Media watchdog sounds alarm over Burkina journalist

Media watchdog sounds alarm over Burkina journalist
Ahmed Newton Barry, a former TV president and ex-editor of L’Evenement newspaper, now works as a current affairs commentator. (Shutterstock image)
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Updated 01 July 2022

Media watchdog sounds alarm over Burkina journalist

Media watchdog sounds alarm over Burkina journalist
  • Media watchdog calls on authorities in Burkina Faso to act after one of the country’s most prominent journalists received death threats
  • Thousands of people have been killed and nearly two million displaced in the past seven years

OUAGADOUGOU: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on authorities in Burkina Faso to act after one of the country’s most prominent journalists received death threats.
Ahmed Newton Barry, a former TV president and ex-editor of L’Evenement newspaper who now works as a current affairs commentator, was targeted in an audio clip circulating among WhatsApp groups, the watchdog said late Thursday.
The speaker in the clip identifies Barry by name, describes him as a “terrorist” and says a hundred people would assault his home.
“We are going to set fire to it and then destroy everything and collect the rubble that is piled up and leave the ground vacant,” the clip says, according to the CPJ.
Barry told the CPJ the threat may be related to comments he made on a TV program in which he described the Malian government as working with Russian mercenaries.
Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator in Johannesburg, urged the authorities to carry out a thorough investigation and ensure Barry’s safety.
“The security of journalists in Burkina Faso is tenuous enough without their having to worry about a mob being provoked to attack their homes,” she said.
Local press associations have also condemned the threats and urged the country’s junta-dominated authorities to investigate.
One of the world’s poorest countries, Burkina Faso is in the grip of a nearly seven-year-old crisis sparked by jihadist raiders crossing from neighboring Mali.
Thousands of people have been killed and nearly two million displaced.


Strike four: Facebook misses election misinfo in Brazil ads

Strike four: Facebook misses election misinfo in Brazil ads
Updated 15 August 2022

Strike four: Facebook misses election misinfo in Brazil ads

Strike four: Facebook misses election misinfo in Brazil ads
  • Facebook has identified Brazil as one of its priority countries where it’s investing special resources specifically to tackle election related disinformation

Facebook failed to detect blatant election-related misinformation in ads ahead of Brazil’s 2022 election, a new report from Global Witness has found, continuing a pattern of not catching material that violates its policies the group describes as “alarming.”
The advertisements contained false information about the country’s upcoming election, such as promoting the wrong election date, incorrect voting methods and questioning the integrity of the election.
This is the fourth time that the London-based nonprofit has tested Meta’s ability to catch blatant violations of the rules of its most popular social media platform— and the fourth such test Facebook has flubbed. In the three prior instances, Global Witness submitted advertisements containing violent hate speech to see if Facebook’s controls — either human reviewers or artificial intelligence — would catch it. They did not.
“Facebook has identified Brazil as one of its priority countries where it’s investing special resources specifically to tackle election related disinformation,” said Jon Lloyd, senior adviser at Global Witness. “So we wanted to really test out their systems with enough time for them to act. And with the US midterms around the corner, Meta simply has to get this right — and right now.”
Brazil’s national elections will be held on Oct. 2 amid high tensions and disinformation threatening to discredit the electoral process. Facebook is the most popular social media platform in the country. In a statement, Meta said it has ” prepared extensively for the 2022 election in Brazil.”
“We’ve launched tools that promote reliable information and label election-related posts, established a direct channel for the Superior Electoral Court to send us potentially-harmful content for review, and continue closely collaborating with Brazilian authorities and researchers,” the company said.
In 2020 Facebook began requiring advertisers who wish to run ads about elections or politics to complete an authorization process and include “Paid for by” disclaimers on these ads, similar to what it does in the US The increased safeguards follow the 2016 US presidential elections, when Russia used rubles to pay for political ads designed to stoke divisions and unrest among Americans.
Global Witness said it broke these rules when it submitted the test ads (which were approved for publication but were never actually published). The group placed the ads from outside Brazil, from Nairobi and London, which should have raised red flags.
It was also not required to put a “paid for by” disclaimer on the ads and did not use a Brazilian payment method — all safeguards Facebook says it had put in place to prevent misuse of its platform by malicious actors trying to intervene in elections around the world.
“What’s quite clear from the results of this investigation and others is that their content moderation capabilities and the integrity systems that they deploy in order to mitigate some of the risk during election periods, it’s just not working,” Lloyd said.
The group is using ads as a test and not regular posts because Meta claims to hold advertisements to an “even stricter” standard than regular, unpaid posts, according to its help center page for paid advertisements.
But judging from the four investigations, Lloyd said that’s not actually clear.
“We we are constantly having to take Facebook at their word. And without a verified independent third party audit, we just can’t hold Meta or any other tech company accountable for what they say they’re doing,” he said.
Global Witness submitted ten ads to Meta that obviously violated its policies around election-related advertising. They included false information about when and where to vote, for instance and called into question the integrity of Brazil’s voting machines — echoing disinformation used by malicious actors to destabilize democracies around the world.
This will be Brazil’s first election since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who is seeking reelection, came to power. Bolsonaro has repeatedly attacked the integrity of the country’s election systems.
“Disinformation featured heavily in its 2018 election, and this year’s election is already marred by reports of widespread disinformation, spread from the very top: Bolsonaro is already seeding doubt about the legitimacy of the election result, leading to fears of a United States-inspired January 6 ‘stop the steal’ style coup attempt,” Global Witness said.
In its previous investigations, the group found that Facebook did not catch hate speech in Myanmar, where ads used a slur to refer to people of east Indian or Muslim origin and call for their deaths; in Ethiopia, where the ads used dehumanizing hate speech to call for the murder of people belonging to each of Ethiopia’s three main ethnic groups; and in Kenya, where the ads spoke of beheadings, rape and bloodshed.


Iran conservative media hail Salman Rushdie attacker

Iran conservative media hail Salman Rushdie attacker
Updated 13 August 2022

Iran conservative media hail Salman Rushdie attacker

Iran conservative media hail Salman Rushdie attacker
  • Rushdie was on a ventilator after the attack during a literary event in New York state on Friday, more than 30 years after he went into hiding following late supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa

TEHRAN: Iranian ultra-conservative newspaper Kayhan on Saturday hailed the man who stabbed British author Salman Rushdie — the target of a 1989 Iranian fatwa calling for his death.
Rushdie was on a ventilator after the attack during a literary event in New York state on Friday, more than 30 years after he went into hiding following late supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa.
“Bravo to this courageous and duty-conscious man who attacked the apostate and depraved Salman Rushdie in New York,” wrote the paper, whose chief is appointed by current supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Let us kiss the hands of the one who tore the neck of the enemy of God with a knife,” the daily added.
With the exception of reformist publication Etemad, Iranian media followed a similar line, describing Rushdie as an “apostate.”
State-owned paper Iran said that the “neck of the devil” had been “cut by a razor.”
Iranian authorities have yet to make any official comment on the stabbing attack against Rushdie.
But Mohammad Marandi, an adviser to the negotiating team for Iran’s nuclear talks in Vienna, wrote on Twitter: “I won’t be shedding tears for a writer who spouts endless hatred and contempt for Muslims and Islam.”
“But, isn’t it odd that as we near a potential nuclear deal, the US makes claims about a hit on Bolton... and then this happens?” he questioned.
The attack came after Iran hinted earlier on Friday that it may accept a final compromise to revive its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. This followed the European Union’s submission of a “final text” in Vienna.
The US Justice Department said Wednesday that it had indicted a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards over allegations he had offered to pay an individual in the United States $300,000 to kill former White House national security adviser John Bolton.
Iran dismissed the allegations as “fiction.”
Rushdie, 75, was propelled into the spotlight with his second novel “Midnight’s Children” in 1981, which won international praise and Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize for its portrayal of post-independence India, where he was born.
But his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses” transformed his life when Khomeini issued a religious decree ordering his killing.
In 1998, the government of Iran’s reformist president Mohammad Khatami assured Britain that Iran would not implement the fatwa.
But Khamenei said in 2005 he still believed Rushdie was an apostate whose killing would be authorized by Islam.


Google plays smart with plan to stop answering ‘silly questions’

A Google sign is pictured outside the Google office in Berlin, Germany, August 31, 2021. (REUTERS)
A Google sign is pictured outside the Google office in Berlin, Germany, August 31, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 12 August 2022

Google plays smart with plan to stop answering ‘silly questions’

A Google sign is pictured outside the Google office in Berlin, Germany, August 31, 2021. (REUTERS)
  • Tech giant's revamped featured snippets service aims to provide more accurate answers to users

LONDON: In a move designed to improve its search engine’s “featured snippets” service, Google announced on Thursday that it will stop answering users’ “silly questions.”

A user who asks Google, “When did Snoopy assassinate Abraham Lincoln?” for example, would receive a fairly detailed response, explaining the location, date and time of assassination, the target and even the type of attack.

However, while the information provided is correct, quite obviously the question makes no sense.

“This clearly isn’t the most helpful way to display this result,” Google’s head of search, Pandu Nayak, said in a statement.

“We’ve trained our systems to get better at detecting these sorts of false premises, which are not very common, but there are cases where it’s not helpful to show a featured snippet. We’ve reduced the triggering of featured snippets in these cases by 40 percent with this update,” he added.

The upgrade aims to address a problem that has long posed problems for Google.

In 2017, the tech giant came under fire for allegedly disseminating fake news after a highlighted snippet for the question “Is Obama planning a coup?” led to its voice assistant jokingly telling users: “Obama may, in fact, be preparing a communist coup d’etat at the end of his term in 2016.”

The snippet, which was automatically generated, was taken from a conspiracy theory website.

To avoid this kind of situation, Google’s search engine revamp is intended to improve replies’ accuracy and sidestep queries for which there is no clear-cut right or wrong response.

Google will also introduce an “about this result” option and alert users in case of low-quality data.

“This doesn’t mean that no helpful information is available, or that a particular result is low-quality,” Nayak said. “These notices provide context about the whole set of results on the page, and you can always see the results for your query, even when the advisory is present.”

So, next time you ask Google: “How do you get in touch with the Illuminati?” expect something more helpful than, “Want to get rich? Apply today and join the Illuminati!”


Meta tracks users across websites, research reveals

Meta tracks users across websites, research reveals
Updated 12 August 2022

Meta tracks users across websites, research reveals

Meta tracks users across websites, research reveals
  • Although there is no indication the tech giant uses the feature to collect sensitive data, it does not make this information known to users

LONDON: Meta is accused of altering website codes its users view, enabling the tech giant to follow them throughout the web after they click links in its apps, new research revealed on Thursday.

Felix Krause, a former Google employee who conducted the research, said that Meta exploits the “in-app browser” — a feature that allows Facebook and Instagram users to visit a third-party website without leaving the platform — to “inject” the tracking code.

“The iOS Instagram and Facebook app render all third-party links and ads within their app using a custom in-app browser. This causes various risks for the user, with the host app being able to track every single interaction with external websites, from all form inputs like passwords and addresses to every single tap,” Krause said.

“Injecting custom scripts into third-party websites allows them to monitor all user interactions, like every button & link tapped, text selections, screenshots, as well as any form inputs, like passwords, addresses and credit card numbers,” he added.

This practice of adding extra code to a webpage before it is displayed to a user is called “Javascript injection,” and in most cases is considered a type of malicious attack, Krause said.

His investigation concentrated on Facebook and Instagram for iOS, after he discovered the code injection by chance while developing a tool that could list all the extra commands added to a website by the browser.

Starting with iOS 14.5, Apple introduced App Monitoring Transparency, which enables users to choose whether or not to enable app tracking when they first open an app. The feature, according to Meta, could impact the company’s revenue by more than $10 billion.

Meta said that the injected tracking code respected users' preferences on ATT.

“The code allows us to aggregate user data before using it for targeted advertising or measurement purposes,” a spokesperson said.

“We do not add any pixels. Code is injected so that we can aggregate conversion events from pixels. For purchases made through the in-app browser, we seek user consent to save payment information for the purposes of autofill.”

Although there is no indication that Meta employed Javascript injection to gather sensitive data, the company does not make this information known to users. 

Krause also said that WhatsApp’s in-app browser does not have the code. As a result, he advised that Meta should do the same with Facebook and Instagram, or redirect users to another browser to open links.

“It’s what’s best for the user, and the right thing to do,” he said.


Russian journalist who staged anti-war protest placed under house arrest

Russian journalist who staged anti-war protest placed under house arrest
Updated 12 August 2022

Russian journalist who staged anti-war protest placed under house arrest

Russian journalist who staged anti-war protest placed under house arrest
  • Marina Ovsyannikova faces decade in prison if convicted over Kremlin demonstration
  • TV figure said last week that her fate was ‘unenviable,’ but would keep speaking out

LONDON: Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova, who staged a protest against the invasion of Ukraine on live TV in March, was placed under house arrest on Thursday after being charged with spreading false information.

However, her detention is related to a different incident that took place last month when the former Channel One journalist demonstrated alone near the Kremlin holding a placard which criticized the war and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ovsyannikova was detained on Wednesday after police raided her Moscow home. 

The journalist spent the night in pre-trial detention before appearing on Thursday in court, where she was charged with disseminating false information about Russian military forces. The court ordered Ovsyannikova to be placed under house arrest until Oct. 9, pending her trial.

“They scared my little daughter,” the 44-year-old said in a Telegram post. Ovsyannikova added that 10 officers from the Investigative Committee raided her house at 6 a.m. in the morning while she and her daughter were asleep.

“Over 350 children who died in Ukraine, are they fakes … How many children have to die before you stop?” She added.

Ovsyannikova could face 10 years in prison if convicted of the charges.

Her lawyer, Dmitry Zakhvatov, said on Wednesday that “a criminal case has been filed” and added that they were awaiting the decision of investigators on the journalist’s pre-trial measures.

During the court hearing, Ovsyannikova continued her protest, holding a sign that read “Let the dead children haunt you in your dreams.”

Notably, it is the second time that Ovsyannikova has been detained in relation to the charges. In July, Russian police detained and later released the journalist, charging her with “discrediting the actions of the army of Russia.” 

Due to rigid laws introduced by the government since the beginning of the war, the journalist’s actions expose her to criminal prosecution for “publishing false information” and “denigrating the army,” which can carry heavy prison sentences under Russian law.

In March, Ovsyannikova became famous worldwide for interrupting the set of Russia’s Channel One news program while holding a poster that said in Russian: “Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you.”

The stunt cost her a brief detention and a fine, prompting Russian opposition circles to question the validity of her actions.

“I was skeptical about what Channel One editor Marina Ovsyannikova had done — and it turns out I was wrong,” said anti-Kremlin satirist and radio host Viktor Shenderovich. “Today Marina pays a serious price for this, and deserves both respect and support.”

In the months following her protest, Ovsyannikova spent time abroad, including a brief period working for German newspaper Die Welt.

In early July, Ovsyannikova announced that she was returning to Russia to settle a dispute over the custody of her children.