Celebrated on Feb. 9, Safer Internet Day (SID) started in 2004 as an initiative of the EU-funded SafeBorders project. Since then, it has grown into a landmark annual event marked by more than 170 countries and aims to promote the safe and responsible use of online technology by people around the world.
Raising awareness about the safe use of social media platforms has been a key focus of SID activities with particular attention being paid to concerns over political manipulation, cyberbullying, and harassment.
Here is how some of the world’s biggest social media companies joined in this year’s event:
Globally, Facebook launched a short film on the importance of safety on the platform, with tips and resources to help parents support their children in staying safe while online.
The company also extended its digital citizenship and wellbeing program, Get Digital, to Israel, Turkey, and Russia, and as part of the European Commission’s Better Internet for Kids (BIK) virtual summit showcased its trust, transparency, and control (TTC) labs youth design guide.
In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Facebook has launched a series of initiatives and will be rolling out its Get Digital program in the region over the coming months.
In order to help journalists, Facebook has partnered with Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) for its I Will Not Stay Silent project to train writers to combat harassment.
The firm is also working with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) to roll out a six-week digital security webinar training series in Arabic as part of social media solutions training for journalists in the MENA region. The series will run through February to March and those participating in all six live webinar sessions will receive a project completion certificate.
Facebook will also be issuing a 34-page journalist safety guide in English and Arabic explaining how writers can secure information and their social media accounts, while protecting their sources and contacts.
In Jordan, Facebook partnered with the Jordan Open Source Association (JOSA) to produce a digital safety guide and toolkit allowing users to better control unpleasant experiences on the platform.
Shahed Al-Hindi, Facebook’s human rights public policy manager for the MENA region, said: “This campaign and partnership with JOSA are not just a one-off moment, but a continuous process to drive awareness about online safety among MENA users and educate them about the various resources we have in place that they can use to protect themselves.”
The resources, available in Arabic and English, can be found on the Facebook safety center and mini site developed by JOSA.
In Egypt, Facebook announced a partnership with the National Council for Women (NCW), which included the launch of a women’s safety resources package offering cartoons and videos to help educate female users of the platform.
“Keeping people safe on Facebook is really important to us. However, it is a sad reality that there will always be a small number of malicious people who are intent on harming others, online and offline.
“To be clear, we don’t allow that kind of behavior on Facebook and we take quick action when it’s flagged to us,” added Al-Hindi.
“The safety of Twitter and the health of the public conversation is one of our highest priorities,” said Camino Rojo, the head of public policy, government, and philanthropy in a blog post.
In the last year, Twitter had made “strides” in tackling abusive content resulting in a 105 percent increase in the number of accounts locked or suspended by the platform for violating its rules.
On Feb. 9, Twitter also launched a special emoji triggered by the hashtags #SaferInternetDay and #SID2021 in 18 languages.
Throughout the month, the social media company will work with its network of safety partners to amplify their guidance and continue the pro-bono Ads for Good program.
It also ran safety training and presentation sessions and participated in events to commemorate SID on four continents.
In the MENA region, Twitter ran an online safety workshop with the UAE TRA Virtual Academy to educate users on multiple elements of online and internet safety, ranging from digital footprint controls to media information literacy and security best practices.
Messaging app Snapchat introduced a new feature called Friend Check Up that prompted Snapchatters to review their friends list and check it was made up of people they still wanted to be connected to. The prompt showed up as a notification in users’ profiles.
The feature will start to be rolled out in the coming weeks and months for Android users first and then iOS users.
The new feature is part of a bigger campaign that Snap kicked off in January on global Data Privacy Day with the goal of further integrating online safety and privacy education into Snapchat.
Snap has also partnered with ConnectSafely in the US and Childnet in the UK on filters that will swipe up to additional safety resources from each organization, and it has expanded its safety linkups with organizations such as Crisis Text Line, Shout, The Trevor Project, and Mind Up.
TikTok launched a dedicated safety campaign #BeSafeBeHappy by teaming up with some of the biggest creators who shared how they use TikTok’s safety features to take them to their online happy place.
Regional creators participating in the campaign include Saudi-based gamer, Thamer, who encouraged his followers to report videos that were deemed unsafe, Egypt’s Youssef Magdy who showcased how to report negative comments, Egyptian yoga instructor Vatika who expressed her love for TikTok and acknowledged her supporters and fans, and Ahmad Aassi from Lebanon, who created a video showing users how to report and block people who were misusing the app.
Rami Zeidan, head of video and creative at TikTok, said: “We have a responsibility at TikTok to provide our users with a safe and positive environment and this is something we don’t take lightly.
“The #BeSafeBeHappy campaign is yet another step to raise awareness of our safety features and ensure our users continue to experience and spread joy on the platform.”
Meta’s Developing and ‘Ethical Framework’ for the Use of Virtual Influencers
With the rise of digital avatars, and indeed, fully digital characters that have evolved into genuine social media influencers in their own right, online platforms now have an obligation to establish clear markers as to what’s real and what’s not, and how such creations can be used in their apps.
The coming metaverse shift will further complicate this, with the rise of virtual depictions blurring the lines of what will be allowed, in terms of representation. But with many virtual influencers already operating, Meta is now working to establish ethical boundaries on their application.
As explained by Meta:
“From synthesized versions of real people to wholly invented “virtual influencers” (VIs), synthetic media is a rising phenomenon. Meta platforms are home to more than 200 VIs, with 30 verified VI accounts hosted on Instagram. These VIs boast huge follower counts, collaborate with some of the world’s biggest brands, fundraise for organizations like the WHO, and champion social causes like Black Lives Matter.”
At first glance, you wouldn’t necessarily realize that this is not an actual person, which makes such characters a great vehicle for brand and product promotions, as they can be utilized 24/7, and can be placed into any environment. But that also leads to concerns about body image perception, deepfakes, and other forms of misuse through false or unclear representation.
Deepfakes, in particular, may be problematic, with Meta citing this campaign, with English football star David Beckham, as an example of how new technologies are evolving to expand the use of language, as one element, for varying purpose.
The well-known ‘DeepTomCruise’ account on TikTok is another example of just how far these technologies have come, and it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where they could be used to, say, show a politician saying or doing something that he or she actually didn’t, which could have significant real world impacts.
Which is why Meta is working with developers and experts to establish clearer boundaries on such use – because while there is potential for harm, there are also beneficial uses for such depictions.
“Imagine personalized video messages that address individual followers by name. Or celebrity brand ambassadors appearing as salespeople at local car dealerships. A famous athlete would make a great tutor for a kid who loves sports but hates algebra.”
Such use cases will increasingly become the norm as VR and AR technologies are developed, with these platforms placing digital characters front and center, and establishing new norms for digital connection.
It would be better to know what’s real and what’s not, and as such, Meta needs clear regulations to remove dishonest depictions, and enforce transparency over VI use.
But then again, much of what you see on Instagram these days is not real, with filters and editing tools altering people’s appearance well beyond what’s normal, or realistic. That can also have damaging consequences, and while Meta’s looking to implement rules on VI use, there’s arguably a case for similar transparency in editing tools applied to posted videos and images as well.
That’s a more complex element, particularly as such tools also enable people to feel more comfortable in posting, which no doubt increases their in-app activity. Would Meta be willing to put more focus on this element if it could risk impacting user engagement? The data on the impact of Instagram on people’s mental health are pretty clear, with comparison being a key concern.
Should that also come under the same umbrella of increased digital transparency?
It’s seemingly not included in the initial framework as yet, but at some stage, this is another element that should be examined, especially given the harmful effects that social media usage can have on young women.
But however you look at it, this is no doubt a rising element of concern, and it’s important for Meta to build guardrails and rules around the use of virtual influencers in their apps.
You can read more about Meta’s approach to virtual influencers here.
Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps
Meta has published a new set of safety tips for journalists to help them protect themselves in the evolving online connection space, which, for the most part, also apply to all users more broadly, providing a comprehensive overview of the various tools and processes that it has in place to help people avoid unwanted attention online.
The 32-page guide is available in 21 different languages, and provides detailed overviews of Meta’s systems and profile options for protection and security, with specific sections covering Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.
The guide begins with the basics, including password protections and enabling two-factor authentication.
It also outlines tips for Page managers in securing their business profiles, while there are also notes on what to do if you’ve been hacked, advice for protection on Messenger and guidance on bullying and harassment.
For Instagram, there are also general security tips, along with notes on its comment moderation tools.
While for WhatsApp, there are explainers on how to delete messages, how to remove messages from group chats, and details on platform-specific data options.
There are also links to various additional resource guides and tools for more context, providing in-depth breakdowns of when and how to action the various options.
It’s a handy guide, and while there are some journalist-specific elements included, most of the tips do apply to any user, so it could well be a valuable resource for anyone looking to get a better handle on your various privacy tools and options.
Definitely worth knowing either way – you can download the full guide here.
Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with relatives of slain commander Qasem Soleimani ahead of the second anniverary of his death in a US drone strike in Iraq – Copyright POOL/AFP/File Tom Brenner
Twitter said Saturday it had permanently suspended an account linked to Iran’s supreme leader that posted a video calling for revenge for a top general’s assassination against former US president Donald Trump.
“The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating our ban evasion policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told AFP.
The account, @KhameneiSite, this week posted an animated video showing an unmanned aircraft targeting Trump, who ordered a drone strike in Baghdad two years ago that killed top Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s main accounts in various languages remain active. Last year, another similar account was suspended by Twitter over a post also appearing to reference revenge against Trump.
The recent video, titled “Revenge is Definite”, was also posted on Khamenei’s official website.
According to Twitter, the company’s top priority is keeping people safe and protecting the health of the conversation on the platform.
The social media giant says it has clear policies around abusive behavior and will take action when violations are identified.
As head of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Soleimani was the architect of its strategy in the Middle East.
He and his Iraqi lieutenant were killed by a US drone strike outside Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.
Khamenei has repeatedly promised to avenge his death.
On January 3, the second anniversary of the strike, the supreme leader and ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi once again threatened the US with revenge.
Trump’s supporters regularly denounce the banning of the Republican billionaire from Twitter, underscoring that accounts of several leaders considered authoritarian by the United States are allowed to post on the platform.
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