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)
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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.”

‘Sending Aya Back’ — a heart-wrenching documentary about a Syrian refugee in Denmark 

Updated 28 sec ago

‘Sending Aya Back’ — a heart-wrenching documentary about a Syrian refugee in Denmark 

LONDON: UK newspaper The Guardian released a documentary film on Friday that tells the story of Aya Abu-Daher, a 19-year-old Syrian refugee in Denmark whose residence permit was revoked, leaving her facing deportation. 

“Sending Aya Back,” directed by Michael Graversen, follows Abu-Daher’s journey to Denmark and the events that unfolded after she received her deportation notice from the Danish government. 

The film is divided into nine chapters detailing some of the most notable moments in Abu-Daher’s life, including her high-school graduation, some of her TV interviews, and her appeal against the decision to revoke her residence permit. 

Abu-Daher arrived in Denmark in 2015 with her family after fleeing Syria’s Civil War. She enrolled in school and became fluent in Danish. She worked in restaurants every summer to earn enough money to support herself financially. 

Abu-Daher’s appeal process was, eventually, successful and her residency was extended for an additional two years on the grounds that her public profile would put her at risk of reprisal from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

However, Abu-Daher believes that her asylum was granted mainly as a result of the widespread media coverage her case received. 

In Denmark’s last election, in 2019, the victorious Social Democrats, headed by Mette Frederiksen, adopted a restrictive line on immigration. Since then, 189 Syrians have had their residence permits revoked after Copenhagen decided to re-examine the cases of around 500 people from Damascus.

Following the decision to revoke residence permits for Syrian refugees, Denmark faced heavy criticism from the international community for its tough stance. The country now has one of the most restrictive immigration policies in Europe.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine three months ago exposed Europe’s double standards when it comes to refugees. The vast majority of European countries welcomed Ukrainian refugees with open arms — or, at least, open borders — in stark contrast to the prevailing attitudes of European governments towards migrants from outside of Europe.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Poland has taken in more than 3.3 million refugees from Ukraine since late February, with more than 900,000 refugees going to Romania, around 600,000 to Hungary, 460,000 to Moldova and 420,000 to Slovakia. 

Migrants and refugees from elsewhere trying to enter Europe, however, are still struggling to access essential services, often face discrimination and abuse, and, for many, attempts to seek sanctuary in Europe prove fatal. More than 23,000 migrants have died or disappeared since 2014 trying to reach Europe by sea, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Media outlets in the West have also faced criticism for double standards in their coverage of Ukrainian refugees. 

During an interview on the BBC, the former Ukrainian deputy chief prosecutor David Sakvarelidze said the war was “very emotional for me, because I see European people with blue eyes and blond hair being killed.”

On Al-Jazeera English, presenter Peter Dobbie made various inappropriate comments describing Ukrainians fleeing the war as “prosperous, middle-class people” who “are not obviously refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war.”

Woman claims her avatar was sexually assaulted in the metaverse

Updated 27 May 2022

Woman claims her avatar was sexually assaulted in the metaverse

  • SumOfUs director Vicky Wyatt said that while the attack did not take place in real life, “it still counts, it still has a real impact on users”  
  • Wyatt said that Meta needs to act now to deal with issues as it is not the first time Horizon Worlds accused of virtual harassment 

LONDON: A 21-year-old researcher with corporate accountability campaign group SumOfUs claimed on Thursday that her avatar was sexually assaulted in Meta’s virtual reality platform Horizon Worlds. 

In the footage, the woman’s avatar is seen in a virtual room in Horizon Worlds with two male avatars. One of the avatars is watching while the other appears very close to the woman. Both of the male avatars are seen making sexual comments.

SumOfUs director Vicky Wyatt said that while the attack did not take place in real life, “it still counts, it still has a real impact on users.”  

The group claims that the researcher also witnessed homophobic slurs and virtual gun violence.

Wyatt said that Meta needs to act now to deal with issues.



“Rather than Facebook rushing headlong into building this metaverse, we’re saying look, you need to stop and look at all the harms that are happening on your platforms right now that you can’t even deal with. Let’s not repeat and replicate those in the metaverse. We need a better plan here on how to mitigate online harms in the metaverse.”

This is not the first time Meta’s Horizon Worlds has been subject to allegations of virtual harassment and sexual assault. 

In February, a psychotherapist spoke out about her experience of being “virtually gang raped” in Facebook’s metaverse, citing that the technological advancement of the simulation made it feel like it had happened in real life.

The metaverse researcher said that she was left “shocked” after three or four avatars attacked her moments after she stepped into the virtual world.

Following the incident, Meta added more safety features to prevent similar attacks, such as “Personal Boundary,” which stops users from imposing on each other’s personal space and is activated by default.


Palestinians: Israel deliberately killed Al Jazeera reporter

Updated 26 May 2022

Palestinians: Israel deliberately killed Al Jazeera reporter

  • The findings echoed the results of a preliminary investigation announced nearly two weeks ago and were widely expected
  • Witnesses and Palestinian officials have said she was hit by Israeli fire

RAMALLAH, West Bank: The Palestinian Authority on Thursday announced the results of its investigation into the shooting death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, saying it had proven she was deliberately killed by Israeli forces as she tried to flee.
The findings echoed the results of a preliminary investigation announced nearly two weeks ago and were widely expected. Israel is likely to reject the report as biased and unfounded.
Abu Akleh, a veteran Palestinian-American reporter for Al Jazeera’s Arabic service, was shot in the head on May 11 during an Israeli military raid in the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank.
Witnesses and Palestinian officials have said she was hit by Israeli fire. Israel says she was shot during a battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants. It says that only a ballistic analysis of the bullet — which is held by the Palestinian Authority — and the soldiers’ guns can determine who fired the fatal shot.
Announcing the results of his probe at a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah,, Palestinian Attorney General Akram Al Khateeb said he had determined there were no militants in the immediate area where Abu Akleh was located.
“The only shooting was by the occupation forces, with the aim of killing,” he said.
Abu Akleh was in a group of journalists wearing helmets and protective vests marked “press.” He said the army saw the journalists and knew they were journalists.
He accused Israel of shooting her “directly and deliberately” as she tried to escape. He also repeated the Palestinian position that the bullet will not be handed over to the Israelis for study. He said they decided not even to show images of the bullet “to deprive them of a new lie.”
Al Khateeb said his investigation was based on interviews with witnesses, an inspection of the scene and a forensic medical report.
There was no immediate response from Israel.
Israel denies targeting journalists and has offered two possible scenarios, saying she was either shot by Palestinian militants who were firing recklessly at an Israeli army convoy or that she was hit by Israeli gunfire aimed at a nearby militant. The military has identified the rifle that may have been used in that scenario, but says it needs to test the bullet to make any final determination.
An AP reconstruction of events has lent support to eyewitnesses who say she was shot by Israeli troops. But the reconstruction said it was impossible to reach a conclusive finding without further forensic analysis.
Palestinian witnesses say there were no militants or clashes anywhere near her. The only known militants in the area were on the other side of the convoy, some 300 meters (yards) from her position. They did not have a direct line of sight, unlike the convoy itself, which was some 200 (meters) away on a long straight road.
Israel has publicly called for a joint investigation with the PA, with US participation, and has asked the PA to hand over the bullet for testing. But the State Department said Wednesday that it had received no formal request for assistance from either side two weeks after her death.
The PA has refused to hand over the bullet to Israel or cooperate with it in any way, saying Israel cannot be trusted to investigate its own conduct. Rights groups say Israel has a poor record of investigating when security forces shoot Palestinians, with cases often languishing for months or years before being quietly closed.
The PA administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Hussein Al Sheikh, a top Palestinian official, said Thursday’s report would be shared with the US administration. Copies will also be delivered to her family and to Al Jazeera, he said.
The Palestinians say they will share their results with international parties, including the International Criminal Court, which launched an investigation into possible Israeli war crimes last year. Israel has rejected that probe as being biased against it and is not cooperating with it.
The severe distrust means the Israeli and Palestinian investigations into Abu Akleh’s death are unfolding separately, with neither likely to accept any conclusions reached by the other.
Each side is in sole possession of potentially crucial evidence. Ballistic analysis could match the bullet to a specific firearm based on a microscopic signature, but only if investigators have access to both. Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, a military spokesman, told the AP the military has additional footage from that day, but declined to say what it shows or when it would be released, citing the ongoing investigation.
Palestinians are still mourning Abu Akleh, a widely known and respected on-air correspondent who rose to fame two decades ago, during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israeli rule. The 51-year-old documented the harsh realities of life under Israeli military rule — now well into its sixth decade with no end in sight — for viewers across the Arab world.
Jenin has long been a bastion of Palestinian militants, and several recent attacks inside Israel have been carried out by young men from in and around the town. Israel has continued to carry out near-daily raids in Jenin since Abu Akleh’s death, which it says are aimed at preventing more.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war and has built settlements where nearly 500,000 Israelis live alongside nearly 3 million Palestinians. The Palestinians want the territory to form the main part of their future state, but peace talks broke down more than a decade ago, and Israel’s dominant right-wing parties are opposed to Palestinian statehood.
The PA itself is seen by many Palestinians as a corrupt and authoritarian body that aids the occupation by coordinating with Israel on security matters. Any cooperation with Israel on the Abu Akleh investigation would likely spark a popular backlash among Palestinians, who view her as a martyr to both journalism and their national cause.


Protect role of ethics in AI future, UAE minister tells Davos

Updated 25 May 2022

Protect role of ethics in AI future, UAE minister tells Davos

  • As a leading country in artificial intelligence, the UAE is working on integrating AI in all sectors of the economy and society

LONDON: The future of the artificial intelligence sector could be threatened by ignorance in decision-making processes, the UAE minister for AI, digital economy and remote work applications has said.

Speaking at a panel session titled “Responsible AI for Societal Gains” at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday, Omar Sultan Al-Olama said: “We (in the UAE) have signed a strategic agreement with the University of Oxford to send government officials, CTOs and directors to school for an eight-month course to understand what the ethics of AI are, understand good uses of AI and the value of AI.”

He added: “People who are going to be pressing the button on whether to deploy AI or not are people who usually have no idea what ethics mean, what the repercussions are and what the long term implications of these technologies are.”

The session was moderated by Kriss Deiglmeier, chief social impact officer at Splunk.

As a leading country in artificial intelligence, the UAE is working on integrating AI in all sectors of the economy and society.

Al-Olama gave the example of the UAE’s successful vaccine rollout to show how the proper use of AI could produce positive results.

He said that in order to develop AI solutions to problems and improve quality of life, technology should be deployed more often in government “to tailor the government service and make it more proactive rather than reactive.”

Al-Olama stressed the need to form an incentive alignment between all governments to solve problems. “Let’s align the incentives. If we do that, we’re going to have people looking at actual AI solutions that change the world for everyone.”

The panel also featured global AI experts, including Stuart Russell, professor of computer science in UC Berkeley; Joanna Shields, CEO of BenevolentAI; and Vilas Dhar, president and trustee of the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation.


Sky News Arabia launches new Arabic-language digital platform

Updated 24 May 2022

Sky News Arabia launches new Arabic-language digital platform

  • SNABusiness.com will cover business and economic news and analysis

ABU DHABI: Sky News Arabia has launched a new Arabic-language digital platform SNABusiness.com, featuring breaking news, economic analysis and in-depth reporting.

The launch of the platform is in response to “consumer demand for objective and actionable economic intelligence and insights,” according to a company statement.

Youssef Tsouri, head of news at Sky News Arabia told Arab News that the new platform was created in response to “the increased appetite for business news”.

He said: “Over the past few years we have seen a significant increase in the consumption of the business news section of our main website, particularly in the younger Arab generation that is invested in their future and therefore looking for deeper and more relevant information.” 

“With this in mind, we launched the dedicated business platform to provide more depth of coverage to offer both, business leaders and the general public, added value around the current economic landscape,” he added.

The digital publication will cover all topics relating to business and economy across industries including financial technology, energy and oil, tourism, real estate, agriculture and other sectors.

SNABusiness.com will offer more comprehensive news and features tailored to current market trends and audience demands, Tsouri explained.

The website’s content will include diverse content types including reports, videos and exclusive interviews. SNABusiness.com aims to present complex data in an easy-to-understand manner through charts, infographics and digital videos.

“Thanks to a young and digital-savvy population, the Arab world is one of the most advanced digital economies globally, with many Middle Eastern countries being the early adopters of cutting-edge digital technologies,” said Tsouri. 

He added: “The dedicated business website and social handles are complemented by our dedicated business segments and programs on our linear channel.”