Microsoft cuts Russia operations due to Ukraine invasion

Earlier in March, Microsoft said it was suspending new sales of its products and services in Russia. (AFP)
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Updated 09 June 2022

Microsoft cuts Russia operations due to Ukraine invasion

LONDON: Microsoft Corp. is substantially cutting its business in Russia in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday.
Earlier in March, Microsoft said it was suspending new sales of its products and services in Russia.
The company did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
More than 400 employees will be affected, the report said, citing a company spokesperson.
Several major companies, including Apple Inc, Nike and Dell Technologies, have severed connections with Russia.
Facebook-owner Meta Platforms Inc. and Alphabet Inc’s Google have also taken measures to restrict Russian state media from making money off ads on their platforms.


Musk, Twitter could reach deal to end court battle, close buyout soon

Updated 48 sec ago

Musk, Twitter could reach deal to end court battle, close buyout soon

  • Billionaire, after a surprising U-turn on Monday, pledged to finish his proposed $44 billion takeover of Twitter
WILMINGTON: Elon Musk and Twitter Inc. may reach an agreement to end their litigation in coming days, clearing the way for the world’s richest person to close his $44 billion deal for the social media firm, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Musk, who is also chief executive officer of electric car maker Tesla Inc, proposed to Twitter late on Monday he would change course and abide by his April agreement to buy the company for $54.20 per share, if Twitter dropped its litigation against him.
In their effort to end the litigation, the two sides agreed to postpone the billionaire’s deposition in court scheduled for Thursday, the source said on Wednesday, but negotiations are continuing with a full resolution expected to take more time.
However, Twitter’s legal team was yet to accept any agreement and Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick, the judge on Delaware’s Court of Chancery, earlier in the day said she was preparing for the looming trial.
“The parties have not filed a stipulation to stay this action, nor has any party moved for a stay. I, therefore, continue to press on toward our trial set to begin on Oct. 17, 2022,” McCormick wrote in a Wednesday court filing.
Musk’s proposal on Monday included a condition that the deal closing was pending the receipt of debt financing. The potential agreement would likely remove that condition, said the source, who requested anonymity as the discussions are confidential.
Twitter’s legal team and lawyers for Musk updated the judge on Tuesday with their attempts to overcome mutual distrust and find a process for closing the deal.
Two firms that were interested in partly financing the deal, Apollo Global Management Inc. and Sixth Street Partners, had ended talks to provide up to a combined $1 billion, two sources told Reuters.
An attorney representing a proposed class action against Musk on behalf of Twitter shareholders said in a letter to McCormick that Musk should be required to make a “substantial deposit” in case he again reneges on his commitment to close. He should also be liable for interest delaying the closing of the deal, said the letter from attorney Michael Hanrahan.
Representatives of Musk and Twitter held several unsuccessful talks in recent weeks about a possible price cut to his $44 billion deal to buy the social media platform before he reversed course on Monday, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
Musk initially sought a discount of as much as 30 percent, according to the report, which was later narrowed to about 10 percent and ultimately rejected by Twitter.
A DISTRACTION
It is not clear what led the Musk legal team to offer to settle, but his scheduled deposition on Thursday in Austin, Texas, was expected to include some tough questioning, which could have given Twitter leverage in talks to close the deal.
Shares of Twitter closed 1.3 percent lower at $51.30 on Wednesday. The stock on Tuesday hit its highest level since Musk and Twitter agreed in April that he would buy the company for $54.20 per share.
Tesla stock ended down 3.5 percent on Wednesday as investors worry that Musk may have to sell more shares in the electric carmaker to fund the Twitter deal and that Twitter could be a distraction for the entrepreneur.
Musk sold $15.4 billion worth of Tesla stock this year, but analysts said he may have to raise an additional $2 billion to $3 billion provided that the rest of his financing remains unchanged.
Musk said in July he was walking away from the takeover agreement because he discovered Twitter had allegedly misled him about the amount of fake accounts, among other claims.
Part of Musk’s case was based on allegations by Twitter whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko that became public in August, and Musk’s legal team on Wednesday rejected the idea that they had inappropriate talks with Zatko or spoken with him before his concerns became public.
Twitter’s legal team has wanted to investigate if Alex Spiro, a lawyer from legal firm Quinn Emanuel, who has led the case for Musk, communicated with the whistleblower as early as May.
Twitter lawyers were suspicious that Zatko sent an anonymous May 6 email to Spiro. The sender claimed to be a former Twitter employee, offered information about the company and suggested communicating by alternate means.
Spiro said in a filing with the court on Wednesday he never read the email until Twitter brought it to his attention and it appeared to be someone seeking a job. Spiro also said he was unaware of the existence of Zatko’s allegations before they became public on Aug. 23.

Myanmar court hands Japanese journalist 10-year prison term

Updated 06 October 2022

Myanmar court hands Japanese journalist 10-year prison term

  • Toru Kubota was arrested after filming an anti-government protest in July
  • Incitement is a catch-all political law covering activities deemed to cause unrest

BANGKOK: A court in military-ruled Myanmar has handed a 10-year prison sentence to a Japanese journalist who was arrested after filming an anti-government protest in July, a Japanese diplomat said Thursday.
Tetsuo Kitada, deputy chief of mission of the Japanese Embassy, said Toru Kubota was sentenced Wednesday to seven years for violating the electronic transactions law and three years for incitement, which would be served concurrently.
The electronic transactions law covers offenses that involve spreading false or provocative information. Incitement is a catch-all political law covering activities deemed to cause unrest.
Kubota was arrested on July 30 by plainclothes police in Yangon, the country’s largest city, after taking photos and videos of a flash protest against Myanmar’s 2021 takeover by the military.


In Iran, social media tells the real story of unprecedented protests, police brutality

Updated 06 October 2022

In Iran, social media tells the real story of unprecedented protests, police brutality

  • Images of police brutality meted out on young Iranian protesters have gone viral on social platforms
  • To counter the spread of information, the regime has cut internet access and clamped down on social media

DUBAI: As anti-government protests in Iran enter their third week, the death toll has continued to rise, with more than 90 people reportedly having lost their lives in the wave of unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini.

The 22-year-old’s death at the hands of Iran’s morality police, the Gasht-e Ershad, unleashed an outpouring of anger in almost every province over the strict policing of personal freedoms and the deteriorating standard of living. 

Iran’s large diaspora, spread across Europe and North America, has joined the protests in solidarity, with large demonstrations taking place outside Iranian embassies in Western capitals.

Regime authorities have so far acknowledged the death of 41 people since the unrest began yet have refused to give in to demands to relax the strict dress code imposed on women, including the mandatory headscarf.

Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s ultra-conservative president, has dismissed the anti-regime protests as a “conspiracy” orchestrated by outside enemies and has vowed to “deal decisively with those who oppose the country’s security and tranquility.”

Tehran has attempted to limit the spread of information about nationwide protests with blocks on mobile internet. (ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News)

In a statement on Sunday, he said: “At a time when the Islamic Republic was overcoming economic problems to become more active in the region and in the world, the enemies came into play with the intention of isolating the country, but they failed in this conspiracy.”

Videos and photographs emerging from Iran on social media tell a different story. Shocking images of police brutality meted out on young protesters have gone viral on social platforms, eliciting international condemnation. 

To counter the spread of images and information, the regime has limited internet access and clamped down on applications like WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram — claiming the move was necessary in the interests of “national security.”

Tehran is no stranger to this kind of information warfare. The regime has adopted this strategy multiple times since the proliferation of smartphones and social media in order to control the narrative. 

“Shutting down mobile internet services has become a go-to for the Iranian government when dealing with civil unrest,” Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at monitoring firm Kentik said.

Regime authorities have so far acknowledged the death of 41 people since the unrest began. (AFP)

Protesters have been getting around the regime’s internet controls using secure private connections. They have also been sharing footage and details about forthcoming protests with outlets like the London-based broadcaster Iran International.

Iran’s misinformation strategy is as old as the regime itself. In the 1970s, the revolutionaries fighting to topple the US-backed monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, sought to portray their leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, as a freedom fighter.

Khomeini’s close entourage, which included Western-educated advisers, helped him weave a message that appealed to Iranians inside and outside the country, cleverly modifying his words to appeal to Western audiences. 

Their methods proved extremely effective. Western journalists, who at the time relied on the translations given to them by Khomeini’s advisers, willingly broadcast these messages to the world.

Today, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps utilizes a stable of media outlets, including Fars News, Tasnim and others, to set the political agenda and undermine domestic dissent. 

Protests have spread across Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini after the young woman was arrested by morality police. (AFP)

The IRGC also uses these platforms to broadcast propaganda about operations in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East where the regime holds sway with local proxies. 

At the same time, the English-language state broadcaster Press TV is used to appeal to viewers in the West, often featuring American and European commentators who support Tehran’s policies and worldview. 

In March this year, Ruhollah Mo’men Nasab, former head of the Iranian Culture Ministry’s Digital Media Center, lifted the lid on how the regime disrupts the flow of information and discredits activists.

Describing his work as “psychological warfare,” Nasab boasted of developing software and “cyber battalions” to manipulate the narrative on Twitter through fake accounts. 

Arash Azizi, a history and Middle East specialist at New York University, says the regime has been developing its techniques for internet information manipulation for more than a decade. 

Shocking images of police brutality meted out on young protesters have gone viral on social platforms, eliciting international condemnation. (AFP)

“Perhaps the first Twitter revolution was in 2009 as events were unfolding in Iran,” Azizi told Arab News, referring to that year’s mass protests, known as the Green Movement, which exploded in response to the disputed reelection of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 

“Nowadays, Iranians use a variety of online tools to get their voice out, which is why the government has tried to shut down the internet entirely,” said Azizi. 

“Iranians abroad and many tech experts, however, are playing an active role in dominating social media with messages about what’s taking place.”

A Twitter account called @1500tasvir, which is run by a group of 10 Iranian activists based inside and outside the country, was first set up in 2019 during the wave of protests sweeping Iran at that time. 

Since the latest outbreak of unrest, the account has posted thousands of videos captured by protesters. One of @1500tasvir’s contributors warned that the regime’s limiting of mobile internet services could undermine the protests.

Thousands took to the streets in violent protests in the city of Tehran. (AFP)

“When you see other people feel the same way, you get braver. You are more enthusiastic to do something about it. When the internet is cut off, you feel alone,” the contributor said.

In response to the regime’s internet shutdowns, Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, pledged Washington would “make sure the Iranian people are not kept isolated and in the dark.” 

On Sept. 23, the US Treasury issued Iran General License D-2, adjusting sanctions rules to allow technology companies to offer the Iranian people more options for secure, outside platforms and services to help counter the regime’s narrative.

Unable to completely snuff out the spread of information online, the regime has instead resorted to its time-tested strategy of detaining social media users whose material gains widespread traction. 

According to state news agency IRNA, Hossein Mahini, a well-known football player, has been arrested “by the order of the judicial authorities for supporting and encouraging riots on his social media page.” 

Nasibe Samsaei, an Iranian woman living in Turkey, cutting off her ponytail during a protest outside the Iranian consulate in Istanbul on September 21, 2022. (AFP)

Another high-profile detainee is Shervin Hajipour, a popular singer who composed a piece using people’s tweets on Amini’s death and the protests. He was reportedly taken into custody last week after his song reached 40 million views on Instagram. 

Although authorities did not immediately confirm Hajipour’s arrest, Mohsen Mansouri, Tehran’s provincial governor, vowed to “take measures against celebrities who contributed to fueling the protests.”

To get around the internet shutdown, some activists have now resorted to distributing flyers to advertise the time and place of planned protests, indicating the regime has failed to quell the unrest.

“They’re yet to have a way of controlling the narrative,” Azizi told Arab News. “The vast majority of Iranians can now see the brutality of this corrupt regime clearly. There have even been letters of solidarity with the protesters from Shiite seminary students in Qom and Mashhad.

“Internationally, thousands have come out in support of the protesters. Even those who usually defend this regime in the Western media are now silent.”

 


TV remains more popular option among Saudis for watching the World Cup

Updated 06 October 2022

TV remains more popular option among Saudis for watching the World Cup

  • Research by advertising company Digital Turbine found that despite the many other options, 58 percent of people in the Kingdom plan to watch at least some games on television
  • However, 86 percent said they will use more than one device to follow the World Cup action, with 55 percent intending to use their smartphones at least part of the time

DUBAI: With just over six weeks until the 2022 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Qatar, football fans around the world are eagerly looking forward to the start of the showpiece tournament.

The fact that it is taking place in the Middle East for the first time adds another layer of excitement for fans in the region. Meanwhile, those in Saudi Arabia will be keen to see how their national team fares in the group stage against Argentina, Mexico and Poland.

Not so long ago, the only way to watch World Cup games was to tune in to coverage on TV but these days there are several options, including mobile phones and tablets.

Mobile advertising company Digital Turbine carried out research to discover the preferences and plans of viewers in the Kingdom for watching the World Cup, and football in general, along with the ways in which brands interact with the audience.

Sixty percent of those surveyed said they watch football coverage at least once a week, indicating that the sport is one of the most popular in the Kingdom.

Given the range of options available for viewing, 86 percent of respondents said they plan to use more than one device to follow the World Cup, with 58 percent saying they will watch at least some of it on TV and 55 percent using their smartphones at least part of the time.

It is perhaps no surprise that 57 percent of people said they tend to spend more time using sports apps during the World Cup and similar big tournaments, often while watching games.

During matches, 24 percent of those surveyed said they intend to browse sports news apps; 23 percent will be active on social media apps; 16 percent will use mobile sports game apps; and 16 percent will be chatting on messaging apps.

It is not only fans who are interested in major sporting events such as the World Cup; they also attract the attention, and marketing budgets, of brands looking to reach as wide an audience as possible. The global advertising spend on the 2018 FIFA World Cup, for example, reached $2.4 billion, with brands expected to spend $200 million on an official sponsorship package, according to research from media company Zenith.

According to Digital Turbine’s research, most Saudis have a positive attitude toward adverting during the World Cup. Eighty percent said they would consider purchasing a product they see in an advert that airs during the tournament, with 36 percent indicating that they would do so within two-to-three days of seeing it. Meanwhile, 66 percent said they would be likely to go online to follow up on an advert shown during the World Cup and might even watch it again.

While the research suggests that World Cup audiences are generally open to adverts during the tournament, they do have certain expectations and preferences for the type of commercials. For example, 59 percent of respondents said they would prefer the adverts to be funny, while 40 percent said it is more important for them to be emotional or heartwarming.

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Facebook shuts down its Bulletin newsletter service

Updated 05 October 2022

Facebook shuts down its Bulletin newsletter service

  • Parent company Meta said that the platform, which was designed to be its response to Substack, will close early in 2023
  • It gave independent creators the chance to publish directly to their audience and get paid for their work through subscriptions

LONDON: Facebook has announced it is shutting down its Bulletin newsletter service as it seeks to shift resources to other projects.

Described by Facebook’s parent company Meta as “a project that is directly for journalists and individual writers,” the service aimed to offer new ways for writers and readers to connect.

“Bulletin has allowed us to learn about the relationship between creators and their audiences and how to better support them in building their community on Facebook,” the company said on Tuesday.

“While this off-platform product itself is ending, we remain committed to supporting these and other creators’ success and growth on our platform.”

Bulletin was launched in June 2021 as Meta’s response to Substack, a popular newsletter platform on which independent writers, podcasters and other creators can publish directly to their audiences and get paid for their work through subscriptions.

Bulletin was launched with a group of well-known users, including Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell, public health expert James Hamblin, and Pakistani Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, in an attempt to build an audience for the platform.

Meta also signed a number of up-and-coming writers and pledged $5 million to support local news reporters, along with providing a host of publishing and subscription tools for creators.

Sources close to the decision said that Meta has contacted the 120 creators that are part of the program to tell them that Bulletin will close early next year. The company will honor all contracts in full, some of which are not due to end until 2024. Creators will also be allowed to keep their subscription revenue and take subscriber lists and content with them when Bulletin is wound down.

Speculation about the possible closure of Bulletin began to circulate early in the summer amid the company’s stalled growth and a fall in revenue.

Last month, some media sources reported that Facebook executives had told staff the company was reorganizing budgets and would be focusing its resources on creator economy projects.