Rohingya seek reparations from Facebook for role in massacre

For years, Facebook, now called Meta Platforms Inc., pushed the narrative that it was a neutral platform in Myanmar that was misused by malicious people, and that despite its efforts to remove violent and hateful material, it unfortunately fell short. (AP/File)
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Updated 29 September 2022

Rohingya seek reparations from Facebook for role in massacre

  • “Meta — through its dangerous algorithms and its relentless pursuit of profit — substantially contributed to the serious human rights violations perpetrated against the Rohingya,” the report says

With roosters crowing in the background as he speaks from the crowded refugee camp in Bangladesh that’s been his home since 2017, Maung Sawyeddollah, 21, describes what happened when violent hate speech and disinformation targeting the Rohingya minority in Myanmar began to spread on Facebook.
“We were good with most of the people there. But some very narrow minded and very nationalist types escalated hate against Rohingya on Facebook,” he said. “And the people who were good, in close communication with Rohingya. changed their mind against Rohingya and it turned to hate.”
For years, Facebook, now called Meta Platforms Inc., pushed the narrative that it was a neutral platform in Myanmar that was misused by malicious people, and that despite its efforts to remove violent and hateful material, it unfortunately fell short. That narrative echoes its response to the role it has played in other conflicts around the world, whether the 2020 election in the US or hate speech in India.
But a new and comprehensive report by Amnesty International states that Facebook’s preferred narrative is false. The platform, Amnesty says, wasn’t merely a passive site with insufficient content moderation. Instead, Meta’s algorithms “proactively amplified and promoted content” on Facebook, which incited violent hatred against the Rohingya beginning as early as 2012.
Despite years of warnings, Amnesty found, the company not only failed to remove violent hate speech and disinformation against the Rohingya, it actively spread and amplified it until it culminated in the 2017 massacre. The timing coincided with the rising popularity of Facebook in Myanmar, where for many people it served as their only connection to the online world. That effectively made Facebook the Internet for a vast number of Myanmar’s population.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled into neighboring Bangladesh that year. Myanmar security forces were accused of mass rapes, killings and torching thousands of homes owned by Rohingya.
“Meta — through its dangerous algorithms and its relentless pursuit of profit — substantially contributed to the serious human rights violations perpetrated against the Rohingya,” the report says.
A spokesperson for Meta declined to answer questions about the Amnesty report. In a statement, the company said it “stands in solidarity with the international community and supports efforts to hold the Tatmadaw accountable for its crimes against the Rohingya people.”
“Our safety and integrity work in Myanmar remains guided by feedback from local civil society organizations and international institutions, including the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar; the Human Rights Impact Assessment we commissioned in 2018; as well as our ongoing human rights risk management,” Rafael Frankel, director of public policy for emerging markets, Meta Asia-Pacific, said in a statement.
Like Sawyeddollah, who is quoted in the Amnesty report and spoke with the AP on Tuesday, most of the people who fled Myanmar — about 80 percent of the Rohingya living in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine at the time — are still staying in refugee camps. And they are asking Meta to pay reparations for its role in the violent repression of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, which the US declared a genocide earlier this year.
Amnesty’s report, out Wednesday, is based on interviews with Rohingya refugees, former Meta staff, academics, activists and others. It also relied on documents disclosed to Congress last year by whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist. It notes that digital rights activists say Meta has improved its civil society engagement and some aspects of its content moderation practices in Myanmar in recent years. In January 2021, after a violent coup overthrew the government, it banned the country’s military from its platform.
But critics, including some of Facebook’s own employees, have long maintained such an approach will never truly work. It means Meta is playing whack-a-mole trying to remove harmful material while its algorithms designed to push “engaging” content that’s more likely to get people riled up essentially work against it.
“These algorithms are really dangerous to our human rights. And what happened to the Rohingya and Facebook’s role in that specific conflict risks happening again, in many different contexts across the world,” said Pat de Brún, researcher and adviser on artificial intelligence and human rights at Amnesty.
“The company has shown itself completely unwilling or incapable of resolving the root causes of its human rights impact.”
After the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar highlighted the “significant” role Facebook played in the atrocities perpetrated against the Rohingya, Meta admitted in 2018 that “we weren’t doing enough to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence.”
In the following years, the company “touted certain improvements in its community engagement and content moderation practices in Myanmar,” Amnesty said, adding that its report “finds that these measures have proven wholly inadequate.”
In 2020, for instance, three years after the violence in Myanmar killed thousands of Rohingya Muslims and displaced 700,000 more, Facebook investigated how a video by a leading anti-Rohingya hate figure, U Wirathu, was circulating on its site.
The probe revealed that over 70 percent of the video’s views came from “chaining” — that is, it was suggested to people who played a different video, showing what’s “up next.” Facebook users were not seeking out or searching for the video, but had it fed to them by the platform’s algorithms.
Wirathu had been banned from Facebook since 2018.
“Even a well-resourced approach to content moderation, in isolation, would likely not have sufficed to prevent and mitigate these algorithmic harms. This is because content moderation fails to address the root cause of Meta’s algorithmic amplification of harmful content,” Amnesty’s report says.
The Rohingya refugees are seeking unspecified reparations from the Menlo Park, California-based social media giant for its role in perpetuating genocide. Meta, which is the subject of twin lawsuits in the US and the UK seeking $150 billion for Rohingya refugees, has so far refused.
“We believe that the genocide against Rohingya was possible only because of Facebook,” Sawyeddollah said. “They communicated with each other to spread hate, they organized campaigns through Facebook. But Facebook was silent.”


Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange

Updated 29 November 2022

Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange

  • Guardian, NYT, Le Monde, El País and Der Spiegel editors and publishers said the indictment threatens freedom of the press.

WASHINGTON: The United States should end its prosecution of Julian Assange, leading media outlets from the United States and Europe that had collaborated with the WikiLeaks founder said on Monday, citing press freedom concerns.
“This indictment sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens to undermine America’s First Amendment and the freedom of the press,” editors and publishers of the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El País said in an open letter.
Assange is wanted by US authorities on 18 counts, including a spying charge, related to WikiLeaks’ release of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables. His supporters say he is an anti-establishment hero who has been victimized because he exposed US wrongdoing, including in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Monday marked 12 years since those media outlets collaborated to release excerpts from over 250,000 documents obtained by Assange in the so-called “Cablegate” leak.
The material was leaked to WikiLeaks by the then-American soldier Chelsea Manning and revealed the inner workings of US diplomacy around the globe. The documents exposed “corruption, diplomatic scandals, and spy affairs on an international scale,” the letter said.
In August, a group of journalists and lawyers sued the CIA and its former director, Mike Pompeo, over allegations the intelligence agency spied on them when they visited Assange during his stay in Ecuador’s embassy in London.
Assange spent seven years in the embassy before being dragged out and jailed in 2019 for breaching bail conditions. He has remained in prison in London while his extradition case is decided. If extradited to the United States, he faces a sentence of up to 175 years in an American maximum security prison.
His legal team has appealed to the High Court in London to block his extradition in a legal battle that has dragged on for more than a decade.
“Publishing is not a crime,” the media outlets said in their letter on Monday.


Fox News reporter deletes inaccurate video after being challenged by Arab News reporter on TikTok

Updated 29 November 2022

Fox News reporter deletes inaccurate video after being challenged by Arab News reporter on TikTok

  • American sports reporter Jenny Taft said, ‘I just had to go through a special gate in Qatar for ladies only. Um, I don’t feel that special,” while pulling a sarcastic and smug face
  • Lama Alhamawi explained that gender-segregated gates reflect respect for personal boundaries, and that journalists have a responsibility not to spread misinformation or biased rhetoric

LONDON: A Fox Sports reporter whose post on TikTok poked fun at gender-segregated entrances and security-searches at World Cup venues in Qatar deleted her video after being challenged by an Arab News reporter on Monday.

“I just had to go through a special gate in Qatar for ladies only. Um, I don’t feel that special,” Jenny Taft of Fox Sports said in the video while pulling a sarcastic and smug face.

Arab News reporter Lama Alhamawi took the opportunity to explain to Taft the reason for this and promptly put the American reporter firmly in her place.

“As a fellow reporter, as a fellow journalist that’s years younger than you, that’s traveled to different countries covering various topics around the world, I’m going to give you some advice,” Alhamawi said.

“As journalists, we have a responsibility to uphold. We have a responsibility to do our due diligence to fully understand and investigate a topic before spreading any information, misinformation or biased rhetoric, as you did in this video.

“Now, let’s talk about the special gate you talked about … It’s a matter of one word that perfectly explains the special gate: respect. It’s a matter of respecting someone’s boundaries, their beliefs, their religious beliefs. A woman does not want to be searched by men, a man does not want to be searched by a woman.

“It’s a matter of respecting someone’s religious beliefs and boundaries and making them feel comfortable as they’re entering this country. Now, you hinted at the idea that it was based on discrimination or sexism. But it’s far from that: It’s a level of respect. The best word to describe it is respect.

Alhamawi told Taft it is about providing a level of respect and not aimed at being discriminatory. 

“Now, judging by the way you conducted your video and executed it, that’s a word that’s foreign to you and something that you maybe don’t quite understand.”

Alhamawi garnered praise and support for calling out the veteran sports journalist.

“Absolutely spot on! I’m sick of seeing ignorant people judge,” one user wrote.

“Thank you Lama, for shedding light on this and for replying to it the best way possible,” said another.

Someone else wrote: “Beautifully said. Thank you for educating everyone with such grace.”

Following Alhamawai’s video and the barrage of supportive comments it attracted, Taft deleted her video.


Former Shahid exec launches regional production company The Yard Films

Updated 29 November 2022

Former Shahid exec launches regional production company The Yard Films

  • Jakob Mejlhede Andersen co-founded the business, which will be based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with former Shine International CEO Camilla Hammer
  • The executive team also includes Phil Rostom, a 15-year veteran of the industry in the Middle East and North Africa

DUBAI: Jakob Mejlhede Andersen, former chief content officer of MBC’s streaming platform Shahid, has teamed up with former Shine International CEO Camilla Hammer to launch The Yard Films, a regional production and development company.

The executive team behind the business, which will be based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, also includes Phil Rostom, an industry veteran who has worked across the Middle East and North Africa for more than 15 years.

The founders said the new company will develop and produce original scripted and non-scripted content for local and international markets, targeted in particular at millennial and Gen Z audiences.

Andersen, who was involved in the production of more than 200 Nordic and Arabic scripted and non-scripted projects during his tenures at Shahid and Stockholm-based streaming service Viaplay, said: “It’s our ambition to produce and deliver groundbreaking content for the buoyant Arabic streaming market.”

“We aim to work in partnerships with the excellent local creative scene across the entire MENA region.”

Hammer said that the company’s team believes “in partnerships within the region and internationally.”

She added: “There is a wealth of stories across the Middle East that have a strong interest not only from local but also international platforms.”

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Iranian filmmaker Reza Dormishian barred from travel, passport confiscated

Updated 28 November 2022

Iranian filmmaker Reza Dormishian barred from travel, passport confiscated

  • Dormishian is only the latest in a long line of filmmakers to face Iran’s arbitrary detention policies

DUBAI: Iran has barred filmmaker Reza Dormishian from leaving the country. 

Dormishian was due to travel to the International Film Festival of India in Goa, where his film “A Minor” was scheduled to play.

On his arrival at the airport, his passport was confiscated. It is unclear if he was arrested and, if so, what the charges will be.

However, it is understood that the authorities’ action is the result of his recent social media posts about the Iranian government.

“Throughout the nationwide protests in Iran, Dormishian shared various posts on his Instagram account to show support for the significant developments,” sources close to him said, according to media reports.

In his most recent post, Dormishian had said: “I would die for a hair strand of Iranian people.

“I would die for the youth who are gone with the wind, from Balochistan to Kurdistan.

“What is my curfew worth?”

 

 

Dormishian is only the latest in a long line of filmmakers to face Iran’s arbitrary detention policies.

In July, acclaimed director Jafar Panahi was ordered to serve a six-year jail sentence, handed down a decade ago, after he attempted to find information about fellow filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad, who had been detained earlier.

Last month, Iranian filmmaker Mani Haghighi was prevented from leaving Iran to attend the BFI London Film Festival, where his latest film “Subtraction” was being screened.

And earlier this month, co-directors Farnaz and Mohammadreza Jurabchian were barred from traveling to the Netherlands for the International Documentary Film Festival where their film “Silent House” had its world premiere.

Directed by Dariush Mehrjui and produced by Dormishian, “A Minor” played in India on Thursday and Friday last week.


BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ program appoints Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as guest editor

Updated 28 November 2022

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ program appoints Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as guest editor

  • Her show will feature reports on Iran, examine government efforts to free British prisoners

DUBAI: British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who spent six years jailed in Iran, has been chosen as one of seven guest editors of BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program, as part of BBC Radio and BBC Sounds Christmas plans.

In an annual tradition, for the last 19 years, the program has invited high-profile guests to take over the show in the week between Christmas and new year.

Owenna Griffiths, editor of the “Today” program, said: “For nearly 20 years the guest editors have transformed Christmas on ‘Today,’ creating some of the most memorable moments in the program’s rich history along the way.

“This year is no different and I’m enormously grateful these guest editors have given up their time to bring new stories, unexpected perspectives, and a little festive cheer to the ‘Today’ audience.”

Each guest will edit Radio 4’s “Today” program between Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 and each show will include an interview with the guest editor.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was held in an Iranian prison after being accused of spying in 2016.

Following a long-running campaign and negotiations between the British and Iranian governments, she returned home to the UK in March.

In September, she posted a video showing her support for the ongoing protests in Iran following the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

In the clip, Zaghari-Ratcliffe is seen cutting her hair and it ends with her saying, “for my mother, for my daughter, for the fear of solitary confinement, for the women of my country, for freedom.”

Her show on Dec. 28 will explore how people can hold onto their freedom in difficult times and feature reports about Iran and the UK government’s efforts to free British prisoners.

Other guest editors include ABBA member Bjorn Ulvaeus; chef Jamie Oliver; Jeremy Fleming, director of the UK’s intelligence, cyber, and security agency Government Communications Headquarters; Sharon White, chairman of John Lewis Partnership; former cricketer Ian Botham, now a member of the British House of Lords and UK trade envoy to Australia; and Anne-Marie Imafidon, technologist, author, and chief executive officer of Stemettes, a social enterprise promoting women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers.