Last apps standing? Telegram, WhatsApp duck Russia bans

WhatsApp’s use for one-on-one or group chats make it less of a target for Russian authorities for now. (AFP)
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Updated 19 March 2022

Last apps standing? Telegram, WhatsApp duck Russia bans

  • Meta-owned WhatsApp is less suited for mass communication
  • An average of 2.5 million new users joined Telegram daily in the last three weeks

WASHINGTON: Chat platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram have avoided being blocked by Russia — unlike some of the world’s biggest social networks — in a tenuous tolerance that experts warn could end suddenly.
Years of tension between Moscow and US-based Facebook and Twitter erupted into confrontation after the invasion of Ukraine, with the platforms targeting state-tied media and then finding themselves restricted in Russia.
YouTube, which has barred channels linked to Russian state media globally, was on Friday also facing a direct threat of being blocked after Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, accused the site’s owner Google of being “anti-Russian.”
Messaging apps, however, have gotten a pass so far in part because Meta-owned WhatsApp is less suited for mass communication, while Telegram’s ability to blast information to large groups has made it useful both for independent media and the Kremlin.
“I think it’s unlikely Russia will ban Telegram because they are so short on platforms where they can operate,” said Sergey Sanovich, a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University, who noted that authorities in 2020 aborted efforts to block the service.
Telegram, criticized as having a lax content policing policy, offers a forum for Russian authorities to promote narratives friendly to their internationally condemned war.
Russia still operates accounts on platforms like Facebook, despite blocking the service at home, but this week the Silicon Valley giant took down posts from Moscow’s pages that contained misinformation about its deadly offensive.
Telegram has become an essential exchange for news on the war, with its growth accelerating after the Kremlin’s latest crackdown on independent media and the lock-out of apps like Facebook and Instagram.
An average of 2.5 million new users joined Telegram daily in the last three weeks, the firm said, about a 25 percent jump from the weeks prior.
But experts highlighted a risk to Telegram and its users due to a lack of default, end-to-end encryption that potentially leaves the company susceptible to government pressure to turn over information.
Alp Toker, director of web monitoring group NetBlocks, noted WhatsApp has put in place firestops that offer insulation against that sort of pressure.
“By improving their security and adopting end-to-end encryption technology, they have essentially protected their own platform from legal risk and potential demands for content access requests,” Toker added.
WhatsApp’s use for one-on-one or group chats make it less of a target for Russian authorities for now, but that could change if it became known as a key platform for protests against the war.
“Primarily, Roskomnadzor has been very concerned about channels and news and ways of disseminating information to large numbers of people, which WhatsApp and such are less good for,” said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at Electronic Frontier Foundation.
But Toker noted that the question hasn’t reached a critical point yet for authorities, partly because it was social media platforms, many of them now blocked, that had played a key role in organizing.
“As those (platforms) disappear, the dynamics could change and messaging apps could become the next target,” he added.
WhatsApp was one of the most popular apps in Russia in 2021, with some 67 million users or about 65 percent of Internet users in the country — far ahead of TikTok, Russian social media platform VK, and even Telegram, according to data from eMarketer.
But YouTube, with 76 million viewers in 2021, drew more Russians than any of the above platforms, the data showed.
Its popularity was due in part to the access it offers to entertainment for everyday Russians, who in turn provided an audience for politicians and the government seeking their attention.
Sanovich, the Princeton researcher, said the platform had simply gotten on the wrong side of authorities.
“They have a hard time controlling YouTube in terms of censorship and YouTube’s recent moves made it less valuable as a venue for foreign propaganda,” he noted.
The lack of a sufficiently high-quality homegrown alternative has also been a complicating factor for the government in deciding what to do with YouTube.
Toker, the NetBlocks director, cautioned that the blocking of YouTube would mean confronting Google, with its suite of services like Gmail.
“Declaring war on YouTube effectively means declaring war on the rest of the company,” he noted. “Google is a major force in business and a significant connection to the outside world.”


Apple and Amazon resume advertising on Twitter — reports

Updated 05 December 2022

Apple and Amazon resume advertising on Twitter — reports

Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. are planning to resume advertising on Twitter, according to media reports on Saturday.
The developments follow an email sent by Twitter on Thursday to advertising agencies offering advertisers incentives to increase their spending on the platform, an effort to jump-start its business after Elon Musk’s takeover prompted many companies to pull back.
Twitter billed the offer as the “biggest advertiser incentive ever on Twitter,” according to the email reviewed by Reuters. US advertisers who book $500,000 in incremental spending will qualify to have their spending matched with a “100 percent value add,” up to a $1 million cap, the email said.
On Saturday, a Platformer News reporter tweeted that Amazon is planning to resume advertising on Twitter at about $100 million a year, pending some security tweaks to the company’s ads platform.
However, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters that Amazon had never stopped advertising on Twitter.
Separately, during a Twitter Spaces conversation, Musk announced that Apple is the largest advertiser on Twitter and has “fully resumed” advertising on the platform, according to a Bloomberg report.
Musk’s first month as Twitter’s owner has included a slashing of staff including employees who work on content moderation and incidents of spammers impersonating major public companies, which has spooked the advertising industry.
Many companies from General Mills Inc. to luxury automaker Audi of America stopped or paused advertising on Twitter since the acquisition, and Musk said in November that the company had seen a “massive” drop in revenue.
Apple and Twitter did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment on the matter.

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Twitter suspends Kanye’s account again on violating rules

Updated 03 December 2022

Twitter suspends Kanye’s account again on violating rules

  • Twitter owner Elon Musk had welcomed the return of the rapper, now known as Ye, to the platform in October

DUBAI: Twitter Inc. on Friday suspended Kanye West’s account again, just two months after it was reinstated, after its owner Elon Musk said he had violated the platform’s rules prohibiting incitement to violence.
Musk, who calls himself a free speech absolutist, had welcomed the return of the rapper, now known as Ye, to the platform in October.
“I tried my best. Despite that, he again violated our rule against incitement to violence. Account will be suspended,” Musk tweeted late on Thursday.
West’s account was suspended within an hour of Musk’s post, made in a reply to a Twitter user who had said “Elon Fix Kanye Please.” Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Before suspending Ye’s account, which had over 30 million followers, Twitter had restricted one of his tweets. Reuters could not independently verify the contents of the post.
The social media platform restored the rapper’s account before the completion of its $44 billion takeover by Musk. Musk later clarified that he had had no role in bringing Ye back on Twitter.
Ye on Thursday tweeted a photo of Hollywood mogul Ari Emanuel spraying water at the back of Musk’s head with a hose. He captioned the picture “Let’s always remember this as my final tweet #ye24,” before the account was suspended.
Musk responded that Ye’s account was suspended for incitement to violence, and not for posting “an unflattering pic of me being hosed by Ari.”
In November, Twitter reinstated some controversial accounts that had been banned or suspended, including satirical website Babylon Bee and comedian Kathy Griffin.
Musk also decided to reinstate former US President Donald Trump’s account after a majority of Twitter users voted in favor in a poll to bring back Trump.

 

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Social app Parler says sale to Kanye West called off

Updated 02 December 2022

Social app Parler says sale to Kanye West called off

  • Owners said the decision was made “in the interest of both parties in mid-November.”

NEW YORK: Social network Parler announced Thursday that its planned sale to Kanye West has been called off, as the rapper-businessman now known as Ye continues to alienate fans and commercial partners with anti-Semitic comments.
“Parlement Technologies would like to confirm that the company has mutually agreed with Ye to terminate the intent of sale of Parler,” the network — seen as a home for online extremist rhetoric — said in a tweet.
It said the decision was made “in the interest of both parties in mid-November.”
Parler had announced a deal for West to buy the platform popular with conservatives in mid-October — just over a week after the rapper’s Twitter and Instagram accounts were restricted over anti-Semitic posts he made.
But the rapper, who has spoken openly about his struggles with mental illness, has seen his business relationships crumble in recent weeks as his erratic behavior and extreme speech continue to raise concerns.
In perhaps his most provocative outburst to date, West on Thursday declared his “love” of Nazis and admiration for Adolf Hitler during a rambling livestream with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
The 45-year-old’s restrictions on Twitter and Instagram last month were not the first time his posts prompted punitive action from major social media platforms.
Earlier this year, West was banned from posting on Instagram for 24 hours after violating the social network’s harassment policy amid his acrimonious divorce from reality star Kim Kardashian.
Launched in 2018, Parler became a haven for Donald Trump supporters and far-right users who say they have been censored on mainstream social media platforms. It has since signed up many more traditional Republican voices.
Parler was temporarily removed from Apple and Google app stores last year for failing to moderate calls for violence after the attack on the US Capitol by supporters of the former president.
It has since been allowed back in the both stores, ostensibly after improving its content moderation systems.


Netflix to let more subscribers preview content

Updated 01 December 2022

Netflix to let more subscribers preview content

  • Feature allows selected members to preview shows or films

LONDON: Netflix Inc. is planning to let tens of thousands of users around the world to preview content from early next year, expanding beyond its current previewer base of 2,000-plus subscribers, sources reported on Thursday.
Netflix’s Preview Club, which started more than a year ago, allows its members to watch some shows or films before they appear broadly on the platform and review them, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
The video streaming giant did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
The move underpins Netflix’s efforts to ensure quality content, at a time when investors and analysts focus more on the profitability of streaming firms.


Taliban silence Voice of America broadcasts in Afghanistan

Updated 01 December 2022

Taliban silence Voice of America broadcasts in Afghanistan

  • Voice of America and Radio Free Europe are funded by the US government, though they claim editorial independence
  • Afghanistan has lost 40 percent of its media outlets and 60 percent of its journalists since the Taliban takeover

WASHINGTON: The Voice of America said Wednesday that Taliban authorities have banned FM radio broadcasts from VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Afghanistan, starting Thursday.
VOA said Taliban authorities cited “complaints they have received about programming content” without providing specifics.
VOA and RFE are funded by the US government, though they claim editorial independence.
The Taliban overran Afghanistan in August 2021 as American and NATO forces were in the final weeks of their pullout from the country after 20 years of war.
Despite initially promising a more moderate rule, they have restricted rights and freedoms and widely implemented their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia.
Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Thursday that Afghanistan has press laws and any network found “repeatedly contravening” these laws will have their privilege of working in the country taken away.
“VOA and Azadi Radio (Radio Liberty) failed to adhere to these laws, were found as repeat offenders, failed to show professionalism and were therefore shut down,” he said.
The advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said recently that Afghanistan has lost 40 percent of its media outlets and 60 percent of its journalists since the Taliban takeover.