Facebook restricts Live feature, citing New Zealand shooting

Facebook is introducing a ‘one-strike’ policy for use of Facebook Live, temporarily restricting access for people who have faced disciplinary action over site usage. (Reuters)
Updated 15 May 2019

Facebook restricts Live feature, citing New Zealand shooting

  • Social media giant introducing a ‘one-strike’ policy for use of Facebook Live
  • First-time offenders will be suspended from using Live for set periods of time, the company said

SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook said on Tuesday it was tightening rules around its livestreaming feature ahead of a meeting of world leaders aimed at curbing online violence in the aftermath of a massacre in New Zealand.
A lone gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch on March 15 while livestreaming the attacks on Facebook. It was New Zealand’s worst peacetime shooting and spurred calls for tech companies to do more to combat extremism on their services.
Facebook said in a statement it was introducing a “one-strike” policy for use of Facebook Live, temporarily restricting access for people who have faced disciplinary action for breaking the company’s most serious rules anywhere on its site.
First-time offenders will be suspended from using Live for set periods of time, the company said. It is also broadening the range of offenses that will qualify for one-strike suspensions.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the change addressed a key component of an initiative, known as the “Christchurch Call,” she is spearheading to halt the spread of violence online.
“Facebook’s decision to put limits on live streaming is a good first step to restrict the application being used as a tool for terrorists, and shows the Christchurch Call is being acted on,” she said in an email from her spokesman.
Facebook did not specify which offenses were eligible for the one-strike policy or how long suspensions would last, but a spokeswoman said it would not have been possible for the shooter to use Live on his account under the new rules.
The company said it plans to extend the restrictions to other areas over coming weeks, beginning with preventing the same people from creating ads on Facebook.
It also said it would fund research at three universities on techniques to detect manipulated media, which Facebook’s systems struggled to spot in the aftermath of the attack.
Ardern said the research was welcome and that edited and manipulated videos of the March 15 mosque shootings had been slow to be removed, resulting in many, including herself, seeing it played in Facebook feeds.
Facebook has said it removed 1.5 million videos globally that contained footage of the attack in the first 24 hours after it occurred. It said in a blog post in late March that it had identified more than 900 different versions of the video.
Ardern is due to lead a meeting, with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Wednesday, that seeks to have world leaders and chiefs of tech companies sign a pledge to eliminate violent content online.
“There is a lot more work to do, but I am pleased Facebook have taken additional steps today alongside the Call and look forward to a long-term collaboration to make social media safer by removing terrorist content from it,” she said.
In an opinion piece in the New York Times on Saturday, Ardern said the “Christchurch Call” would be a voluntary framework that commits signatories to put in place specific measures to prevent the uploading of terrorist content.
Ardern has not made specific demands of social media companies in connection with the pledge, but has called for them “to prevent the use of livestreaming as a tool for broadcasting terrorist attacks.”
Representatives from Facebook, Alphabet Inc’s Google, Twitter and other tech companies are expected to take part in the meeting, although Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg will not be in attendance.


Lebanon’s journalists suffer abuse, threats covering unrest

Updated 07 December 2019

Lebanon’s journalists suffer abuse, threats covering unrest

  • The deteriorating situation for journalists in Lebanon comes despite its decades-old reputation for being an island of free press in the Arab world

BEIRUT: Lebanese journalists are facing threats and wide-ranging harassment in their work — including verbal insults and physical attacks, even death threats — while reporting on nearly 50 days of anti-government protests, despite Lebanon’s reputation as a haven for free speech in a troubled region.
Nationwide demonstrations erupted on Oct. 17 over a plunging economy. They quickly grew into calls for sweeping aside Lebanon’s entire ruling elite. Local media outlets — some of which represent the sectarian interests protesters are looking to overthrow — are now largely seen as pro- or anti-protests, with some journalists feeling pressured to leave their workplaces over disagreements about media coverage.
The deteriorating situation for journalists in Lebanon comes despite its decades-old reputation for being an island of free press in the Arab world. Amid Lebanon’s divided politics, media staff have usually had wide range to freely express their opinions, unlike in other countries in the region where the state stifles the media.
The acts of harassment began early in the protests. MTV television reporter Nawal Berry was attacked in central Beirut in the first days of the demonstrations by supporters of the militant group Hezbollah and its allies. They smashed the camera, robbed the microphone she was holding, spat on her and kicked her in the leg.
“How is it possible that a journalist today goes to report and gets subjected to beating and humiliation? Where are we? Lebanon is the country of freedoms and democracy,” Berry said.
Outlets like MTV are widely seen as backing protesters’ demands that Lebanon’s sectarian political system be completely overturned to end decades of corruption and mismanagement.
Rival TV stations and newspapers portray the unrest — which led to the Cabinet’s resignation over a month ago — as playing into the hands of alleged plots to undermine Hezbollah and its allies. Many of those outlets are run by Hezbollah, President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. These media regularly blast protesters for closing roads and using other civil disobedience tactics, describing them as “bandits.”
For Berry, the media environment worsened as the unrest continued. On the night of Nov. 24, while she was covering clashes between protesters and Hezbollah and Amal supporters on a central road in Beirut, supporters of the Shiite groups chased her into a building. She hid there until police came and escorted her out.
“I was doing my job and will continue to do so. I have passed through worse periods and was able to overcome them,” said Berry, who added she is taking a short break from working because of what she passed through recently.
Hezbollah supporters also targeted Dima Sadek, who resigned last month as an anchorwoman at LBC TV. She blamed Hezbollah supporters for robbing her smartphone while she was filming protests, and said the harassment was followed by insulting and threatening phone calls to her mother, who suffered a stroke as a result of the stress.
“I have taken a decision (to be part of the protests) and I am following it. I have been waiting for this moment all my life and I have always been against the political, sectarian and corrupt system in Lebanon,” said Sadek, a harsh critic of Hezbollah, adding that she has been subjected to cyberbullying for the past four years.
“I know very well that this will have repercussions on my personal and professional life. I will go to the end no matter what the price is,” Sadek said shortly after taking part in a demonstration in central Beirut.
Protesters have also targeted journalists reporting with what are seen as pro-government outlets. OTV station workers briefly removed their logos from equipment while covering on the demonstrations to avoid verbal and physical abuse. The station is run by supporters of Aoun’s FPM.
“The protest movement has turned our lives upside down,” said OTV journalist Rima Hamdan, who during one of her reports slapped a man on his hand after he pointed his middle finger at her. She said the station’s logo “is our identity even though sometimes we had to remove it for our own safety.”
Television reporters with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar and Amal’s NBN channels were also attacked in a town near Beirut, when they were covering the closure of the highway linking the capital city with southern Lebanon by protesters. In a video, an NBN correspondent is seen being attacked, while troops and policemen stand nearby without intervening.
“This happens a lot in Lebanon because some media organizations are politicized. No one sees media organizations as they are but sees them as representing the political group that owns them,” said Ayman Mhanna, director of the Beirut-based media watchdog group SKeyes.
“The biggest problem regarding these violations is that there is no punishment,” Mhanna said. Authorities usually fail to act even when they identify those behind attacks on journalists, he added.
Coverage of the protests also led to several journalists resigning from one of Lebanon’s most prominent newspapers, Al-Akhbar, which is seen as close to Hezbollah, and the pan-Arab TV station Al-Mayadeen, which aligns closely with the policies of Iran, Syria and Venezuela.
Joy Slim, who quit as culture writer at Al-Akhbar after more than five years, said she did so after being “disappointed” with the daily’s coverage of the demonstrations. She released a video widely circulated on social media that ridiculed those who accuse the protesters of being American agents.
Sami Kleib, a prominent Lebanese journalist with a wide following around the Middle East, resigned from Al-Mayadeen last month. He said the reason behind his move was that he was “closer to the people than the authorities.”
“The Lebanese media is similar to politics in Lebanon where there is division between two axes: One that supports the idea of conspiracy theory, and another that fully backs the protest movement with its advantages and disadvantages,” Kleib said.