Pakistan blocks Wikipedia over ‘blasphemous content’

A police officer stands guard as people take part in Friday prayers at a mosque, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 05 February 2023
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Pakistan blocks Wikipedia over ‘blasphemous content’

  • The Wikimedia Foundation — the non-profit fund managing Wikipedia — said the block “denies the fifth most populous nation in the world access to the largest free knowledge repository”

ISLAMABAD: Wikipedia was blocked in Pakistan on Saturday after authorities censored the website for hosting “blasphemous content” in the latest blow to digital rights in the deeply conservative nation.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, and social media giants Facebook and YouTube have previously been banned for publishing content deemed sacrilegious.
The online encyclopedia had been blocked across the country on Friday “after it failed to respond to our repeated correspondence over removal of the blasphemous content and meet the deadline,” Malahat Obaid, a spokesman for the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, told AFP on Saturday.
The PTA had earlier in the week given Wikipedia a 48 hour ultimatum to remove material, without publically specifying its exact objections.
“They did remove some of the material but not all,” Obaid said. “It will remain blocked until they remove all the objectionable material.”
An AFP reporter in Pakistan was not able to access the site from a mobile phone on Saturday.
The Wikimedia Foundation — the non-profit fund managing Wikipedia — said the block “denies the fifth most populous nation in the world access to the largest free knowledge repository.”
“If it continues, it will also deprive everyone access to Pakistan’s knowledge, history, and culture,” a statement said.
Free speech campaigners have highlighted what they say is a pattern of rising government censorship of Pakistan’s printed and electronic media.
“There’s just been a concerted effort to exert greater control over content on the Internet,” said digital rights activist Usama Khilji.
“The main purpose is to silence any dissent,” he told AFP. “A lot of times blasphemy is weaponized for that purpose.”
Pakistan blocked YouTube from 2012 to 2016 after it carried a film about the Prophet Muhammad that led to violent protests across the Muslim world.
In recent years, the country has also blocked the wildly popular video-sharing app TikTok several times over “indecent” and “immoral” content.

 


EU court rejects TikTok challenge against new EU digital rules

Updated 17 July 2024
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EU court rejects TikTok challenge against new EU digital rules

  • TikTok owner ByteDance is one of the six “gatekeepers” under Digital Markets Act facing the curbs
  • TikTok claimed to be acting as the “most capable challenger” to digital monopolies

LUXEMBOURG: TikTok lost an appeal Wednesday to escape new digital rules that seek to rein in the power of big tech after an EU court rejected its challenge.
A landmark European Union law known as the Digital Markets Act (DMA) entered into force in March, and regulators believe it will create a fairer market.
The European Commission designated six “gatekeepers” under the DMA facing the curbs: Google parent Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta, Microsoft — and TikTok owner ByteDance, the only non-US company.
The EU said in May that Booking would also have to apply the law and gave the online travel agent six months to prepare for compliance.
The decision by the Luxembourg-based General Court is the first judgment on a DMA challenge by big tech, with cases lodged by Apple and Meta still pending.
“The Court dismisses ByteDance’s action,” it said. TikTok can appeal against the ruling within two months and 10 days of the decision.
TikTok had insisted it was the “most capable challenger” to entrenched players in the digital sphere, but the court dismissed that argument.
“TikTok had succeeded in increasing its number of users very rapidly and exponentially, reaching, in a short time, half the size of Facebook and of Instagram, and a particularly high engagement rate, with young users in particular, who spent more time on TikTok than on other social networks,” the court said in a statement.
The judges acknowledged that in 2018, video sharing app TikTok was indeed a challenger but it had since then “rapidly consolidated its position and even strengthened that position over the following years” despite the launch of similar rival services.


“We are disappointed with this decision. TikTok is a challenger platform that provides important competition to incumbent players,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
“While we will now evaluate next steps, we already took measures to comply with the relevant obligations of the DMA ahead of last March’s deadline.”
But the court determined “ByteDance met the quantitative thresholds laid down in the DMA.”
For Brussels to name a company as a gatekeeper, they must fulfil certain conditions.
The criteria include having more than 45 million monthly active users in the EU and more than 10,000 yearly active business users established in the bloc.
Digital companies with an annual turnover in the EU of at least 7.5 billion euros ($8.2 billion) or a market value of above 75 billion euros also face the new curbs.
If a company violates the law, the EU can impose fines of up to 10 percent of a company’s total global turnover. This can rise to 20 percent for repeat offenders and in the most severe circumstances, the EU can order the break-up of companies.
It is the second defeat in the courts for TikTok over the DMA. It lost a bid in February to suspend the strict new rules pending the judgment handed down Wednesday.
Big tech is not happy about the new law. Apple, contesting the DMA in the courts, has been vocal in its criticism, saying it puts users’ security at risk.


Trump shooting conspiracy theories flourish on X, researchers say

Updated 17 July 2024
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Trump shooting conspiracy theories flourish on X, researchers say

  • The conspiracy theories were viewed over 215 million times on X, the watchdog Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) said

WASHINGTON: Conspiracy theories about the assassination attempt on Donald Trump received tens of millions of views on X, researchers said Tuesday, highlighting the potential for extreme falsehoods to go viral on the Elon Musk-owned platform.

The social media site, formerly named Twitter, was flooded with unsubstantiated claims soon after the shooting Saturday at a campaign rally in Butler, Pennsylvania, which left one spectator dead and a bloodied Trump injured in the ear.

Those included unfounded assertions that the assassination attempt had been “staged” or an “inside job,” while fingers were pointed at imaginary culprits such as Jews and the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.

The conspiracy theories were viewed over 215 million times on X, the watchdog Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) said after analyzing a sample of 100 popular posts.

A majority of the posts did not carry a “Community Note,” a crowd-sourced moderation tool that Musk has promoted as the way for users to add context to the tweets, CCDH added.

In the first 24 hours alone, unsubstantiated narratives around the incident amassed more than 100 million views on X, according to the nonprofit research group Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

X did not respond to a request for comment.

Internet hoaxers also falsely identified several people as the shooter — including Italian sports journalist Marco Violi, anti-Trump protester Maxwell Yearick and comedian Sam Hyde, AFP’s fact-checkers reported.

Federal investigators have identified the shooter, who was killed on the scene, as Thomas Matthew Crooks of Pennsylvania.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, several social media users voiced confusion as they scrambled to obtain accurate information in what appeared to be a sea of false or misleading posts, which rapidly gained traction.

The trend illustrates the ability of falsehoods to mutate into viral political discourse on tech platforms including X, which now offer fewer guardrails as they scale back content moderation.

Researchers say some clout-chasing accounts on the platform have a financial motive to post sensational falsehoods, as X’s ad revenue-sharing program incentivizes extreme content designed to boost engagement.

“In the marketplace of disinformation — which is effectively what a lot of social media platforms have now been reduced to, a marketplace for lies — extreme content is your currency,” said Imran Ahmed, chief executive and founder of CCDH.

“The algorithms take the most outlandish content and amplify it exponentially until the entire digital world is flooded with conspiracism, disinformation and hate.”

Researchers have warned about a possible firehose of disinformation in the run up to the November election, which will take place in a deeply polarized political climate in the United States.

“Already, at an early stage in the US electoral cycle, we can see flashing warning signs that social media in the weeks and months ahead will be increasingly chaotic and rife with disinformation,” Ahmed said.


Algeria publisher closes over book controversy

Readers visit a book stall on a street in the Algerian capital Algiers. (AFP file photo)
Updated 17 July 2024
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Algeria publisher closes over book controversy

  • The announcement comes a week after “Houaria” won the prestigious Assia Djebar Grand Prize, an award in honor of the Algerian literary giant who died in 2015

ALGIERS: An Algerian publishing house said on Tuesday it was ceasing operations after an award-winning novel sparked uproar on social media because of its controversial themes.
“We announce that MIM Edition has closed its doors effective immediately in the face of the storm and fire,” the publisher posted on Facebook.
“Houaria,” by Inaam Bayoud, has sparked furor on social media, with many accusing it of being replete with sexual innuendo and using “coarse terms in Darija,” the Algerian dialect of Arabic.
The announcement comes a week after “Houaria” won the prestigious Assia Djebar Grand Prize, an award in honor of the Algerian literary giant who died in 2015.
“While reading the novel, we were no less concerned about values than those who claim to defend them without having read it,” said Amina Belaala, a member of the Assia Djebar Grand Prize jury that selected the book.
“We did not see in those few words any affront to morality, religion or modesty,” she added.
For literary critic Faycal Metaoui, the uproar caused by the novel is evidence of a double-standard for female writers in Algerian society.
“The author and the publisher are women. If it were written by a man, we would not have seen all this,” he told AFP.
 

 


Stabbed Iran International journalist flees to Israel over safety concerns

Updated 16 July 2024
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Stabbed Iran International journalist flees to Israel over safety concerns

  • Pouria Zeraati said move was a “reluctant” but necessary decision

LONDON: Iran International journalist Pouria Zeraati has fled to Israel citing safety concerns after an assassination attempt in London in March.

In an interview with The Guardian, Zeraati revealed that his move from London to an undisclosed location in Israel was a “reluctant” but necessary decision.

“The place I live right now is a little safer,” he said in an interview published Tuesday.

“There have been communications between the UK police and the police here. They know about my situation and have taken extra measures to make sure I’m safe in Israel.”

Zeraati was attacked outside his home in Wimbledon, southwest London, by three unidentified men who reportedly fled the country immediately after the attack.

Police believe the attackers were part of a criminal gang from Eastern Europe acting on behalf of the Iranian government.

Suspicion increased following a series of foiled plots aimed at kidnapping or killing employees of Iran International, a London-based network that Tehran has classified as a terrorist organization.

Zeraati, who was hospitalized with a leg injury, criticized the UK’s approach to the threat posed by Iran on British soil, saying it could not guarantee his safety.

He called for the British government to impose more stringent sanctions against Iran.

The attack on Zeraati comes amid an “unprecedented” harassment campaign against Iranian journalists living abroad.

According to a report by Reporters Without Borders, almost 90 percent of Iranian journalists said they had experienced online threats or harassment in the past five years.

In December, ITV revealed that a double agent exposed a plot orchestrated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to assassinate two network anchors during the 2022 anti-government protests.

Similarly, journalists at the BBC’s Persian language news outlet reported being targeted with offensive messages and threats of sexual assault, with reports of family members in Iran being arbitrarily detained.

Zeraati’s move to a country at war, and at risk of further conflict, has also raised fresh questions over how safe the UK is for dissidents targeted by foreign states.


Video of driver lashing migrants in back of lorry sparks indignation in Italy

Updated 16 July 2024
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Video of driver lashing migrants in back of lorry sparks indignation in Italy

  • Video shows driver shouting at and hitting a group of Eritrean migrants with makeshift whip

LONDON: A video showing a driver lashing a group of migrants who hid in the back of his lorry to cross into France has sparked outrage in Italy.

The video, which went viral on social media, shows an unidentified driver, believed to be from Eastern Europe, shouting at and hitting a group of Eritrean migrants, mostly women, with a makeshift whip.

The incident was filmed by a passerby at a traffic center in Ventimiglia, in the Liguria region near the French border.

Police are investigating the incident but have not released further information.

The episode has ignited a nationwide debate, with Save the Children Italy condemning the images as “inhuman and demeaning.”

“Children, adolescents, and thousands of migrants arriving in Europe deserve a system that recognizes their needs, treats them with respect and dignity, and protects them from danger,” the association said in a statement, criticizing the EU’s recently approved Pact on Migration and Asylum.

According to the Italian newspaper Secolo XIX, the group had been welcomed the evening before the incident at a refugee center run by Catholic charity Caritas and spent the night at the “widespread reception point” in Ventimiglia.

Following the incident, the migrants returned to the center, where they recounted what had happened.