Bill that could make TikTok unavailable in the US advances quickly in the House

Bill that could make TikTok unavailable in the US advances quickly in the House
The American Civil Liberties Union and other free speech advocacy groups urged lawmakers to reject the TikTok bill. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 08 March 2024
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Bill that could make TikTok unavailable in the US advances quickly in the House

Bill that could make TikTok unavailable in the US advances quickly in the House
  • Some lawmakers and critics of TikTok have argued the Chinese government could force the company to share data on American users

WASHINGTON: A bill that could lead to the popular video-sharing app TikTok being unavailable in the United States is quickly gaining traction in the House as lawmakers voice concerns about the potential for the platform to surveil and manipulate Americans.
The measure gained the support of House Speaker Mike Johnson and could soon come up for a full vote in the House. The bill advanced out of committee Thursday in a unanimous bipartisan vote — 50-0.
The White House has provided technical support in the drafting of the bill, though White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the TikTok legislation “still needs some work” to get to a place where President Joe Biden would endorse it.
The bill takes a two-pronged approach. First, it requires ByteDance Ltd., which is based in Beijing, to divest TikTok and other applications it controls within 180 days of enactment of the bill or those applications will be prohibited in the United States. Second, it creates a narrow process to let the executive branch prohibit access to an app owned by a foreign adversary if it poses a threat to national security.
“It’s an important, bipartisan measure to take on China, our largest geopolitical foe, which is actively undermining our economy and security,” Johnson said Thursday.
Some lawmakers and critics of TikTok have argued the Chinese government could force the company to share data on American users. TikTok says it has never done that and wouldn’t do so if asked. The US government also hasn’t provided evidence of that happening.
Critics also claim the app could be used to spread misinformation beneficial to Beijing.
Former President Donald Trump attempted to ban TikTok through executive order, but the courts blocked the action after TikTok sued, arguing such actions would violate free speech and due process rights.
TikTok raised similar concerns about the legislation gaining momentum in the House.
“This bill is an outright ban of TikTok, no matter how much the authors try to disguise it. This legislation will trample the First Amendment rights of 170 million Americans and deprive 5 million small businesses of a platform they rely on to grow and create jobs,” the company said in a prepared statement.
The bill’s author, Rep. Mike Gallagher, the Republican chairman of a special House committee focused on China, rejected TikTok’s assertion of a ban. Rather, he said it’s an effort to force a change in TikTok’s ownership. He also took issue with TikTok urging some users to call their representatives and urge them to vote no on the bill.
The notification urged TikTok users to “speak up now — before your government strips 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression.” The notification also warned that the “ban” of TikTok would damage millions of businesses and destroy the lives of countless creators around the country.
“Today, it’s about our bill and it’s about intimidating members considering that bill, but tomorrow it could be misinformation or lies about an election, about a war, about any number of things,” Gallagher said. “This is why we can’t take a chance on having a dominant news platform in America controlled or owned by a company that is behold to the Chinese Communist Party, our foremost adversary.”
The bill comes about one year after TikTok’s CEO was grilled for hours by skeptical lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee concerned about data security and the distribution of harmful content. That same committee met Thursday to debate and vote on the bill.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the committee’s Republican chair, said TikTok’s access to so many Americans makes it a valuable propaganda tool for the Chinese government to exploit. She also noted that its parent company ByteDance is currently under investigation by the US Department of Justice for surveilling American journalists.
“Through this access, the app is able to collect nearly every data point imaginable, from people’s location, to what they search on their devices, who they are connecting with, and other forms of sensitive information,” Rodgers said.
To assuage concerns from lawmakers, TikTok has promised to wall off US user data from its parent company through a separate entity run independently from ByteDance and monitored by outside observers. TikTok says new user data is currently being stored on servers maintained by the software company Oracle.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other free speech advocacy groups urged lawmakers to reject the TikTok bill, saying in a letter to the Energy and Commerce Committee’s leadership that “passing this legislation would trample on the constitutional right to freedom of speech of millions of people in the United States.”
Biden’s reelection campaign has opened a TikTok account as a way to boost its appeal with young voters, even as his administration continued to raise security concerns about whether the popular social media app might be sharing user data with China’s communist government.
Jean-Pierre said the White House welcomes lawmakers’ efforts on the TikTok legislation, but lawmakers need to continue work on it.
“Once it gets to a place where we think .. it’s on legal standing and it’s in a place where it can get out of Congress, then the president would sign it,” she told reporters on Wednesday during the daily White House briefing.
She also defended the White House’s efforts to limit the dangers of TikTok, even as the president engages with influencers on the social-media platform and his campaign hosts a TikTok account.
“We are going to try to meet the America people where they are,” Jean-Pierre said. “We are trying to reach everyone. The president is the president for all Americans .. it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to try to figure out how to protect our national security.”


Israeli officials seize AP equipment and take down live shot of northern Gaza, citing new media law

Israeli officials seize AP equipment and take down live shot of northern Gaza, citing new media law
Updated 34 sec ago
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Israeli officials seize AP equipment and take down live shot of northern Gaza, citing new media law

Israeli officials seize AP equipment and take down live shot of northern Gaza, citing new media law
  • Authorities accuse AP of providing images to Al Jazeera
  • The seizure followed a verbal order Thursday to cease the live transmission, which the news organization refused to do
JERUSALEM: Israeli officials seized a camera and broadcasting equipment belonging to The Associated Press in southern Israel on Tuesday, accusing the news organization of violating a new media law by providing images to Al Jazeera.
The Qatari satellite channel is among thousands of clients that receive live video feeds from the AP and other news organizations. The AP denounced the move.
“The Associated Press decries in the strongest terms the actions of the Israeli government to shut down our longstanding live feed showing a view into Gaza and seize AP equipment,” said Lauren Easton, vice president of corporate communications at the news organization. “The shutdown was not based on the content of the feed but rather an abusive use by the Israeli government of the country’s new foreign broadcaster law. We urge the Israeli authorities to return our equipment and enable us to reinstate our live feed immediately so we can continue to provide this important visual journalism to thousands of media outlets around the world.”
Officials from the Communications Ministry arrived at the AP location in the southern town of Sderot on Tuesday afternoon and seized the equipment. They handed the AP a piece of paper, signed by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, alleging it was violating the country’s foreign broadcaster law.
Shortly before the equipment was seized, it was broadcasting a general view of northern Gaza. The AP complies with Israel’s military censorship rules, which prohibit broadcasts of details like troops movements that could endanger soldiers. The live shot has generally shown smoke rising over the territory.
The seizure followed a verbal order Thursday to cease the live transmission — which the news organization refused to do.
“In accordance with the government decision and the instruction of the communications minister, the communications ministry will continue to take whatever enforcement action is required to limit broadcasts that harm the security of the state,” the ministry said in a statement.
Israeli officials used the law to close down the offices of the Qatar-based broadcaster on May 5 as well as confiscating the channel’s equipment, banning its broadcasts, and blocking its websites.
Israel has long had a rocky relationship with Al Jazeera, accusing it of bias against the country. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called it a “terror channel” that spreads incitement.
Al Jazeera is one of the few international news outlets that has remained in Gaza throughout the war, broadcasting scenes of airstrikes and overcrowded hospitals and accusing Israel of massacres.
The war in Gaza began with a Hamas attack in Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage. More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed since then, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count.

Media watchdog ‘welcomes’ arrest warrants for Hamas and Israeli leaders

Media watchdog ‘welcomes’ arrest warrants for Hamas and Israeli leaders
Updated 21 May 2024
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Media watchdog ‘welcomes’ arrest warrants for Hamas and Israeli leaders

Media watchdog ‘welcomes’ arrest warrants for Hamas and Israeli leaders
  • ICC’s action is a promise to end impunity for the deaths of journalists, says Committee to Protect Journalists

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed the International Criminal Court’s announcement on Monday that it was seeking arrest warrants for leaders of both Hamas and Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri, and Ismail Haniyeh might face prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“The ICC’s application for arrest warrants for crimes against humanity in Israel and Palestine recognizes atrocities committed against civilians,” said CPJ CEO Jodie Ginsberg.

“The civilian deaths include an unprecedented number of journalists killed since Oct. 7. The ICC’s action is a promise for an end to the impunity that has historically plagued the killing and persecution of those who write the first draft of history.”

Over 100 journalists and media workers have been killed since the beginning of the conflict last October, the vast majority of them in Gaza by Israeli forces.

CPJ reported that the conflict has claimed the lives of more journalists in three months than have ever been killed in a single country over an entire year since record-keeping began, underscoring the tragic toll this war has had on journalists.

The watchdog, along with corroborating investigations by Reuters, AFP, and Human Rights Watch, has documented at least three instances of journalists killed by Israeli forces that involved deliberate targeting.

An additional 10 cases may also involve deliberate targeting, which, according to international law, could constitute war crimes.

CPJ has urged the ICC to investigate these killings and called on Israel to grant investigators unrestricted access to Gaza, highlighting a disturbing pattern of systematic killings of Palestinian journalists that have consistently gone unpunished.

The announcement of potential arrest warrants for Netanyahu was met with strong reactions.

Netanyahu called the decision “a moral outrage of historic proportions,” while US President Joe Biden rejected the ICC’s application altogether, adding that “there’s no equivalence between Israel and Hamas.”


Meta Oversight Board set to rule on ‘genocide’ video case, two others

Meta Oversight Board set to rule on ‘genocide’ video case, two others
Updated 21 May 2024
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Meta Oversight Board set to rule on ‘genocide’ video case, two others

Meta Oversight Board set to rule on ‘genocide’ video case, two others
  • Meta submitted cases as part of goal to create policy on criminal allegations based on nationality
  • Decision to help Meta better navigate critical questions at a crucial time, board spokesperson told Arab News

LONDON: The Meta Oversight Board announced on Tuesday that it is reviewing three cases, including one involving a user accusing Israel of committing “genocide” and another concerning a Facebook comment in Arabic.

Meta, which submitted the cases as part of its review system aimed at creating a policy on criminal allegations based on nationality, said it removed the posts for breaching its Hate Speech Community Standards.

The first case involves a user’s reply on Threads, featuring a video that includes accusations of “genocide” and claims that “Israelis are criminals.”

The other two cases involve a December speech in which a user called all Russians and Americans “criminals” and a recent post in which a user stated that “all Indians are rapists.”

An Oversight Board spokesperson told Arab News: “Tensions in the region, and increasingly around the world, are dominating the discussion online.

“It’s vitally important that when looking at these issues, Meta gets the balance right and works to protect safety, without unduly limiting the ability of people to speak out about the abuses they see or the frustration they experience.”

The spokesperson added that while the board cannot review every appeal, it selects those of critical importance to public discourse “to help Meta better navigate these critical questions at a crucial time.”

Meta said the three posts were removed after human review for “targeting people with criminal allegations based on nationality.”

Despite its decision, Meta referred the cases to the Oversight Board to address the challenge of handling criminal allegations directed at people based on their nationality, as they might be interpreted as attacks on a nation’s policies.

The board’s decision to review these cases comes as social media platforms have seen an uptick in violent, hateful, and misleading content since the start of Israel’s war on Gaza last October.

The Oversight Board reported a nearly 2,000 percent increase in appeals from the region in the first three weeks after Oct. 7, with many complaints about content inciting violence and promoting hate speech.

The moderators have called for public comments addressing the platform’s hate speech policy in relation to users’ ability to speak out against state actions during times of conflict and Meta’s human rights responsibilities in relation to content targeting users based on nationality.

They also requested insights into potential criteria for determining whether a user is targeting a concept or institution rather than people based on nationality.

In the coming weeks, the board members will deliberate on the cases.

Facebook and its parent company Meta have previously been accused of deliberately censoring pro-Palestine content. Human Rights Watch stated last December that Meta routinely engages in “six key patterns of undue censorship” of pro-Palestine posts.

Recently, the board introduced a new 30-day expedited review mechanism and will rule on whether the pro-Palestinian phrase “from the river to the sea” is considered “acceptable” speech.

In April, the board overturned Meta’s decision to leave up a Facebook post claiming that Hamas originated from the population of Gaza, comparing them to a “savage horde,” leading Meta to take the post down.


Report: Meta approved anti-Muslim political ads in India

Report: Meta approved anti-Muslim political ads in India
Updated 20 May 2024
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Report: Meta approved anti-Muslim political ads in India

Report: Meta approved anti-Muslim political ads in India
  • ICWI and Eko found Meta’s system failed to detect prohibited content in most cases
  • Indian election sees surge in anti-Muslim, Hindu supremacist sentiment

LONDON: Tech giant Meta approved political advertisements on its platforms inciting violence and hate speech during India’s general election, a report released on Monday revealed.

The investigation, conducted by non-sectarian diasporic organization India Civil Watch International and corporate watchdog Eko, found that Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, allowed AI-manipulated political ads that spread disinformation and incited religious violence, particularly targeting Muslims.

The report found that Meta’s system failed to prohibit a series of inflammatory ads designed to mimic real-life scenarios, uploaded by ICWI and Eko.

The ads, submitted to Meta’s ad library, contained slurs towards Muslims in India, such as “let’s burn this vermin” and “Hindu blood is spilling, these invaders must be burned.”

Another ad featured Hindu supremacist language and false claims about political leaders, including an opposition leader allegedly wanting to “erase Hindus from India” and calling for their execution.

According to the report, all of the adverts “were created based upon real hate speech and disinformation prevalent in India, underscoring the capacity of social media platforms to amplify existing harmful narratives.”

Out of 22 ads submitted in English, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati and Kannada, 14 were approved by Meta, while a further three were approved after minor tweaks that did not alter the overall provocative messaging.

Only five ads were rejected for violating Meta’s community standards on hate speech and violence.

The ads, which largely targeted Muslims, were immediately removed after approval by ICWI and Eko.

The organizations accused Meta of profiting from hate speech and failing to uphold its pledge to prevent AI-generated or manipulated content from spreading on its platforms during the Indian election.

Campaign spending for India’s elections, the largest and longest in the world, is estimated to reach $16 billion.

The report also claims that the approved ads violated India’s election rules, which ban election-related content 48 hours before polling begins and during voting.

Meta, which requires vetting approval for accounts running political ads, had already faced controversy during this year’s Indian elections.

A previous report by ICWI and Eko found that surrogate or “shadow” accounts aligned with political parties paid vast sums of money to disseminate unauthorized political ads on platforms.

Some approved accounts for running political ads were even up for sale in public Facebook groups with tens of thousands of members.

Many of these real ads endorsed Islamophobic tropes and Hindu supremacist narratives.

The tech giant has struggled for years with the spread of Islamophobic content on its platforms, raising concerns about Meta’s ability to enforce its policies and control the situation amid rising anti-Muslim sentiment in India.


Food delivery app HungerStation and Snapchat launch AR treasure hunt in Saudi Arabia

Food delivery app HungerStation and Snapchat launch AR treasure hunt in Saudi Arabia
Updated 20 May 2024
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Food delivery app HungerStation and Snapchat launch AR treasure hunt in Saudi Arabia

Food delivery app HungerStation and Snapchat launch AR treasure hunt in Saudi Arabia
  • Companies say the sponsored treasure hunt is a world first
  • Great AR Hungerhunt is part of HungerStation rebranding campaign

LONDON: Food delivery app HungerStation has partnered with social media provider Snapchat to launch an immersive augmented reality treasure hunt on the platform.

The two companies said on Monday that the Great AR Hungerhunt, using Snapchat’s geofenced AR objects technology, is the first sponsored digital treasure hunt of its kind in Saudi Arabia and the world.

“Celebrating our rebranding with Snapchat marks a significant step in our journey of creativity and innovation,” said Mohammed Jifri, chief marketing officer of HungerStation.

“Through this partnership, we’re not just delivering food, but also delivering unforgettable digital experiences to our users.” 

The initiative is part of HungerStation’s rebranding campaign following its $297 million acquisition by German multinational Delivery Hero in July 2023.

A leading food delivery app in Saudi Arabia, HungerStation unveiled its new brand identity in January.

HungerStation’s director of brand and communication, Ahmad Chatila, said the campaign merges technological innovation with marketing opportunities with the aim to connect the brand with youth by “offering a real-life experience and amazing game challenges.”

To participate, Snapchat users need to search for and collect HungerStation’s new branded boxes hidden around city maps to gain points using the AR map feature on Snapchat.

For users not based in Jeddah or Riyadh, a non-location minigame version is available that allows them to collect points too.