Tobacco-like warning label for social media sought by US surgeon general who asks Congress to act

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy speaks during an event on the White House complex in Washington, April 23, 2024. Murthy is asking Congress to require warning labels on social media platforms that are similar to those that appear on cigarette boxes. (AP/File Photo)
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy speaks during an event on the White House complex in Washington, April 23, 2024. Murthy is asking Congress to require warning labels on social media platforms that are similar to those that appear on cigarette boxes. (AP/File Photo)
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Updated 17 June 2024
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Tobacco-like warning label for social media sought by US surgeon general who asks Congress to act

Tobacco-like warning label for social media sought by US surgeon general who asks Congress to act
  • Dr. Vivek Murthy said that social media is a contributing factor in the mental health crisis among young people

WASHINGTON DC: The US surgeon general has called on Congress to require warning labels on social media platforms similar to those now mandatory on cigarette boxes.
In a Monday opinion piece in the The New York Times, Dr. Vivek Murthy said that social media is a contributing factor in the mental health crisis among young people.
“It is time to require a surgeon general’s warning label on social media platforms, stating that social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents. A surgeon general’s warning label, which requires congressional action, would regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proved safe,” Murthy said. “Evidence from tobacco studies show that warning labels can increase awareness and change behavior.”
Murthy said that the use of just a warning label wouldn’t make social media safe for young people, but would be a part of the steps needed.
Social media use is prevalent among young people, with up to 95 percent of youth ages 13 to 17 saying that they use a social media platform, and more than a third saying that they use social media “almost constantly,” according to 2022 data from the Pew Research Center.
“Social media today is like tobacco decades ago: It’s a product whose business model depends on addicting kids. And as with cigarettes, a surgeon general’s warning label is a critical step toward mitigating the threat to children,” Josh Golin, executive director at Fairplay, an organization that is dedicated to ending marketing to children, said in a statement.
Last year Murthy warned that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that social media is safe for children and teens. He said at the time that policymakers needed to address the harms of social media the same way they regulate things like car seats, baby formula, medication and other products children use.
To comply with federal regulation, social media companies already ban kids under 13 from signing up for their platforms — but children have been shown to easily get around the bans, both with and without their parents’ consent.
Other measures social platforms have taken to address concerns about children’s mental health can also be easily circumvented. For instance, TikTok introduced a default 60-minute time limit for users under 18. But once the limit is reached, minors can simply enter a passcode to keep watching.
Murthy believes the impact of social media on young people should be a more pressing concern.
“Why is it that we have failed to respond to the harms of social media when they are no less urgent or widespread than those posed by unsafe cars, planes or food? These harms are not a failure of willpower and parenting; they are the consequence of unleashing powerful technology without adequate safety measures, transparency or accountability,” he wrote.
In January the CEOs of Meta, TikTok, X and other social media companies went before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify as parents worry that they’re not doing enough to protect young people. The executives touted existing safety tools on their platforms and the work they’ve done with nonprofits and law enforcement to protect minors.
Murthy said Monday that Congress needs to implement legislation that will protect young people from online harassment, abuse and exploitation and from exposure to extreme violence and sexual content.
“The measures should prevent platforms from collecting sensitive data from children and should restrict the use of features like push notifications, autoplay and infinite scroll, which prey on developing brains and contribute to excessive use,” Murthy wrote.
Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Richard Blumenthal supported Murthy’s message Monday.
“We are pleased that the Surgeon General — America’s top doctor — continues to bring attention to the harmful impact that social media has on our children,” the senators said in a prepared statement.
The surgeon general is also recommending that companies be required to share all their data on health effects with independent scientists and the public, which they currently don’t do, and allow independent safety audits.
Murthy said schools and parents also need to participate in providing phone-free times and that doctors, nurses and other clinicians should help guide families toward safer practices.
While Murthy pushes for more to be done about social media in the United States, the European Union enacted groundbreaking new digital rules last year. The Digital Services Act is part of a suite of tech-focused regulations crafted by the 27-nation bloc — long a global leader in cracking down on tech giants.
The DSA is designed to keep users safe online and make it much harder to spread content that’s either illegal, like hate speech or child sexual abuse, or violates a platform’s terms of service. It also looks to protect citizens’ fundamental rights such as privacy and free speech.
Officials have warned tech companies that violations could bring fines worth up to 6 percent of their global revenue — which could amount to billions — or even a ban from the EU.


Kremlin says French failure to accredit some Russian journalists for Paris Games is unacceptable

Kremlin says French failure to accredit some Russian journalists for Paris Games is unacceptable
Updated 24 sec ago
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Kremlin says French failure to accredit some Russian journalists for Paris Games is unacceptable

Kremlin says French failure to accredit some Russian journalists for Paris Games is unacceptable
  • France’s caretaker interior minister says that security services had rejected more than 4,000 applications for Olympics accreditations

MOSCOW: The Kremlin said on Monday that a decision by France to refuse to accredit some Russian journalists for the Paris 2024 Olympics over security fears was unacceptable and accused the French authorities of undermining media freedom.
France’s caretaker interior minister said on Sunday that French security services had rejected more than 4,000 applications for Olympics accreditations, including over espionage and cyberattack concerns.
Gerald Darmanin, who said close to one hundred applications had been rejected over espionage fears, said some of those turned down were from Russia and Belarus, a staunch ally of Moscow’s.
When asked about the refusal to accredit some Russian journalists for the Olympics, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call:
“We consider such decisions unacceptable. We believe such decisions undermine the freedom of the media. And they certainly violate all of France’s commitments to the OSCE (The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and to other organizations,” he said.
“And of course we would like to see a reaction to such decisions from relevant human rights organizations, from organizations focused on ensuring all the foundations and rules of media freedom.”
The West on Friday accused Russia of riding roughshod over media freedom after a court found US reporter Evan Gershkovich guilty of espionage and sentenced him to 16 years in a maximum security penal colony.
His employer, the Wall Street Journal, called the ruling “a disgraceful sham conviction.” saying he had merely been doing his job as a reporter accredited by the Foreign Ministry to work in Russia.
The Kremlin said the case and the trial arrangements were a matter for the court, but stated before the verdict and without publishing evidence that Gershkovich had been caught spying “red-handed.”
Relations between Russia and France have sharply deteriorated over the war in Ukraine.
France has supplied military equipment to Kyiv and President Emmanuel Macron had called President Vladimir Putin’s Russia an adversary, warning that Europe’s credibility would be reduced to zero if Moscow won the war.


Lebanese photojournalist, wounded in Israeli strike, carries Olympic torch to honor journalists

Lebanese photojournalist, wounded in Israeli strike, carries Olympic torch to honor journalists
Updated 21 July 2024
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Lebanese photojournalist, wounded in Israeli strike, carries Olympic torch to honor journalists

Lebanese photojournalist, wounded in Israeli strike, carries Olympic torch to honor journalists
  • Christina Assi, of Agence France-Presse, was among six journalists struck by Israeli shelling on Oct. 13 2023

VINCENNES, France: A Lebanese photojournalist who was severely wounded during an Israeli strike on south Lebanon carried Sunday the Olympic torch in Paris to honor journalists wounded and killed in the field.
The torch relay, which started in May, is part of celebrations in which about 10,000 people from various walks of life were chosen to carry the flame across France before the Games opening ceremony on July 26.
Christina Assi, of Agence France-Presse, was among six journalists struck by Israeli shelling on Oct. 13 2023 while reporting on fire exchange along the border between Israeli troops and members of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group. The attack killed Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah. Assi was severely wounded and had part of her right leg amputated.
AFP videographer Dylan Collins, also wounded in the Israeli attack, pushed Assi’s wheelchair as she carried the torch across the suburb of Vincennes Sunday. Their colleagues from the press agency and hundreds of spectators cheered them on.
“I wish Issam was here to see this. And I wish what happened today was not because we were struck by two rockets,” Assi told The Associated Press, struggling to hold back her tears. “I wish I could have honored journalists this way while walking and in my best health.”
AFP, Reuters and Al Jazeera accused Israel of targeting their journalists who maintained they were positioned far from where the clashes with vehicles clearly marked as press, while international human rights organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said the attack was a deliberate attack on civilians and should be investigated as a war crime.
“This is a chance to continue talking about justice, and the targeted attack on Oct. 13 that needs to be investigated as a war crime,” said Collins.
The Israeli military at the time said that the incident was under review, maintaining that it didn’t target journalists.
While holding the torch, Assi said participating in the relay “is to send a message that journalists should be protected and be able to work without fearing that they could die at any moment.”
In late November 2023, Rabih Al-Maamari and Farah Omar of the pan-Arab television network Al-Mayadeen were also killed in an apparent Israeli drone strike in southern Lebanon while covering the conflict.
Assi doesn’t believe there will be retribution for the events of that fateful October day but hopes her participation in the Olympic torch relay can bring attention to the importance of protecting journalists. “For me, justice comes the day I can stand up again, hold my camera, and get back to work,” she said.
The watchdog group Committee to Protect Journalists, in a preliminary count, said at least 108 journalists have been killed since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, the majority in the Gaza Strip.
The war was triggered by the Palestinian militant group Hamas’ sudden attack on southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and abducting 250 others. Israel says Hamas is still holding about 120 hostages — about a third of them thought to be dead. Israel retaliated with an offensive that has killed more than 38,000 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.
Hezbollah militants have traded near-daily strikes with the Israeli military along their border over the past nine months.


Israeli Channel 13 News ‘axed show for PM Netanyahu,’ UK protesters say

Israeli Channel 13 News ‘axed show for PM Netanyahu,’ UK protesters say
Updated 21 July 2024
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Israeli Channel 13 News ‘axed show for PM Netanyahu,’ UK protesters say

Israeli Channel 13 News ‘axed show for PM Netanyahu,’ UK protesters say
  • Group plans protests on Sunday at 2 locations in UK  

LONDON: The second wealthiest man in the UK is facing protests following claims that his TV network is undermining press freedom in Israel.

Leonard Blavatnik has a majority stake in Channel 13 News in Israel and owns most of Warner Music Group.

Channel 13 News, which is known for its criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and its onslaught on the Gaza Strip, canceled its popular program “Warzone” last week.

The decision came after a leadership shake-up in June, which saw Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich, reportedly an ally of the prime minister, appointed as chief executive, The Guardian reported.

The popular investigative news program “Warzone” was hosted by the journalist Raviv Drucker, who had exposed a series of scandals about Netanyahu.

The channel’s staff slammed the move as “political meddling,” and the Israeli newspaper Haaretz described it as “purely a political decision, contravening all financial and journalistic logic.”

Britons claiming the show was axed for the Israeli prime minister announced plans to protest on Sunday at the Tate Modern’s Blavatnik wing and the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government.

WeDemocracy, the group organizing the protest, said in a post on the social platform X that it was staging the event as a “solidarity move with News 13 journalists and (the) defense of press freedom in Israel.”

The protest also aims to put pressure on Blavatnik to “change the improper appointment of Yulia Shamalov-Berkovic as chairman of the channel,” the group added.

Netanyahu’s government, in retaliation for a deadly Hamas attack on Oct. 7, launched a deadly bombing campaign on Palestine’s Gaza Strip, killing over 38,800 people, according to the health authority in Gaza.

Ukraine-born Blavatnik is worth £29.24 billion. He was brought up in the US, where his parents emigrated when he was a child.

He has received a knighthood in recognition of donations to British institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Courtauld Institute of Art, and the National Portrait Gallery.


Russian court jails US reporter Gershkovich for 16 years in spying case his employer calls a sham

Russian court jails US reporter Gershkovich for 16 years in spying case his employer calls a sham
Updated 19 July 2024
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Russian court jails US reporter Gershkovich for 16 years in spying case his employer calls a sham

Russian court jails US reporter Gershkovich for 16 years in spying case his employer calls a sham
  • Gershkovich and his employer say he did nothing wrong, Kremlin says he was caught ‘red-handed’
  • The decision is likely to heighten the already tense relations between Russia and the West

MOSCOW: A Russian court found US reporter Evan Gershkovich guilty of espionage on Friday and sentenced him to 16 years in a maximum security penal colony in what his employer, the Wall Street Journal, called “a disgraceful sham conviction.”
Gershkovich, a 32-year-old American who denied any wrongdoing, went on trial in the city of Yekaterinburg last month after being accused of trying to gather sensitive information about a tank factory.
He was the first US journalist accused of spying in Russia since the Cold War, and his arrest in March 2023 prompted many US and other Western correspondents to leave Moscow.
Video of Friday’s hearing released by the court showed Gershkovich, dressed in a T-shirt and black trousers, standing in a glass courtroom cage as he listened to the verdict being read out in rapid-fire legalese for nearly four minutes.
Asked by the judge if he had any questions, he replied “Nyet.”
The judge, Andrei Mineyev, said the nearly 16 months Gershkovich had already served since his arrest would count toward the 16-year sentence.
Mineyev ordered the destruction of the reporter’s mobile phone and paper notebook. The defense has 15 days to appeal.
The White House and State Department had no immediate comment.
“This disgraceful, sham conviction comes after Evan has spent 478 days in prison, wrongfully detained, away from his family and friends, prevented from reporting, all for doing his job as a journalist,” the Journal said in a statement.
“We will continue to do everything possible to press for Evan’s release and to support his family. Journalism is not a crime, and we will not rest until he’s released. This must end now.”
Gershkovich’s friend, reporter Pjotr Sauer of Britain’s Guardian newspaper, posted on X: “Russia has just sentenced an innocent man to 16 years in a high security prison. I have no words to describe this farce. Let’s get Evan out of there.”
Friday’s hearing was only the third in the trial. The proceedings, apart from the sentencing, were closed to the media on the grounds of state secrecy.
Espionage cases often take months to handle and the unusual speed at which the trial was held behind closed doors has stoked speculation that a long-discussed US-Russia prisoner exchange deal may be in the offing, involving Gershkovich and potentially other Americans detained in Russia.
The Kremlin, when asked by Reuters earlier on Friday about the possibility of such an exchange, declined to comment: “I’ll leave your question unanswered,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Among those Russia would like to free is Vadim Krasikov, a Russian serving a life sentence in Germany for murdering an exiled Chechen-Georgian dissident in a Berlin park in 2019.
Officers of the FSB security service arrested Gershkovich on March 29, 2023, at a steakhouse in Yekaterinburg, 900 miles (1,400 km) east of Moscow. He has since been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.
Russian prosecutors had accused Gershkovich of gathering secret information on the orders of the US Central Intelligence Agency about a company that manufactures tanks for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
The Uralvagonzavod factory, which he is accused of spying on, has been sanctioned by the West. Based in the city of Nizhny Tagil near Yekaterinburg, it has publicly spoken of producing T-90M battle tanks and modernizing T-72B3M tanks.
Earlier on Friday, the court unexpectedly said it would pronounce its verdict within hours after state prosecutors demanded Gershkovich be jailed for 18 years for spying. The maximum sentence for the crime he was accused of is 20 years.
Russia usually concludes legal proceedings against foreigners before making any deals on exchanging them.

’WRONGFULLY DETAINED’
Gershkovich, his newspaper and the US government all rejected the allegations against him and said he was merely doing his job as a reporter accredited by the Foreign Ministry to work in Russia.
State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel on Thursday declined to speak publicly about negotiations on a prisoner exchange, but said Washington was seeking the release of Gershkovich and another jailed American, former US Marine Paul Whelan, as soon as possible.
President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is open to a prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich, and that contacts with the United States have taken place but must remain secret.
Friends who have exchanged letters with Gershkovich say he has remained resilient and cheerful throughout his imprisonment, occupying himself by reading classics of Russian literature.
At court appearances over the past 16 months — most recently with his head shaven — he has frequently smiled and nodded at reporters he used to work with before he himself became the story.
Since Russian troops entered Ukraine in 2022, Moscow and Washington have conducted just one high profile prisoner swap: Russia released basketball star Brittney Griner, held for smuggling cannabis, in return for arms dealer Viktor Bout, jailed for terrorism-related offenses in the United States.
Sergei Markov, a former Kremlin adviser, said he believed Gershkovich’s conviction would encourage the few Western journalists still in Moscow to leave.
“The 16-year sentence...is a very heavy one,” he said. “Now many Western journalists will want to leave Russia for fear that they may become victims of a hybrid war between Russia and the West.”


Majarra acquires Arabic AI startup Lableb

Majarra acquires Arabic AI startup Lableb
Updated 19 July 2024
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Majarra acquires Arabic AI startup Lableb

Majarra acquires Arabic AI startup Lableb
  • Startup’s solutions embraced by a diverse clientele

DUBAI: Arabic digital content provider Majarra has announced the acquisition of Lableb, an Arabic language artificial intelligence solutions startup.

The transaction makes Majarra the majority owner of Lableb, enabling a more complete integration of the two entities.

It also aligns with Majarra’s vision to enhance the utility of Arabic online through reliable content, advanced user experiences, and Arabic language technologies.

Lableb’s AI and neuro-linguistic programming technologies power content discovery and personalization software products, including enterprise search and recommendation engines.

The startup’s solutions have been embraced by a diverse clientele, including online stores, government platforms, news websites, and enterprise software providers, where nuanced and accurate Arabic language processing is crucial for success.

Lableb has previously collaborated closely with Microsoft and AWS, in addition to leading e-commerce platforms, including Zid, Salla, and Shopify, and content management system software providers like NVSSoft.

As one of Lableb’s earliest clients, Majarra has firsthand experience of Lableb’s Arabic technologies.

Manhom.com, which is powered by Lableb’s named entity recognition technologies, has become the region’s premier Arabic source for professional information.

Lableb’s innovations have also driven search and content discovery across all Majarra platforms, including the flagship Majarra app.

Lableb will maintain its operational independence under Majarra’s ownership, focusing on addressing the unique challenges machines face with Arabic language processing.

The language’s rich morphology, diverse dialects, complex syntactic structure, and context-dependent meanings have long posed significant hurdles for machine understanding and processing.

Abdulsalam Haykal, Majarra’s executive chairman, and CEO Ammar Haykal said: “Majarra and Lableb share a common foundation and vision.

“Kinda’s (Lableb’s CEO Kinda Altarbouch) leadership and the team’s unwavering commitment to the transformative power of Arabic AI/NLP for regional businesses have consistently delivered exceptional product quality.

“Through Lableb, we see immense potential in bringing real-life applications to large language models, some of which have emerged from our region.”

Altarbouch, who is also Lableb’s co-founder, said: “Joining Majarra marks an exciting new chapter for Lableb. Our shared vision of advancing Arabic AI and NLP will drive innovation and deliver significant value to online businesses and their customers.

“Lableb’s tools are robust, ready to deploy, and capable of handling millions of queries weekly.”

Marcus Brauchli, the managing director of North Base Media, said: “This acquisition is timely and demonstrates Majarra’s agility in responding to market evolution.

“By incorporating AI products into its portfolio, Majarra adds a crucial technology dimension to its offerings. While LLMs are transformative, their true potential can only be realized through AI agents like those Lableb provides.”