Old Twitter vs X: Israel-Gaza war spotlights ‘information crisis’

Twitter’s original logo (left) and the rebranded one. (AFP file photos)
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Updated 20 October 2023

Old Twitter vs X: Israel-Gaza war spotlights ‘information crisis’

  • Twitter’s greatest strength was as a tool for gathering and disseminating life-saving information and its old-school verification system meant sources and news were widely trusted
  • Renamed X by new owner Musk, the platform has gutted content moderation and, for many experts, the changes have made it a challenge to discern truth from fiction

WASHINGTON: Twitter won fame in the Arab uprisings nearly a decade ago as a pivotal source for real-time crisis information, but that reputation has withered after the platform’s transformation into a magnet for hate speech and disinformation under Elon Musk.
Historically, Twitter’s greatest strength was as a tool for gathering and disseminating life-saving information and coordinating emergency relief during times of crisis. Its old-school verification system meant sources and news were widely trusted.
Now the platform, renamed X by new owner Musk, has gutted content moderation, restored accounts of previously banned extremists, and allowed users simply to purchase account verification, helping them profit from viral — but often inaccurate — posts.
The fast-evolving Israel-Gaza conflict has been widely seen as the first real test of Musk’s version of the platform during a major crisis. For many experts, the results confirm their worst fears: that changes have made it a challenge to discern truth from fiction.
“It is sobering, though not surprising, to see Musk’s reckless decisions exacerbate the information crisis on Twitter surrounding the already tragic Israel-Hamas conflict,” Nora Benavidez, senior counsel at the watchdog Free Press, told AFP.
The platform is flooded with violent videos and images — some real but many fake and mislabeled from entirely different years and places.
Nearly three-fourths of the most viral posts promoting falsehoods about the conflict are being pushed by accounts with verified checkmarks, according to a new study by the watchdog NewsGuard.
In the absence of guardrails, that has made it “very difficult for the public to separate fact from fiction,” while escalating “tension and division,” Benavidez added.

Confusion over fake accounts

That was evident on Tuesday after a deadly strike on a hospital in war-ravaged Gaza, as ordinary users scrambling for real-time information vented frustration that the site had become unusable.
Confusion reigned as fake accounts with verified checkmarks shared images of past conflicts while peddling hasty conclusions of unverified videos, illustrating how the platform had handed the megaphone to paying subscribers, irrespective of accuracy.
Accounts masquerading as official sources or news media stoked passions with inflammatory content.
Misinformation researchers warned that many users were treating an account of an activist group called “Israel war room,” stamped with a gold checkmark — indicating “an official organization account,” according to X — as a supposedly official Israeli source.
India-based bot accounts known for anti-Muslim rhetoric further muddied the waters by pushing false anti-Palestinian narratives, researchers said.
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera warned that it had “no ties” to a Qatar-based account that falsely claimed affiliation to the Middle East broadcaster as it urged its followers to “exercise caution.”
“It has become incredibly challenging to navigate the fire hose of information — there is a relentless news cycle, push for clicks, and amplification of noise,” Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, head of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, told AFP.
“Now it’s clear Musk sees X not as a reliable information source but just another of his business ventures.”
The chaos stands in sharp contrast to the 2011 Arab uprisings that prompted a surge of optimism in the Middle East about the potential of the platform to spread authentic information, mobilize communities and elevate democratic ideals.

Flood of misinformation

The breakdown of the site’s basic functionality threatens to impede or disrupt the humanitarian response, experts warn.
Humanitarian organizations have typically relied on such platforms to assess needs, prepare logistical plans and assess whether an area was safe to dispatch first responders. And human rights researchers use social media data to conduct investigations into possible war crimes, said Alessandro Accorsi, a senior analyst at the Crisis Group.
“The flood of misinformation and the limitations that X put in place for access to their API,” which allow third-party developers to gather the social platform’s data, had complicated those efforts, Accorsi told AFP.
X did not respond to AFP’s request for comment.
The company’s chief executive Linda Yaccarino has signaled that the platform was still serious about trust and safety, insisting that users were free to adjust their account settings to enable real-time sharing of information.
But researchers voiced pessimism, saying the site has abandoned efforts to elevate top news sources. Instead, a new ad revenue sharing program with content creators incentivizes extreme content designed to boost engagement, critics say.
Pat de Brun, head of Big Tech Accountability at Amnesty International said X should use every tool available, including deploying so-called “break the glass measures” aimed at dampening the spread of falsehoods and hate-speech.
“Platforms have clear responsibilities under international human rights standards,” he told AFP.
“These responsibilities are heightened in times of crisis and conflict.”

TikTok hosts awards ceremony for second edition of Creator Hub Middle East

Updated 01 March 2024

TikTok hosts awards ceremony for second edition of Creator Hub Middle East

  • First place receives $10,000, second and third $5,000 each

RIYADH: TikTok MENA (Middle East and North Africa) hosted the second edition of the TikTok Creator Hub Awards ceremony in Riyadh on Wednesday to celebrate the growth of women-led businesses.

Taking place in Lakum Artspace, the event was attended by many aspiring businesswomen and influencers from the region.

Heba Qadeer, who won a second-place prize, told Arab News: “It’s incredible. I couldn’t believe it. When I found out that I (had) won, I was at work, and the first thing that I did was call my mom.”

Born and raised in Dubai, Qadeer is the founder and designer at Bharosa, a design line which celebrates Pakistani and Middle East culture.

She said: “I resonate with Middle Eastern culture so much, I am a hijabi myself and I absolutely love modest wear but at the same time I love my Pakistani colorful rich culture, so I wanted to mix that and create something that is unique.”

She explained that turning 30 was a milestone that motivated her to pursue her dream in business.

The top three at the event won cash prizes with Duaa Al-Bataiha, founder of Dina’s Dessert Hour, winning $10,000 for first place. 

Those in second and third place, Qadeer and Lara Akl, owner of a balloon and decoration company, received $5,000 each.

Kinda Ibrahim, TikTok’s general manager of operations for the Middle East, Turkiye, Africa, Pakistan, and South Asia, expressed the platform’s support for women-led businesses.

Reem Akl, communications and advocacy analyst at the UN Women Regional Office for the Arab States; Chahrazad Al-Hajjar, founder of Chahrazad’s Cuisine The Bakery; and Doaa Gawish, CEO and founder of The Hair Addict, also attended the ceremony.

Jomana Al-Rashid, CEO of the Saudi Research and Media Group and chairwoman of the Red Sea Film Foundation, delivered a speech via video.

She said: “To all of the incredible women creators, entrepreneurs and innovators here, you are making a profound impact on the world of digital media.

“Your creativity and determination are shaping narratives and inspiring women worldwide.

“Clarity of vision, resilience in execution, and the preparedness to seize opportunities when they are presented are the only determinants of success.”

One of the participants at the creator hub was Atheer Fahad, a Saudi designer who created the handbag brand Pearly.

She said: “This is all handmade. I taught myself how to create these products on my own and I took part in the competition through TikTok Creator Hub to reach more people and share my story and product.”

Fahad said she was a “one-woman show,” designing, creating, and promoting her handbags in the region.

She told Arab News: “I create these products on my own — from making the handbags by hand to managing the company and promoting it on TikTok.”

The program has helped her reach more people than ever before while showcasing her product, she added. 

The TikTok Creator Hub launched its Middle East edition in 2022. The program is set to continue annually with the next edition scheduled to take place in January 2025.

Saudi Press Agency launches first news training academy

Updated 29 February 2024

Saudi Press Agency launches first news training academy

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s state news agency announced on Thursday the launch of its first news training academy.

The Saudi Press Agency’s initiative came as part of the Human Capacity Development Initiative conference, held in Riyadh under the patronage of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The first phase of the academy’s work has seen the signing of partnerships with local and international organizations, SPA said in a press statement.

Local partnerships include the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation, the Prince Mohammad bin Salman College of Business and Entrepreneurship, the Institute of Public Administration, the Human Resources Development Fund, the Sky News Arabia Academy, and the Austrian International Center for Qualification and Quality.

SPA’s new academy will benefit from the agency’s partnership with more than 30 international news corporations.

The agency said it will work towards localizing knowledge, transferring best practices, and becoming a regional hub that produces and distributes news content.

The academy aims to develop advanced news skills, meet market requirements, and promote the transfer of knowledge, technology, and modern tools for journalistic and news work, in addition to enhancing a deep understanding of news issues and global challenges.

It will also offer training programs in five domains: journalism and news, technology and artificial intelligence, leadership and journalism ethics, media partners, and news awareness.

The newly established academy’s programs are directed at journalists, photographers, professionals, and technicians in the fields of media, media students, and media affairs officials in various entities.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman College, Saudi Press Agency sign training agreement

Updated 29 February 2024

Prince Mohammed bin Salman College, Saudi Press Agency sign training agreement

  • MBSC will train journalists in ‘interpersonal effectiveness skills,’ such as negotiation and presentation

RIYADH: The Prince Mohammed bin Salman College for Management and Entrepreneurship announced on Thursday a new partnership with the Saudi Press Agency to provide specialized training and development programs for the Kingdom’s news industry.

The partnership was co-signed by Zieger DeGreef, dean of MBSC, and Fahad bin Hassan Al-Aqran, president of SPA, during the “Human Capabilities Initiative” conference held in Riyadh on Feb. 28-29.

“We are proud to partner with the Saudi Press Agency,” DeGreef said. “We are proud to partner with a number of very prominent ministries and organizations in the Kingdom to develop business acumen in Saudi Arabia.”

He told Arab News that the partnership will train journalists in a variety of “interpersonal effectiveness skills,” such as teamwork, negotiation, presentation, influencing, decision-making, and communication — all of which “are very relevant for journalists (and) for professionals in the media.”

DeGreef added that although “there is already good education in the Kingdom,” it has “a long way to go in excellence in business education.”

He added: “The college tries to fill that void.”  

In addition to joining media-focused training programs under the agreement, Saudi journalists will also be able to obtain graduate degrees in business administration and finance.

“We will welcome journalists in those degree programs in business, but we are also developing an exciting portfolio of executive education programs again for the media,” DeGreef said. “So, most of our partnerships are already in those two areas, but the third area is research.”

He highlighted that MBSC’s faculty “will work with journalists from SPA on particular research projects, mostly linked to data, data analysis, data presentations, (and) data communication.”

SPA announced on Thursday the launch of its first news training academy in partnership with several organizations, including the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation, the Prince Mohammad Bin Salman College of Business and Entrepreneurship, the Institute of Public Administration, the Human Resources Development Fund, Sky News Arabia Academy, and the Austrian International Center for Qualification and Quality.

Former MSNBC show host launches new media company

Updated 29 February 2024

Former MSNBC show host launches new media company

  • Subscription-based news organization aims to produce “unfiltered journalism”

LONDON: Former MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan is to launch a new digital media company called Zeteo.

In a CNN interview with Jake Tapper, aired on Wednesday, the British-American writer and broadcaster said: “The reason I’m starting this company is that I want to be able to speak in a blunter fashion than some in the media speak right now, especially about issues like racism, fascism, genocide.”

The move came after his MSNBC “The Mehdi Hasan Show” was abruptly canceled by the network in October.

It coincided with his criticism of Israel’s actions during its war against Hamas in Gaza.

Zeteo, Hasan noted, was an ancient Greek word that meant “to seek out, to inquire, to get to the truth.”

The subscription-based news organization aims to produce “unfiltered journalism” with hard-hitting interviews, podcasts, newsletters, op-eds, and essays.

In a promotional video for the site, Hasan pointed out that he had been busy assembling an “Avengers-style team of contributors,” which included award-winning journalists, New York Times best-selling authors, and Hollywood celebrities.

Before joining MSNBC in 2021, Hasan worked for Al Jazeera English and hosted a podcast at The Intercept.

Step boss says AI regulation is critical but cautions against over-regulation

Updated 29 February 2024

Step boss says AI regulation is critical but cautions against over-regulation

  • Ray Dargham, the CEO of the tech-focused new media company, tells Arab News Saudi Arabia and the UAE are leading the way in AI advances and regulation
  • Annual Step Conference in Dubai last week added an AI track reflecting the growth of the technology globally and regionally

DUBAI: Tech-focused new media company Step held its 12th annual conference and exhibition in Dubai last week, which attracted about 350 startups, 150 venture capital firms and more than 8,000 delegates.

Ray Dargham, the co-founder and CEO of Step, said during the opening ceremony that the business, which has already expanded to include a conference in Saudi Arabia, now plans to go global through a partner-hosting model.

The event in Dubai featured six tracks: Start, covering startups, growth and venture capital; Fintech, covering ecommerce; Digital, devoted to media, adtech and creators; Wellness, covering health, lifestyle and femtech; Earth, for greentech and sustainability; and Artificial Intelligence, covering machine learning, data and automation.

The newly added AI track covered topics such as large-language models, advanced neural nets, and co-pilot systems, which were discussed by industry experts such as Brittany McDonough of the Abu Dhabi Investment Office; Maitha Alsuwaidi, chief operating officer of Microsoft UAE; Google Cloud’s Ahmad El-Sayed; and Google Deepmind’s head of product, Mehdi-Ghissassi.

Although AI has been around for a while, “it hadn’t actually reached a critical mass until about a year ago,” Dargham told Arab News. “For a long time, AGI or artificial general intelligence, was mostly limited to labs.”

More recently, ChatGPT has played a critical role in helping AI reach a mass audience, allowing everyone to “experience the power behind the technology,” he added.

The AI sessions at the Step Conference, which covered several topics, including regulatory frameworks and deep learning, were “designed to provide startups with invaluable insights into the ethical, regulatory and technological advancement of AI, equipping them to navigate and capitalize on the dynamic and fast-moving landscape of AI-driven innovation.”

The company is adapting to become an “AI conference” because, Dargham said, “most of what we consider ‘tech’ today will become AI-powered or have an AI component to it over the next few years.”

All of the other tracks during Step events will be affected by the development and utilization of AI to such a significant degree that Dargham believes the technology “will become bigger than software and the internet itself. Hence, theoretically speaking, our conference will become an AI conference instead of being a tech conference.”

Much of the innovation and development in AI has been global but Dargham said that in particular, Step was “noticing a significant shift in the Middle East region toward a growing interest and adoption of generative AI technologies.”

As evidence of this he cited the UAE’s strategy on AI, which aims to ensure the country is at the forefront of innovation in the technology by 2031, and Saudi Arabia’s national agenda for data and AI, which aims to position the Kingdom as a global leader in data-driven economies, allowing it to leverage the power of AI for economic and social development.

The region is already receiving greater international attention and investment related to AI. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, for example, is reportedly in talks with investors, including in the UAE, to raise funding — said to be as much as between $5 trillion and $7 trillion — for a tech initiative to boost international chip-building capacity and expand its ability to power AI, among other things.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE “are leading a groundbreaking wave of AI investment, spearheaded by entities like (AI development company) G42,” said Dargham.

“The adoption rates are skyrocketing across sectors, from healthcare to finance, highlighting a strategic shift towards AI-driven innovation” but it isn’t “just about numbers,” he added.

“It’s about crafting a narrative of ambition and progress that’s reshaping the region’s technological landscape.”

The national strategies of the countries and their investments are encouraging interest from private entities that “are increasingly investing in AI research and development, with a particular focus on generative AI,” which includes “endeavors to pioneer advanced algorithms, models, and applications customized to address regional needs and challenges,” said Dargham.

AI innovation is particularly evident in the startup landscape, with businesses “exploring diverse applications of generative AI in areas such as natural language processing, computer vision and creative AI.”

The advancement of AI is not without its challenges as global concerns grow about data privacy and security.

“Ensuring the protection of sensitive information and compliance with data-protection regulations are imperative for instilling trust and confidence in GenAI technologies among stakeholders,” said Dargham.

He added that “a significant hurdle” is the shortage of skilled AI professionals.

“Without an adequate talent pool equipped with the necessary expertise, organizations struggle to effectively implement GenAI solutions” resulting in a “pressing need to invest in AI education and training programs,” he said.

The rapid development of AI also brings with it ethical considerations.

“From deepfakes to misinformation, the ethical implications of GenAI demand robust guidelines and frameworks for responsible use,” Dargham said.

Step is committed to playing its part in this space, he added, through sessions designed to address the ethics, safety and societal impacts of AI. It is also exploring collaborations between governments and international organizations “to develop policies that foster innovation while addressing concerns related to data privacy, bias, transparency and responsibility.”

While regulation is critical, Dargham cautioned against over-regulation.

“Collaboration with policymakers, industry leaders, and ethical experts is essential in establishing clear guidelines that promote the ethical deployment of GenAI technologies, fostering trust and accountability within the ecosystem,” he said.

Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have “made significant progress in crafting frameworks for AI governance and ethics,” accompanied by national strategies and programs “aimed at advancing AI technologies while addressing pertinent regulatory concerns,” Dargham added.

“I think regulation for AI is crucial, but I’m also concerned about over-regulation globally; the EU tends to overregulate.”