US congressional committee releases sealed Brazil court orders to Musk’s X, shedding light on account suspensions

US congressional committee releases sealed Brazil court orders to Musk’s X, shedding light on account suspensions
Brazil's Superior Electoral Court president, Alexandre de Moraes, whose relentless campaign against online disinformation has gained himself another adversary, X tycoon Elon Musk. (AFP)
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Updated 19 April 2024
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US congressional committee releases sealed Brazil court orders to Musk’s X, shedding light on account suspensions

US congressional committee releases sealed Brazil court orders to Musk’s X, shedding light on account suspensions

RIO DE JANEIRO: A US congressional committee released confidential Brazilian court orders to suspend accounts on the social media platform X, offering a glimpse into decisions that have spurred complaints of alleged censorship from the company and its billionaire owner Elon Musk.
The Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee late Wednesday published a staff report disclosing dozens of decisions by Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordering X to suspend or remove around 150 user profiles from its platform in recent years.
The 541-page report is the product of committee subpoenas directed at X. In his orders, de Moraes had prohibited X from making them public.
“To comply with its obligations under US law, X Corp. has responded to the Committee,” the company said in a statement on X on April 15.
The disclosure comes amid a battle Musk has waged against de Moraes.
Musk, a self-proclaimed free-speech absolutist, had vowed to publish de Moraes’ orders, which he equated to censorship. His crusade has been cheered on by supporters of far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro, who allege they are being targeted by political persecution, and have found common cause with their ideological allies in the US
De Moraes has overseen a five-year probe of so-called “digital militias,” who allegedly spread defamatory fake news and threats to Supreme Court justices. The investigation expanded to include those inciting demonstrations across the country, seeking to overturn Bolsonaro’s 2022 election loss. Those protests culminated in the Jan. 8 uprising in Brazil’s capital, with Bolsonaro supporters storming government buildings, including the Supreme Court, in an attempt to oust President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from office.
De Moraes’ critics claim he has abused his powers and shouldn’t be allowed to unilaterally ban social media accounts, including those of democratically elected legislators. But most legal experts see his brash tactics as legally sound and furthermore justified by extraordinary circumstances of democracy imperiled. They note his decisions have been either upheld by his fellow justices or gone unchallenged.
The secret orders disclosed by the congressional committee had been issued both by Brazil’s Supreme Court and its top electoral court, over which de Moraes currently presides.
The press office of the Supreme Court declined to comment on the potential ramifications of their release when contacted by The Associated Press.
“Musk is indeed a very innovative businessman; he innovated with electric cars, he innovated with rockets and now he invented a new form of non-compliance of a court order, through an intermediary,” said Carlos Affonso, director of the nonprofit Institute of Technology and Society. “He said he would reveal the documents and he found someone to do this for him.”
Affonso, also a professor of civil rights at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, said that the orders are legal but do merit debate, given users were not informed why their accounts were suspended and whether the action was taken by the platform or at the behest of a court. The orders to X included in the report rarely provide justification, either.
The Supreme Court’s press office said in a statement Thursday afternoon that the orders do not contain justifications, but said the company and people with suspended accounts can gain access by requesting the decisions from the court.
While Musk has repeatedly decried de Moraes’ orders as suppressing “free speech” principles and amounting to “aggressive censorship,” the company under his ownership has bowed to government requests from around the world.
Last year, for instance, X blocked posts critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and, in February, it blocked accounts and posts in India at the behest of the country’s government.
“The Indian government has issued executive orders requiring X to act on specific accounts and posts, subject to potential penalties including significant fines and imprisonment,” X’s global affairs account posted on Feb. 21. “In compliance with the orders, we will withhold these accounts and posts in India alone; however, we disagree with these actions and maintain that freedom of expression should extend to these posts.”
Brazil is a key market for X and other social media platforms. About 40 million Brazilians, or about 18 percent of the population, access X at least once per month, according to market research group eMarketer.
X has followed suspension orders under threat of hefty fines. De Moraes typically required compliance within two hours, and established a daily fine of 100,000-reais ($20,000) for noncompliance.
It isn’t clear whether the 150 suspended accounts represent the entirety of those de Moraes ordered suspended. Until the committee report, it wasn’t known whether the total was a handful, a few dozen or more. Some of the suspended accounts in the report have since been reactivated.
On April 6, Musk took to X to challenge de Moraes, questioning why he was “demanding so much censorship in Brazil”. The following day, the tech mogul said he would cease to comply with court orders to block accounts — and that de Moraes should either resign or be impeached. Predicting that X could be shut down in Brazil, he instructed Brazilians to use a VPN to retain their access.
De Moraes swiftly included Musk in the ongoing investigation of digital militias, and launched a separate investigation into whether Musk engaged in obstruction, criminal organization and incitement. On April 13, X’s legal representative in Brazil wrote to de Moraes that it will comply with all court orders, according to the letter, seen by the AP.
Affonso said the committee’s release of de Moraes’ orders were aimed less at Brazil than at the administration of US President Joe Biden. The report cites Brazil “as a stark warning to Americans about the threats posed by government censorship here at home.”
Terms like “censorship” and “free speech” have turned into political rallying cries for US conservatives since at least the 2016 presidential election, frustrated at seeing right-leaning commentators and high-profile Republican officials booted off Facebook and Twitter in its pre-Musk version for violating rules.
“The reason why the far-right needs him (Musk) is because they need a platform, they need a place to promote themselves. And Elon Musk needs far-right politicians because they will keep his platform protected from regulations,” said David Nemer, a Brazil native and University of Virginia professor who studies social media.
In the US, free speech is a constitutional right that’s much more permissive than in other countries, including Brazil. Still, the report’s release seemed to invigorate Bolsonaro and his far-right supporters.
Late Wednesday, soon after the court orders were released, Bolsonaro capped off a speech at a public event by calling for a round of applause for Musk.
His audience eagerly complied.
 


Dutch prosecutors studying complaint against Booking.com’s Israeli settlement listings

Dutch prosecutors studying complaint against Booking.com’s Israeli settlement listings
Updated 23 May 2024
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Dutch prosecutors studying complaint against Booking.com’s Israeli settlement listings

Dutch prosecutors studying complaint against Booking.com’s Israeli settlement listings

AMSTERDAM: Dutch prosecutors are looking into a criminal complaint against Booking.com over its listing of rental properties in Israeli settlements, they said on Thursday.
Dutch non-profit organization SOMO said it had filed the complaint with the Dutch public prosecutor in November, together with three other human rights groups, but had not gone public with it before.
In their complaint the groups accuse Booking.com of “profiting from war crimes by facilitating the rental of vacation homes on land stolen from the indigenous Palestinian population.”
Prosecutors were studying the complaint, but could not give a timeline for a decision on possible further steps, spokesperson Brechje van de Moosdijk said.
Booking in a response said it disagreed with the allegations and that there are no laws prohibiting listings in Israeli settlements, while a range of US state laws would prohibit divesting from the region.
“Legal action has been taken against other companies that have tried to withdraw their activities, and we would expect the same to happen in our case,” a spokesperson for the company said.
SOMO said its research had shown that Booking’s platform offered up to 70 listings for properties in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank between 2021 and 2023.
It argued that revenues acquired from renting out those properties are “proceeds of criminal activities,” and that by booking these proceeds in the Netherlands the company is violating Dutch anti-money laundering rules.
The settlements built on land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war are deemed illegal by most countries, including the Netherlands. Their presence is one of the fundamental issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinians seek to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as their capital. Israeli settlers cite Jewish historic connections to the land.


News Corp. makes deal to let OpenAI use its content

News Corp. makes deal to let OpenAI use its content
Updated 23 May 2024
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News Corp. makes deal to let OpenAI use its content

News Corp. makes deal to let OpenAI use its content
  • ChatGPT’s creator is also in the process of signing content licensing agreements with media outlets

NEW YORK: News Corp. on Wednesday announced a deal to let ChatGPT-maker OpenAI use content from its publications in artificial intelligence products.
OpenAI will get access to current and archived content from News Corp. properties including The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, MarketWatch, and The New York Post, according to a joint release.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the Wall Street Journal cited sources close to the company as saying it was valued at more than $250 million over five years and included credits for News Corp. using OpenAI technology.
Authors, artists, and news groups have been accusing OpenAI and its rivals in the generative artificial intelligence market of using copyrighted content for training models without asking permission or paying.
Generative AI models are trained on mountains of data in the effort to get software to think the way people do.
“This landmark accord is not an end, but the beginning of a beautiful friendship in which we are jointly committed to creating and delivering insight and integrity instantaneously,” News Corp. chief executive Robert Thomson said.
OpenAI gets permission to display News Corp. content in response to queries by users of its technology, according to terms of the deal.
“Our partnership with News Corp. is a proud moment for journalism and technology,” Open AI CEO Sam Altman said in the release.
“Together, we are setting the foundation for a future where AI deeply respects, enhances, and upholds the standards of world-class journalism.”
ChatGPT’s creator is also in the process of signing content licensing agreements with media outlets — including the Associated Press, Germany’s Axel Springer Group (publisher of tabloid Bild), French daily Le Monde and Spanish conglomerate Prisa Media — to enrich its models.
The announcement of the agreement with News Corp. comes on the heels of a new controversy, after actress Scarlett Johansson accused OpenAI of copying her voice for a new voice assistant without her permission.
Altman has apologized and announced the suspension of the voice, called “Sky.”


Antisemitism group posts fake news about politician after Ireland recognizes Palestinian state

Antisemitism group posts fake news about politician after Ireland recognizes Palestinian state
Updated 23 May 2024
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Antisemitism group posts fake news about politician after Ireland recognizes Palestinian state

Antisemitism group posts fake news about politician after Ireland recognizes Palestinian state
  • Stop Antisemitism puts message on X claiming Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin’s daughter was kidnapped and raped in Gaza on Oct. 7; later admits this ‘did not actually occur’
  • Blatant disinformation outrages users; some suggest such posts only provoke antisemitism, others say comments about rape should not be made lightly

DUBAI: US-based organization Stop Antisemitism posted a message on social media platform X on Wednesday that appeared to state Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin’s daughter, Aoibhe Martin, had been kidnapped and raped by Hamas in Gaza on Oct. 7 and that now “he is rewarding his daughter’s rapists with a state of their own.”

The organization added another post, more than an hour later, in which it said the initial post “is for illustrative purposes only” and the events it described “did not actually occur.”

 

 

The blatant use of disinformation outraged many X users, with some suggesting that such posts serve only to increase incidents of antisemitism. Others said comments about rape should not be made lightly and that there was nothing “illustrative” about the post.

 

Critics say that disinformation and fake news has greatly increased on X since Elon Musk bought the platform in April 2022. In the past two years, the company has shed thousands of jobs, many of them related to content moderation.

European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova last year accused X of being the social media platform with the highest ratio of fake news, and urged Musk to comply with EU laws designed to combat disinformation.

In April, X’s own artificial intelligence chatbot Grok generated a fake headline that stated: “Iran Strikes Tel Aviv with Heavy Missiles.” It was promoted on the main X feed.

In the 48 hours following the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel, misinformation was rampant on the platform. One video that claimed to show Israeli generals captured by a Hamas fighter was actually footage of separatists detained in Azerbaijan. Another clip showing an airplane being shot down was accompanied by the hashtag #PalestineUnderAttack when it was really footage taken from the video game Arma 3. The former video was viewed more than 1.7 million times in two days, the latter more than 500,000 times.

Earlier on Wednesday, Martin had announced in a video message posted on X that the Irish government will formally recognize the State of Palestine on May 28.

“The Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, peace, dignity and statehood must be vindicated,” he added. “It is our conviction that the two-state solution remains the only viable option to secure a just and lasting peace that fulfills these rights for both Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

He added that recognition of Palestine as a state did not mean the legitimization of Hamas.

“Recognition does not involve recognition of a government, it’s recognition of a state,” he told Irish radio program The Pat Kenny Show.

Martin had not responded to Stop Antisemitism’s post on X at the time of writing.


Spotify spotlights Khaleeji music in New York’s Times Square

Spotify spotlights Khaleeji music in New York’s Times Square
Updated 23 May 2024
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Spotify spotlights Khaleeji music in New York’s Times Square

Spotify spotlights Khaleeji music in New York’s Times Square
  • Saudi artist Sultan Al-Murshed and Iraqi artist Aseel Hameem have been selected as Spotify’s RADAR Arabia and EQUAL Arabia artists for May

DUBAI: Spotify is spotlighting Saudi artist Sultan Al-Murshed and Iraqi artist Aseel Hameem, who have been selected as Spotify’s RADAR Arabia and EQUAL Arabia artists for May, in New York’s Times Square.

“We continue to be committed to showcasing and celebrating genres and creators reflecting different spectrums of Arabic music,” said Nada Elmeri, Spotify’s Artist and Label Partnerships Manager for the Gulf Region at Spotify MENA.

This month was dedicated to celebrating Khaleeji Pop — a genre “that has played a pivotal role in our childhood memories yet continues to resonate with young listeners and is met with a lot of loyalty from fans across different generations,” Elmeri told Arab News.

Al-Murshed, a rising star from Saudi Arabia, was selected as this month’s RADAR Arabia artist for winning listeners over with his melodies and vocals.

His debut single “Wala Ghaltah,” released in 2022, has amassed over 1 million streams on Spotify. Over the last month or so, his streams have increased by 73 percent and fans have saved his music 97 percent more over the same period.

He also worked with renowned DJ and producer R3HAB and Big Bo in 2022 for the official Gamers8 anthem, “Challenge.”

This month’s EQUAL Arabia artist is Aseel Hameem, daughter of renowned Iraqi musician Kareem Hameem, who began her musical journey when she was a young girl. Her talent was evident quickly garnering her the nickname “The Guitar of Iraq.”

Despite her Iraqi roots, Hameem has mastered singing in the Saudi and Khaleeji dialects, gaining substantial support in Saudi Arabia. Her most popular hits include “Shkad Helw” and “Al Mafrod” with the latter garnering over 14 million streams on Spotify.

Her latest release, “Mostafz Alnas,” has resonated with audiences in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Germany, and the US, Spotify said.

Throughout May, Spotify is running a promotional campaign to boost Hameem’s work including editorial placements and social media support.

Both Al-Murshed and Hameem were featured on a billboard in New York City’s Times Square as well as on the covers of the RADAR Arabia and EQUAL Arabia playlists on Spotify this month.

“To spotlight the (Khaleeji Pop) genre in an impactful way, we featured two Khaleeji artists across different career journeys,” said Elmeri.

Al-Murshed “represents the new wave of the genre” while Hameem “has been a force over the years with her presence visible on our Saudi Wrapped lists,” she added.

RADAR Arabia and EQUAL Arabia are Spotify’s global music programs aimed at supporting emerging artists and female artists respectively.


Advocacy groups make fresh appeal to ICJ to allow international media access to Gaza

Advocacy groups make fresh appeal to ICJ to allow international media access to Gaza
Updated 23 May 2024
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Advocacy groups make fresh appeal to ICJ to allow international media access to Gaza

Advocacy groups make fresh appeal to ICJ to allow international media access to Gaza
  • Foreign journalists have been prevented from entering Gaza since beginning of the conflict, except under Israeli army supervision
  • Group of nine signatories issued statement in support of South Africa’s request arguing ban could hamper future accountability

LONDON: Media advocacy groups have made a fresh appeal to the International Court of Justice to allow unimpeded media access to Gaza.

The request, signed by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, ARTICLE 19, the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, and five other media advocacy groups, was made following South Africa’s demand for the court to order Israel to facilitate access for international journalists to the Gaza Strip.

“Despite the valiant efforts of Palestinian journalists who continue reporting despite a daily struggle to survive, Israel’s censorious actions make it nearly impossible to comprehensively, continuously and independently document what is happening on the ground in Gaza and risk significantly hampering future accountability efforts,” the signatories said in a statement issued in support of South Africa’s demand.

The statement noted that journalists, independent human rights investigators, fact-finding missions, and the International Criminal Court still do not have access to Gaza, prohibiting the effective preservation and retention of evidence of potential war crimes. 

The signatories highlighted recent media suppression by Israeli authorities towards Al Jazeera in May and the Associated Press this week, coupled with the conditions under which local journalists operate, making unrestricted media access to the Gaza Strip ever more “urgent and vital.”

CPJ Director of Advocacy and Communications Gypsy Guillen Kaiser said in a statement: “Any censorship of developments in Gaza creates an information void ripe for propaganda and mis- and disinformation that has consequences for public accountability and people’s lives.”

Since the beginning of the conflict, Israeli authorities have implemented a near-total ban on foreign media entering Gaza.

Despite repeated appeals, only a few exceptions have been made for certain networks and journalists, and even then, only under the direct supervision of the Israeli military.

Experts argue that this approach has forced international media to rely heavily on overburdened Palestinian journalists and risk significantly hampering future accountability efforts.

“Journalists have historically played a critical role in contemporaneously investigating and preserving the evidence of war crimes in genocides and other atrocities,” read the letter, adding that in January, the ICJ issued an order to Israel requesting authorities to “take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of evidence related to allegations of acts.

“Israel’s continuing assault on journalists, freedom of expression and people’s right to access information violates international human rights and humanitarian law,” added ARTICLE 19 Senior Director for Law and Policy Barbora Bukovska.

“It defies the ICJ’s January order for evidence to be preserved as the conflict continues and will hinder accountability efforts. It is therefore vital that the ICJ is crystal clear this time around that Israel’s actions must stop.”