Palestinians raise alarm over Facebook content ‘suppression’

A Palestinian journalist points at his restricted social media outlet Facebook account, at his office in the occupied-West Bank city of Hebron in November. (AFP)
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Updated 01 January 2022

Palestinians raise alarm over Facebook content ‘suppression’

  • Rinawi said her account had already been restricted after she shared footage of a November attack in Jerusalem
  • Facebook said it intervened because the posts violated the platform's standards

JERUSALEM: Palestinian journalists have raised the alarm over what they describe as unjust suppression of their content on Facebook, a claim backed by rights groups but rejected by the social media giant.
On December 4, Palestine TV correspondent Christine Rinawi posted a video on her Facebook account in which Israeli security forces were seen shooting a Palestinian on the ground, killing him. He had just carried out a knife attack on an Israeli civilian.
Shortly after she posted her video, Rinawi, who has nearly 400,000 followers, noticed it had been removed from her account.
This was not her first experience with Facebook’s enforcement, and Rinawi said her account had already been restricted after she shared footage of a November attack in Jerusalem.
In both cases, Facebook said it intervened because the posts violated the platform’s standards.
A spokesperson for Facebook’s parent company Meta said its policies “were designed to give everyone a voice while keeping them safe on our apps.”
“We apply these policies to everyone equally, regardless of who is posting.”
Allegations of pro-Israeli bias at Facebook have simmered for years and were renewed in October when Human Rights Watch, a vocal Israel critic, said the platform had “suppressed content posted by Palestinians and their supporters speaking out about human rights issues in Israel and Palestine.”
Palestinian reporters have cited multiple incidents they describe as censorship.
One popular online news outlet, Maydan Quds News, may even have to fire reporters after its main Facebook page with 1.2 million followers was deleted, a source who requested anonymity told AFP.
The Meta spokesperson told AFP it has “a dedicated team, which includes Arabic and Hebrew speakers, who are focused on keeping our community safe by making sure we’re removing harmful content.”
It also strives to address “any enforcement errors as quickly as possible so people can keep sharing what matters to them.”
In the midst of a bout of fighting in May between Israel and armed factions in the Gaza Strip — the worst in years — Facebook had acknowledged widescale deletion of Palestinian posts, ascribing it to a technical bug that it sought to fix.
According to Palestinian social media monitoring center Sada Social, 600 Palestinian accounts or pro-Palestinian Facebook posts were restricted or deleted in 2021, a record. The center helped launch a social media campaign called “Facebook Censors Jerusalem.”
Rama Youssef, a Jerusalem-based journalist who volunteered for the campaign, said Facebook hews to an Israeli point of view and has “double standards.”
The Arab Center Washington DC think-tank said the Israeli government also pushes to censor “tens of thousands of posts and accounts” that support a Palestinian point of view.
Meta did not answer AFP questions about requests from the Israeli government.
But the company denied accusations of bias, saying its community standards prohibit violence, terrorism, hate and large-scale criminal activity, as well as posts supporting those subjects.
Israeli officials have also accused various social media platforms, including Facebook, of failing to curb anti-Semitism.
In February, then-diaspora affairs minister Omer Yankelevich presented Facebook, Google, TikTok and Twitter with proposals to beef up the fight against anti-Semitism, saying it was “running rampant” online.
Media expert Iyad Al-Rifai of Sada Social said he regularly meets with Facebook representatives to ask for more transparency.
He said the site appeared to target the word “shahid,” Arabic for martyr, which Palestinians frequently use to describe people killed by Israeli forces, including those who carried out attacks.
Rifai told AFP that Facebook insisted it is bound by American standards which consider “attackers to be terrorists,” not martyrs to a political cause.
But he said censoring the term wholesale ignored the wider context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Meta did not respond to a question about its policies regarding the use of the word “shahid.”
But it said it reviews posts according to its own policies, as well as “local laws and international human rights standards.”
Rifai said he was concerned that deleting accounts might discourage Palestinians from “engaging with pivotal issues” for fear of losing “their digital history and presence.”
He said he obtained from Facebook “promises to improve the working mechanisms of the algorithms so as to differentiate between journalistic content and ordinary content,” but he feared they offered “temporary rather than radical solutions.”

Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together

Updated 2 min 29 sec ago

Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together

  • Social media full of praise for family duo from Kerala
  • They applied and prepared together for Public Service Commission exams

NEW DELHI: A mother and son from Kerala made national headlines and the rounds on social media in India on Wednesday after clearing civil service exams together.

Nedumkalathil Bindu, 42, and Vivek Ottupara, 24, from the Malappuram district in the southwestern Indian state, have studied together to take the Public Service Commission’s examination.

The mother’s test results for Last Grade Servants were announced in late July with the rank of 92, while her son for Lower Divisional Clerk came out last week with the rank of 38.  

For Bindu, who for the past 10 years has been involved in rural social work, it was a third attempt at the test. And the third time proved to be the charm.

“I have been trying to clear this exam since 2014,” she told Arab News over the phone from Malappuram.

The exam is conducted every three years. After failing twice, Bindu joined hands with her son, who had completed his degree in geography in 2019.

“I used to go to the Prateeksha coaching center in the Areekode area of Malappuram,” she said. “I also asked my son to join the coaching.”

Although both knew that they were well prepared to clear the tests, they were surprised when the news broke, going viral on social media.

“We are happy and tense because we are not able to handle this situation of constant attention,” Ottupara said. “We did not expect that the result would go viral.” It was the last chance for Bindu to try to join the civil service in Kerala, where the maximum age to apply is 40. She applied in 2019, a year before crossing the limit.

Social media posts under news headlines praised the duo for being an inspiration for Indian mothers and their children, and an “awesome example of willingness to achieve goals.”

Bindu was initially reluctant to give interviews but said that her coaching center told her the achievement will help motivate others.

“I keep on getting lots of calls from people,” she said. “I got a call from a coaching center in Calicut which said that because of me many women have joined the coaching. I feel that all the bother is worth it if I can inspire even one person.”

Israeli transport firm apologizes after Palestinians kicked off bus

Updated 22 min 8 sec ago

Israeli transport firm apologizes after Palestinians kicked off bus

  • 3 Jewish passengers refused to travel with Arabs
  • Company: Driver swayed by ‘racist manipulation’

LONDON: An Israeli public transport firm has issued an apology after a racist incident in which 50 Palestinian workers were removed from a bus following complaints from Jewish customers. 

The incident in Tel Aviv sparked controversy after reports that three Jewish passengers boarded in an ultra-Orthodox suburb of the city and refused to share the bus with Arabs. 

The bus firm, Tnufa, said one of the Jewish passengers conned the driver into believing that he was an official from the Transport Ministry, and threatened the driver.

Israelis and Palestinians use the bus to go to and from the West Bank, the BBC reported, adding that Israeli law prohibits segregated services.

Tnufa said the driver was inexperienced and had been swayed by “racist manipulation.” It added that one of the Jewish passengers falsely claimed that the Transport Ministry had ordered that Arabs needed to be kicked off the route.

“The new driver said he argued with the imposter, but he told him that he could lose his job or receive a large fine if he did not follow the instructions immediately,” Tnufa said.

“The company apologises to the passengers for the unfortunate incident,” Tnufa’s CEO Mikhael Kopilovsky said in a statement, adding that “many of our drivers and workers at the company are Arabs.”

Cricket federation to establish four regional associations across Saudi Arabia

Updated 10 August 2022

Cricket federation to establish four regional associations across Saudi Arabia

  • New centers will be in Jouf, Hail, Al-Hudud Ash Shamaliyah and Al-Baha

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation is set to establish four new regional associations to help promote the sport across the Kingdom.

The federation told Arab News on Wednesday that is has 15 official associations representing the sport in nine regions, but aims to establish new associations in the remaining four regions “to make sure that we have future cricket activities all around the Kingdom.”

The long-term aim is for Saudi Arabian cricket teams to compete professionally at regional and international competitions, with the national teams taking on world’s best.

In recent years, the SACF has introduced several competitions and programs to encourage the country’s youth to take up one of the world’s oldest and most popular sports.

In October 2021, it signed an agreement with sports management company JSW Sports to develop cricket in Saudi Arabia, focusing on high-performance academies.

The SACF was established in 2020 and lined up a series of major initiatives the following year, including a national cricket championship, a corporate cricket tournament, a cricket league for expatriate workers, and a social program in several cities.

The initiatives are part of a mission to promote healthy and active lifestyles under the Saudi Vision 2030’s Quality of Life scheme, with the SACF — supported by the Ministry of Sports and Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee — mandated to increase physical activity levels by 40 percent over the next decade.

In November, the SACF partnered with Saudi’s Sports For All Federation to launch the Kingdom’s first cricket talent-spotting program.


PETA welcomes Lahore Safari Zoo’s decision to cancel lion auction

Updated 10 August 2022

PETA welcomes Lahore Safari Zoo’s decision to cancel lion auction

  • Zoo officials had set a reserve of 150,000 Pakistan rupees ($700) per cat, about the same price as a cow
  • Keeping lions, tigers and other exotic wildlife as pets is not uncommon in Pakistan, seen as status symbol

ISLAMABAD: The global animal rights group PETA said on Wednesday it welcomed a decision by the Lahore Safari Zoo to call off plans to auction 12 lions from its ever-growing pride to private buyers, saying it would instead create new enclosures for the big cats.

The auction planned for Thursday had drawn condemnation from the WWF, which urged authorities to instead rehome them with other government wildlife facilities.

“PETA welcomes Lahore Safari Zoo’s decision to cancel its auction of big cats – who would have been sold off like mere objects, likely destined to exist as living trophies in someone’s house – and to build a larger enclosure instead,” Elisa Allen, Vice President of UK Programmes and Operations, PETA Foundation UK, said.

“However, as long as this zoo continues to breed wild animals into captivity, it’ll only be a matter of time before it’s again faced with the prospect of having too many animals and not enough space.”

PETA called on the zoo to end its captive-breeding program immediately and focus on protecting animals in their natural habitat “because all the cages in the world certainly won’t save animals from extinction.”

“The main reason behind the auction was the lack of space,” deputy director Tanvir Ahmed Janjua told AFP, adding officials had decided to speed up work building two new enclosures. “Now that this issue is to be resolved soon, there is no need for the auction to take place.”

Set over 200 acres, Lahore Safari Zoo is considered one of the best in the country, where zoos are known for disregarding animal welfare.

The Lahore facility is currently home to 29 lions, six resident tigers and two jaguars.

Zoo officials had set a reserve of 150,000 Pakistan rupees ($700) per cat, about the same price as a cow, but hoped each would fetch around two million rupees at auction.

Keeping lions, tigers and other exotic wildlife as pets is not uncommon in Pakistan, and is seen as a status symbol.

Wealthy owners post images and video clips of their big cats on social media, and rent them out as props for movies and photoshoots.

Janjua denied opposition from animal rights activists had led to the decision to cancel the auction.

“Should the lions breed more, and we see we are running out of space once again, then we can easily hold another auction,” he told media.

Kerning Cultures’ new podcast tells ‘forgotten tales’ from around the region

Updated 10 August 2022

Kerning Cultures’ new podcast tells ‘forgotten tales’ from around the region

  • Arabic-language show ‘Masafat’ aims to bridge ‘gap in media coverage,’ host says

DUBAI: Kerning Cultures Network has released a new show “Masafat” that aims to tell overlooked and forgotten stories spanning the Middle East region — from Jerusalem and Palestine to Egypt and Morocco.

Inspired by the network’s first English show “Kerning Cultures,” “Masafat” was launched because “we believe it’s important to have the same narrative style podcast in Arabic, telling stories in our native language — especially stories that are often overlooked or even forgotten,” Heba Afify, managing editor for Arabic content, told Arab News.

The show’s 13 episodes explore various topics, such as women in mahraganat (a popular form of street music in Egypt), Al-Quds Radio and how it contributed to the cultural and art scene in Palestine, block painting in Syria and reclaiming public spaces in Lebanon.

Afify, who also hosts the show, said: “There’s a gap in the media coverage when it comes to representation of what life looks like in our region, away from the politics and the sensational takes that often constitute the majority of media attention the region receives.”

She said the company was keen on “producing every episode with the perspective and knowledge of a local producer who knows the place and topic inside and out. So besides our diverse team, we collaborated with freelance producers from the countries that we cover in each episode.”

Although podcasts are a relatively new medium, they have grown in popularity with 67 percent of listeners in Saudi Arabia tuning in at least once a week, according to a 2021 report by Rising Giants Network.

“‘Masafat’ is built on the understanding that podcasts as a medium offer a safe space for stories that often don’t get featured or picked up by mainstream media,” said the network’s marketing director, Bella Ibrahim.

“Podcasts especially resonate with younger listeners that don’t feel seen or represented in mainstream media,” she added, with more than half of podcast listeners aged under 22, according to Mohtwize’s latest report.

The goal of “Masafat” is not only to tell overlooked stories but also to shine a light on the true nature of the region by exploring the “lost pieces of our history, the complex realities behind flashy headlines, inspirational journeys and the multifaceted unique realities of living in each corner of this region,” Afify said.

“Such nuanced coverage of our region grounded in deep knowledge and experience and an authentic and sympathetic approach is very much lacking and is crucial in correcting misrepresentation and giving our stories a place to be told.”