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

“There is no end to fake news but we must continue to battle it,”  Arab News editor-in-chief Faisal J. Abas said during a panel discussion at the Top CEO Forum in Dubai on May 17. (AN photo)
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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.”


Emerging company XGUARD to educate local Saudi businesses on new tech

Updated 05 July 2022

Emerging company XGUARD to educate local Saudi businesses on new tech

RIYADH: Non-fungible tokens and blockchain technologies took the world by storm, dominating everything from the art space to advertising. Web3, a new blockchain-based version of the internet, and the metaverse are still fairly new concepts, but it seems like they are here to stay with more and more people — and businesses — experimenting with them.

XGUARD, for example, is an emerging company with offices in Riyadh, Dubai and Vienna, helping organizations and individuals navigate Web3 and the virtual space “one block at a time.”

In Riyadh, the company has been actively hosting informational sessions and workshops to help equip Saudis with the skills and tools needed to venture into Web3, open their own wallet, invest in or sell NFTs, grow their businesses and engage in virtual experiences. 

XGUARD first started as a sports promotion company in Dubai. After its founder Omar Aridi began venturing into these emerging technologies, his interest in them grew.

The industry in Saudi is still at a nascent stage, Aridi told Arab News.

He said: “I was planning on working in a very decentralized way. Saudi wasn’t just my focus, but then after reading the market and seeing how things are going, I think Saudi has the most appetite when it comes to [this space].” 

Just last month, the Saudi Tourism Ministry and Saudi Tourism Authority created NFT souvenirs that were presented to the heads of delegations participating in the 116th session of the UN World Tourism Organization executive council, held in Jeddah.

“Vision 2030 and the whole direction of digital transformation and blockchain technologies and artificial intelligence — this makes it the perfect platform for us,” Aridi said. “The only bottleneck that we had were the cryptocurrency regulations, which I know are on the way. I think it’s better to be the first movers from now and the first adopters. When things get regulated, we know we will be the go-to consulting company here.”

Since cryptocurrencies are the most commonly used mode of payment in the metaverse, their lack of regulation has resulted in businesses being wary of entering this space. 

“The lack of trust comes from the lack of regulation, not from the technology,” Aridi said. “You need to pay with cryptocurrency, and that is the element that has not yet been regulated.”

In the Gulf region, the UAE has been spearheading the regulation of NFTs and cryptocurrencies by issuing the first cryptocurrency law and establishing the Dubai Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority.

For businesses, enterprise NFT technologies themselves are key. “It brings a very well authenticated ownership documented on the blockchain. Nobody can erase it, and nobody can penetrate it,” Aridi said. 

In certain industries, having verified proof of ownership and secured data records can cut down on processing time, reduce fraud and error risks, provide immutable authenticity of products, manage critical data and ease the supply chain process.

Although the NFT, bitcoin and Ethereum markets are currently down as a result of cryptocurrencies crashing, Aridi is optimistic. “​​This is very good because the market has to [course] correct,” he said. “Hopefully, only the few proper solid value propositions will be sustained and XGUARD will be one of those because we are thinking of NFTs as a technology, not as a hype.” 

XGUARD provides companies with Web3 consulting, marketing, art and blockchain development, all under one roof. “In terms of competition, I don’t see anyone offering the value proposition that we provide, which is advisory, A-to-Z solutions. Nobody in Saudi Arabia is doing that yet,” said Aridi. 

For now, the company is adopting a predominantly educational approach. It has collaborated with local spaces and businesses, such as AlMashtal Creative Space in Riyadh and The Music Space in Jeddah, to build communities across the country. 

“We have a lot of artists, in Saudi Arabia specifically, that really want to be heard, that really want to improve their business,” Aridi said. “For entrepreneurs, if they have an idea, we sit with them, we scope it, we shape it, we come up with a strategy together and we help them launch it. The idea is to basically create success stories.”

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TikTok ad policy is ‘clear abuse’ of EU law: activists

Updated 05 July 2022

TikTok ad policy is ‘clear abuse’ of EU law: activists

  • Activists accuse TikTok of breaching EU laws by co-opting users into sharing their data for targeted advertising

PARIS: Rights activists on Tuesday accused social media giant TikTok of breaching EU laws by co-opting users into sharing their data for targeted advertising.
TikTok said it would change its policy next week to allow data to be gathered from over-18s in Europe whether or not they had consented, claiming the move was allowed under Europe’s data protection law (GDPR).
But digital rights group Access Now wrote to the company asking for clarity on the legal basis, calling it a “clear abuse” of several European laws including GDPR.
“TikTok wants to strip away the rights of people who use the platform to bump its ad revenue,” said Estelle Masse of Access Now.
Masse said other social media platforms also had problems with their consent mechanisms but TikTok was “taking a step further” by “effectively suggesting that we should not have a say in deciding how our information is used.”
Social media firms gather vast troves of data on individuals’ online habits and use it to sell highly targeted advertising.
But the GDPR forces firms to give detailed justifications for gathering data, something social media platforms have struggled to do.
TikTok has said its policy change relies on a principle in the GDPR called “legitimate interest,” which allows companies to process data without giving a specific justification.
However, regulators have already begun to limit the use of legitimate interest.
They ruled in February that websites relying on the principle to opt-in users to targeted advertising were acting illegally.
AFP has asked TikTok for a response to the criticism.
TikTok, whose parent company ByteDance is Chinese, is also under pressure from lawmakers in the United States over its use of data after reports suggested it allowed its staff in China to access data on US-based users.
The social media company confirmed the reports last week in a letter to US Congress but said it would never allow Communist Party officials to access data on US users.

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Anghami expands into live events with acquisition of Spotlight

Updated 04 July 2022

Anghami expands into live events with acquisition of Spotlight

  • Platform aims to bridge the gap between online and offline channels

DUBAI: Music streaming platform Anghami has announced the acquisition of Spotlight Events, a company serving the Middle East.

Spotlight Events will become Anghami’s live event and concert arm. Its scope will include offline activities to expand Anghami's footprint in the music and entertainment ecosystem while also bridging the online and offline worlds.

The events arm will provide a stage for artists to perform and reach their audiences offline through live events and concerts, while the Anghami platform will provide access to exclusive concerts through its live video streaming capabilities and create immersive experiences through augmented reality and virtual reality.

The company envisions the acquisition as providing more opportunities for brands to collaborate with artists, and an enhanced experience for listeners including access to private concerts, VIP lounges, meet and greets, and backstage access.

“Our vision is to expand from music streaming to a fully integrated entertainment platform that meets our goal of building our own unique category that no other provider can compete with,” said Eddy Maroun, co-founder and CEO of Anghami.

Last year, Anghami partnered with hospitality company Addmind to launch the entertainment venue Anghami Lab in Dubai followed by Riyadh and other major cities.

“Spotlight and Anghami Lab are among a number of initiatives we plan to develop as new business extensions to accelerate our growth and improve our margins while widening the gap with our competitors,” added Maroun.

Spotlight Events has recently confirmed its program of upcoming concerts and events in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Paris, Cairo, and Riyadh, including Beat the Heat, a seven-concert festival organized in collaboration with Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.

It also has six concerts planned in Abu Dhabi for the rest of the year and a live concert by Arab superstar Wael Kfoury in Paris.

Spotlight will be responsible for executing all Anghami events, including Amr Diab Live.

“Anghami is the largest music platform in the MENA region with an incredible number of users and a unique network of partnerships that, once connected to Spotlight, will open doors to amazing opportunities,” said Maher Khawkhaji, founder and CEO of Spotlight. “Our offline expertise, complemented by Anghami’s reach, data, and technical capabilities, is the perfect recipe for success.”

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India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

Updated 02 July 2022

India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

  • "Despite procuring a French visa, I was stopped at the immigration desk at Delhi airport,” Sanna Irshad Mattoo said
  • She was among the 2022 Pulitzer Prize winners in the Feature Photography category

NEW DELHI: A Pulitzer Prize-winning Kashmiri photojournalist said on Saturday that she was stopped by Indian immigration authorities from flying to Paris without giving any reason.
In a tweet, Sanna Irshad Mattoo said she was scheduled to travel from New Delhi to Paris for a book launch and photography exhibition as one of 10 winners of the Serendipity Arles Grant 2020.
“Despite procuring a French visa, I was stopped at the immigration desk at Delhi airport,” she said.
She said she was not given any reason but was told by immigration officials that she would not be able to travel internationally.
There was no immediate comment by Indian authorities.
Mattoo was among the 2022 Pulitzer Prize winners in the Feature Photography category for the coverage of the COVID-19 crisis in India as part of a Reuters team.
She has been working as a freelance photojournalist since 2018 depicting life in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where insurgents have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with neighboring Pakistan.
Journalists have long braved threats in the restive region as the government seeks to control the press more effectively to censure independent reporting. Their situation has grown worse since India revoked the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019.

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Turkey blocks access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America

Updated 01 July 2022

Turkey blocks access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America

  • An Ankara court ruled to restrict access to their websites late Thursday
  • Deutsche Welle said it did not comply with the licensing requirement because it “would have allowed the Turkish government to censor editorial content”

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s media watchdog has banned access to the Turkish services of US public service broadcaster Voice of America and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, prompting complaints of censorship.
The Supreme Board of Radio and Television enforced a February warning to the two companies which air Turkish-language television content online to apply for a broadcast license or be blocked. An Ankara court ruled to restrict access to their websites late Thursday.
Neither website was available in Turkey on Friday. Deutsche Welle is German taxpayer-funded and Voice of America is funded by the US government through the US Agency for Global Media.
In a statement, Deutsche Welle said it did not comply with the licensing requirement because it “would have allowed the Turkish government to censor editorial content.”
Director general Peter Limbourg said this was explained in detail to the Turkish radio and TV board, abbreviated as RTUK.
“For example, media licensed in Turkey are required to delete online content that RTUK interprets as inappropriate. This is simply unacceptable for an independent broadcaster. DW will take legal action against the blocking that has now taken place,” Limbourg said.
The German government said it took note of the reports “with regret.”
“Our concern about the state of freedom of opinion and the press in Turkey continues,” government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said, adding that Germany is in a “regular, critical exchange” with Turkey on the issue.
Asked whether the German government can intervene in this case, Hebestreit noted that Deutsche Welle has said it plans to take legal action “and we have to wait for that.”
RTUK dismissed any criticism in a statement on its website Friday, saying that “no one needs to have uncertainties on the freedom of expression or press, worry unnecessarily or incriminate our Supreme Board that is doing its duties based on legal grounds.”
The RTUK statement added that had the media organizations “acted in line with regulations,” there wouldn’t have been access bans. It also promised to request from the court that the restrictions be revoked if the websites launch companies in Turkey and get licensed.
But Ilhan Tasci, a RTUK member from Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, said he opposed the move to block the two foreign broadcasters. “Here is press freedom and advanced democracy,” he tweeted sarcastically.
The RTUK board is dominated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party and its nationalist allies, and regularly fines critical broadcasters.
Thursday’s move is based on an August 2019 regulation that says the RTUK would give 72-hour advance notice to unlicensed online media regarding when they had to apply and pay three months of licensing fees. Failure to do so could result in legal action against a media organization’s executives and access restrictions.
In February, RTUK said it identified three websites without broadcast licenses, which also included the Turkish services of Euronews. But Euronews said it argued that it did not broadcast live in Turkish or air visual bulletins and was therefore exempt from the licensing requirements.
The Journalists’ Union of Turkey called the decision censorship. “Give up on trying to ban everything you don’t like, this society wants freedom,” it tweeted.
Voice of America noted in February that while licensing for TV and radio broadcasts is a norm because broadcast airwaves are finite resources, the Internet does not have limited bandwidth. “The only possible purpose of a licensing requirement for Internet distribution is enabling censorship,” VOA said in a statement then.
State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted when the licensing regulation emerged in February that the US was concerned with RTUK’s “decision to expand government control over free press outlets.”
In response, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic noted that the US required Turkey’s state English-language broadcaster, TRT World, to register as a foreign agent under a law intended for lobbyists and public relations firms working for foreign governments. TRT said it was newsgathering and reporting like any other international media but had to register as a foreign agent in 2020.
“TRT abides by relevant regulations for its activities in the US Is that censorship? We expect the same from @VoATurkish and others,” Bilgic tweeted.
Turkey was rated “Not Free” for 2021 on the Freedom of the Net index by Freedom House. Hundreds of thousands of domains and web addresses have been blocked.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey at 149 out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index, saying “all possible means are used to undermine critics,” including stripping journalists of press cards, online censorship, lawsuits and arrests.