Google opposes Facebook-backed proposal for self-regulatory body in India - sources

Western tech giants have for years been at odds with the Indian government, arguing that strict regulations are hurting their business and investment plans. (Shutterstock/File)
Western tech giants have for years been at odds with the Indian government, arguing that strict regulations are hurting their business and investment plans. (Shutterstock/File)
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Updated 11 August 2022

Google opposes Facebook-backed proposal for self-regulatory body in India - sources

Google opposes Facebook-backed proposal for self-regulatory body in India - sources
  • India wants a panel to review complaints about content decisions
  • Google says self-regulatory system sets bad precedent - sources

NEW DELHI: Google has grave reservations about developing a self-regulatory body for the social media sector in India to hear user complaints, though the proposal has support from Facebook and Twitter, sources with knowledge of the discussions told Reuters.
India in June proposed appointing a government panel to hear complaints from users about content moderation decisions, but has also said it is open to the idea of a self-regulatory body if the industry is willing.
The lack of consensus among the tech giants, however, increases the likelihood of a government panel being formed — a prospect that Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook and Twitter are keen to avoid as they fear government and regulatory overreach in India, the sources said.
At a closed-door meeting this week, an executive from Alphabet Inc’s Google told other attendees the company was unconvinced about the merits of a self-regulatory body. The body would mean external reviews of decisions that could force Google to reinstate content, even if it violated Google’s internal policies, the executive was quoted as saying.
Such directives from a self-regulatory body could set a dangerous precedent, the sources also quoted the Google executive as saying.
The sources declined to be identified as the discussions were private.
In addition to Facebook, Twitter and Google, representatives from Snap Inc. and popular Indian social media platform ShareChat also attended the meeting. Together, the companies have hundreds of millions of users in India.
Snap and ShareChat also voiced concern about a self-regulatory system, saying the matter requires much more consultation including with civil society, the sources said.
Google said in a statement it had attended a preliminary meeting and is engaging with the industry and the government, adding that it was “exploring all options” for a “best possible solution.”
ShareChat and Facebook declined to comment. The other companies did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

THORNY ISSUE
Self-regulatory bodies to police content in the social media sector are rare, though there have been instances of cooperation. In New Zealand, big tech companies have signed a code of practice aimed at reducing harmful content online.
Tension over social media content decisions has been a particularly thorny issue in India. Social media companies often receive takedown requests from the government or remove content proactively. Google’s YouTube, for example, removed 1.2 million videos in the first quarter of this year that were in violation of its guidelines, the highest in any country in the world.
India’s government is concerned that users upset with decisions to have their content taken down do not have a proper system to appeal those decisions and that their only legal recourse is to go to court.
Twitter has faced backlash after it blocked accounts of influential Indians, including politicians, citing violation of its policies. Twitter also locked horns with the Indian government last year when it declined to comply fully with orders to take down accounts the government said spread misinformation.
An initial draft of the proposal for the self-regulatory body said the panel would have a retired judge or an experienced person from the field of technology as chairperson, as well as six other individuals, including some senior executives at social media companies.
The panel’s decisions would be “binding in nature,” stated the draft, which was seen by Reuters.
Western tech giants have for years been at odds with the Indian government, arguing that strict regulations are hurting their business and investment plans. The disagreements have also strained trade ties between New Delhi and Washington.
US industry lobby groups representing the tech giants believe a government-appointed review panel raises concern about how it could act independently if New Delhi controls who sits on it.
The proposal for a government panel was open to public consultation until early July. No fixed date for implementation has been set.


Spotify acquires firm that detects harmful content

Spotify acquires firm that detects harmful content
Updated 58 min 44 sec ago

Spotify acquires firm that detects harmful content

Spotify acquires firm that detects harmful content
  • Kinzen detects misinformation, disinformaton and hate speech across different languages

LONDON: Audio-streaming service Spotify Technology SA on Wednesday said it had acquired Kinzen, a firm that has helped it identify harmful content on the platform.
The acquisition is part of Spotify’s efforts to deal with harmful content on its service after a backlash earlier this year over “The Joe Rogan Experience,” in which the podcaster was accused of spreading misinformation about COVID-19.
The Dublin-based firm has been working with Spotify since 2020, initially focusing on the integrity of election-related content around the world. Since then, Kinzen’s remit has expanded to include targeting misinformation, disinformaton and hate speech.
“Kinzen offers a combination of tools and expertise to help us better understand the content on our platform and emerging abuse trends,” said Sarah Hoyle, Spotify’s head of trust and safety.
Deal terms were not disclosed.
Earlier this year, Spotify said it would be more transparent in how it determines what is acceptable and unacceptable content. It published its platform rules for the first time in January. In June, it formed a Safety Advisory Council to provide input on harmful content.
Kinzen will provide early warnings about problems in different markets, helping Spotify more effectively moderate content in more languages.


Turkish journalist groups slam bill to fight disinformation

Turkish journalist groups slam bill to fight disinformation
Updated 05 October 2022

Turkish journalist groups slam bill to fight disinformation

Turkish journalist groups slam bill to fight disinformation
  • Turkey is debating a controversial draft law the government says is aimed at combating fake news and disinformation
  • Critics believe that the law is yet another attempt to stifle freedom of expression

ANKARA: Turkey’s parliament on Tuesday began debating a highly controversial draft law the government says is aimed at combating fake news and disinformation, but which critics denounce as yet another attempt to stifle freedom of expression.
The 40-article piece of legislation amends multiple laws governing press, advertising and social media. The most controversial change is an amendment to the press law that would criminalize the spreading of “fake news” with a sentence of up to three years in prison.
Critics, including opposition lawmakers and non-governmental organizations, say the law is too vague and could potentially be abused by the government to further crack down on independent journalism, especially media that has developed on the Internet. The government already controls most major news outlets and has been named among the world’s biggest jailers of journalists.
Representatives of various Turkish journalists’ associations, wearing black face masks, gathered outside parliament in Ankara, urging legislators not to approve the law, which was submitted to parliament in May.
“As journalists, in line with our responsibility to society, we once again warn both legislators and the public: If this law is implemented in this form, there will be no freedom of press, expression and communication in our country,” said Kemal Aktas, head of the Parliamentary Correspondents’ Association.
Main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu claimed in a speech on Tuesday that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which faces elections in June, introduced the changes to prevent the dissemination of allegations of corruption against the government.
In the assembly, some opposition legislators held up posters that read: “No to the censorship law!”
“With the government’s proposal, press freedoms and freedom of speech are being eradicated,” said Musavat Dervisoglu, a legislator from the opposition center-right Good Party. “Our citizens are being deprived of their right to information.”
“I am curious, for what reason is our country being dragged into George Orwell’s ‘1984’ dystopia,” he said, in reference to the 1949 novel in which the government controls information.
International media freedom organizations have also called for the dismissal of the bill, saying it puts millions of Internet users at risk of criminal action for online posts the government disagrees with, could become a tool “for harassing journalists and activists” and could lead to self-censorship.
“Disinformation is an important issue and needs to be combated but not at the price of restricting journalists’ rights and the public’s rights of freedom of expression,” the groups, including PEN and the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in June.
Article 29 of the bill is an amendment to the Turkish penal code mandating one to three years in prison for spreading information that is “contrary to the truth” about Turkey’s domestic and international security, public order and health for the alleged purpose of causing “public worry, fear and panic.” The sentence can be increased by a half if that crime is committed by an anonymous user or as part of an illegal organization.
Erdogan has argued for a law to combat disinformation, saying fake news and rising “digital fascism” is a national and global security issue.
The proposal, put forth by his ruling Justice and Development Party and its nationalist ally, says fake news and its dissemination, or disinformation, pose a “serious threat” by preventing people from accessing the truth, while also undermining freedom of expression and information by “abusing certain freedoms.”
The proposal also says the Internet allows ill-intentioned users to hide their identities for illegal acts and posts such as slander, hate speech and discrimination, therefore requiring regulation. It says the state has the obligation to protect rights and freedoms, especially for people whose rights were violated online.
Ahmet Ozdemir, a legislator from Erdogan’s party who helped draft the legislation, rejected accusations that the proposed changes amount to censorship.
“No freedom can be without limits,” Ozdemir told parliament. “We tried to protect freedoms as much as possible by taking precautions to prevent these freedoms from harming other people’s freedoms.”


Russian journalist who fled house arrest says she is innocent

Russian journalist who fled house arrest says she is innocent
Updated 05 October 2022

Russian journalist who fled house arrest says she is innocent

Russian journalist who fled house arrest says she is innocent
  • The 44-year-old was given two months’ house arrest in August over a protest in July
  • How Marina Ovsyannikova left and where she went are still unclear

Russian TV journalist Marina Ovsyannikova, accused of spreading fake news after staging a series of lone protests against the war in Ukraine, said on Wednesday she had fled house arrest because she had no case to answer.
“I consider myself completely innocent, and since our state refuses to comply with its own laws, I refuse to comply with the measure of restraint imposed on me as of 30 September 2022 and release myself from it,” she said.
In a video posted on Telegram, she sat on a pink sofa and addressed Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service, criticizing President Vladimir Putin over the war.
“Put a tag like this on Putin,” she said, gesturing to what appeared to be an electronic ankle bracelet.
Her lawyer said she was supposed to turn up to a court hearing at 10:00 a.m. Moscow time (0700 GMT), but that investigators had failed to establish her whereabouts.
Investigators had asked the court to convert her initial house arrest order into jail time if she is found, but the court refused to do so, her lawyer said.
Ovsyannikova grabbed world attention in March by walking out in front of studio cameras during an evening news broadcast on state television with a placard that read “Stop the war” and “They’re lying to you.”
The Kremlin at the time denounced her act of protest as “hooliganism.”
The 44-year-old was given two months’ house arrest in August over a protest in July when she stood on a river embankment opposite the Kremlin and held up a poster calling Putin a murderer and his soldiers fascists.
She faced a sentence of up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of the charge of spreading fake news about Russia’s armed forces.
Her house arrest was due to last until Oct. 9, but the state-run news outlet Russia Today reported on Saturday that she had fled along with her 11-year-old daughter, and that her whereabouts were unknown. How she left and where she went are still unclear.
Russia passed new laws against discrediting or distributing “deliberately false information” about the armed forces on March 4, eight days after invading Ukraine.


20th Arab Media Forum begins in Dubai

20th Arab Media Forum begins in Dubai
Updated 05 October 2022

20th Arab Media Forum begins in Dubai

20th Arab Media Forum begins in Dubai
  • The agenda for the two-day event includes presentations, panel discussions and workshops focusing the latest industry developments

DUBAI: The 20th Arab Media Forum began in Dubai on Tuesday, attended by more than 3,000 government officials and leaders from Arab and global media sectors.

The two-day forum, taking place at Madinat Jumeirah under the auspices of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, is described as the largest gathering of Arab media stakeholders, who will explore how new trends and technology, and the sophisticated platforms and tools that could increase the beneficial influence of the media.

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the forum began by honoring prominent figures and organizations in the Arab media the fields of journalism, television and digital media. The agenda for the event includes presentations, panel discussions and workshops focusing on the latest developments within the industry.


GXR sees itself as a facilitator for artists rather than a record label, says its boss

GXR sees itself as a facilitator for artists rather than a record label, says its boss
Updated 05 October 2022

GXR sees itself as a facilitator for artists rather than a record label, says its boss

GXR sees itself as a facilitator for artists rather than a record label, says its boss
  • Elia Mssawir said the new indie label, which launched two months ago in partnership with Empire, aims to change the face of the music business in the region

DUBAI: The idea for independent music label GXR Records grew from a simple conversation between Elia Mssawir, an award-winning artist manager, and Paul Roy, the CEO of Galaxy Racer, a multimedia company focusing on esports, content creators, music and sport.

They were discussing their shared passion for music and vision for a company in the region that truly cares about its artists, Mssawir told Arab News.

“We started throwing around ideas and (talking about) how we wanted to bridge the gap between MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) and Asia — and that’s how GXR Records was brought to life,” he said.

They launched the label in August this year in partnership with Empire, a global independent label, distributor and publisher. Based in Dubai and with Mssawir as head of label, GXR Records is focused on developing talent in West Asian and North African territories. It has already signed a number of artists from this region, including Freek, Noel Kharman, Dyler, Hanody Awesome and Noor Stars, and the number of acts on its roster has reached more than 20 in the two months since launch. 

Mssawir, who joined Galaxy Racer in April, had been recruiting artists and influencers in India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Malaysia, where the company has offices, and discovered plenty of musical talent in those places. An idea was born to not only sign artists from Asia and Africa but also help them collaborate with their counterparts in the Middle East.

The founders of GXR Records said that, building on parent company Galaxy Racer’s existing portfolio, it is dedicated to identifying and developing a diverse roster of emerging and established artists across the region, while encouraging cross-promotion and collaborations within the label to help them reach a wider audience.

In addition to finding and signing artists, GXR Records will work with Galaxy Racer to create and produce music for the parent company’s influencers and brand collaborations, Mssawir said. These collaborations between artists and the parent brand is part of Mssawir’s vision for the company.

“It’s becoming a family more than a label,” he said.

This ambitious vision is matched by the label’s growth strategy; GXR Records has already opened an office in the US and there are plans to establish bases in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and South Africa by the end of this year. There are no current plans, however, for additional offices in the Middle East.

“Our headquarters here in Dubai are enough to operate on a MENA scale for 2022,” said Mssawir. However, he added that GXR Records intends to expand its presence in Africa and the Levant in the coming year.

One of the challenges, historically, for regional artists has been how to develop and grow into a global presence, Mssawir said. “This is where we come in and enhance this opportunity for them,” he added.

The new label is planning to organize a large-scale music festival next year, something that has been a long-time dream for Mssawir but one he never seemed to have “the time or team to focus on” until now.

“We’re planning on doing small events around the region, building up toward a big festival where we’re hoping to get a couple of international artists, and the MENA artists can open or support the international artists,” he said.

He jokes that his biggest challenge since the launch of GXR has been “sleeping less and working more.” But he added that working hard and putting in long hours is something he is happy to do because “we want to change how the music business is being done here.”

Another challenge he said he has faced is the negative public perception of record labels, something he said has been largely influenced by the way they are portrayed in Hollywood.

“That’s one of the things that we want to change,” he said.

There were no professional managers for acts in the region a decade ago and so artists would often accept any deal they could get, he said. The ecosystem is changing, however, and Mssawir said he is determined to help set high standards for artists, particularly when representing GXR Records as a brand.

“Labels are not there to kill artists’ careers,” he said. “And that’s why I don’t really call (GXR) a label, I call it a facilitator: We facilitate for the artists rather than labeling them.”