Facebook to review Arabic, Hebrew content moderation policies

Facebook has recently come under renewed criticism over inadequate content moderation policies in languages other than English. (AFP)
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Updated 19 October 2021
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Facebook to review Arabic, Hebrew content moderation policies

  • Social networking giant accepts recommendation to engage neutral, independent entity for policy assessment

DUBAI: Facebook has recently come under renewed criticism over inadequate content moderation policies in languages other than English.

Whistleblower Frances Haugen, who leaked internal Facebook research documents to The Wall Street Journal and appeared before a US Senate committee, has revealed that while only 9 percent of the social networking giant’s users were English speakers, 87 percent of its misinformation spending was dedicated to that category.

The imbalance, it has been claimed by critics, has led to increased hate speech and real-life violence in non-English speaking countries where Facebook is widely used such as India, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Iran.

On Oct. 14, Facebook agreed to a recommendation by the Oversight Board to “engage an independent entity not associated with either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to conduct a thorough examination to determine whether Facebook’s content moderation in Arabic and Hebrew, including its use of automation, have been applied without bias.”

The company intends to fully implement the measure and make public the resulting report and conclusions.

The decision follows repeated requests by 7amleh (the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media) and several other local, regional, and international human rights organizations, coalitions, and networks, that Facebook guaranteed a transparent and equitable policy with regard to Palestinian content.

An investigation by Human Rights Watch found that Facebook wrongfully silenced Palestinian content, including documentation of Israeli human rights violations, during the uprising that occurred in May.

Following an internal inquiry, Facebook admitted that it had made errors in some of its decisions, but HRW said the “company’s acknowledgment of errors and attempts to correct some of them are insufficient and do not address the scale and scope of reported content restrictions.”

The May violence, followed by Facebook’s discriminatory acts, increased pressure against the firm to end any and all bias against Palestinian content.

The Oversight Board also made three other recommendations — one that is being partly implemented and two that are being assessed for feasibility.

Facebook is partly implementing the board’s recommendation to formalize a transparent process on how it receives and responds to all government requests for content removal and ensure that they are included in transparency reporting.

It is currently assessing feasibility for two other recommendations, which are ensuring “swift translation of updates to the community standards into all available languages,” and adding “criteria and illustrative examples” to the company’s “dangerous individuals and organizations policy to increase understanding of the exceptions for neutral discussion, condemnation, and news reporting.”

In a statement, 7amleh said it welcomed Facebook’s “surprising” decision.

But the center also called on Facebook to accept the other recommendations made by the Oversight Board, including specifying the criteria for dangerous individuals and organizations or parties whose content was automatically removed from the platform, as well as disclosing all cooperation with governments and positive responses to governmental requests for content removal, in addition to translating content moderation policies to all languages and making them more accessible.


Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists

Updated 12 April 2024
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Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists

  • ‘Assaults on hospitals have further restricted the ability of the press to work safely,’ says NGO official

LONDON: Media watchdogs have called for an independent investigation into an Israeli attack on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Gaza that injured eight journalists.

The strike on March 31 also killed four people and injured nine others.

“Israel’s March 31 attack on a hospital compound where journalists were sheltering and working must be independently investigated,” said Committee to Protect Journalists Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna in New York City.

With media offices facing widespread destruction in Gaza, journalists in the enclave have increasingly sought refuge in hospitals.

However, attacks on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital and the March 18 assault on Al-Shifa Hospital, where journalists were arrested and faced violence, have rendered even hospitals unsafe for press personnel.

“Assaults on hospitals have further restricted the ability of the press to work safely,” added de la Serna.

Reports show that on March 31, an Israeli drone strike hit a tent encampment outside Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, central Gaza, near a tent provided by the Turkish Anadolu news agency, where journalists had sought refuge.

The attack targeted a command center belonging to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, resulting in the deaths of four militants and injuries to 17 other people, including eight journalists, according to multiple media outlets and the Palestinian press freedom group MADA.

Items including cameras, laptops and mobile phones belonging to journalists were also destroyed in the strike.

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate in central Gaza has warned of deteriorating conditions for journalists in the enclave, leading many to seek refuge and access to electricity in hospitals in order to file stories.

But recent attacks have eroded confidence in the safety of hospitals across Gaza.

During the Israeli operation in Al-Shifa Hospital on March 18, Al Jazeera Arabic reporter Ismail Al-Ghoul was detained for almost 12 hours alongside several other journalists.

Witnesses reported that soldiers assaulted the group of journalists, destroyed their tent, and damaged equipment and press vehicles.

Battleground: Jerusalem
The biblical battle for the Holy City
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Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown

Updated 12 April 2024
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Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown

  • Maison de le Press, an umbrella organization of journalists in Mali, said it rejects the order and called on media to continue with their work
  • Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge after a second coup in 2021, has failed in his promised to return the country to democracy in early 2024

BAMAKO, Mali: In a deepening crackdown, Mali’s ruling junta on Thursday banned the media from reporting on activities of political parties and associations, a day after suspending all political activities in the country until further notice.

The order, issued by Mali’s high authority for communication, was distributed on social media. The notice said it applied to all forms of the media, including television, radio, online and print newspapers.
Mali has experienced two coups since 2020, leading a wave of political instability that has swept across West and Central Africa in recent years. Along with its political troubles, the country is also in the grip of a worsening insurgency by militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group.
The scope of the ban — or how it would be applied in practice — was not immediately clear. It was also not known if journalists would still be allowed to report on issues such as the economy, which are closely tied to politics and who would monitor their work.
The umbrella organization that represents journalists in Mali responded with an unusually stern rebuttal.
The group, known as Maison de le Press, or Press House, said it rejects the order and called on journalists to continue to report on politics in Mali. It also urged them to “stand tall, remain unified and to mobilize to defend the right of citizens to have access to information.”
Mali’s national commission for human rights also expressed regret and profound concern over the decision in a statement published late Thursday. It warned the junta the decision could prove harmful.
“Instead of calming the social climate, these restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms could potentially stir up trouble and tension, which the country does not need,” it said.
The clampdown on the media followed a similar action on Wednesday, when the junta ordered the suspension of all activities by political parties until further notice, citing a a need to preserve public order. The news was broadcast on state television as the population was celebrating Eid Al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan during which observant Muslims fast from dawn till dusk.
Analysts said the move was likely a backlash against political figures, civil society and students who have expressed frustration with the junta’s failure to return the country to democratic rule as promised.
“Recent weeks saw mounting pressure by political parties and figures,” Rida Lyammouri of the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank, told The Associated Press. “For the first time, the public and politicians have publicly criticized junta leaders and accused them of a lack of seriousness.”
Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge after a second coup in 2021, promised to return the country to democracy in early 2024. But in September, the junta canceled elections scheduled for February 2024 indefinitely, citing the need for further technical preparations.
The junta has vowed to end the insurgency that emerged in 2012 after deposing the elected government. It cut military ties with France amid growing frustration with the lack of progress after a decade of assistance, and turned to Russian contractors, mercenaries from the Wagner group, for security support instead. But analysts say the violence has only grown worse.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by the ban on political activities. “Freedom of expression and freedom of association are critical to an open society,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington.


Palestinian flag emoji sparks Apple controversy

Updated 12 April 2024
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Palestinian flag emoji sparks Apple controversy

  • The latest iPhone software updates automatically suggest the Palestinian flag when users type "Jerusalem" in Messages
  • Jerusalem’s status remains highly contentious, with both Israel and Palestine claiming it as their capital

LONDON: The inclusion of a Palestinian flag emoji when users type “Jerusalem” has sparked controversy for Apple, with accusations of antisemitism leveled against the American tech giant.

The issue emerged after a recent software update automatically suggested the Palestinian flag emoji, drawing criticism from British TV presenter Rachel Riley, an outspoken supporter of Israel.

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Riley took to social media to highlight the anomaly, noting that other capital cities typically do not trigger flag suggestions.

She wrote on X: “Dear @‌Apple @applesupport @tim_cook I’ve just upgraded my software to version iOS 17.4.1, and now, when I type the capital of Israel, Jerusalem, I’m offered the Palestinian flag emoji.

“This didn’t occur on my phone immediately before this update.

“Below is a (non-exhaustive) list of capital cities that do not offer their nation’s flags, let alone the wrong one.”

Riley accused the Cupertino company of “double standards,” which she views as a “form of antisemitism” when referring to Israel.

One social media expert suggested that the issue could have resulted from “human intervention.”

“There is nothing inherently wrong with associating Jerusalem with Palestinian belief, but Apple's choice of default settings warrants justification, especially considering the potential discriminatory implications of this decision,” said Tom Divon, a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in an interview with The Telegraph.

The iPhone maker said the change made to the keyboard was unintentional and followed a recent software update.

A spokesperson for Apple explained that the Palestinian flag was the result of a “bug” within predictive emoji, adding that it would be fixed in the new iOS software update.

Jerusalem’s status remains highly contentious, with both Israel and Palestine claiming it as their capital.

Map of the Old City of Jerusalem. (AFP/File)

The city is divided, with Israel controlling the western part and the eastern part viewed as Palestinian territory by the UN, although Israel has repeatedly been accused of exerting extensive power and using violence over the area in an attempt to gain control.

Former US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 further fueled tensions, drawing condemnation from the international community and Palestinian leaders, who described the move as “deplorable and unacceptable measures (that) deliberately undermine all peace efforts.”

 


Protesters in Eurovision host city call for boycott of Israel

Updated 11 April 2024
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Protesters in Eurovision host city call for boycott of Israel

  • Eurovision organizers European Broadcasting Union has so far resisted calls for Israel to be excluded from Eurovision over Gaza war
  • EBU said Eurovision is not a contest between governments and that Israeli broadcaster KAN met all competition rules

MALMO: Protesters waving Palestinian flags and banners on Wednesday called for a boycott of Israel at the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest in the Swedish city of Malmo that will host the event next month.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organizes Eurovision, bills the song contest as a non-political event.
But the global political backdrop often weighs on the contest, which this year takes place amid protests and boycotts over the devastating Israeli military campaign in Gaza, triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, affecting cultural events across Europe.
“I think there is no way that Israel should be able to participate in Eurovision and it’s complete double standards that they let them participate when they kicked Russia out,” said Malmo resident Mats Rehle, 43, who works in a bookshop.
Protesters outside Malmo city held a banner calling for the boycott of Israel above the Eurovision logo, while another banner featured red stains to look like blood and a pair of scissors cutting the chord to a microphone displaying an Israeli flag.
The EBU in 2022 banned Russia from Eurovision after several European public broadcasters called for the country to be expelled following its invasion of Ukraine.
The union has said it suspended the Russian broadcasters over “persistent breaches of membership obligations and the violation of public service values.”
The organizers’ decision to include Israeli broadcaster KAN has sparked protests from artists and ministers, but the EBU said in January that Eurovision was not a contest between governments and that KAN met all competition rules.
The union has so far resisted calls for Israel to be excluded from Eurovision, and on Wednesday urged people to refrain from online abuse directed at some participating artists.
“We have all been affected by the images, stories, and the unquestionable pain suffered by those in Israel and in Gaza,” the EBU said in a statement.
“However... we wish to address the concerns and discussions surrounding this situation, especially the targeted social media campaigns against some of our participating artists,” it added.

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Meta to blur Instagram messages containing nudity in latest move for teen safety

Updated 11 April 2024
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Meta to blur Instagram messages containing nudity in latest move for teen safety

  • The feature will use on-device machine learning to analyze image sent as direct message on Instagram
  • The company also mentioned that they are currently developing new tools to identify accounts engaged in sextortion

LONDON: Instagram will test features that blur messages containing nudity to safeguard teens and prevent potential scammers from reaching them, its parent Meta said on Thursday as it tries to allay concerns over harmful content on its apps.
The tech giant is under mounting pressure in the United States and Europe over allegations that its apps were addictive and have fueled mental health issues among young people.
Meta said the protection feature for Instagram’s direct messages would use on-device machine learning to analyze whether an image sent through the service contains nudity.
The feature will be turned on by default for users under 18 and Meta will notify adults to encourage them to turn it on.
“Because the images are analyzed on the device itself, nudity protection will also work in end-to-end encrypted chats, where Meta won’t have access to these images – unless someone chooses to report them to us,” the company said.
Unlike Meta’s Messenger and WhatsApp apps, direct messages on Instagram are not encrypted but the company has said it plans to roll out encryption for the service.
Meta also said that it was developing technology to help identify accounts that might be potentially engaging in sextortion scams and that it was testing new pop-up messages for users who might have interacted with such accounts.
In January, the social media giant had said it would hide more content from teens on Facebook and Instagram, adding this would make it more difficult for them to come across sensitive content such as suicide, self-harm and eating disorders.
Attorneys general of 33 US states, including California and New York, sued the company in October, saying it repeatedly misled the public about the dangers of its platforms.
In Europe, the European Commission has sought information on how Meta protects children from illegal and harmful content. (Reporting by Granth Vanaik in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni and Alan Barona)