Hong Kong government denounces ‘biased reporting’ by the Economist

The British magazine published an editorial on Jan. 8 headlined “Pliant patriots” with a subheadline that said “Hong Kong’s new legislature has been sworn in. It is a mockery of democracy.” (File/AFP)
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Updated 12 January 2022

Hong Kong government denounces ‘biased reporting’ by the Economist

HONG KONG: The Hong Kong government has criticized the Economist magazine over an article about the city’s recent Legislative Council election, saying it is “appalled by the biased reporting” and “baseless accusation that the polls were rigged.”
Candidates in the Dec. 19 city assembly election were vetted so only “patriots” could stand. Pro-Beijing candidates swept to victory though turnout was a record low for a vote that came some 18 months after Beijing cracked down on a pro-democracy movement in the city with a new national security law.
Critics described the election as undemocratic but authorities in the former British colony have repeatedly said it was “conducted in an open, fair and honest manner.”
Hong Kong’s second most senior official, John Lee, denounced what he said was a serious but baseless accusation by the Economist that the poll was rigged.
“If anything was ‘rigged’, it was the deliberately distorted image of Hong Kong that has been manipulated from the dark side of one’s personal internal bias,” Lee said in a letter dated Jan. 11 and posted on a city government website.
The Economist did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The British magazine published an editorial on Jan. 8 headlined “Pliant patriots” with a subheadline that said “Hong Kong’s new legislature has been sworn in. It is a mockery of democracy.”
Beijing imposed the national security in mid-2020 after months of at times violent pro-democracy protests.
Since then, more than 150 democracy activists, newspaper editors and journalists have been arrested and the clampdown on one of Asia’s most vibrant media hubs has sent a chill through the global financial center.
Critics of the legislation say it is being used to crush dissent but Hong Kong and Beijing authorities reject that.
Hong Kong authorities also deny targeting the media.
Authorities have also criticized recent commentaries by the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg regarding the election.
In November, the Economist said Hong Kong had declined to renew the visa of one of its journalists and urged the city to maintain foreign media access.
The government and immigration department said at the time they could not comment on individual cases.
When Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it was with the promise that wide-ranging individual rights, including a free press, would be protected. Pro-democracy activists and rights groups say freedoms have been eroded, in particular since Beijing imposed the national security law.


TikTok plans big push into gaming, conducting tests in Vietnam

Updated 19 May 2022

TikTok plans big push into gaming, conducting tests in Vietnam

HONG KONG/HANOI: TikTok has been conducting tests so users can play games on its video-sharing app in Vietnam, part of plans for a major push into gaming, four people familiar with the matter said.
Featuring games on its platform would boost advertising revenue as well as the amount of time users spend on the app - one of the world's most popular with more than 1 billion monthly active users.
Boasting a tech-savvy population with 70% of its citizens under the age of 35, Vietnam is an attractive market for social media platforms such as TikTok, Meta Platforms Inc's Facebook and Alphabet Inc's YouTube and Google.
TikTok, which is owned by China's ByteDance, also plans to roll out gaming more widely in Southeast Asia, the people said. That move could come as early as the third quarter, said two of them.
The sources declined to be identified as the information has yet to be publicly disclosed.
A TikTok representative said the company has tested bringing HTML5 games, a common form of minigame, to its app through tie-ups with third-party game developers and studios such as Zynga Inc. But it declined to comment on its plans for Vietnam or its broader gaming ambitions.
"We're always looking at ways to enrich our platform and regularly test new features and integrations that bring value to our community," the representative said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
ByteDance did not respond to a request for comment.
Reuters was not able to learn TikTok's plans for rolling out gaming features in other markets. Although TikTok users can watch games being streamed, in most regions they are not able to play games within the TikTok app.
In the United States, only a few games appear to have been launched including Zynga's "Disco Loco 3D", a music and dance challenge game and "Garden of Good", where players grow vegetables to trigger donations by TikTok to the non-profit Feeding America.
According to two sources, TikTok plans to draw primarily on ByteDance's suite of games.
While the company will start with minigames, which tend to have simple game play mechanisms and a short playing time, its gaming ambitions extend beyond that, said one of the people who had direct knowledge of the matter.
TikTok will require a licence to feature games on its platform in Vietnam where authorities restrict games depicting gambling, violence, and sexual content. The process is expected to go smoothly as the games planned are not controversial, the person said.
Vietnam's foreign and communications ministries did not respond to requests for comment.
Users of ByteDance's Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, have been able to play games on the platform since 2019.
TikTok's games are likely to carry advertisements from the start, with revenue split between ByteDance and game developers, a separate source said.
TikTok's foray into games mirrors similar efforts made by major tech firms seeking to retain users. Facebook launched Instant Games in 2016 and streaming firm Netflix also recently added games to its platform.
It also marks the latest ByteDance effort to establish itself as a major contender in gaming. It acquired Shanghai-based gaming studio Moonton Technology last year, putting it in direct competition with Tencent, China's biggest gaming firm.
Even without gaming, TikTok has seen advertising revenue surge. Its advertising revenue is likely to triple this year to more than $11 billion, exceeding the combined sales of Twitter Inc and Snap Inc, according to research firm Insider Intelligence.

Three more senior executives quit Twitter amid fallout from $44bn Musk deal

Updated 18 May 2022

Three more senior executives quit Twitter amid fallout from $44bn Musk deal

  • Tesla magnate says agreement ‘on hold’ after spat with CEO Parag Agrawal over possible fake accounts
  • Up to 20 percent of platform’s 229m accounts could be spam bots, Musk claims

LONDON: Three top executives quit Twitter on Wednesday as questions continue to swirl around Tesla magnate Elon Musk’s deal to buy the platform.

The departure of Ilya Brown, vice president of product management; Katrina Lane,  vice president of Twitter Service, and Max Schmeiser, head of data science, comes shortly after Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal fired two top executives, Kayvon Beykpour, the company’s general manager, and Bruce Falck, head of revenue.

“We are thankful for all of their hard work and leadership,” a Twitter spokesperson commented following the latest departures. “We continue to be focused on providing the very best experience to the people on Twitter.”

Earlier this month, Musk said that a potential mass resignation of Twitter employees is “fine” following his deal to buy the social media company.

“It’s a free country,” Musk said at the Met Gala. “Certainly if anyone doesn’t feel comfortable with that, they will on their own accord go somewhere else. That’s fine.”

The Tesla CEO agreed on a $44 billion deal to buy Twitter in April, but last week said the agreement was “on hold” while he sought clarification about possible fake accounts.

Twitter CEO Agrawal said that internal estimates of spam accounts for the past four quarters were “well under 5 percent,” but has refused to explain how the figure was reached.

“We don’t believe this specific estimation can be performed externally, given the critical need to use both public and private information (which we can’t share),” he said.

On Tuesday, however, Musk said that Agrawal had “publicly refused to show proof” that less than 5 percent of Twitter’s accounts were fake, and said the deal “cannot move forward” until evidence is provided.

Musk suggested that up to 20 percent of the platform’s 229 million accounts could be spam bots.


Fake news or free expression: Top CEO Conference panel examines the hazards of digital media age

Updated 19 May 2022

Fake news or free expression: Top CEO Conference panel examines the hazards of digital media age

  • Top CEO Conference panel explores the case for digital media regulation to fight misinformation 
  • Examples of truth-telling and conspiracy theories show social media can be a double-edged sword

DUBAI: Fake news, a term popularized by former US President Donald Trump to berate sections of the media, is viewed by many in civil society and the business community as one of the most harmful phenomena of the digital age.

There are several recent examples of misinformation, or indeed deliberate disinformation, published online and then amplified by social media, having real-world consequences, from stirring up ethnic tensions to undermining public health initiatives. 

Take, for instance, the case of Edgar Welch, a 28-year-old father of two from Salisbury, North Carolina, who in December 2016 read an article online about an alleged elite pedophile ring operating out of a pizzeria in Washington D.C.

“Pizzagate,” as it became known, was a far-right conspiracy theory, which sought to connect several high-ranking Democratic Party officials with an alleged human trafficking and child sex ring linked to a restaurant named Comet Ping Pong.

After reading the article, Welch picked up a gun and drove the full six hours from his home to Washington D.C. where he opened fire on the restaurant. No one was injured in the attack, and the allegations have since been thoroughly debunked. 

Compare this example with the footage that emerged on May 13 of Israeli security forces attacking Palestinian pallbearers carrying the coffin of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead two days earlier. 

Thanks to video captured by witnesses on their smartphones and shared on social media, the whole world was able to bear witness to this shocking incident instantaneously, spurring world leaders to condemn the funeral assault.  

During a panel discussion at the Top CEO Conference in Dubai on May 17, both of these incidents were raised as examples of the tremendous power of social media as a means, on the one hand, of spreading misinformation, and, on the other, of exposing the truth. 

It is because of the positive traits of social media as a weapon of truth that media outlets and civil society are cautious about onerous government regulation of these platforms, which might undermine freedom of expression.

“Nobody is against freedom, but we should also be against chaos,” Faisal J. Abbas, the editor-in-chief of Arab News, told Tuesday’s panel. 

“We are talking about billions of people, billions of posts, it is physically impossible to monitor everything and by the time they get to it, the damage would most probably have been done.  

“If you remember from 2016 the fake story which was spreading on Facebook and other platforms about the pizzeria that had a child abuse ring, and somebody took a gun and went and shot up the place.

“The story got more views than the rebuttals. The more crazy the news, the more content it creates, the more websites like Facebook get traction,” Abbas said. 

“There is no end to fake news but we must continue to battle it.”  

Indeed, the digital transformation, which has revolutionized the sharing of information in just a matter of years, has left regulators and companies fighting to keep up with some of its more damaging manifestations.

Hussein Freijeh, general manager of Snap Inc. MENA, who also participated in Tuesday’s panel, said that the efforts of governments to regulate online platforms should not “take away the responsibility of the tech platforms” to tackle fake news.

“When we talk about regulations, there is a component of thoughtful regulation with the government, and we want to engage in that, and help the government to come up with what that means,” Freijeh told Arab News on the sidelines of Tuesday’s forum. 

“Then there is self-regulation, or platform regulation. And this is our responsibility and how we deal with product design, and how to do the policy to control that. 

“And then (there is) self-responsibility from (content) creators and the community, and that is an educational process. It requires a lot of technology to allow self-regulation, and it is a process that we have to commit to.” 

While fake news was in no way created by social media, the sheer speed and accessibility these networks provide means that harmful and malicious behavior now has a greater reach than ever before. 

“Social media gave people freedom,” Khaled Janahi, chairman of Vision 3, told Tuesday’s panel. But, he warned, people need to use it correctly.  

In separate comments to Arab News, Thomas Hughes, executive director of Meta’s oversight board, said that social media companies have a role to play in combating fake news. 

“Content moderation policies have to be crafted in a way that reflects the kinds of standards we want to set globally,” he said. 

“As the (oversight) board cannot hear every appeal, when we select cases, we are thinking about what kind of precedent our decision might create, and we prioritize cases that have the potential to affect lots of users around the world, are of critical importance to public discourse or raise important questions about Meta’s policies.” 

He added that the Oversight Board for Meta — formerly known as Facebook — has already issued more than 100 recommendations and that Meta has committed to implementing the majority of them. 

But conflicts like those raging in Ukraine and Ethiopia, according to Hughes, add fuel to the fire of fake news. 

Conflict and instability “unfortunately, go hand in hand with rises in mis- and disinformation — although this issue is very much global,” he told Arab News.

Journalists can play a key role in tackling fake news, according to Hughes, which is why many of Meta’s board members have worked in the traditional media in the past. 

“They feel passionately about these issues and about ensuring that more is done to protect journalists and free speech, while also working to protect people from harm.”


Russia not planning to block YouTube, says digital development minister

Updated 17 May 2022

Russia not planning to block YouTube, says digital development minister

  • Russia has blocked other foreign social media platforms
  • Moscow restricted access to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in early March

Russia is not planning to block Alphabet Inc’s YouTube, the minister for digital development said on Tuesday, acknowledging that such a move would likely see Russian users suffer and should therefore be avoided.
Russia has blocked other foreign social media platforms, but despite months of fines and threats against YouTube for failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal and for restricting access to some Russian media, it has stopped short of delivering a killer blow to the video-hosting service.
With around 90 million monthly users in Russia, YouTube is extremely popular and plays an important role in the digital economy. Though Russia has domestic versions of other social media, a viable YouTube alternative on that scale is yet to emerge.
“We are not planning to close YouTube,” Maksut Shadaev, who is also minister of communications and mass media, told an educational forum. “Above all, when we restrict something, we should clearly understand that our users won’t suffer.”
Competition is the engine of progress and blocking is an extreme measure, he told a vast auditorium of mostly young Russians, some scattered around the room on bean bags.
Alphabet’s Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Simmering tensions between Moscow and Big Tech erupted into a full-on information battle after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Russia restricted access to Twitter and Meta Platform’s Facebook and Instagram in early March. It vowed in April to punish Google for shutting out Russian state-funded media globally on YouTube, accusing it of spreading fakes about what Russia calls its special military operation in Ukraine.


Elon Musk says Twitter purchase will not go ahead without clarity on spam accounts

Updated 17 May 2022

Elon Musk says Twitter purchase will not go ahead without clarity on spam accounts

  • ‘Yesterday, Twitter’s CEO publicly refused to show proof of <5 percent. This deal cannot move forward until he does’

NEW YORK: Billionaire Elon Musk said Tuesday that his purchase of Twitter would not go ahead unless he was assured that fewer than five percent of accounts on the platform were fake.
“Yesterday, Twitter’s CEO publicly refused to show proof of <5 percent,” tweeted Musk, who has almost 94 million followers on the social network.
“This deal cannot move forward until he does.”