Twitter saved from bankruptcy, Musk claims

Twitter saved from bankruptcy, Musk claims
Musk said recent months had been difficult but the company is now in a stronger financial position, though there are further hurdles to overcome. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 February 2023

Twitter saved from bankruptcy, Musk claims

Twitter saved from bankruptcy, Musk claims
  • Responding to a Wall Street Journal report, Musk said the business is ‘trending to breakeven’ but admitted that it still faces challenges
  • The platform expanded its Twitter Blue paid-for verification service to Saudi Arabia and 5 other territories last week, as it looks for ways to boost revenues

LONDON: Twitter has been saved from bankruptcy and the business is on track to break even, according to CEO Elon Musk.

In a message posted on the social media platform on Sunday, he said recent months had been difficult but the company is now in a stronger financial position, though there are further hurdles to overcome.

“Last three months were extremely tough, as had to save Twitter from bankruptcy, while fulfilling essential Tesla (and) SpaceX duties,” he wrote.

“Wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone. Twitter still has challenges, but is now trending to break even if we keep at it. Public support is much appreciated!

“To be extra clear, Twitter is definitely not financially healthy yet but is trending to be so. Lots of work still needed to get there.”

Musk posted his comment in response to a news report in The Wall Street Journal that examined his personal struggles while running several companies simultaneously, and questioned his physical well-being.

Following Musk’s takeover of Twitter in October, the company reported a massive drop in revenues from advertisers. This prompted the South African-born billionaire to say Twitter was like a “plane that is headed towards the ground at high speed with the engines on fire, and the controls don’t work,” and was at risk of going bust. He blamed the revenue decline on activists putting pressure on advertisers not to do business with the company after his takeover.

In his efforts to tackle the financial challenges Twitter faces, Musk has implemented a number of changes to the business and the platform. Shortly after completing his acquisition, he restructured the company and laid off about half of its 7,500 staff.

In an effort to enhance monetization of the platform, in December he revamped its Twitter Blue verification service in some territories and introduced a subscription-based tier that allows any user to obtain a “blue check” badge next to their name for $12 a month. The service expanded to six additional countries last week, including Saudi Arabia, increasing to 12 the total number in which it is available.

Also last week, Twitter announced it would end free access to its application programming interface, or API, which is used by third-party developers, and offer a basic paid tier instead. To further expand its revenue pool, the company was also reportedly considering offering popular usernames for sale at auction. In January, Twitter auctioned memorabilia from the company’s San Francisco headquarters.

Though the business appears to still be in a precarious financial state, the platform announced on Friday it will start sharing advertising revenue with some content creators.


British parliament blocks TikTok on all parliamentary devices

British parliament blocks TikTok on all parliamentary devices
Updated 23 March 2023

British parliament blocks TikTok on all parliamentary devices

British parliament blocks TikTok on all parliamentary devices
  • Britain last week banned the Chinese-owned video app on government phones
  • The United States, Canada, Belgium and the European Commission have already banned the app from official devices

LONDON: Britain’s parliament will block TikTok on all devices on its network following a similar ban on government devices, becoming the latest Western institution to bar the Chinese-owned video app over security concerns.
“Following the government’s decision to ban TikTok from government devices, the commissions of both the House of Commons and Lords have decided that TikTok will be blocked from all parliamentary devices and the wider parliamentary network,” a parliament spokesperson said.
Britain last week banned the Chinese-owned video app on government phones.
“Cyber security is a top priority for parliament,” the spokesperson added.
The United States, Canada, Belgium and the European Commission have already banned the app from official devices.
TikTok has come under increasing scrutiny due to fears that user data from the app owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance could end up in the hands of the Chinese government, undermining Western security interests.
The British parliament’s ban was announced as TikTok’s chief executive
faced questions
from US lawmakers who are convinced the app should be barred for being a potential national security threat to the United States.


OpenAI tech gives Microsoft’s Bing a boost in search battle with Google

OpenAI tech gives Microsoft’s Bing a boost in search battle with Google
Updated 23 March 2023

OpenAI tech gives Microsoft’s Bing a boost in search battle with Google

OpenAI tech gives Microsoft’s Bing a boost in search battle with Google
  • Page visits on Bing have risen 15.8 percent since Microsoft unveiled its artificial intelligence-powered version
  • BingAI represents a rare opportunity for Microsoft to take on Google Search near-market dominance

LONDON: The integration of OpenAI’s technology into Microsoft-owned Bing has driven people to the little-used search engine and helped it compete better with market leader Google in page visits growth, according to data from analytics firm Similarweb.
Page visits on Bing have risen 15.8 percent since Microsoft Corp. unveiled its artificial intelligence-powered version on Feb. 7, compared with a near 1 percent decline for the Alphabet Inc-owned search engine, data till March 20 showed.


The figures are an early sign of the lead the Windows maker has taken in its fast-moving race with Google for generative AI dominance, thanks to the technology behind ChatGPT, the viral chatbot that many experts have called AI’s “iPhone moment.”
They also underscore a rare opportunity for Microsoft to make inroads in the over $120 billion search market, where Google has been the dominant player for decades with a share of more than 80 percent.
Gil Luria, an analyst at D.A. Davidson & Co, said that he expects Bing to gain market share in search over the next coming months, especially if Google continues to delay the integration of generative AI into its product.
While Bing AI has been available to most users around the world since February, Google began the public release of its chatbot Bard only on Tuesday.
“Bing has less than a tenth of Google’s market share, so even if it converts 1 percent or 2 percent of users it will be materially beneficial to Bing and Microsoft,” Luria said.
App downloads for Bing have also jumped eight times globally after AI integration, according to app research firm Data.ai. Downloads for the Google search app fell 2 percent in the same period, the data showed.


Still, some analysts said that Google, which in the early 2000s unseated then leader Yahoo to become the dominant search player, could overcome the early setbacks to maintain its lead.
“Google’s ranking algorithm can have a competitive edge over that of competitors,” Yongjei Jeong, an analyst at Mirae Asset Securities in South Korea said, referring to how Google’s algorithm helped it beat Yahoo Search.


TikTok congressional hearing: CEO Shou Chew grilled by US lawmakers

TikTok congressional hearing: CEO Shou Chew grilled by US lawmakers
Updated 53 min 15 sec ago

TikTok congressional hearing: CEO Shou Chew grilled by US lawmakers

TikTok congressional hearing: CEO Shou Chew grilled by US lawmakers
  • CEO Shou Zi Chew said TikTok is at pivotal moment as he prepares to testify before Congress to address platform security concerns
  • US could demand TikTok's Chinese owners to divest their stakes or face a potential ban

WASHINGTON: TikTok’s chief executive faced tough questions on Thursday from lawmakers who are convinced the Chinese-owned short video app should be barred for being a “tool” of the Chinese Communist Party and because it carries content that can harm children’s mental health.

CEO Shou Zi Chew’s testimony before Congress capped a week of actions by the Chinese company aimed at convincing Americans and their lawmakers that the app creates economic value and supports free speech. Instead, members of Congress accused the company of spying and deception, adding to calls to ban the app.

TikTok, which has more than 150 million American users, was repeatedly hammered in the ongoing hearing where no lawmaker offered any support. Many, who often noted they themselves were parents, talked of a need to rein in the power held by the app over US children.
Overall, lawmakers called Chew’s answers on China and content aimed at children as evasive, with Democratic Representative Tony Cardenas saying Chew was a “good dancer with words” at the top of his comments about Chew’s answers throughout the testimony.
“TikTok could be designed to minimize the harm to kids, but a decision was made to aggressively addict kids in the name of profits,” said Representative Kathy Castor, a Democrat, at the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce committee hearing.
Chew responded to many pointed questions by saying the issues were “complex.” He did not announce any new efforts to safeguard privacy, falling back on explanations of ongoing efforts, which have failed to appease critics.
Republicans and Democrats also raised numerous concerns about its potential to threaten US national security by sharing its data with the Chinese government. TikTok has said it has spent more than $1.5 billion on what it calls rigorous data security efforts under the name “Project Texas” that currently has nearly 1,500 full-time employees and is contracted with Oracle Corp. to store TikTok’s US user data. It also says it strictly screens content that could harm children.

PARENTS UNHAPPY

Representative Diana DeGette, a Democrat, said TikTok’s efforts to prevent the spread of misinformation on the platform were not working.
Chew said the company was investing in content moderation and artificial intelligence to limit such content.
DeGette said TikTok’s actions were not enough.
“You gave me only generalized statements that you’re investing, that you’re concerned, that you’re doing work. That’s not enough for me. That’s not enough for the parents of America,” DeGette said.

Shares of US social media companies rose on Thursday, with Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. up 3.4 percent and Snap Inc. up 4.2 percent.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives on Twitter said, “TikTok CEO testimony so far we would characterize as a ‘mini disaster’ for this key moment for TikTok. TikTok is now poster child of the US/China tensions and lawmakers have a lot of q’s with not enough concrete answers.”

MANIPULATION?
Committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican, set the tone of the hearing by saying, “TikTok collects nearly every data point imaginable — from people’s location to what they type and copy, who they talk to, to biometric data and more.
“We do not trust TikTok will ever embrace American values — values for freedom, human rights and innovation,” she said, adding that the Chinese Communist Party “is able to use (TikTok) as a tool to manipulate America as a whole.”
Chew, who began his testimony speaking about his own Singaporean roots, said, “We do not promote or remove content at the request of the Chinese government.”
He added: “It is our commitment to this committee and all our users that we will keep (TikTok) free from any manipulation by any government.”
But the top Democrat on the panel, Representative Frank Pallone, argued with that statement, saying, “You’re gonna continue to gather data, you’re gonna continue to sell data ... and continue to be under the aegis of the Communist Party.”

TikTok last week said President Joe Biden’s administration demanded its Chinese owners divest their stakes or face a potential ban. When asked about divestiture, Chew said the issue was “not about the ownership.”
China’s Ministry of Commerce at a briefing on Thursday said that “forcing the sale of TikTok will seriously damage the confidence of investors from all over the world, including China, to invest in the United States. If the news is true, China will firmly oppose it.”
“The sale or divestiture of TikTok involves technology export, and administrative licensing procedures must be performed in accordance with Chinese laws and regulations, and the Chinese government will make a decision in accordance with the law,” the ministry representative added.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner on Wednesday said two additional senators backed his bipartisan legislation with Republican John Thune to give the Biden administration new powers to ban TikTok — raising the total to 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans.


‘Cleanfluencers’ sweep TikTok, drawing millions

‘Cleanfluencers’ sweep TikTok, drawing millions
Updated 23 March 2023

‘Cleanfluencers’ sweep TikTok, drawing millions

‘Cleanfluencers’ sweep TikTok, drawing millions
  • With the global rise of TikTok, cleaning videos have become hugely popular on social media, inspiring a growing number to start posting content

HELSINKI, Finland: Marie Kondo may have admitted defeat, but a new generation of “cleanfluencers” is taking social media by storm, with millions watching them scour filthy homes and dole out cleaning hacks.
Digging through a mountain of trash, Auri Kananen uncovered a rotten piece of pizza on the floor of a Helsinki flat, with insects devouring it.
“I love cleaning, I love dirt,” declared the 30-year-old Finn, who has far more social media followers than Kondo, the Japanese tidying guru who has admitted embracing the messier side of life since having her third child.
Kananen has quickly become one of the world’s most successful “cleanfluencers,” traveling the globe hunting for “the dirtiest homes possible.”
“I remember when I had 19 followers. Even then it felt really cool to have 19 strangers wanting to see me clean,” said Kananen, or aurikatariina as she is known to her nine million followers on TikTok, with two million on YouTube.
In her upbeat videos, she dusts, scrubs and sorts, wearing her signature hot pink rubber gloves as zippy pop music plays in the background.
Her voiceovers often explain how the person she is helping ended up living in squalor.
“Usually people have some mental health problem or other tragedy that has happened in their lives,” Kananen told AFP.
The flat in Helsinki is the home of a depressed young man whose brother suffers from multiple sclerosis, she explained.
She can relate to people living in miserable conditions because she went through a period of depression herself, she said.
“I know how overwhelming it is,” she said.
But her experience has shown her that no situation is hopeless.
The comments sections of her videos are filled with people saying how her videos have helped them cope with their difficulties, praising her non-judgmental manner.
“I love how she is understanding the person in this situation and helping them instead of blaming them,” one commenter wrote.

With the global rise of TikTok, cleaning videos have become hugely popular on social media, inspiring a growing number to start posting content.
“I was watching videos and I thought, that’s what I do at home, I can just film myself doing it,” recalled 27-year-old Abbi, known as cleanwithabbi to her two million followers.
The English single mum films herself cleaning, doing the dishes and hoovering in her red brick home in Huyton near Liverpool.
Cleaning has always been an important part of her life as her youngest son Billy lives with sensory processing disorder.
“He really loves his routine and he does like things to be clean,” she said.
Now Abbi, who does not wish to reveal her full name, posts TikTok videos for a living. Brands sponsor her to use their products, and she earns between $720 and $1,200 a video.
Abbi — whose sons Jack and Billy are six and five — hits the record button on her phone and swiftly makes their beds, arranging the soft toys nicely.
“It relaxes me, it’s like therapy,” she told AFP.
“For me it’s like an escape from any worries I’ve got.”

Ann Russell, a 59-year-old full-time cleaner from the south of England, has a different approach.
Sitting on her sofa with her black dog Hollie, she answers a question from one of her TikTok followers, holding her phone up to her face.
To remove a felt tip mark from a wooden table without removing the varnish she recommends isopropyl alcohol: “Dip a cotton bud in it and just rub it gently.”
She said people need to be taught how to clean properly.
“If nobody told you, how on earth are you supposed to know?” she told AFP.
Russell makes between four and 12 videos every day, answering questions from her 2.3 million followers in a no-nonsense fashion.
“I turn the phone on, I talk to the phone, and that’s it. That’s about as good as it gets. I am not very proficient,” she said with a laugh.
The fact that cleaning “is satisfying” may be behind the videos’ success, Russell said.
Most of her and Abbi’s viewers are women and millennials, as well as people struggling to find the motivation to clean.
“Washing your socks, pairing them up and putting them in the drawer (gives) a sense of a good job well done,” she said.
“It makes people feel in control. And because they feel in control in their personal life, they feel that the outside world is a safer place.”
 


Media has key role to play in promoting Palestinian cause, says leading Muslim official

Media has key role to play in promoting Palestinian cause, says leading Muslim official
Updated 22 March 2023

Media has key role to play in promoting Palestinian cause, says leading Muslim official

Media has key role to play in promoting Palestinian cause, says leading Muslim official
  • Hissein Brahim Taha, secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said news organizations have a duty to ensure accurate coverage of Palestinian issues
  • He was speaking during a virtual workshop titled ‘Media Circulation of Terms of the Palestinian Cause,’ which addressed the role of the media in discourse on Palestinian issues

LONDON: The media has a critical role to play in helping to promote the Palestinian cause, according to Hissein Brahim Taha, the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

He was speaking during a virtual workshop titled “Media Circulation of Terms of the Palestinian Cause,” which was organized on Tuesday by the Union of OIC News Agencies to address the role of media in discourse on Palestinian issues. The participants included diplomats and representatives of news agencies and media groups.

In his opening speech, Taha said the media can play a vital role in raising awareness of Palestinian issues and mobilizing support for the Palestinian people. It is important to ensure that Palestine and Al-Quds Al-Sharif remain at the forefront of the political and the media agendas, he added.

He said his organization is following, with great concern, the escalation of a media war waged by the Israeli occupation, whether in the form of systematic attacks against news organizations and their staff, or through the promotion of false narratives that deny the very existence of Palestinians and their rights.

On Tuesday, the OIC condemned remarks made by Israeli Minister of Finance Betzalel Smotrich in which he denied the existence of the Palestinian people, their history and their legitimate rights. The organization called on the international community “to reject and condemn these dangerous, racist allegations, which will undermine security and stability and fuel violence, tension and hatred.”

In Taha’s speech during the workshop, which was delivered on his behalf by Assistant Secretary General for Palestine and Al-Quds Affairs Samir Bakr Diab, he also called on the media to use accurate and balanced language when reporting on Palestinian issues, and to avoid rhetoric that might incite violence or hatred while offering a correct narrative. He urged news organizations to emphasize terms such as occupation, racism, ethnic cleansing, the Nakba, and colonial settlement.

During the workshop, the participants discussed a number of issues, including the importance of using unified terminology when reporting on the Palestinian cause and the need to avoid media bias.

They also called for the development of a reference guide for terminology related to discourse on Palestinian issues, and talked about how news agencies can confront misinformation and media manipulation through the use of terminology.