Meta’s Oversight Board issued 20 decisions in its first year. Is that enough?

During the period covered by the report, the board received more than a million appeals, issued 20 decisions — 14 of which overturned Meta’s own rulings — and made 86 recommendations to the company. (AFP)
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During the period covered by the report, the board received more than a million appeals, issued 20 decisions — 14 of which overturned Meta’s own rulings — and made 86 recommendations to the company. (AFP)
During the period covered by the report, the board received more than a million appeals, issued 20 decisions — 14 of which overturned Meta’s own rulings — and made 86 recommendations to the company. (AFP)
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During the period covered by the report, the board received more than a million appeals, issued 20 decisions — 14 of which overturned Meta’s own rulings — and made 86 recommendations to the company. (AFP)
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Updated 02 July 2022

Meta’s Oversight Board issued 20 decisions in its first year. Is that enough?

Meta’s Oversight Board issued 20 decisions in its first year. Is that enough?
  • Board shows commitment to bringing about positive change, and to lobbying Meta to do the same, But is this enough?
  • The first annual report from the independent review body, which is funded by Meta, explains the reasoning behind its 20 rulings and the 86 recommendations it has made

DUBAI: Meta’s Oversight Board has published its first annual report. Covering the period from October 2020 to December 2021, it describes the work the board has carried out in relation to how Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, treats its users and their content, and the work that remains to be done.

The board is an independent body set up and funded by Meta to review content and content-moderation policies on Facebook and Instagram. It considers concerns raised by Meta itself and by users who have exhausted the company’s internal appeals process. It can recommend policy changes and make decisions that overrule the company’s decisions.

During the period covered by the report, the board received more than a million appeals, issued 20 decisions — 14 of which overturned Meta’s own rulings — and made 86 recommendations to the company.

“Through our first Annual Report, we’re able to demonstrate the significant impact the board has had on pushing Meta to become more transparent in its content policies and fairer in its content decisions,” Thomas Hughes, the board’s director, told Arab News.

Through our first Annual Report, we’re able to demonstrate the significant impact the board has had on pushing Meta to become more transparent in its content policies and fairer in its content decisions.

Thomas Hughes, Director of Meta’s Oversight Board

One of the cases the board considered concerns a post that appeared on media organization Al Jazeera Arabic’s verified page in May 2021, and which was subsequently shared by a Facebook user in Egypt. It consisted of Arabic text and a photo showing two men, their faces covered, who were wearing camouflage and headbands featuring the insignia of the Palestinian Al-Qassam Brigades.

The text read: “The resistance leadership in the common room gives the occupation a respite until 6 p.m. to withdraw its soldiers from Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, otherwise he who warns is excused. Abu Ubaida – Al-Qassam Brigades military spokesman.”

The user who shared the post commented on it in Arabic by adding the word “ooh.”

Meta initially removed the post because Al-Qassam Brigades and its spokesperson, Abu Ubaida, are designated under Facebook’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations community standard. However, it restored the post based on a ruling by the board.

The board said in its report that while the community standard policy clearly prohibits “channeling information or resources, including official communications, on behalf of a designated entity,” it also noted there is an exception to this rule for content that is published as “news reporting.” It added that the content in this case was a “reprint of a widely republished news report” by Al Jazeera and did not include any major changes other than the “addition of the non-substantive comment, ‘ooh.’”

Meta was unable to explain why two of its reviewers judged the content to be in violation of the platform’s content policies but noted that moderators are not required to record their reasoning for individual content decisions.




Meta has agreed to our call to ensure all updates to its policies
are translated into all languages, says Thomas Hughes, Director of Meta’s Oversight Board

According to the report, the case also highlights the board’s objective of ensuring users are treated fairly because “the post, consisting of a republication of a news item from a legitimate outlet, was treated differently from content posted by the news organization itself.”

Based on allegations that Facebook was censoring Palestinian content, the board asked the platform a number of questions, including whether it had received any requests from Israel to remove content related to the 2021 Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In response, Facebook said that it had not received any valid, legal requests from a government authority related to the user’s content in this case. However, it declined to provide any other requested information.

The board therefore recommended an independent review of these issues, as well as greater transparency about how Facebook responds to government requests.

“Following recommendations we issued after a case decision involving Israel/Palestine, Meta is conducting a review, using an independent body, to determine whether Facebook’s content-moderation community standards in Arabic and Hebrew are being applied without bias,” said Hughes.

In another case, the Oversight Board overturned Meta’s decision to remove an Instagram post by a public account that allows the discussion of queer narratives in Arabic culture. The post consisted of a series of pictures with a caption, in Arabic and English, explaining how each picture illustrated a different word that can be used in a derogatory way in the Arab world to describe men with “effeminate mannerisms.”

Meta is conducting a review, using an independent body, to determine whether Facebook’s content-moderation community standards in Arabic and Hebrew are being applied without bias.

Thomas Hughes, Director of Meta’s Oversight Board

Meta removed the content for violating its hate speech policies but restored it when the user appealed. However, it later removed the content a second time for violating the same policies, after other users reported it.

According to the board, this was a “clear error, which was not in line with Meta’s hate speech policy.” It said that while the post does contain terms that are considered slurs, it is covered by an exception covering speech that is “used self-referentially or in an empowering way,” and also an exception that allows the quoting of hate speech to “condemn it or raise awareness.”

Each time the post was reported, a different moderator reviewed it. The board was, therefore, “concerned that reviewers may not have sufficient resources in terms of capacity or training to prevent the kind of mistake seen in this case.”

Hughes said: “As demonstrated in this report, we have a track record of success in getting Meta to consider how it handles posts in Arabic.

“We’ve succeeded in getting Meta to ensure its community standards are translated into all relevant languages, prioritizing regions where conflict or unrest puts users at most risk of imminent harm. Meta has also agreed to our call to ensure all updates to its policies are translated into all languages.”

These cases illustrate the board’s commitment to bringing about positive change, and to lobbying Meta to do the same, whether that means restoring an improperly deleted post or agreeing to an independent review of a case. But is this enough?

This month, Facebook failed once again when it faced a test of how capable it is of detecting obviously unacceptable violent hate speech. The test was carried out by nonprofit groups Global Witness and Foxglove, which created 12 text-based adverts which featured dehumanizing hate speech that called for the murder of people belonging to Ethiopia’s three main ethnic groups — the Amhara, the Oromo and the Tigrayans — and submitted them to the platform. Despite the clearly objectionable content, Facebook’s systems approved the adverts for publication.

In March, Global Witness ran a similar test using adverts about Myanmar that used similar hate speech. Facebook also failed to detect those. The ads were not actually published on Facebook because Global Witness alerted Meta to the test and the violations the platform had failed to detect.

In another case, the Oversight Board upheld Meta’s initial decision to remove a post alleging the involvement of ethnic Tigrayan civilians in atrocities carried out in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. However, Meta restored the post after a user appealed to the board, so the company had to once again remove the content from the platform.

In November 2021, Meta announced that it had removed a post by Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed Ali, in which he urged citizens to rise up and “bury” rival Tigray forces who threatened the country’s capital. His verified Facebook page remains active, however, and has 4.1 million followers.

In addition to its failures over content relating to Myanmar and Ethiopia, Facebook has long been accused by rights activists of suppressing posts by Palestinians.

“Facebook has suppressed content posted by Palestinians and their supporters speaking out about human rights issues in Israel and Palestine,” said Deborah Brown, a senior digital rights researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch.

During the May 2021 Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Facebook and Instagram removed content posted by Palestinians and posts that expressed support for Palestine. HRW documented several instances of this, including one in which Instagram removed a screenshot of the headlines and photos from three New York Times op-ed articles, to which the user had added a caption that urged Palestinians to “never concede” their rights.

In another instance, Instagram removed a post that included a picture of a building and the caption: “This is a photo of my family’s building before it was struck by Israeli missiles on Saturday, May 15, 2021. We have three apartments in this building.”

Digital rights group Sada Social said that in May 2021 alone it documented more than 700 examples of social media networks removing or restricting access to Palestinian content.

According to HRW, Meta’s acknowledgment of errors that were made and attempts to correct some of them are insufficient and do not address the scale and scope of reported content restrictions, nor do they adequately explain why they occurred in the first place.

Hughes acknowledged that some of the commitments to change made by Meta will take time to implement but added that it is important to ensure that they are “not kicked into the long grass and forgotten about.”

Meta admitted this year in its first Quarterly Update on the Oversight Board that it takes time to implement recommendations “because of the complexity and scale associated with changing how we explain and enforce our policies, and how we inform users of actions we’ve taken and what they can do about it.”

In the meantime, Hughes added: “The Board will continue to play a key role in the collective effort by companies, governments, academia and civil society to shape a brighter, safer digital future that will benefit people everywhere.”

However, the Oversight Board only reviews cases reported by users or by Meta itself. According to some experts, the issues with Meta go far beyond the current scope of the board’s mandate.

“For an oversight board to address these issues (Russian interference in the US elections), it would need jurisdiction not only over personal posts but also political ads,” wrote Dipayan Ghosh, co-director of the Digital Platforms and Democracy Project at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“Beyond that, it would need to be able to not only take down specific pieces of content but also to halt the flow of American consumer data to Russian operatives and change the ways that algorithms privilege contentious content.”

He went on to suggest that the board’s authority should be expanded from content takedowns to include “more critical concerns” such as the company’s data practices and algorithmic decision-making because “no matter where we set the boundaries, Facebook will always want to push them. It knows no other way to maintain its profit margins.”


Former Saudi footballer Yasser Al-Qahtani signed by beIN Sports as analyst

Former Saudi footballer Yasser Al-Qahtani signed by beIN Sports as analyst
Updated 53 sec ago

Former Saudi footballer Yasser Al-Qahtani signed by beIN Sports as analyst

Former Saudi footballer Yasser Al-Qahtani signed by beIN Sports as analyst
  • He joins the broadcaster in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and will work with its media team in the Middle East and North Africa on flagship channel beIN Sports

LONDON: Former Saudi footballer Yasser Al-Qahtani is joining global sports, media and entertainment group beIN’s line-up of talent, the broadcaster announced on Monday.

A former captain of the Saudi national team, he played for several Arab clubs including Al-Qadisiyah and Al-Hilal in the Kingdom, and Al-Ain in the UAE.

Al-Qahtani said he is happy to be joining the beIN team, especially in the run-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, which kicks off Nov. 21. Saudi Arabia will be one of the 32 teams competing as the finals of the competition are held for the first time in the region.

“I hope this step will be a good addition for viewers, especially with beIN’s existing line-up of top sports analysts,” he said.

He will work with the broadcaster’s media team in the Middle East and North Africa as a football analyst on flagship sports channel beIN Sports.

“Al-Qahtani joins our line-up of best-in-class analysts, with many more noteworthy talent announcements, across the board, to be revealed shortly,” said Tareq Zainal, beIN’s chief financial and human resources officer.

“The new appointment comes at a truly exceptional time in our company’s history, as we’re working around the clock to exclusively broadcast the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, the world’s greatest and biggest show, across the region later this year.”

The Asian Football Confederation’s Asian Footballer of the Year in 2007, Al-Qahtani scored 172 goals in 354 professional appearances during an 18-year career, the highlights of which included playing at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, during which he scored a goal against Tunisia. He was also the top scorer during the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, and played for the Saudi national team for more than 11 years.


Apple urges Taiwanese suppliers to label products as ‘Made in China’

Apple urges Taiwanese suppliers to label products as ‘Made in China’
Updated 08 August 2022

Apple urges Taiwanese suppliers to label products as ‘Made in China’

Apple urges Taiwanese suppliers to label products as ‘Made in China’
  • China warned of sanctions against companies, individuals found breaching so-called one-China principle, with goods at risk of not being approved for import or export by authorities
  • Apple’s decision has sparked criticisms from around the world, highlighting the company’s dependence on Chinese suppliers

LONDON: Apple has urged its Taiwanese suppliers to change the labeling of products manufactured in the island to “Made in China,” sources reveal.

Apple sent a warning to its suppliers on Friday about China’s increased enforcement of a long-standing import law that requires Taiwanese parts and components to have the labels “Taiwan, China” or “Chinese Taipei,” amid rising tensions between the two countries.

“A tightening of the labeling rule may not just affect Apple’s suppliers, but all those that send shipments from Taiwan island to the mainland,” Gao Lingyun, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, commented.

China’s ongoing dispute over Taiwan has been at the center of political and economic attention in recent months.

Last week, Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, sparking Chinese outrage and prompting a four-day military exercise by the Chinese army around the island. Pelosi was the first high-ranking US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years.

China warned of sanctions against companies and individuals found breaching the so-called one-China principle, with goods at risk of not being approved for import or export by the authorities.

“If the mainland authorities tighten the enforcement of the rule, this may increase the probability of shipments from Taiwan island being seized by mainland customs,” Gao said.

Apple’s decision has sparked criticism from around the world. In September 2020, the US giant issued a document titled “Our Commitment to Human Rights,” in which it stated that "at Apple and throughout our supply chain, we prohibit harassment, discrimination, violence, and retaliation of any kind — and we have zero tolerance for violations motivated by any form of prejudice or bigotry.”

Apple has long depended on China for the manufacture of most of its products. Because of its reliance on China for product assembly and sales, however, the company is unwilling to speak out against flagrant violations, despite what it claims.

“Is it a question of time before Apple starts removing apps whose name contains the characters [for] Taiwan without specifying ‘province of China’,” GreatFire, an advocacy group working against Chinese censorship online, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, we suspect that Apple’s ‘red-line’, the moment where it will say: ‘Stop, no longer, we cannot continue to collaborate with the Chinese regime and enforce its requests for censorship,’ is nowhere close,” noted Benjamin Ismail, project director for GreatFire’s associated AppleCensorship.com.

Even though Apple has long sought to diversify its supply chain and manufacturing process, with new factories in India and Brazil, the tech giant’s dependence on Chinese factories for the production of most of its latest products, including the iPhone 14, exposes the instability of an already fragile supply chain and production market.

Given the economic and strategic importance of Taiwan, which accounts for over 90 percent of the world’s most advanced semiconductor manufacturing capacity, China’s aggressive policies represent a significant risk for America and the rest of the world.


Musk says Twitter deal should go ahead if it provides proof of real accounts

Musk says Twitter deal should go ahead if it provides proof of real accounts
Updated 08 August 2022

Musk says Twitter deal should go ahead if it provides proof of real accounts

Musk says Twitter deal should go ahead if it provides proof of real accounts
  • Twitter on Thursday dismissed Musk’s claim that he was hoodwinked into signing the deal to buy the social media company

LONDON: Elon Musk said that if Twitter Inc. could provide its method of sampling 100 accounts and how it confirmed that the accounts are real, his $44 billion deal to buy the company should proceed on its original terms.
“However, if it turns out that their SEC filings are materially false, then it should not,” Musk tweeted early on Saturday.
In response to a Twitter user asking whether the US SEC was probing “dubious claims” by the company, Musk tweeted “Good question, why aren’t they?.”
Twitter declined to comment on the tweet when contacted by Reuters.
Twitter on Thursday dismissed Musk’s claim that he was hoodwinked into signing the deal to buy the social media company, saying that it was “implausible and contrary to fact.”
“According to Musk, he — the billionaire founder of multiple companies, advised by Wall Street bankers and lawyers — was hoodwinked by Twitter into signing a $44 billion merger agreement. That story is as implausible and contrary to fact as it sounds,” the filing released by Twitter on Thursday said.
Musk filed a countersuit Twitter on July 29, escalating his legal fight against the social media company over his bid to walk away from the $44 billion purchase.


Press watchdog slams Israel over treatment of Palestinian journalists

Press watchdog slams Israel over treatment of Palestinian journalists
Updated 06 August 2022

Press watchdog slams Israel over treatment of Palestinian journalists

Press watchdog slams Israel over treatment of Palestinian journalists
  • Amer Abu Arafa detained while Majdoleen Hassouna blocked from travel
  • Committee to Protect Journalists: ‘Israeli authorities are showing their determination to clamp down on the Palestinian press’

LONDON: Israel must release Palestinian journalist Amer Abu Arafa, who was ordered on Aug. 1 to be detained for four months, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Friday.

The reporter for the London-based Quds Press News Agency was under investigation for alleged membership of a terrorist organization, an Israel Defense Forces official told the CPJ. Abu Arafa’s home was raided by Israeli authorities on July 19.

Meanwhile, Israel reportedly prevented Palestinian journalist Majdoleen Hassouna from leaving the occupied West Bank in July.

Border guards are said to have blocked the reporter for Turkey’s TRT from crossing into Jordan. Hassouna was previously blocked from travel in 2020 and 2021.

Justin Shilad, the CPJ’s senior Middle East and North Africa researcher, said: “Whether they use prison walls or travel bans, Israeli authorities are showing their determination to clamp down on the Palestinian press.

“Israeli authorities should immediately release all detained journalists including Amer Abu Arafa, and end the use of arbitrary detention and travel bans against the press.”


Warner Bros. Discovery to launch streaming service

Warner Bros. Discovery to launch streaming service
Updated 06 August 2022

Warner Bros. Discovery to launch streaming service

Warner Bros. Discovery to launch streaming service
  • Company will offer free, paid service from next summer

LONDON: Executives at HBO Max and Discovery+ have revealed their plans to launch a new streaming service next summer that combines the two platforms’ offerings.
From a meeting with investors on Thursday, it emerged that the two companies have set out the scope and strategy of their streaming ambitions, announcing that they will offer free and paid services.
The platform, which aims to reach 130 million paying subscribers by 2025, will offer content that is currently distributed on HBO Max and Discovery+. 
The parent companies of HBO and Animal Planet merged together to form Warner Bros. Discovery earlier this year.
David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, praised the new company’s “bouquet of owned content,” and said it will offer a single paid subscription product and a free service supported by the advertisement-based revenue model.
“The fact is there are only a handful of companies globally that can do what we do,” he said. “And putting it all together, we believe no one does it better than us.”
The name of the service was not disclosed, but executives said it will launch next year in the US and then expand worldwide in the following years.
Zaslav said Warner Bros. Discovery will adopt a “disciplined strategy,” highlighting the company’s intention to steer away from the growth-at-any-cost tactics that became common in the streaming business.
“Owning the content that really resonates with people is much more important than just having lots of content,” he added. 
“In other words, at a time when almost every piece of content ever made is available to consumers across any number of free and paid services, curation, quality and brand have never been more important.”
After the boom of the pandemic era, the streaming service market has not performed well in recent months. 
Fierce competition and the fear of a looming recession have pushed many users to cancel their subscriptions. 
Earlier this week, Warner Bros. canceled the release of the $90 million DC superhero movie “Batgirl,” which was expected to be distributed through HBO Max as part of a broader plan to increase subscribers, reiterating the company’s intention to prioritize quality over quantity.