Twitter adds Arabic to ‘reply prompts’ feature, launches in Saudi Arabia

Twitter adds Arabic to ‘reply prompts’ feature, launches in Saudi Arabia
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Updated 04 October 2022

Twitter adds Arabic to ‘reply prompts’ feature, launches in Saudi Arabia

Twitter adds Arabic to ‘reply prompts’ feature, launches in Saudi Arabia
  • The feature, which Twitter said has already proved successful in other languages, encourages people to think twice before replying to a tweet
  • The platform said English-language users in the US changed or deleted replies 30 percent of the time when prompted

DUBAI: Twitter has added an Arabic version of its “reply prompts” feature for users in Saudi Arabia, following a test phase among select Arabic-speaking users in the Kingdom.

The feature, which is designed to encourage people in certain circumstances to think twice before replying to a tweet, was initially tested in English in 2020. Twitter began to roll it out in some territories in 2021 and it was launched globally in 2022 in English and Turkish, in Spanish in Mexico, and in Portuguese in Brazil.

“People come to Twitter to talk about what’s happening and sometimes conversations about things we care about can get intense and people say things in the moment they might regret later,” Twitter’s director of product design Anita Butler and product manager Alberto Parrella wrote in a blog post.

According to Twitter, the feature has proved successful so far, with tests showing that English-language users in the US changed or deleted their replies 30 percent of the time when prompted, while Portuguese-language users in Brazil did so 47 percent of the time.

The social media platform said it found that after being prompted to reconsider a reply, users canceled it 9 percent of the time and revised it 22 percent of the time. Overall, people who were prompted in this way posted 6 percent fewer offensive tweets.

In early tests, users sometimes received unnecessary prompts because the computer algorithms could not properly differentiate between potentially offensive language, sarcasm and friendly banter. Throughout the process, Twitter said it analyzed results, collected feedback from users and worked to address any errors, including detection inconsistencies. Based on feedback and what was learned from those tests, the platform said it made improvements to the systems that determine when and how the prompts are sent.

For example, the algorithms now takes into consideration the nature of the relationship between two accounts, because if they follow and reply to each other regularly there is a higher likelihood that they have a good understanding of the preferred tone of communication.

Additionally, Twitter said it is adjusting its technology to account for situations in which insulting words or phrases might have been reclaimed by underrepresented communities and used in non-harmful ways, and to detect strong language more accurately. It is also working on ways in which users can provide feedback on whether or not they found a prompt helpful or relevant. 

The feature is now active on iOS, Android and the web on accounts in Saudi Arabia that have enabled Arabic-language settings.

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza
Updated 27 January 2023

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza
  • The ruling prohibits anyone from sharing links to Meduza's website

LONDON: Russia on Thursday declared Meduza, its most prominent independent news website, an “undesirable organization,” banning the outlet’s operation on Russian territory under the threat of felony prosecution.

Russia’s prosecutor-general said in an official statement that Meduza, which was founded by Russian journalists in Latvia, “threatens the foundations of constitutional order and the security of the Russian Federation.”

The ruling prohibits the outlet’s activities in Russia as well as any reference to it, even by posting a hyperlink on social media. Anyone who fails to cooperate may face a prison sentence of up to six years, according to The Guardian.

Russian officials previously labeled Meduza a “foreign agent,” hindering the news website’s ability to raise funds through advertising and forcing it to shift to a crowdfunding model.

“We believe in what we do. We believe in freedom of speech. We believe in a democratic Russia. The bigger the pressure, the harder we will stand up to it,” Meduza said in a statement.

With the onset of the Ukraine war in February 2022, the Russian government banned several outlets, including Echo of Moscow and TV Rain, the country’s only independent news channel.

Russian lawmakers introduced a bill in May 2022 outlawing “discrediting the armed forces,” with a prison sentence of up to 15 years for criticizing the Russian military.

Russia has been cracking down on “undesirable organizations” since 2015, according to Meduza, granting the prosecutor-general the power to label as such any organization that purportedly imperils the country’s “constitutional-order foundations” or national security.

Starzplay to launch first Arabic original series ‘Kaboos’

Starzplay to launch first Arabic original series ‘Kaboos’
Updated 27 January 2023

Starzplay to launch first Arabic original series ‘Kaboos’

Starzplay to launch first Arabic original series ‘Kaboos’
  • TV series described as modern-day retelling of Arab folklore is set to stream in February

LONDON: Video-streaming platform Starzplay announced on Thursday the launch of its first Arabic-language original series created in collaboration with Academy Award-winning Emirati production company Image Nation Abu Dhabi.

The new show, “Kaboos,” features five standalone episodes and has been described as a modern-day retelling of Arab folklore.

Nadim Dada, VP of programming and content acquisition at Starzplay, said the show is “our biggest content asset this year, our very first Arabic language original, and we are very excited to roll out the production across the Middle East.”

Filmed across Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and the UAE, the series takes viewers on a journey through urban legends of the region, with spine-chilling modern takes on stories inspired by local mythology.

The series, which spans a variety of genres from classic horror stories to noir psychological thrillers, features leading directors from across the region.

Emirati filmmakers Hana Kazim and Majid Al-Ansari, Iraqi director Yasir Al-Yasiri, Egyptian filmmaker and visual artist Ahmed Khaled, and Los Angeles-based Bahraini director Hala Matar each directed an episode.

“Image Nation Abu Dhabi constantly looks for challenging new projects that enable regional filmmakers to share the region’s contemporary heritage and culture with the world through Arabic-language content,” Ben Ross, chief content officer, said.

“Kaboos” balances terrifying horror scenes with storylines that explore human nature, offering nostalgic tales to Arab audiences, while introducing global viewers to the eerie world of Arab folklore, he added.

The series, which has been produced by Al-Yasiri’s and Mansoor Al Feeli’s media company, Abu Dhabi-based Starship Entertainment, is set to stream on Starzplay from Feb. 9.

Saudi Ministry of Economy launches ‘The Story’ short film on WEF 2023 closing day

Saudi Ministry of Economy launches ‘The Story’ short film on WEF 2023 closing day
Updated 26 January 2023

Saudi Ministry of Economy launches ‘The Story’ short film on WEF 2023 closing day

Saudi Ministry of Economy launches ‘The Story’ short film on WEF 2023 closing day
  • The film's director, Owen Harris, was hired by MBC Studios

LONDON: The Saudi Ministry of Economy and Planning launched on Jan. 20 the short film “The Story,” which was featured at Expo 2020 Dubai, showcasing the Kingdom's transformation and growth.

The film’s debut to a global audience, supported by the Ministry of Culture, came on the closing day of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023, following the film’s positive reception at Expo 2020.

The production company, MBC Studios, hired world-renowned director Owen Harris to bring “The Story” to life, showcasing Saudi Arabia’s transformation to global audiences.

“With one year to go until the launch of Expo 2020 Dubai, the working team from the Ministry of Economy and Planning were tasked in delivering a short film for the Saudi Pavilion cinema,” said Saud Altobaishi, general manager of the ministry’s strategic communications.

He added: “Back then, the Executive Committee leading the design, operations, and delivery of the Saudi Pavilion was led by the Minister of Economy and Planning, Faisal F. Alibrahim, when he was the vice minister of economy and planning, and he assigned me to lead and manage the delivery of the short film stream.

“With the clock ticking toward the Saudi Pavilion’s opening day and budgets uncertain, we had to improvise.”

The ministry’s team sought to highlight the Kingdom’s transformation, particularly social and economic growth, and diversity.

“We wanted to show the impact that our evolving economy is having on the quality of life in Saudi Arabia, not by using numbers, but by using raw and real emotions,” Altobaishi said.

The script for “The Story” was developed by Alibrahim and Altobaishi over a single weekend, a few weeks after the creation of the Saudi Pavilion “Cloud Walker” campaign.

“Our partners at the Ministry of Culture and the vice minister of culture, Hamed M. Fayez, provided invaluable technical support at this stage,” Altobaishi added.

Partners in the film creation include the Saudi Tourism Authority and Princess Noura Bint Abdulmohsen of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, both of whom facilitated the filming and production process.

Altobaishi said: “When this film was done, I was an adviser to the Minister of Economy and Planning and Head of Marketing and Communications as well as Head of the film stream for the Saudi Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai from early 2020 to October 2021, just before the opening of Expo Dubai.”

“It was no surprise that ‘The Story’ was a hit among Expo 2020 visitors, an immersive journey that captured the essence of our rich cultural heritage and the cutting-edge, innovation-driven future our leadership is shaping through Saudi Vision 2030,” he said.

“Visitors were so captivated by the film that they requested a public version to share with their friends and family, which further solidified its success and resonance among audiences.”

Twitter sued over failure to remove antisemitic post

Twitter sued over failure to remove antisemitic post
Updated 26 January 2023

Twitter sued over failure to remove antisemitic post

Twitter sued over failure to remove antisemitic post
  • Anti-hate speech organizations say Twitter failure to delete content represents breach of its own terms and conditions
  • Case could indicate whether users can sue social media platforms for the removal of violating content in the future

LONDON: Twitter is being sued in Germany for failing to remove antisemitic content from its platform.

The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday by an anti-hate speech organization, HateAid, and the European Union of Jewish Students, who accuse the social network of not deleting six posts attacking Jewish people and denying the Holocaust, after they were reported.

“What starts online does not end online,” said Avital Grinberg, president of the EUJS.

“Twitter broke our trust. By allowing the distribution of hateful content, the company fails to protect users and especially young Jews.”

According to the two organizations, Twitter’s refusal to remove the content represents a violation of the platform’s terms and conditions.

In Germany antisemitism and Holocaust denial are criminal offenses.

The lawsuit is set to establish whether Twitter’s decision violates a contract between the platform and its users and whether the latter has the authority to enforce the site’s terms and conditions.

HateAid and EUJS also argue that the case’s outcome may indicate whether users can sue for the removal of violating content in the future, even if they are not personally impacted by it.

“We have put the control over the public discourse on the internet into the hands of private companies and investors. Twitter assures it will not tolerate violence on its platform. Users have to be able to rely on that,” said Josephine Ballon, HateAid’s head of legal. 

“But in practice, we see the opposite happening: Illegal content is at best removed in arbitrary and untransparent ways. This must finally change. Twitter owes us a communication platform where we can move freely and without fear of hatred and agitation.”

On Tuesday,  the white supremacist and far-right provocateur Nick Fuentes was reinstated to Twitter and returned to the social media platform with a volley of antisemitic posts and comments, including praise for Adolf Hitler.

Since Elon Musk’s takeover of the company, hate speech on the platform has significantly increased.

According to reports by hate monitor groups the Anti-Defamation League and the Center for Countering Digital Hate, antisemitic posts referring to Jews or Judaism soared more than 61 percent since October.

In an earlier analysis, CCDH found that the majority of the time, social media companies failed to act on antisemitism, anti-black racism, sexist abuse, and vaccine disinformation, with anti-muslim content not being deleted in 89 percent of cases.

According to some experts, Musk’s restructuring of Twitter, which resulted in the layoff of more than 60 percent of the company’s workforce, has had a significant influence on the increase.

Netflix’s ‘Fauda’ most streamed show in Lebanon

Netflix’s ‘Fauda’ most streamed show in Lebanon
Updated 26 January 2023

Netflix’s ‘Fauda’ most streamed show in Lebanon

Netflix’s ‘Fauda’ most streamed show in Lebanon
  • IDF operative Doron returns to track down man he thought was already dead

LONDON: The Israeli TV series “Fauda” has topped the list of most streamed Netflix shows in Lebanon, as well as hitting the top 10 in the UAE, Jordan, Qatar and Morocco.

Much of the action in the show’s fourth season, which premiered on Netflix on Jan. 20, is set in Lebanon.

The action begins with former Israel Defense Force operative Doron working on a vineyard after being expelled from his combat unit. But he returns to work after learning that an enemy he thought he had killed is still alive.

The mission takes him across Israel, Lebanon and Belgium, though the action was actually shot in Israel and Ukraine.

The show’s co-creator Avi Issacharoff told The Times of Israel that the plot of the latest season was based on a true story.

Topping the charts is a new high for “Fauda,” whose third season, released in 2020, was one of the most watched Netflix shows in the Arab world.