
Both RFI and France 24, which cover African affairs closely and are popular in francophone nations, have been suspended in neighboring Mali, which is also run by a military junta fighting jihadist forces.
According to France 24 one third of Burkina’s population watches the channel every week.
The military government in Ouagadougou said it would continue to “defend the vital interests of our people against anyone who acts as a loudspeaker for terrorist acts and the divisive hate speech of these armed groups.”
In March, the ruling junta in Mali announced the suspension of the broadcasting authorization granted to RFI and France 24, after they published stories implicating the national army in abuses against civilians.
One of the world’s poorest nations, Burkina Faso’s soldiers staged two coups in 2022 over the failure to tackle the threat from jihadist groups.
More than 10,000 civilians, troops and police have been killed, according to one NGO estimate, and at least two million people have been displaced.
With jihadists effectively controlling about 40 percent of the country, according to official figures, junta leader Captain Ibrahim Traore vowed to recover lost territory after taking power in September.
But jihadist attacks have escalated since the start of the year, with dozens of soldiers and civilians killed every week.
Former colonial power France has in the past year withdrawn troops from Mali, Burkina Faso and the Central African Republic.
The pullout from Mali and Burkina Faso, where French soldiers were supporting the Sahel nations in the long-running insurgency, came on the back of a wave of local hostility.
Twitter said code posted on GitHub infringe copyrights, requested to be taken down
Updated 27 March 2023
NEW YORK: Some parts of Twitter’s source code — the fundamental computer code on which the social network runs — were leaked online, the social media company said in a legal filing on Sunday that was first reported by The New York Times.
According to the legal document, filed with the US District Court of the Northern District of California, Twitter had asked GitHub, an Internet hosting service for software development, to take down the code where it was posted. The platform complied and said the content had been disabled, according to the filing. Twitter also asked the court to identify the alleged infringer or infringers who posted Twitter’s source code on systems operated by GitHub without Twitter’s authorization.
Twitter, based in San Francisco, noted in the filing that the postings infringe copyrights held by Twitter.
The leak creates more challenges for billionaire Elon Musk, who bought Twitter last October for $44 billion and took the company private. Since then, it has been engulfed in chaos, with massive layoffs and advertisers fleeing.
Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission is probing Musk’s mass layoffs at Twitter and trying to obtain his internal communications as part of ongoing oversight into the social media company’s privacy and cybersecurity practices, according to documents described in a congressional report.
Microsoft threatens to restrict data from rival AI search tools — Bloomberg News
The company has told at least two customers that using its Bing search index to feed their AI chat tools violates the terms of their contract
Updated 27 March 2023
Microsoft Corp. has threatened to cut off access to its Internet-search data, which it licenses to rival search engines, if they do not stop using it as the basis for their own artificial intelligence chat products, Bloomberg News reported on Friday.
The company has told at least two customers that using its Bing search index — a map of the Internet that can be scanned in real time — to feed their AI chat tools violates the terms of their contract, the news agency said, citing people familiar with the dispute.
Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft may also terminate licenses providing access to its search index, Bloomberg added.
“We’ve been in touch with partners who are out of compliance as we continue to consistently enforce our terms across the board,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Reuters, adding that the company will continue to work with them directly and give information needed to find a path forward.
The maker of the Windows operating system had said in February it was revamping its Bing search engine and Edge Web browser with artificial intelligence, signaling its ambition to retake the lead in consumer technology markets where it has fallen behind.
The upgraded Bing search engine was rolled out to users late last month.
Company promises ‘a lineup of engaging content on Discover and Spotlight’
Saudi Broadcasting Authority, MBC Group among media partners
Updated 25 March 2023
DUBAI: The holy month of Ramadan is a time for enjoying local shows for many people in the Middle East.
Traditionally, these would be viewed on the TV through satellite channels, but the proliferation of the internet and social media has seen people turn to other devices for their daily dose of entertainment.
Last year, for example, there was a 167 percent increase in Google searches for “series” in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, according to the tech company’s regional arm.
Now, Snapchat has announced it is launching more than 100 new shows during the holy month in partnership with media companies and content creators.
“This Ramadan, we are partnering with some of the region’s most trusted media partners and fan favorite creators to showcase a lineup of engaging content on Discover and Spotlight,” said Hussein Freijeh, general manager of Snap Inc. for the Middle East and North Africa region.
Those partners include Saudi Broadcasting Authority, MBC Group, Augustus Media, 7awi and Rotana Media Group.
The show lineup includes “Netflorex,” “THAT,” “Marahel,” “Tash Returns,” “Studio 23,” “Ramez Never End” and “Madraset Banat Alyoum.”
The offering also includes content from regional and global creators such as Saudi-based comedian Bader Saleh, food creator and entrepreneur Ahmad Alzahabi and Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, founder of online community and show “Muslim Girl.”
Last year, Snapchat users spent 31 percent more time watching Ramadan content than they did in 2021, Freijeh said.
The new content will be available on Snapchat through its Discover and Spotlight sections.
As the Arab world watches on, is the clock ticking for TikTok?
The impact and implications of TikTok’s growing influence in the MENA region are a global concern with more questions than answers after a congressional hearing with app CEO
TikTok CEO’s mounting woes as security concerns place him in the hotseat at a US congressional hearing with the world looking on for answers
Updated 25 March 2023
Zaira Lakhpatwala TAREK ALI AHMAD
DUBAI/LONDON: In yet another congressional hearing-turned-nail-biting drama, TikTok’s CEO was the latest global tech chief to take center stage before the US Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Shou Zi Chew, chief executive of perhaps the world’s most popular app, was in the same hot seat that previously hosted the likes of Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey.
People from around the globe tuned in to see how Chew would justify and ensure US user data was safe and protected.
TikTok’s Chinese roots are not just an issue for US citizens; “it impacts the world,” Giles Crouch, a digital anthropologist, told Arab News.
“While the Chinese government doesn’t own a majority share in TikTok, they do own what’s called a ‘golden share,’ so they have a seat at the board,” he added.
India has already banned the app entirely, while Canada, Belgium, Denmark, New Zealand, Taiwan, the UK and the US have banned TikTok on government devices. However, the app still operates fully across the Middle East.
In Saudi Arabia alone, a country with a majority youth population, the app has 26.39 million users — the most in the region. Iraq and Egypt both have more than 23 million users, while the UAE has almost 6 million.
For five hours, bipartisan lawmakers grilled Chew over a range of topics, namely the claim that the Chinese Communist Party has access to TikTok user data, as well as fears over the platform’s algorithms and content that could have a potentially harmful impact on young people.
The questioning ended with a frustrated committee unsatisfied with Chew’s responses. The CEO, when given the chance to answer questions, often came across as evasive, resorting to “I’ll get back to you with specifics.”
Such hesitation and evasiveness has become a cause for concern among users and governments around the globe, with France taking the decision to ban the app on administrative phones just one day after the hearing.
“Our CEO, Shou Chew, came prepared to answer questions from Congress, but, unfortunately, the day was dominated by political grandstanding that failed to acknowledge the real solutions already underway through Project Texas or productively address industry-wide issues of youth safety,” a TikTok MENA spokesperson told Arab News, relaying the same response issued by the global company.
Last year, TikTok announced the $1.5 billion Project Texas initiative to protect the data of its US users. The plan, which is estimated to cost the company $700 million to $1 billion per year, hopes to address government concerns about user data privacy risks and content recommendations.
During the hearing, the committee questioned Chew about Project Texas, with some members asking how the $1.5 billion would be allocated. Other members remained skeptical of the project, as well as TikTok’s ability to truly safeguard US data.
Many, if not all, committee members seemed to believe that TikTok is essentially an arm of the Chinese government. Although Chew said that he has not seen any “evidence that the Chinese government has access to that data; they have never asked us, we have not provided it,” several members openly voiced their disbelief.
“I find that actually preposterous,” said Congresswoman Anna Eshoo.
In a recent column, however, Al Arabiya News Channel’s Mamdouh Al-Muhaini claimed that “both arguments (of spying and propaganda spreading) are absurd and lack conclusive evidence. Rather, they are being used merely for political blackmail — to force China to make concessions amid international conflict between Beijing and Washington.
“The war on TikTok comes in the context of the race between America — and the West — and China. In a war for influence, brains and hearts, all weapons, accusations and pretexts can be used,” he said, adding that the app was “being used as a device in the (US-China) cold war.”
An FBI and Department of Justice investigation into TikTok’s ability to spy on US citizens also undermined Chew’s case. Last year, parent company ByteDance confirmed that its employees used TikTok to track and obtain the IP addresses of multiple US journalists covering the app.
Yet, when Congressman Neal Dunn asked Chew if ByteDance is spying on US citizens, the CEO shakily replied: “I don’t think that spying is the right way to describe it.”
The Chinese minister of foreign affairs held a press briefing the following day, with a spokesperson saying: “The Chinese government has never asked and will never ask any company or individual to collect or provide data, information or intelligence located abroad against local laws.
“The US government has provided no evidence or proof that TikTok threatens US national security, yet it has repeatedly suppressed and attacked the company based on the presumption of guilt.
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning added that the US should “respect the principles of a market economy and fair competition, stop suppressing foreign companies and provide an open, fair, just and non-discriminatory environment for foreign companies operating in the US.”
While a plethora of countries in the West chimed in on the debate, governments across the Middle East have largely stayed silent.
In a previous interview with Arab News, Saudi cybersecurity expert Abdullah Al-Jaber said that concerns over TikTok’s data security stemmed from the app’s country of origin as well as Chinese rules and regulations.
“If you use Facebook or Twitter, it’s not much different than using TikTok,” he said.
Apart from the focus on spying and data collection, members of congress also grilled the TikTok CEO over the platform’s algorithms for content suggestions and discovery, particularly among vulnerable audiences. Members asked why certain content is allowed to be published on the platform — unlike on China’s sister app Douyin, which is heavily censored.
“TikTok can be very good for kids but the way it’s used in China is very different from the way it’s used in the rest of the world — what kids are seeing in Riyadh or Dubai is very different from what they’re going to be seeing in Beijing,” said Crouch, the digital anthropologist.
Douyin features “very positive and uplifting content” that encourages “doing good for the community, helping one another and being very sociable,” he added.
But in other countries, “they (TikTok) literally use algorithms which manipulate young kids’ minds so they get served with content that is mindless, often negative, and can be disturbing to those minds,” Crouch said.
Chew attributed the contrast in content on TikTok and Douyin to the different laws in each country. That argument is true to some extent, because the Chinese government does have more control over content posted on domestic platforms.
“They put the controls in place in China to stop kids from being overly stimulated,” said Crouch. But “they just don’t care for the rest of the world because they’re out to make money.”
In some aspects, including dangerous content, TikTok is very much like any other social media company, many of which originated in Silicon Valley — a fact acknowledged by some members of the committee.
Senior executives from Meta, Twitter and Google have all appeared before US Congress in an attempt to allay concerns over data, privacy and moderation.
However, as Congressman Dan Crenshaw said in the hearing, all social media companies collect personal data and could use it to “influence narratives and trends, create misinformation campaigns, encourage self-destructive behavior, purposefully allow drug cartels to communicate freely and organize human and drug trafficking.”
But the difference is that “it’s only TikTok that is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”