UK announces new measures to curb ‘state-linked’ disinformation on social media

Ofcom, the UK’s communication regulator, will have the power to fine social media firms up to 10 percent of their global annual turnover. (GOV.UK)
Ofcom, the UK’s communication regulator, will have the power to fine social media firms up to 10 percent of their global annual turnover. (GOV.UK)
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Updated 05 July 2022

UK announces new measures to curb ‘state-linked’ disinformation on social media

UK announces new measures to curb ‘state-linked’ disinformation on social media
  • Social media firms must tackle material from fake accounts set up by individuals or groups acting on behalf of a foreign state

LONDON: The UK government revealed on Monday that social media firms will face hefty fines if they fail to curb “state-linked” disinformation, particularly from the Kremlin, as part of its forthcoming Online Safety Bill.

According to the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, social media companies will be legally obligated to “proactively” prevent and remove attempts by Russia and other countries to interfere with the UK’s political system. 

This means that social media firms must tackle material from fake accounts set up by individuals or groups acting on behalf of a foreign state that is designed to influence democratic processes.

If they fail to tackle such content, Ofcom, the UK’s communication regulator, will have the power to fine social media firms up to 10 percent of their global annual turnover. 

“The invasion of Ukraine has yet again shown how readily Russia can and will weaponize social media to spread disinformation and lies about its barbaric actions often targeting the very victims of its aggression,” Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said. 

“We cannot allow foreign states or their puppets [to use] the internet to conduct hostile online warfare unimpeded,” she added. “That’s why we are strengthening our new internet safety protections to make sure social media firms identify and root out state-backed disinformation.”

The new laws come as part of the UK government’s overhaul of the national security laws that will make foreign interference a criminal offense with a maximum jail sentence of 14 years.

As per the new Online Safety Bill, foreign interference will become one of 10 online criminal offenses, alongside child abuse, revenge porn, terrorism, fraud, promotion of people smuggling and sexual exploitation. 

Security Minister Damian Hinds highlighted: “Online information operations are now a core part of state threats activity. The aim can be variously to spread untruths, confuse, undermine confidence in democracy, or sow division in society.”

The Online Safety Bill is expected to become law by the end of the year.

Last week, Ofcom found that young people do not report harmful content as much as they encounter it on social media platforms. 

According to the research, 67 percent of people aged between 13 and 24 had seen potentially harmful content online, but only 17 percent reported it.


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.


Smartwatches to be used to monitor migrant offenders in UK

Smartwatches to be used to monitor migrant offenders in UK
The individuals will be required to scan their faces using the smartwatches up to five times a day. (Shutterstock/File)
Updated 05 August 2022

Smartwatches to be used to monitor migrant offenders in UK

Smartwatches to be used to monitor migrant offenders in UK
  • The scheme will require migrant offenders to scan their faces using a smartwatch fitted with facial recognition technology up to five times daily

LONDON: The UK Home Office and Ministry of Justice announced on Friday that migrants who have been convicted of a criminal offense will soon be required to scan their faces using facial recognition technology.

The Home Office said that the scheme will involve “daily monitoring of individuals subject to immigration control,” with the requirement to wear either a fitted ankle tag or a smartwatch at all times. 

The individuals will be required to scan their faces using the smartwatches up to five times a day. Information including their names, date of birth, nationality and photographs will be stored for up to six years.

Locations of migrant offenders will also be tracked 24/7. 

The data will be shared with the Home Office, MoJ and the police, with Home Office officials stressing: “The sharing of this data (to) police colleagues is not new.”

The Home Office added that the smartwatch scheme will be for foreign-national offenders who have been convicted of a criminal offense, rather than other groups such as asylum seekers.

Critics highlighted that the surveillance scheme is a clear breach of human rights, and is likely to impact asylum seekers’ mental health.

“Facial recognition is known to be an imperfect and dangerous technology that tends to discriminate against people of color and marginalized communities,” said Lucie Audibert, a lawyer and legal officer for Privacy International.

“These ‘innovations’ in policing and surveillance are often driven by private companies, who profit from governments’ race toward total surveillance and control of populations.”

“Through their opaque technologies and algorithms, they facilitate government discrimination and human rights abuses without any accountability. No other country in Europe has deployed this dehumanizing and invasive technology against migrants,” she said.

According to the UK government website, the Ministry of Justice had awarded a £6 million contract to British technology company ‘Buddi Limited’ in May to supply electronic monitoring non-fitted devices “to support implementation of the Home Office Satellite Tracking Service for specific cohorts.”

This service, introduced in 2018, uses satellite technology to monitor foreign offenders awaiting deportation. 

“A non-fitted device solution will provide a more proportionate way of monitoring specific cohorts over extended periods of time than fitted tags,” the statement on the website reads. 

“These devices will utilize periodic biometric verification as an alternative to being fitted to an individual.”


Instagram announces expansion into NFT market

Instagram announces expansion into NFT market
Updated 05 August 2022

Instagram announces expansion into NFT market

Instagram announces expansion into NFT market
  • Users in more than 100 countries across the world are now able to share their NFTs on the platform

LONDON: Meta, Instagram’s parent company, announced on Thursday the international expansion of its non-fungible token support across its platforms, namely Instagram.

Users in more than a hundred countries in Africa, Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and the Americas will now be able to use the new feature, which allows them to share their NFTs on the platform.

“Today we’re starting international expansion to 100 countries in Africa, Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, and the Americas. Additionally, we now support wallet connections with the Coinbase Wallet and Dapper, as well as the ability to post digital collectibles minted on the Flow blockchain,” Meta said in a statement.

The tech giant announced the integration of Coinbase and Dapper, as well as other third-party wallets such as Rainbow, MetaMask and Trust Wallet, which are required to access and purchase NFTs assets.

“In order to post a digital collectible, all you need to do is connect your digital wallet to Instagram,” the statement continued.

Meta first announced its test launch in May, with the feature initially rolled out to selected creators and collectors.

Instagram users can now include NFTs in their feed and messages, as well as in augmented reality stickers in Stories. When tapped, it would reveal information about the creator of the work, as well as the owner of that digital item.

“Every day, creators inspire people and push culture forward around the world. With the incredible opportunity of blockchain technology, they can now leverage new tools to earn income, and fans can support their favorite creators by purchasing digital collectibles — art, images and videos, music or trading cards — as non-fungible tokens (NFTs),” Meta highlighted.

Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the launch of the new feature in an Instagram post featuring a signed baseball card of himself as a kid, which will soon become an NFT, he pointed out.

Meta’s move into the NFT market is considered by some to be ill-timed, but experts speculate that Instagram could soon start monetizing the new feature by introducing its own marketplace.


Nigeria asks Google to block banned groups from YouTube

Nigeria asks Google to block banned groups from YouTube
Updated 05 August 2022

Nigeria asks Google to block banned groups from YouTube

Nigeria asks Google to block banned groups from YouTube
  • Google said it already has measures to address the Nigerian government’s concerns including a system for trained users to flag troublesome content

ABUJA: Nigeria asked Google to block the use of YouTube channels and livestreams by banned groups and terrorist organizations in the country, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said on Thursday.
Nigeria has been exploring ways to regulate social media usage in the country, Africa’s most populous. The country is home to millions of Internet users and platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Tiktok are popular. YouTube “channels and emails containing names of banned groups and their affiliates should not be allowed on Google platforms,” Mohammed said he told Google executives in Abuja, the country’s capital.
Charles Murito, Google’s sub-Saharan African director for government affairs and public policy, in a statement said the company already has measures to address the Nigerian government’s concerns.
Those measures include a system for trained users to flag troublesome content, he added. “We share the same goals and objectives,” Murito said. “We do not want our platform to be used for ill purposes.”
The minister said the government was particularly concerned with online activities by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The government has labeled IPOB, a group campaigning for the secession of a southeastern region of Nigeria, a “terrorist organization.”
The YouTube concerns are part of an effort by the government, the minister said, to protect Nigerian Internet users from harmful effects of social media, especially ahead of a presidential election next year.
Nigeria suspended Twitter in June 2021 and blocked access to users after the social media giant removed a post from President Muhammadu Buhari threatening to punish regional secessionists.
The government lifted the Twitter ban six months later.