Saudi calls to boycott TikTok mount as platform denies discrimination

This year, TikTok reported having 26 million active users in Saudi Arabia, positioning it as the second most popular social platform after YouTube. (AFP/File)
This year, TikTok reported having 26 million active users in Saudi Arabia, positioning it as the second most popular social platform after YouTube. (AFP/File)
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Updated 03 December 2023
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Saudi calls to boycott TikTok mount as platform denies discrimination

Saudi calls to boycott TikTok mount as platform denies discrimination
  • Campaign follows reports of alleged censorship of Saudi content
  • Google Trends shows 25% decline for TikTok since last month
  • Short-form video giant labels boycott campaign a ‘smear act’

LONDON: Calls to boycott TikTok in Saudi Arabia have intensified since the launch of a campaign accusing the video platform of unjustly censoring and banning Saudi accounts expressing positive views about the Kingdom.

The momentum behind the boycott has grown as concerns over TikTok’s alleged algorithm manipulation and biased treatment continue to provoke outrage among the platform’s Saudi user base.

Many users have turned to alternative social platforms to denounce TikTok’s alleged restricting of pro-Saudi content, with the trending hashtag #BoycottTiktok accompanied by posts urging Saudis to delete the app.

One X user, @ayedarini, urged others to boycott the app, claiming the platform is engaging in a “war against us.”

The user added: “It has become clear that it is targeting Saudi accounts and promoting everything against them and their country. Boycotting it has become a duty for every Saudi.”

 

A recent post by @X_Tiktok_, a dedicated profile advocating for the platform’s ban in the Kingdom, expressed strong disapproval of TikTok’s “unacceptable” and “abusive” behavior, pledging to persist in its campaign against the platform.

“TikTok still continues its malicious bias with its violating policies on Saudi users’ posts, especially national clips,” the post said. “Saudi Arabia remains a red line and the Saudi people remain strong and strict in their defense of their country, religion and leadership.”

 

Influential social media personalities and celebrities have lent their support to the campaign, leveraging their substantial followings to amplify the message and motivate others to join the boycott. The Saudi private sector has also responded to the boycott’s impact.

Citing a source close to the Saudi First Division League earlier in November, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported that the the second tier of professional football in Saudi Arabia had cut off its relationship with TikTok due to the platform’s alleged actions against Saudi content.

Popular social media news channel The Saudi Post announced on Thursday the cessation of its publications and the closure of all its accounts on the platform.

TikTok issued a statement on Wednesday, denying allegations of restricting Saudi content and dismissing the campaign as a “coordinated action.”

The app said in a statement: “The rumors regarding TikTok removing content related to Saudi Arabia are not true. We strongly reject these allegations that are inconsistent with our policies and values.

“We strongly reject the deliberate smear campaigns that are practiced on our employees and partners and threaten their security and safety.”

 

Political analyst and media personality Salman Al-Ansari commented on the boycott, saying that the platform’s statement lacked any “commitment to corrective measures,” which would only escalate the campaign.

This year, TikTok reported having 26 million active users in Saudi Arabia, positioning it as the second most popular social platform after YouTube.

Data indicates that the boycott has resulted in a decline in the number of Saudi TikTok users. According to Google Trends, the popularity of the term “TikTok” has decreased by 25 percent since the campaign began.

In an effort to rebuild trust, TikTok launched a dedicated hashtag page for Saudi content on its platform.

Despite these measures, the boycott is gaining momentum, transforming into a symbol of public discontent and a defense of Saudi Arabia.

The campaign’s uncertain impact on TikTok’s user base and the platform’s reputation highlights the growing power of collective action by social media users, an area in which TikTok has faced scrutiny.

In the last few years, TikTok and parent company ByteDance have faced intense criticism for handling sensitive user data, leading to calls for a ban in the US.

In November, congress members, activists and tech investors renewed demands for a TikTok ban, alleging bias in content related to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Nepal last month announced a full ban of TikTok in the country, saying that the Chinese-owned video-sharing platform was “detrimental to social harmony.”


Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition

Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition
Updated 20 April 2024
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Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition

Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition
  • Awards across print, digital, infographics and illustrations ‘testament to talent and dedication of design and editorial teams’

LONDON: Arab News, the leading English-language daily newspaper in the Middle East, has won four Merit Winner awards at this year’s Society of Publication Designers competition.

Arab News’ “The Kingdom vs. Captagon” Spotlight piece garnered recognition in the two categories — Custom Feature and Single Page.

The two remaining accolades went to the “Onions’ tears and inflation fears” in the Feature Opener category and the “Guide to Hajj” in Infographic, commended for its exceptional data visualization.

“We are extremely proud to have won four awards at this year’s prestigious SPD competition,” Omar Nashashibi, head of design at Arab News, said.

“To win awards across print, digital, infographics and illustrations is testament to the talent and dedication of the Arab News design and editorial teams in creating engaging content for our readers.”

Since 1965, the annual SPD awards have promoted and celebrated excellence in editorial design, photography and illustration across both print and digital mediums. This year, the competition’s jury received thousands of entries from around the globe.  


Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say

Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say
Updated 20 April 2024
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Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say

Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say
  • Some officers and bystanders rushed to the aid of the man
  • The man, who police said recently traveled from Florida to New York, had not breached any security checkpoints to access the park

NEW YORK: A man who doused himself in an accelerant and set himself on fire outside the courthouse where former President Donald Trump is on trial has died, police said.
The New York City Police Department told The Associated Press early Saturday that the man was declared dead by staff at an area hospital.
The man was in Collect Pond Park around 1:30 p.m. Friday when he took out pamphlets espousing conspiracy theories, tossed them around, then doused himself in an accelerant and set himself on fire, officials and witnesses said.
A large number of police officers were nearby when it happened. Some officers and bystanders rushed to the aid of the man, who was hospitalized in critical condition at the time.
The man, who police said recently traveled from Florida to New York, had not breached any security checkpoints to access the park.

The park outside the courthouse has been a gathering spot for protesters, journalists and gawkers throughout Trump’s trial, which began with jury selection Monday.
Through Friday, the streets and sidewalks in the area around the courthouse were generally wide open and crowds have been small and largely orderly.
Authorities said they were also reviewing the security protocols, including whether to restrict access to the park. The side street where Trump enters and leaves the building is off limits.
“We may have to shut this area down,” New York City Police Department Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said at a news conference outside the courthouse Friday, adding that officials would discuss the security plan soon.


Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine

Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine
Updated 20 April 2024
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Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine

Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine
  • Izvestia said Semyon Eremin, 42, died of wounds from a drone attack in Zaporizhzhia region
  • Eremin had reported for the Russian daily from hottest battles in Ukraine during the 25-month-old war

Semyon Eremin, a war correspondent for the Russian daily Izvestia, was killed on Friday in a drone attack in southeastern Ukraine, the daily said.

Izvestia said Eremin, 42, died of wounds suffered when a drone made a second pass over the area where he was reporting in Zaporizhzhia region.
Izvestia said Eremin had sent reports from many of the hottest battles in Ukraine’s eastern regions during the 25-month-old war, including Mariupol, besieged by Russian troops for nearly three months in 2022.
He had also reported from Maryinka and Vuhledar, towns at the center of many months of heavy fighting.


WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system

WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system
Updated 20 April 2024
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WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system

WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system
  • Targets’ selection based on membership to some WhatsApp groups, new report reveals
  • Accusation raises questions about app’s privacy and encryption claims

LONDON: WhatsApp is allegedly being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s contentious artificial intelligence system, Lavender, which has been linked to the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, recent reports have revealed.

Earlier this month, Israeli-Palestinian publication +972 Magazine and Hebrew-language outlet Local Call published a report by journalist Yuval Abraham, exposing the Israeli army’s use of an AI system capable of identifying targets associated with Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

This revelation, corroborated by six Israeli intelligence officers involved in the project, has sparked international outrage, as it suggested Lavender has been used by the military to target and eliminate suspected militants, often resulting in civilian casualties.

In a recent blog post, software engineer and activist Paul Biggar highlighted Lavender’s reliance on WhatsApp.

He pointed out how membership in a WhatsApp group containing a suspected militant can influence Lavender’s identification process, highlighting the pivotal role messaging platforms play in supporting AI targeting systems like Lavender.

“A little-discussed detail in the Lavender AI article is that Israel is killing people based on being in the same WhatsApp group as a suspected militant,” Bigger wrote. “There’s a lot wrong with this.”

He explained that users often find themselves in groups with strangers or acquaintances.

Biggar also suggested that WhatsApp’s parent company, Meta, may be complicit, whether knowingly or unknowingly, in these operations.

He accused Meta of potentially violating international humanitarian law and its own commitments to human rights, raising questions about the privacy and encryption claims of WhatsApp’s messaging service.

The revelation is just the latest of Meta’s perceived attempts to silence pro-Palestinian voices.

Since before the beginning of the conflict, the Menlo Park giant has faced accusations of double standards favoring Israel.

In February, the Guardian revealed that Meta was considering the expansion of its hate speech policy to the term “Zionist.”

More recently, Meta quietly introduced a new feature on Instagram that automatically limits users’ exposure to what it deems “political” content, a decision criticized by experts as a means of systematically censoring pro-Palestinian content.

Responding to requests for comment, a WhatsApp spokesperson said that the company could not verify the accuracy of the report but assured that “WhatsApp has no backdoors and does not provide bulk information to any government.”


Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati

Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati
Updated 19 April 2024
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Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati

Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati
  • UK security services believe criminal proxies with links to Tehran carried out London knife attack

LONDON: Police said on Friday that a group of Eastern European mercenaries is suspected to have carried out the knife attack on Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati in late March.

Zeraati was stabbed repeatedly by three men in an attack outside his south London home.

The Iran International presenter lost a significant amount of blood and was hospitalized for several days. He has since returned to work, but is now living in a secure location.

Iran International and its staff have faced repeated threats, believed to be linked to the Iranian regime, which designated the broadcaster as a terrorist organization for its coverage of the 2022 protests.

Iran’s charge d’affaires, Seyed Mehdi Hosseini Matin, denied any government involvement in the attack on Zeraati.

Investigators revealed that the suspects fled the UK immediately after the incident, with reports suggesting they traveled to Heathrow Airport before boarding commercial flights to different destinations.

Police are pursuing leads in Albania as part of their investigation.

Counterterrorism units and Britain’s security services leading the inquiry believe that the attack is another instance of the Iranian regime employing criminal proxies to target its critics on foreign soil.

This method allows Tehran to maintain plausible deniability and avoids raising suspicions when suspects enter the country.

Zeraati was attacked on March 29 as he left his home home to travel to work. His weekly show serves as a source of impartial and uncensored news for many Iranians at home and abroad.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program this week, Zeraati said that while he is physically “much better,” mental recovery from the assault “will take time.”