Twitter exec says moving fast on moderation, as harmful content surges

A Twitter logo hangs outside the company's San Francisco offices on Nov. 1, 2022. (AP)
A Twitter logo hangs outside the company's San Francisco offices on Nov. 1, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 03 December 2022

Twitter exec says moving fast on moderation, as harmful content surges

A Twitter logo hangs outside the company's San Francisco offices on Nov. 1, 2022. (AP)
  • Twitter is restricting hashtags and search results frequently associated with abuse, like those aimed at looking up “teen” pornography

SAN FRANCISCO: Elon Musk’s Twitter is leaning heavily on automation to moderate content, doing away with certain manual reviews and favoring restrictions on distribution rather than removing certain speech outright, its new head of trust and safety told Reuters.
Twitter is also more aggressively restricting abuse-prone hashtags and search results in areas including child exploitation, regardless of potential impacts on “benign uses” of those terms, said Twitter Vice President of Trust and Safety Product Ella Irwin.
“The biggest thing that’s changed is the team is fully empowered to move fast and be as aggressive as possible,” Irwin said on Thursday, in the first interview a Twitter executive has given since Musk’s acquisition of the social media company in late October.
Her comments come as researchers are reporting a surge in hate speech on the social media service, after Musk announced an amnesty for accounts suspended under the company’s previous leadership that had not broken the law or engaged in “egregious spam.”
The company has faced pointed questions about its ability and willingness to moderate harmful and illegal content since Musk slashed half of Twitter’s staff and issued an ultimatum to work long hours that resulted in the loss of hundreds more employees.
And advertisers, Twitter’s main revenue source, have fled the platform over concerns about brand safety.
On Friday, Musk vowed “significant reinforcement of content moderation and protection of freedom of speech” in a meeting with France President Emmanuel Macron.
Irwin said Musk encouraged the team to worry less about how their actions would affect user growth or revenue, saying safety was the company’s top priority. “He emphasizes that every single day, multiple times a day,” she said.
The approach to safety Irwin described at least in part reflects an acceleration of changes that were already being planned since last year around Twitter’s handling of hateful conduct and other policy violations, according to former employees familiar with that work.
One approach, captured in the industry mantra “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach,” entails leaving up certain tweets that violate the company’s policies but barring them from appearing in places like the home timeline and search.
Twitter has long deployed such “visibility filtering” tools around misinformation and had already incorporated them into its official hateful conduct policy before the Musk acquisition. The approach allows for more freewheeling speech while cutting down on the potential harms associated with viral abusive content.
The number of tweets containing hateful content on Twitter rose sharply in the week before Musk tweeted on Nov. 23 that impressions, or views, of hateful speech were declining, according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate – in one example of researchers pointing to the prevalence of such content, while Musk touts a reduction in visibility.
Tweets containing words that were anti-Black that week were triple the number seen in the month before Musk took over, while tweets containing a gay slur were up 31 percent, the researchers said.
’MORE RISKS, MOVE FAST’
Irwin, who joined the company in June and previously held safety roles at other companies including Amazon.com and Google, pushed back on suggestions that Twitter did not have the resources or willingness to protect the platform.
She said layoffs did not significantly impact full-time employees or contractors working on what the company referred to as its “Health” divisions, including in “critical areas” like child safety and content moderation.
Two sources familiar with the cuts said that more than 50 percent of the Health engineering unit was laid off. Irwin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the assertion, but previously denied that the Health team was severely impacted by layoffs.
She added that the number of people working on child safety had not changed since the acquisition, and that the product manager for the team was still there. Irwin said Twitter backfilled some positions for people who left the company, though she declined to provide specific figures for the extent of the turnover.
She said Musk was focused on using automation more, arguing that the company had in the past erred on the side of using time- and labor-intensive human reviews of harmful content.
“He’s encouraged the team to take more risks, move fast, get the platform safe,” she said.
On child safety, for instance, Irwin said Twitter had shifted toward automatically taking down tweets reported by trusted figures with a track record of accurately flagging harmful posts.
Carolina Christofoletti, a threat intelligence researcher at TRM Labs who specializes in child sexual abuse material, said she has noticed Twitter recently taking down some content as fast as 30 seconds after she reports it, without acknowledging receipt of her report or confirmation of its decision.
In the interview on Thursday, Irwin said Twitter took down about 44,000 accounts involved in child safety violations, in collaboration with cybersecurity group Ghost Data.
Twitter is also restricting hashtags and search results frequently associated with abuse, like those aimed at looking up “teen” pornography. Past concerns about the impact of such restrictions on permitted uses of the terms were gone, she said.
The use of “trusted reporters” was “something we’ve discussed in the past at Twitter, but there was some hesitancy and frankly just some delay,” said Irwin.
“I think we now have the ability to actually move forward with things like that,” she said.

 


Twitter says users will be able to appeal account suspension

Twitter says users will be able to appeal account suspension
Updated 28 January 2023

Twitter says users will be able to appeal account suspension

Twitter says users will be able to appeal account suspension
  • Under the new criteria, Twitter accounts will only be suspended for severe or ongoing and repeat violations of the platform’s policies

BENGALURU, India: Twitter users will be able to appeal account suspensions and be evaluated under the social media platform’s new criteria for reinstatement, starting Feb. 1, the company said on Friday.
Under the new criteria, which follow billionaire Elon Musk’s purchase of the company in October, Twitter accounts will only be suspended for severe or ongoing and repeat violations of the platform’s policies.
Severe policy violations include engaging in illegal content or activity, inciting or threatening violence or harm, and engaging in targeted harassment of other users, among others.
Twitter said that going forward, it will take less severe action, in comparison to account suspension, such as limiting the reach of tweets that violate its policies or asking users to remove tweets before continuing to use the account.
In December, Musk came under fire for suspending accounts of several journalists over a controversy on publishing public data about the billionaire’s plane. He later reinstated the accounts.


Indian students defy ban on BBC’s Modi documentary despite arrests

Indian students defy ban on BBC’s Modi documentary despite arrests
Updated 28 January 2023

Indian students defy ban on BBC’s Modi documentary despite arrests

Indian students defy ban on BBC’s Modi documentary despite arrests
  • Documentary investigates Narendra Modi’s role in the deadly Gujarat riots in 2002
  • Government sees the British broadcaster’s program as ‘manipulation by foreign power’

NEW DELHI: Indian students are defying a ban on a BBC program examining Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s past, despite arrests and attempts by authorities to prevent them from organizing screenings.

The two-part program, “India: The Modi Question,” examines claims about Modi’s role in the 2002 riots in Gujarat that left more than 1,000 dead, most of them Muslims.

Modi was serving as chief minister of the western state when the violence broke out.

The government banned the documentary over the weekend using emergency powers under information technology laws, but students continued to organize screenings across the country.

At least 13 students of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi were detained for 24 hours on Wednesday, after they tried to show the documentary at their campus. 

HIGHLIGHTS

• Documentary investigates Narendra Modi’s role in the deadly Gujarat riots in 2002.

• Government sees the British broadcaster’s program as ‘manipulation by foreign power.’

“We were handed over to the police by the proctor of Jamia Islamia University. On Friday, the Jamia authorities shut down all the facilities for students,” one of the arrested, Azeez Shareef from the Students Federation of India, told Arab News.

“We grew up with a certain idea of India, with secular values and democratic principles, but this government has attacked everything.”

Earlier this week, authorities cut off electricity at Jawaharlal Nehru University when students gathered to screen the documentary.

“We wanted to screen the documentary so that youth can form their own opinion,” said Aishe Ghosh, president of Jawaharlal Nehru Students Union.

“The new generation does not remember what happened in Gujarat in 2002 because they were too young. But when we see today’s reality, it’s important for the young generation to make the link that the same political party that is in power in Delhi was responsible in some form or another in manufacturing a pogrom in the state of Gujarat.”

She added that universities are where students should have “space to debate and discuss and differ.”

As the government ban means the film cannot be streamed or shared on social media — and Twitter and YouTube have complied with a government request to take down links to the documentary — students argue there is no explicit ban on screenings.

“Where is the order to ban the documentary?” said Abhisek Nandan, president of the Student Union of the University of Hyderabad, which has organized a screening and discussion on the first episode of the program.

“The documentary carries the truth about Gujarati riots that journalists and civil society groups have been telling for the last 20 years.”

Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party sees the British broadcaster’s film as manipulation and an assault on India’s judicial system.

“A foreign power undermining the judicial system of India is not the right thing to do. The entire episode of the Gujarat riot has minutely been scrutinized by all, including the judiciary,” BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Mittal told Arab News.

In 2013, a court in Gujarat found Modi not directly responsible for the riots. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling in 2022.

“The documentary is an assault on the judicial system of this country. That’s why it is not permitted,” Mittal said.

“The country is right in not allowing manipulation by a foreign power.”

The film could undermine Modi’s reputation at a time when India is chairing the Group of 20 largest economies and will host the G20 summit this year.

“It’s obvious that PM Modi realized that the documentary had the potential to hurt his reputation at a time when he could least afford it,” political analyst Sanjay Kapoor told Arab News.  

“For him, the G20 platform provided him an opportunity to showcase himself as a world leader, and he didn’t want his image to be sullied as someone who was complicit in the Gujarat genocide.”

 

 


Saudi Arabia’s KAICIID launches journalism program for Arabs

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 27 January 2023

Saudi Arabia’s KAICIID launches journalism program for Arabs

Photo/Shutterstock
  • KAICIID’s secretary-general, Dr. Zuhair Alharthi, said that the second edition of the fellowship program was launched following the success achieved in the first edition, which helped journalists combat hate speech and promote a culture of dialogue

RIYADH: The King Abdullah International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, KAICIID, announced on Thursday the launch of the second edition of its Journalism Fellowship Program for Dialogue in the Arab region.

The program targets a new group of male and female journalists from the Arab region who will receive training on dialogue journalism, conduct professional reports that focus on matters related to interfaith and intercultural dialogue, religious relations, identity, and conflicts.

The aim is to enhance pluralism, diversity, peaceful coexistence, set ethical standards of journalism, and to combat hate speech.

KAICIID’s secretary-general, Dr. Zuhair Alharthi, said that the second edition of the fellowship program was launched following the success achieved in the first edition, which helped journalists combat hate speech and promote a culture of dialogue.

According to the approved schedule for the program, selected candidates will be invited for interviews by late February, with the program to begin online in March followed by on-the-ground training in April.

As per the admission rules to the program, a relevant committee should select between 20 to 25 journalists between the ages of 28 and 40.

They must be working in print, audio, or digital media, and have at least five years of experience in journalism or in other related fields; they must have a professional record in sensitive conflict environments, and they need to be citizens of an Arab country.

Wasim Haddad, the director of programs in the Arab region, said: “This program is one of the main axes within the center’s work strategy in the Arab region, which primarily aims at building social cohesion and promoting the values of dialogue and common citizenship through intensified work and building partnerships with religious leaders, policy makers, the youth, and women as main pillars of change in the region, as it is clear to everyone the leading roles the media can play in this regard.”

 

 


End of an Era: BBC Arabic Radio goes off air after 85 years

End of an Era: BBC Arabic Radio goes off air after 85 years
Updated 28 January 2023

End of an Era: BBC Arabic Radio goes off air after 85 years

End of an Era: BBC Arabic Radio goes off air after 85 years
  • The move comes as part of the World Service's cost cuts

LONDON: “Tears in my eyes as I listen to the last broadcast by BBC Arabic, closing down after 85 years. It meant so much to so many people here over the decades,” tweeted British journalist Jim Muir, Middle East correspondent for the BBC News, “Now the airwaves are dead. End of an era.”

BBC’s Arabic radio service officially ended its decades-long broadcast on Friday, leaving behind a legacy that many believe to be everlasting. 

The station launched in early 1938 as the BBC Empire Service’s first foreign language radio broadcast.

Many journalists and public figures took to Twitter to express grief and share fond memories of BBC’s Arabic radio station. Some believed the event marked a decline in the United Kingdom’s soft power while others recalled their days at the studios. 

“It's far beyond sad and painful to see BBC Arabic radio shutting down today,” wrote Egypt-based BBC Arabic correspondent Sally Nabil on Twitter. 

“It's incredibly difficult to describe how we feel!” She added. 

Amal Mudallali, former permanent representative of Lebanon to the UN, said: “As someone who worked for the BBC Arabic, I do not understand the decision.

“It is the only thing people know and remember about Britania, as we call it, in the region for generations.”

The final words and signature statement of BBC Arabic radio presenter Mahmoud Almossallami, “Huna London” (This is London), seems to have brought tears to many eyes. 

Almousallami’s daughter, Osha, wrote: “I grew up listening to my dad presenting on BBC Arabic, and now here he is, presenting the final hour of BBC Arabic before it's closed and taken off the air.

“It really is the end of an era.”

The head of David Nott Foundation, Elly Nott, wrote: “Huna London no more,” hailing BBC Arabic radio for helping her to learn its language. 

BBC News Lead Technical Operator Jack Mooney shared a footage showing the last moments as the Arabic news network went off the air, while sound producer Tome Roles wrote: “I’ll always treasure the magic of sitting in a tiny studio at 3 am in London, picturing the sun rising thousands of miles away, and wondering about the lives of those tuning in.”

“It’s a painful moment,” wrote photographer Ali Al-Baroodi. 

“BBC Arabic was one of few windows to the world in the time of the economic blockade (in the) 1990s (and) ISIS occupation,” he added, “Iraq was under (a) huge blackout. My father used to stock batteries for his radio in prep for the tough times.”

BBC correspondent Emir Nader shared the last two minutes of the Arabic radio’s final broadcast and wrote: “Today is a tragic day for Arab media… One of many huge losses following cuts in BBC World Service's budget.”


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.