Turkish journalist groups slam bill to fight disinformation

Representatives of various Turkish journalists’ associations, wearing black face masks, gathered outside parliament in Ankara and in Istanbul to protest the bill. (Reuters)
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Updated 05 October 2022

Turkish journalist groups slam bill to fight disinformation

  • Turkey is debating a controversial draft law the government says is aimed at combating fake news and disinformation
  • Critics believe that the law is yet another attempt to stifle freedom of expression

ANKARA: Turkey’s parliament on Tuesday began debating a highly controversial draft law the government says is aimed at combating fake news and disinformation, but which critics denounce as yet another attempt to stifle freedom of expression.
The 40-article piece of legislation amends multiple laws governing press, advertising and social media. The most controversial change is an amendment to the press law that would criminalize the spreading of “fake news” with a sentence of up to three years in prison.
Critics, including opposition lawmakers and non-governmental organizations, say the law is too vague and could potentially be abused by the government to further crack down on independent journalism, especially media that has developed on the Internet. The government already controls most major news outlets and has been named among the world’s biggest jailers of journalists.
Representatives of various Turkish journalists’ associations, wearing black face masks, gathered outside parliament in Ankara, urging legislators not to approve the law, which was submitted to parliament in May.
“As journalists, in line with our responsibility to society, we once again warn both legislators and the public: If this law is implemented in this form, there will be no freedom of press, expression and communication in our country,” said Kemal Aktas, head of the Parliamentary Correspondents’ Association.
Main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu claimed in a speech on Tuesday that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which faces elections in June, introduced the changes to prevent the dissemination of allegations of corruption against the government.
In the assembly, some opposition legislators held up posters that read: “No to the censorship law!”
“With the government’s proposal, press freedoms and freedom of speech are being eradicated,” said Musavat Dervisoglu, a legislator from the opposition center-right Good Party. “Our citizens are being deprived of their right to information.”
“I am curious, for what reason is our country being dragged into George Orwell’s ‘1984’ dystopia,” he said, in reference to the 1949 novel in which the government controls information.
International media freedom organizations have also called for the dismissal of the bill, saying it puts millions of Internet users at risk of criminal action for online posts the government disagrees with, could become a tool “for harassing journalists and activists” and could lead to self-censorship.
“Disinformation is an important issue and needs to be combated but not at the price of restricting journalists’ rights and the public’s rights of freedom of expression,” the groups, including PEN and the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in June.
Article 29 of the bill is an amendment to the Turkish penal code mandating one to three years in prison for spreading information that is “contrary to the truth” about Turkey’s domestic and international security, public order and health for the alleged purpose of causing “public worry, fear and panic.” The sentence can be increased by a half if that crime is committed by an anonymous user or as part of an illegal organization.
Erdogan has argued for a law to combat disinformation, saying fake news and rising “digital fascism” is a national and global security issue.
The proposal, put forth by his ruling Justice and Development Party and its nationalist ally, says fake news and its dissemination, or disinformation, pose a “serious threat” by preventing people from accessing the truth, while also undermining freedom of expression and information by “abusing certain freedoms.”
The proposal also says the Internet allows ill-intentioned users to hide their identities for illegal acts and posts such as slander, hate speech and discrimination, therefore requiring regulation. It says the state has the obligation to protect rights and freedoms, especially for people whose rights were violated online.
Ahmet Ozdemir, a legislator from Erdogan’s party who helped draft the legislation, rejected accusations that the proposed changes amount to censorship.
“No freedom can be without limits,” Ozdemir told parliament. “We tried to protect freedoms as much as possible by taking precautions to prevent these freedoms from harming other people’s freedoms.”


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.


As crypto collapses in US, is Middle East going through a digital renaissance?

Updated 02 December 2022

As crypto collapses in US, is Middle East going through a digital renaissance?

  • NFT startups in region seem to think so

DUBAI: OasisX, the nascent curated multichain non-fungible token marketplace, which aims to drive adoption of NFTs in the Middle East and North Africa region is embracing Web3 in several ways integrating NFTs, blockchain, and cryptocurrencies within its platform.

Jimi Ibrahim, one of the co-founders of the company, who has described the new iteration of the internet as a digital renaissance, said: “Web3 has four pillars: Blockchain as a secure infrastructure, tokens like NFTs for proof of ownership and provenance, cryptocurrencies for store of value and transactions, and the metaverse, which is a combination of augmented reality and virtual reality.”

The adoption of Web3, however, has witnessed a slowdown as cryptocurrency and NFT scams have become rampant in markets such as the US. Despite the promise of a more secure internet, cryptocurrencies can be used and abused for fraudulent activities, as evidenced by the recent FTX scandal.

Founded by Sam Bankman-Fried in 2019, FTX is a cryptocurrency exchange, that rose to popularity thanks to celebrity endorsements and an aggressive marketing strategy.

In November, the crypto news site CoinDesk published the balance sheet of Alameda Research, a crypto investing firm also owned by Bankman-Fried, showing that Alameda held a large amount of a digital currency created by FTX called FTT.

“While there is nothing per se untoward or wrong about that, it shows Bankman-Fried’s trading giant Alameda rests on a foundation largely made up of a coin that a sister company invented, not an independent asset like a fiat currency or another crypto,” the article said.

However, if the value of the FTT were to drop, Alameda would essentially be at risk of insolvency.

The article set in motion a series of legal actions against Bankman-Fried, FTX, and the celebrities who promoted the crypto exchange, resulting in one of the biggest financial scandals.

The incident has slowed down the adoption of crypto, diminished faith in the industry, and cost a lot of people a lot of money. Although Ibrahim noted that it had “hurt the industry,” he pointed out that it had acted as a purge of sorts.

He said: “Foul play has to be shed light on, and such players have to be removed from the playing field so that the environment is much more safe and secure for natural growth.” He added that, ultimately, was the future where “decentralized finance is going to change the world for the better.”

The global NFT industry alone reached a market capitalization of $41 billion by the end of 2021, according to blockchain data company Chainalysis.

The space was also growing to include non-fungible assets, Ibrahim said, which would see it extending into the real world. For example, the real estate and NFT industries have been merging with several properties being sold as NFTs.

In February, US-based real estate company Propy sold an NFT-backed property, a 2,164-square-foot house in Florida, for $653,000 with the winning bidder receiving a NFT as proof of the home’s ownership.

“This is the future we’re looking to tap into, facilitate and expedite because it only makes sense to secure everything on the blockchain,” Ibrahim added.

OasisX aims to bring a new layer of security and accessibility to the world of NFTs in the MENA region for both artists and businesses.

Ibrahim along with co-founders Najib Khanafer and Ramzi Mneimneh started working on the platform more than one year ago and officially launched it at the NFT LB event in Lebanon in September.

The event featured the work of 23 artists, half of which were sold out during the event, as well as served as a platform for panel discussions, movie screenings, and AR and VR experiences.

The company’s marketplace features only vetted artists, unlike platforms such as OpenSea, which avoids any “bogus projects,” Ibrahim said.

Anyone can create and sell NFTs on OpenSea. Since the platform does not vet artists, many fraudulent NFTs end up on it. Earlier this year, OpenSea reported that more than 80 percent of the items on the platform were plagiarized works, fake collections, and spam.

“We want to keep the art community safe and secure with the right projects,” Ibrahim added.

Available in English and Arabic, the platform currently has 250 vetted artists and aims to grow into the biggest MENA-based marketplace. It also works with galleries through a referral program where the gallery receives a royalty over the first sale of any artist that gets onboarded and vetted on the platform.

It only charges 2 percent in transaction fees — among the lowest in the industry — because “artists should make the most of the sale of their hard work,” Ibrahim said. That was also why, he added, the company would never remove royalties.

Often, the technical skills needed to create NFTs can serve as a barrier to entry for both artists and brands. The company, therefore, created LaunchX, an NFT generator powered by artificial intelligence.

Recognizing that there are some still wary of NFTs and cryptocurrencies, the company has integrated options such as paying through credit cards, to make it more accessible.

The entire process is secured through a smart contract on the blockchain. Ibrahim said it was more secure than using traditional banking, especially in countries such as Lebanon, where the banking system was a shambles leaving many unable to use credit cards.

It was almost impossible to corrupt information on the blockchain making it more secure than traditional transaction methods used in Web2, he added.

Despite resistance and reluctance, Ibrahim forecasted that Web3, and cryptocurrencies, would become the norm in the next five to 10 years with people using it just as seamlessly as they use debit and credit cards today.