96th Academy Awards: A Playful and Memorable Ceremony with Ryan Gosling Shining Bright

The Oscars ceremony always aims to achieve three main goals: recognizing the year’s best films and talent, promoting cinema attendance, and delivering an entertaining show for both the audience at home and the industry elite. In recent years, boosting movie theater attendance has become particularly crucial due to a decline caused by factors like the Covid-19 pandemic and the rise of streaming platforms. However, the 96th Academy Awards predominantly excelled in entertainment value, characterized by its playful tone and memorable moments, notably featuring Ryan Gosling’s captivating contributions.

While the ceremony succeeded in providing an enjoyable spectacle, the actual awards followed a predictable trajectory, culminating in “Oppenheimer” claiming the coveted best picture award, among its total of seven wins under director Christopher Nolan’s helm. The lack of suspense surrounding most categories, except for best actress, was notable. Emma Stone clinched the award for her role in “Poor Things,” offering a touching acceptance speech, although it meant Lily Gladstone missed out on a potentially historic win.

The predictability of the awards mirrored the extensive preparation and rehearsal time nominees had during the lengthy awards season, which kicked off in early January. Despite the show’s quality, there were concerns about its ability to improve television ratings, especially with its earlier start time and the concurrent shift to Daylight Savings Time. However, in today’s fragmented TV landscape, maintaining viewership can be considered a success in itself, as demonstrated by the recent record-low ratings of the Emmys, even with a well-executed broadcast.

Highlighting the evening’s notable moments, several factors stood out:

  1. Acting Testimonials: Previous Oscar winners introducing nominees in the acting categories added a warm touch, emphasizing the honor of being nominated. While there were emotional moments, such as Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s reaction, overall, it contributed to the celebratory atmosphere of the event.
  2. Ryan Gosling’s Performance: Gosling’s rendition of “I’m Just Ken” was a standout moment, living up to the anticipation with his spirited performance, including a humorous exchange with Emily Blunt. His contribution earned him the unofficial title of Oscars MVP for the year.
  3. Jimmy Kimmel’s Hosting: Jimmy Kimmel brought his trademark light-hearted approach to the hosting duties, effectively balancing humor with addressing industry challenges, such as the strikes affecting the entertainment sector.
  4. Efficient Timing: The ceremony managed to conclude within its allotted time, thanks to starting earlier and pacing the program effectively, allowing for meaningful tributes and performances without feeling rushed.
  5. Political Statements: While most of the evening focused on the awards, there were poignant political moments, including speeches by directors highlighting global issues, such as the conflict in Gaza and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  6. Diverse Recognition: Despite one film dominating the awards, several others received recognition, ensuring a more diverse spread of accolades among the nominees.
  7. International Representation: The awards reflected an increasingly globalized film industry, with winners from various countries, showcasing the diversity and talent beyond Hollywood.
  8. John Cena’s Appearance: John Cena’s playful nod to Oscar history by presenting the best costume design award in a humorous manner added a fun touch to the proceedings.

However, there were some shortcomings:

  1. Presenter Banter: While some presenter interactions were enjoyable, overall, the banter felt lacking, with only a few moments standing out amidst mediocrity.
  2. Honorary Oscars Oversight: The oversight of not showcasing clips from previously presented honorary awards felt like a missed opportunity to honor industry veterans.
  3. “Flamin’ Hot” Performance: While most song performances were strong, the rendition from “Flamin’ Hot” came across as overly theatrical and out of place.

Overall, the 96th Academy Awards succeeded in delivering an entertaining and memorable ceremony, albeit with some areas for improvement. Despite challenges in the industry and the broader television landscape, the Oscars maintained their position as a significant cultural event, celebrating the best in film while offering moments of reflection and entertainment.

The Indian Panorama Celebrates 18th Year Of Publication At “Gratitude Gala”

The Indian Panorama, a weekly publication from New York, celebrated its 18th anniversary by hosting a Gratitude Gala on February 25 in Hicksville Long Island, NY.

Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj  honored four eminent Indian American, and Congressman Tom Suozzi, felicitated The Indian Panorama and its contributions.

The Indian Panorama Celebrates 18th Year Of Publication At “Gratitude Gala”For the news weekly’s Founding Editor and Publisher Prof Indrajit Singh Saluja, it was a double celebration as he also cut a cake for his 80th birthday. Editor-Publisher Indrajit S. Saluja thanked the patrons for their support and loyalty.

In a busy evening program, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Amb. Ruchira Kamboj presided and presented awards to the four honorees. Congressman-elect Tom Suozzi thanked Prof Saluja and the Indian community for their support. The Indian Panorama also lent its platform to launch Blitz India’s US edition.

Even as Prof Saluja expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the guests present in the chandeliered ballroom of Pearl Banquet Hall, as well as his readers and the Indian community for their loyal support all these years, he chose to honor four eminent Indian Americans at the event. All were honored with a citation scroll, a shawl, and a model of the Golden Temple.

The four honorees are well-known in the community. Dr. V.K. Raju (Life Achievement Honor) is on a mission to eliminate childhood blindness through his Eye Foundation of America.

Ranju Batra (Excellence in Promotion of Diplomacy Award) honors diplomats at the Diwali Stamp – Power of One awards after securing the Diwali Stamp from USPS.

Harry Singh Bolla (Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award)  runs a billion-dollar chain of gas stations and has started a charity to support good causes here in New York and India. He could not be present in person.

The Indian Panorama Celebrates 18th Year Of Publication At “Gratitude Gala” 1Purnima Desai (Excellence in Culture Award) is the founder of Shikshayatan Cultural Center and Sriniketan Foundation which encourage and support Indian music and arts through training and events.

They were also presented citations from Nassau County Executive  Bruce Blakeman.

Introducing the Chief Guest, eminent attorney Ravi Batra said Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj joined her post when India was already a Member of the UN Security Council and she took it to a higher trajectory.

Amb Kamboj, in her address, commended The Indian Panorama for not only being a mirror of the vibrant roots of our culture but also showcasing the journey of the Indian diaspora. She also called the US diaspora the best in the world.

The new Consul General of India in New York, Amb. Binaya S. Pradhan could not make it because of a conflict in scheduling.

Blitz India Chairman and Editor-in-Chief Deepak Dwivedi and CEO Sandeepp Saxena flew in from New Delhi for the US launch of their news weekly, which is India’s first chronicler of development news and already has a UK edition. The duo was joined by Prof Saluja and other dignitaries and mediapersons to release printed copies of the paper.

Two more media events followed. Journalists Beyond Borders (JBB), a fraternity organization founded by Prof Saluja in 2022, was formally launched. Local publishers and editors joined in to reveal its logo. Through journalism, JBB  aims to protect and promote human rights, human values, and world peace. Prof Saluja used the occasion to facilitate his friend Parveen Chopra on the first anniversary of his ALotusInTheMud.com, a wellness and spirituality web magazine.

The Indian Panorama Celebrates 18th Year Of Publication At “Gratitude Gala” 2The guests at the gala included Padma Shri Dr Sudhir Parikh, Publisher of Parikh Media Worldwide, and Dilip Chauhan who represented NYC Mayor Eric Adams. Prominent Community organizations were represented: Gobind Munjal and Dr Jagdish Gupta from AIA, Dr Avinash Gupta, Srujal Parikh, and Alok Kumar from FIA-Tristate, and Thomas Abraham from GOPIO. IOC-USA was represented by George Abraham.

Veteran Sikh community leader Master Mohinder Singh, a former president of Gurdwara Sikh Cultural Society, Richmond Hill, and a founder President of Gurdwara Baba Makhan Shah Sikh Center was present with Gurmej Singh, a former president of Gurdwara Baba Makhan Shah Lobana.

The media fraternity stood in solidarity with Prof. Saluja. They included: Sunil Hali (Promoter, Radio Zindagi, and Publisher, The Indian Eye), Sharanjit Singh Thind (Editor-Publisher, South Asian Insider), and Varinder Bhalla  (Publisher, Bollywood Insider).

The standing-room-only audience was hooked to the show beginning with the very first item when two lithe dancers from Battery Dance took to the floor. The last item was the adrenaline-pumping bhangra dance. In between, dancers trained by Shilpa Jhurani and Rimli Roy showed their classical moves. The artists were profusely applauded by the audience and thanked by Prof. Saluja.

The evening’s program was dexterously emceed by Piya Jyoti Kachroo, ITV anchor and producer.

The sumptuous dinner with a top-of-the-shelf bar was enjoyed by the guests.  Prof. Saluja expressed his heartfelt thanks to Pearl CEO Gary Sikka and his staff for the excellent food and hospitality.

The Indian Panorama Celebrates 18th Year Of Publication At “Gratitude Gala” 3Those at the event from the electronic media included Pardeep Gill from Global Punjab, Munish Byala, and Gurinder Hothi. Photographers included Mohammed Jaffer, Vijay Shah and Kripa Prasad.

Guests came from various parts of the US and even India. They included  Bidisha Roy, Assistant Editor of The Indian Panorama (TIP) from Tampa, Florida, Zia Khan, a celebrated photographer who looks after TIP’s Dallas edition, and Parminder Singh Aujla, TIP’s California representative, from Sacramento.

Politician Puneet Ahluwalia came from Virginia, social activist Murtaza from Pennsylvania. Harry Singh Panaser, Mrs. Manjit Kaur Panaser,  Harvenderpal Singh, Seema Jagtiani, Nutan Dabholkar, Dave Makkar, Mrs. Rashmi Makkar, Prachi and Surya Makkar, Rimli Roy, Rupinder Singh, and many more from New Jersey.

From India came Arminder Arora and his wife Tript Arora, Sparsh and Bhola.

Prof Indrajit Saluja has become synonymous with The Indian Panorama, a labor of love. He is not only an eminent editor but also a well-respected community leader who has forged links across the ethnic, ideological, and political spectrum.

For Prof Saluja, his paper is an expression and extension of his love for India as well as a platform to project the rich South Asian culture and how our successful community has made a place in the melting pot of America. A trilingual, he has also helped start newspapers in Hindi and Punjabi.

Indefatigable Prof Saluja’s spirit and intensity of work belie his years. He came to the US over 20 years ago after having a long career as a Professor of English Literature at leading colleges in India. Alongside, he founded a prominent monthly magazine titled ‘Punjab Beat’.

Prof Saluja feels proud that The Indian Panorama has remained true to its motto, EVER TRUTHFUL”. “This commitment is not just a slogan but a guiding principle, a promise to our readers, and a testament to the collective effort that sustains the publication,” he insists.

(Parveen Chopra is the founder-editor of ALotusInTheMud.com, the premier wellness and spirituality magazine started in 2022.)

Journalists and Activists Detained in Moscow Crackdown Amidst Protest for Ukraine War Returnees

Numerous individuals, including reporters from international media outlets, have been apprehended in Moscow following a crackdown on demonstrators at the election headquarters of Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to reports from independent sources on Saturday.

The demonstration was orchestrated by the spouses of deployed men amidst a growing movement of women demanding the return of their husbands and sons from Ukraine. Video footage reviewed by CNN depicts Russian authorities arresting several individuals wearing “Press” vests in the vicinity of Red Square.

The protest, dubbed “500 days of mobilization,” attracted women to the Kremlin walls before progressing to Putin’s nearby election headquarters, as per reports. SOTAvision, an independent Russian news source, shared on their Telegram channel that a correspondent witnessed security forces “grabbing random individuals from the crowd, targeting only men.”

OVD-info, a watchdog group monitoring Russian repression, stated that at least 27 people, with only one identified as a protester, were transported in a police van to Kitay-Gorod station, where they are presently detained. Despite OVD-info’s attempts to send a lawyer to visit the detainees, access was denied.

Mediazona, an independent Russian media organization, reported on Saturday that among those detained are journalists employed by Kommersant, France Press, and Spiegel, as well as human rights activists. Furthermore, OVD-info mentioned that seven journalists covering the rally were taken to the Basmanny police station, including Andrei Zaiko from the Japanese television company “Fuji.”

According to OVD-info’s Telegram update, one employee from state media has been released from Kitay-Gorod along with three minors. The update stated, “Police officers informed them that they intend to release the remaining federal and foreign media personnel soon, but will retain ‘foreign agents’ media representatives at the police station. All detainees also had their phones confiscated.”

Russia’s foreign agents law, expanded in late 2022 to encompass individuals or groups deemed to “receive support and/or be under foreign influence,” has drawn criticism as a Kremlin maneuver to silence critics of its actions in Ukraine, including journalists.

Samir Shah Chosen As Chair Of  BBC

British television executive Samir Shah has been chosen as the government’s preferred candidate to chair the BBC, culture minister Lucy Frazer said last week. Dr. Samir Shah, an India-born media executive with over 40 years of experience in UK broadcasting, has been named as the UK government’s preferred choice for the position of the new British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) chair.

The 71-year-old, honored with a CBE by Queen Elizabeth II in 2019 for contributions to television and heritage, is set to succeed Richard Sharp. Sharp resigned following scrutiny of his communications with former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

With a career spanning over four decades, Shah serves as the CEO and owner of Juniper, an independent television and radio production company. Previously, he held the position of head of current affairs and political programs at the BBC. In 2022, he received the Royal Television Society’s top honor, the Outstanding Contribution (Lifetime Achievement) award for journalism.

Shah has held roles as a non-executive director of the BBC, chair of the Museum of the Home (2014-2022), and trustee and deputy chair of the V&A (2004-2014). He also chaired the Runnymede Trust and currently serves as chair of One World Media. Additionally, Shah is a member of the Arts and Media Honors Committee.

“I am delighted to be named the preferred candidate for chair of the BBC and I look forward to the upcoming pre-appointment hearing with the Select Committee. The BBC is, without doubt, one of the greatest contributions we have made to global culture and one of our strongest calling cards on soft power,” he said.
Shah is scheduled to undergo pre-appointment scrutiny before the Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee of Members of Parliament.

“With a career spanning more than 40 years in TV production and journalism, Dr Shah has a wealth of experience to bring to the position of BBC Chair. He has a clear ambition to see the BBC succeed in a rapidly changing media landscape, and I have no doubt he will provide the support and scrutiny that the BBC needs to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future,” Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said.

The BBC is funded by a licence fee paid by TV-watching households and is politically independent, but its chair is appointed by the government. Shah, who was born in India and has worked in broadcasting for over four decades, will be questioned by a parliamentary committee of lawmakers before he is formally appointed.

Majority Traditional News Media In The U.S Lose Audiences

declining share of U.S. adults are following the news closely, according to recent Pew Research Center surveys. And audiences are shrinking for several older types of news media – such as local TV stations, most newspapers and public radio – even as they grow for newer platforms like podcasts, as well as for a few specific media brands.

Pew Research Center has long tracked trends in the news industry. In addition to asking survey questions about Americans’ news consumption habits, our State of the News Media project uses several other data sources to look at various aspects of the industry, including audience size, revenue and other metrics.

How we did this

The latest data shows a complex picture. Here are some of our key findings:



  • For the most part, daily newspaper circulationnationwide – counting digital subscriptions and print circulation – continues to decline, falling to just under 21 million in 2022, according to projections using data from the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM). Weekday circulation is down 8% from the previous year and 32% from five years prior, when it was over 30 million. Out of 136 papers included in this analysis, 120 experienced declines in weekday circulation in 2022.
  • While most newspapers in the United States are struggling, some of the biggest brands are experiencing digital growth.AAM data does not include all digital circulation to three of the nation’s most prominent newspapers: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. But while all three are experiencing declines in their print subscriptions, other available data suggests substantial increases in digital subscriptions for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. (Similar data is not available for The Washington Post.) For example, The New York Times saw a 32% increase in digital-only subscriptions in 2022, surpassing 10 million subscribers and continuing years of growth, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). There are many reasons this data is not directly comparable with the AAM data, including the fact that some digital subscriptions to The New York Times do not include news and are limited to other products like cooking and games. Still, these brands are bucking the overall trend.
  • Overall, digital traffic to newspapers’ websites is declining.The average monthly number of unique visitors to the websites of the country’s top 50 newspapers (based on circulation, and including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post) declined 20% to under 9 million in the fourth quarter of 2022, down from over 11 million in the same period in 2021, according to Comscore data. The length of the average visit to these sites is also falling – to just under a minute and a half in the last quarter of 2022.
  • Traffic to top digital news websites is not picking up the slack.Overall, traffic to the most visited news websites – those with at least 10 million unique visitors per month in the fourth quarter of a given year – has declined over the past two years. The average number of monthly unique visitors to these sites was 3% lower in October-December 2022 than in the same period in 2021, following a 13% drop the year before that, according to Comscore. The length of the average visit to these sites is getting shorter, too. (These sites can include newspapers’ websites, such as that of The New York Times, as well as other digital news sites like those of CNN, Fox News or Axios.)MAP 2
  • Across several years of data, there has been a drop in audiences for local TV news, affecting morning, evening and late-night time slots alike.For example, the average number of TVs tuning into ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates for the evening news was just over 3 million in 2022, down from just over 4 million in 2016.
  • Audience trends are a little more mixed when it comes to TV news on cable and network stations.Prime-time and daytime audiences for CNN, Fox News and MSNBC all grew in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, before declining in 2021. Fox News’ audiences ticked back up in 2022, while the audiences for the other two channels continued to decline.
  • Audiences for news programming on ABC, CBS and NBChave been relatively stable in recent years, with some variation depending on the time slot. Audiences for evening news are up slightly since 2016 on all three networks, but they are modestly down for morning news.
  • The story is mixed when it comes to audio, too.The share of Americans who listen to terrestrial radio has declined in recent years, as has listenership on NPR and PRX. But there has been a clear rise in audiences for podcasts and other types of online audio. Although podcasts often are not news-related, about two-thirds of S. podcast listeners say they hear news discussed on the podcasts they listen to.

Economic trends in the news industry

Declines in audience don’t necessarily mean declines in revenue, with some industries faring better than others in 2022. The newspaper industry and network television, for example, saw losses in advertising revenue, while local TV revenue followed typical patterns associated with election years.

Here are some data points on how these media sectors are faring economically, based on data from filings with the SEC, industry tracking companies and other sources:


  • Advertising revenue for newspapershas continued to decline steadily. In 2020, projections of circulation revenue surpassed advertising revenue for the first time since at least 1956 (the first year for which data is available), and that pattern has held steady in recent years. The makeup of advertising revenue is changing as well: Nearly half of newspaper companies’ advertising revenue (48%) came from digital advertising in 2022, up from 19% in 2012.
  • For local television, advertising revenue has remained roughly stable on the whole,bolstered by increased digital advertising and consistent spikes in political advertising revenue during election years. Political advertising, in particular, has grown over the past decade, increasing from roughly $600 million in the 2012 presidential election year to about $1.9 billion in 2022 (a midterm election year). Local TV stations also have seen increasing revenue from retransmission fees, paid by cable and satellite systems to carry local channels.
  • Local public radio station revenuehas increased, from roughly $1.1 billion in 2020 to about $1.2 billion in 2021. Revenue for NPR, specifically, increased 8% between 2021 and 2022.
  • MAP 4Revenue trends for cable TV newsvary depending on the network. Among the three major cable news networks, Fox News led in both total revenue and net advertising revenue, which increased from 2020 to 2022. CNN and MSNBC saw slight declines over the same period.
  • Advertising revenue has generally declined for ABC, CBS and NBC news programmingsince 2020, in both the morning and evening time slots.

Shahina K.K Receives CPJ International Press Freedom Award

Shahina K.K, an Indian journalist was among the four recipients of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) International Press Freedom Awards. The awards ceremony held in New York City was chaired by Meredith Kopit Levien, president and CEO of The New York Times Company, who recognized Shahina for her undying commitment to journalism despite facing legal challenges and harassment. She has dedicated her career to shedding light on critical issues such as gender, human rights, and marginalized communities.

Shahina, also known as Shahini Nafeesa is a veteran Indian journalist who has worked across print and broadcast media to shed light on issues such as gender, human rights, and marginalized communities, along with the injustices they face. CPJ has been documenting the myriad ways in which she has been attacked and intimidated since at least 2010.

Shahina, currently a senior editor for Outlook magazine, was one of the first journalists in India to be charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, a draconian anti-terror law extensively weaponized against journalists in the country for over a decade.

She has continued her reporting in various posts despite awaiting trial for a case opened in 2010, when localShahina K K Receives CPJ International Press Freedom Award 2 government officials in Karnataka state sought to criminalize her reporting published in Tehelka, a prominent investigative magazine where she worked at the time. Her report cast doubt on a police investigation into 2008 bomb blasts in Bengaluru, alleging that the police had fabricated witness statements to arrest a local Muslim cleric.

She faces three charges under the penal code, including criminal intimidation, intent to commit a criminal act, and criminal conspiracy, and one count under UAPA pertaining to threatening witnesses. As of June 2023, Shahina is out on bail pending trial. If convicted, she faces a maximum of three years in prison and a fine.

A Muslim by birth, Shahina has also been subjected to extensive harassment by Indian right-wing groups seeking to silence her reporting on religious minorities and vulnerable caste groups. She has faced persistent online harassment and lewd threats, and in 2020, several right-wing publications falsely implicated her in that Bengaluru bombing.

Based in Kochi, in the southern state of Kerala, Shahina has worked as a reporter, production associate, and news anchor with well-known news outlets including Asianet News, Janayugom, Open, and The Federal. She also has contributed to The Washington Post.

By honoring Shahina with this year’s IPFA, CPJ shines a spotlight on India’s increasingly repressive environment for press freedom, with the targeting of journalists under draconian security laws, and toxic online campaigns particularly aimed at vilifying women journalists and ethnic or religious minorities.

Shahina stands out as one of the first journalists in India to face charges under a draconian anti-terror law. Despite the ongoing trial since 2010, she has continued reporting on exposing injustices and holding authorities accountable. nThe case against Shahina stems from her reporting on a questionable police investigation, where local government officials sought to criminalize her work. As of June 2023, Shahina is out on bail, awaiting trial. If convicted, she could face up to three years in prison with an additional fine.

Besides being held in court, Shahina has been subjected to harassment by political groups in India. These groups have reportedly tried to suppress her reporting on religious minorities and vulnerable caste groups. The International Press Freedom Award acknowledged Shahina’s resilience in the face of adversity, honoring her dedication to the principles of free and unbiased journalism.

Shahina is the fourth Indian to achieve this recognition, with notable contributions to OPEN magazine, Tehelka, and Asianet News. She was awarded the Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Women Mediapersons in 2011. Moreover, she was an activist in the 2014 fight against moral policing, the ‘Kiss of Love’ movement.

In her acceptance speech, Shahina said, “As time went on I made a conscious effort to derive more from my courtroom experiences. I met many people who had unusual encounters with the legal system, with a significant number of them being victims of fabricated cases. This resulted in a series of articles that illuminated the challenges endured by the marginalized population in the state of Karnataka in India. As I sought to understand legal abuse, I pursued a law degree ultimately I earned.”

Ajay Ghosh Honored With Excellence In Media & Journalism Award

Ajay Ghosh, the Chief Editor and co-publisher of The Universal News Network (www.theunn.com) was awarded with the prestigious Kerala Center Annual Award for Excellence in Journalism during the 31st Annual Awards Banquet held on October 28, 2023 at The Indian American Kerala Cultural and Civic Center in Elmont, New York. New York State Senator Kevin Thomas presented the Award to Ajay Ghosh, during the awards ceremony that was attended by nearly 200 people from across the United States and Canda, including several elected officials, community and business leaders.

Ajay was among the eight distinguished honorees from across the United States and Canada, who were bestowed with the prestigious awards with Excellence Awards for their outstanding accomplishments in their respective fields of specialization and contributions to the larger society. Others who were honored included: Dr. Shyam Kottilil (Baltimore, MD) – Life Time Achievement Award; Sajeeb Koya (Pickering, Ontario, Canada) – Entrepreneurship; Dr. Anna George (Long Island, NY) – Nursing; Shelby Kutty (Baltimore, MD) – Medicine; Lata Menon (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada) – Legal Services; Jayant Kamicheril (Reading, PA) – Pravasi Malayalam Literature; and, Gopala Pillai (Dallas, Texas) – Community Service.

In his response, Ajay shared with the audience his close association with the Kerala Center since his arrival in New York 2019. While referring to the importance of the media, Ajay said, “Media serves as the link that connects people, and is the mirror that reflects the world that we call our home.” He pointed to the challenges faced by the journalists around the world. “In much of the world, press freedom is either limited or virtually nonexistent. Reporters are often thrown in jail, beaten, subdued, intimidated, or even killed for doing their jobs. All of these things are of great concern to professional journalism.” He dedicated his award to the brave journalists who are at the front lines, endangering their own lives, while reporting and speaking, standing up for truth.

Ajay graduated with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI in 1998. Prior to coming to the United States, Ajay was the Chief Editor of The Voice Delhi and contributed articles to several national publications in India.

Starting his journalistic career as a reporter in 1999 for India Post, Ajay had worked as the New York Bureau Chief of Indian Reporter and World News, and he served as the New York Bureau Chief of India Tribune, a weekly newspaper published from Chicago. Ajay was the Executive Editor of NRI Today, and the Bureau Chief of The Indian Express, North American Editions. He was the Chief Editor of The Asian Era, a monthly publication from New York since its launch in 2005 to 2018.

Since 2014, Ajay has been serving as the Media Coordinator of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), the largest ethnic medical organization in the United States, representing 100,000 physicians of Indian origin. In 2023, he was appointed as the Media Consultant for Public Relations for ITServe Alliance, the largest association of IT Solutions and services organizations in the United States, with over 2,200 small and medium sized member companies of Information Technology.

The Universal News Network is an online publication, launched in 2012, focusing on possibility-oriented storytelling that fuels hope and sparks innovative ideas and actions; seeking to lead discussions, creating, disseminating, and using news and information that serves us all, and providing a platform for diverse voices, forms, and continually engaging everyone.

Prior to coming to the United States, Ajay had graduated with a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Delhi University in 1989. Ajay served as an Adjunct Faculty, teaching Social Work Seminar and guiding MSW students at the Fordham Graduate School of Social Work in New York City from 2006 to 2016. He was an Adjunct Professor at Bridgeport University, where he taught Psychology.

Ajay works as a Psychiatric Social Worker at Yale-New Haven Psychiatric Hospital from 2017 onwards, and currently serves as a full-time Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Bridgeport Hospital. He worked as a Social Worker at Hartford Health at Home from 2019 to 2022. Ajay served as the Administrator of the Mental Health Clinic at St. Dominic’s Home, Bronx, NY from 1999 to 2015.

In 2019, Ajay was part of a nearly 200-member expedition to Antarctica, the 7th Continent on Earth. Ajay served as the founder President of the Indo-American Press Club (IAPC) in 2014. He currently serves as the Secretary of the Borad of Directors of IPAC.

Ajay was honored with the Excellence in Reporting Award by AAPI for several years. In 2018, Ajay received the Excellence in Journalism Award from NAMAM, a North American Community Organization. In October 2023, Ajay received the prestigious Excellence in Journalism & Media Award by The Kerala Center in New York. Ajay is married to Mini, and the couple are blessed with three adorable daughters, Archana, Navya, and Ahana.

Arundhati Roy Charged Over Kashmir Comments Made 13 Years Ago

Indian authorities have filed charges against the acclaimed author Arundhati Roy for public statements she made over a decade ago regarding the tumultuous Kashmir region, marking the latest development in the Indian government’s increasingly restrictive stance on free speech under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership.
Suman Nalwa, a spokeswoman for the New Delhi police, stated that the government had given approval for charges to be brought against Ms. Roy and Kashmiri law professor Sheikh Showkat Hussain. The charges encompass various sections of Indian law, including those related to provocative speech and the incitement of enmity between different groups.

The Lieutenant Governor of the Delhi region indicated that the government had contemplated pursuing a more severe sedition charge against Ms. Roy and Mr. Hussain in connection with a case originating from a complaint lodged in October 2010 by a right-wing Kashmiri Hindu activist against speakers at a conference on Kashmir.
However, no such sedition charge was filed, as India’s highest court is currently deliberating the validity of the colonial-era sedition law, which critics assert has been misused for decades to stifle dissent. The reason for the police’s decision to act on the activist’s complaint over a decade after its filing remains unclear.

Picture: NYT

The action taken against Ms. Roy, a prominent critic of Prime Minister Modi, and Mr. Hussain occurred shortly after New Delhi police conducted raids on the residences and offices of numerous journalists associated with an online news portal recognized for its critical stance on the Indian government.

Previously, the authorities had also targeted the organization NewsClick. However, their crackdown escalated following the publication of an article in The New York Times that revealed connections between an American tech mogul financing the website and the Chinese government.

On Tuesday, a New Delhi court denied bail to the founder of NewsClick and another individual linked to the website, ordering their detention for ten days. Both individuals, who deny any wrongdoing, face charges under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, an anti-terrorism law. Many individuals charged under this law have spent years in detention awaiting trial.

Regarding the Kashmir conference-related case, Mr. Hussain, speaking from Kashmir, informed The New York Times that he had not received any formal communication regarding the charges. When asked for comment, Ms. Roy stated that she needed to consult with her lawyer before discussing the case.

Two other individuals accused in the activist’s complaint, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a prominent figure in Kashmir’s separatist movement, and Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani, a former university professor, have since passed away. The two men were not related.

The conference, titled “Freedom — the Only Way,” took place in New Delhi on October 21, 2010. During that period, tensions in Muslim-majority Kashmir were running high after the death of a 17-year-old boy who was struck by a tear gas canister fired at close range by Indian security forces as he returned from a tutoring session.

The year saw a cycle of unrest in Kashmir that resulted in the deaths of approximately 120 demonstrators.

In a guest essay published in The New York Times that autumn, Ms. Roy described the turmoil, noting, “Since April, when the army killed three civilians and then passed them off as ‘terrorists,’ masked stone throwers, most of them students, have brought life in Kashmir to a grinding halt. The Indian government has retaliated with bullets, curfew, and censorship.”

In the complaint filed by the Kashmiri Hindu activist, it was alleged that several speeches at the conference, including Ms. Roy’s, had “endangered public peace and security” and that the speakers had advocated for the “separation of Kashmir from India.”

In her speech, Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize-winning author of “The God of Small Things,” recounted an incident in which she was accosted by a television reporter who repeatedly asked her, “Is Kashmir an integral part of India?”

She responded, “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. However assertively and frequently you ask me, even the Indian government has acknowledged that it is not an integral part of India.”

The Modi government, which assumed power four years after these events, has taken measures to bring the Kashmir region under direct control, revoking its limited autonomy and suppressing democratic principles and opposing voice

Indo-American Press Club’s 9th International Media Conference Held In Stamford, CT

Media Seminars, Workshops, Motivational Sessions, Awards Gala Dinner, Musical/Cultural Program by Hedge Group with renowned artist from India and the United States, and Networking were the key highlights of the 9th annual International Media Conference organized by the Indo-American Press Club (IAPC) at the Hilton Stamford Convention Center in Stamford, CT from October 7th to 9th, 2023.

The theme for this year’s conference was “Bridging Borders: Media’s Role in a Globalized World,” a topic that holds immense significance in today’s interconnected and rapidly changing world. Dozens of media persons from the United States, Canada and India participated at the power packed conference which included workshops and panel discussions on social media influencing and defamation laws and a motivational talk by a corporate trainer on ‘Emotional Intelligence: How to Become a Success Magnet.’

In his inaugural address, Kamlesh C. Mehta, Chairman of IAPC said, “It is an absolute honor to stand before you as the Chairman of this prestigious organization. I am deeply humbled by the opportunity to address this gathering of media professionals, journalists, and distinguished guests. The Indo-American Press Club has always been at the forefront of promoting cultural exchange, fostering dialogue, and encouraging collaboration between India and the United States. This conference embodies our commitment to these ideals.”

Mr. Mehta said, “In the spirit of our conference’s theme, let us pledge to continue building bridges, not walls. Let us commit to facilitating open and honest dialogues that transcend boundaries and promote mutual respect. Let us strive for a world where information is a force for unity, not division. I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all the speakers, panelists, and participants who have traveled from near and far to share their insights and expertise during this conference. Your contributions will undoubtedly enrich our discussions and contribute to the growth of the Indo-American Press Club as a platform for constructive dialogue.”

The inaugural ceremony began with a welcome speech by IAPC General Secretary C G Daniel and was followed by the lighting of the lamp by IAPC leaders and local Chapter leaders. Ginsmon Zachariah, founder chairman of IAPOC administered the oath of office to a dozen new members, who joined IAPC as its new members.

Prof. Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox, in her keynote address said, “This is a particular honor for me because I feel connected to this community and this work for two reasons. First, as the child of Indian immigrants, I see the world through a kind of duality of cultures. Culturally, my values reflect a South Asian immigrant household that recognizes the role of education in breaking down barriers, the role of communities in uplifting the individual, and the centrality of family in the background of every personal and professional opportunity. My values also reflect a commitment to democracy, equality, and justice that come from my lifelong engagement with the United States Constitution.”

Prof. Gadkar-Wilcox reminded the media persons that “Journalists provide the foundations of that democratic culture, by enabling facts to be presented, truths to be told, and vulnerabilities to be exposed. And you bring a particularly unique voice to this work, as I have learned that I bring to public life, because you live in this duality as well. You understand both global and local perspectives and you bring that intersectionality to life in your stories. Thank you for all that you do to help strengthen our democracy.”

According to Prof. Gadkar-Wilcox, “Journalism provides us an opportunity to strengthen human rights by strengthening our democracy. Journalism educates, it helps people relate to one another, and brings together those who may be different, but who can advocate for a common cause. Thank you for helping us all maintain that commitment to democracy and human rights! And thank you for educating the public!”

Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox is Chair of the Department of Justice and Law, and Associate Professor of Legal Studies at Quinnipiac University. She is also Executive Director of the Oxford Consortium for Human Rights and a Fulbright-Nehru Scholar. Sujata was recently appointed by Governor Ned Lamont to serve as a Commissioner on the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities in Connecticut (CHRO).

The first day of the conference came to a close with a colorful and thrillingly enjoyable  musical and dance extravaganza presented by RHYTHM 2023, led by Anna Prasad, Aishwarya Devan, Vidya Vinu Mohan, Abhijith, Kalpana (Choreographer) George (Keyboard) and Sunitha- Dance Co Ordinator. Jacob Abraham from the popular Hedge Funds Entertainment hosted the evening cultural show. The inaugural event on the first day ended with the Vote of Thanks proposed by IAPC Treasurer, Joji Kavanal.

In her keynote address during the Awards Gala, Meera Gandhi spoke about “The Role Of Media In A Polarized World”  and drew the attention of the audience to the fact that “Most news organizations today aspire to a goal of delivering quality information that can promote healthy dialogue among members of the communities some succeed better than others, but it’s more challenging to do this in a society today, in the midst of partisan, polarization, culture wars, foreign campaigns using technology platforms to divide, there is a shortage of moderate voices among political leaders, and no shortage of activists exploiting, extreme and divisive rhetoric “

Ms. Gandhi suggested 3 strategies to reach polarized audiences: “1.affirm a common sense of humanity deeply understand we are one consciousness, and one human connected by breath. This will affect your reporting; 2. story framing have conversations within your news rooms before putting out stories so that better framing could have power to deliver more truthful information to polarized audiences; and, 3. Do richer interiors. Avoid divisive, nuances and softer textures should be used to discuss potential problems in a non-divisive manner.”

Ms. Gandhi reminded the media persons that “The future of millions of people are in your hands you the press, the journalists, the media outlets, the O TP platforms – you have a very serious responsibility —do not handed over to demagogues and self-interest people. We are an amazing race let’s stay connected, undivided, happy and informed. You the journalist here today can make this happen. I salute all your efforts!”

Ginsmon Zachariah said, “IAPC members are dedicated to fulfilling the vision of enhancing their own journalistic skills, while striving to help fellow journalists and future generations work towards the common cause of enhancing the well-being and efficiency of all peoples of the world.”

In his welcome address, Ajay Ghosh, Secretary of the Board of Directors, IAPC said, “IAPC was formed to bring together media groups and the Indian media fraternity, across North America, under one umbrella, to work together, support one another, and provide a unified voice to the mainstream media world and the larger community.”

Among the distinguished guests who attended and graced the Conference included, Ms. Nimmi Mehta, Advocate A. Jayashankar, PP James, Editor in Charge at 24 News,  V. Aravind, Assistant Executive Editor at 24 News.

An IAPC souvenir 2023 was released during the Conference. Its editorial team led by Dr. Mathew Joys, a well-known writer and Columnist in North America, and Shan Justus, a tech expert presented the 1st copy to IAPC Chairman Kamalesh Metha. A book, “Padmasreeyum Swathanthryavum” by Joseph John from Calgary was also released during the Conference.

Social Media Influencer Awards were presented to: Korason Varghese, a columnist with Malayala Manorama, a leading Malayalam News; Dr. Alice Mathew, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, known as an inspirational professor and a motivational speaker; and Meera Nair, a Cine actress, poet, dancer, writer, and media person. Joseph John Calgary, a freelance journalist and founding member of the Canadian Freelance Guild and CWA Canada was presented with Community Leader Award.

The Essay Competition Prize winner in Senior Category was Gautham Krishna Saji, 11th Grade Midwood High School, NY for his Essay on: PRESS FREEDOM IN DANGER. The winner in the in Juniors Category was Sameera Kavanal, 9th Grade, Yorktown High School, NY for her essay on: WHY I LIKE/DISLIKE SOCIAL MEDIA. Kaitlyn Dan Thomas, Grade 5 at the Calvary Christian School, Atlanta was given a Prize of Appreciation.

A lively seminar on “Social Media Influencers: Challenges & Scopes” moderated by Dr. Mathew Joys had Adv. Jayasankar, Korason Varughese, Joseph Jøhň (Calgary), Meera Nair, Dr. Alice Mathew, Nisha Jude, P P James and B Aravind as panelists.

Ashok Arora President NRI International Love All, Motivational Speaker, Author, Lawyer, Teacher, Human Rights Activist, Film Maker, and  Mediator offered a special presentation on Media and Legal Issues. Arora spoke in detail about the defamation case on Rahul Gandhi, and answered questions from the audience. Prof. Anil Bhatnagar, a motivational speaker inspired the audience with his power speech.

Able Cherian, a proud supporter of IAPC and coming from Dubai to be part of the Conference was felicitated with a Memento. Also, Regi Philip, Director IAPC, CEO GTE Travels on Stage was felicitated for his support to IAPC.  Felicitation by community leaders and IAPC members included: A. Jayashankar, Jacob Kudasanad, Sunil Manjanikkara and James Chacko. Azad Jayan from IAPC Niagara Chapter proposed the vote of thanks. The Conference was eloquently emceed by Aditi Vyas.

Lifetime Achievement Award

The prestigious Lifetime Achievement Awards were conferred during the closing gala on the evening of Sunday the 8th. The honorees who received the awards included:

  • VINAY MAHAJAN (Entrepreneurial Excellence). He is the National President of ITServe Alliance Inc., an association of 2200 + SME US IT companies.
  • Padma Shri H.R. SHAH (Media & Arts), Chairman & CEO of TV Asia Group.
  • MEERA GANDHI (Philanthropist). She is the founder of the Giving Back Foundation and a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor (2015).
  • Dr. SAMPAT SHIVANGI (Community service, medicine). A physician, he is a veteran leader of AAPI, recipient of the PBD Samman Award in 2016 and Ellis Island Medal of Honor 2008.
  • SHAJAN SKARIAH (Excellence in Journalism). He is a promoter and editor of the online portal “Marunadan Malayali”.
  • Dr. RENU ABRAHAM VARUGHESE (Excellence in Elder Care). She is an Associate Professor at the School of Health and Natural Sciences, Mercy University, NY.

IAPC was formed to unite the Indian diaspora media fraternity across North America under one umbrella to work together, support one another, and provide a unified voice in front of the mainstream media and the larger community. Every year IAPC hosts media conferences bringing together renowned journalists and media professionals from various countries around the world, and hosts workshops and seminars. For information regarding IAPC, please visit: www.indoamericanpressclub.org

CBS News Chief Neeraj Khemlani Is Stepping Down

CBS News President and co-head Neeraj Khemlani, who has guided the news division and local TV stations for a little over two years, made a sudden announcement on Sunday regarding his departure from his current position.

In a memo addressed to the staff, Khemlani conveyed his decision with clarity, stating, “I have some news to share today, and I don’t want to bury the lede. After an exhilarating run, and before the next season starts, I’ve decided to step back from my current role and start a new exciting chapter.”

Khemlani disclosed that he has entered into a “multi-year, multi-platform first look deal with CBS to develop content” for the network, encompassing projects such as “documentaries, scripted series, and books for Simon & Schuster.”

The successor to Khemlani remains uncertain, although Wendy McMahon, who shares the same title as president and co-head of CBS News and TV stations, is being considered as a potential candidate.

George Cheeks, the CEO of CBS, lauded Khemlani’s contributions in a separate memo to the staff, assuring them that he would soon provide updates regarding “information about the new leadership and structure for the division.”

The absence of an immediate announcement about a new network chief or interim leadership team following Khemlani’s unexpected departure on Sunday underlines the abrupt nature of his decision.

Noteworthy news programs like “60 Minutes,” “CBS Sunday Morning,” “Face the Nation,” and the “Evening News” fall under the purview of the CBS News president.

While CBS News holds a dominant position in Sunday programming, the network has struggled to secure a higher position against NBC and ABC in daily programming. However, it managed to enhance its ratings under Khemlani’s leadership.

During his tenure, Khemlani bolstered the reporting team at CBS News, successfully attracting well-known journalists such as Robert Costa and Cecilia Vega to the network. Despite his ability to draw esteemed reporters to the organization, Khemlani encountered challenges along the way. Earlier this year, he became the subject of a human resources investigation.

Khemlani’s departure marks the third instance of a network news chief exiting in 2023. Chris Licht was dismissed from CNN earlier in the year following a tumultuous period, and in January, Noah Oppenheim left NBC News.

Meta’s Twitter Rival ‘Threads’ Crosses 100 Mn Sign-Ups

Meta’s Twitter rival, Threads, has finally crossed 100 million user sign-ups within a week of its launch, while Twitter is experiencing a decline in traffic.

Threads reached the milestone even faster than OpenAI’s ChatGPT that passed that mark after two months, reports The Verge.

Meta launched Threads last week for iOS and Android users in 100 countries, and it is currently the top free app on the App Store.

The new app crossed 2 million sign-ups in just two hours after launch, 10 million users in seven hours and 30 million in just 12 hours.

IT service management company Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince on Sunday tweeted a graph showing Twitter’s declining domain name system (DNS) ranking from January to now.

Twitter-owner Elon Musk on Monday posted, “You will get more laughs from this app than everything else combined.”

In response to a tweet about Meta Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s investment in the Metaverse, Musk said, “Censorship pays them well.”

Last week, Zuckerberg had said that the launch of the new app has been “way beyond our expectations.”

Also, Instagram head Adam Mosseri had clarified that Meta does not want to replace Twitter but create a public square for communities on Instagram that never really embraced Twitter and for communities on Elon Musk-run platform “that are interested in a less angry place for conversations, but not all of Twitter”. (IANS)

Judge Rules Biden Administration Violated First Amendment with Censorship During Pandemic

A federal judge in Louisiana has ruled that the Biden administration probably broke the First Amendment by censoring negative views on social media during the coronavirus pandemic, calling the measures “Orwellian.”

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and all employees of the Justice Department and FBI are all prohibited from having any contact with social media firms for the purpose of discouraging or removing speech protected by the First Amendment, according to a broad preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty.

The decision and request from Bold, a deputy of previous President Donald Trump, are the most recent improvements in a long-running claim led by conservative drove states charging that the organization compelled online entertainment organizations to eliminate posts containing implied deception about the Covid, political race security and different issues.

“During the Coronavirus pandemic, a period maybe best described by broad uncertainty and vulnerability, the US Government appears to play expected a part like an Orwellian ‘Service of Truth,'” Courageous wrote as he would see it, which was delivered as most bureaucratic courts were shut for the Freedom Day occasion.

The ruling by Doughty appears to take effect right away, but the Biden administration can appeal it to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans because it is not a final decision on the suit. On Tuesday, the Justice Department declined to provide any commentary. A representative for the White House didn’t quickly answer a solicitation for input.

The judge says in his decision that a wide range of topics, including opposition to Covid vaccines, masking, lockdowns, and the lab-leak theory, were “all suppressed” on social media at the direction of administration officials; opposition to the election’s legitimacy in 2020; opposition to the policies of the president and other officials; and statements asserting that the account of a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden, Biden’s son, was accurate.

Every theme “smothered” was a moderate view, which “is very telling,” Bold pronounced. “This designated concealment of moderate thoughts is an ideal illustration of perspective segregation of political discourse,” he proceeded. ” The evidence presented thus far portrays a scenario that is almost dystopian; American citizens have the right to freely debate the significant issues affecting the nation.

However, the judge also mentioned previous attempts to delete or suppress content from anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who announced in April that he will challenge Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2024.

In a statement released on Tuesday afternoon, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry praised the decision, describing it as a “historic injunction” against the Biden administration that prevents it “from censoring the core political speech of ordinary Americans on social media.”

“The proof for our situation is stunning and hostile,” Landry added. In the case, the Justice Department has argued that federal officials’ speech was protected by the First Amendment because they were simply encouraging social media companies to police their platforms. Although top officials have occasionally harshly criticized the businesses, federal officials have consistently denied using threats or coercion to force the companies to de-platform particular speech or speakers.

“They’re killing individuals,” Biden said in July 2021, subsequent to being gotten some information about the presence of hostile to immunization content on Facebook and different locales. ” The main pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and they’re killing individuals.”

Audacious has been regulating the suit the lawyers general of Missouri and Louisiana documented last year guaranteeing that the organization’s tension on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube was extraordinary to such an extent that it added up to oversight. In a censure to Brave in January, the fifth Circuit impeded endeavors to compel previous White House press secretary Jen Psaki to affirm for the situation.

White House Condemns Harassment Of WSJ Journalist For Asking Modi A Question

The harassment of Wall Street Journal reporter Sabrina Siddiqui who questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his joint presser with US President Joe Biden last week on religious rights and free speech, is “unacceptable”, the White House said.

At a press briefing,  White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby was asked about the “intense online” harassment the reporter was facing following her questions at the joint conference on June 22.

To this, he replied: “We’re aware of the reports of that harassment.  It’s unacceptable.  And we absolutely condemn any harassment of journalists anywhere under any circumstances.  That’s just — that’s completely unacceptable.  And it’s antithetical to the very principles of democracy were on display last week during the state visit.”

At the White House on June 22, after Modi and Biden had read out their prepared statements, the President said: “I’m told there are two questioners: Sabrina (Siddiqui) from The Wall Street Journal and (Rakesh) Kumar from the (Press) Trust of India”.

Siddiqui asked him about criticisms from some in Biden’s party about the treatment of religious minorities and “crackdown on dissent”.

“It is in America’s DNA and, I believe, in India’s DNA that the whole world — the whole world has a stake in our success, both of us, in maintaining our democracies.  It makes us appealing partners and enables us to expand democratic institutions across — around the world,” Biden said.

He said that they had a “good discussion about democratic values”, and added, “we’re straightforward with each other, and — and we respect each other”.

Siddiqui then asked, Modi of “what steps are you and your government willing to take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities in your country and to uphold free speech?”

Speaking in Hindi, Modi repeated Biden’s remarks about the DNA of democracy in both countries.

He said: “Our ancestors have actually put words to this concept, of democracy and that is in the form of our constitution.

“We have always proved that democracy can deliver.  And when I say deliver, this is regardless of caste, creed, religion, gender (and) here’s absolutely no space for discrimination.”

As a result of the question, the reporter faced widespread criticism online.

In response, Siddiqui posted a picture of her wearing a jersey of the Indian cricket team and another one with her father watching a match and cheering for the team.

“Since some have chosen to make a point of my personal background, it feels only right to provide a fuller picture. Sometimes identities are more complex than they seem,” she said in the Twitter post.

A Complete Guide On How To Advertise on Pinterest in 2023

With millions of users sharing images and ideas on a daily basis, Pinterest stands out from other social media platforms because its users primarily seek to explore and find new products, making them highly responsive to ads. But not only that. Pinterest is also a promising choice for advertisers because of its lower CPC and free or paid advertising tools that make it easy for them to triple the conversions and get twice the ROI. In this article, Avi-Meir Zaslavskiy — the CEO of 999Global and a marketing specialist gives a complete guide on how businesses can advertise on Pinterest in 2023 and make the most of this powerful platform.

-Create a Business Account
The first step is to create a business account. This account allows advertisers access to a range of tools and features that are not available to regular users. To create a business account, go to the Pinterest homepage and click on the “Join as a Business” button.

-Set Up A Profile
The next thing to do is to set up a profile. According to Avi-Meir, since a profile is the initial point of contact for visitors on your page, it is crucial to create a positive first impression. A profile should include a clear and concise description of the advertiser’s business, a logo, a cover image that represents their brand, and links to their website and other social media accounts.

-Choose An Ad Type
Pinterest offers advertisers three ways to do adverts on the platform. The first is a booster that easily transforms organic Pins into advertisements using a mobile device and just a few simple steps. The second one is an Ads manager. “You can use the Ads Manager to create campaigns, do custom audience targeting, and monitor ads,” says Avi-Meir. The last one is where advertisers collaborate with Pinterest Business Partners, who are authorized partners, to expand their advertising reach and evaluate the effectiveness of their ad campaigns.

-Choose a Marketing Objective
There are four marketing objectives advertisers can choose from when creating an ad on Pinterest.
Awareness: This objective increases a brand or product’s recognition by getting more reach and enhancing visibility.
Consideration: Advertisers can use this objective to generate more interest in their content by attracting higher traffic both on and off Pinterest.
Conversions: This objective encourages the audience to take a desired action, such as purchasing products online, signing up for services, or subscribing to newsletters.
Offline sales: Boost in-store sales by attracting more customers to physical locations with this objective.

-Choose an Ad Format
There are a lot of ad formats that can choose from when advertising on Pinterest and they include:
-Idea Pins: Also known as story pins, these are brief video clips or a series of up to 20 visuals that aim to captivate Pinterest users with interactive educational content.
Try on Product Pins: This format is an innovative feature that merges content with augmented reality to provide a virtual “fitting room” experience for Pinterest users. “This ad type shows users how a product will look on them through the use of their phone’s camera using AR technology,” explains Avi-Meir.
Collection Ads: This type of ad comprises a large, prominent image or video accompanied by three supporting images. If a user clicks on the ad, you can present up to 24 supplementary images on the ad detail page.
Carousel Ads: Pinterest’s carousel ads are designed to resemble organic Pins, but they feature a sequence of images that users can swipe through. Each carousel ad can feature anywhere from 2-5 images — and when a user saves them, the complete carousel is saved to their board.
Promoted Pins: “This ad format is the easiest type of ad to create on Pinterest because you are just boosting an already existing Pin,” says Avi-Meir. These ads consist of a single image or video that appears in a user’s home feed and only differ from organic Pins by featuring a small “Promoted by” label.
Shopping ads: Shopping ad features one video or image pulled from the product catalog. And the great thing about these ads is that anyone can set them up in minutes.

-Create a Custom Audience
Advertisers can discover their ideal audience and ensure that their ads reach the people who matter most to their business through the following targeting options:
Automated targeting: Pinterest’s automated targeting system selects the right audience by analyzing the information in a Pin.
Demographics: Advertisers can refine their target audience by using demographics such as age, gender, location, and language, to help them connect with the right people.
Interest: Target individuals based on their interests, such as recipes or home decor, as they scroll on their home feeds.
Keywords: Direct ads toward individuals who are likely to take action by targeting specific search terms. “Your ads will appear in search results and related Pins when users search for them using the same keyword,” says Avi-Meir.
Customer lists: Advertisers can upload a customer list to reach individuals who have previously interacted with their websites, shops, or Pinterest content.
Actlike audience: “You can also use actalike audiences to locate individuals who share similar interests and behaviors with your current customers,” explains Avi-Meir.

-Optimize The Pins
“You can make your pins stand out by using high-quality images that are visually appealing and eye-catching,” says Avi-Meir. Advertisers can also include relevant keywords and hashtags in their pin descriptions, as this will help the content appear in search results and reach a wider audience.

-Measure Your Results
Avi-Meir emphasizes that it’s crucial to gauge the success of any advertising campaign by measuring the outcomes and assessing the efficacy of your endeavors. Pinterest provides an array of analytical resources that enable marketers to track vital metrics such as saves, clicks, and impressions. By leveraging these tools, you can evaluate the performance of your content and adapt your approach as required.

Israeli Military Killings Of Journalists Go Unpunished

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has published a report detailing the lack of accountability held by the Israeli military regarding their killings of at least 20 journalists over the past 20 years. The report, titled “Deadly Pattern,” exposes a distressing trend in which “a pattern of the killings of journalists by Israel Defense Forces (IDF), after which no accountability is taken,” according to a CPJ press release. The press advocacy group reveals that although the IDF has taken out 20 journalists since 2001, only Palestinian reporters have been affected by such killings, with no one charged or held accountable for the deaths. These events lead to concerns about the reporters’ safety, as the CPJ emphasizes that the lack of accountability and uncooperative nature of the Israeli military regarding the inquiries makes it exceptionally challenging and incredibly dangerous for journalists to report in the region.

The report states that there is a typical pattern when a journalist is killed in the occupied territories at the hands of the IDF. “Israeli officials discount evidence and witness claims, often seeming to clear soldiers for the killings while inquiries are still in progress; IDF’s procedure for examining military killings of civilians such as journalists described as a “black box,” with the results of any such probe kept confidential.” Furthermore, the report highlights that Israeli military investigations into such incidents often take years, and families of the mostly Palestinian journalists have little to no recourse to pursue justice. The IDF’s Military Advocate General’s Office made a statement in September 2021 stating it does not intend to prosecute any of the soldiers involved.

In May of 2021, CNN conducted an investigation after Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, a 51-year-old Palestinian-American, was shot and killed by the IDF while covering an Israeli military operation in Jenin. The investigation uncovered footage and testimonies that proved no active combat or Palestinian militants were present at the time of her death. The report also features a quote by the CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado, stating that “The deliberate targeting of journalists, whether through the use of live rounds, rubber bullets, or tear gas, is unacceptable and must stop.”

The report concludes that the lack of accountability, refusal to cooperate with investigations, and the slow pace of military probes means that the Israeli military are complicit with the killings of journalists and impunity for the death of journalists, and this has become a distressing trend. The report also urges Israeli authorities to take action to curb such incidents and that IDF officials should be held accountable for their actions.

Report finds Israeli forces repeatedly fail to respect press insignia, resulting in deaths of journalists

The Israeli military has been accused of failing to protect journalists in the West Bank and Gaza, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The report states that 20 journalists have been killed in the regions since 1992, with at least 13 clearly marked as press at the time of their deaths. The report also alleges that Israeli forces continue to ignore the “press insignia” of journalists and media workers. The CPJ claims that it contacted the IDF’s press office multiple times to request interviews with military prosecutors and officials, but was always refused.

The IDF regrets any harm to civilians caused during operational activity and recognises the importance of press freedom and the work of journalists, according to a statement by the agency. The IDF is said to use live fire only as a last resort, and not to target non-combatants. It also investigates its own actions through independent and comprehensive examination and investigation mechanisms including the Fact Finding Assessment. The Israeli military has stated that whenever an allegation of unlawful harm to civilians, including journalists, is raised, an investigative procedure is initiated to clarify these allegations. When there is reasonable suspicion of a criminal offence, a criminal investigation will be opened.

“The degree to which Israel claims to investigate journalist killings depends largely on external pressure,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “There are cursory probes into the deaths of journalists with foreign passports, but that is rarely the case for slain Palestinian reporters. Ultimately, none has seen any semblance of justice.” The report also states that none of the IDF personnel involved in the deaths of the 20 journalists has ever been held accountable.

Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s director of special projects, said “The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and the failure of the army’s investigative process to hold anyone responsible is not a one-off event. It is part of a pattern of response that seems designed to evade responsibility. Not one member of the IDF has been held accountable in the deaths of 20 journalists from Israeli military fire over the last 22 years.”

Facebook Users Can Apply For A Share In $725 Million Lawsuit Settlement

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has agreed to pay out $725 million as part of a settlement for a privacy lawsuit that stemmed from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The former British political consulting company reportedly accessed the personal information of approximately 87 million Facebook users in 2018, which they used to target voters during the 2016 US presidential campaign. Users who held Facebook accounts from May 2007 to December 2022 are now eligible to apply for a share of the settlement funds.

To apply, individuals can either submit their forms online or send them by mail before the deadline of August 25th. The application form requires users to provide their personal information, such as name, address, contact information, birthday, Facebook handle, and payment information.

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, faced scrutiny from the US Congress on account of the scandal. The members accused the social media platform of failing to protect user data. The settlement represents one of the world’s largest privacy-related payouts, reflecting the severity of the allegations leveled against Facebook.

In the words of Meta’s general counsel, “We are pleased to have reached a settlement in this case, which we believe is fair and reasonable.”

The settlement amount will be split among eligible users, with individual payouts varying based on the number of valid claims. The company also committed to tightening its data protection policies and implementing measures to prevent instances of data misuse.

According to the lawsuit, Facebook was accused of not monitoring third-party access to user data or use of that data. This legal action was taken after it was discovered in 2018 that Cambridge Analytica had obtained private information from millions of Facebook users’ profiles without their consent, in one of the biggest data breaches in Facebook’s history. As a result, Cambridge Analytica was able to use the social media activity of millions of users in the United States to create voter profiles that were then used to assist Donald J. Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Meta previously denied any wrongdoing, but the company agreed to settle the lawsuit by setting aside $725 million for claimants. Claimants will receive one point for each month they had an activated Facebook account. The total number of points assigned to all claimants will be calculated and then divided by the net settlement amount, which is $725 million minus administrative costs and other fees, in order to determine the amount of money available for each point. Each claimant will receive the amount multiplied by the number of points they were assigned.

It’s important to note that Meta’s directors and legal representatives are not eligible for the settlement, and users have until August 25 to file their claims by filling out their mailing addresses, email addresses, phone numbers and Facebook user names, and confirming their use of Facebook between May 24, 2007 and Dec. 22, 2022. The final hearing to approve the settlement is scheduled for September 7 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

As Meta continues to face scrutiny over privacy concerns on its social media platforms, the company has recently announced that it will be introducing more tools to protect user privacy. However, the settlement for this lawsuit serves as a reminder of the importance of user privacy and the consequences that companies may face if they fail to protect it.

As stated on the settlement’s website, “Users who participated in Facebook’s service between May 24, 2007 and December 22, 2022 must be given proper control over sharing their personal information with third parties. This settlement is a reminder that we must enforce our rights to privacy.”

Twitter’s NPR Saga Demonstrates The Challenge Of Labeling Media

The decision by Twitter to label National Public Radio (NPR) as “state-affiliated media,” which it then changed to “government-funded media” after a barrage of criticism, underscores the need to rethink the role of major social media platforms as critical gatekeepers in the public sphere, the need for better labels for news media, and the importance of insulating these designations from political interference or mercurial interventions by billionaire founders.

When Twitter placed a state-affiliated media label on NPR last week, it put the award-winning public media outlet in the same category as Russia’s RT, the state-controlled international media network, and China’s Xinhua News Agency, providing fodder to partisans around the world who would happily denigrate public service media by equating it with state-owned media.

On April 12, NPR announced that it will no longer post on its 52 Twitter channels to protect its credibility, though its journalists are still able to use the platform for newsgathering.

Figuring out which news media are propaganda or arms of the states that fund them, and which ones provide a public service and are insulated from editorial interference by the government, has once again become a flashpoint in the debate over content moderation and discrimination on social media—not long after major social media platforms began instituting labels on some media accounts.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) called it “an insult to the notion of a free press to conflate an editorially independent nonprofit organization like NPR with state-controlled propaganda mills” in Russia and China. Meanwhile, Republicans, who have long pushed to defund NPR and object to its public interest mandate, cheered the new label.

In an apparent response to the outcry, Twitter established—at least for now—a new “government funded” label on both NPR and BBC accounts, despite the fact that less than two percent of their budgets come from public funds. This term is equally misleading, since many news outlets around the world receive government funding through subsidies, state advertising, and emergency relief during the pandemic.

In Canada, for example, the government has provided millions of dollars directly to media outlets through direct cash infusions and tax breaks. The U.S. and Europe support public interest media around the world through overseas development assistance, providing critical state funding to media working in challenging conditions around the world. In these and other examples, does that make them either state-affiliated or government-funded?

The terms state-controlled and government-funded raise questions about the utility of employing such blunt terms and not including information about how other news media are funded and operate. The selective application of labels to some news media and not others also raise concerns about perception and consistency.

Public media outlets, such as NPR, are editorially independent, provide transparency into their budgets, masthead, and editorial processes, and publish their standards and provide corrections when necessary. The fact that these outlets receive some funding from the U.S. federal government does not make them “state-affiliated” in the same sense as outlets like RT and Xinhua, which are fully state-funded and provide minimal transparency regarding either their operational or editorial processes. Media outlets like NPR and the BBC are better characterized as public interest and publicly funded media.

Efforts to categorize news media are not only about labels; they also impose restrictions on advertising, targeting, and algorithmic amplification. Twitter’s move to reclassify NPR directly impacts its reach, since Twitter’s policy states it “will not recommend or amplify” accounts that receive the state media label. Shadow banning tactics, which suppress the reach of a social media account without outright deactivating it, can also affect the visibility and monetization of their news content, with implications for news media sustainability. These results could happen despite the original intent of adding such labels, which is to provide social media users with additional information about the content they were seeing and create a signal that algorithmic systems could use to moderate content or enable certain features.

Content labeling harms independent media

Media outlets care about the label they get. Al Jazeera, which was originally labeled as funded by the Qatari government, lobbied successfully to persuade Facebook it was editorially independent and shouldn’t get a label. “The reason we object so forcefully is because for us, perception is reality in the world in which we live,” Michael Weaver, Al Jazeera’s Senior Vice President Business Development and Growth, Digital Division, told me at the time. “If we’re being undermined by other platforms, it spreads across not only what Al Jazeera is doing but it spreads across all these geopolitical conflicts that are happening in the area. It could be a death blow to the network.”

The risks of conflating editorially independent outlets with state-controlled propaganda mills not only detracts from the media and information literacy goals of such labeling, but also undermines the safety of journalists working for the outlet. Labeling independent public interest media as state-affiliated provides cover to authoritarian governments to designate those organizations and their journalists as foreign agents or spies, which could have significant implications for their safety.

In this sense, NPR’s decision to withdraw, at least partially, from using Twitter sends a principled message that will help insulate its reporters in the field from backlash. Ideally more media outlets, including the BBC, which now has the same label as NPR, would consider doing the same and break out of Twitter’s stranglehold on journalism. Unlike Google and Facebook, which form the backbone of the digital advertising and audience infrastructure upon which the news media rely, Twitter is a considerably more important platform for journalists, politicians, and other elite who believe it to be the digital public square.

Meta Exploring Plans For Twitter Rival

Meta, the parent firm of Facebook and Instagram, is working on a standalone, text-based social network app. It could rival both Twitter and its decentralized competitor, Mastodon.

A spokesperson told the BBC: “We’re exploring a standalone decentralized social network for sharing text updates. “We believe there’s an opportunity for a separate space where creators and public figures can share timely updates about their interests.”

“We’re exploring a standalone decentralized social network for sharing text updates. We believe there’s an opportunity for a separate space where creators and public figures can share timely updates about their interests,” a Meta spokesperson told Reuters in an emailed statement.

A Twitter-like app would allow Meta to take advantage of the current chaos at the Elon Musk-led company, where cost-cutting has been rampant. Twitter has been struggling to hold on to its advertising base since Mr Musk’s takeover of the platform late last year.

Companies have pulled back spending following Twitter’s move to restore suspended accounts and release a paid account verification which resulted in scammers impersonating firms. According to MoneyControl, the new app is codenamed P92, and will allow users to log in through their existing Instagram credentials.

Meta’s app will be based on a similar framework to the one that powers Mastodon, a Twitter-like service which was launched in 2016. The new app would be decentralized – it cannot be run at the whim of a single entity, bought or sold.

Meta’s plans come at a time when its biggest platform, Facebook, is struggling to attract the attention of a younger audience. It has also heavily invested in the metaverse, a virtual world where users interact and work – which has yet to come to fruition.

Its video-sharing app, Instagram, is also facing stiff competition as content makers or hit influencers abandon the platform for TikTok. It was not immediately clear when Meta would roll out the new app.

It was not immediately clear when Meta would roll out the new app. “The history of Meta is that they are much better acquirers than they are innovators or developers … as far as copying Twitter, this is just a defensive move,” said Thomas Hayes, chairman and managing member of New York-based Great Hill Capital.

“They’re just trying everything… at least with a mini blogging site like Twitter, there’s some expectation that it could start to make money out of much quicker timeline than the metaverse investment.” Meta’s investments in the metaverse will not drive revenue growth until 2030, analysts have said.

Meta shares were marginally higher at $181.7 in early trade on Friday. They have gained about 51% so far this year.

Activists, Journalists Jailed for ‘Spurious Reasons’ In India

(IPS) – India’s Chief Justice, Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, has a significant challenge – as activists and minorities remain hopeful that he will remain true to his legacy of delivering judgments that enshrined the Constitution, especially on personal liberty.

Sanjay Kapoor, founder editor of Hardnews Magazine and political analyst told the IPS that many of the rulings by Indian courts in recent times have been deeply disturbing.

“In the name of national security, draconian laws are evoked to curb personal liberty. Journalists and activists have been arrested and locked away under anti-terror law without evidence,” said Kapoor.

He gave the example of Siddique Kappan, who has remained in jail for more than two years for unknown reasons. Kappan got bail from the Supreme Court, but anti-money laundering laws were immediately slapped upon him to ensure that he remained in prison.

Kapoor’s main concern is the undermining of courts by the government, which is sure to weaken institutions and harm democracy in India.

Meanwhile, the CJI also warned that he was not here to do miracles.

Picture : HRW

“I know that challenges are high; perhaps the expectations are also high, and I am deeply grateful for your sense of faith, but I am not here to do miracles,” Chandrachud said after his appointment.

The challenges facing the judiciary include a backlog of cases, delays in appointing Supreme Court judges, and significant inconsistencies in judicial approaches.

Soon after Chandrachud took oath on November 9, Chandrachud expressed concern over the long list of requests before the Supreme Court for bail. He said that district judges are reluctant to grant bail in a fair manner out of fear of being targeted.

Activists say that this is the same reason that media personnel, political opponents, and social activists are languishing behind bars without bail today.

Activist Teesta Setalvad was arrested in June 2021, and her bail plea was only accepted three months later when she was finally released. There are others, like student leader Umar Khalid, who has languished in jail for more than two years.

The judicial system in India is under tremendous pressure. Until last May, countless cases were pending in courts across different levels of the judiciary. Many of the cases were pending in subordinate courts, a large percent in High Courts, while a hundred thousand cases have been pending for over 30 years. Amid the rising trend of litigation, more and more people and organisations seek justice from courts today. However, there are not enough judges to hear the cases. The courts are overburdened, and the backlog of cases is intimidating.

The reluctance to grant bail to especially political opponents has only aggravated the matter. Most recently, Sanjay Raut, senior opposition party leader, said that he had lost 10 kgs while in prison. The legislature was accused of money laundering. He was in jail for 100 days before bail was granted to him in November. He was kept in a dark cell where he did not see sunlight for 15 days.

Raut said that he would not have been arrested if he had surrendered to the will of the ruling party and remained a mute spectator to the politics of the day. He wondered if only those who oppose the politics of the ruling party would continue to be arrested.

The use of the justice system as a political tool and reluctance to grant bail at the district level has clogged the higher judiciary with far too many cases.

“The reason why the higher judiciary is being flooded with bail applications is because of the reluctance of the grassroots to grant bail, and why are judges reluctant to grant bail not because they do not have the ability to understand the crime.

They probably understand the crime better than many of the higher court judges because they know what crime is there at the grassroots in the districts, but there is a sense of fear that if I grant bail, will someone target me tomorrow on the ground that I granted bail in a heinous case. This sense of fear nobody talks about but, which we must confront because unless we do, we are going to render our district courts toothless and our higher courts dysfunctional,” Chandrachud said at an event hosted by the Bar Council of India last week to felicitate his appointment as the country’s 50th CJI.

The Supreme Court of India is perhaps the most powerful Court in the world. However, in recent times the judiciary has been criticised for its uneven handling of cases. It is under scrutiny over contradictions found in its functioning. The fact that a former CJI accepted a seat in the upper house of parliament soon after his retirement two years ago had raised eyebrows.

The judiciary’s perceived deference to the present government is a major concern, including the ongoing arrest of political opponents, and refusal to grant bail to those arrested is becoming the norm. On the other hand, ‘friends’ of the ruling party are allowed to get away with murder and rape.

The nation was shocked after a document was made public last October as proof that the premature release of 11 men convicted for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and the killing of her family during the 2002 Gujarat riots was approved by the home ministry despite opposition by a special court. A Communist Party of India (Marxist) member Subhashini Ali, journalist Revati Laul and Professor Roop Rekha Verma together filed a public interest litigation (PIL) against a remission granted to 11 convicts who were released on August 15, India’s 75th Independence Day celebrations this year on account of good behaviour.

Bano was gang-raped along with 14 members of her family. Her 3-year-old daughter Saleha was killed by a mob in a village in the province of Gujarat as they fled communal violence in 2002. Bano was 19 years old and five months pregnant at that time. Shobha Gupta, the lawyer for Bano has battled for years for the rape survivor to get justice. Gupta told Barkha Dutt, a senior journalist, that she is shattered and unable to face Bano. That after the release of her rapists from custody, Bano is silent and feels alone.

Dutt had interviewed Bano 20 years ago. Today she wrote in her column that an unspeakable injustice is unfolding with brazen impunity. Its legality is dodgy. Dutt said, “Let’s raise hell”.

After the men who raped Bano and killed her child were freed, they were greeted outside the prison with sweets and garlands. This is the story of a very seriously ill nation, columnist Jawed Naqvi said.

“The nation that was baying for the execution of men who raped a young woman in a bus in Delhi in 2012 seemed deaf to Bilkis’s trauma,” Naqvi wrote. The executive has turned its back on Bano. The media is disinterested and civil society has been bullied into silence at a time when principles are passe for most politicians.”

So, who will give justice to citizens like Bano?

In a plea filed by Azam Khan last July, the opposition party leader pointed out a new trend amongst the high courts to impose unnecessary bail conditions. Khan said that a high court had ordered the politician to hand over allegedly encroached land as a condition for bail. The ruling was overturned.

Seeking justice these days is tough within the courts and outside.

The 74-year-old Khan has been behind bars since early 2020. Multiple charges have been slapped on him, including corruption, theft, and land grab, in an effort to make sure that he remains behind bars on some charge or the other. However, Khan was granted interim bail last May. A few months later, he was fined and has been sentenced to three more years in prison for a hate speech made in 2019. At that time, Khan was accused of blaming the Prime Minister for creating an atmosphere in the country in which it was difficult for Muslims, the largest minority community in India, to live.

A new report published by the USA-based NGO Council on Minority Rights in India (CMRI) and released on November 20 at New Delhi’s Press Club found that by helping offenders, detaining victims, and failing to register first information reports (FIR) in some cases, law enforcement agencies play a role in furthering hate crimes.

Discussing the legal aspects of persecution, lawyer Kawalpreet Kaur said that minorities are facing the brunt of the state to varying degrees. Cases of the pogrom against Muslims during the Delhi riots have been lying in the high court for the last two years.

“Indian courts need to keep their eyes and ears open; it is not a one-off case of Afree Fatima’s house bulldozed or when the stalls of working-class Muslims were razed in Delhi despite a stay from the court,” she said.

The lawyer called it an attack by the Indian state against its minorities and a campaign of misinformation and Islamophobia witnessed every day.

The release of the CMRI report comes at a time when numerous countries and organisations are calling upon India to take stock of the plight of its religious minorities.

Six international rights groups – the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Inter­national Dalit Solidarity Network, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have reminded New Delhi in a joint statement that it is yet to implement recommendations of a recent UN report on India which cover topics which include the protection of minorities and human rights defenders, upholding civil liberties, and more.

“The Indian government should promptly adopt and act on the recommendations that United Nations member states made at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process on November 10,” the joint statement read. (IPS UN Bureau Report)

Karthik Subramaniam Wins National Geographic ‘Pictures Of The Year’

Indian-American Karthik Subramaniam, a San Francisco-based software engineer, has won the 2023 National Geographic ‘Pictures of the Year’ award, beating over 5,000 entries.

Subramaniam’s photo, which is titled ‘Dance of the Eagles’, shows a trio of bald eagles battling for a spot on a branch in Alaska’s Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, a press release by the magazine said.

He titled the image as a homage to a fictional dragon war in George R.R. Martin’s novel, ‘A Dance with Dragons’.

“Wherever there’s salmon there’s going to be chaos,” Subramaniam told the magazine that this was his motto as he camped out near the shore of the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, waiting for action.

The engineer-turned-hobbyist photographer said he stayed, watching as bald eagles swooped in and out of the fishing grounds in Haines, Alaska.

The area hosts the largest congregations of bald eagles in the world every fall, when around 3,000 arrive in time for the salmon run.

The photo was selected from nearly 5,000 entries across four categories: Nature, People, Places and Animals.

Subramaniam has been photographing landscapes and his travels for years.

He started experimenting with wildlife photography in 2020, grounded by the pandemic in his San Francisco home. The photo will be featured in the May issue of National Geographic magazine. (IANS)

Neal Mohan Is New YouTube CEO

Indian-American Neal Mohan will be the new YouTube CEO, as current head Susan Wojcicki has announced to step down after 25 years at the Google-owned company.

Currently chief product officer, Mohan became part of Google, the parent company of YouTube, in 2008. He is a Stanford graduate and earlier worked with Microsoft.

Mohan and Wojcicki have worked together for nearly 15 years. He became YouTube’s chief product officer in 2015.

“Today, after nearly 25 years here, I’ve decided to step back from my role as the head of YouTube and start a new chapter focused on my family, health, and personal projects I’m passionate about,” Wojcicki said in a blog post late on Thursday.

She has agreed with Sundar Pichai to take on an advisory role across Google and Alphabet.

“This will allow me to call on my different experiences over the years to offer counsel and guidance across Google and the portfolio of Alphabet companies,” she added.

Wojcicki managed marketing, co-created Google Image Search, led Google’s first Video and Book search, as well as early parts of AdSense’s creation, worked on the YouTube and DoubleClick acquisitions, served as SVP of Ads, and for the last nine years, was the CEO of YouTube.

“I took on each challenge that came my way because it had a mission that benefited so many people’s lives around the world: finding information, telling stories and supporting creators, artists, and small businesses,” she noted.

“Mohan will be the SVP and new head of YouTube. I’ve spent nearly 15 years of my career working with Mohan, first when he came over to Google with the DoubleClick acquisition in 2007 and as his role grew to become SVP of Display and Video Ads,” said Wojcicki.

He has set up a top-notch product and UX team, played pivotal roles in the launch of some of the biggest products, including YouTube TV, YouTube Music and Premium and Shorts, and has led the Trust and Safety team. Mohan ensured that “YouTube lives up to its responsibility as a global platform”.

“With all we’re doing across Shorts, streaming, and subscriptions, together with the promises of AI, YouTube’s most exciting opportunities are ahead, and Mohan is the right person to lead us,” said Wojcicki. (IANS)

Social Media’s Impact On Human Mind

Social media is a curated virtual platform that helps people connect and network with each other across the world. But what kind of influence and pressure do these platforms put on individuals? How does this influence an individual’s mental health?

It is seen that the constant use of social media platforms often leads individuals to experience feelings of inadequacy, dissatisfaction, isolation, and loneliness. These emotions could worsen into states of depression, anxiety, and stress. Anxiety is the mental health concern most associated with social media. The major concerns associated with social media-related anxiety are the feeling of missing out on popular topics, and social interactions, and the negative comments associated with them. The desire for acceptance and validation from peer groups, along with the constant comparison, contributes to the development of anxiety-related concerns.

The heavy use of social media can also impact the cognitive functioning of the human brain. It shortens the attention span and makes the individual less receptive to distractions. It may also influence and shape a person’s behavior and personality based on interactions and usage on these platforms.

A research study published in September by the American Economic Review found a link between the Facebook app and anxiety and depression-related health concerns. The research was supported by survey data collected from college students across campuses in the U.S. The study was useful in demonstrating that the more time a person spends on an online platform, the more unhappy he tends to become.

Celebrities, models, and other personalities have also addressed the public in general to spread awareness about the negative effects of social media. The pop star Selena Gomez has launched an online platform to help and educate people about mental health. “I really, really want people to be understood, seen, and heard. It’s okay to not be okay,” she shared during one of her conversations. Kendal Jenner, during one of her interviews with Vogue for the series Open Minded, shared her experience with social media. “I find that the more I’m looking at the screen, the more detached I feel from my own body or from what’s happening right in front of me.” “My relationship with social media is a bit addictive right now, which I don’t like, and I’m not proud to say that, but I also feel like that’s something that probably most of us can relate to.”

Limiting your personal exposure to social media in a planned manner can be beneficial if it makes you feel more worried. Giving oneself a specific amount of time to spend on social media or allowing oneself a period of time at the end of the day to do so are two other examples that could be used to lessen the effects of social media.

Donald Trump’s Facebook And Instagram Accounts To Be Restored

Facebook-parent Meta said last week that it will restore former President Donald Trump’s accounts on Facebook and Instagram in the coming weeks, just over two years after suspending him in the wake of the January 6 Capitol attack.

“Our determination is that the risk [to public safety] has sufficiently receded,” Meta President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg said in a blog post. “As such, we will be reinstating Mr. Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts in the coming weeks. However, we are doing so with new guardrails in place to deter repeat offenses.”

Trump could be suspended for as much as two years at a time for violating platform policies in the future, Clegg said.  With his Facebook and Instagram accounts reactivated, Trump will once again gain access to huge and powerful communications and fundraising platforms just as he ramps up his third bid for the White House.

The decision, which comes on the heels of a similar move by Twitter, could also further shift the landscape for how a long list of smaller online platforms handle Trump’s accounts.

It was not immediately clear whether Trump will seize the opportunity to return to the Meta platforms. Trump’s reps did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a post on his own platform, Truth Social, Trump acknowledged Meta’s decision to reverse its suspension of his account and said “such a thing should never again happen to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution.”

Picture : TheUNN

Former President Trump’s team was not given advance notice of Meta’s decision, a source familiar with the matter told CNN. Many of his aides and advisers learned of the decision from media reports. Shortly before the announcement, Meta asked for a last-minute meeting with Trump’s lawyers this evening to discuss his possible reinstatement, but were not told what the final decision was. They were still in the meeting when Meta released the news, the source said.

Twitter restored Trump’s account in November following its takeover by billionaire Elon Musk, but the former president has not yet resumed tweeting, opting instead to remain on Truth Social.

But Trump’s campaign earlier this month sent a letter to Meta petitioning the company to unblock his Facebook account, a source familiar with the letter told CNN, making his return more likely. Although Twitter was always Trump’s preferred platform, he has a massive reach on Facebook and Instagram — 34 million followers and 23 million followers, respectively, ahead of his reinstatement. Previous Trump campaigns have lauded the effectiveness of Facebook’s targeted advertising tools and have spent millions running Facebook ads.

Meta’s decision was quickly criticized by a number of online safety advocates and democratic lawmakers. Congressman Adam Schiff said in a tweet that restoring Trump’s “access to a social media platform to spread his lies and demagoguery is dangerous,” noting that Trump has shown “no remorse” for his actions around the January 6 attack. NAACP President Derrick Johnson called the decision “a prime example of putting profits above people’s safety.”

But ACLU Director Anthony Romero called the decision “the right call,” joining several other groups in praising the move. He added: “The biggest social media companies are central actors when it comes to our collective ability to speak — and hear the speech of others — online. They should err on the side of allowing a wide range of political speech, even when it offends.”

How Meta made the decision

The company made the landmark decision to bar Trump from posting on Facebook and Instagram the day after the January 6 attack, in which his supporters stormed the US Capitol in a bid to overturn the 2020 election results.

Many other platforms did the same in quick succession, but Facebook was clear that it planned to revisit the decision at a later date. After Facebook’s independent Oversight Board recommended that the company clarify what was initially an indefinite suspension, Facebook said the former president would remain restricted from the platform until at least January 7, 2023.

Meta earlier this month was considering whether to restore Trump’s accounts with the help of a specially formed internal company working group made up of leaders from different parts of the organization, a person familiar with the deliberations told CNN. The group included representatives from the company’s public policy, communications, content policy, and safety and integrity teams, and was being led by Clegg, who previously served as UK Deputy Prime Minister.

The company said in June 2021 that it would “look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded” in January 2023 to make a determination about the former president’s account.

“If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded,” Clegg, then-vice president of global affairs at Meta, said in a statement at the time.

Meta’s updated policy

Clegg said in his Wednesday post that the company believes “the public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying — the good, the bad and the ugly — so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box.” But, he said, “that does not mean there are no limits to what people can say on our platform.”

In light of his previous violations, Trump will now face “heightened penalties for repeat offenses,” Clegg said, adding that the policy will also apply to other public figures whose accounts are reinstated following suspensions related to civil unrest.

Clegg told Axios in an interview published Wednesday that the company does not “want — if he is to return to our services — for him to do what he did on January 6, which is to use our services to delegitimize the 2024 election, much as he sought to discredit the 2020 election.”

“In the event that Mr. Trump posts further violating content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation,” Clegg said. However, the possibility of permanent removal of Trump’s accounts — which Clegg had previously indicated could be a consequence of future violations if his account were to be restored — no longer appears to be on the table.

For content that doesn’t violate its rules but “contributes to the sort of risk that materialized on January 6th, such as content that delegitimizes an upcoming election or is related to QAnon,” Meta may limit distribution of the posts, Clegg said. The company could, for example, remove the reshare button or keep the posts visible on Trump’s page but not in users’ feeds, even for those who follow him, he said. For repeated instances, the company may restrict access to its advertising tools.

If Trump again posts content that violates Meta’s rules but “we assess there is a public interest in knowing that Mr. Trump made the statement that outweighs any potential harm” under the company’s newsworthiness policy, Meta may similarly restrict the posts’ distribution but leave them visible on Trump’s page.

Study Finds, 9 In 10 Adults From India And US Admit To Cyberbullying

Nine in 10 adult social media users admitted to participating in cyberbullying in their lifetime, while only 6 per cent said they would never commit the act, a research conducted in the US and India found.

The recent study by Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) showed 94 per cent of respondents admitted to participating in some form of cyberbullying in their lifetime.

Among the 313 respondents from the US and India, more than half said they often do cyberbullying while only 6 per cent said they had never committed cyberbullying.

Educated and married people, irrespective of their gender, were most likely to commit cyberbullying more frequently, but demographics were not the only factors at play, according to the research.

Published in the International Journal of Information Management, the study found other characteristics such as being outgoing or deceptive ultimately contributed to a person’s likelihood of becoming a cyberbully.

It also highlighted two of the most prevalent characteristics of a cyberbully — higher education and psychopathy.

Lead researcher Dr Mohammad Hossain of RMIT said that men, between the age groups of 23-30, were more likely to cyberbully than women.

“We found less agreeable educated married males with high psychopathy and sadism are most susceptible to committing cyberbullying.

“Alternatively, a less-educated introvert female with high emotional stability and low psychopathy is less-likely to engage in cyberbullying,” Hossain said.

However, he added that cyberbullies “possess a unique combination of characteristics that do not work in isolation”.

The study indicated that people’s online behavior from the two countries were similar.

“The research focused on two social media platforms, Facebook and YouTube, and found the distribution of those committing cyberbullying was consistent between the US and Indian sample, and between Facebook and YouTube users,” said Hossain.

He told ABC News that the two countries were intentionally chosen due to their “cultural and political differences, as well as differences in cyber law policies and implementation”.

To prevent this toxic online behaviour, the study suggested that a combination of personality and demographic factors should be considered in designing actionable and proactive policymaking to address the challenge of cyberbullying.

It added that while designing programs to reduce cyberbullying, more attention needs to be given to the users with certain combinations of characteristics. (IANS)

Lionel Messi World Cup Instagram Post Is Most-Liked Ever

A gallery of Lionel Messi celebrating Argentina’s World Cup win has become the most-liked Instagram post ever. The soccer super star – who led his team to their first World Cup triumph in 36 years – received more than 57 million likes for his collection of photos. Argentina defeated France on penalties in Sunday’s World Cup final in Qatar.

One day after leading Argentina in Qatar on December 19th, Messi posted a gallery of his celebration right after his team beat France in penalties. His first picture shows him smiling while holding the tournament trophy, and others show him celebrating with teammates and enjoying the post-match ceremony.

Picture : WTHR

In the caption, he wrote, “CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD! We showed once more that when Argentinians work hard together and we’re united we’re capable of achieving anything we put our minds to,” he added. “The merit of this group, which was above individualism, is the strength that we all fought for the same dream that was also the one for all Argentinians…we did it!!!”

The post amassed 62 million likes in a little over a day, resonating with Messi’s fans and beyond. The famous egg Instagram post, from January 2019, reached 56 million likes and initially grabbed the most-liked record away from Kylie Jenner. When it first appeared it seemed to be some kind of protest vote against celebrity – people were urged to engage with the picture in the hope of toppling the then-record holder, Kylie Jenner.

There was a lot of speculation about who was behind the @world_record_egg Instagram account and how it managed to attract so many likes so quickly. Some said it was a marketing ploy from a large company that had bought followers – but British advertising executive Chris Godfrey has since claimed he created it, along with two others, and that their sole purpose was to get as many likes as possible.

But while the egg overtook Jenner’s record – totaling as many as 56 million likes at the time of writing – it has finally been surpassed by a rival with several world records in his own right: Lionel Messi.

After the World Cup final, Guinness World Records posted a series of records broken by the victor, noting Messi had surpassed Germany’s Lothar Matthäus for the record of most World Cup matches played, with 26 – as well as four other records:

11 – most World Cup Man of the Match awards

19 – most World Cup appearances as captain

5 – most appearances in World Cup tournaments by a male player

First person to assist (a goal) at five different World Cups

With the success of his latest gallery on Instagram, Messi has yet another record to add to his collection.

Lionel Messi World Cup Instagram Post Is Most-Liked Ever

A gallery of Lionel Messi celebrating Argentina’s World Cup win has become the most-liked Instagram post ever. The soccer super star – who led his team to their first World Cup triumph in 36 years – received more than 57 million likes for his collection of photos. Argentina defeated France on penalties in Sunday’s World Cup final in Qatar.

One day after leading Argentina in Qatar on December 19th, Messi posted a gallery of his celebration right after his team beat France in penalties. His first picture shows him smiling while holding the tournament trophy, and others show him celebrating with teammates and enjoying the post-match ceremony.

Picture : WTHR

In the caption, he wrote, “CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD! We showed once more that when Argentinians work hard together and we’re united we’re capable of achieving anything we put our minds to,” he added. “The merit of this group, which was above individualism, is the strength that we all fought for the same dream that was also the one for all Argentinians…we did it!!!”

The post amassed 62 million likes in a little over a day, resonating with Messi’s fans and beyond. The famous egg Instagram post, from January 2019, reached 56 million likes and initially grabbed the most-liked record away from Kylie Jenner. When it first appeared it seemed to be some kind of protest vote against celebrity – people were urged to engage with the picture in the hope of toppling the then-record holder, Kylie Jenner.

There was a lot of speculation about who was behind the @world_record_egg Instagram account and how it managed to attract so many likes so quickly. Some said it was a marketing ploy from a large company that had bought followers – but British advertising executive Chris Godfrey has since claimed he created it, along with two others, and that their sole purpose was to get as many likes as possible.

But while the egg overtook Jenner’s record – totaling as many as 56 million likes at the time of writing – it has finally been surpassed by a rival with several world records in his own right: Lionel Messi.

After the World Cup final, Guinness World Records posted a series of records broken by the victor, noting Messi had surpassed Germany’s Lothar Matthäus for the record of most World Cup matches played, with 26 – as well as four other records:

11 – most World Cup Man of the Match awards

19 – most World Cup appearances as captain

5 – most appearances in World Cup tournaments by a male player

First person to assist (a goal) at five different World Cups

With the success of his latest gallery on Instagram, Messi has yet another record to add to his collection.

Elon Musk Offers To Resign As Twitter CEO After Twitter Users Want Him To Go

Elon Musk has said he’ll step down from his role as CEO of Twitter once he finds someone to replace him, an announcement that comes after a majority of users said he should resign in a poll held on the social media platform.  “I will resign as CEO as soon as I find someone foolish enough to take the job! After that, I will just run the software & servers teams,” Musk wrote on Twitter.

Musk’s tweet day night marks the first time he’d responded to a Sunday unscientific poll in which he asked whether he should step down as CEO. The results reflected that a majority of respondents (57.5 percent) said he should leave the top role of the company.

With more than 17.5 million total votes cast, 57.5 percent of users responding to Musk’s poll said he should step down as Twitter’s head, just weeks after Musk acquired the company and took on the position.

Musk had vowed in posting the poll that he would abide by the results. Another 42.5 percent of users said Musk should not leave the role. Musk’s tenure as CEO has so far been fraught with controversy as the billionaire moved to slash Twitter staff, scale back on content moderation and change the platform’s user verification system.

Musk has yet to identify a future successor and, in fact, floated the possibility in November that he might have to file for bankruptcy in order to pay back the $13 billion in debt he borrowed from banks for the purchase. He has seen his personal fortune decline since he bought the site, losing his title as the world’s richest man.

In the less than two months since Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion and took it private, he has fired its top leadership team, gutted its staff, driven away major advertisers and unbanned accounts, including that of former President Donald Trump. His actions have raised concerns about the future of the platform.

However, despite the controversy Musk has stoked in lifting most of its existing rules against misinformation with his commitment to “free speech,” lawmakers remain on the site. Many say there isn’t another social media platform with the equivalent reach to reporters and Washington insiders.

Kashmiri Journalist Samaan Lateef Bags UN Climate Change Award

Kashmiri journalist Samaan Lateef was conferred the prestigious climate change award by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for his extensive reporting on climate.

He was honored with a bronze Medal, a citation and cash prize for The Prince Albert II of Monaco and UNCA Global Prize for Coverage of Climate Change, as per United Nations Correspondent Association.

The journalist reports about the climate crisis in Pakistan, Afghanistan and his India for the Telegraph UK, DW Germany and other major outlets.

In addition to accounts on the unprecedented heatwave in India and flooding in Pakistan, he provided unique coverage of environmental issues threatening economic life in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Earlier in September, Samaan was nominated by the Society of Editors UK for the prestigious Freelancer of the year award.

Samaan was invited to the award ceremony at London on November 12. He has been working for Daily Telegraph London and covering south Asia for the past four years.

Freedom Of The Press – Just A Mirage!

In a democracy where the First Amendment protects freedom of the press, government accountability to the media is critical to the survival of democracy. It is generally accepted that an independent media acts as a watchdog that can investigate and report wrongdoings by the government.

Although virtually every state has a law protecting reporters from disclosing sensitive information about their reporting to law enforcement, including the identity of confidential sources, Congress and federal courts have refused to recognize such a privilege. So is freedom of the press just a mirage?

Journalists often rely on confidential sources to write reports dealing with issues of legitimate public importance.

Picture : Freedom House

State shield laws are legal protections that give journalists the privilege of not being compelled to disclose confidential or unpublished information. Some states have enacted shield laws to protect the source of a journalist’s report. The Press Clause of the First Amendment ensures that everyone is protected in their right to disseminate information to the public. By favoring corporate-structured news media, Washington’s law favors institutional media, over citizen-journalists.

Still in some cases, reporters have either gone to jail or been sentenced with substantial fines. In order to make ourselves aware that journalists are not above the law as we think these days, a current scary incident needs to be mentioned here.

Priscilla Villarreal, according to a report that appeared in the Houston Chronicle, was just a freelance blogger. Villarreal is a journalist whose main job is to share newsworthy information with the public. She published it on her Facebook page after she confirmed with a Laredo police officer, some public information about a border agent who had committed suicide.

For several years, Villarreal has been embroiled in a legal dispute that raises fundamental questions about the law protecting press freedom and whether journalists in Texas are protected by the First Amendment. Any law that could be used to arrest a journalist for informing the public, could become a shocking precedent.

Villarreal’s arrest has drawn national attention for the constitutional concerns it raises. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that the First Amendment protects the right to publish information obtained from government sources, even when the source of that information violates confidentiality.

The journalist was arrested and charged under Texas state law: Locking up a journalist for asking a question or threatening to “get out” is a misdemeanor. It would be good if citizen journalists knew that if the media workers are almost not protected, if they try to bring more courage and bring many things to light. If the government seizes the reporter and puts him in jail, there will be no legal loopholes to release, or strong media organizations to collectively respond. Freedom of the Press, if that makes any sense, it means freedom to criticize and oppose, that is the absolute  truth.

Be passionate about what you write and believe in your ability to convey timeless ideas. Governments that do not believe that freedom of speech belongs to every individual, governments that fear the writer’s words more than weapons, are suffocating and silencing journalists, and this will continue, while the media activists who have lost their responsiveness remain silent!

FB Appoints Sandhya Devanathan As The New India Head

Facebook parent Meta has announced the appointment of Sandhya Devanathan as the Vice President of Meta India. The appointment of Sandhya Devanathan as the new India head follows several high-profile departures in its key overseas markets.We are appointing Sandhya Devanathan as the Vice President of Meta India,” a statement on Meta website stated.

“Devanthan will focus on bringing the organization’s business and revenue priorities together to serve partners and clients, while continuing to support the long-term growth of our business and commitment to India. She will transition to her new role on January 1, 2023 and will report to Dan Neary, Vice President, Meta APAC and will be a part of the APAC leadership team. She will move back to India to lead the India org and strategy.”

Picture : Meta

Devanathan, who joined the firm in 2016 and helped build the company’s Singapore and Vietnam businesses, has been elevated to head and VP of Meta India. In 2020, Devanathan moved to lead the company’s gaming efforts in the Asia-Pacific region.

In her new role “Devanathan will focus on bringing the organization’s business and revenue priorities together to serve its partners and clients, while continuing to support the long term growth of Meta’s business and commitment to India,” Meta said in a statement.

“India is at the forefront of digital adoption and Meta has launched many of our top products, such as Reels and Business Messaging, in India first. We are proud to have recently launched JioMart on WhatsApp, which is our first end-to-end shopping experience in India,” the statement continued.

Meta Platforms appointed Sandhya Devanathan as its India head days after Ajit Mohan quit to join rival Snap Inc. WhatsApp’s India head Abhijit Bose and Meta Platforms’s public policy director in India Rajiv Aggarwal also resigned earlier this week.

Devanathan’s appointment comes at a time when Facebook is facing regulatory challenges in India with government tightening laws governing Big Tech companies.

The company has for years faced criticism for doing little to curb the spread of fake news and hate speech in India.

Devanathan is a global business leader with 22 years of experience and an international career in banking, payments and technology. Sandhya Devanathan will transition to her new role on January 1 next year and will report to Dan Neary, Vice President, Meta APAC and will be a part of the APAC leadership team. She will move back to India to lead the India org and strategy.

Musk Reopens Door To Twitter For Trump

Twitter CEO reversed the permanent ban on former President Donald Trump’s account Saturday, November 19th, but Trump has yet to return to his once-favored platform.

Instead, Trump doubled down on his commitment to remain on his own platform, Truth Social. At a virtual appearance before the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting, he said he doesn’t see “any reason” to return to Twitter, and on Truth Social he told his followers “don’t worry, we aren’t going anywhere.”

Even if Trump makes a Twitter return, he is contractually obligated to post on Truth Social six hours before making the same post on another platform, according to terms revealed in a regulatory filing in May.

In the meantime, Musk has seemingly nudged the former president, who is running for the Oval Office again in 2024, to return to by tweeting memes about the pull of Twitter.

As Musk awaits Trump’s potential return, he’s facing renewed backlash from civil rights and other advocacy groups over the decision to reinstate Trump’s account.

Trump’s account was banned by Twitter after the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol after the platform determined his posts posted the risk of further inciting violence.

Trump was among a group of high-profile accounts reinstated by Elon Musk.  Among them, was the personal account for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). Greene had been banned in January over violating the platform’s COVID-19 misinformation policy.

Using her official congressional account, which was not banned by the platform, Greene urged her followers to head to her newly reinstated “unfiltered” personal account.

Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, also had his account reinstated reversing the suspension made after he posted antisemitic comments.  “Don’t kill what ye hate Save what ye love,” Musk tweeted in response to the rapper’s first return tweet.

Groups including the NAACP, Anti-Defamation League and FreePress slammed Musk over decision, especially considering Musk told them earlier this month that he would form a council to make decisions on whether to reinstate accounts.

“As far as I can tell this new council doesn’t exist. It’s just one of the many bad-faith promises Musk has made civil-rights leaders and then tossed aside,” Free Press co-CEO Jessica González said in a statement.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted that Musk’s decision to reinstate Trump is “dangerous and a treat to American democracy.”

After Mass Layoffs, Facebook Offers Immigration Help To H-1B Visa Holders

As large-scale layoffs begin at Facebook’s parent company Meta, employees on work visas such as H-1Bs are now faced with uncertainty over their immigration status, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledging “this is especially difficult if you’re here on a visa” and offering support to those impacted.

Meta announced that it is laying off 11,000 employees or 13 per cent of its workforce, with Zuckerberg describing it as “some of the most difficult changes we’ve made in Meta’s history.” US-based technology companies hire a large amount of H-1B workers, the majority of whom come from countries such as India.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.

“I’ve decided to reduce the size of our team by about 13 per cent and let more than 11,000 of our talented employees go. We are also taking a number of additional steps to become a leaner and more efficient company by cutting discretionary spending and extending our hiring freeze through Q1,” Zuckerberg said in a letter to employees.

“I want to take accountability for these decisions and for how we got here. I know this is tough for everyone, and I’m especially sorry to those impacted,” he said.

Acknowledging that “there is no good way to do a layoff”, Zuckerberg said the company hopes to get all the relevant information to those impacted as quickly as possible and then do whatever it can to support them through this.

Among the measures being put in place by the company in the US to help those impacted by the layoffs is “immigration support”.

“I know this is especially difficult if you’re here on a visa. There’s a notice period before termination and some visa grace periods, which means everyone will have time to make plans and work through their immigration status. We have dedicated immigration specialists to help guide you based on what you and your family need,” he said.

H-1B visa holders can stay and work in the US for a period of three years, extended by another three years.

They are then required to leave the country unless their employee sponsors them for permanent residency, known as the Green Card, the backlog for which runs into decades. If H-1B visa holders lose their jobs, they only have a “grace period” of 60 days to find an employee willing to sponsor their H-1B, failing which they will be required to leave the US.

A Washington-based reporter Patrick Thibodeau wrote on Twitter Monday that “Facebook layoffs may hit H-1B workers hard. Facebook is classified as H-1B “dependent,” meaning 15 per cent or more of its workforce is on the visa. When visa holders lose their job, they may have to leave the US if they don’t quickly find a new employer sponsor.” Other support measures announced by Meta include severance pay for 16 weeks of base pay plus two additional weeks for every year of service, with no cap; coverage of healthcare cost for people and their families for six months and three months of career support with an external vendor, including early access to unpublished job leads.

He said outside the US, support will be similar, and the company will follow up soon with separate processes that take into account local employment laws.

In his explanation of how the company got to the point where it had to undertake such drastic cost-cutting measures, Zuckerberg said the world rapidly moved online at the start of the Covid pandemic and the surge of e-commerce led to outsized revenue growth.

“Many people predicted this would be a permanent acceleration that would continue even after the pandemic ended. I did too, so I made the decision to significantly increase our investments. Unfortunately, this did not play out the way I expected,” he said.

Not only has online commerce returned to prior trends, but the macroeconomic downturn, increased competition, and ads signal loss have caused Meta’s revenue to be much lower than he had expected. “I got this wrong, and I take responsibility for that,” he said.

Zuckerberg said in the new environment, the company needs to become more capital efficient.

“We’ve shifted more of our resources onto a smaller number of high-priority growth areas – like our AI (Artificial Intelligence) discovery engine, our ads and business platforms, and our long-term vision for the metaverse.

“We’ve cut costs across our business, including scaling back budgets, reducing perks, and shrinking our real estate footprint. We’re restructuring teams to increase our efficiency. But these measures alone won’t bring our expenses in line with our revenue growth, so I’ve also made the hard decision to let people go,” he said.

Veteran Writer John Dayal Bags ICPA Journalism Award 2022

Indian Catholic Press Association (ICPA) will honour noted journalist, writer and human rights activist John Dayal conferring its prestigious annual Louis Careno Award for Excellence in Journalism for his bold, continuous and consistent writing against communalism and fundamentalism gaining ground globally.

The Award will be conferred on Mr Dayal during the 27th National Convention of Christian Journalists, organized by the ICPA, scheduled to be held in Chennai on Saturday, December 10, 2022.

Mr Dayal, a prophet of our times, is among India’s foremost voices against human rights violations, particularly on the persecution of religious minorities, having been a writer and activist for over four decades. He has been a member of several government bodies, including the National Integration Council, and holds senior roles in numerous non-government organisations and networks, including as co-founder and Secretary General of the All India Christian Council, 1999-2014, national president of the 1919-founded all India Catholic Union between 2004 and 2008, and a member of Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

He has had a long and distinguished career in the media and in academia. He has a long record of investigating and producing substantive and influential documents on communal violence in India, including Hindu-Muslim riots and violence against Sikhs, Muslims and Christians.

He is one of India’s leading experts on the situation in Odisha, following the communal violence in 2008. He has authored and contributed to several books, and regularly writes articles on human rights issues in India. Major books he has authored/co-authored or edited include For Reasons of State – Delhi Under the Emergency [1977], republished by Penguin in June 2018; Gujarat 2002 – Told and untold Stories [ 2002]; A Matter of Equity [2007]; Reconciliations — A journey Through Wounded India [with Harsh Mander and Natasha Badhwar, Amazon, 2018]. He has contributed to several books published in India and Europe.

He served as war correspondent and foreign correspondent in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and Europe. He became editor and CEO of the Delhi Mid Day, and treasurer of the Editors’ Guild of India.

In June 1998, Mr Dayal was one of the signatories of a statement by a group of journalists calling on India to return to the global nuclear disarmament agenda. He continues to provide commentary and analysis in print and on national TV and radio.

His incisive writings on political issues have led to soul-searching debates in the civil society and the secular world. He minces no words in raising his voice against irrational, biased and unfair policies and decisions of the governments of all times. He also writes on Church-related issues without fear or favour. His fierce attack on rising fascist tendencies in the country has hit where it really matters. John Dayal is a role model Communicator in terms of craft, conviction and commitment.

Conferred annually on individuals or institutions, Louis Careno Award for Excellence in Journalism is a joint venture of the Mumbai Province of the Salesians of Don Bosco and the Indian Catholic Press Association (ICPA), a Premier Organisation of Catholic journalists, Dailies and Periodicals in India founded in 1964 by Fr John Barrett, an American Jesuit belonging to the Patna Province.

Elon Musk Threatens To Boot Twitter Account Impersonators

(AP) — Elon Musk tweeted Sunday that Twitter will permanently suspend any account on the social media platform that impersonates another.

The platform’s new owner issued the warning after some celebrities changed their Twitter display names — not their account names — and tweeted as ‘Elon Musk’ in reaction to the billionaire’s decision to offer verified accounts to all comers for $8 month as he simultaneously laid off a big chunk of the workforce.

“Going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying “parody” will be permanently suspended,” Musk wrote. While Twitter previously issued warnings before suspensions, now that it is rolling out “widespread verification, there will be no warning.”

In fact, “any name change at all” would compel the temporary loss of a verified checkmark, the world’s richest man said.

Comedian Kathy Griffin had her account suspended Sunday after she switched her screen name to Musk. She told a Bloomberg reporter that she had also used his profile photo.

“I guess not ALL the content moderators were let go? Lol,” Griffin joked afterward on Mastodon, an alternative social media platform where she set up an account last week.

Actor Valerie Bertinelli had similarly appropriated Musk’s screen name — posting a series of tweets in support of Democratic candidates on Saturday before switching back to her true name. “Okey-dokey. I’ve had fun and I think I made my point,” she tweeted afterwards.

Before the stunt, Bertinelli noted the original purpose of the blue verification checkmark. It was granted free of charge to people whose identity Twitter employees had confirmed; with journalists accounting for a big portion of recipients. “It simply meant your identity was verified. Scammers would have a harder time impersonating you,” Bertinelli noted. “That no longer applies. Good luck out there!” she added.

The $8 verified accounts are Musk’s way of democratizing the service, he claims. On Saturday, a Twitter update for iOS devices listed on Apple’s app store said users who “sign up now” for the new “Twitter Blue with verification” can get the blue check next to their names “just like the celebrities, companies and politicians you already follow.”

It said the service would first be available in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. However, it was not available Sunday and there was no indication when it would go live. A Twitter employ, Esther Crawford, told The Associated Press it is coming “soon but it hasn’t launched yet.”

Twitter did not respond on Sunday to an email seeking comment on the verified accounts issue and Griffin’s suspension.

Musk later tweeted, “Twitter needs to become by far the most accurate source of information about the world. That’s our mission.”

If the company were to strip current verified users of blue checks — something that hasn’t happened — that could exacerbate disinformation on the platform during Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Like Griffin, some Twitter users have already begun migrating from the platform — Counter Social is another popular alternative — following layoffs that began Friday that reportedly affected about half of Twitter’s 7,500-employee workforce. They fear a breakdown of moderation and verification could create a disinformation free-for-all on what has been the internet’s main conduit for reliable communications from public agencies and other institutions.

Twitter is delaying the rollout of account verifications for its paid Twitter Blue subscription plan until after the midterm elections, CNN reported this week The decision to push back the new feature comes one day after the platform launched an updated version of its iOS app that promises to allow users who pay a monthly subscription fee to get a blue checkmark on their profiles, a feature that CEO Elon Musk has proposed as a way to fight spam on the platform.

The app’s latest update was outlined on Apple’s App Store, stating that users will now have to pay $7.99 per month for the company’s Twitter Blue verification feature, “just like the celebrities, companies, and politicians you already follow.” The checkmark has long been used to confirm the authenticity of government officials, prominent figures and journalists.

Many companies have paused advertising on the platform out of concern it could become more unruly under Musk. Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, sought to assuage such concerns in a tweet Friday. He said the company’s front-line content moderation staff was the group least affected by the job cuts.

Musk tweeted late Friday that there was no choice but to cut jobs “when the company is losing over $4M/day.” He did not provide details on the daily losses at Twitter and said employees who lost their jobs were offered three months’ pay as severance.

Elon Musk Fires Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal And Appoints Himself CEO

Elon Musk has appointed himself CEO of Twitter and dissolved its board of directors, it was revealed in a company filing on October 31st, as Twitter employees brace for extensive layoffs under a new restructuring that could target up to a quarter of staff.

Elon Musk, immediately after completing his acquisition of Twitter, has fired four top executives at the company, including CEO Parag Agrawal. Musk’s decision is not surprising given he has publicly accused Agrawal of misleading him on the number of spam-bot accounts.

Parag Agrawal was appointed Twitter CEO back in November 2021. But in just under a year, Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk has fired the India-born CEO.  The Washington Post reported  that Musk’s team has been discussing letting go of 25% of the company’s workforce in a first round of layoffs.

The reported layoffs come as the tech billionaire overhauls the company after buying it for $44bn last week. Celebrity lawyer Alex Spiro, a longtime Musk legal representative, led the conversations about the impending job cuts, according to reports.

The India-born Agrawal was appointed as Twitter’s CEO in November 2021 after Jack Dorsey stepped down. At the time, Dorsey had fully endorsed Agrawal. Given Musk has fired him, Agrawal’s stint at the job was less than a year. Agrawal is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Bombay. He also has a PhD in Computer Science from Stanford University and has interned with other companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, and AT&T Labs. He first joined Twitter in 2011, so he has worked here for nearly 11 years. Previously, he was Twitter’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and was appointed to the role in 2018. As reported previously, he played a role in the company’s technical strategy, especially around machine learning and AI. He also led efforts on scaling Twitter Ads systems.

Agrawal versus Elon Musk

While Musk has fired Agrawal, the relationship between the two did not have a rocky start, at least publicly. Back in April, when Musk had bought a majority stake in Twitter, Agrawal welcomed him. In fact, that’s tweet shows up first on his profile as a ‘popular tweet’. “I’m excited to share that we’re appointing @elonmusk to our board! Through conversations with Elon in recent weeks, it became clear to us that he would bring great value to our Board,” the now-sacked Twitter CEO had written in April this year.

Picture: Business Insider

But it was clear that Musk did not approve of the way things were being run at the company. In May, Musk changed his tune and started raising issues about the user account on Twitter, alleging that a large number of users were fake and that the company had not been honest about its user base.

This forced Agrawal to issue a long thread in May 2022, countering the claim of fake users. He had written at the time, “We suspend over half a million spam accounts every day, usually before any of you even see them on Twitter. We also lock millions of accounts each week that we suspect may be spam – if they can’t pass human verification challenges (captchas, phone verification, etc).”

He added that figuring out which accounts “look fake superficially” is a hard challenge. He noted, “Our team updates our systems and rules constantly to remove as much spam as possible, without inadvertently suspending real people or adding unnecessary friction for real people when they use Twitter: none of us want to solve a captcha every time we use Twitter.”

Regarding the percentage of fake users being more than 5 per cent, he had written, “Our actual internal estimates for the last four quarters were all well under 5% – based on the methodology outlined above. The error margins on our estimates give us confidence in our public statements each quarter.” Musk, of course, wasn’t impressed and replied to this entire thread with a ‘poop emoji’.

Twitter had more than 7,000 employees at the end of 2021, according to a regulatory filing, and a quarter of the headcount amounts to nearly 2,000 employees.

Reports that Musk planned to cut significant parts of the social media company’s workforce have been swirling for weeks. The Washington Post earlier reported Musk told prospective investors he planned to eliminate nearly 75% of Twitter’s staff in an effort to pay down the debt burden that has grown substantially since the start of his acquisition.

Musk has also reportedly told prospective investors in the deal that he planned to get rid of nearly 75% of the company’s staff, in a move that could disrupt every aspect of how Twitter operates. He previously discussed dramatically reducing Twitter’s workforce in personal text messages with friends about the deal, which were revealed in court filings, and didn’t dismiss the potential for layoffs in a call with Twitter employees in June.

The New York Times reported last week that Musk has ordered job cuts across the company, with some teams to be trimmed more than others and that layoffs would take place before 1 November, when employees were scheduled to receive stock grants as part of their compensation. “This is false,” Musk tweeted in response to the story.

Indian Overseas Congress, USA, seeks dismissal of Ankhi Das, FACEBOOK content Chief in India

Indian Overseas Congress, USA, an advocacy group that promotes democracy, freedom, and equal justice in India, condemns the FACEBOOK management for its election-year interference, content bias, and suppression of free expression by Indian citizens to help the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that is in power.

The Wall Street Journal dated August 14, 2020, wrote a story on how FACEBOOK’s blatant bias and dubious practices in India in favor of the Modi government is having an impact on the social media as regards its citizen’s right to express their opinions in public. These revelations shine a light on how major business houses that include Ambani’s Jio platform and Tech companies in Silicon Valley are heavily invested in India’s current politics and interferes in its communal faultlines.

“It is quite unfortunate that a company founded in a free society undermines the very essence of that philosophy in a sister democracy in the world and that too in favor of a political party that demonstrated its disdain for pluralism, democracy and freedom of religion, “ said George Abraham, Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA.

It has been reported that Ms. Ankhi Das, the content manager in charge of FACEBOOK in India, is said to have told her colleagues “punishing violations by politicians from the @narendramodi party would damage the company’s business prospects in the country.” Reuters reported that a handful of employees had written a letter asking FACEBOOK to denounce “anti-Muslim” bigotry” from BJP politicians that Ankit Das said to have protected.

“Congress party valiantly fought for freedom and independence and the dignity of every Indian for the last 74 years, and it is regrettable to see that India’s democracy has now been undermined by a profit-making company such as FACEBOOK,” said Mohinder Singh, president of the IOC, USA.

It is a well-known fact that India is the largest market for FACEBOOK and WhatsApp, and these companies have a huge responsibility in managing the content without bias and bigotry. However, they have chosen the side of those that incite violence and encourage instability that has led to destruction of lives and property. Facebook shoulders a heavy responsibility for what has transpired.

IOC, USA, supports the proposal by the AICC asking Facebook to set up a panel to investigate the blatant bias regarding BJP-RSS and punish those who have engaged in such dubious practices. As a first step, Ankhi Das, who is the content manager for FACEBOOK in India, should be relieved of her duties and be investigated for her connection to a political party since her actions have tainted the company’s reputation as an independent arbiter of opposing viewpoints.

Facebook says will purge hateful posts by public figures in India

Facing intense political heat in India over its alleged role in favouring the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on its platform, social networking giant Facebook on Friday clarified its position, saying it has removed and will continue to remove content posted by public figures in India which violate its community standards.

Ajit Mohan, Vice President and Managing Director, Facebook India, said in a statement that Facebook has always been an open, transparent and non-partisan platform where people can express themselves freely.

“Over the last few days, we have been accused of bias in the way we enforce our policies. We take the allegations of bias incredibly seriously, and want to make it clear that we denounce hate and bigotry in any form,” Mohan said.

He was referring to the controversy generated after a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report claimed that Facebook’s content regulation policies favoured the BJP.

The WSJ report sparked a widespread debate in India, raising serious questions over Facebook’s content regulation practices.

The report claimed that Facebook India’s Public Policy Head Ankhi Das had told staff members that punishing violations by BJP politicians would damage the company’s business prospects.

Mohan said the policies at Facebook are “ever-evolving to take into account the local sensitivities, especially in a multicultural society such as India”.

“An example is the inclusion of caste as a protected characteristic in our global hate speech policy in 2018,” Mohan said.

The Facebook India chief said that the employees represent a varied political spectrum who have either served in many administrations or have political experience and take immense pride in being active contributors to public service.

“Despite hailing from diverse political affiliations and backgrounds, they perform their respective duties and interpret our policies in a fair and non-partisan way. The decisions around content escalations are not made unilaterally by just one person; rather, they are inclusive of views from different teams and disciplines within the company,” he elaborated.

Amid the debate, BJP’s IT cell chief Amit Malviya has claimed that Mohan worked with the Planning Commission during the UPA era.

According to Mohan, there is no place for hate speech on Facebook but they need to do more.

“We know this work is never over, which is why we will continue to invest in our efforts to combat hate speech on our services. We welcome the opportunity to engage with all parties — political or otherwise — who want to understand our content policies and enforcement more,” he said, adding that Facebook’s commitment to India and its people is unwavering.

The Congress has demanded that Facebook should order a high-level inquiry into its leadership team and their operations in a time-bound manner, and publish and make transparent all instances of hate speech since 2014 that were allowed on the platform.

“Facebook India should appoint a new team so that the investigation is not influenced,” said Congress leader K.C. Venugopal in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Plan To Digitally Connect Temples With Devotees Launched

Through its ‘India Spiritual Journey’ initiative, Koo, a Made-in-India social media platform, has enabled devotees to connect digitally with temples and spiritual centers across India. The first leg of the Journey, covering 4000 kilometers, will bring prominent temples and spiritual centers from Uttarakhand closer to devotees digitally. This is a first-of-its-kind initiative by an Indian social media platform.

Over the last two years, e-darshans have increased significantly on social media as a result of pandemic-induced lockdowns and temporary closures of temples. With spirituality and related topics being among the most searched topics on the internet, this campaign will enable spiritual leaders and temple trusts to connect with devotees across India, share updates, and engage with followers in their native language – all in real time.

Pratik Khedkar, an avid biker and Koo employee, will ride 4000 kilometres from Madhya Pradesh to Uttarakhand. Pratik will visit key pilgrimage sites in the Himalayan state, including Haridwar, Rishikesh, Uttarkashi, Gangotri, Yamunotri, and Badrinath, as part of Koo’s Operations Team. The journey will come to an end at Gaurikund, the base camp for the Kedarnath trek. This campaign, which has the support of Uttarakhand Tourism, aims to assist temple trusts and spiritual centres across the state in harnessing the social media revolution that is currently transforming the world. The ‘India Spiritual Journey’ will be gradually expanded to pilgrimage sites throughout India.

Pratik said as he rode his bike around the region, “I am grateful to Koo for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this campaign.” ‘India Spiritual Journey’ has helped me rediscover myself and connect with spiritually inclined people. We hope to bring this experience to millions of Koo users through this campaign. The experience of travelling through some of India’s most remote areas, surrounded by majestic snow-capped mountains, pine forests, and ancient temples, has been nothing short of divine.”

On the platform, Koo has over 100 verified spiritual accounts, including those of prominent gurus such as Swami Avdheshanand Giri, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. In the last quarter, the platform saw a 50 per cent increase in verified spiritual accounts. By utilising the platform’s unique multi-lingual feature, spiritual leaders actively koo and interact with their followers in local languages. The feature enables real-time translation of messages across the platform’s current slew of languages, thereby broadening reach. Chat Rooms and Live features contribute to a stronger digital connection between temples and devotees, with over 47 per cent of spiritual accounts gaining more followers on Koo than on any other microblogging platform in India.

Data Security: More Privacy On The Smartphone

Privacy on the smartphone is possible, as is shown by the Privacy Friendly Apps (PFAs) for Android: Together with students, the SECUSO research group of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) has developed more than 30 apps for Android phones. They request authorizations required for functioning only and do not contain any tracking mechanisms. For these PFAs, SECUSO has now been granted the first Digital Autonomy Award by the Digital Autonomy Hub that is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Every day, we all are feeding our smartphones with large data volumes: We are having conversations in the form of words, texts, and images, we are storing notes, photos, and videos. We are planning appointments and administrating contacts. Access to these partly highly sensitive data is subject to so-called authorizations. For example, any app accessing the camera needs the respective authorization. During installation or in other contexts, however, many apps request authorizations to access private smartphone data, although this is not required for their functioning. Some weather apps or QR code scanners, for instance, request access to the address book or to private photos. In addition, many apps contain so-called trackers that continuously collect data, analyze the user behavior, and create profiles of persons without them being aware of it. The data collected can be used for targeted advertising, but may also be stolen by hackers.

Students Are Largely Involved in the Development of Apps

The PFAs developed by KIT’s research group SECUSO (Security – Usability – Society) guarantee more privacy. The research group headed by Professor Melanie Volkamer is affiliated to KIT’s Institute of Applied Informatics and Formal Description Methods. Students were and are significantly involved in the development of PFAs suited for Android smartphones. “Through programming exercises or graduation theses, students come to know security and privacy aspects of Android app development,” Volkamer says. “Still, the challenge is to combine app development with academic education. Students without the relevant experience should also be able to take part.”

The PFAs only request the authorizations required for functioning, do not contain any tracking mechanisms, and, hence, do not collect any usage data. “The data collected are stored locally on the smartphone,” says Christopher Beckmann. The scientist is member of the SECUSO research group and responsible for the Privacy Friendly Apps Lab. “Clearly defined data will be transmitted to third providers only, if this is absolutely necessary for functioning.” The source code of every PFA is published on the GitHub platform.

Apps Range from the Pedometer to the Password Generator

Currently, more than 30 PFAs are offered in the areas of tools, fitness and health, games, and security, including a flashlight, to-do-list, pedometer, active break, sudoku, mental arithmetic trainer, password generator, and WiFi manager. For its PFAs, SECUSO has now received the Digital Autonomy Award that is granted for the first time in 2022 by the Digital Autonomy Hub. It coordinates an interdisciplinary network of 43 institutes and organization, is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research under the program “Miteinander durch Innovation” (together through innovation), and implemented by the Gesellschaft für Informatik e.V. (Society for Informatics) and AlgorithmWatch.

It is SECUSO’s declared goal to continuously further develop the PFAs and to expand the group of users. For this reason, SECUSO looks for interested persons, who wish to help the Privacy Friendly Apps team by supporting one or several apps or by providing staff or funds.

Whatsapp CEO Says, India’s New IT Guidelines Are Regressive

As India tightens its stand on the social media platforms, Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp’s CEO Will Cathcart has said that the Indian government’s IT Rules of 2021 undermines the security of the users that the end-to-end encryption provides. In an interview with the US-based news portal Verge, when asked about the new Indian IT guidelines 2021, Cathcart said that if someone comes to WhatsApp and asks to find the originator of a specific text, then it is no longer private.

“With the IT rules in India, the specific thing those rules would require is us to build some system [to comply] if someone comes to us and says ‘Hey, someone said the words ‘XYZ.’ Tell us who the first person who said the words XYZ.” That’s not private. And it undermines the security that end-to-end encryption provides,” Cathcart emphasized. He added, “I think 10 years from now, even more of our lives will be online. Even more of our sensitive data will be online. There will be even more sophisticated hackers, spyware companies, hostile governments, criminals trying to get access to it. And not having the best security means that information is stolen. I think that has real consequences for free society.”

The WhatsApp CEO further added that at present, India is asking to find the first originator of the text, tomorrow some other country wants to push for it as well. “The more some countries see other countries do it, or push for it, the more they want to push for it, too,” he continued. The center of the issue is that as per the new IT guidelines, messaging platforms with more than a 5million user base in India need to enable the identification of the first originator of the information. The Indian government has said that the information will only be required for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offense related to sovereignty and integrity of India, and others.

However, WhatsApp has sued the government alleging that WhatsApp texts are end-to-end encrypted and in order to identify the originator of a particular text, it has to break encryption for those who have sent and received messages. Back then, WhatsApp called it a threat to privacy. In the last hearing of the matter, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the central government on WhatsApp plea challenging the traceability of the first originator of a message. On August 27, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi appearing for WhatsApp had asked the division bench of Delhi chief justice DN Patel and justice Jyoti Singh to issue a notice to the Centre allowing the central government to file a response to the social messaging platform’s plea.

Complying with the new IT guidelines, WhatsApp in its latest compliance report revealed that it banned around 3 Mn Indian accounts between June 16 to July 31. WhatsApp has time and again been mired up in controversy in the country. The year started with a privacy policy update that allegedly allowed WhatsApp to share data to its parent company Facebook. The company faced severe criticism across the globe for this update and several governments including India asked the messaging platform to roll back the update, and the platform had to defer the rollout of the privacy policy update. However, the company clarified that the contentious policy update will look to address data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook business accounts and nothing will change for personal chats.

Anu Natarajan To Lead Facebook’s $1 Billion Affordable Housing Initiative

Former Fremont, California Vice Mayor and city council woman Anu Natarajan has been named by Facebook to head up its affordable housing initiative, which will allocate $1 billion in grants over 10 years to housing projects in California. The Indian American former official came on board as project lead in July, after consulting on the initiative for more than a year. “The Covid pandemic has really put the spotlight on the lack of housing in the state, which has been 40 years in the making,” Natarajan told India-West.

A survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau between last November found that over two million renter households in California reported “little to no confidence” in their ability to pay next month’s rent. Federal and state moratoriums have staved off evictions through the pandemic, but those are due to expire next month. Moreover, only a small fraction of $47 billion in federal funds has actually been doled out to renters in need and small landlords. In California, almost 30 percent of renters pay more than half their salary in rent, and almost 40 percent of homeowners pay more than 30 to 50 percent of their incomes to mortgages, according to data from the California Budget and Policy Center.

California has more than half of all unsheltered homeless people in the country, with an estimated 108,432 people living on the streets. Los Angeles County alone is home to almost 58,000 homeless people, according to 2019 data from Housing and Urban Development. In San Francisco, a family of four making over $100,000 per year is considered low-income, said Facebook in a press release. Natarajan noted the lack of supply at all levels of housing: for every 100 jobs created in the state, only 30 housing units are created, on average. “Not in My Backyard” protests from existing residents, as well as the increasing costs of materials have made building new housing so much harder, she said.

The Facebook housing initiative was announced on Oct. 22, 2019. An initial round of funding — $150 million — was announced last December to create 2,000 units of housing for very low-income people. Facebook partnered with Destination Home, a nonprofit organization leading efforts to end homelessness in Santa Clara County, which contributed an additional $5 million to the fund. Natarajan said that funds were also allocated to help with technical assistance for California’s Project Homekey, an $800 million initiative which bought up existing hotels and motels to create 6,000 units of permanent housing for unsheltered people. (See earlier India-West story: https://bit.ly/38td7mU)

“The COVID crisis demands we all step up and do more to protect the most vulnerable. I challenge other private sector corporations to follow suit and provide additional low-cost capital to create thousands more homeless housing units all across California,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom, as Facebook announced the grant last December. Facebook’s next round of grants are expected to be announced sometime during the week of Aug. 30, according to Natarajan. The areas of most need in the state include the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles County, San Diego, and the Inland Empire in Southern California.

Natarajan will also lead Facebook’s $25 million initiative to build teacher and essential worker housing on public land for school districts in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. The $1 billion initiative also allocates $250 million to a partnership with the State of California for mixed-income housing on excess state-owned land in communities where housing is scarce. This public-private partnership ensures that incremental new housing supply is brought to the market segments that need it most, said Facebook Chief Financial Officer David Wehner in a press statement.

Natarajan earned her master’s degree in Urban Design and Planning from the University of Washington. She served on the Fremont City Council from 2004 to 2014. She brings a three-pronged view to civic infrastructure development, considering the impact to climate change, addressing social justice concerns about equity in housing, and access to mobility and transportation.

Twitter As ‘Porn Hub’ Allowing Psy-War Targeting Communal Harmony

Twitter is the ‘porn hub’ of social media, DisinfoLab said in a new report. Shockingly, despite Indian laws and Twitter’s own policies, even child porn and rape videos are freely available. Worse, Twitter’s lax policy has allowed a massive psy-war targeting communal harmony, the report said. Twitter has a full-fledged porn industry — from live web cam to other ‘off-line services’. Numerous NSFW content selling websites openly advertise themselves on Twitter, including those who show their registration in India, it added.These activities are not run in hiding but in broad day light, advertising with hashtags! Live porn is openly sold on Twitter using the IndianCamGirl hashtag involving a nexus of ‘service providers’, it said.

The fact that the hashtag started in 2017, involves several Influencers, and is used regularly is a testament to Twitter’s unwillingness to address these concerns. In the garb of such ‘services’, personal data of the users are being mined, to be used for criminal activities from ‘sextortion’ to rape, to sexual exploitation of minors, leading to grave consequences, including suicides. Anti-social/anti-India elements are taking advantage of this ‘free porn’ environment of Twitter, weaponising the content. An elaborate psy-war is being waged to damage India’s communal harmony, particularly between Hindus and Muslims, the report said. “Hundreds of fake handles are running coordinated campaigns, dehumanising the women of both religions. These handles pretend to be Hindus (#hstuds) when demeaning Muslim girls (#mslut); and Muslim (#mstud), while demeaning Hindu girls (#hslut),” it added.

The behavioral pattern of these handles – creation date, activity, location and hashtag – clearly establishes an organized campaign designed to harm social harmony. Surprisingly, despite obvious Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior (CIB), Twitter doesn’t seem to take any actions, the report said. Twitter, the US based for-profit company, seems obliged to follow only US laws, while showing complete dis-regard to India’s IT Rules, which prohibits adult content on social media. Twitter doesn’t even make any attempt to implement the laws, doable with basic location filter, the report said. Contrast it with other social media platforms which do far better content management, and continue to strive to keep social media space clean. Shockingly, Twitter seems blind to even most obscene contents, including child porn despite a ‘child sexual exploitation policy’.

Twitter claims to have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards child pornography – and yet seems to make zero efforts to counter this menace. It’s important to remember that this content is available to even under age users, as Twitter doesn’t filter ‘sensitive content’ to even young users, the report said. Equally shocking is freely available ‘rape videos’ on Twitter, which is prohibited even under Twitter’s policy of ‘gory content’. Even those video posts, which have words that could trigger filter mechanism are freely available, including the gang-rape video of a young girl, the report said. Twitter has also failed to filter obscene content for young users. Even a minor user on Twitter can access most obscene content if they wish to. Worth noting that Twitter could easily filter particular kind of content on age and location restriction, if it wished to, DisinfoLab said. “To access Twitter Hub, one need not even own a Twitter account. An open Google search could land anyone, even a minor, to most gory and vulgar contents available on Twitter with just a click on ‘view sensitive content’. Seems #Google also needs to take measures to control it,” the report added.

The DisinfoLab said in a report that adult content industry’s symbiotic relation with Twitter goes both ways: The presence of pornography lures and keeps engaged a number of users; and secondly, it also helps create an economic eco-system, which is more loyal as user, and hence increases Twitter’s number of ‘active users’. The report said several users/accounts openly sell porn on Twitter. The mechanism is simple: The seller accounts show porn clips, thereby ‘attracting’ customers and creating a ‘brand’. Then they send messages, asking money in exchange of large amount of porn. This conversation moves to DMs. In DMs they then share the links for the pornographic content. Not surpassingly, the links at times redirects to malicious websites.

Twitter doesn’t allow for ad promotion for pornographic content, but there are multiple ‘porn services’ websites that get promoted on Twitter. Interestingly, the report came across instances where same set of people/organizations running multiple websites/platforms on Twitter – without any filtering/restrictions. For example, two different websites (www.flitz.in and www.bindastimes.com) were asking for subscription money for giving access to their content. Only fans’ accounts promote their content on Twitter by sharing their website links. Interestingly, as some of the activities are illegal in India, they claim their location to be outside India, while proving contact details and address in India.

For example, a casual look at one of the websites revealed that these sites are registered in Kolkata, and their details have both address and contact numbers from Kolkata. It is therefore again surprising how Twitter doesn’t even scan the basic data of a website’s registration, the report said. It further said that some of the porn content accounts lure the users into filling forms, asking for personal details for a range of things – from ‘one-night stand’ to chats, video and calls etc. However, in order to access these services, the users have to fill forms, such as Google forms, which is not monitored by anyone, not even by Twitter.

Among the data collected through such means are mobile numbers and email ids; personal profile (age, marriage status), professional profile and payment details. The personal data so gathered could be exploited from blackmailing to phishing to selling to third parties. A number of such instances have also been reported in public, and there is a possibility that many more would be getting into traps but are not coming out openly due to public embarrassment, the report said. Other than the verified (Bluetick) services provided by Twitter to adult content handles/platforms, there is a full-fledged industry flourishing on Twitter which strives to provide authentication services to porn service providers. ‘Live webcam services’ are one of the most popular services on Twitter to sell porn. Thousands of users are offering these services openly on Twitter – selling links/means to access this service. However, every economic system needs trust, which is acquired through means of standardisation. The porn industry on Twitter too has developed its own systems of trust through standardisation, DisinfoLab said. Shockingly, despite Indian laws and Twitter’s own policies, even child porn and rape videos are freely available. Worse, Twitter’s lax policy has allowed a massive psy-war targeting communal harmony, the report said. (IANS)

2 Billion Google Chrome Users Accounts Potential For Hacks

Google Chrome has over two billion users worldwide and dominates the web browser market. But this also makes it the prime target of hackers and now Google has issued its fourth urgent upgrade warning in two months. In an official blog post, Google has revealed seven ‘High’ rated security threats have been discovered in Chrome with the vulnerabilities impacting Chrome users on all major operating systems: Windows, MacOS and Linux. Google is currently giving little away about the flaws.

This is standard practice as the company attempts to limit information to stop the spread of these vulnerabilities to hackers and buy time for users to protect themselves. Consequently, this is all Chrome users have to go on right now:

  • High — CVE-2021-30598: Type Confusion in V8. Reported by Manfred Paul
  • High — CVE-2021-30599: Type Confusion in V8. Reported by Manfred Paul
  • High — CVE-2021-30600: Use after free in Printing. Reported by 360 Alpha Lab
  • High — CVE-2021-30601: Use after free in Extensions API. Reported by 360 Alpha Lab
  • High — CVE-2021-30602: Use after free in WebRTC. Reported by Cisco Talos
  • High — CVE-2021-30603: Race in WebAudio. Reported by Google Project Zero
  • High — CVE-2021-30604: Use after free in ANGLE. Reported by SecunologyLab

What I can tell you is “Type Confusion in V8” is the open source JavaScript engine at the heart of Chrome.  “WebRTC” (Web real-time communications) is tech which enables you to transfer audio and video streaming data between browsers and mobile applications. “ANGLE” (Almost Native Graphics Layer Engine) is Google’s open source, cross-platform graphics engine abstraction layer. Printing and Extensions are self explanatory. Historically, all of these have been used by hackers to execute code to take control of a target’s computer. Chrome’s most recent zero-day hack (where hackers are known to be exploiting a vulnerability before Google is able to patch it) was a V8 flaw.

To combat these new threats, all Chrome users should navigate to Settings > Help > About Google Chrome. If your browser version on Linux, macOS and Windows is listed as 92.0.4515.159 or above you are safe. If not, the About screen should prompt you to update and restart your browser. You should do this immediately. It is to Google’s credit that fixes for high level attacks are typically released within days of their discovery but their effectiveness still relies upon billions of users updating and restarting their browsers.  Chrome is a superb browser, but attacks are growing and there have already been eight zero day Chrome hacks this year. It is now vital to keep Chrome up-to-date at all times. Go check it now. (Courtesy: FORBES)

Apple To Scan U.S. iPhones For Images Of Child Sexual Abuse

Apple unveiled plans to scan U.S. iPhones for images of child sexual abuse, drawing applause from child protection groups but raising concern among some security researchers that the system could be misused, including by governments looking to surveil their citizens.

The tool designed to detected known images of child sexual abuse, called “neuralMatch,” will scan images before they are uploaded to iCloud. If it finds a match, the image will be reviewed by a human. If child pornography is confirmed, the user’s account will be disabled and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children notified.

Separately, Apple plans to scan users’ encrypted messages for sexually explicit content as a child safety measure, which also alarmed privacy advocates. The detection system will only flag images that are already in the center’s database of known child pornography. Parents snapping innocent photos of a child in the bath presumably need not worry. But researchers say the matching tool — which doesn’t “see” such images, just mathematical “fingerprints” that represent them — could be put to more nefarious purposes.

Matthew Green, a top cryptography researcher at Johns Hopkins University, warned that the system could be used to frame innocent people by sending them seemingly innocuous images designed to trigger matches for child pornography. That could fool Apple’s algorithm and alert law enforcement. “Researchers have been able to do this pretty easily,” he said of the ability to trick such systems.

Other abuses could include government surveillance of dissidents or protesters. “What happens when the Chinese government says, ‘Here is a list of files that we want you to scan for,'” Green asked. “Does Apple say no? I hope they say no, but their technology won’t say no.”

Apple has been under pressure to allow for increased surveillance of encrypted data

Tech companies including Microsoft, Google, Facebook and others have for years been sharing digital fingerprints of known child sexual abuse images. Apple has used those to scan user files stored in its iCloud service, which is not as securely encrypted as its on-device data, for child pornography.

Apple has been under government pressure for years to allow for increased surveillance of encrypted data. Coming up with the new security measures required Apple to perform a delicate balancing act between cracking down on the exploitation of children while keeping its high-profile commitment to protecting the privacy of its users.

But a dejected Electronic Frontier Foundation, the online civil liberties pioneer, called Apple’s compromise on privacy protections “a shocking about-face for users who have relied on the company’s leadership in privacy and security.”

Meanwhile, the computer scientist who more than a decade ago invented PhotoDNA, the technology used by law enforcement to identify child pornography online, acknowledged the potential for abuse of Apple’s system but said it was far outweighed by the imperative of battling child sexual abuse.

“Is it possible? Of course. But is it something that I’m concerned about? No,” said Hany Farid, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, who argues that plenty of other programs designed to secure devices from various threats haven’t seen “this type of mission creep.” For example, WhatsApp provides users with end-to-end encryption to protect their privacy, but also employs a system for detecting malware and warning users not to click on harmful links.

Apple was one of the first major companies to embrace “end-to-end” encryption, in which messages are scrambled so that only their senders and recipients can read them. Law enforcement, however, has long pressured the company for access to that information in order to investigate crimes such as terrorism or child sexual exploitation.

Apple said the latest changes will roll out this year as part of updates to its operating software for iPhones, Macs and Apple Watches. “Apple’s expanded protection for children is a game changer,” John Clark, the president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said in a statement. “With so many people using Apple products, these new safety measures have lifesaving potential for children.”

Apple says the changes do not disturb user privacy

Julia Cordua, the CEO of Thorn, said that Apple’s technology balances “the need for privacy with digital safety for children.” Thorn, a nonprofit founded by Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, uses technology to help protect children from sexual abuse by identifying victims and working with tech platforms.

But in a blistering critique, the Washington-based nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology called on Apple to abandon the changes, which it said effectively destroy the company’s guarantee of “end-to-end encryption.” Scanning of messages for sexually explicit content on phones or computers effectively breaks the security, it said.

The organization also questioned Apple’s technology for differentiating between dangerous content and something as tame as art or a meme. Such technologies are notoriously error-prone, CDT said in an emailed statement. Apple denies that the changes amount to a backdoor that degrades its encryption. It says they are carefully considered innovations that do not disturb user privacy but rather strongly protect it.

In order to receive the warnings about sexually explicit images on their children’s devices, parents will have to enroll their child’s phone. Kids over 13 can unenroll, meaning parents of teenagers won’t get notifications.  Apple said neither feature would compromise the security of private communications or notify police.

Separately, Apple said its messaging app will use on-device machine learning to identify and blur sexually explicit photos on children’s phones and can also warn the parents of younger children via text message. It also said that its software would “intervene” when users try to search for topics related to child sexual abuse.

Facebook Has New Redesigned Settings Page On Mobile

Facebook is changing its Settings page on the mobile app. The new layout will help people easily find tools they often need quicker. These include managing the ads people see, adjusting sharing settings and curating an audience for posts. The new design rollout has already begun since August 4, and should come to supported devices via an update soon if it hasn’t already.

Here’s all you need to know about the new Facebook Settings page, including what’s new and which devices it will come to.

The new story now features lesser broad categories than before. Facebook suggests the change is to prevent people from thinking too hard about where to start. Hence, Settings will now be grouped into six broader categories – Account, Preferences, Audience and Visibility, Permissions, Your Information, and Community Standards and Legal Policies.

Relocated menu items, new Privacy shortcut

The new Settings page will also be relocating some items so that they can now be found alongside other related settings. For example, the News Feed setting, previously found in its own small category, will now be seen under the Preferences category.

Facebook also said in a blog post that it will be improving the Settings’ Search functionality, making it “easier to find the settings you need if you don’t know the exact name or location of the setting you’re looking for.”

Facebook has also added a new Privacy Shortcut right at the top of the Settings page, to make it easier for users to change important privacy and security aspects.

Which devices will see the new Facebook settings?

The Facebook Settings redesign will roll out for Android devices, including smartphones and tablets, as well as iOS devices, including iPhones and the iPad series. The new rollout will also be coming to mobile web browsers for those who do not use the Facebook application. Lastly, it will also be implemented in Facebook Lite, a lighter version of the Facebook app that is available on some platforms.

Attempting To Intimidate Critics, Modi Gvt. Locks Rahul Gandhi ’s Twitter Account

The Twitter account of senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was ‘temporarily’ locked on last week, a day after a photograph he had posted with the family of the nine-year-old Dalit rape victim was taken down by the microblogging site.

The action came after the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) issued a notice to Twitter India, asking the social media platform to remove the tweet which revealed the identity of the rape victim.

“Shri @RahulGandhi’s Twitter account has been temporarily locked & due process is being followed for its restoration,” the Congress tweeted. “Until then, he will stay connected with you all through his other SM platforms & continue to raise his voice for our people & fight for their cause. Jai Hind!”

“Based on a complaint by the BJP, the Twitter account of Rahul Gandhi has been locked. Instead of giving justice to the 9-year-old Dalit girl, the BJP and the Narendra Modi government are far too preoccupied in intimidating Twitter as also illegally chasing Rahul Gandhi. Had PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah used this time in ensuring justice for the Dalit girl…Delhi would have been a safer place,” Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala told the media.

The girl, who has not been named by authorities and belonged to the Dalit community, one of Hinduism’s most oppressed castes, was found dead near a Delhi crematorium on Sunday night, Ingit Singh from Delhi Police’s South West District told NBC News over the telephone. Her whole body was burnt apart from her ankles and feet, he added.

Four men were arrested on suspicion of rape and murder in the death of a 9-year-old girl, whose killing has brought into focus both rampant sexual violence and caste prejudice in the country. Four men, including the crematorium’s priest, were arrested early Monday on suspicion of rape, murder and destruction of evidence, Singh said.

“The brutality from this incident is barbaric beyond words,” Yogita Bhayana, founder of the women’s rights group People Against Rapes in India, said. “And the saddest part is incidents like these are not rare. We see cases where Dalit women are killed, raped, and tortured daily. … Only a few come to the limelight.”

There are 200 million Dalits in India, out of a population of 1.3 billion, according to the most recent government census. Rahul Gandhi visited the girl’s family and offered his condolences and support to the family last week, seeking action for those behind the heinous crime.

India Has 52,391 Startups And 53 Unicorns

India’s startup ecosystem, which is widely considered as the third largest globally, has a total of 52,391 recognised entities as of July 14, 2021, Parliament was informed last week. The startups are recognized by Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) and as of July 14, more than 5.7 lakh jobs have been reported by more than 50,000 startups, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, Som Parkash, told the Lok Sabha in a written reply.

As per industry estimates, there are 53 unicorns currently in India, with a tentative valuation of Rs. 1.4 lakh crore, he said, adding that valuation of a company is a market driven exercise and the data of individual companies is not maintained by the DPIIT.

He said that the Startup India initiative is a flagship initiative of the Centre which aims to build a strong ecosystem for nurturing innovation and startups in the country. A 19-point Startup India Action Plan was launched in January 2016 which paved the way for the introduction of a number of policy initiatives to build a strong, conducive, growth-oriented environment for Indian startups.

The Prime Minister unveiled Startup India: The Way Ahead at 5 years celebration of Startup India on January 16, 2021 which includes actionable plans for promotion of ease of doing business for startups, greater role of technology in executing various reforms, building capacities of stakeholders and enabling a digital Aatmanirbhar Bharat, the Minister added. (IANS)

Snooping In India Indicates, Fundamental Freedom In India Is In Serious Jeopardy

“The alleged snooping in India using Israeli spyware Pegasus of opposition leaders, journalists, activists, and constitutional scholars is one more indication that fundamental freedoms in India are in serious jeopardy” said George Abraham, Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA. What we have been witnessing over the last six years is the steady deterioration of the rule of law and undermining of democracy, and the government must be held accountable” added Mr. Abraham.

One of the most prominent people on the list is Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Indian National Congress and a vehement critic of the Modi Administration on their undemocratic policies. In a statement, Mr. Gandhi said, “ targeted surveillance of the type you describe, whether in regard to me, other leaders of the opposition or indeed any law-abiding citizen of India is illegal and deplorable.”

It is becoming evident that power is all that matters to the current leadership at the Centre, and they may stoop to any low to snatch it even at the cost of undermining constitutional freedom and individual liberties. News reports suggest that key political players, including the then deputy chief minister Parameswara and the personal secretaries of then Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, may have been potential targets of surveillance by the Pegasus spyware in the run-up to the collapse of the Congress-JD (S) alliance government in 2019. If these reports are accurate, it is undermining the democratically run election process and severe violations of constitutional provisions these authorities are sworn to uphold.

The Biden administration has condemned the harassment and ‘extra-judicial surveillance of journalists and others in reaction to the story. “The United States condemns the harassment of extra-judicial surveillance of journalists, human rights activists, or other perceived regime critics,” a White House spokesperson stated.

Significantly, the list includes a woman who made sexual harassment allegations against India’s former Chief Justice, whose turnaround from a critic to a supporter of the Modi regime policies has surprised many. It may very well make a case study about how skeletons in the closet of any individual can be unearthed and weaponized to extract concessions or demand behavioral changes. It is a sad state of affairs in India today that reveals how much the world’s largest democracy has deteriorated under the BJP rule.

In Retaliation For Critical Coverage, Modi Government Raids Top Indian Media

Indian tax authorities on Thursday, July 21, 2021,  raided one of the country’s most prominent newspapers in what journalists and the political opposition denounced as retaliation for the outlet’s hard-nosed coverage of the government’s pandemic response. The DainikBhaskar Group, whose Hindi-language broadsheet boasts a combined circulation of more than 4 million, was raided simultaneously in at least four locations, including at its headquarters in Madhya Pradesh state.

Surabhi Ahluwalia, a spokeswoman for the tax authority, said searches were on at multiple locations across the country linked to the group but declined to share details about the case. She said the department usually undertakes searches in matters of tax evasion. But the justification of tax evasion was panned by government critics, who pointed out that the Bhaksar has been persistently needling India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its coverage, including as recently as this week.

The Press Club of India said in a statement that it “deplores such acts of intimidation by the government through enforcement agencies to deter the independent media.” Under the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who rose to power in 2014, several critical media outlets have found themselves in tax investigators’ cross-hairs, raising fears about the health of the independent press in the world’s largest democracy. Reporters without Borders, the advocacy group, recently placed India at 142nd place in its press freedom rankings, roughly on par with Myanmar and Mexico.

Om Gaur, the Bhaskar’s national editor, said his staff’s mobile devices were seized during the raids as a “tactic to harass journalists.” “The raid is outcome of our aggressive reporting, especially during the second wave of pandemic in April,” Gaur said by telephone. “Unlike some other media we reported how people were dying for lack of oxygen and hospital beds.” The tax investigation “is not going to change anything for us,” he added. “We will keep doing good journalism.”

As covid-19 roiled India this spring, the Bhaskar splashed photos of funeral pyres on its front pages, reported on corpses floating in the Ganges river and repeatedly challenged the government’s narrative about the disaster and its official death statistics. Gaur, the editor, contributed an op-ed in the New York Times that made waves in his home country. The paper has sometimes taken a less-than-orthodox approach to holding government accountable: as citizens in the state of Gujarat struggled to procure covid-19 medication in April, the paper published the phone number of the BJP’s state president in a massive front-page headline.

This week, after The Washington Post and its media partners disclosed the Indian government’s use of the NSO Group’s Pegasus phone hacking program against opposition figures, activists and journalists, the DainikBhaksar was one of the few Hindi-language papers that featured the story prominently. It also followed up with an article recapping what it said was Modi’s record of snooping on political rivals going back 15 years, when he served as chief minister in Gujarat. The article was quickly retracted.

On Thursday, opposition figures rebuked the government. “Income Tax raid on DainikBhaskar newspaper & Bharat Samachar news channel is a brazen attempt to suppress the voice of media,” Ashok Gehlot, the chief minister of Rajasthan state and a member of the Congress Party, said in a tweet. “Modi government cannot tolerate even an iota of its criticism.” India’s free-wheeling press was stunned in 2017 when the government launched an investigation into New Delhi Television, which was known for its independent streak. The top investigative agency raided NDTV’s offices and the homes of its founders, the Roy family, over suspected financial malfeasance. The channel called it a “blatant political attack on the freedom of the press.” The company has also faced a litany of probes from various agencies over alleged tax violations and money laundering.

In 2019, NDTV protested again when the Roys were barred from boarding an international flight out of Mumbai. The most recent raids on a media outlet came in February, when authorities investigated NewsClick, a left-leaning digital outlet, over its foreign remittances from a businessman with alleged links to China’s Communist party. The outlet denied the accusations.

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Modi Govt. Comes Under Fire For ‘Extrajudicial Surveillance’ Of Journalists, Activists, Regime Critics

The Pegasus report kicked up a storm on the first day of the Monsoon Session of Indian Parliament as several Opposition leaders condemned the Prime Minister Narendra Modi government, stating the spyware was being used to snoop on journalists and politicians in the country. India’s main Oppoision party Leader Rahul Gandhi is among dozens of Indian politicians, journalists, activists and government critics who were identified as potential targets of an Israeli-made spyware, media reports say.

More than 1,000 phone numbers in India were among tens of thousands worldwide selected as possibly of interest to clients of NSO Group, maker of the Pegasus spyware, according to a group of media outlets. The leaked list was shared with the news outlets by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit, and Amnesty International. The identities behind around 300 of the Indian phone numbers were verified by the media outlets.

The Biden administration has condemned the harassment and ‘extrajudicial surveillance’ of journalists and others in reaction to reports published by a consortium of news websites that Israeli company NSO Group’s spyware, Pegasus, was used for illegal hacking and surveillance of individuals, including in India. “The United States condemns the harassment or extrajudicial surveillance of journalists, human rights activists, or other perceived regime critics,” a White House spokesperson said in response to a question on what U.S. President Joe Biden’s position on the issue was.

The news reports on Pegasus say that in addition to actually or potentially targeting journalists, leaders of the opposition in India, and others, a database of phone numbers that allegedly belonged to the NSO Group contained the numbers of two U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials in New Delhi and employees of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “Just as states have the duty to protect human rights, businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights, including by ensuring that their products or services are not being used by end-users to abuse fundamental freedoms,” the spokesperson said.

While reports of Indian politicians and journalists being targets of surveillance operations carried out with the help of Pegasus spyware took centre-stage on Monday, French newspaper Le Monde reported that several Delhi-based diplomats were also on the list of potential targets for phone hacking from 2017-2021, along with a phone associated with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. Media organizations in the 17-member consortium published more details of the leaked database allegedly belonging to Israeli technology company, the NSO group, that developed Pegasus. U.S.-based Washington Post, UK-based The Guardian and The Wire in India reported that the telephone numbers of a British High Commission official and two officials of the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and employees of international NGOs like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were also in the database of those targeted.

New Delhi has hostile relations with China and Pakistan at present, and their diplomats are under close watch, but it is significant that the list included several countries that India has very friendly ties with as well. They include a woman who made sexual harassment allegations against India’s former chief justice, as well as Tibetan Buddhist clerics, Pakistani diplomats and Chinese journalists, the reports said. More than 50,000 phone numbers of citizens clustered mainly in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been studied as a part of the international collaboration by NGOs and media organisations investigating phone surveillance using Pegasus.

The government has denied any wrong doing or carrying out any unauthorized surveillance, but has not confirmed or denied whether it has purchased or deployed Pegasus spyware. The Indian government reiterated in a statement to the Washington Post that “allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever”. India’s Home Minister Amit Shah said the reports aimed to “humiliate India at the world stage, peddle the same old narratives about our nation and derail India’s development trajectory.”Critics say that the world’s largest democracy has become increasingly authoritarian under Prime Minister Modi, with the government accused of seeking to silence dissent. Rahul Gandhi, from the main opposition Congress party, told the media that if the allegations were correct, it was “an attack on the democratic foundations of our country.”

Losing 10 Family Members To Covid, US Surgeon General Warns Against Health Misinformation

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy revealed during the White House news briefing on July 5th that he’s lost 10 family members to the coronavirus. Murthy, who joined the briefing in an effort to urge Americans to get their shots amid lagging vaccination rates, was candid about his own experience during the pandemic. His family members who died were in both the U.S. and India. He said it was “painful” to know that “nearly every death we are seeing now” from Covid-19 in the U.S. could have been prevented with vaccines.

Murthy said misinformation has been a significant contributor to vaccine hesitancy. He said roughly two-thirds of people who haven’t gotten the vaccination believe, to some degree, common myths about the shots. Some of this misinformation has been amplified by social media, he said. He warned against health misinformation saying that falsehoods spreading quickly online have subjected large numbers of Americans to avoidable illness and death. Murthy called on social media companies to step up their efforts on the issue, arguing that technology firms “have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users.”

“They’ve allowed people who intentionally spread misinformation – what we call disinformation – to have extraordinary reach,” Murthy said of tech companies. “They’ve designed product features such as ‘like’ buttons that reward us for sharing emotionally-charged content, not accurate content. And their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click on, pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of misinformation.” The surgeon general’s advisory Murthy issued comes amid a rise in coronavirus cases, as some Americans resist getting inoculated against the coronavirus despite the widespread availability of vaccinations in the United States.

The advisory is the most high-profile action the Biden administration has taken to date to stem the tide of falsehoods spreading on social media. It’s a major reversal from the Trump administration, when the former president’s own baseless claims about the virus often tested the social networks’ covid-19 misinformation policies. Murthy’s advisory calls for the tech platforms to make investments to address disinformation, including building in more suggestions and warnings to make it harder for people to spread false information about vaccines or the virus. He also recommends that the companies make greater investments in content moderation, especially in languages other than English.

Murthy also called on the platforms to prioritize the detection of “super spreaders” and repeat policy offenders. The advisory Murthy issued on Thursday has a broad list of recommendations. It advises Americans to check whether a source is trustworthy before forwarding information. It also recommends that health and educational institutions work to improve information literacy and calls on media organizations not to give a platform to newsmakers who spread misinformation.

U.S. Accuses China Of A Massive Cyber attack On Microsoft

The White House is publicly blaming China for an attack on Microsoft’s Exchange email server software that compromised tens of thousands of computers worldwide, allowing hackers to gain access to troves of sensitive data. Separately, the Department of Justice announced Monday that a federal grand jury in May had indicted Chinese nationals accused of working with official sanction from Beijing to break into computer systems belonging to U.S. companies, universities and governments.

The cyberattack on Microsoft, which is believed to have begun in January, reportedly injectedcomputers with malwarethat secretly monitored systems belonging to small businesses, local and state governments and some military contractors. As part of the attack, an unidentified American company was also hit with a high-dollar ransom demand, according to a senior Biden administration official.

U.S. allies are also blaming China for cyber attacks

The official, who briefed reporters late Sunday, said the U.S. would be joined by the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and NATO in condemning Beijing’s Ministry of State Security for the malicious cyberattacks. EU policy chief JosepBorrell in a statement on Monday said the hacking was “conducted from the territory of China for the purpose of intellectual property theft and espionage.” U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said China’s actions represent “a reckless but familiar pattern of behavior. The Chinese Government must end this systematic cyber sabotage and can expect to be held [to] account if it does not,” Raab said in a statement.

In a tweet, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the alliance “stands in solidarity with all those affected by malicious cyber activities, including the Microsoft Exchange Server compromise. We call on all states, including China, to uphold their international obligations & act responsibly.” The announcements follow heightened concern over ransomware attacks that the White House has blamed on Russian hackers and highlights how the West’s traditional Cold War rivals have stepped up pressure in cyberspace in recent years.

The Biden administration official said that China’s Ministry of State Security employed criminal contract hackers “to conduct unsanctioned cyber operations globally, including for their own personal profit.” Although the U.S. says criminal gangs of hackers with links to Russian intelligence carried out such audacious ransomware attacks as the one that caused Colonial Pipeline – a major U.S. petroleum distribution network – to shut down temporarily, China’s outright hiring of contract hackers is “distinct,” the official said.

“The United States has long been concerned about the People’s Republic of China’s irresponsible and destabilizing behavior in cyberspace,” the official said. Such hacks pose a serious economic and national security threat to the U.S. and its allies, the official said. “Their operations include criminal activities, such as cyber-enabled extortion, crypto-jacking and theft from victims around the world for financial gain. In some cases, we’re aware of reports that PRC government-affiliated cyber operators have conducted ransomware operations against private companies that have included ransom demands of millions of dollars,” the official said.

Although no sanctions against China have been announced, the U.S. has “raised its concerns” with Beijing, the official said. “The first important piece is the publicly calling out the pattern of irresponsible malicious cyberactivity, and doing it with allies and partners.” Previously, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry has said that Beijing “firmly opposes and combats cyber-attacks and cyber theft in all forms” and cautioned against “groundless accusations” that China is involved in such attacks, according to The Associated Press.

The Department of Justice said in a statement that a federal grand jury in San Diego had indicted four nationals and residents of China with “a campaign to hack into the computer systems of dozens of victim companies, universities and government entities in the United States and abroad between 2011 and 2018.” The indictment, unsealed Friday, alleges a conspiracy to steal data with a “significant economic benefit to China’s companies and commercial sectors, including information that would allow the circumvention of lengthy and resource-intensive research and development processes.”

The four individuals worked with China’s Hainan State Security Department “to obfuscate the Chinese government’s role in such theft by establishing a front company, Hainan Xiandun Technology Development Co., Ltd.,” which has since been dismantled, the Justice Department said. The FBI, National Security Agency and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a joint advisory Monday laying out ways that government agencies and businesses could protect themselves from such attacks.

How Your Personal Data Is Being Scraped From Social Media

How much personal information do you share on your social media profile pages?Name, location, age, job role, marital status, headshot? The amount of information people are comfortable with posting online varies. But most people accept that whatever we put on our public profile page is out in the public domain.So, how would you feel if all your information was catalogued by a hacker and put into a monster spreadsheet with millions of entries, to be sold online to the highest paying cyber-criminal? That’s what a hacker calling himself Tom Liner did last month “for fun” when he compiled a database of 700 million LinkedIn users from all over the world, which he is selling for around $5,000 (£3,600; €4,200).

The incident, and other similar cases of social media scraping, have sparked a fierce debate about whether or not the basic personal information we share publicly on our profiles should be better protected. In the case of Mr Liner, his latest exploit was announced at 08:57 BST in a post on a notorious hacking forum. It was a strangely civilized hour for hackers, but of course we have no idea which time zone, the hacker who calls himself Tom Liner, lives in.”Hi, I have 700 million 2021 LinkedIn records”, he wrote.

Included in the post was a link to a sample of a million records and an invite for other hackers to contact him privately and make him offers for his database. Understandably the sale caused a stir in the hacking world and Tom tells me he is selling his haul to “multiple” happy customers for around $5,000 (£3,600; €4,200).He won’t say who his customers are, or why they would want this information, but he says the data is likely being used for further malicious hacking campaigns. The news has also set the cyber-security and privacy world alight with arguments about whether or not we should be worried about this growing trend of mega scrapes.

What’s important to understand here is that these databases aren’t being created by breaking into the servers or websites of social networks.They are largely constructed by scraping the public-facing surface of platforms using automatic programs to take whatever information is freely available about users. In theory, most of the data being compiled could be found by simply picking through individual social media profile pages one-by-one. Although of course it would take multiple lifetimes to gather as much data together, as the hackers are able to do. So far this year, there have been at least three other major “scraping” incidents. In April, a hacker sold another database of around 500 million records scraped from LinkedIn.In the same week another hacker posted a database of scraped information from 1.3 million Clubhouse profiles on a forum for free.

Also in April, 533 million Facebook user details were compiled from a mixture of old and new scraping before being given away on a hacking forum with a request for donations.The hacker who says he is responsible for that Facebook database, calls himself Tom Liner. I spoke with Tom over three weeks on Telegram messages, a cloud-based instant messenger app. Some messages and even missed calls were made in the middle of the night, and others during working hours so there was no clue as to his location. The only clues to his normal life were when he said he couldn’t talk on the phone as his wife was sleeping and that he had a daytime job and hacking was his “hobby”.Tom told me he created the 700 million LinkedIn database using “almost the exact same technique” that he used to create the Facebook list. He said: “It took me several months to do. It was very complex. I had to hack the API of LinkedIn. If you do too many requests for user data in one time then the system will permanently ban you.”

API stands for application programming interface and most social networks sell API partnerships, which enable other companies to access their data, perhaps for marketing purposes or for building apps.Tom says he found a way to trick the LinkedIn API software into giving him the huge tranche of records without setting off alarms. Privacy Shark, which first discovered the sale of the database, examined the free sample and found it included full names, email addresses, gender, phone numbers and industry information. LinkedIn insists that Tom Liner did not use their API but confirmed that the dataset “includes information scraped from LinkedIn, as well as information obtained from other sources”. It adds: “This was not a LinkedIn data breach and no private LinkedIn member data was exposed. Scraping data from LinkedIn is a violation of our Terms of Service and we are constantly working to ensure our members’ privacy is protected.”

In response to its April data scare Facebook also brushed off the incident as an old scrape. The press office team even accidentally revealed to a reporter that their strategy is to “frame data scraping as a broad industry issue and normalise the fact that this activity happens regularly”. However, the fact that hackers are making money from these databases is worrying some experts on cyber security.The chief executive and founder of SOS Intelligence, a company which provides firms with threat intelligence, Amir Hadžipašić, sweeps hacker forums on the dark web day and night. As soon as news of the 700 million LinkedIn database spread he and his team began analyzing the data.

MrHadžipašić says the details in this, and other mass-scraping events, are not what most people would expect to be available in the public domain. He thinks API programmes, which give more information about users than the general public can see, should be more tightly controlled. “Large-scale leaks like this are concerning, given the intricate detail, in some cases, of this information – such as geographic locations or private mobile and email addresses. “To most people it will come as a surprise that there’s so much information held by these API enrichment services. This information in the wrong hands could be significantly impacting for some,” he said.Tom Liner says he knows his database is likely to be used for malicious attacks. He says it does “bother him” but would not say why he still continues to carry out scraping operations.

MrHadžipašić, who is based in southern England, says hackers who are buying the LinkedIn data could use it to launch targeted hacking campaigns on high-level targets, like company bosses for example. He also said there is value in the sheer number of active emails in the database that can be used to send out mass email phishing campaigns. ‘No ambiguity’ But cyber-security expert Troy Hunt, who spends most of his working life poring over the contents of hacked databases for his website haveibeenpwned.com, is less concerned about the recent scraping incidents and says we need to accept them as part of our public profile-sharing.

“These are definitely not breaches, there’s no ambiguity here. Most of this data is public anyway.The question to ask, in each case though, is how much of this information is by user choice publicly accessible and how much is not expected to be publicly accessible.” Troy agrees with Amir that controls on social network’s API programmes need to be improved and says we can’t brush off these incidents. “I don’t disagree with the stance of Facebook and others but I feel that the response of ‘this isn’t a problem’ is, whilst possibly technically accurate, missing the sentiment of how valuable this user data is and their perhaps downplaying their own roles in the creation of these databases.”

Mr Liner’s actions would be likely to get him sued by social networks for intellectual property theft or copyright infringement. He probably wouldn’t face the full force of the law for his actions if he were ever found but, when asked if he was worried about getting arrested he said “no, anyone can’t find me” and ended our conversation by saying “have a nice time”.

Free, Open Social Media Under Attack, Says Google Chief Sundar Pichai

The free and open internet is under attack around the world, Google CEO Sundar Pichai has warned, asserting that many countries are restricting the flow of information and the model is often taken for granted. In an in-depth interview with the BBC at the Google headquarters at Silicon Valley in California, the tech boss covered a wide range of topics, including the threat to free and open internet and also narrowed down on two developments that he feels will further revolutionise the world over the next quarter of a century as artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing.

Pichai, 49, who was born in Tamil Nadu and grew up in Chennai, has said India is deeply rooted in him and a big part of who he is.He didn’t refer to China directly but said: “None of our major products and services are available in China.” Pichai made it clear that the responsibility of steering the future of the internet should not be an onus of an individual “but rather a collective think tank that plots the course forward while taking into account the foundational pillars of the free internet”. He said that artificial intelligence is more profound than fire, electricity or the internet. “I view it as the most profound technology that humanity will ever develop and work on. You know, if you think about fire or electricity or the internet, it’s like that. But I think even more profound,” he was quoted as saying in the report.

In an executive order signed last week, US president Joe Biden called for the restoration of net neutrality regulations. “Big providers can use their power to discriminatorily block or slow down online services. The Obama-Biden Administration’s FCC adopted ‘Net Neutrality’ rules that required these companies to treat all internet services equally, but this was undone in 2017,” the order read. In the order, “the President encourages the FCC to restore Net Neutrality rules undone by the prior administration.”

Pichai, the chief executive of one of the most complex, warned the free and open internet is under attack in countries around, the report said, adding that he said many countries are restricting the flow of information, and the model is often taken for granted. When asked about whether the Chinese model of the internet based on surveillance is in the ascendant, Pichai said the free and open internet “is being attacked”. While he didn’t refer to China directly, he said: “None of our major products and services are available in China.” On the controversial issue of tax, he said: “We are one of the world’s largest taxpayers, if you look at on an average over the last decade, we have paid over 20 per cent in taxes.

“We do pay the majority of our share of taxes in the US, where we originate and where our products are developed. I think there are good conversations and we support the global OECD conversations figuring out what is the right way to allocate taxes, this is beyond a single company to solve,” he said. He was also asked about his own personal tech habits and encouraged everyone to adopt “two-factor authentication” when it comes to passwords to ensure multiple protections and admitted he is constantly changing his phone to test out new technology.Pichai is universally regarded as an exceptionally kind, thoughtful, and caring leader, the report said.

PM Modi Is A ‘Predator of Press Freedom’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in the list of 37 heads of state or government that the global body Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has identified as ‘predators of press freedom’. The entry against Modi notes how his “close ties with billionaire businessmen who own vast media empires” has helped him spread his nationalist-populist ideology through continued coverage of his “extremely divisive and derogatory” speeches.

India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index. RSF is the world’s biggest NGO specialising in the defence of media freedom, which is regarded as a basic human right to be informed and to inform others. Modi joins the likes of Pakistan’s Imran Khan, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Myanmar’s military head Min Aung Hlaing and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, along with 32 others who “trample on press freedom by creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them when they don’t have blood on their hands because they have directly or indirectly pushed for journalists to be murdered.” This is the first time since 2016 that RSF is publishing such a list. Seventeen of the heads identified as ‘predators’ are new entrants. Thirteen of the 37 in the list are from the Asia-Pacific region.

Seven of the list’s world leaders have been a part of it since it was first published in 2001 and include Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s Ali Khamenei, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko. The latter has gained credence as a ‘predator’ since the dramatic rerouting of a plane to capture critique and journalist Roman Protasevich. Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina and Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam are the two women identified as ‘predators’. For each of the predators, RSF has compiled a file identifying their ‘predatory method,’ their press release notes. The list also highlights how each ‘predator’ censors and persecutes journalists, and their ‘favourite targets’ – the kinds of journalists and media outlets they go after, along with quotations from speeches or interviews in which they ‘justify’ their predatory behaviour.

Modi’s entry notes that he has been a “predator since taking office” on May 26, 2014 and lists his ‘predatory methods’ as ‘national populism and disinformation’. His favourite targets, RSF says, are ‘sickulars’ and ‘presstitudes’. The former is a word which the Hindu rightwing and supporters of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party use to slam viewpoints that are ‘secular’ – a word which is also in the Preamble of the Indian constitution – and not ostensibly rightwing Hindu-adhering. The latter is an amalgamation of ‘press’ and ‘prostitute’ – intended to indicate with the help of misogyny that media critical of Modi is a sellout.

The following is how the RSF describes Modi’s impact on the free press:

After becoming Gujarat’s chief minister in 2001, he used this western state as a laboratory for the news and information control methods he deployed after being elected as India’s prime minister in 2014. His leading weapon is to flood the mainstream media with speeches and information tending to legitimise his national-populist ideology. To this end, he has developed close ties with billionaire businessmen who own vast media empires.

This insidious strategy works in two ways. On the one hand, by visibly ingratiating himself with the owners of leading media outlets, their journalists know they risk dismissal if they criticise the government. On the other, prominent coverage of his extremely divisive and derogatory speeches, which often constitute disinformation, enables the media to achieve record audience levels.

All that is left for Modi is to neutralise the media outlets and journalists that question his divisive methods. For this, he has a judicial arsenal with provisions that pose a major threat to press freedom. For example, journalists risk the possibility of life imprisonment under the extremely vague charge of sedition. To round off this arsenal, Modi can count on an army of online trolls known as “yodha” (the Hindi word for “warriors”), who wage appalling hate campaigns on social media against the journalists they don’t like, campaigns that almost routinely include calls for the journalists to be killed.

The note also points out the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, in 2017, was a significant victim of Hindutva, “the ideology that spawned the Hindu nationalist movement that worships Modi.” It also notes like women journalists like Rana Ayyub and BarkhaDutt, who have been critical of Modi, receive the brunt of virulent attacks, including doxxing and call for gang-rapes. As a rule, any journalists or media outlets that question the prime minister’s national-populist ideology are quickly branded as “sickular” – a portmanteau of “sick” and “secular” – and are targeted by “bakht,”

Modi devotees who bring lawsuits against them, defame them in the mainstream media and coordinate online attacks against them. Recently, RSF had been critical of the “absurd charges” of “criminal conspiracy” brought against The Wire, Twitter India, and journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi and Mohammed Zubair in connection with tweets and reports on an attack against a Muslim elderly man in Ghaziabad.

(Courtesy: Thewire.in)

What We Learned About Relationships During The Pandemic

The pseudo-scientific formula that explains most human bonding is basically time + affection + togetherness = relationship. So what happens to humans and their interconnectedness when two of the key elements—time and togetherness—are removed or increased? Can digital communication replace human to human contact? How do couples cope with stressful events they have never before encountered? This is the focus of a series of studies published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, which has dedicated several special issues to relationships in the time of COVID-19.

“When COVID hit it became clear to me that… it would be really important for us to provide a space for relationship science to showcase their work,” says Pamela Lannutti, the director of the Center for Human Sexuality Studies at Widener University in Chester, Penn., and one of the editors of the series of issues. So the journal put out a call for researchers who had begun research on what relationships were like in this unique set of circumstances and the studies flooded in.

Some of the results were obvious: health workers needed supportive spouses during this time, digital communication with friends helped with loneliness and college couples who were dating grew apart when they couldn’t see each other. Others were a little more surprising. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

Gender roles in the home got more, not less, defined.

A study out of New Zealand found that during the stay-at-home measures, with people working from home and schools closed, each partner in heterosexual relationships had to take on more responsibilities around the house. But women took on many more. While both men and women recognized the situation was imbalanced, it only led to relationship dissatisfaction among the women, unless the men were doing a lot of childcare. That is, the men could see the burden was being unevenly carried, but it didn’t bother them. “There’s definitely a shift back towards traditional gender roles in ways that perhaps weren’t there before COVID,” says Lannutti. “Here’s something that came along and just shook up society in this really unexpected and really quick way. And still those gender roles were so powerful.”

Contrary to expectations, lonely single people didn’t settle.

Using a multinational survey of almost 700 single people, most of them female, a group of researchers from across the globe found that single people were more interested in finding a partner if they were more concerned about COVID-19. The researchers expected single people to lower their standards given the exigent circumstances. They did not. Not even about looks. “They still cared about physical attractiveness,” says the journal’s co-editor, Jennifer Bevan, a professor of communication at Chapman University in Orange, California, “which I thought was such an interesting element.”

People who don’t like video chat just kept meeting in person.

Getting together via video took off during the early days of lockdown, with workplaces and families having to quickly adjust to meeting over Zoom, Google meetings, Bluejeans or other digital platforms. A Utah State university study found that those who had difficulty adjusting to this form of communication were more likely to violate social distancing protocols and pleas to avoid gatherings, in order to see other humans. “The need for connection overrides what’s happening at that moment, which is a scary thought,” says Bevan. “How do we kind of override the need for connection? I know it’s really difficult to do.”

Same sex couples who avoided fighting were less happy than those who voiced their complaints.

In a study of LGBTQ couples, those who refrained from complaining about their relationships when something was wrong had less satisfying relationships, suffered more anxiety and depression, and leaned more heavily on substance use during COVID-19. Their dissatisfaction with their relationships was also worse if they were people of color or had higher internalized homophobia. The researchers noted that one fifth of the participants in the study had decided to move in together because of the pandemic—which paradoxically had made them less anxious while also making the relationship less stable. “We recommend same-sex couples to actively discuss their moving in decisions,” the researchers suggested, “rather than rushing to cohabit without adequate considerations.”

When people can’t meet in person, even fictional characters and celebrities feel like friends.

The lockdown proved to be a bumper time for what researchers call “parasocial relationships,” that is, relationships with folks who don’t know you, but with whom you form an attachment. Because of the isolation and the direct access people had to celebrities via social media as well as via streaming platforms, many people became much more attentive to their favored celebrities. The study found that people maintained stable relationships with friends as the social distancing measures went on, but felt much closer to the celebrities they followed. The editors theorized this closeness might partly be the result of people consuming a lot more content in their homes, through their personal devices. “It‘s not the same as going to an arena and seeing the concert. They’re sitting at their house,” says Bevan, who acknowledged that Taylor Swift helped get her through some hard days. “It makes that experience a lot different.” These can be famous people, or even fictional characters.

“A problem a lot of couples can face during times of hardship or crisis is relational uncertainty—meaning they aren’t sure how committed they or their partners are or where the relationship is going,” says Helen Lillie, a post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Utah. According to the school of relationship science known as Communication Theory of Resilience, couples who focus on five habits can weather hard times more easily. The five techniques are: maintaining some semblance of normalcy with their routines, talking to their spouse as well as sympathetic others about their concerns, reminding themselves of who they are and what they believe, reframing their situation in a more positive or different way and focusing on how good things will be when the crisis is over. Lillie’s study surveyed 561 people to ascertain whether couples who used those strategies were getting on with their partners better during the pandemic, and found that they did. The study also found humor helped couples cope with the lockdown, although it didn’t always improve couple communication.

Web Resources To Prevent Youth Radicalization

Newswise — New tools to help parents and educators protect vulnerable young people from online radicalization were released today by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research Innovation Lab (PERIL). The organizations released the new web resources in addition to updates to the 2020 guide, titled Building Resilience & Confronting Risk in the COVID-19 Era: A Parents & Caregivers Guide to Online Radicalization, and new tools specifically tailored for educators, counselors, coaches and mentors. 

“Young people are being targeted online by extremists looking to exploit and radicalize them,” said Lydia Bates, Senior Research Analyst with the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. “This is why it was critical to us to not only provide resources for parents and caregivers but ensure they are as effective as possible.” In an impact study of 755 adults, the two organizations found that just seven minutes with the guide can dramatically improve a user’s knowledge of extremism and understanding of youth radicalization. Adults who spent more time reading the guide felt better equipped to take immediate action to prevent online radicalization.

Following last year’s release of the Building Resilience & Confronting Risk in the COVID-19 Era: A Parents & Caregivers Guide to Online Radicalization, SPLC and PERIL conducted the impact study and thirteen focus groups with educators, school counselors, social workers, coaches, mentors and youth group leaders. The findings from that research led to the development of SPLC and PERIL’s newly published resources. “Communities are looking for resources that not only help them recognize risks, but also build resilience to extremism,” said PERIL Director and Professor Cynthia Miller-Idriss. “Our goal is to inform and empower all adults with the tools to recognize signs of extremist radicalization and feel equipped to intervene with a young person in effective ways.”

The new resources include the updated Building Resilience & Confronting Risk: A Parents & Caregivers Guide to Online Radicalization as well as information about the key vulnerabilities that make youth more susceptible to radicalization; how to recognize the warning signs of radicalization; what drives online radicalization; how to get help and engage a radicalized child or young adult; and additional resources for help and support.

The new online resources can be viewed HERE and updated guide HERE.

Google’s First Transparency Report Under The New IT Rules In India

Google has published its first transparency report under the new Information Technology (IT) Rules 2021. It has published the report for April 2021. The rules were notified in February 2021. Google has published its first transparency report under the new Information Technology (IT) Rules 2021 (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code). Google received a total of 27,762 complaints for the month of April, and the number of removals stood at 59,350. according to the report. The search giant removes any content which violates its community guidelines, product policies, or local legal requirement.

The new IT rules require significant social media intermediaries (SSMIs) such as Google, Facebook, etc to publish a monthly report on the action taken on user complaints that they have received. The rules were notified in February 2021, and came into effect from May.It should be noted that this number of requests, does not include the number of other government requests for content removal. Google has been publishing these details as a separate report, every six months since 2009.

Google’s report under the IT rules also notes that in order to “allow sufficient time for data processing and validation, there will be a two-month lag for reporting.” The existing report does not include data on removals as a result of automated detection, data relating to impersonation and graphic sexual content complaints received post May 25, 2021. This will be included in future reports. Nearly 96 per cent complaints deal with copyright issues (26,707), while 1.3 per cent deal with trademark (357). Around 1 per cent dealt with defamation (275). Other legal requests were 1 per cent (272), counterfeit were 0.4 per cent (114 ) and circumvention were 0.1 per cent (37). According to Google, “some requests may allege infringement of intellectual property rights, while others claim violation of local laws prohibiting types of content on grounds such as defamation.”

Google specifies that each unique URL in a specific complaint is considered an individual “item”, which is why the number of removals is higher than total complaints. Further, “a single complaint may specify multiple items that potentially relate to the same or different pieces of content.” Nearly 98 per cent of the content removal was with regard to copyright: 58,391. The rest of categories were: trademark: 931 (1.6%) Circumvention: 13 (0.0%) Counterfeit: 7 (0.0%) Defamation: 7 (0.0%) Other Legal: 1 (0.0%)

The “removal actions” number represents the number of items where a piece of content was removed or restricted during the one-month reporting period as a result of a specific complaint. Google says they review all complaints carefully. It also notes that there are many reasons as to why they may not have removed content in response to a user complaint. “For example, some requests may not be specific enough for us to know what the user wanted us to remove (for example, no URL is listed in the request), or the content has already been removed by the user when we process the complaint,” notes the report.

US Court Dismisses FTC Lawsuit Against Facebook

Just two weeks into her tenure as chair of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Lina Khan has been handed her first crisis: how to rescue the agency’s near-dead monopoly lawsuit against Facebook and keep antitrust enforcement against the biggest technology companies on track. The US District Court for the District of Columbia Monday dismissed a complaint filed by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against social networking giant Facebook that sought to undo the company’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. This is being seen as a major blow to the US administration’s antitrust efforts against big-tech companies.

In December last year, an antitrust lawsuit was filed against Facebook alleging that has harmed competition by buying up smaller companies like Instagram and WhatsApp to squash the threat they posed to its business. While the suit was filed by the New York attorney general, 47 other state and regional attorneys general joined it. The overarching theme of the lawsuit was that Facebook, which acquired Instagram for $1 billion in 2012 and WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014, violated antitrust laws by purchasing companies that were potentially on their way to becoming competitors to Facebook in the social media market.

Judge James Boasberg said the FTC failed to sufficiently detail its claim that the company has monopoly power in the social media market. He gave the agency an opening to revive the complaint by fixing it and refiling in 30 days. Getting the case back on track rests with the 32-year-old Khan, who rose to prominence in the antitrust world by advocating for more forceful competition enforcement against tech companies. The FTC said it was reviewing its options. “There are plenty of facts out there to prove that Facebook has a dominant share of that market,” said Alex Petros, a lawyer at the tech policy organization Public Knowledge in Washington. “This is a bar they should be able to overcome.”

Yet the decision also underscores the hurdles U.S. antitrust enforcers face in bringing cases that challenge conduct by dominant companies. Supporters of more aggressive enforcement say the courts have created nearly insurmountable barriers to winning cases that accuse companies of violating monopoly laws and that Congress has to pass new legislation. “It’s not hard to look at these cases and come away with the sense that antitrust law, as it stands, is not capable of handling the problems posed by dominant technology companies,” said Blake Reid, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are mounting a multi-pronged effort to reform the laws and give competition watchdogs at the FTC and the Justice Department new authority. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee advanced a package of bills aimed at the biggest tech platforms, including Facebook. The proposals would force the companies to exit certain business, impose restrictions on how they treat other firms that depend on their platforms, and make it harder to win approval for mergers. One would also increase filing fees to raise revenue for the antitrust agencies.

“We cannot rely on our courts to keep our markets competitive, open, and fair,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., after the Facebook decision. She has introduced her own antitrust reform proposals and has called for additional funding for the FTC and the Justice Department’s antitrust division. “We urgently need to rejuvenate our antitrust laws to meet the challenges of the modern digital economy,” she said. Democrats Jerrold Nadler of New York, who is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, of Rhode Island, who led the House effort to reform the power of technology giants, echoed Klobuchar’s remarks.

The Facebook lawsuits were filed in December in an exiting salvo by the Trump administration as part of a widening crackdown on America’s tech giants. The cases followed a Justice Department complaint against Alphabet Inc. for allegedly monopolizing internet search, and the findings of a House investigation that accused technology companies of abusing their dominance. The Facebook lawsuits centered on the 2012 acquisition of Instagram and the 2014 takeover of WhatsApp. Officials say Facebook made the deals because it saw both companies as threats to its business. Rather than compete with its own products, Facebook followed Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg’s mantra: “It is better to buy than compete,” according to the FTC complaint.

According to a Reuters report, the US judge said the federal complaints were “legally insufficient”. Judge James Boasberg said the FTC failed to show that Facebook had monopoly power in the social-networking market but said the FTC could file a new complaint by July 29, the report said. He also dismissed a lawsuit by multiple US states saying they waited too long to challenge the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp in 2012 and 2014 respectively.

The Joe Biden administration has mounted a massive antitrust campaign against big-tech firms, in addition to the scrutiny these companies are undergoing from various other branches of the government. And while the case was filed in December, this could prompt the first reaction on the issue from the FTC under its new commissioner Lina Khan, a vocal critic of big-tech who was confirmed by the US Senate earlier this month at a time when there is a growing bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill on the need to rein in the American technology majors.

On World Yoga Day, India, WHO Launch New Myoga App

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the mYoga fitness app on the occasion of International Yoga Day. Jointly developed by the Ministry of Ayush and the World Health Organization, the mYoga app aims to bring assisted yoga training to everyone with a smartphone for free without needing any signing in. Check out all you want to know about the new WHO mYoga app, available on both the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. The application is completely free and has no sign up required. Here’s how it works.

The mYoga app is mainly divided into two sections, a learning tab and a practice tab. The learning tab is meant for those users who are completely new to Yoga. It features a sequential set of videos that help watchers learn the various yoga asanas with proper technique. The practice session is aimed at users who have learned the asanas and are practising. Both modes offer different time durations like 10 minutes, 20 minutes and 45 minutes. Although when in Practice mode, you can also switch to an audio-only panel and only follow along with audio instructions.

Aasanas covered in the learning modules include basic neck movements, trunk twisting, Tadasana, ArdhaChakrasana, Bhujangasana and more. While the 10-minute module will cover fewer exercises, the 20 and 45-minutes programs will offer additional exercises like the Vakrasanak, Shalabhasana and more. Videos on the app can either be streamed or even downloaded and saved offline to watch later. The app also offers its entire interface as well as an audio output for videos in both English and Hindi.

UN Not Happy With New Indian IT Rules That Do Not Conform With International Norms

Experts at the United Nations Office of the Human Rights Commissioner have said in a report that it is concerned that India’s Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, in their current form, do not conform with international human rights norms. The observations were made in Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.

The report is authored by Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Clement NyaletsossiVoule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and Joseph Cannataci, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy. “As noted in previous communications sent to your Excellency’s Government, we are concerned that these new rules come at a time of a global pandemic and of large-scale farmer protests in the country, where the enjoyment of the freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to receive information, and the right to privacy, is particularly important for the realization of several other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights,” the report said.

“We would like to recall that restrictions to freedom of expression must never be invoked as a justification for the muzzling of any advocacy of multiparty democracy, democratic tenets and human rights,” the report said. The report said as a global leader in technology innovation, India has the potential to develop legislation that can place it at the forefront of efforts to protect digital rights. However, the substantially broadened scope of the Rules is likely to do just the opposite. “We would therefore encourage the Government to take all necessary steps to carry out a detailed review of the Rules and to consult with all relevant stakeholders, including civil society dealing with human rights, freedom of expression, privacy rights and digital rights”, the report said.

“We understand the new rules were issued under the Information Technology Act of 2000 and therefore, were not subject to parliamentary review or opened for consultation with stakeholders. We believe such consultations with relevant stakeholders are essential in order to ensure the final text is compatible with India’s international legal obligations, in particular with Articles 17 and 19 of the ICCPR,” it added. This observation along with India’s comment will also subsequently be made available in the usual report to be presented to the Human Rights Council, it added. Meanwhile India vigorously defended the much-debated IT Rules following critical comments by the UN special rapporteurs that certain aspects of the newly introduced regulation fall afoul of international human rights.

India’s Permanent Mission to the UN said: “The concern that the rules may be misused deliberately to make a large number of complaints so as to overwhelm the grievance redressal mechanisms created by social media platforms is misplaced, exaggerated and disingenuous and shows lack of willingness to address grievances of the users of these media platforms while using their data to earn revenues.” “The concerns alleging potential implications for freedom of expression that the new IT rules will entail is highly misplaced. India’s democratic credentials are well recognized. The right to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. The independent judiciary and a robust media are part of India’s democratic structure.”

The Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations, in a letter to the union government last week, had raised concerns on certain aspects of the Rules. “We are seriously concerned that Section 4 may compromise the right to privacy of every Internet user. We are notably concerned by the ability of executive authorities to issue orders to access to user data and restrict content, which seems to take place outside of any judicial oversight mechanism that would hold authorities accountable.” On Part 3 of the Rules on digital media: “We are seriously concerned that such broad powers given to the executive authorities, without judicial review, is likely to unduly restrict the free flow of information, which is protected by Article 19 (2) of the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political rights].”

Social Media Platforms Frustrated By India’s Changing Regulations

US-based social media platforms have been frustrated by the relentless changing rules and regulations in India, the latest being India’s Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. Microblogging site Twitter has been facing the wrath of Indian authorities ever since it flagged a tweet by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra on a ‘COVID Toolkit’, attributed to the Congress, on how to target the Centre over its handling of the COVID crisis. The row over the purported toolkit escalated after the Special Cell visited Twitter India offices on May 24 and served a notice, asking it to share information based on which Patra’s tweet had been tagged ‘manipulated media’.

The government had asked Twitter to remove the ‘manipulated media’ tag as the law enforcement agency was looking into the issue. Twitter India Managing Director Manish Maheshwari was questioned by the Delhi Police’s Special Cell on May 24 in connection with its probe into the case. He was questioned about the company’s policy on flagging tweets as ‘manipulated media’. Indian representatives of microblogging platform Twitter appeared before the parliamentary panel chaired by Congress’ Shashi Tharoor to discuss the issue of its guidelines and the misuse of its platform. During the deposition, Twitter India’s public policy manager Shagufta Kamran and legal counsel Ayushi Kapoor represented Twitter before the panel.

During the meeting, the panel asked the company, if it follows the law or the land, to which a representative responded saying, “We follow our own policies.” The members then told Twitter that law of the land is “supreme” and asked the company to abide by them. They also asked Twitter to explain why it should not be fined for ‘violating’ rule of land. On February 25, 2021, the Central Government enacted the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which cast various obligations on internet intermediaries, especially on social media platforms. It was reported that social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were yet to comply with their obligations under the 2021 Rules. This gave rise to an apprehension among users of such websites that these websites could either stop operations or be banned in India for such non-compliance.

A user registered on Facebook can share information with his connections without the same being edited by Facebook in any manner. This passive role adopted by Facebook is what in essence enables it to be classified as an intermediary. Under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, intermediaries are granted protection from incurring any liability for third-party data available on their platform or hosted by them. This protection is essential as various intermediaries such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube do not monitor the content posted by third-party users on their platforms. However, if any such content uploaded by a third-party user is in violation of any law, the intermediary does not incur any liability for such information.

Prior to the current 2021 rules, the 2011 Rules laid down the standards of due diligence required to be observed by intermediaries. The 2011 Rules required intermediaries to publish rules and regulations, privacy policy and user agreements which would enjoin each user not to post information which would contravene any law in force. These rules also required intermediaries to disable access or remove information which is unlawful upon receiving actual knowledge of the same. In Shreya Singhal versus Union of India, the Supreme Court read down the requirement of actual knowledge of an intermediary to mean knowledge of a court order directing it to disable access or remove such information.

The 2021 Rules supersede the 2011 Rules. In these rules, the requirement of publication of rules and regulations, privacy policy and user agreements which stipulate that no user shall post information which would contravene any law in force have been retained.  The 2021 Rules now permit the intermediaries to take down any unlawful information on a voluntary basis and such voluntary removal would not affect the protection afforded to them under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act. The 2021 Rules lay down additional due diligence requirements to be observed by “significant social media intermediaries”.

Any intermediary who primarily or solely enables online interaction between two or more users and allows them to create, upload, share, disseminate, modify or access information using its services and has more than 50 lakh registered users is classified as a significant social media intermediary. Thus, all popular social networking platforms such as Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter would be required to observe these additional due diligence requirements. They social media platforms were given a three-month timeline for ensuring compliance of these rules. So far, none of the major international social networking platforms have complied with these requirements. Facebook has released a statement that it aims to comply with the 2021 Rules and was in discussion with the government on certain issues.

Under Rule 7 of the 2021 Rules, if an intermediary fails to observe any of the rules laid down, it loses protection afforded to it by Section 79 of the Information Technology Act. Simply put, this would mean that an intermediary like Facebook or Twitter would be open for liability if a third-party user posts unlawful content on their platforms. On June 19, experts at United Nations Office of the Human Rights Commissioner have said in a report that it is concerned that India’s Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, in their current form, do not conform with international human rights norms.

The observations were made in Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy. The report is authored by Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Clement NyaletsossiVoule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and Joseph Cannataci, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.

“As noted in previous communications sent to your Excellency’s Government, we are concerned that these new rules come at a time of a global pandemic and of large-scale farmer protests in the country, where the enjoyment of the freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to receive information, and the right to privacy, is particularly important for the realisation of several other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights,” the report said.”We would like to recall that restrictions to freedom of expression must never be invoked as a justification for the muzzling of any advocacy of multiparty democracy, democratic tenets and human rights,” the report said.

The report said as a global leader in technology innovation, India has the potential to develop a legislation that can place it at the forefront of efforts to protect digital rights. However, the substantially broadened scope of the Rules is likely to do just the opposite. “We would therefore encourage the Government to take all necessary steps to carry out a detailed review of the Rules and to consult with all relevant stakeholders, including civil society dealing with human rights, freedom of expression, privacy rights and digital rights”, the report said.

The question here is whether freedom of speech is paramount or not. The Narendra Modi regime has been chipping away at various pillars of democracy and it is no wonder that another opportunity for the general public to voice its woes is being muzzled. Media too have been generally silenced be it through force or coercion. Popular voices have been thus silenced time and again by authoritarian governments the world over.

Bail for Delhi Riot accused

The impositions of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) law against protestors have always been criticized by human rights activists and lawyers. A couple of days back, the Delhi High Court granted bail to DevanganaKalita and Natasha Narwal, and Asif Iqbal Tanha in the Delhi riot case.  Pinjra Tod activists DevanganaKalita and Natasha Narwal were arrested a year ago in the Delhi riots case. They were arrested in May 2020 for allegedly being part of a premeditated conspiracy behind the communal violence that broke out in northeast Delhi in February 2020 during protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). The Delhi High Court granted interim bail to student activist Asif Iqbal Tanha, accused in a northeast Delhi riot case, so that he may appear for his three remaining backlog BA examinations papers.

However, the Delhi Police approached the Supreme Court after the Delhi High Court granted bail to DevanganaKalita and Natasha Narwal, and Asif Iqbal Tanha. While refusing to stay the Delhi High Court order, the Supreme Court observed that reading down of anti-terror law is an important issue and may have pan-India ramifications, and sought responses from three activists. It also said that the High Court judgement will “not to be treated as precedent by any court” to give similar reliefs, the Supreme Court said while hearing the Delhi Police’s appeal against the bail.

In its observation, the High Court said, “ We are constrained to say, that it appears, that in its anxiety to suppress dissent and in the morbid fear that matters may get out of hand, the state has blurred the line between the constitutionally guaranteed ‘right to protest’ and ‘terrorist activity’. If such blurring gains traction, democracy would be in peril.”  “Protests against governmental and parliamentary actions are legitimate; and though such protest are expected to be peaceful and non-violent, it is not uncommon for protestors to push the limits permissible in law,” the court had said. What the High Court observed is significant as the right to protest, just as freedom of speech, cannot be curtailed by imposing draconian laws by an all-powerful state. Let us wait for a further judgment by the Supreme Court of India in this case.

Sedition case against Aisha Sultana

Another interesting case that has come up in recent times is the one against Lakshadweep resident and activist Aisha Sultana, who has been charged with sedition for her “bioweapon” remark. The sedition case was registered against her on June 9 by the Kavaratti police following a complaint from BJP leader Abdul Khader Haji. The film director-cum-activist—a prominent face of Lakshadweep residents’ protest against a slew of draft proposals mooted by administrator Praful K Patel for the “development” of the island chain—had approached the High Court fearing arrest.

Kerala High Court had directed filmmaker Aisha Sultana to appear before the police in Lakshadweep for interrogation, but also granted her interim bail in case she is arrested. In an interim order, the court said Sultana should be released on interim bail for a week after executing a bond of Rs.50,000 in the event of arrest. She was told to appear before the Kavaratti police on June 20 for questioning. Sultana, during a debate on MediaOne TV on the proposed reforms and decisions of Patel, said the Centre has used a “bioweapon” on the island. Allegedly referring to the recent spurt in COVID-19 cases in Lakshadweep, Sultana said: “I can clearly say that Centre has used bioweapon in the island. There is already a calculation that China has used the coronavirus as a bioweapon…” she had said.

After the statement sparked controversy, Sultana clarified that she meant that the Centre was using administrator Patel as a “bioweapon” on the islands. The police had opposed her appeal saying that she had encouraged communalism.  The unpopular measures proposed by Praful Patel include drafts of the Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation, Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation and amendment to the Lakshadweep Panchayat Staff Rules.

Even in this case, there is an attempt to silence those who speak against a ruling authority such as the Administrator in the island who has become unpopular after a slew of measures that has run foul with the peaceful people of the Union Territory. Following the Kerala High Court’s direction in the case, the Lakshadweep Administration is trying to shift the islands’ cases to the Karnataka High Court as early as possible.

While Jeff Bezos Plans Trip To Space, 59,000 People Sign Petition To Stop Him From Returning To Earth

Days after billionaire Jeff Bezos announced he would be flying to space, multiple petitions have been launched to prevent the Amazon CEO’s return to Earth. Two of these petitions have collectively gathered over 56,000 signatures. On June 7, Bezos said that he would be going to space with his brother Mark Bezos, when his space exploration company Blue Origin launches its first flight carrying humans. The rocket will take flight on July 20. However, multiple change.org petitions have already emerged and garnered thousands of signatures, in order to stop the billionaire from returning to the planet.

The most popular petition has more than 39,000 signatures and it’s just increasing by the minute. “Billionaires’ should not exist…on earth, or in space, but should they decide the latter they should stay there,” said the description of the petition.

Another petition that echoes the same sentiment has accumulated almost 20,000 signatures. The petitioner, in the description, linked Bezos to conspiracy theories, secret societies and comic villains, believing it as enough reason to prevent him from entering the planet. They theorised that Bezos was Lex Luthor, a fictional supervillain from the DC Comics universe. “He’s actually an evil overlord hellbent on global domination… This may be our last chance before they enable the 5G microchips and perform a mass takeover,” said the description.Needless to say, netizens are quite amused by this turn of events and are sharing the petitions, asking others to sign them. Some are sharing hilarious reasons for not wanting Bezos back on earth.

India Blames Twitter For Not Complying With Local Laws

NEW DELHI (AP) — The standoff between the Indian government and Twitter escalated Wednesday when the country’s technology minister accused the social media giant of deliberately not complying with local laws. Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said Twitter has chosen “the path of deliberate defiance” when it comes to following new internet regulations that digital activists have said could curtail online speech and privacy in India.

“If any foreign entity believes that they can portray itself as the flag bearer of free speech in India to excuse itself from complying with the law of the land, such attempts are misplaced,” Prasad said in a series of tweets.The Indian government has been at odds with major social media websites over a new set of sweeping regulations that give it more power to police online content. It requires companies to erase content that authorities deem unlawful, comply with government takedown orders, help with police investigations and identify the originators of “mischievous information.”

Under the new laws, social media websites and tech companies will also have to remove content within 36 hours after an administrative or legal order is issued. Their employees can be held criminally liable for failing to comply with the government’s requests.Twitter said in a statement Tuesday that it was making every effort to comply with the new regulations. The company said it had appointed an interim chief compliance officer in India, a requirement under the new regulations, and will soon notify India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

The new rules also require social media platforms to appoint what the government calls grievance officers to handle complaints from law enforcement agencies. Prasad, the IT minister, also accused Twitter of bias and said it was labeling some content as manipulated media, “only when it suits its likes and dislikes.” In May, leaders from Modi’s party tweeted parts of a document they said was created by the main opposition Congress Party to discredit the government’s handling of the pandemic. Some Congress leaders complained to Twitter, saying the document was forged. In response, Twitter marked some posts as “manipulated media.”

Twitter rules apply “manipulated media” tags to posts that have been “deceptively altered or fabricated.” The new internet regulations, announced in February, are among many challenges social media companies face after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pushed back against criticism that its new rules restrict online speech.Modi’s government has sought for years to control social media and has often directed Twitter to take down tweets or accounts that appear critical of his party and its leaders, including his administration’s handling of the pandemic. Twitter has complied with most of those orders.

The friction has intensified recently, with the government threatening social media companies with legal action and their employees with prison time if they refuse to comply with the takedown directives.Initially, Twitter expressed concern about what it called “the potential threat to freedom of expression” when the new rules came into effect late last month.

Boycotting Kareena Kapoor Khan on Twitter Grows

Bollywood actor Kareena Kapoor Khan has been trending on Twitter but not for any pleasant reason. The star found herself in trouble after reports alleging her charging a whopping Rs 12 crore (approx. US $1.6 million) fee for playing Sita on-screen surfaced online.Days after a media outlet reported that Kareena had demanded such a big amount for the upcoming mythological period saga ‘Sita’, netizens took to Twitter and expressed anger, demanding to boycott the ‘Good Newzz’ actor.

Twitterati seemed to be miffed with Bebo asking for such a whopping amount and many alleged that she is hurting their religious sentiments and that the demand of Rs 12 crores for a role is ‘against humanity’.#BoycottKareenaKhan has been trending on Twitter with users slamming the actor. One of the users tweeted, “Remember the way she arrogantly replied to public that it’s you idiots who make us star, Don’t watch my flims, I don’t care. Let’s not watch such unworthy people. She playing in mythological film is disgusting #BoycottKareenaKhan.”

Another user wrote, “This role cannot be played by an actress who doesn’t respect Hindu God’s. #BoycottKareenaKhan.”“She doesn’t deserve to play the role of Mata Sita! So We just #BoycottKareenaKhan!” read another tweet.Saying Kareena should rather play “Shurpnakha”, a user said, “RT if you also think Kareena Khan with the “Shurpanakha” Role than “Mata Sita”.

Another one wrote, “A nationalist Indian would never accept an actress who has no faith in Hinduism for the role of Mother Sita. Bollywood film mafia spreads poison towards Hinduism, we should boycott all such artists who hurt the religious sentiments of the people.”The viral report cited a source who claimed that Kareena who usually asks for Rs 6-8 crores for films has quoted a sum of Rs 12 crores for playing the role of Sita in Alaukik Desai’s upcoming film, which is said to be a Bollywood recreation of the Hindu epic, Ramayana.

Meanwhile, Kareena, whose last movie was ‘Angrezi Medium’, will next be seen in ‘Laal Singh Chadha’, co-starring opposite Aamir Khan. Helmed by AdvaitChandan, the Bollywood flick is a remake of the Hollywood classic ‘Forrest Gump’. Apart from ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’, Kareena is also a part of filmmaker Karan Johar’s period epic ‘Takht’.

What Will Tiktok Do WithYour ‘Faceprints’ And ‘Voiceprints’

Recently, TikTok made a change to its U.S. privacy policy, allowing the company to “automatically” collect new types of biometric data, including what it describes as “faceprints” and “voiceprints.” TikTok’s unclear intent, the permanence of the biometric data and potential future uses for it have caused concern among experts who say users’ security and privacy could be at risk.

On June 2, TikTok updated the “Information we collect automatically” portion of its privacy policy to include a new section called “Image and Audio Information,” giving itself permission to gather certain physical and behavioral characteristics from its users’ content. The increasingly popular video sharing app may now collect biometric information such as “faceprints and voiceprints,” but the update doesn’t define these terms or what the company plans to do with the data.

“Generally speaking, these policy changes are very concerning,” Douglas Cuthbertson, a partner in LieffCabraser’s Privacy & Cybersecurity practice group, tells TIME. “The changes are vague in a lot of ways. TikTok does not explain what it will do with this biometric information, how and when it will seek consent before taking it, and what it means by ‘faceprints and voiceprints,’ which aren’t defined.”

To put TikTok’s popularity—and the amount of information it has access to—in perspective, it has 689 million global active users and ranks as the seventh most used social network in the world as of January 2021. In the U.S. alone, over 100 million Americans use TikTok every month while 50 million are on the app every day, according to figures shared by the company in August 2020. TikTok did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment.

Alessandro Acquisti, a professor of information technology and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, notes that biometrics, and especially facial biometrics, are unique and permanent identifiers. He says that TikTok’s “faceprints” could potentially be used to re-identify an individual across a variety of scenarios. Since the information isn’t critical to the functioning of the app and the phrasing of the update is vague, Acquisti says it’s difficult to determine TikTok’s precise intent.

“Biometrics’ range of potential uses is vast: from benign, such as secure access to the app—think about how [Apple’s] iOS uses facial recognition for authentication—to chilling, such as mass re-identification and surveillance,” he says. The provisions for how TikTok can use the data collected under the privacy policy’s “Image and Audio Information” section are broad.

“We may collect information about the images and audio that are a part of your User Content, such as identifying the objects and scenery that appear, the existence and location within an image of face and body features and attributes, the nature of the audio, and the text of the words spoken in your User Content,” the new section reads. “We may collect this information to enable special video effects, for content moderation, for demographic classification, for content and ad recommendations, and for other non-personally-identifying operations.”It’s the last use on this list, “other non-personally-identifying operations,” that Cuthbertson says he takes particular issue with.

“It’s disingenuous to say these are ‘non personally-identifying’ operations,” he says, pointing out that a person’s unique ‘faceprint’ or ‘voiceprint’ could inherently be used to identify someone. “That’s not the way the mobile data ecosystem works anymore. You don’t need someone’s social security number to figure out who they are and how to monetize them.”

Users should also take note of the open-ended nature of the uses listed in this section, says Derek Riley, the director of the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s computer science program. “If you want to have funny face filters that engage users, gathering this kind of information is necessary. But there are a lot of other potentially alarming things that can be done with it too,” he tells TIME. “Capturing that information means TikTok could use it within their application, or they could turn and share it with another actor, government or company.”

While TikTok’s privacy policy states that it “does not sell personal information to third parties,” it also says it may share the information it collects for “business purposes.”“It’s one thing if TikTok can discreetly say, we’re taking this narrow band of information, here’s our description of the information so that you, as a user, really understand what we mean and here’s this very narrow way we’re going to use it,” Cuthbertson says. “Instead we have vague definitions of what the data even is and TikTok itself is vague about how and why they need to use it.”

The fact that TikTok is owned by the Chinese company Bytedance may also play a role in how people view this policy update, Riley says. While President Joe Biden signed an executive order on June 9 revoking former President Donald Trump’s attempts to ban TikTok in the U.S., some still view the app as a potential national security threat. TikTok has said it doesn’t share data with the Chinese government and wouldn’t do so if asked.

TikTok has also previously faced legal action over privacy-related issues. In February, the company agreed to pay $92 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging that it violated Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, the federal Video Privacy Protection Act, and other consumer and privacy protection laws by collecting users’ personal data, including data harvested by facial recognition technology, without consent and sharing the data with third-parties, some of which were based in China.

Now, the updated policy states that TikTok will seek user permission for this type of data collection “where required by law,” but doesn’t specify whether it’s referring to state law, federal law or both.While there’s no federal U.S. law regulating the collection and use of biometric data, some states began passing their own laws more than a decade ago. Illinois led the way in 2008, with Texas, Washington, California, New York and Virginia all enacting their own biometric privacy protections in the years since. But it’s this legal gray area that demonstrates the need for more stringent standards, Cuthbertson says.

“Is it state law? Is it federal law? Even if it’s every applicable law, it’s still highly problematic,” he says. “That they will do what’s required by law as defined under the vague term ‘U.S. laws’ really highlights the need for more robust privacy laws and regulations that govern the collection of biometric information.”

Ultimately, maintaining awareness of what you’re consenting to by using the app is crucial, Riley says, especially when it comes to the app’s younger users. “It’s really important for individuals like teachers and parents to be able to inform younger individuals who see TikTok as a fun way to engage with their friends of the implications of this type of data collection,” he says. “It has a web of tangential outcomes that could turn out to be really problematic.”

Facebook To Help Affordable, Fast Internet Access In India

In a bid to expand affordable internet access for the public, Facebook India on Tuesday announced new partnerships with internet service providers (ISPs) D-Vois and Netplus. The ISPs will use Facebook Connectivity’s Express Wi-Fi platform to launch public Wi-Fi hotspots across Bengaluru and several cities in Punjab.

“From Dharavi in Mumbai to Shillong, Aizawl, Vadodara, Rajkot, and many other towns and cities, the Express Wi-Fi platform is helping expand internet connectivity in the country, enabling economic opportunities, innovation, and expression for people, businesses, and communities alike,” said Manish Chopra, Director and Head of Partnerships, Facebook India.Express Wi-Fi is a software platform that enables mobile operators, satellite operators, and ISPs to build, grow, and monetise their Wi-Fi businesses in a sustainable and scalable way.The platform is used by partners in more than 30 countries, connecting millions of people around the world.

In India, the platform has already been deployed by eight partners, providing public Wi-Fi options to people across 12 states.D-VoiS has a presence in 60 cities and operates its broadband services under the brand ION. “ION plans to expand public Wi-Fi to thousands of hotspots at restaurants, bus-stands, malls, cafes, hospitals, and other public spaces,” said Ramesh Sathyanarayana, Founder, D-vois Communications. Netplus Broadband, the internet arm of Fastway Group, is another leading ISP in the country.

“The Express Wi-Fi services will be available at several high footfall public areas such as malls, hospitals, bus stands, and market complexes across the cities of Amritsar, Ludhiana, Jalandar, Patiala, and Bhatinda,” informed PremOjha, Fastway Group CEO.During the current Covid crisis in India, Facebook also leveraged the Express Wi-Fi partner networks to share Covid-related information from credible sources with micro communities and towns across the country.

Trump Denied Access To Facebook, Instagram For 2 More Years

In a blow to Trump, Facebook has extended Donald Trump’s suspension for two years and says it will only reinstate him “if the risk to public safety has receded.”

In a blow to Trump, Facebook has extended Donald Trump’s suspension for two years and says it will only reinstate him “if the risk to public safety has receded.” The decision comes after Facebook’s Oversight Board told the company it had been wrong to impose an indefinite ban on Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Facebook says it is setting new rules for public figures in times of civil unrest and violence, “to be applied in exceptional cases such as this.” Trump has received the maximum penalty under those rules, “given the gravity of the circumstances” leading to his suspension. Because the company took his Facebook and Instagram accounts down on Jan. 7, the two-year suspension will last until at least Jan. 7, 2023.

At that point, Facebook will consult experts and “evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest,” said Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs, in a statement.He was barred indefinitely from both sites in January in the wake of posts he made on the US Capitol riots, but last month Facebook’s Oversight Board criticized the open-ended penalty.Facebook said Trump’s actions were “a severe violation of our rules”. Trump said the move was “an insult” to the millions who voted for him in last year’s presidential election.

Facebook’s move comes as the social media giant is also ending a policy shielding politicians from some content moderation rules.It said that it would no longer give politicians immunity for deceptive or abusive content based on their comments being newsworthy.Trump’s ban was effective from the date of the initial suspension on 7 January, Facebook’s vice-president of global affairs Nick Clegg said in a post.”Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available,” it added.

“If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded.”  On his return, Trump will be held to “a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions,” for any violations,  Clegg’s statement noted. In a statement issued from his Save America political action committee, Mr Trump said: “Facebook’s ruling is an insult to the record-setting 75m people, plus many others, who voted for us. They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this censoring and silencing, and ultimately, we will win. Our country can’t take this abuse anymore!”

In a second statement on the two-year ban, Trump attacked Facebook’s founder.”Next time I’m in the White House there will be no more dinners, at his request, with Mark Zuckerberg and his wife,” the former president said. “It will be all business!”The move by Facebook allows Trump to return to the platform before the 2024 presidential election. It also comes as he prepares to again hold the large scale in-person rallies that were a signature of his campaigns and presidency. One of his first is planned for Dallas, Texas, in early July, according to local media.

Earlier this week, it emerged that the communications platform set up by Mr Trump in the wake of his social media bans – From the Desk of Donald J Trump – has been permanently shut down.In addition to Facebook, which has over two billion monthly users, Mr Trump has also been banned from Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitch and other social media platforms over the January riot.Last month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican Trump ally, signed the first law in the US that punishes tech companies for de-platforming politicians.

Facebook’s dilemma on Trump was complex, involved trade-offs, and was guaranteed to upset millions of people. The fact is – whatever their decision – it was bound to be polarising.But just to be clear: today Facebook, the world’s biggest social network, has denied access to its megaphone to a man who 74 million people voted for. They didn’t just know him, or approve of him; they voted for him to be US president. That is a big call.

What is Facebook’s new policy?

Facebook says public figures who violate its rules by inciting unrest or violence will be suspended for a month or, in more serious cases, up to two years.It comes as part of an effort to undo a previous policy of allowing newsworthy political speech despite a potential that it may cause harm.Posts that are deemed worthy of an exception, despite possible violations, may still be allowed but will be given a warning label by Facebook. The company says it will no longer treat “content posted by politicians any differently”.

“Instead, we will simply apply our newsworthiness balancing test in the same way to all content, measuring whether the public interest value of the content outweighs the potential risk of harm by leaving it up.”The company’s Oversight Board found that Mr Trump’s initial ban was appropriate, but that there was no rationale for the ban to remain indefinitely.The independent board, which is funded by Facebook, has 20 members who are able to make binding decisions on content. Among the members are legal scholars, journalists, freedom of speech experts and a former prime minister of Denmark.The announcement comes on the same day that regulators in Europe and the UK begin formal anti-trust inquiries into whether Facebook misused customer data.Biden Announces a Donation of 19 Million COVID-19 Vaccines to COVAX, With More to Follow

Twitter Commits To Complying With India’s New IT Rules

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, was notified in February, with all clauses of it coming into force on May 25.Social media company Twitter has told the ministry of electronics and information technology (Meity) that it is “committed to complying” with all clauses of the intermediary guidelines and asked for a week’s time, officials familiar with the matter said on Monday, days after the government issued an ultimatum to the company.

The government on Saturday said Twitter would have to face “unintended consequences” that can involve it losing its legal protection from criminal liability for user content if it does not comply with the new rules for digital content.“The company has highlighted that there have been some difficulties in making appointments for some key personnel and sought a week’s time to comply with most of the provisions, while saying that it will implement all provisions as soon as possible,” said a ministry official, who asked not to be named.

The official added that the platform has also informed the ministry that it is looking to set up an office in the country, as required under the new rules that seek a physical address for significant social media intermediaries, or companies running networks with more than 5 million registered users from India.The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, was notified in February, with all clauses of it coming into force on May 25. These guidelines require digital companies such as Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook to change how they regulate content, appoint nodal officers for compliance and grievance redressal, and adopt features such as traceability of messages and voluntary user verification.

Twitter said in a statement on Monday that the company is making every effort to comply with the new guidelines while continuing a constructive dialogue with the government. “Twitter has been and remains deeply committed to India, and serving the vital public conversation taking place on the service,” a Twitter spokesperson said, adding, “We have assured the government of India that Twitter is making every effort to comply with the new guidelines, and an overview on our progress has been duly shared.”There have been several instances of confrontation between the United States-based company and the government of India, particularly around government’s content takedown orders and Twitter’s actions against prominent people linked to the Bharatiya Janata Party for violation of its terms of use.

Against this backdrop, the new IT rules hardened the stand-off last month, with the microblogging website earlier asking for more time to comply, raising concerns over the “core elements” of the norms, and flagging potential threats to the safety of its employees after a visit by the Delhi Police the same month.“Our intent was always clear: the company is free to do business in India, but it has to comply with the law of the land,” the official mentioned above said. The ministry earlier echoed this sentiment when it had said, “Leave alone proactively creating such a mechanism, Twitter Inc is in the inglorious bracket of refusing to do so even when mandated by law.”

Hindustan Times reported on May 29 that other significant social media intermediaries that have 5 million users or more, such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Google, have shared the details with the ministry.Under criticism over the past few months, the government has maintained that the new IT rules make companies more accountable for the online content posted on their websites and protects users from abuse. But the companies, several experts and Opposition parties believe that the norms may have a bearing on the right to free speech and privacy.WhatsApp has challenged the rules in the Delhi high court, calling it unconstitutional and a threat to Indians’ fundamental rights.

Tech Giants Fight ‘Cloud Wars’ Under Deep Oceans

“The fact you can post a picture on Facebook or video on YouTube and people can see it anywhere in the world is mind-boggling, but it takes a lot of things behind the scenes and below the ocean to make it happen,” says Alan Mauldin, research director at TeleGeography. It is easy to overlook that our access to the internet relies on thousands of miles of cable, crossing the world’s oceans. They provide the plumbing for the internet – 98% of all international internet traffic travels through them.

Some connect neighboring countries, such as the 131km (80 mile) CeltixConnect cable between Ireland and the UK. Others like the Asian-America Gateway cable, stretch for 20,000km and link continents.The data flashes along optical fibres as thin as a strand of hair. Each cable will have several of these at its core and then further layers of protective coating to prevent damage. According to Daniel Sousa, managing director of manufacturing operations at SubCom, one challenge is that “the entire cable systems need to be manufactured and tested as a complete system”.Cables are tested ashore before being loaded on to ships, a process which can take around two weeks, says Orange Marine’s chief executive Didier Dillard.

The company operates six cable ships, with one vessel, the René Descartes, able to lay up to 6,000km of cable.
Once telecom companies would have been the main backers of such complicated and expensive projects. But now technology giants have started putting serious money into undersea cables.TeleGeography estimates that content providers – Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft – have spent over $1.5bn (£1bn) on cable construction in the last five years.The simple reason is that they have more demand for bandwidth than anyone else, says Alan Mauldin.

Google, in particular, is investing in a number of its own cables. The Curie cable connects Chile to the US – while the Dunant cable, laid in partnership with SubCom, connects the US to France at Orange’s cable landing station at Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez.Two others will be finished soon. The Equiano cable running from Portugal down the west coast of Africa to South Africa, and the Grace Hopper cable that connects the US, UK and Spain.

Ensuring reliable access to the services many of us rely upon, as well as expanding access to previously underserved areas, are two reasons for this investment.But it is also an investment in Google’s cloud computing services – a particularly competitive space amongst the major technology companies. It has spawned the phrase ‘cloud wars’ to describe the battle for ascendancy amongst them.

Cloud computing has become a huge business as firms have moved their computing and digital storage needs to services like Amazon’s AWS and Azure from Microsoft.So is there any downside to giants like Google controlling these important digital connections? Alan Mauldin says while the cables are private they are not exclusive.”There are multiple users on it, not just one party. All these parties use the same infrastructure.”While capacity on their private cables is not sold directly by Google, some capacity is commonly shared with telecom companies.

For instance, Orange is able to provide capacity to its customers on the Dunant cable, in return for allowing Google to use its Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez base.Mr Mauldin likens the undersea cables therefore to a motorway where Google and Facebook have prominent “high-sided trucks”, but other, smaller vehicles also dart around carrying data for all other users.Satellites have been discussed for decades as a potential alternative that may one day put a dent into the dominance of subsea cables.

London-based satellite operator OneWeb recently launched its sixth batch of satellites, whilst Elon Musk’s SpaceX is investing in satellite technology through its Starlink project. Yet comparing the two technologies may be unhelpful.
Satellites are most effective in providing internet access to remote areas where it is either physically difficult or prohibitively costly to build a cable, with cables currently best placed to meet the demand of carrying large amounts of data.

“The heavy lifting of pushing the big data between data centres across the world is going to be on submarine cables,” says Mr Mauldin.But this reliance on cables has propelled the tech giants into geopolitics. In March, Facebook dropped plans for a cable between California and Hong Kong, reportedly due to pressure from US national security officials.The Royal Navy has announced it is building a surveillance ship to protect “critical” cables, citing the risk of sabotage due to “submarine warfare”.

Despite these concerns, a more commonly encountered problem is that cables need to be repaired due to damage inflicted by the natural environment or human activity.One of Orange Marine’s cable ships is currently repairing a cable damaged by an underwater landslide off the coast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.But it is human activity that poses the bigger challenge. Areas where fishing trawlers regularly operate are a particular problem. Internet access to the Channel Islands was temporarily impaired in 2016 when a ship dragged its anchor, damaging cables.

It also requires a quick response to ensure disruption is kept to a minimum. “It’s part of the requirements of our customers that we maintain at all times a cable ship ready to sail within 24 hours,” says Mr Dillard from Orange Marine.The pandemic has concentrated people’s attention on the importance of cable networks, says Alan Mauldin: “We always knew it was important, but can you image Covid 20 years ago? It would have been an even bigger disaster.”
(Courtesy: BBC)

Whatsapp Has ‘Strong Argument’ In India Privacy Lawsuit

Facebook’s messaging app, WhatsApp, has filed a lawsuit against the Indian government in the Delhi High Court, alleging that the government is forcing the app to violate Indian privacy rights in identifying “first originator of information” at the demand of authorities. SitalKalantry is a professor at Cornell Law School, teaches comparative constitutional law with a focus on India, and is an expert in the Indian judicial system. Kalantry says WhatsApp comes to Delhi’s High Court with a strong argument. She adds that the Modi administration’s new rule imposed on WhatsApp is a tool to repress political dissent.

Kalantry says:“The Indian government’s new regulations require WhatsApp to break its encryption and identify certain users to the government. The Indian Supreme Court’s landmark privacy decision in the Puttaswamy case provides protections against this government intrusion. WhatsApp has a strong argument in its case in the Delhi High Court that the government’s new rules do not have a legitimate goal. The rules are one more way that the Modi administration will repress political dissent on social media, which it did during its annexation of Kashmir and the farmers’ protests.” WhatsApp is suing the Indian government over a ‘traceability’ clause in the new Intermediary Rules 2021, which were notified in February this year. In response, the government has called WhatsApp’s act as a one of defiance and wants them to comply.

Here are the top points explaining everything to know about this latest controversy.

1) WhatsApp’s case against IT rules

As reported by indianexpress.com, WhatsApp has said that the new social media rules are unconstitutional and filed the case on May 25, incidentally it was also the last day for companies to comply with the new rules. The Facebook-owned messaging app is invoking the 2017 Justice K S Puttaswamy vs Union Of India judgment in support of its arguments. WhatsApp wants the court to ensure the clause does not come into force, and prevent criminal liability to its employees for non compliance.

2) Traceability means End-to-End encryption won’t work

In a detailed blog post, WhatsApp has also explained that traceability will not work, arguing that breaking end-to-end encryption (E2E) would weaken user privacy on the app and stifle free speech and freedom of expression. E2E encryption is turned by default on WhatsApp for all messages.

Further, WhatsApp will have to re-engineer the app just for India, which won’t happen. If WhatsApp had to comply with the rules, it would have to create a version of the app that supports traceability and doesn’t have E2E encryption.WhatsApp said in its blog that while it supports “reasonable and proportionate regulations”, it cannot stand for “eroding privacy for everyone, violating human rights, and putting innocent people at risk.”

3) Traceability means a lot of data collection

WhatsApp in its blog post makes it clear that in order to trace the originator of any message, it will have to keep a log of all messages. Currently, WhatsApp cannot read a user’s message given the E2E encryption.It says tracing even one message means tracing every single message on the platform and they will have to add some sort of “permanent identity stamp” or effectively ‘fingerprint’ each message. It says that this will be the equivalent of a mass surveillance program.

4) Traceability is not foolproof

WhatsApp and internet experts have made it clear that traceability is not foolproof. Further, when users are forwarding, copying messages, finding the originator becomes difficult. WhatsApp says it might have to “turn over the names of people who shared something even if they did not create it, shared it out of concern, or sent it to check its accuracy,” which would lead to human rights violations as innocent people could end up getting caught in investigations or going to jail.

Further, even if messages are fingerprinted on WhatsApp, these techniques are not foolproof and can be easily impersonated. WhatsApp also says that “traceability” goes against the basic principles of how law enforcement and investigations work.

5) Government response to WhatsApp’s lawsuit

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY)has called WhatsApp’s refusal to comply with the new IT rules as a “clear act of defiance.” Further, it has said that the right to privacy will come with reasonable restrictions, adding that social media companies will only have to give the originator of a message in select cases and based on an order from a competent court.

The government also questioned WhatsApp’s own commitment to user privacy pointing out that the company plans to “share the data of all its users with its parent company, Facebook, for marketing and advertising purposes.”

6) IT rules on tracing originator

According to the government, tracing the first originator is only under select circumstances and they don’t want to track all messages.Under Rule 4(2) of the guidelines, a social media intermediary could be required to trace an originator of a message or tweet or post “only for the purposes of prevention, investigation, punishment etc. of inter alia an offence relating to sovereignty, integrity and security of India, public order incitement to an offence relating to rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for not less than five years.”

7) Three red ticks on WhatsApp calls, messages?

There is a fake WhatsApp message going viral claiming that three red ticks will appear on messages indicating that the government is reading and recording all calls, messages on the platform. This is patently false and has been debunked earlier as well. It is best to ignore this message and not forward to others. Read more about it here.

8) Google and others on the new social media rules

The new IT rules impact all social media intermediaries and companies, not just WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter. This includes Google as well, which is another major player in the market.In a statement, CEO Google SundarPichai said the company will comply with all laws. “It’s obviously early days and our local teams are very engaged… we always respect local laws in every country we operate in and we work constructively. We have clear transparency reports, when we comply with government requests, we highlight that in our transparency reports,” he said, reported PTI.

While WhatsApp is fighting a lawsuit against the new IT rules, its parent company Facebook. “Pursuant to the IT Rules, we are working to implement operational processes and improve efficiencies. Facebook remains committed to people’s ability to freely and safely express themselves on our platform,” a spokesperson for the company said.Twitter has issued a statement on its platform around the IT rules as well. “We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service, as well as with core elements of the new IT Rules,” the statement said.

“We plan to advocate for changes to elements of these regulations that inhibit free, open public conversation. We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian Government and believe it is critical to adopt a collaborative approach. We believe that it is the collective responsibility of elected officials, industry, and civil society to safeguard the interests of the public,” the statement adds.

Under the new guidelines, significant social media intermediaries (those with more than 50 lakh users in India) have to appoint a resident grievance officer, a chief compliance officer and a nodal contact person. The guidelines state these employees need to be residents of India.

Will Indians Have Access To Twitter, Facebook Anymore?

Twitter, Facebook and others, which were required to abide by the rules notified in the gazette of India on February 25 under Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules, 2021, have failed to comply on many accounts till date and could be shit down

The deadline to comply with the new legal rules, IT Rules 2021 introduced by the Modi Government there months ago ending on May 25, 2021, has threatened the operations of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter in India.According to top official sources, social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and others, which were required to abide by the rules notified in the gazette of India on February 25 under Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules, 2021, have failed to comply on many accounts till date. The government’s rules will come into effect from May 26.

If the companies fail to comply with the new rules, they could lose protection accorded to them under section 79 of the Information Technology Act. Section 79 gives social media intermediaries immunity from legal prosecution for content posted on their platforms.The rules were notified in the Gazette of India on February 25, and impose several restrictions on social media intermediaries such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and others. The rules also call for the players to enable tracing of the ‘original’ creator of a message or a tweet as maybe be directed or needed by the relevant authorities. For end-to-end encrypted platforms such as WhatsApp, such rules could pose a big challenge. It is not clear how WhatsApp or Facebook, its parent company, plan to comply with these.

The rules require social media intermediaries with more than 50 lakh users to have a clear mechanism for addressing user complaints and problems. The rules calls for companies to appoint a Chief Compliance Officer, who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules, a 24×7 Nodal Contact Person for coordination with law enforcement agencies and a Resident Grievance Officer, who shall perform the functions mentioned under Grievance Redressal Mechanism. All these officers need to be residents of India.

The rules also state that social media companies will need to publish a monthly compliance report on how they handle these user complaints. Further, if there are complaints against the dignity of women and children, the companies have to remove any such objectionable content within 24 hours.“If social media companies do not obey the rules, they may lose their status and protections as intermediaries and may become liable for criminal action as per the existing laws of India,” top official sources said.

Except one Indian social media company, Koo, sources said that none of the top social media intermediaries have appointed a resident grievance officer, a chief compliance officer and a nodal contact person yet.Sources said the failure of social media companies to make these appointments in three months has not gone down well with the government.

“We aim to comply with the provisions of the IT rules and continue to discuss a few of the issues which need more engagement with the government. Pursuant to the IT Rules, we are working to implement operational processes and improve efficiencies. Facebook remains committed to people’s ability to freely and safely express themselves on our platform,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to the media.Sources said the social media platforms which were required to furnish monthly reports as to how many grievances were filed and settled, have failed to do so. Some of the platforms, sources said, have sought more time of up to six months for furnishing compliance.

For some platforms, sources said, the standard reply has been that they will await instructions from their company headquarters in the US, who in turn on their own will have an “expert assessment” to take a view.The US-based social media platforms have grown huge, thanks to their massive user base and profitable revenues in democracies like India. However, none of the platforms have shown any inclination to comply with India’s domestic laws. Instead, social media platforms have refused to be transparent about their fact-checking mechanism and their criteria to label tweets.

India’s Largest Online Workshop, “AI-for-India,” Breaking Guinness World Record!

An IIT-M incubated startup, coordinating the largest online workshop the country has ever witnessed to form a Guinness world record. An estimated 10 Lakh people reportedly joined the online workshop through a series of 90-minutes slots beginning from April 24th, 6 PM to April 25th, 6 PM.

The event was open for anyone aged between 08-80 with a zeal for learning, be it a schoolkid, fresh graduate, or an experienced professional. The platform urges everyone to participate and become part of this great initiative. AI-FOR-INDIA aims to upskill 1 Billion Indians with the concept of Artificial Intelligence and to embark our country onto a path to become a global AI innovator.

In this one-day workshop, the participants were taught to build & deploy a face recognition application using Python Language from top industry experts. All the participants gained free access to GUVI‘s professionally curated course to know the basic intricacies of Python Programming. Python is an in-demand programming skill that has grown by 456% as compared to last year. The attendees learnt how to spin up Image-processing and will be able to create thumbnails, formats, filters, and apply various digital image processing techniques primarily for Face Recognition App. The event also featured free certificates of participation & additional access to GItHub’s resources worth $200.

The event collaborated with AICTE, national-level council for technical education, under the Department of Higher Education and co-sponsored by BUDDI.AI, the leading revenue and clinical automation platform based on deep learning. AI-For-India has primarily met with a positive reaction, and more than 1 Lakh people have already registered with the online event. To register, one has to go to GUVI’s official website and pick a slot of their convenience. This event is also going to be the Official Attempt of Guinness World Record for Most users to take an online computer programming lesson in 24 hours.

Highlighting the initiative’s objective, Mr. Arun Prakash, Chief Operating Officer of GUVI, quoted, “This initiative is in memory of GUVI‘s Co-founder Sridevi Arun Prakash, who firmly believed that the only way to advance a nation is through education. Through every age, the world experiences different revolutions. Currently, we are on the brink of the coding or AI revolution. You do not need to be a developer, but you need to understand what is happening.”

Ram Swaminathan, Co-Founder & CEO of Buddi.ai said “We are excited to collaborate with GUVI on this initiative as we firmly believe that the future prospects for the healthcare, or any industry is very bright when powered by AI. We urge everyone to learn AI technologies and skill themselves to have an exciting future. After the unprecedented breakthroughs in space and medicine, we are sure that our country can become a cradle for AI Zeitgeist, especially the youth who are fascinated by its capability.” Let’s welcome this initiative and join GUVI’s cause to impart AI in every nook and corner of India. Winning a Guinness World Record for the country is like a cherry on top!

Oversight Board Upholds Facebook’s Decision To Ban Trump

In a significant development, the independent Oversight Board on Wednesday upheld Facebook’s decision on January 7 to suspend then US President Donald Trump from its main platform and Instagram.

The Board found that Trump’s posts severely violated Facebook’s rules, and his words of support for those involved in the attack on the US Capitol building legitimised violence in a situation where there was an immediate risk to people’s lives.

While the Board concluded that Trump should have been suspended from Facebook and Instagram, it also found that Facebook failed to impose a proper penalty. The decision came as the former US President launched a new so-called social media platform, which is actually a WordPress blog on his own website.

“President Trump’s actions on social media encouraged and legitimised violence and were a severe violation of Facebook’s rules,” said Thomas Hughes, Director of the Oversight Board Administration.

“By maintaining an unfounded narrative of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action, Mr Trump created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible. Facebook’s decision to suspend the President on January 7 was the right one,” Hughes added.

However, it said that instead of applying one of its established account-level penalties for severe violations, Facebook devised an “indefinite” suspension which is not included in their content policies.

“This arbitrary penalty gave Facebook total discretion over whether to lift or maintain the suspension, with no criteria that can be scrutinised by users or external observers,” the Board observed.

“The Board rejects Facebook’s request for it to endorse indefinite suspension, which gives the company total discretion over when to lift or impose and isn’t supported by their content policies,” said Hughes. “Anyone concerned about the power of Facebook should be concerned with the company making decisions outside of its own rules.”

The Board stated that within six months of the decision, Facebook must reexamine this arbitrary penalty and impose one consistent with its own rules.

“In the future, if a head of state or high government official repeatedly posts messages that pose a risk of harm, Facebook should either suspend the account for a definitive period or delete the account,” it recommended.

Facebook’s rules should ensure that when it imposes a time-bound suspension on an influential user, the company should assess the risk of inciting harm before the suspension ends.

“Influential users who pose a risk of harm should not be reinstated. Facebook should publish a full report on its potential contribution to the narrative of electoral fraud and political tensions that led to the events of January 6,” as per the decision.

The board, constituted by Facebook with 20 members from across the world last year, last month said it was reviewing more than 9,000 responses before it delivers the verdict on Trump’s ban on the social media.

Banned on Facebook and Twitter, former President Donald Trump has launched a new so-called social media platform, which is actually just a WordPress blog on his own website.

His followers can sign up for posts alerts on the platforms via their email and phone numbers. The new platform is designed like a generic version of Twitter but is hosted as a running blog.

A Twitter spokesperson told The Verge on Tuesday that “Generally, sharing content from the website reference is permitted as long as the material does not otherwise the Twitter Rules”. Trump has posted content dating back to March 24 on the new ‘platform’.

The latest post is a video advertising his new platform, calling it “a place to speak freely and safely, straight from the desk of Donald J. Trump.” The platform appears to have been built by Campaign Nucleus, a digital services company founded by Trump’s former campaign manager Brad Parscale.

The Trump’s ‘platform’ went live just ahead of ruling by the independent Oversight Board on the ban concerning Trump, who was banned on Facebook following the Capitol attack on January 6.

On January 21, the Oversight Board accepted a case referral from Facebook to examine its decision to indefinitely suspend Trump’s access to post content on Facebook and Instagram, as well as provide policy recommendations on suspensions when the user is a political leader. Trump is still banned from using Facebook and its other platforms like Twitter.

World Press Freedom In An Age Of Remoteness

(IPS) – Edmund Burke called the press the fourth estate, the fourth pillar of democracy, with an oversight role on the remaining three pillars – the legislature, executive and the judiciary. In an ideal world, this fourth estate would have unimpeded access to the other three pillars so that the citizenry could be kept informed at all times. This freedom was conceived to be so sacrosanct that many countries have included it as a fundamental right, e.g., the US Constitution enshrined it as the very first amendment.

While this is the ideal state of affairs, even under the best of circumstances press freedoms have faced considerable challenges. The traditional newspaper is threatened by shrinking readership and concentration of ownership and control which implies that profitable markets will be served first, viz. global or at best national audiences.. There has been a considerable void in news reporting, particularly on issues affecting local populations. Other forms of media are unable to fill the gap. Television combines news with entertainment – infotainment- and traditional radio has been swamped by satellite radios. Local issues areneglected and many local media outlets including newspapers and television and radio stations are facing dire conditions. There has been a steady rise in media concentration in the past few decades.

At the same time, the emergence and now overwhelming dominance of the social media and the Internet have given rise to a sharp proliferation of media outlets. Many of these are driven by the pure short-term profit motive and are difficult to regulate. All these forms of media are facilitated by the frictionless distribution enabled by the Internet and the disruptive effects of digital transformation. There is no dearth of people active on social and regular media, including some who should know better, who will, when forming an opinion about an issue, first come to their preferred conclusion and then work their way back to selectively choose evidence to support their conclusion. The world still awaits a business model that pays for accurate content at competitive rates. The overburdening with information makes it difficult for people to use discretion in the absorption of news so that the primary objective of press freedom, i.e., keeping the citizenry informed at all times, is belied. Nevertheless, in many countries with very distorted ownership patterns of traditional media social media outlets have provided a breath of fresh air and independence, especially when elements of the traditional media are themselves accused of improper conduct and reporting.

This point brings us to the issue of pressing challenges facing journalism and press freedoms. https://orca.cf.ac.uk/94201/1/DG_FoJ-Risks%20Threats%20and%20Opportunities_JJ.pdf

The first one is personalized news feeds. Facebook and Twitter have created cultures of maximal tribalism and infinite personalization. Users can silo themselves in self-made realities while taking part in collective expression of tribal outrage that often seem bewilder outsiders. The fact that such personalization can mould the opinions of large numbers of people is particularly worrisome. Second, the 24-hour news cycle forces reporters to publish articles without proper fact-checking. Even allegedly responsible media houses have had to retract stories because of the lack of proper checking. This leads to a deeper concern. Whereas the privilege of helping the citizenry to form opinions about key public issues lies with journalists, there is an implied responsibility that the information and analysis provided by the journalist is accurate and verifiable. This does not always seem to be the case. Indeed, some journalists have been accused of spreading “fake news” by pursuing their own agendas when pursuing their vocation. There have been well-known instances of both traditional and social media outlets pursuing political advocacy. The distinction between “news” and “views” has broken down in many cases and the citizenry is often ill equipped to discern the difference.

During the on-going pandemic another very serious issue has disrupted. Violence towards journalists is an old issue but the promulgation of long lockdowns has led to explosion of serious domestic violence and mental ill-health concerns. This has been described as a pandemic within a pandemic https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2024046

Under ordinary circumstances, the explosion of these domestic issues would be an important news story. However, lockdown orders have meant that many such instances all over the world get unreported. Clearly, women are the worst victims here. In particular, it has become increasingly difficult for women journalists to report on such issues. It is ironical that although women journalists are most suited to report on occurrences of domestic and sexual violence, they are the ones with minimal access to the victims of such abuse.

Even before the pandemic journalists- particularly women journalists – have been subjected to harassment and abuse.of several types: https://www.iwmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/IWMF-Global-Report.pdf

On World Press Freedom Day (May 3) there is need to ponder on these and many other issues relating to the role of the fourth estate. Freedom of the Press is invaluable in society. However, as with any other freedom, constant vigil and action are the price of this freedom. If we want a robust press this price will need to be paid.

Raghbendra Jha, Professor of Economics and Executive Director, Australia South Asia Research Centre, Australian National University.

Narendra Modi’s Attempts To Stifle Criticism During Covid Pandemic ‘Inexcusable’: Lancet

A hard-hitting editorial published in medical journal The Lancet has said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government seemed more intent in removing criticism on Twitter than trying to control the Covid pandemic.

PM Modi’s actions in attempting to stifle criticism and open discussion during the crisis are “inexcusable”, it has said.

The editorial quoting The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that India will see a staggering 1 million deaths from COVID-19 by August 1. “If that outcome were to happen, Modi’s Government would be responsible for presiding over a self-inflicted national catastrophe.”

Despite warnings about the risks of superspreader events, the government allowed religious festivals to go ahead, drawing millions of people from around the country, along with huge political rallies — conspicuous for their lack of COVID-19 mitigation measures, the editorial has said.

Throwing light on the near-collapse of health infrastructure, it also criticises the government’s complacency in tackling the crisis.

“The scenes of suffering in India are hard to comprehend… hospitals are overwhelmed, and health workers are exhausted and becoming infected. Social media is full of desperate people (doctors and the public) seeking medical oxygen, hospital beds, and other necessities. Yet before the second wave of cases of COVID-19 began to mount in early March, Indian Minister of Health Harsh Vardhan declared that India was in the “endgame” of the epidemic.

“The impression from the government was that India had beaten COVID-19 after several months of low case counts, despite repeated warnings of the dangers of a second wave and the emergence of new strains. Modelling suggested falsely that India had reached herd immunity, encouraging complacency and insufficient preparation, but a serosurvey by the Indian Council of Medical Research in January suggested that only 21% of the population had antibodies against SARS-CoV.”

The editorial also said that India squandered its early successes in controlling COVID-19 and that until April, the government’s COVID-19 taskforce had not met in months.

India’s vaccination programme, too, has come under scathing criticism. The Lancet pointed out that the message that COVID-19 was essentially over also slowed the start of India’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, which has vaccinated less than 2% of the population. At the federal level, India’s vaccination plan soon fell apart. The government abruptly shifted course without discussing the change in policy with states, expanding vaccination to everyone older than 18 years, draining supplies, and creating mass confusion and a market for vaccine doses in which states and hospital systems competed.

The crisis has not been equally distributed, with states such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra unprepared for the sudden spike in cases, quickly running out of medical oxygen, hospital space, and overwhelming the capacity of cremation sites. Others, such as Kerala and Odisha, were better prepared, and have been able to produce enough medical oxygen in this second wave to export it to other states.

The journal has said that India must now restructure its response while the crisis rages. The success of that effort will depend on the government owning up to its mistakes, providing responsible leadership and transparency, and implementing a public health response that has science at its heart.

The editorial has further suggested a two-pronged strategy — first, a botched vaccination campaign must be rationalised and implemented with all due speed. There are two immediate bottlenecks to overcome: increasing vaccine supply (some of which should come from abroad) and setting up a distribution campaign that can cover not just urban but also rural and poorer citizens, who constitute more than 65% of the population (over 800 million people) but face a desperate scarcity of public health and primary care facilities..

The government must work with local and primary health-care centres that know their communities and create an equitable distribution system for the vaccine. The government must publish accurate data in a timely manner, and forthrightly explain to the public what is happening and what is needed to bend the epidemic curve, including the possibility of a new federal lockdown, the editorial has said.

India Censoring Criticism Of Its Pandemic Response Shows Misplaced Priorities

The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC – www.iamc.com), an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos, today expressed dismay over the government of India’s continued obsession with managing the news coverage of the pandemic instead of the pandemic itself.

As the pandemic rages across India accounting for almost half of all new cases globally, the government ordered Twitter to block over 50 tweets that criticized its complete mismanagement of the pandemic. Among them was a tweet by Indian American Muslim Council, comparing the rabid Islamophobia targeting the Tablighi Jamaat and all Indian Muslims in the early days of the pandemic with the near silence over government support for the massive Kumbh Mela, that has endangered the lives of millions of Hindu devotees and their fellow citizens.

Today hundreds of thousands of Indians belonging to all faiths are literally gasping for breath, afflicted by a virus that makes no distinction on the basis of religion or caste. In this horrifying scenario, the government’s alacrity in pressuring Twitter to block tweets critical of its handling of the crisis shows the administration’s moral compass continues to point in a direction that is shamelessly self-serving.

“The catastrophic surge in Covid-19 cases across India and the collapse of the country’s healthcare system is a monumental albeit avoidable tragedy for which the responsibility lies squarely on the government’s misplaced priorities,” said Mr. Khalid Ansari, Vice-President of IAMC.  “Many precious lives lost to the pandemic might have been saved had the government not been obsessed with advancing the Hindutva agenda of subjugating minorities, and focused instead on governing for all Indians,” added Mr. Ansari.

Far from leading by example to overcome the crisis, the Modi administration promoted the spread of the virus by organizing countless super spreader events in the form of election rallies where masking was not enforced and where Mr. Modi as well as Home Minister Amit Shah addressed massive crowds.

IAMC has urged Indian Muslims, especially Muslim healthcare workers and relief organizations to rise to the occasion by serving their fellow citizens. Observance of civic duties, a commitment to defending the country and selfless service towards people of all faiths is the need of the hour.

Study On Social Media Use in 2021

Despite a string of controversies and the public’s relatively negative sentiments about aspects of social media, roughly seven-in-ten Americans say they ever use any kind of social media site – a share that has remained relatively stable over the past five years, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults.

Beyond the general question of overall social media use, the survey also covers use of individual sites and apps. YouTube and Facebook continue to dominate the online landscape, with 81% and 69%, respectively, reporting ever using these sites. And YouTube and Reddit were the only two platforms measured that saw statistically significant growth since 2019, when the Center last polled on this topic via a phone survey.

When it comes to the other platforms in the survey, 40% of adults say they ever use Instagram and about three-in-ten report using Pinterest or LinkedIn. One-quarter say they use Snapchat, and similar shares report being users of Twitter or WhatsApp. TikTok – an app for sharing short videos – is used by 21% of Americans, while 13% say they use the neighborhood-focused platform Nextdoor.

Even as other platforms do not nearly match the overall reach of YouTube or Facebook, there are certain sites or apps, most notably Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, that have an especially strong following among young adults. In fact, a majority of 18- to 29-year-olds say they use Instagram (71%) or Snapchat (65%), while roughly half say the same for TikTok.

These findings come from a nationally representative survey of 1,502 U.S. adults conducted via telephone Jan. 25-Feb.8, 2021. With the exception of YouTube and Reddit, most platforms show little growth since 2019.

YouTube is the most commonly used online platform asked about in this survey, and there’s evidence that its reach is growing. Fully 81% of Americans say they ever use the video-sharing site, up from 73% in 2019. Reddit was the only other platform polled about that experienced statistically significant growth during this time period – increasing from 11% in 2019 to 18% today.

Facebook’s growth has leveled off over the last five years, but it remains one of the most widely used social media sites among adults in the United States: 69% of adults today say they ever use the site, equaling the share who said this two years prior.

Similarly, the respective shares of Americans who report using Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Twitter and WhatsApp are statistically unchanged since 2019. This represents a broader trend that extends beyond the past two years in which the rapid adoption of most of these sites and apps seen in the last decade has slowed. (This was the first year the Center asked about TikTok via a phone poll and the first time it has surveyed about Nextdoor.)

Adults under 30 stand out for their use of Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. When asked about their social media use more broadly – rather than their use of specific platforms – 72% of Americans say they ever use social media sites.

In a pattern consistent with past Center studies on social media use, there are some stark age differences. Some 84% of adults ages 18 to 29 say they ever use any social media sites, which is similar to the share of those ages 30 to 49 who say this (81%). By comparison, a somewhat smaller share of those ages 50 to 64 (73%) say they use social media sites, while fewer than half of those 65 and older (45%) report doing this.

These age differences generally extend to use of specific platforms, with younger Americans being more likely than their older counterparts to use these sites – though the gaps between younger and older Americans vary across platforms.

Majorities of 18- to 29-year-olds say they use Instagram or Snapchat and about half say they use TikTok, with those on the younger end of this cohort – ages 18 to 24 – being especially likely to report using Instagram (76%), Snapchat (75%) or TikTok (55%).1 These shares stand in stark contrast to those in older age groups. For instance, while 65% of adults ages 18 to 29 say they use Snapchat, just 2% of those 65 and older report using the app – a difference of 63 percentage points.

Additionally, a vast majority of adults under the age of 65 say they use YouTube. Fully 95% of those 18 to 29 say they use the platform, along with 91% of those 30 to 49 and 83% of adults 50 to 64. However, this share drops substantially – to 49% – among those 65 and older.

By comparison, age gaps between the youngest and oldest Americans are narrower for Facebook. Fully 70% of those ages 18 to 29 say they use the platform, and those shares are statistically the same for those ages 30 to 49 (77%) or ages 50 to 64 (73%). Half of those 65 and older say they use the site – making Facebook and YouTube the two most used platforms among this older population.

Other sites and apps stand out for their demographic differences: Instagram: About half of Hispanic (52%) and Black Americans (49%) say they use the platform, compared with smaller shares of White Americans (35%) who say the same.2

WhatsApp: Hispanic Americans (46%) are far more likely to say they use WhatsApp than Black (23%) or White Americans (16%). Hispanics also stood out for their WhatsApp use in the Center’s previous surveys on this topic.

LinkedIn: Those with higher levels of education are again more likely than those with lower levels of educational attainment to report being LinkedIn users. Roughly half of adults who have a bachelor’s or advanced degree (51%) say they use LinkedIn, compared with smaller shares of those with some college experience (28%) and those with a high school diploma or less (10%).

Pinterest: Women continue to be far more likely than men to say they use Pinterest when compared with male counterparts, by a difference of 30 points (46% vs. 16%).

Nextdoor: There are large differences in use of this platform by community type. Adults living in urban (17%) or suburban (14%) areas are more likely to say they use Nextdoor. Just 2% of rural Americans report using the site.

A majority of Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram users say they visit these platforms on a daily basis. While there has been much written about Americans’ changing relationship with Facebook, its users remain quite active on the platform. Seven-in-ten Facebook users say they use the site daily, including 49% who say they use the site several times a day. (These figures are statistically unchanged from those reported in the Center’s 2019 survey about social media use.)

Smaller shares – though still a majority – of Snapchat or Instagram users report visiting these respective platforms daily (59% for both). And being active on these sites is especially common for younger users. For instance, 71% of Snapchat users ages 18 to 29 say they use the app daily, including six-in-ten who say they do this multiple times a day. The pattern is similar for Instagram: 73% of 18- to 29-year-old Instagram users say they visit the site every day, with roughly half (53%) reporting they do so several times per day.

YouTube is used daily by 54% if its users, with 36% saying they visit the site several times a day. By comparison, Twitter is used less frequently, with fewer than half of its users (46%) saying they visit the site daily.

Google Wins Case Against Oracle In Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court handed the tech company a major victory on Monday, ruling that its use of Oracle Corp’s software code to build the Android operating system that runs most of the world’s smartphones did not violate federal copyright law.
In a 6-2 decision, the justices overturned a lower court’s ruling that Google’s inclusion of Oracle’s software code in Android did not constitute a fair use under U.S. copyright law.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, said that allowing Oracle to enforce a copyright on its code would harm the public by making it a “lock limiting the future creativity of new programs. Oracle alone would hold the key.”

Oracle and Google, two California-based technology giants with combined annual revenues of more than $175 billion, have been feuding since Oracle sued for copyright infringement in 2010 in San Francisco federal court. Google had appealed a 2018 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington reviving the suit.

The ruling spares Google of a potentially massive damages verdict. Oracle had been seeking more than $8 billion, but renewed estimates went as high as $20 billion to $30 billion, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.
“The decision gives legal certainty to the next generation of developers whose new products and services will benefit consumers,” said Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs.

Oracle’s lawsuit accused Google of plagiarizing its Java software by copying 11,330 lines of computer code, as well as the way it is organized, to create Android and reap billions of dollars in revenue. Android, for which developers have created millions of applications, now powers more than 70% of the world’s mobile devices.

Over Half A Billion Facebook Users’ Personal Data Leaked Online

Data affecting over half a Billion Facebook users that was originally leaked in 2019, including email addresses and phone numbers, has been posted on an online hackers forum, according to media reports and a cybercrime expert. “All 533,000,000 Facebook records were just leaked for free,” Alon Gal, chief technology officer at the Hudson Rock cybercrime intelligence firm, said on Twitter last week. He denounced what he called the “absolute negligence” of Facebook.

Some of the data appeared to be current, according to a report in Business Insider which AFP was unable to confirm independently. It said some of the leaked phone numbers still belong to the owners of Facebook accounts. “This means that if you have a Facebook account, it is extremely likely the phone number used for the account was leaked,” Gal said.

But Facebook said the reports were old news. “This is old data that was previously reported on in 2019,” a company spokesperson told the media. “We found and fixed this issue in August 2019.”

The exposed data includes personal information of over 533 million Facebook users from 106 countries, including over 32 million records on users in the US, 11 million on users in the UK, and 6 million on users in India. It includes their phone numbers, Facebook IDs, full names, locations, birthdates, bios, and — in some cases — email addresses.

While a couple of years old, the leaked data could provide valuable information to cybercriminals who use people’s personal information to impersonate them or scam them into handing over login credentials, according to Alon Gal, CTO of cybercrime intelligence firm Hudson Rock, who first discovered the entire trough of leaked data online on Saturday.

“A database of that size containing the private information such as phone numbers of a lot of Facebook’s users would certainly lead to bad actors taking advantage of the data to perform social engineering attacks [or] hacking attempts,” Gal told Insider.

Google Maps Plans Greenest Route To Your Destination

Google Maps plans to start highlighting journeys and directing drivers to routes that it calibrates to be the most “eco-friendly” based on a range of factors. Here’s how it will work. Google Maps plans to start highlighting journeys and directing drivers to routes that it calibrates to be the most “eco-friendly” based on a range of factors. The calculation of the default route that potentially generates the lowest carbon footprint would be done by assessing factors such as traffic data, congestion history, and even road inclines.

The Alphabet-owned search engine said in a blogpost that the feature would be launched first in the United States sometime later this year, “with a global expansion on the way”. Once launched, the default route that would show up on the Google Maps app will be the “eco-friendly” one. Users will have to opt out of this if they wish to take an alternative route.

Google said that when alternative routes “are significantly faster”, the mapping app will offer options, and let users compare estimated emissions on the default and alternative routes. The new feature, Google said, is part of its commitment to fight climate change.
While the tech major did mention plans for a “global expansion”, it did not offer specifics with respect to the launch timelines in specific geographies such as India.

Google is also reported to be making “new map layers for weather and air quality” that are set to roll out in the coming months on both Android and iOS. Google plans to launch the weather layer globally and release the air quality layer first in Australia, India, and the US, according to a report in The Verge.

For its new route plan, Google said it used emissions data based on testing across different types of vehicles and roads in the US, and subsequently concluded that for about 50 per cent of the analyzed routes, it was able to offer a ‘greener’ alternative without any significant tradeoffs.

“What we are seeing is for around half of routes, we are able to find an option more eco-friendly with minimal or no time-cost trade-off,” Russell Dicker, a director of product at Google, said.The search major said it used emissions data based on testing across different types of cars and road types, extrapolating insights from the US Government’s National Renewable Energy Lab. Its data incorporates details such as slopes and inclines from its own Street View cars feature alongside aerial and satellite imagery.

Also, from June 2021, Google will start warning drivers about travelling through low emissions zones where some vehicles are restricted, as is the case in countries such as Germany, France and the Netherlands.In another new feature slated for launch later this year, Google Maps users will be able to compare travel options — car, cycling, public transport etc — in one place instead of having to switch back and forth between different modes with evaluating travel options.The scope of these features could be progressively widened to include Asian cities such as Jakarta, it indicated.

Banned From Social Media, Trump Launches A New Website

Donald Trump, the former president and first lady, Melania Trump, have launched a website to serve their personal offices. The website, 45office.com, comes after Trump’s ban from social media sites in the aftermath of the January Capitol insurrection.

The site features a lengthy biography for the former president that starts, “Donald J. Trump launched the most extraordinary political movement in history, dethroning political dynasties, defeating the Washington Establishment, and becoming the first true outsider elected as President of the United States.”

It also includes more than a dozen pictures of himself, in which he is depicted boarding Air Force One, greeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and, yes, kissing a baby. Other photos are of the president and Melania Trump dancing at the inaugural ball and at black tie dinners in the White House. The website makes no mention of his two impeachment trials. It does reference how “the coronavirus plague arrived from China,” and says that Trump “acted early and decisively to ban travel from China and Europe, which saved countless lives.”

As of Tuesday, Covid-19 has killed at least 550,371 people and infected about 30.3 million in the United States since last January, according to data by Johns Hopkins University.

Trump has largely remained off the internet since the January 6th Capitol insurrection that killed five people and led the Justice Department to charge at least 150 people with insurrection, a number that could increase to 400 or more. In its aftermath, Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter and other social platforms, such as Snapchat.

The former president will return to social media in two to three months on his own platform, according to Jason Miller, a long-time Trump adviser and spokesperson for the president’s 2020 campaign. The new platform will attract “tens of millions” of new users and “completely redefine the game,” Miller added.

Following Trump’s ban on Twitter, Jared Kushner, the former president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, intervened to stop the efforts of aides who attempted to get Trump on fringe social media platforms such as Parler and Gab.

Visitors to the former president’s website can also request a personalized greeting from the president and the First Lady, or request that the Trumps attend an event. Due to the high number of requests, the greetings page says it will take up to six weeks for processing.

As for having the Trumps attend an event, the website said it there would be no status updates “due to the volume of requests President and Mrs. Trump receive. Requests must note if media will be present and if there will be any notable attendees.”

— CNN’s Jazmin Goodwin contributed to this report

India’s New Internet Rules Are ‘Digital Authoritarianism’

The Indian government must suspend sweeping new Internet regulations, 10 international NGOs said in an open letter Thursday. The new rules, brought in by executive order in late February, give the Indian government an arsenal of muscular new powers that will force tech companies and news outlets to comply with government surveillance and censorship demands.

The rules increase the pressure on U.S. tech companies including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp to comply with what the letter’s authors say is an increasingly authoritarian Indian government—or risk losing access to India, their biggest market in the world, which many see as key to future growth.

The Indian government had been preparing the new rules for years, but published them amid an escalating protest movement by Indian farmers that has captured both national and international attention. In February, the Indian government clashed with Twitter over the company’s refusal of a government request to remove hundreds of posts by activists and politicians about the protests, with the company saying they constituted freedom of expression. After the Indian government threatened Twitter employees with jail time, Twitter eventually re-blocked most of the posts.

“Why the government brought this up now is deeply linked to the farmer protests,” says Raman Jit Singh Chima, the Asia-Pacific policy director at Access Now, one of the groups that signed the open letter criticizing the rules. “After the pushback they received from social media firms, who were contesting orders they were receiving, the government definitely wants to send a clear signal that ‘we are going to regulate you, and if you push back, it will result in more regulation overall.’”

India’s new rules come at a time when tech platforms are facing threats of regulation by Western governments over content including hate speech, misinformation, and incitement to violence. But the Indian rules are more worrying, the open letter says, because they are part of a wider push toward “digital authoritarianism,” including Internet shutdowns and arrests of journalists. Although the Indian rules also contain useful provisions like mandating transparency in cases when user content has been removed, they come with no clear mechanisms for tech companies to push back against potentially unlawful government demands.

“The rules change the fundamental Internet experience for any average user in India,” says Apar Gupta, executive director of India’s Internet Freedom Foundation. “Social media companies, streaming platforms and online news portals are now being brought under some level of direct government supervision,” he says. “These rules are a very stark illustration of a desire of the government to control the online conversation. They extend forms of regulation over areas that enrich any kind of democracy, and encourage self-censorship.”

What do the new rules say?

The rules force companies to remove content that the government says is illegal within three days of being notified, including content that threatens “the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India,” public order, decency, morality, or incitement to an offense. The rules also state that platforms must hand over information about users to law enforcement upon request.

Encrypted messaging platforms like WhatsApp—which is owned by Facebook—will also be forced under the new rules to keep information on who the “first originator” of any message is, and provide it to the government upon demand. WhatsApp is already facing similar legislation in Brazil, its second-biggest market after India. And Western intelligence agencies have also pressured encrypted platforms to build “backdoors” into their messaging services.

WhatsApp did not respond to TIME’s request for comment, but its head Will Cathcart said the company was “still digesting them and understanding what they actually mean, or don’t mean,” in an interview on Big Technology, a podcast by journalist Alex Kantrowitz.

Cathcart suggested that WhatsApp may be prepared to bring legal cases in India if the rules meant breaking the end-to-end encryption that the chat service is based on. “If you’re talking about break[ing] encryption, it’s really hard for me to imagine being comfortable with it,” he said. “It’s hard for me to imagine even how you ask people to do that, I think it’s such a fundamental threat. So, we’ll stand and we’ll make our case, and we’ll argue.”

Facebook and Signal (an end-to-end encrypted messaging app that is growing in popularity in India) did not respond to TIME’s requests for comment.

In a statement, Twitter said: “We are studying the updated guidelines, and we look forward to continued engagement with the Government of India to strike a balance between transparency, freedom of expression, and privacy … We believe that regulation is beneficial when it safeguards citizen’s fundamental rights and reinforces online freedom.”

India’s new rules also say that companies must appoint a resident Indian citizen to be a “chief compliance officer” who will be criminally liable for any failure to comply with the rules. “India’s worst-kept secret is that if you work in the Internet industry, you will face arrest threats and threats of prosecution on a regular basis,” Chima says. “They’re just trying to codify this in one place. The idea is that if you have one person, you can put them under so much pressure that it will force compliance.”

The open letter by the 10 activist groups called on tech companies to resist the new rules. “They should interpret and implement legal demands as narrowly as possible, to ensure the least possible restriction on expression, notify users, seek clarification or modification from authorities, and explore all legal options for challenge,” the letter said.

As well as social media and streaming platforms, the new rules also impose strict new limits on digital news platforms—where a small handful of Indian publications have managed to remain critical of the government. In March, India’s democracy rating was downgraded from “free” to “partly free” by the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House, which cited among other factors the government’s “rising intimidation of academics and journalists.”

Under the new rules, digital publications will be subject to oversight by government-run committees, with the power to block publication of stories, remove stories, or even shut down entire websites. One of the 10 signatories of the open letter on Thursday is Reporters Without Borders, an NGO that campaigns for press freedom worldwide.

“Digital media has been quite outspoken, and I see this clearly as a way to bring it to heel, to control it, and perhaps intimidate it,” says Sidharth Bhatia, a founding editor of The Wire, a leading online publication that regularly publishes content critical of the Indian government. “It is executive overreach of the worst kind.”

The new legislation could result in critical reporting being silenced, Bhatia says. “Let’s say we’re about to publish a story about somebody powerful,” he says. “In a normal journalistic way, we will probably send a message before publication saying we would like your point of view. That person could very well go and say ‘I fear they will publish a very damaging story against me, and it’s libelous, etc.’” If that were to happen, he says, the case would be escalated through two committees, that contain no representatives of the digital media, until it is heard by a senior bureaucrat in India’s Ministry of Information. “At that level, you’re not likely to want to go against the government,” Bhatia says.

The publisher of The Wire is challenging the government’s new rules in the Indian court system—a challenge that a Delhi high court judge upheld on Tuesday, with the case adjourned to April 16.

Bhatia says that if the new rules are allowed to stand, they will have a “terrible chilling effect” on Indian journalism. “There is already talk within the media of journalists self-censoring,” he says. “More and more will say it’s not worth the trouble.”

Hundreds In New York Rally Against Anti-Asian Hate

More than 300 people joined some of New York’s top elected officials and community leaders on Saturday afternoon to speak out against the increase in anti-Asian violence in the city and nationwide on Saturday, Feb 27th.

The Rise Up Against Asian Hate rally, organized by the Asian American Federation (AAF), took place at Foley Square in downtown Manhattan, two blocks from where a 36-year-old Asian man was stabbed on Thursday night.

The rally was joined by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democratic Congresswoman Grace Meng, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as well as victims of violence against Asian-Americans.

Taking to Twitter on Sunday, Schumer said: I’m proud to stand with the @AAFederation at today’s #RiseUpRally in New York City to stop hatred against Asian-Americans.

“The surge in attacks against Asian American communities is alarming, ignorant, and dangerous. We cannot and will not tolerate racism and discrimination.”

Addressing the rally he said: “Bigotry against any of us is bigotry against all of us … We must redouble our fight. We must stand strong.

“New York, we love diversity. We know the more of us who are together from every different background in race, creed, colour, orientation and gender, the stronger we are. We love immigrants.”

Among the speakers was a recent victim: 61-year-old Filipino-American Noel Quintana, whose face was slashed on the subway earlier this month. “I called for help, but nobody came to help,” he said. “If they took a video of this, the perpetrator would be identified easily.” He urged people to be safe and aware, and to record and report incidents. As he walked off the stage, the crowd chanted his name.

Democratic Congresswoman Grace Meng, who represents New York’s 6th District and authored a resolution in the House last September to denounce hatred against Asian-Americans, said, “We need to make sure that we are not fighting racism with more racism. That we are fighting racism with solidarity. That we are not ever, ever pitting one group against the other. It is everyone against racism. We are American, too.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer harshly criticized former President Donald Trump, whose use of terms like “Chinese virus” and “kung flu” for the coronavirus helped fuel anti-Asian sentiment over the past year. “Bigotry against any of us is bigotry against all of us,” Schumer said.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio promised that “anyone who commits an act of hate against the Asian-American community will be found, will be arrested, will be prosecuted.”

Attorney General Letitia James, who AAF Executive Director Jo-Ann Yoo referred to as an “ally,” urged the community to report incidents to authorities. “Come to my office so that we can do something about it. Come to my office, so that we can go after those individuals who hate us, and shut them down,” she said.

James and many others shared messages of unity with the AAPI community. They also endorsed Yoo’s calls for more directed action, saying, “We need a patrol which is staffed by police officers. A full-time, dedicated bureau … that patrol the streets, patrol the subways and keep the Asian community safe from harm.” The AAF and a larger group of organizations have called for community-based solutions to combat bias incidents and hate crimes against Asian-Americans, including recovery programs, language services, mental health services and more.

According to data collected by AAF, Stop AAPI Hate, the NYPD and the NYC Commission on Human Rights, nearly 500 Asians in New York were targets of bias incidents or hate crimes in 2020, ranging from verbal to physical assaults, including acid attacks. The community has suffered a significant rise in unemployment since the pandemic began. Nationwide, at least half of Asian Americans continued to experience cases of direct racism, nearly 1 in 5 of which were physical assaults.

Celebrities have also gotten involved. Actor William Lex Ham, who has been leading marches and rallies across the country since last summer, made an appearance on Saturday. Actress Olivia Munn tweeted out a video of an attack on a woman in Flushing, New York. Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu put up a $25,000 reward for the identification of a suspect who fatally shoved 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee to the ground in Oakland, California. Governments have made an effort to stand with the community, passing resolutions at the state and federal levels. But these, and President Biden’s executive order in February denouncing anti-Asian hate, are largely symbolic, and more concrete action is needed, activists say.

Late last year, the NYPD established an Asian Hate Crimes Task Force. In California, another state that has seen an exponential rise in attacks against the AAPI community, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that will devote nearly $1.5 million to tracking anti-Asian hate crimes.

Bhumi Pednekar Joins Efforts By UNESCO To Educate Girls On Menstrual Hygiene

With an aim to raise awareness and educate girls on menstrual hygiene management, UNESCO has joined the #KeepGirlsInSchool mission, being supported by Bollywood actress Bhumi Pednekar.


The movement, launched by feminine care brand Whisper, begins with shedding light on the impact of 2.3 crore girls dropping out of school due to lack of period education and protection.


According to studies, even today, 71 per cent of adolescent girls in India remain unaware of menstruation till they get their first period. This affects their confidence and self-esteem adversely, leading to 2.3 crore adolescent girls dropping out of school every year, at the onset of the puberty. In addition to this, the ongoing pandemic has led to the closure of schools and lack of structured learning process, making these girls even more vulnerable to dropping out.


According to the UNESCO, the global pandemic has impacted 74 crore schoolgirls, and could severely affect their return to school.

To bring to light the struggles of young girls as they reach puberty, Whisper and


UNESCO released a film that illustrates the journey of the playful innocence of a schoolgirl with boundless dreams coming to a grinding halt due to the lack of period education and protection. The film underscores the importance of empowering young girls to achieve their full potential and not let periods get in the way of 2.3 crore dreams.


Continuing to share her support for the cause, Bhumi Pednekar said: “For the past one year I have been working closely with Whisper to drive awareness on the importance of menstrual hygiene education and protection. This gave me an understanding of the on-ground reality of crores of girls who drop out of school and unfortunately give up on their dreams of becoming a pilot, doctor, teacher, designer, etc. Every girl in India should be able to complete her education like I did and not have to drop out just because of periods. I strongly believe that empowering young girls with menstrual education and protection will give them wings to transform into leaders of tomorrow. It is great to see that Whisper and UNESCO are enabling this change at a ground level, which will not only accelerate the cause but also encourage wider participation. I urge everyone to come forward and be part of the #KeepGirlsInSchool movement.”


Emphasizing UNESCO’s commitment to right to Education, Eric Falt, Director and UNESCO Representative to Bhutan, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka, said: “During puberty and the start of menstruation, a girl’s confidence and self-esteem can be affected in many different ways, sometimes even leading to her dropping out of school. UNESCO and Whisper are on a mission to change that. The #KeepGirlsInSchool initiative builds on our strong commitment to ensuring everyone’s fundamental right to education. Investing in girls’ education is an investment for society as a whole.”


Sharing her thoughts on the movement, Chetna Soni, Senior Director and Category Head, P&G Indian Subcontinent, Feminine Care, said: “Whisper believes in empowering girls and women to unleash their confidence and ensure that nothing comes in the way of achieving their dreams. With this mission, we continue to challenge the barriers surrounding menstrual hygiene through education and multi-stakeholder engagement to advocate for change.


To widen the impact, we are delighted to be joining hands with UNESCO to further our force for female good movement #KeepGirlsInSchool. We strongly believe that we all have a role to play in breaking menstrual stigma and normalizing periods so nothing can come in the way of girls fulfilling their dreams and achieving their full potential.” (IANS)

Why Journalists In India Are Under Attack

A month after taking office in the summer of 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India’s “democracy will not sustain if we can’t guarantee freedom of speech and expression”.

Six years on, many believe, India’s democracy looks diminished, by what they say are persistent attacks on the freedom of the press.

Last year India dropped two places and was ranked 142 on the 180-country World Press Freedom Index, compiled annually by Reporters Without Borders. It’s an unflattering commentary on a country that often prides itself on a vibrant and competitive media.

The latest crackdown has happened after violence during a recent rally by farmers to protest at a raft of agriculture reform laws. One protester was killed and more than 500 policemen injured in the clashes.

Now police have filed criminal charges – including sedition and making statements inimical to national integration – against eight journalists who covered the protests in Delhi.

The cause of the protester’s death – at the rally on 26 January – remains disputed. While police say he died when the tractor he was driving overturned, his family alleges that he was shot. His family’s account, which has been published by various newspapers and magazines, appears to have become the basis of these charges.

Some of the journalists were involved in reporting or publishing the story, and others only shared it on social media.

Six of them – and a prominent opposition Congress party MP who is accused of “misreporting” facts surrounding the death – are facing cases in four BJP-ruled states.

“Is it a crime for media to report statements of relatives of a dead person if they question a post-mortem or police version of the cause of death?” Siddharth Varadarajan, editor-in-chief of The Wire and one of the journalists charged by police, said.

Rights groups and many fellow journalists are outraged. “The Indian authorities’ response to protests has focused on discrediting peaceful protesters, harassing critics of the government, and prosecuting those reporting on the events,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. The police cases, the Editors Guild of India said, were “an attempt to intimidate, harass, browbeat, and stifle the media”.

A case in point, many say, is Caravan, an investigative news magazine which has often been in the crosshairs of Mr Modi’s government.

Ten sedition cases have been brought against three of its senior-most editorial staff – the publisher, editor and executive editor – in five states for a story and tweets relating to the death of the protester. One of the magazine’s freelance reporters was arrested from a protest site for “obstruction”, and released on bail after two days. The magazine’s Twitter account was suspended for a few hours in response to a legal notice by the government, citing objections based on public order.

Last year, four of Caravan’s journalists were attacked in two separate incidents while reporting on the aftermath of religious riots and a protest concerning the alleged rape and murder of a teenager in Delhi. “There is a narrative here which is very dangerous. We live in polarised times where critics of the government are branded as anti-nationals. It is the job of journalists to ask questions to people in power,” Vinod Jose, executive editor of Caravan, told me.

The governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) denies that journalists are being targeted and believes that much of what is happening is part of “orchestrated propaganda” against the government.

“All journalists with avowed political affiliations and evident slant against the government have continued to write and speak freely in newspapers, television, and online portals,” Baijayant Panda, national vice president of the BJP, told me.

Mr Panda says police have filed complaints against journalists in a “couple of recent cases” because there have “been serious criminal allegations of fake news peddling in a riot-like situation, with the intent of fanning violence”.

He pointed to the case of a senior anchor of a leading news network who was taken off air and his pay docked because of an “incorrect” tweet relating to the death of a protester.

“This was not just blatant peddling of a false narrative, but one that had real and imminent potential to inflame large-scale violence. The said journalist and others of his ilk have also had a pattern of promoting such false narratives on earlier instances, and in fact have had to apologise on the record after being taken to court by affected parties,” Mr Panda said.

He said some state governments, run by political parties opposed to Mr Modi’s government, and “for whom these journalists have shown unabashed sympathy, have in fact been hounding journalists with the blatant misuse of power”.

Critics say a number of journalists seen as sympathetic to the government have consistently got away with broadcasting and publishing inflammatory material, often targeted at minorities.

Also, they wonder why the colonial era sedition law is being so widely used to crack down on dissent. An overwhelming majority of sedition cases filed against 405 Indians for criticising politicians and governments over the last decade were registered after 2014, when Mr Modi took power, according to data compiled by the website article14. Opposition politicians, students, journalists, authors and academicians have borne the brunt of the repressive law.

In a polarised environment, journalists are more divided than ever before. Much of the mainstream media, including a clutch of partisan news networks, is seen to be uncritical of Mr Modi’s government. “India, the world’s most populous democracy, is also sending signals that holding the government accountable is not part of the press’s responsibility,” a report by Freedom House said.

Many believe India is becoming unsafe for journalists. Sixty-seven journalists were arrested and nearly 200 physically attacked in 2020, according to a study by Geeta Seshu for the Free Speech Collective. A journalist, who was on his way to cover the gang rape of a girl in Uttar Pradesh state, has been in jail for five months.

Journalists – especially women critical of the government – face fierce online trolling and threats. Delhi-based freelance journalist Neha Dixit says she has been “stalked, openly threatened with rape and murder, viciously trolled”, and an attempt made to break into her apartment. This week, the police arrested a law student for allegedly sending death and rape threats to Rohini Singh, another freelance journalist.

The protection afforded to freedom of expression in India has never been robust, according to Tarunabh Khaitan, vice-dean of law at Oxford University.

Although this is a constitutionally guaranteed freedom, its scope was drastically restricted by the First Amendment under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1951. It was then that India’s government “discovered that mouthing platitudes to civil liberties was one thing, and upholding them as principles was quite another,” notes Tripurdaman Singh in his book Sixteen Stormy Days.

And the colonial police and criminal justice system inherited from the Raj continues to see “human rights as an obstacle rather than their first duty to defend”, says Prof Khaitan. India’s Supreme Court, too, has had a poor track record on protecting civil liberties in comparison with courts in many other democracies, he says.

“The biggest sufferers are the two truth-seeking institutions whose autonomy from political as well as corporate power is critical to a democracy: the media and the universities. The role of these knowledge institutions is to challenge power and seek discursive accountability from power. But once captured, they serve as the instruments of power instead. Weak protection of free expression makes it relatively easy to capture or compromise them,” Prof Khaitan told me.

India’s media was gagged for 21 months when then prime minister Indira Gandhi suspended civil liberties and imposed a nationwide Emergency in 1975. “What is unusual about our current political moment is that, unlike a formal emergency that undermines rights openly, all our rights are supposed to still be functional. There is no formal suspension of rights. But their corrosion in practice has become overwhelming. We are living in an extra-legal, informal, emergency. During a formal emergency, a citizen can perhaps hope that things will go back to normal once it is lifted,” says Prof Khaitan.  “How do you even ‘lift’ an informal emergency, one that was never promulgated in the first place?”

(Picture: New Indian Express)

Stop Facebook From Tracking You On Apps And Websites

Facebook was recently under fire for having access to a lot of user data than it really needs for basic functioning. There are a few ways to stop allowing Facebook to track your daily activities or data. You can turn off most of the permissions for Facebook that are not required for it to operate properly. For this, you just need to visit the settings section on your phone > Apps & notifications > Facebook > Permissions.

Users are also advised to disable ‘Off-Facebook activity’ if they don’t want the social media giant to track the apps or websites they are using. Though, Facebook will still be able to get some of your data as third-party apps or sites to share your data with Facebook as they use the company’s tools to track your usage. Facebook claims it will never ask third-parties to share the health or financial data of users.

The company itself says, “We receive activity from businesses and organisations who use our business tools so that can better understand how their website, app, or ads are performing. We use your activity to show you relevant ads and to suggest things you might be interested in.”

While Facebook has clearly stated its intention, you don’t really know if your data is safe. Last year, Facebook admitted sharing users’ data with third-party developers.

So, what data is Facebook collecting?

If you visit a site or an app, Facebook knows when you opened it or logged in, searched for an item, what item you added to a wishlist or cart, made a purchase or donation. So, if you are using an online banking app or the MakeMyTrip app to book flight tickets, Facebook can see all your activity and target ads to you accordingly. On Facebook, it knows your purchase history, contacts, search history, ads or products you interact with, precise location, physical address and more.

Android: How to stop Facebook from tracking your activities

Step 1: Open the Facebook app on your smartphone and tap on the hamburger icon, which is located on the top right corner of the screen.

Step 2: Scroll and tap on ‘Settings & Privacy.’

Step 3: Visit settings > scroll > tap on off-Facebook Activity

*Once you land on this page, it will show you which apps or sites you have visited and are sharing user data with Facebook. You can tap on each app to get additional information on what data is being shared, and what Facebook is doing with all of it. The app also lets you download all your activity details. For this, you need to tap on the three-dotted button located in the ‘Off-Facebook Activity option.’ Then, tap on ‘Download your Information’ of your off-Facebook activities.

Step 4: Tap on Clear History. This will make sure that you delete all the data that Facebook has collected. Once you clear the history, you will see all the apps disappearing from the top of the screen.

Step 5: Now to disable the option, you need to tap on ‘More options’ and then ‘Manage Future Activity.’

Step 6: Tap again on Manage Future Activity and tap on Future Off-Facebook Activity.

The iOS users can also follow the same steps. The only difference is you will find the hamburger menu at the bottom of the screen once you open the Facebook app on your device.

What will happen if you disable ‘Off-Facebook’ activity’?

Once you turn off the ‘Off-Facebook activity’ option, a Facebook user won’t get personalised advertisements based on their daily online activity. If you want your ads to be personalised, you basically have to pay for it with your data.

(From: The Indian Express; Picture: Reclaim The Net) 

India Uses Muscle Power To Silence Voices of Journalists

India continues to use “force” to silence the media across the nation. Journalists around the nation are being silenced when they write/report about policies nof the government that are not democratic and not in the interests of the larger public. 

The FIRs were filed across three BJP-ruled states against Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, India Today journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, National Herald’s senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande, Qaumi Awaz editor Zafar Agha, The Caravan magazine’s editor and founder Paresh Nath, its editor Anant Nath and executive editor Vinod K. Jose, and one unnamed person. On Saturday night, the Delhi police also filed a similar case.

The Uttar Pradesh Police has registered an FIR against journalist Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of The Wire, for “provocative” tweets over the death of a Rampur farmer during the tractor rally in Delhi on Republic Day. The FIR, registered by the Rampur police, invoked Sections 153-B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505(2) (inciting for violence) of the Indian Penal Code, Varadarajan said in a tweet. 

The tweet referred to the FIR had quoted the grandfather of the deceased farmer alleging that one of the doctors who conducted the autopsy told him that the man died of a bullet injury, along with a link to the full story. The Wire article included statements by the police and doctors rejecting the claims. Varadarajan described the FIR as “malicious prosecution”.

The development follows FIRs against television journalist Rajdeep Sardesai; National Herald’s senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande; Caravan’s editor and founder Paresh Nath, its editor Anant Nath and executive editor Vinod K Jose; and Qaumi Awaz’s editor Zafar Agha for ‘misleading’ tweets on the death of the farmer. 

 “This is a clear case of overreach by the police and administration of the state governments which allowed the registration of the FIRs. If sedition charges are going to be invoked at the drop of the hat, where will we head to?” T.K. Rajalakshmi of the IWPC told The Wire.

The sedition cases that have been slapped on journalists for sharing “unverified” news during the farmers’ tractor rally in Delhi on January 26 reeks of a conspiracy, observed a host of media and journalists’ bodies at a press conference on Saturday.

The joint press meeting was organized by the Press Club of India (PCI), the Editors’ Guild of India, the Press Association, the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC), the Delhi Union of Journalists and the Indian Journalists Union, which was packed with the country’s best known journalists.

The FIRs have been filed in relation to the reporting of the farmers’ tractor rally, held on January 26 in Delhi, in which some early reports had suggested that a young farmer had died from a police bullet. Later, it was claimed that he died because his tractor overturned.

The PCI has expressed shock over criminal charges being pressed against journalists even as a reliable post mortem report in the case has not yet come out. “This is a pathetic excuse on the part of the concerned state governments. In a moving story, things change on a regular basis. Accordingly, the reporting reflects the circumstances, when large crowds are involved and the air is thick with suppositions, suspicions, and hypotheses, there can sometimes be a divergence between earlier and later reports. It is criminal to ascribe this to motivated reporting, as is sought to have been done,” the PCI said in a statement.

There are writers and media personnel, human rights defenders and activists, academics and others, from every corner of the country, who despite all odds, face fascists fearlessly. They are the ones genuinely concerned about what is happening in the country today, writes Cedric Prakash in “Facing Fascists Fearlessly. 

The Editors Guild of India had termed the FIRs an “attempt to intimidate, harass, browbeat, and stifle the media”, and demanded their immediate withdrawal.

WhatsApp vs Signal vs Telegram: Which is More Secure?

Facebook-owned WhatsApp’s Privacy Policy updates have prompted unhappy users to look for alternative apps. Find out which of the three most popular messaging apps is more secure. Whatsapp currently is the largest messaging service in the world with over 2 billion monthly active users. Following that, Telegram accounts for 400 million and Signal stands at a ballpark of 10-20 million monthly active users. Simply looking at the raw numbers would suggest that WhatsApp is hugely popular and almost ubiquitous while Telegram is catching up and Signal seems to have just joined the million downloads race. However, numbers do not often tell you the entire story, hence here we do a comprehensive comparison of the three app’s security and features.


WhatsApp offers almost every feature you might need. You get support for group chats with up to 256 members. You can also broadcast messages to multiple contacts at the same time. It also supports voice and video calls, both for individuals and groups. However, for group video calls, you are restricted to 8 users at any time. Further, WhatsApp also offers a Status feature (also called WhatsApp stories) similar to Instagram stories.

Whatsapp also allows you to share all sorts of files and documents, but there are file size limits to adhere to. For photos, videos, and audio files, the limit is 16 MB. However, documents can be up to 100 MB. You can also share live location with your contacts and I am sure many users find this feature helpful.

And since WhatsApp is meant for general users, it offers seamless backup and restore functionality through cloud services like Google Drive and iCloud. And the best part is that cloud backup is completely free.


Telegram app offers so many features that it’s incredible. Similar to WhatsApp, you get the basics such as chats, group chats, and channels. However, unlike WhatsApp’s 256 member limit, Telegram brings support for groups with up to 200,000 members. It also offers multiple group-specific features such as bots, polls, quizzes, hashtags, and a lot more which can make group experiences a lot more fun.

The app also offers a unique feature, self-destructing messages (like Snapchat) which is great if you’re sending messages that you don’t want to remain on the recipient’s device for eternity. The size limit for sharing files on Telegram is a whopping 1.5 GB. The app now has both voice and video call on Android and iOS devices, which is great because video call support was a big omission from the app.


Signal offers its users secure messaging, voice, and video calls and all communications are end-to-end encrypted. Further, you can create groups, however, you don’t have the option to broadcast messages to multiple contacts at once. Plus, Signal has recently added support for group calling as well.

It has a feature similar to the self-destructing messages of Telegram. The best feature of Signal is “Note to Self”. Unlike WhatsApp, you don’t have to create a single-member group to send notes to yourself. On Signal, the feature is available natively and you can jot down your thoughts and ideas while messaging with your friends and family.

Apart from that, Signal allows you to relay voice calls to its servers so your identity remains concealed from your contacts. The feature is somewhat similar to what a VPN does. There are also emojis and some privacy stickers, but they are very limited in comparison to WhatsApp and Telegram.



The end to end encryption (E2E) introduced in 2016 on WhatsApp is available on every single mode of communication that the app enables. So all your messages, video calls, voice calls, photos, and anything else you share are end-to-end encrypted. WhatsApp uses the E2E protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems, which is the name behind Signal messenger. That’s a good thing, because the Signal protocol is open source, widely peer-reviewed, and is generally considered one of the best protocols for implementing end-to-end encryption in messaging platforms.

However, WhatsApp does not encrypt backups (cloud or local). Also, it does not encrypt the metadata which is used to carry communication between two endpoints. This is one of the major criticisms of WhatsApp’s security model. While metadata does not allow anyone to read your messages, it lets authorities know whom and when you messaged someone, and for how long.

All in all, WhatsApp does a pretty decent job of ensuring security for its users. That being said, WhatsApp has suffered a couple of major privacy nightmares, especially the recent issue with group chats getting indexed on Google search. That issue has been fixed, however, it was not a good look for the messaging app.


Telegram does offer some level of protection to its users. While Telegram supports E2E encryption, it’s not enabled by default. The only way to use E2E encryption on Telegram is to use its secret chats feature. However, Telegram states that it manages its message storage and decryption keys in a way that one would require court orders from multiple legal systems around the world to be able to access any of your data. The company says that it has shared 0 bytes of data with third-parties and governments to this date.

Telegram groups are not encrypted because Secret Chats are only supported for single-user communication. Moreover, Telegram’s desktop client doesn’t support E2E encryption on any platform other than macOS.


Signal is by far the best when it comes to security, be it on the back-end or the user-facing side of the service. Signal uses the open-source Signal Protocol to implement end-to-end encryption. And just like WhatsApp, the E2E encryption covers all forms of communication on Signal.

Signal goes one step further than others and encrypts your metadata too. To protect user privacy from all corners, Signal devised a new way to communicate between the sender and the recipient and it’s called Sealed Sender. Basically, with Sealed Sender, no one will be able to know not even Signal who is messaging whom, which ensures ultimate privacy. Signal by default encrypts all the local files with a 4-digit passphrase. And if you want to create an encrypted local backup then you can do that as well. The app now also supports encrypted group calls.

All in all, in terms of security and privacy protection, Signal stands head and shoulder above WhatsApp and Telegram and that makes it the most secure messaging app between the three.

What data does each app collect?

Following is the list of data that each of the three messaging apps collects from their users:

Device ID
User ID
Advertising Data
Purchase History
Coarse Location
Phone Number
Email Address
Product Interaction
Crash Data
Performance Data
Other Diagnostic Data
Payment Info
Customer Support
Product Interaction
Other User Content

Contact Info
User ID

None. (The only personal data Signal stores is your phone number)

(Story Courtesy: India Today; Picture Courtesy: Tech Life)

Trump Scrambles To Find New Social Network After Twitter Ban, As White House Prepares To Blast Big Tech

Twitter’s decision to ban President Trump mere days before the end of his term sparked a fierce political backlash among his most fervent allies on Saturday, sending some of his supporters — and the White House itself — scrambling to find another potent tool to communicate online.

Many prominent conservatives — including Brad Parscale, Trump’s former campaign manager, and Rush Limbaugh, the leading voice in right-wing radio — reacted to Trump’s suspension by blasting Twitter, quitting the site outright or encouraging the president’s loyal following to turn to alternative services. Trump himself signaled he is in negotiations to join other social networks, and he raised the possibility he could create a new online platform on his own.

For now, the White House is considering an early push as soon as Monday against Twitter and other tech giants, blasting it for having silenced the president’s ability to reach supporters while calling for fresh regulation against Silicon Valley, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Trump, who is apoplectic about being banned, plans to spend the final days of his term in office railing against the industry, the person said.

Yet Trump’s threats also underscore his reliance on the very social media sites he has long disparaged for perceived political biases. On Twitter, the outgoing president frequently leveraged his more than 88 million followers to savage his rivals, boost allies, and sometimes spread falsehoods on a viral scale.

This vast online reach offered Trump an online megaphone that was unparalleled in American politics. But his rhetoric was also vitriolic — the consequences of which turned deadly after a mob of his supporters seized on his baseless tweets about the 2020 election and stormed the U.S. Capitol this week.

The president and his allies now face a daunting technical and logistical challenge in relocating to a new social network or setting up their own online hub, which is likely to be much smaller than the grand audiences Trump had enjoyed until recently. A shift away from mainstream platforms would mark a retreat to more insular conservative communities and threaten to exacerbate the partisan divisions in a country that Trump already had left on edge.

“For more casual supporters of the president, I think they will receive his messages less frequently,” said Emerson T. Brooking, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who studies issues including disinformation.

“Obviously, he will have millions of hardcore supporters tuned into broadcast sources still carrying his messages, or [they will] go into whatever online space he occupies … but that is going to be a smaller, more devoted group,” Brooking said, expressing fears they may become “extremely radicalized.”

Trump’s removal from Twitter came as part of a broader reckoning late Friday across much of the mainstream Web, as tech giants including Apple, Facebook and Google took unprecedented steps to discipline apps, users and accounts seen as instrumental in stoking the violence that left lawmakers under lockdown earlier in the week.

Before it banned Trump, Twitter removed a slew of users affiliated with QAnon, a prominent conspiracy theory. Google-owned YouTube suspended channels associated with Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former campaign manager. And Apple and Google both removed Parler, a pro-Trump app where users have threatened further violence, from their portals for smartphone software downloads. Apple announced its move late Saturday, saying the app is suspended until it improve its content-moderation practices. Amazon delivered the biggest blow Saturday, saying it would stop offering its web hosting services to Parler, a move that threatens to darken the conservative site indefinitely. (Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post).

The actions reflect a new vigor on the part of Silicon Valley to punish those that have peddled harmful content — from election disinformation to hate speech and violent threats. Congressional lawmakers, digital researchers and human-rights groups praised the moves this week, even as they decried them as too little, too late, coming near the end of Trump’s term.

But the bans amounted to a digital massacre in the eyes of Trump’s conservative allies, many of whom decried them as censorship. One of Trump’s top allies, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), pledged he is “more determined than ever” to try to terminate legal protections for Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, faulting them for censorship. Limbaugh deleted his Twitter account, and fellow talk-radio host Mark Levin also announced he would leave, encouraging users to do the same. The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., posted a widely watched video on Facebook that warned supporters it is only a matter of time until social media companies “inevitably throw us all off the platforms they so heavily censor and regulate only one way.” He solicited Trump supporters to sign up for alerts on his website.

“I’ll let you know where I end up, my father ends up, where we can direct ourselves so we can keep this going,” Trump Jr. said. On Friday, Trump threatened to decamp to a new social networking serving almost immediately after Twitter banned him, vowing he would “not be SILENCED!!” — and promising a “big announcement soon.” More than any other social service, the loss of Twitter seemed to strike a personal note: Trump had been obsessed with the platform, and he loved to post a tweet and time how long it would take to command attention on television. He often would pull out his phone and say, “Watch this, bingbingbing,” recalled senior administration officials. And Trump regularly would tell senators, world leaders and others about his most popular posts, scrolling through his mentions for feedback and ideas. The White House on Saturday declined to comment on the president’s plans or timing.

Already, though, Trump’s team has been inundated with requests for him to join alternate social networks — and his emissaries have entertained conversations with other companies. But Trump has told allies he prefers to launch his own services, according to two aides, who cautioned it may be infeasible and expensive. He also plans to hammer lawmakers in the coming days for failing to repeal Section 230, a provision of federal law that spares tech giants from being held liable for the content posted by their users. Such a repeal could have backfired on Trump, some experts note, resulting in his removal from Twitter sooner.

Parscale, his former campaign manager, encouraged the president on Saturday to strike out on his own. “I believe the best avenue for POTUS is to use his own app to speak to his followers,” he said. If Apple or Google block the service, Parscale added, Trump has “a clear path to a victorious lawsuit against them.”

Even before the Capitol riot led to his suspension, Trump had weighed turning to other social media services. In the summer of 2019, aides to Trump at the White House and others on his reelection campaign discussed joining Parler, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. Trump even invited Parler’s top executive to the White House as part of a broader social media summit that summer where he blasted Silicon Valley over unproven allegations that they censor conservatives online.

A locked, private account with the name @realDonaldTrump — the same username the president once had on Twitter — appears to have sat dormant on the site since this June. The president’s campaign — under the account Team Trump — also has had an active account on Parler dating back to 2018. On Saturday, the Team Trump account blitzed their roughly 3 million followers with posts that faulted Twitter for having censored the president. Parler did not respond to a request for comment.

Another conservative hub online, Gab, took to Twitter to reveal it had a “big call with someone very special” scheduled on Saturday. The company did not mention Trump or anyone else by name, but later tweeted a story mentioning the president’s negotiations with potentially new social services, fueling speculation.

Like other pro-Trump online communities, Gab departs from much of Silicon Valley by eschewing aggressive enforcement against content that its critics see as harmful, dangerous and violent. Asked about Gab’s tweet, the company’s chief executive, Andrew Torba, responded with an insult and otherwise declined to comment. Gab later tweeted Saturday that “threats of violence have no place” on the site, noting it has “tens of thousands of volunteer users” who monitor it.

Several advisers said they believed Trump is unlikely to quickly join an outlet like Parler because he feels it doesn’t have the influence. Earlier this year, the president himself also told aides from the 2020 campaign, the White House and the Republican National Committee that he would have his own platform, but repeatedly declined to name it, saying only it would be coming “soon.”

But the president also would face a daunting task in standing up his own social network, which could be an expensive, time-consuming endeavor. Social media sites are attractive to users only insofar as they manage to capture a large number of them and their friends. Trump may struggle to incubate such an audience given the overtly political nature of his digital endeavor, some experts said.

“It’s very hard to build a new network,” said Yochai Benkler, the co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “Maybe he’s so big and important he could get some millions of people to join a network. The economics will make it much more insular and internal. … Networks benefit from being an option for people to reach lots of different people.”

But Trump’s quest to rebuild his online reach — securing himself a prominent voice as he prepares to relinquish the presidency — marks only the latest effort on the part of Republicans to serve as their own information gatekeepers. The party and its allies dominated talk radio starting in the late 1980s, set their sights on cable news in the ’90s and in more recent years have stood up a wide array of websites that operate under the banner of conservative news. Social media, experts said, is simply the next frontier.

“The quote-unquote liberal bias of the media is not simply an assertion, it’s a taken-for-granted reality on the right,” said Lawrence Rosenthal, the chair of the Center for Right-Wing Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, adding that many conservatives now see the same bias in Silicon Valley. “It is the current incarnation of something that has been taken for granted on the right for decades and decades.”

(Story Courtesy: https://oltnews.com; Picture Courtesy: The Day)


This question, when I heard it for the first time, really raised my blood pressure with a bit of anger raged in my subconscious mind. He was staring at me as if I am a stranger, seeing him for the first time. I have been reading his favorite books and sometimes feeding him for the last few months, all turned futile and null today.
I have been volunteering in a reputed Retirement Home in Kentucky, often with my boss Robert Meihaus during our weekends. This Resident who has been an Executive Officer with Reserve Bank of India for more than 30 years is now under the grip of Alzheimer’s disease. He very rarely speaks and his soft and feeble talks in Kannada and Hindi, could not be recognized by the Caregivers; that is where my services were of great importance to the facility.

Once I understood the depth of the disease tormenting his brain; gradually I became very patient and did spend my time according to his wishes. Every time I went to his room, miserably I was a stranger to him.
In the United States, an estimated 5.4 million people have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This catastrophic figure is growing rapidly with the aging population.
Let me reiterate some thoughts on this tormenting disease I recently read, which elaborates the importance of our Coconut Oil to deal and manage this hiding enemy, which might have already hooked some of our relatives, or maybe awaiting for us at the threshold to creep in at any moment.
One of them to be a model patient on this topic is Mr. Stevenson. His wife, Dr. MarIanne learned that her husband had severe Alzheimer’s disease. (Thanks Dr. Mary and Steve Newport)
“When the doctor examined her husband at the hospital, he asked Stevenson to paint a clock. Instead, he drew a few circles and then drew a few figures without any logic. It was not like a clock at all!.
The doctor pulled her aside and said: “Your husband is already on the verge of severe Alzheimer’s disease!”
It turned out that it was a test of whether a person had Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. MarIanne was very upset at that time, but as a doctor, she would not just give up. She began to study the disease. She found out Alzheimer’s disease was associated with glucose deficiency in the brain.
Her research says: “The dementia of the elderly is like having diabetes in the head! Before one has the symptoms of diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease, the body has already had problems for 10 to 20 years.”
According to Dr. Marianne’s study, Alzheimer’s disease is very similar to Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. The cause is also an insulin imbalance. Because insulin has a problem, it prevents the brain cells from absorbing glucose. Glucose is the nutrition of brain cells. Without glucose, brain cells die. As it turns out, these high-quality proteins are the cells that feed our bodies. But nutrition for our brain cell is glucose. As long as we have mastered the source of these two kinds of food, we are the masters of our own health!
The next question is, where to find glucose? It cannot be the ready-made glucose that we buy from the store. It is not from fruits such as grapes. She started looking for alternatives. Ketones are necessary for brain cells. Ketones cannot be found in vitamins. 
*Coconut oil* contains triglycerides. After the triglycerides in *coconut oil* is consumed, it is metabolized into ketones in the liver. This is the alternative nutrient for brain cells!
After this scientific verification, Dr. Marianne added *coconut oil* to her husband’s food. After only two weeks, when he went to the hospital again to do painting and clock tests, the progress was amazing.
Dr. Marianne said: “At that time, I thought, has God heard my prayers? Wouldn’t it be coconut oil that worked? But there is no other way. Anyway, it’s better to continue taking the*coconut oil*. Dr. Marianne clearly knew the capabilities of traditional medicine. 

This progress was not only intellectual but also emotional and physical.: “He could not do his running earlier, but now he can run. He could not read for a year and a half, but he can read again now after taking *coconut oil* for three months.”
Her husband’s actions had already begun to change. He did not speak in the mornings. Now she noticed a lot of changes: “Now after he gets up, he is spirited, talking and laughing. He drinks water himself and takes utensils for himself on his own.” On the surface, these are very simple daily tasks, but only those who have come to the clinic or have demented relatives at home can experience the joy: It is not easy to see such progress!
After frying the greens & onions in coconut oil, making cakes with coconut, after taking 3 to 4 tablespoons of coconut oil per meal, 2-3 months later, his eyes too can now focus normally.
Her studies proved that *coconut oil* can improve the problem of dementia in the elderly. Apply *coconut oil* to bread. When coconut cream is used, the taste is unexpectedly good.
Dementia is caused because nutrients cannot be transported to brain cells, and nutrients must be passed from the body to the brain by insulin. Especially for diabetic patients it’s not easy to get insulin secretion. “Nutrition cannot get to the brain. When brain cells are starved to death, they are deprived of intelligence.”
*Coconut oil* contains medium-chain triglyceride, which can supply nutrients to the brain without using insulin. So, it can improve Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. You won’t lose anything by trying this, as coconut oil is natural and has no side effects.
I also hear that many scientific studies are happening in clinical trials, to stop the hidden death clock that is inside each of our cells: because many experts affirm that the same death clock is the root cause of virtually all aging and chronic diseases.
Be not be scared to survive in an increasingly dangerous world: though we do not know what is in store for us!

Anshumali Shrivastava Discovers New Way to Filter Fake News

Using machine learning, a team of U.S. researchers led by Indian American computer scientist Anshumali Shrivastava at Rice University has discovered an efficient way for social media companies to keep misinformation from spreading online.
Their method applies machine learning in a smarter way to improve the performance of Bloom filters, a widely used technique devised a half-century ago.
Using test databases of fake news stories and computer viruses, Shrivastava and statistics graduate student Zhenwei Dai showed their Adaptive Learned Bloom Filter required 50 percent less memory to achieve the same level of performance as learned Bloom filters.
To explain their filtering approach, Shrivastava and Dai cited some data from Twitter.
The social media giant recently revealed that its users added about 500 million tweets a day, and tweets typically appeared online one second after a user hit send.
“Around the time of the election they were getting about 10,000 tweets a second, and with a one-second latency that’s about six tweets per millisecond,” Shrivastava said.
“If you want to apply a filter that reads every tweet and flags the ones with information that’s known to be fake, your flagging mechanism cannot be slower than six milliseconds or you will fall behind and never catch up.”
If flagged tweets are sent for an additional, manual review, it’s also vitally important to have a low false-positive rate.
In other words, you need to minimize how many genuine tweets are flagged by mistake.
“If your false-positive rate is as low as 0.1%, even then you are mistakenly flagging 10 tweets per second, or more than 800,000 per day, for manual review,” Shrivastava said.
“This is precisely why most of the traditional AI-only approaches are prohibitive for controlling the misinformation.”
The new approach to scanning social media is outlined in a study presented at the online-only 2020 Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS 2020).
Shrivastava said Twitter doesn’t disclose its methods for filtering tweets, but they are believed to employ a Bloom filter, a low-memory technique invented in 1970 for checking to see if a specific data element, like a piece of computer code, is part of a known set of elements, like a database of known computer viruses.
A Bloom filter is guaranteed to find all code that matches the database, but it records some false positives too.
“A Bloom filter allows to you check tweets very quickly, in a millionth of a second or less. If it says a tweet is clean, that it does not match anything in your database of misinformation, that’s 100% guaranteed,” Shrivastava noted.
Within the past three years, researchers have offered various schemes for using machine learning to augment Bloom filters and improve their efficiency.
“When people use machine learning models today, they waste a lot of useful information that’s coming from the machine learning model,” Dai said.

The Truth Behind The Indian Farmers Protests: Experts Weigh In At Webinar By IAPC

“Media projection is more important on the Farmers’ agitation in India; and as a responsible media club, Indo American Press Club is prompted to impact the mainstream western media for global narrative,” Ambassador Pradeep Kumar Kapoor said while presiding over the Zoom Meeting hosted by Indo-American Press Club (IAPC) on “ What’s the truth behind the Indian Farmers Protest?” on Saturday 26th December 2020.
Since 26 November, farmers have been protesting outside Delhi’s borders, demanding the Farm Bills’ repeal. Indo American Press Club hosted several Zoom Meetings on this complex current issues facing the nation, with vibrant participation by diplomats and political analysts from different parts of the world.
Dr. Joseph Chalil, Chairman of Indo American Press Club introduced and welcomed the invited guest speakers. In his introductory remarks, Dr. Chalil shared with the audience about some of the initiatives under the new leadership, including the series of discussions by world renowned experts from around the world on several current topics including Indo-US Relationship under Biden-Harris administration.
Ambassador Pradeep Kapur, a Best Selling Author of Beyond Covid 19 Pandemic and former Ambassador of India to Chile and to Cambodia, and Secretary at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, was the chair leading the discussions. In his initial observations, he said that the struggle of the Indian farmers has gained much global attention, but remain uncompromised. Instead of holding on the ‘no discussions, until repealing all the bill’ both the farmers and the government need direct discussion for an amicable settlement.
Mr. Yogesh Andley; Director, WHEELS Charitable Foundation, Co-founder of Nucleus Software, explained the background of APMC and the evolution of Mandis nearly 50 years ago. He educated the audience as to how the rice and wheat procured at Rs.18 or Rs.19 reaches at Rs.35 at retail level, but distributed at Rs.2 or Rs.3 providing food security to millions of Indians. He also expressed the fear of the farmers that the private sector may buy at higher prices in the beginning, but lower down the prices dangerously.
Mr. Khanderao Kand, Director of the Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIIDS), a Washington DC-based think tank working on India and Indian-related studies on socioeconomic, political and international security matters, elaborated about how the Indian situation has changed from a poor country to an exporter of food products like rice and wheat. He condensed the view that the Indian government is not closing the ‘Mandis’, but encouraging to open more local markets in each village. He stated that the farmers are afraid that the new laws will lead to contract farming and losing their farmlands to few corporates eventually.
Mr. Vimal Goyal; CPA and also industrialist from Long Island, NY expressed a different perspective on economic considerations. He affirmed the view that the latest one is the most comprehensive farmers bill, as the farmers were left behind with no recognitions so far. He was of the opinion that this bill is going to promote the abundance of rice and wheat. He also mentioned that the poor farmers do not have resources of e-commerce or transporting facilities, and hence they have to resort on the greedy private middlemen, most often.
Dr. Nishit Choksi; a world renowned Interventional Cardiologist from Michigan raised the question who is actually leading the protest- the poor farmers or the greedy middlemen or dalaals?. He narrated the history that no development happened in Punjab or Haryana during the last 30 years, even though many rivers and dams are provided years back. According to him, these laws are nothing new, but good for the nation: the government should properly educate the farmers.
Mr. Narender Kapoor expressed his views to escalate the importance of the situations rather than concentrating on academic discussions. He alerted that the movement and agitation shall not be vulnerable to hijacking.
Dr. Shyam Klvekar from London urged that we need more communication with end-users. Many of the participants raised different questions and were answered by the learned panelists. Ambassador Pradeep Kumar Kapoor summarized the salient features of the diplomatic and analytical discussions.
Dr. Renee Mehrra, a tenacious broadcaster with a burning passion and one of the most prominent broadcast journalists in the tri-state area was the moderator of the event balancing the various issues and views expressed by the participants. The zoom meeting was concluded with the vote of thanks expressed by Ajay Ghosh, Founder President and Present Director of IAPC.

30 Writing Prompts about Love: What is a writing prompt?

A prompt is a writing exercise in the form of a single word, phrase, or even a photo used as a starting point to focus and practice creative writing. This exercise is important for writers of any level to expand their craft and explore new grounds. It can be the inspiration behind an idea, an article, or even a whole work of fiction. The point is to begin writing whether it is on the specific topic of the prompt or an entirely different one that you wander to.
Why use writing prompts?
Overcome writer’s block. There is nothing more daunting than a blinking cursor on your screen. Whether you are in the middle of your piece or trying to come up with something new, a prompt can get you going in a new direction. Resetting your brain to a new angle can be just what you need to finish your work or turn on a creative light bulb.
Expand creatively. Working with prompts can actually be a great way to start building your own ideas. Some prompts can lead you to new avenues that you have not yet explored as a writer. The more you wander into new territories, the more imaginative and creative your writing can be. In addition, the materials you end up writing following a prompt can in fact prove to be worth pursuing. You never know what could come out once you start writing, sometimes, it can be way more than you expected.
Form a habit. If you are an aspiring writer, you might be struggling with making a habit out of writing or finishing your pieces on time. Doing more and more writing exercises can be genuinely beneficial to improve your skills as well as help you write more regularly. The more you train your brain using these prompts, the easier you will find writing to be.
Get immersed in the community. During your search for writing prompts, you will encounter many blogs, forums, and Facebook groups that share ideas, review writing and offer support. Getting involved in these communities can be great for any writer in order to meet like-minded people and form meaningful relationships with fellow writers.
30 writing prompts about love and relationships
Writing about love may seem trivial to some, but it is actually one of the most sought-after genres of fiction. Love is at the core of the human condition, and it is what drives us to do a lot of what we do even if it is irrational or strange. That’s why love is at the center of any powerful story from Wuthering Heights to Star Wars.

It is not the easiest thing to write about love especially with so many clichés out there. To write a realistic and moving love story, whether it is romantic or Platonic, a writer must dig deep within themselves and be truly vulnerable in their expression. It means to look past the clichés and tropes and find the truth between characters.

Even if writing about love is not your forte or your preferred genre, a spice of love in your horror, thriller, or adventure piece of fiction is necessary for an emotional dimension to your storytelling.
So without further ado, here are 30 writing prompts that can inspire your next piece of writing:

  • Friends with benefits: happily ever after or a terrible idea?
  • Enemies forced to work on a common goal: will they or won’t they?
  • Their break up was a mistake but is it too late?
  • They are from different worlds. Can they find a way?
  • Lies have corrupted their relationship. Is there room for a second chance?
  • Forced apart by reasons beyond their control. Will they ever find their way back?
  • Afraid of rejection: what happens when you risk it all for love?
  • Fighting for a cause: romance within the wreckage
  • What happens when they reveal their true supernatural selves?
  • When time travel and love collide in a single second. Can they find each other?
  • They found love in a lucid dream. Can it become a reality?
  • Can love survive with a workaholic partner?
  • How to hold on to the person of your dreams?
  • How to choose the perfect partner for you?
  • How to make your partner feel loved?
  • Signs your relationship is healthy
  • Red flags that mean you need to run from your relationship
  • How does love make you a better person?
  • How can an unhealthy relationship affect you?
  • Communication: the key to a successful relationship
  • Love clichés that actually ring true
  • Unexpected places to meet new people
  • Finding love in a hopeless place
  • The most challenging parts of maintaining a relationship
  • The unforgivable sins of love, lust, and betrayal
  • How to save a failed relationship?
  • Can long distance really work?
  • How to revive romance in a dead relationship?
  • How to heal a broken heart?
  • The power of ‘I love you’

Love is all around us wherever we look. From the love our mothers give us to the support we shower our friends with finding the one, love is an essential part of your story. When you write characters, love has to be part of their story too. These prompts can help you find the angle of romance in your fiction piece or inspire you to write your own version.