TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat defend impact on kids at US hearing

Senator Marsha Blackburn speaks during a Senate Subcommittee on Protecting Kids Online. (AFP)
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Updated 27 October 2021

TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat defend impact on kids at US hearing

  • TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat tried to convince skeptical US lawmakers they are safer to kids than Facebook
  • TikTok has been attacked on charges its algorithm can serve content to kids that encourages dangerous weight loss or destroy public property

WASHINGTON: Three social media networks massively popular with the youngest users — TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube — tried to convince skeptical US lawmakers Tuesday they are safe as worry about Facebook’s potential harms spills over to other platforms.
Video-sharing app TikTok and photo network Snapchat, in their first testimony to US senators, argued they are built to protect against the mental health and safety risks present on social media.
“Your defense is, ‘We’re not Facebook,’” Senator Richard Blumenthal told the networks’ representatives. “Being different from Facebook is not a defense, that bar is in the gutter.”
“Everything you do is to add users, especially kids, and keep them on your apps,” he continued.
While a recent whistleblower-fueled controversy has focused on Facebook’s knowledge that its sites could cause harm, other social media giants also grapple with safety issues.
“Snapchat was built as an antidote to social media,” said Jennifer Stout, Snap VP of global public policy, noting images on the platform delete by default.
Under questioning later in the hearing, she said the company is making efforts to crack down on the drug dealing that has proliferated on the platform, with sometimes deadly consequences.
TikTok, which said in September that it has one billion active users, has fast become a phenomenon among youths and argued it is a different kind of platform.
“TikTok is not a social network based on followers.... You watch TikToks, you create on TikTok,” said Michael Beckerman, TikTok’s head of public policy in the Americas.
Yet the app has been attacked on charges its algorithm can serve content to kids, for example, that encourages dangerous weight loss or introduces them to viral challenges that promote the destruction of school property.

The site also became a political battleground after then-president Donald Trump targeted the app in 2020 for a subsequently abandoned shutdown effort on the argument the platform represented a national security risk because of its links to China.
The ByteDance subsidiary, whose equivalent in China is called Douyin, nevertheless remains well behind YouTube, which claimed 2.3 billion monthly active users in 2020.
Though 13 is the official minimum age limit to join most social media platforms, both TikTok and YouTube have versions that are aimed at younger children.
“Our child safety-specific policies... prohibit content that exploits or endangers minors on YouTube,” said Leslie Miller, vice president of public policy at YouTube.
She added that between April and June its moderators removed nearly 1.8 million videos that violated policy.
YouTube has battled with a surge in Covid-19 and vaccine misinformation as the pandemic drove people online looking for information.
Senator Marsha Blackburn, who was co-chairing the hearing, drew little difference among the platforms and their arguments for safety.
“For too long we have allowed platforms to promote and glorify dangerous content for its kid and teen users,” she said. “How long are we going to let this continue?“
Facebook, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has delivered testimony repeatedly before US lawmakers and is facing one of its worst crises ever with the leaking of thousands of internal studies to authorities and journalists.
However, the company has previously been hit by major scandals that did not translate into major new US legislation aimed at regulating social media.


MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum

Updated 24 September 2022

MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum

  • Two companies have signed a strategic partnership to coordinate their efforts to further women’s careers

DUBAI: The Dubai Business Women Council organized the “Women in Media” forum in collaboration with MBC Group, to discuss the role that media organizations can play in increasing the representation and accountability of women in media.

The event is part of the council’s #DBWCFORUMS initiative, which includes a series of talks that aim to raise awareness about the challenges and opportunities for women in different industries. 

During the event, MBC Group and DBWC signed a memorandum of understanding, which aims to coordinate and align both companies’ efforts in providing their female employees and members with access to mentorship programs, workshops and speaker sessions.

“This collaboration is of special importance as it unites two partners who value women and recognize their critical contribution to the economy,” said Nadine Halabi, business development manager of the Dubai Business Women Council.

“The council will continue to be committed to harnessing all available resources to serve its members and the business community, by organizing specialized events and seminars that add value to their personal and professional lives,” she said.

The forum focused on the importance of maximizing women’s strengths and potential to advance media work, develop strong female media role models, increase gender diversity, and foster a culture of success in the media industry.

Participants discussed the mechanisms needed to ensure balanced female representation in media, the best practices adopted by media leaders and officials, and the value of diversity in the workplace.

Samar Akrouk, group director of production at MBC Group, who held a fireside chat at the event, said: “MBC Group is proud to be a progressive trailblazer — on and off screen — in promoting gender equality. Throughout our organization and across most departments we have women in top leadership positions, as well as women that are identified and set on leadership tracks.”

“However, we are progressive enough to look at ourselves and say we can do more — and we will do more,” she said.

Akrouk highlighted self-limiting beliefs and how they can affect women in the workplace. She also offered advice on how to overcome these beliefs and offered guidance to those seeking a career in media.

The forum also featured three panel discussions.

The first panel brought together Rana Alamuddin, founder of BAYNEH W BAYNEK; Sally Moussa Hajjar, managing partner, Humanagement and Mohammed Abdulhaq, executive producer at MBC Group, to discuss the role and responsibility of media outlets in creating positive role models for regional audiences.

The second panel saw Bedriya Al-Saeed, employee engagement manager at MBC Group; Tala Obeidat, client partner, Leading Retail & Restaurants, Meta and Sara Eltarzi, communications director at OSN, discuss the steps and policies that led to better inclusivity and gender parity in media organizations.

The third and final panel brought together Rola Ghotmeh, founder and chief creative officer, The Creative 9; Natasha Romariz Maasri, executive creative director, Leo Burnett MEA and Andrej Arsenijevic, executive creative director and sustainability lead at Commonwealth McCann Dubai, to talk about responsible and impactful advertising and how to push boundaries through strategic messaging in society.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with MBC Group and look forward to coordinating our future efforts to develop the abilities of women and female business owners while also assisting them in acquiring media and marketing skills that can advance their careers,” Halabi said.
 


WhatsApp says it is working to keep Iranians connected

Updated 25 September 2022

WhatsApp says it is working to keep Iranians connected

  • WhatsApp said it “will do anything” within its technical capacity to keep the service accessible

LONDON: Meta Platforms Inc’s WhatsApp said on Thursday that it was working to keep users in Iran connected after the country restricted access to the app and social media platform Instagram.
WhatsApp “will do anything” within its technical capacity to keep the service accessible and that it was not blocking Iranian phone numbers, the messaging service said in a tweet.
Iran on Wednesday restricted access to Instagram and WhatsApp, two of the last remaining social networks in the country, amid protests over the death of a woman in police custody, according to residents and Internet watchdog NetBlocks.
Last week’s death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by morality police in Tehran for “unsuitable attire,” has unleashed anger over issues including freedom in the Islamic Republic and an economy reeling from sanctions.
Protesters in Tehran and other Iranian cities torched police stations and vehicles earlier on Thursday as public outrage over the death showed no signs of abating, with reports of security forces coming under attack.


Amanpour says Iran president interview scrapped over headscarf demand

Updated 22 September 2022

Amanpour says Iran president interview scrapped over headscarf demand

  • The chief international anchor of CNN was ready for the interview Wednesday on the sidelines of the UNGA when an aide insisted she cover her hair
  • "I politely declined," Amanpour wrote on Twitter

UNITED NATIONS, United States: Veteran journalist Christiane Amanpour said Thursday that an interview with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was scrapped after he insisted she wear a headscarf, the focus of major protests in the cleric-run state.
Amanpour, the chief international anchor of CNN who also has a show on US public broadcaster PBS, said she was ready for the interview Wednesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly when an aide insisted she cover her hair.
“I politely declined. We are in New York, where there is no law or tradition regarding headscarves,” Amanpour, who was born in Britain to an Iranian father, wrote on Twitter.
“I pointed out that no previous Iranian president has required this when I have interviewed them outside Iran,” she said.
“I said that I couldn’t agree to this unprecedented and unexpected condition.”

She posted a picture of herself — without a headscarf — sitting in front of an empty chair where Raisi would have been explaining that "the interview didn’t happen. As protests continue in Iran and people are being killed, it would have been an important moment to speak with President Raisi."

An aide to Raisi, a hard-line cleric, told Amanpour that he was insisting on a headscarf because of “the situation in Iran,” she said.
Iran has been swept by nearly a week of protests since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died after being arrested by morality police that enforce the clerics’ rules on how women dress.
A non-governmental group said that at least 31 Iranian civilians have been killed in the crackdown on the protests, in which women have been seen burning headscarves.

With agencies.

 


A ‘key trend’ in latest Arab Youth Survey is ‘decline in news consumption’

Updated 22 September 2022

A ‘key trend’ in latest Arab Youth Survey is ‘decline in news consumption’

  • 14th annual survey reveals a number of trends and insights across six themes: identity, livelihood, politics, global citizenship, lifestyle and aspirations

DUBAI: Dubai-based PR agency ASDA’A BCW has published the results of its 14th annual Arab Youth Survey, described as the largest independent survey of its kind.

This year’s findings are grouped under six themes: identity, livelihood, politics, global citizenship, lifestyle and aspirations.

Having grown up in the internet age, it is perhaps no surprise that Arab youths are avid users of social media and other online services. In terms of the most popular social media platforms across the region, WhatsApp came out on top, with 82 percent of those surveyed saying they use it daily, followed by Facebook (72 percent), Instagram (61 percent), YouTube (53 percent), TikTok (50 percent), Snapchat (46 percent), Twitter (33 percent) and LinkedIn (12 percent).

WhatsApp is even more popular in Saudi Arabia that it is in the wider region, with 98 percent of people surveyed in the country using it daily. Snapchat was the second-most popular platform in the Kingdom, with 84 percent of people using it daily, followed by YouTube (83 percent), Twitter (73 percent), TikTok (60 percent) and Facebook (55 percent).

Commenting on the potentially controversial inclusion on the survey of WhatsApp, traditionally thought of as an instant messaging service, as a social media platform, Sunil John, founder of ASDA’A BCW and BCW’s president for the Middle East and North Africa, told Arab News: “WhatsApp has evolved as a strong social-networking platform — for families and businesses — and is often the first source of news for many. It plays an important role in the lives of people as a social-networking tool, too.”

Although TikTok ranked relatively low in terms of daily use across the Middle East, usage has more than doubled in the past two years, from 21 percent in 2020 to 50 percent this year. In Saudi Arabia, TikTok use almost tripled over the same period, from 24 percent in 2020 to 60 percent.

Meanwhile Facebook and Twitter have experienced the greatest declines in regional use during that time: Facebook went from 85 percent to 72 percent, and Twitter from 42 percent to 33 percent.

In the Kingdom, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter grew in popularity over the past two years, but daily use of Facebook declined, from 82 percent to 55 percent.

“One of the key trends we’ve noticed is the decline in news consumption, which peaked during the pandemic when people were largely confined to their homes,” said John.

The trend was evident across all channels, although social media continues to be the leading source of news, for 65 percent of those surveyed. This is a small increase from last year’s 61 percent but much lower than the figures for 2019 and 2020, when 79 and 80 percent respectively.

The next most popular source of news was television, on 45 percent, followed by online news portals (32 percent) and printed media (9 percent).

Social media was also the most popular news source in Saudi Arabia, with 43 percent of people relying on it, followed by TV (27 percent) and news websites (23 percent).

Young people do indeed seem to be consuming less news compared with two years ago, when they were confined to their homes during pandemic lockdowns, said John, and the decline is not exclusive to social media.

“The decline appears to be part of an overall downward trend in news consumption, irrespective of the channel or platform,” he added.

“2020 was arguably an outlier in terms of news-consumption habits. A drop-off as people returned to normal life was to be expected.

“It’s also true that young people are consuming media for different things these days, such as entertainment and shopping. We’re also seeing the emergence of new types of content, such as podcasts, which are often hybrid in nature and harder to classify.”

It is also possible that “young people are ‘tuning out’ from the sheer volume of news they are receiving these days, much of it negative,” John added.

Despite the popularity of social media as a news source, social media influencers and the platforms themselves are among the least trusted sources of news, at just 54 percent and 66 percent respectively. TV news has the highest trust rating, with 84 percent of people confident about it, followed by print and online news portals, both on 71 percent.

In Saudi Arabia, however, social media, TV and online news portals all attracted similar levels of trust.

There could be various reasons for the high levels of trust in TV news across the Arab world, according to John, “such as the depth and variety of commentary that TV offers, and the larger budgets for news production that TV stations normally command.”

Moreover, “the growth of TV is also, of course, technological, with the increasing penetration of the internet around the region allowing more people to access streaming services on their mobile phones.”

Although online news portals and print media are among the least-used sources of news, the survey found high levels of trust in both.

“Traditional newspapers are read much less than before in their printed form but they are nevertheless respected for their journalistic pedigree and as news brands,” John said.

“This may explain why online news sites, at least the online versions of what were printed newspapers, enjoy high levels of trust.”

The emergence of “successful news brands specifically designed for the web and social media, and catering to a younger audience, such as NowThis, Vice and Gawker,” could be another reason for the trust placed in online news sites he added.

On the other hand “social media platforms aren’t news platforms by nature,” John said.

“First and foremost, they have been designed to share content and to network. So, they are good at delivering the news but not necessarily coming up with news that people trust. The rise of trusted social media influencers, however, may change this.”

The decline in news consumption might also be a result of young Arabs using the internet primarily for other reasons.

“Arab youth are increasingly consuming media for different things: Entertainment, for example, and shopping,” said John.

In this year’s survey, 89 percent of respondents said they shop online a few times each month compared with only 50 percent in 2018.

Similarly, the number of young adults in Saudi Arabia who shop online has nearly doubled in the past five years. In 2018, 58 percent of people said they bought products and services via websites and social media apps at least once a month; this year virtually all the respondents said they shop digitally.

“This year’s research found a marked increase in the number of young adults saying they use websites and social media apps to shop for goods and services at least a few times a month,” said John. “And this trend is not only confined to the wealthier Gulf Cooperation Council countries.”

The 14th Annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey is based on face-to-face interviews and surveys conducted with men and women between the ages of 18 and 24 in 50 cities across 17 Arab states. Visit arabyouthsurvey.com for the full results.


Rights watchdog condemns arrest of Iranian photojournalist

Updated 21 September 2022

Rights watchdog condemns arrest of Iranian photojournalist

  • Reporter detained by security forces while covering anti-state protests in Tehran

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists has demanded the immediate release of Iranian photojournalist Yalda Moaiery, who was arrested by authorities while covering anti-state protests in Tehran.

“Iranian authorities must understand that they can’t hide the country’s nationwide anti-state protests by jailing journalists,” Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, said on Tuesday.

“Authorities must free photojournalist Yalda Moaiery immediately and unconditionally, and cease the practice of arbitrarily locking up members of the press at this critical moment for Iran,” he added.

Protests erupted across the country last week following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was detained by morality police after allegedly violating Iran’s compulsory hijab law.

Women took to the streets on Saturday to protest against police brutality and demand a relaxation of Islamic law under which women are required to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes.

Many also posted videos on social media of themselves chopping off their hair and setting their hijabs on fire.

According to exile-based Iranian human rights group Hengaw Organization for Human Rights, at least seven other people have been killed during the protests.
 

 

Moaiery was reportedly hit during her arrest and forced into a van with tens of other female protesters before being taken to Qarchak prison, a female-only detention facility in the city of Varamin, southeast of Tehran.

“In the event that anything happens to me (while in custody), it is the responsibility of the ruling system,” she wrote in an Instagram post.

Throughout her career, Moaiery has documented conflicts and natural disasters in parts of the world including Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon. Her photographs have been featured in international magazines and newspapers, such as Time, Newsweek, San Francisco Chronicle, Le Monde and El Pais.

In 2019, she gained notoriety when she spoke out against President Donald Trump after he used one of her photos to hit out at the Iranian regime.

This is not the first time Iranian women have come together to protest against being forced to wear the hijab. Last July, women shared photos and videos of their heads unveiled on Iran’s National Day of Hijab and Chastity.

In 2018, a Girls of Revolution Street’s protest, a movement started after a woman took off her headscarf in central Tehran, led to the arrest of 29 people.

According to media rights group Reporters Without Borders, Iran is one of the world’s 10 worst countries in terms of media freedom and ranks 178 out of 180 countries on the 2022 World Press Freedom Index.