Algeria journalist freed after 6 months’ jail for ‘false news’

Supporters protest the detention of journalist Rabah Kareche in demonstration on April 25, 2021 in Algiers. (AFP)
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Updated 20 October 2021

Algeria journalist freed after 6 months’ jail for ‘false news’

  • ‘Our reporter Rabah Kareche is free again after six months behind bars in Tamanrasset prison’
  • Algeria ranks a lowly 146th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index

ALGIERS: Algerian journalist Rabah Kareche left prison on Tuesday after completing a six-month sentence for “spreading false news,” his newspaper Liberte said.
“Our reporter Rabah Kareche is free again after six months behind bars in Tamanrasset prison” in the country’s desert south, it reported on its website.
An appeals court had sentenced Kareche on October 11 to six months in prison plus six months suspended, a two-month reduction from his original sentence.
His release came as he had already served much of sentence during his trial and appeal.
Kareche was arrested in April after reporting the Tuareg, a Berber minority who have long complained of economic and social marginalization, had protested over “expropriation” of their historical lands.
He was sentenced on August 12 to eight months behind bars plus four months suspended for “spreading false information liable to damage public order.”
He was also accused of posting reports that could trigger “segregation and hatred within society.”
“I’m the victim of a grave injustice,” Liberte quoted him saying as he left prison.
“I did nothing more than my job as a journalist with professionalism.”
Algeria ranks a lowly 146th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.

Global advertising market grows 23.8% in 2021

Updated 02 December 2021

Global advertising market grows 23.8% in 2021

  • WARC data reveals the advertising market grew to $771 billion

DUBAI: New advertising spend forecasts for 100 markets worldwide show that the global ad market grew 23.8 percent in 2021 to reach $771 billion and is on course to reach a value of $1 trillion in 2025, according to marketing intelligence firm WARC.

This year marks the strongest growth in the last four decades, with advertising investment forecasted to rise 12.5 percent in 2022 and 8.3 percent in 2023.

Data reveals that more than half of advertising spend is going to just three companies: Alphabet, Meta, and Amazon. According to a recent WARC survey, two out of three marketers who have already committed budgets to Amazon are intending to increase that spend.

Social media platforms are also forecasted to see increased advertising investment with advertising professionals planning to increase spending on TikTok (66 percent), YouTube (61 percent), Instagram (60 percent), and Google (57 percent) next year.

“Despite potential headwinds, market data show that we are currently witnessing a boom in advertising trade like none seen before, led by increased demand for retail media and ancillary publishers such as Google and Instagram, which is now the world’s largest social platform,” said James McDonald, director of data, intelligence and forecasting at WARC. 

When it comes to digital media, e-commerce is expected to lead the growth with Amazon on course to amass over $57 billion in advertising revenue by 2023 — a massive 72 percent increase from this year.

Social media was the fastest-growing online sector in 2021 with advertising spend rising by 41.9 percent. Instagram grew to become the largest social media platform in 2021 after overtaking the core Facebook platform for the first time and is forecasted to control over one-third of the global social media market in the next two years. TikTok’s ad revenue increased 51.5 percent this year and is expected to record growth of 75.4 percent in 2022.

Premium online video platforms YouTube and Amazon Prime Video were worth a combined $63.7 billion to advertisers in 2021, up 41.6 percent from a year earlier.

Search advertising continues to grow, making Alphabet the world’s largest media owner and Google the largest individual platform. Google’s advertising revenue rose by 40.6 percent to $146.3 billion this year — taking 79.7 percent of all search spend and 19 percent of all advertising spend worldwide. Google’s growth is set to ease to 14.8 percent in 2022.

With podcasts and music streaming increasing in popularity, advertising spend on online audio rose by one-third to $5.4 billion in 2021, with podcast spend up 50.9 percent and streaming up 28.4 percent. Both formats are expected to continue to grow with the online audio sector’s worth increasing to $8.3 billion by 2023.

With regards to traditional media, advertiser spend on TV grew 5.5 percent this year and is projected to grow by 3.3 percent next year. Linear TV is set to remain larger than premium video services such as YouTube and Amazon Prime Video, though its share of global ad spend will dip below a fifth as broadcaster’s video-on-demand services attract incremental spend.

The out-of-home market recorded a recovery of 21.8 percent this year, but it was not enough to offset the 28.2 percent decline recorded in 2020 as the COVID-19 outbreak first brought the world to a standstill. 

The pandemic’s impact was also evident in the cinema advertising sector, as spend heavily declined in 2020 by 71.2 percent. However, this year, spending rebounded to record a rise of 149.9 percent as cinemas opened back up and big movie releases hit the theaters.

Investment in broadcast radio ads rose by 8.4 percent this year and is set to grow by 3.5 percent in 2022 and 1.5 percent in 2023, by when the market will be worth $34.3 billion. This makes it the only legacy medium set to record continuous growth over the forecast period.

Advertising spend on print and online news brands dipped by 4 percent this year, while the magazines market was down 6.6 percent.

“New coronavirus variants, such as omicron, may have a negative impact on our current outlook, and while our base scenario assumes that impact is muted, we will continue to review that position each quarter,” said McDonald.

That said, some companies will remain immune to the effects COVID-19. “Amazon is expected to finish the year with an ad business worth $12 billion more than the start of the outbreak, the newly anointed Meta will be $31 billion wealthier, and Alphabet drew an additional $59 billion from brands before costs,” he added.


Facebook asks court to dismiss US antitrust lawsuit for good

Updated 03 December 2021

Facebook asks court to dismiss US antitrust lawsuit for good

  • Facebook fights antitrust lawsuit that demands it sell Instagram and WhatsApp

WASHINGTON: Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook has asked a US court to dismiss and not allow the refiling of an antitrust lawsuit by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which requests that the company sell two major subsidiaries, photo-sharing app Instagram and messaging app WhatsApp.

In its court filing, Facebook argued that the FTC had “no plausible factual support” for its claim that the company has the market clout to push up prices in the social network market. The social media giant also said the FTC failed to “plausibly establish” that Facebook acted illegally to protect a monopoly.

Facebook also pressed again for FTC Chair Lina Khan to be recused from the matter, arguing that her participation in a vote to approve the lawsuit was improper because of her criticism of the company before she joined the agency.

The FTC’s high-profile case against Facebook represents one of the biggest challenges the government has brought against a tech company in decades, and is being closely watched as Washington aims to tackle Big Tech’s extensive market power. 

The FTC had originally sued Facebook during the Trump administration, and its complaint was rejected by the court. It filed an amended complaint in August, adding more details to its accusation that the social media company crushed or bought rivals, and once again asking a judge to force the company to sell Instagram and WhatsApp. 

The FTC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the 26-page filing.

The case is being tried by Judge James Boasberg of the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

Twitter shuts propaganda accounts in six countries

Twitter has faced criticism over failures to tackle misinformation on its platform as well as racist, sexist and homophobic posts. (File/AFP)
Updated 02 December 2021

Twitter shuts propaganda accounts in six countries

  • Twitter shuts down almost 3500 accounts posting pro-government propaganda in six different countries, including Russia and China

SAN FRANCISCO: witter on Thursday said it had shut down nearly 3,500 accounts that were posting pro-government propaganda in six countries, including China and Russia.
The vast majority of the accounts were part of a network that “amplified Chinese Communist Party narratives related to the treatment of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang,” Twitter said in a statement.
China faces accusations of grave human rights violations against the ethnic minority in the northwestern province, where experts have estimated that more than one million people are incarcerated in camps.
Aside from 2,048 accounts linked to the pro-Beijing campaign, Twitter also shut down 112 accounts connected to a company named Changyu Culture, linked to Xinjiang’s regional government.
The move came a day after Facebook’s parent company Meta said it had shut down more than 500 accounts that were part of a China-linked influence campaign relating to Covid-19.
The accounts promoted claims from a fictitious Swiss biologist, Wilson Edwards, that the United States was interfering in efforts to identify the origins of the coronavirus.
Chinese state media had widely quoted “Edwards” in July, although several newspapers deleted references to him after the Swiss embassy in Beijing said there was no trace of him.
Both Twitter and Facebook are banned in China, but Beijing frequently uses both US social networks to promote its positions on the international stage.
Beyond China, Twitter also shuttered 16 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company labeled a “troll farm” by critics, which runs pro-government online influence campaigns.
“The operation relied on a mix of inauthentic and real accounts to introduce a pro-Russia viewpoint into Central African political discourse,” Twitter said.
Russia has wielded increasing influence in the Central African Republic since 2018 when it sent a large contingent of “instructors” to train the army.
“We also removed a network of 50 accounts that attacked the civilian Libyan government and actors that support it, while voicing significant support for Russia’s geopolitical position in Libya and Syria,” Twitter added.
The banned accounts also include 276 that shared pro-government content in Mexico, and “277 Venezuelan accounts that amplified accounts, hashtags and topics in support of the government and its official narratives.”
In Africa, 268 accounts were shut down for targeting civil rights group FichuaTanzania, along with 418 that “engaged in coordinated inauthentic activity” in Uganda to promote President Yoweri Museveni.
“In most instances, accounts were suspended for various violations of our platform manipulation and spam policies,” Twitter said.
Like other social media giants, Twitter has faced criticism over failures to tackle misinformation on its platform as well as racist, sexist and homophobic posts, among other forms of hate speech.
It also announced Thursday that it will launch a Twitter Moderation Research Consortium early next year, bringing together “experts from across academia, civil society, NGOs and journalism” to study possible improvements.
Twitter said it would not seek to influence the consortium’s findings.

Facebook hits anti-vaccine campaign harassing doctors

This update comes as the tech giant battles accusations that it puts profit over user safety. (File/AFP)
Updated 02 December 2021

Facebook hits anti-vaccine campaign harassing doctors

  • Meta said it had derailed an anti-vaccine campaign that harassed medical workers, journalists and elected officials
  • The social media giant took down accounts in France and Italy that were linked to a conspiracy movement called “V_V”

SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook’s parent company Meta said Wednesday it had derailed an anti-vaccine campaign that harassed medical workers, journalists and elected officials, in a signal of the ongoing pressure from coronavirus pandemic-tied misinformation.
The social media giant took down accounts in France and Italy that were linked to a conspiracy movement called “V_V,” which inundated pro-vaccine posts with potentially tens of thousands of comments.
“V-V” supporters also “mass-harassed” people on YouTube, Twitter, VKontakte and other online platforms, using swastikas or other images as well as calling doctors and media workers “Nazi supporters” for backing vaccines, Meta said.
The company’s update regarding efforts to counter misinformation and harassment on its platform comes as the tech giant battles accusations that it puts profit over user safety.
The firm changed its parent company name to “Meta” in October as it tries to move past the reputation of Facebook as a scandal-plagued social network to the company’s virtual reality vision for the future.
A report by social network analysis firm Graphika offered additional information on “V_V,” which it says touts itself as engaged in guerilla “psychological warfare” that targets vaccine supporters.
Graphika estimates that “V_V” has about 20,000 followers and said the group has been linked to vandalism of hospitals and efforts to disrupt vaccination programs by repeatedly booking and canceling medical appointments.
The group’s campaign used messaging service Telegram to train recruits and spread word of who to target, according to Meta head of emerging harms investigations Mike Dvilyanski.

“While we aren’t banning all V_V content, we’re continuing to monitor the situation and will take action if we find additional violations,” Meta said.
Since the start of the pandemic, misinformation has taken many forms, from false and dangerous health advice to so-called miracle cures, conspiracy theories, racist rhetoric and online scams.
The United States in March denounced what it called a Russian disinformation campaign against US-made Covid-19 vaccines, saying Moscow was putting lives at risk.
Meta also reported taking down a “sprawling and unsuccessful” network out of China that used fake accounts to promote a bogus claim that a Swiss biologist contended the United States was putting pressure on World Health Organization scientists to blame China for the pandemic.
Investigators on the Meta security team equated the campaign to a “hall of mirrors, endlessly reflecting a single fake persona” with even Chinese state media citing the fabricated claim.
“Clusters of fake accounts attempted post-amplification, which only took root when media picked up the stories,” Meta head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher said in the briefing.
“But, that was quickly debunked and fizzled out quickly,” he added.
The tactic reflected a trend of trying to get legitimate news outlets to spread misinformation promoted by networks of fake accounts, Gleicher noted.
“Operations like these will also target media, marketers and influencers, who need defenses against these kinds of campaigns,” he said.
Meta found links to employees of people associated with Chinese state infrastructure companies based around the world.
“This is the first time we have observed an operation that included a coordinated cluster of state employees to amplify itself in this way,” Meta said.
“Our investigation also found that a number of Chinese government officials began interacting with the operation’s content less than an hour after it first posted.”

Facebook: Fake scientist used to spread anti-US propaganda

Facebook uncovered fake accounts affiliated with the network that had also waded into US politics last year. (File/AFP)
Updated 02 December 2021

Facebook: Fake scientist used to spread anti-US propaganda

  • Disinformation network with ties to China used hundreds of fake social media accounts to spread anti-US propaganda, Facebook said
  • China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said in the past that the country’s government does not employ trickery on social media

A disinformation network with ties to China used hundreds of fake social media accounts — including one belonging to a fictitious Swiss biologist — to spread an unfounded claim that the US pressured scientists to blame China for the coronavirus, Facebook said Wednesday.
The company based in Menlo Park, California, did not directly attribute the network to the Chinese government. But it noted employees of Chinese state-run companies, and the country’s state-run media, worked to amplify the misleading claims, which were soon the subject of news headlines in China.
“In effect it worked like an online hall of mirrors, endlessly reflecting the original fake persona and its anti-US disinformation,” according to Ben Nimmo, who leads investigations into disinformation at Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram.
The operation began in July, when a Facebook account was created in the name of Wilson Edwards, a self-professed Swiss biologist. That same day, the account user claimed, without evidence, that US officials were using “enormous pressure and even intimidation” to get scientists to back calls for renewed investigations into the origin of the virus.
Within hours, hundreds of other accounts — some of which were created only that day — began liking, posting or linking to the post. Many of the accounts were later found to be fake, with some of the users posing as westerners and others using likely fabricated profile photos. Facebook said it found links between the accounts and a tech firm based in Chengdu, China, as well as to overseas employees of Chinese infrastructure companies.
Within a week of the initial post, large media outlets in China were reporting on the claims of US intimidation as if they had been made by a real scientist.
The operation was exposed when Swiss authorities announced in August that they had no record of any biologist with Edwards’ name. “If you exist, we would like to meet you!” the Swiss embassy in Beijing tweeted.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said in the past that the country’s government does not employ trickery on social media. Efforts to contact the companies cited in the report weren’t immediately successful on Wednesday.
In all, Meta removed about 600 accounts on Facebook and Instagram that were linked to the network, Nimmo told reporters on a call Wednesday that touched on the company’s response to several disinformation networks around the world.
Facebook uncovered fake accounts affiliated with the network that had also waded into US politics last year, with some posting memes that both attacked and supported ex-President Donald Trump. One post on Instagram called him “the worst president ever!” The group behind the effort also created accounts on Twitter, which has since suspended the account supposedly created by Edwards.
Nimmo said the network was easily spotted by its clumsy tactics. Several of the fake accounts sent out identical posts at similar times — a clear indication of coordination. Another person apparently working for the network posted instructions for reposting the claim in what Facebook determined was likely a sloppy mistake.
China’s disinformation networks have consistently been haphazard, said Bret Schafer, who heads the information manipulation team at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a non-partisan think tank in Washington.
The network unearthed by Facebook show that the Chinese are still working on their influence campaign strategy, unlike Russia, which has spent decades crafting disinformation campaigns that target unwitting Americans online and go undetected for years.
“It didn’t take long for this to be unraveled,” Schafer said. “The Chinese are still a bit sloppier with what they do. I can’t imagine the Russians doing something like this, where they just create a persona out of thin air.”