Scathing allegations of a mass drugging and sexual assault at a Western University residence during Orientation Week go viral on social media.
Scathing allegations of a mass drugging and sexual assault at a Western University residence during Orientation Week go viral on social media.
Police and university administration react quickly to the online reports as students organize a campus-wide walkout that draws 10,000 people.
Welcome to the new digital frontier in the fight against sexual violence, say policing and gender violence experts.
“There’s no doubt the amount of social media attention, which also galvanized mainstream media attention, was a major motivator for police and the university to really act and take this seriously,” said Barb MacQuarrie, community director of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western’s faculty of education.
“It just blew the lid off the problem in a way that we’ve never seen before. This is not possible when you have individual complainants coming forward through what needs to be confidential avenues.”
London police made direct contact with more than 600 students while investigating online allegations of drugging and sexual assault at Medway-Sydenham Hall affecting upward of 30 women, but after nearly three weeks, no complainants have come forward.
The investigation remains open, as police recognize individuals may not feel comfortable coming forward with a complaint immediately.
When it comes to gender-based violence, there is a long-standing reliance on formal complaints or individuals coming forward to police, MacQuarrie said.
Even five years ago, it would have been common for an institution to dismiss unverified reports made on social media and react only to complaints made through official channels, she said.
What’s different this time is how Western administration responded to the social media allegations.
“Rather than saying these are only social media reports that can’t be validated and they need someone to come forward before they can act, they just said, ‘We accept that there’s a problem,’ ” MacQuarrie said.
“We can never underestimate how important a step that is. That is an absolute turning point in the way we deal with the problem. It’s a really big change.”
When reports of crime on social media gain significant attention, police are often compelled to respond — not simply because of the seriousness of the allegations, but also to preserve their image and public trust, said Chris Schneider, a sociology professor at Brandon University who researches technology, social media and its impact on policing.
Police departments are also operating amid harsh criticism of their handling of gender-based violence complaints in the past, said Stacey Hannem, a criminology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University.
“There’s a long history of police not paying very much attention to sexual violence at all,” she said.
“I think we’re seeing a bit of reflexivity on the part of police, saying ‘We recognize that this is a problem and we’re going to investigate it anyway and see if there’s any evidence we can verify independently,’ without necessarily relying on people to take the step and come forward themselves.”
Hannem and Schneider have co-authored an upcoming book, Defining Sexual Misconduct, on the dynamics between public accusations, social media and criminal justice.
While social media is a way for people to speak out about sexual violence on their own terms, using online platforms to draw attention to alleged criminal behaviour is not without pitfalls, Schneider and Hannem said.
With the sheer volume of material posted on social media, there’s no way police can follow up on every allegation that makes its way online, Schneider said.
More significantly, police and institutions may have a tendency to respond only to the loudest and most privileged voices on social media, the ones that command the most public attention, Schneider said. There are equity concerns for marginalized voices that don’t have a social media megaphone.
“When we look at sex workers, Indigenous women or otherwise marginalized women, they might have less of a social media following than others, less of an ability to boost their signal and subsequently less of an ability to attract police attention or investigations,” Schneider said.
Social media presents a “double-edged” sword for policing that warrants more discussion, said James Walsh, an associate professor of criminology and justice at Ontario Tech University.
“It provides the police with tons of information, and potentially very relevant information, that previously would have remained private,” he said.
“On the other hand . . . they are having to police the facts of what comes out online, what’s actionable and reliable and what’s purely rumours and speculation.”
Other than posts that go viral or attract significant public attention, there is often limited transparency about what social media allegations make their way to a full-blown police investigation, Walsh said.
“What there is a lack of now is a set of coherent policies and procedures. How police deal with digital evidence and social media can vary widely from department to department,” he said.
“There probably needs to be a clearer set of guidelines.”
As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Donald Trump announced Wednesday night that he will be launching his own social media network, the embarrassingly named TRUTH Social. For those of you scratching your heads and wondering, But wait, didn’t Trump already launch a new social media company? you are likely thinking of (1) one of the right-wing networks tangentially associated with the ex-president, like Gab, Parler, or Gettr, or (2) something called “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” the blog that published Trump’s comments and was shut down after just a month because it had almost no readers.
Obviously, the lack of readers was upsetting to the former president, who spent much of the last decade tweeting every deranged thought that came into his head, from “I would like to extend my best wishes to all, even the haters and losers, on this special date, September 11th” to “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE” to “An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud.” Unfortunately for Trump, his ban from Twitter, on account of inciting an insurrection, remains in effect. Hence, TRUTH Social.
Like most Trump initiatives, TRUTH Social is incredibly cringeworthy and embarrassing. For one thing, before it even launched, per The Washington Post, patriotic pranksters were able to find a seemingly unreleased version and post “a picture of a defecating pig to the ‘donaldjtrump’ account,” causing it to be pulled offline. For another, the network’s terms of service dictate that users must refrain from “excessive use of capital letters,” i.e., the only way Donald Trump knows how to type. Then there’s also the fact that TRUTH Social, billed as a vehicle for “stand[ing] up to the tyranny of Big Tech,” which conservatives claim hates free speech, prohibits users from saying anything to “disparage, tarnish, or otherwise harm, in our opinion, us and/or the Site.” Meanwhile, the whole thing is basically a crappier version of Twitter. Per the Post:
So yes, the whole thing already looks like a big flop that will no doubt have very few users, and Trump himself will probably get bored of the app and only post there sporadically. But in this case, it doesn‘t actually matter, and Trump might have actually figured out a way to make millions despite the product being a joke. How? We’re glad you asked!
TRUTH Social is being formed through a merger of a new company set up by Trump, the Trump Media & Technology Group, and a special purpose acquisition company, a.k.a. a SPAC. SPACs, which are all the rage these days for reasons that will soon become clear, are shell companies that are listed on exchanges like the NYSE or the Nasdaq and exist for the one and only purpose of merging with companies that want to go public—like the Trump Media & Technology Group. In this case, the SPAC TMTG will merge with is called Digital World Acquisition Corp., which is run by a guy named Patrick Orlando, a former investment banker who once cofounded a sugar-trading company. As Axios’s Dan Primack tweeted this morning, “Trump social media SPAC thing filed SEC paperwork this morning, but it’s basically just the press release again. Nothing of substance, including management, etc. So far, this is a shell buying a shell.” Normally, this would be pretty embarrassing for a company, but in this case, due to the SPAC of it all, plus Trump’s uniquely gullible supporters, it doesn’t matter.
As Bloomberg’s Matt Levine writes:
As Levine notes, and as we’ve learned from other SPACs over the last few years, “if you go public by merging your private company with a special purpose acquisition company, then you can just make up whatever you want and no one will check.“ Is that actually the law? No, but in practice, it’s basically how SPACs work and is obviously incredibly appealing to Team Trump. Basically, they can get rich without actually having a profitable or even functioning social media network.
Here’s Levine again:
Want proof? Here’s some depressing news from CNBC:
So yeah, TRUTH Social appears to be just as much of a joke as “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” but in this case, Donald J. Trump might actually make some real money off of it, which he definitely needs considering he’s reportedly in debt for $1 billion.
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Joe Manchin says Dems are unlikely to reach an agreement on social safety net programs “anytime soon”
Conveniently, the senator from West Virginia left out the part about how he is the one leading the charge to scale back initiatives that might actually help people, many of whom are children. Per Reuters:
Manchin has been adamant that child tax credits must include work requirements, which, among other things, would penalize households in which children are being raised by their grandparents. He has also explained to protesters that he doesn‘t support the expansion of Medicare from the deck of his yacht.
Don’t be coming at Republicans with facts!
FDA authorizes Moderna and J&J boosters, says people can get a shot different from original dose (The Washington Post)
Pfizer-BioNTech Booster Shot Restores Full Covid Protection (Bloomberg)
Democrats Look for Tax Options If They Have to Ditch Rate Hikes (Bloomberg)
Texas targets Roe v. Wade, urges U.S. Supreme Court to maintain abortion ban (Reuters)
The Elizabeth Holmes trial: The prosecution produces a smoking gun (Insider)
Prosecutors urge conviction of Giuliani associate (Politico)
Grateful Dead T-shirt auctioned for a record-breaking $17,640 (UPI)
Accused Burglar Said Motive Was Desire to “See His Imaginary Girlfriend Emma” (TSG)
Pablo Escobar’s Cocaine Hippos Are Legally People, Court Rules (Gizmodo)
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Shabir Ahmadi started his job at TOLO TV, Afghanistan’s largest private broadcaster, during one of the darkest days for the media in the war-torn nation: January 21, 2016.
The evening before, a Taliban suicide bomber had killed a graphic designer, video editor, set decorator, three dubbing artists and a driver who worked for TOLO’s entertainment wing.
When he arrived at the TOLO office the next morning, the guards at the door were confused and still grief-stricken. They had no idea what to do with Ahmadi. They looked at the then 24-year-old, who had just ended his job with TOLO’s main rival, 1TV, and asked him if he was “crazy” to start work at a network that had come under direct attack only hours ago.
Because the news never stops, not even when your organisation becomes the news, Ahmadi started his job less than a week later.
After that, reporting on the deaths of their colleagues by suicide bombers, unidentified gunmen and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) became a routine as the Taliban, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K) and unknown armed groups continued to target journalists over the next five years.
Still, Ahmadi and thousands of other media workers across Afghanistan, most of them in their 20s and 30s, continued their work undeterred. Newsrooms and production houses full of young men and women worked together to make the country’s media the freest in the region, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) watchdog.
But all that changed on August 15.
First came the news that former President Ashraf Ghani and top cabinet officials had fled the country. Then came reports that the Taliban, which had just entered the districts of Kabul province early that morning, was heading into the capital city.
Suddenly, the memories of the bombings and killings came flooding back. Ahmadi, who was then deputy head of news at TOLO, met the network’s top management and immediately came to two decisions.
“The first thing we did was send all the female staff home,” Ahmadi told Al Jazeera over the phone from Europe.
The other decision they made was controversial but necessary, he said. They immediately stopped broadcasting music and entertainment programmes. The Turkish serials, game shows, singing competitions, talk shows and sketch comedy shows that millions of people tuned into every evening came to a sudden end.
Though the Taliban had made no official declarations on programming at the time, Ahmadi said the decision was a preemptive one.
“If you understood the fear that night, you would see why we came to such a decision,” he told Al Jazeera.
Ahmadi said he now regrets that decision, but that at the time, it seemed like a necessary one. “We wanted to be the ones to cut them off, not the Taliban,” he said.
Ahmadi said he tried to work as a journalist in the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate, but it quickly became clear that would be too difficult. There were reports of the Taliban torturing journalists, confiscating their equipment, beating them on the streets of main cities, jailing them for weeks at a time and instituting new restrictive media laws.
By September, Ahmadi was among hundreds of other Afghan journalists and media workers, including his TOLO colleagues, who had fled the country.
The exodus of journalists has led to serious questions about the future of the media in Afghanistan, where a free press was one of the few real gains to come out of 20 years of Western occupation.
Steven Butler, the Asia programme coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), says the current media situation in Afghanistan resembles that of Myanmar.
Like Afghanistan, Myanmar also experienced a recent political upheaval that saw the end of a controversial semi-democratic Western-supported government and led to an immediate flight of the country’s media workers.
Butler fears that, like Myanmar, the future of Afghanistan’s media is “bleak”, but he understands why so many journalists left both the countries, operating in exile.
“[It] is not ideal, but it is better than being in jail or killed,” he told Al Jazeera by telephone.
Though some Afghans have already resumed their work from abroad, Butler said Afghans will have a much more difficult time than the people of Myanmar when it comes to restarting their work in exile.
“In Myanmar, there was already much more of a precedent and infrastructure for journalists to operate in exile,” he said.
For Ahmadi, the flight of journalists is especially difficult to bear because the media was one industry where thousands of young people felt heard and challenged at the same time.
Ahmadi describes his years at TOLO and 1TV as a time when he “felt free and supported”.
“Whenever we would present an idea to them, they would say, ‘Great, go do it.’ There really wasn’t anything we were discouraged from trying,” he says, reminiscing about his days at two of the nation’s top-ranked TV stations.
Butler says CPJ is trying to establish contacts with the Taliban to advocate for the rights of the Afghan reporters, but that has proven difficult so far. He says the Islamic Emirate promises it will investigate matters, but has yet to present any actual findings.
Abdullah Khenjani, the former director of news at 1TV, the nation’s second-largest private broadcaster, says if the Taliban truly believes in the free media, as it said shortly after taking power, then they must prove it with their actions.
“So far, the Taliban has not been able to buy public confidence and secure a safe environment for critical journalism in particular,” he said.
That commitment to free media came under renewed scrutiny on Thursday, when CPJ reported the Taliban beat three journalists covering a small women’s protest in one of the busiest areas of Kabul.
Once again, the organisation said the Taliban did not respond to their requests for comment on the incident, which came just a month after the group detained, beat and flogged journalists covering a similar demonstration.
Other journalists Al Jazeera spoke to agreed with Khenjani’s assessment, saying they have faced pushback while trying to report on several issues over the last two months.
Journalists who were beaten and tortured for reporting on protests in Kabul last month told Al Jazeera they have been warned by Taliban officials not to cover such events.
Likewise, journalists also recalled being stopped by the Taliban from reporting from the northern province of Panjshir where an armed resistance against the group started after it took over Kabul.
Abdul Farid Ahmad, the former deputy director for operations at TOLO News, references all of these events when speaking about his efforts to continue working in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
“They have beaten journalists many times. They didn’t let journalists cover the women’s protests. They didn’t let journalists go to Panjshir when it was not under their control. We have so many examples that the Taliban didn’t and still don’t want journalists to work freely,” he told Al Jazeera.
In a recent report, the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC) described the killing of a journalist by unknown gunmen and seizures of two media outlets in the east and the north as examples of the Islamic Emirate failing to ensure safety of the media.
Like CPJ, the AJSC also says the Taliban has failed to provide details of promised investigations into abuses against journalists.
“I don’t know any journalist who is willing to work with the Taliban, but I do know a lot of journalists who left the country and many others who want to leave the country. Journalists don’t feel safe in Afghanistan,” said Ahmad.
The exodus has greatly affected the quality of reporting in the country. In a recent statement, the AJSC said, “Media reporting quality has reached to its lowest level in the last 20 years.”
Journalists Al Jazeera spoke to over the last two months say they have faced great difficulty in getting sources ranging from hospital officials to other media workers and even average citizens in remote areas to go on the record for their reports.
Khenjani, the former news director at 1TV, says the fears are due to the Taliban’s “rudimentary government structure” which is sorely lacking in qualified professionals and “incoherent policies” which vary from province to province. This, he says, has affected the relationship between media and even their most stellar sources.
The AJSC went on to say that 70 percent of the media outlets across the country have closed in the two months since the Taliban came to power.
It is not just physical danger that is leading to these closures. Foreign governments and donor organisations have slashed funding to the nation since the Taliban’s takeover. The media was one of the industries most reliant on foreign aid.
Large outlets such as TOLO claim to be self-sufficient based on advertisement sales, a privilege Ahmadi acknowledges few others enjoy.
“For years, we charged some of the highest ad fees. At the time, we could do that.”
Ahmadi says those reserves may help TOLO outlast the current financial crisis, but smaller organisations are not so well-placed to deal with the situation.
Butler from CPJ agrees. “When an economy collapses, so too does the market for ads,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that it will be very difficult for many outlets to continue operations under the current financial constraints.
The overarching unease does not bode well for the Afghan media going forward, said the journalists Al Jazeera spoke to.
“I don’t know how much longer the private media can afford to go on,” said Ahmad.
Khenjani lamented the continued shrinking of the Afghan media. “In Afghanistan, the media works best when it can try to speak truth to power and hold the powerful to account,” he said.
Khenjani said while they “often faltered” with the former Islamic republic, they at least had the chance “to try and challenge the government narrative”.
Today, he says, that is no longer possible. “The Taliban will never accept the kinds of scrutiny and investigations that were conducted during the republic.”
A warning from Snap Inc. is rattling technology investors who have got used to turbocharged growth in ad spending on social media.
Executives from the maker of Snapchat said Thursday that supply-chain bottlenecks are prompting companies to hold back on online ad spend for the upcoming holiday season, meaning sales will rise by only around 30 per cent in the fourth quarter compared to analyst estimates of nearly 50 per cent.
The comments took the market by surprise and set the company’s stock on course for its biggest ever decline.
The announcement adds to growing concerns over whether the wall of money that’s been shifted from traditional marketing to social media in recent years is being well spent.
Social media will account for 39 per cent of ad budgets next year, even though they will only represent 21 per cent of daily media consumption, according to a study from industry researcher WARC on Thursday. The discrepancy adds up to a gap of US$94 billion, it said.
It’s been getting harder to judge whether social media ad spend is really working because Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google are making it more difficult for advertisers to track consumers online.
That also poses a risk to the revenues of Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. Shares in both companies dropped after the Snap announcement, reflecting concerns that some marketing budgets will simply be redirected from social media.
Europe’s biggest ad agency networks WPP Plc and Publicis Groupe SA traded flat to slightly higher on Friday.
There’s little sign that the broader transfer of advertising dollars to platforms like Instagram and TikTok will end soon, or that the global crisis in supply chains is leading brands to rethink their ad strategies.
Clients in consumer goods, retail, automotive and electronics “continue to spend, continue to shift spend to digital and there have been no instances of any pullbacks,” said Martin Sorrell, chairman of S4 Capital Plc. “The comments around supply chain issues simply don’t reflect what we are seeing. In fact, we are experiencing the opposite.”
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