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Narendra Modi critics in Canada achieve breakthrough as national media cover Citizenship Amendment Act protests – Straight.com

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Regular readers of Straight.com are well aware of the creeping fascism in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

This is largely thanks to contributor Gurpreet Singh, who’s chronicled ongoing outrages in the country of his birth, including a clampdown on civil liberties in Kashmir and the assassination of journalist Gauri Lankesh.

He’s frequently covered majoritarian violence directed against Muslims and Christians—decried as “beef eaters” by Hindu fanatics—as well as the appalling treatment of Dalits, otherwise known as “untouchables”.

In addition, Singh has written about new books by Arundhati Roy and M.G. Vassanji, who have also raised an alarm about rising discrimination against minorities in the Modi era.

Hindu terrorists have not only escaped punishment, one accused anti-Muslim bomber, Pragya Singh Thakur, was nominated and elected to high political office with Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

Journalist Rana Ayyub has linked the BJP’s president, Amit Shah, to the mass murder of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. He’s the home minister in the Modi government.

But until this weekend, all of these outrages in the world’s so-called largest democracy have been underreported or simply ignored by the Canadian media.

Canadian politicians, with extremely rare exceptions, have also kept their mouths shut about what’s taking place in India.

That cloak of silence was lifted, however, when supporters of secularism in India held rallies this weekend across Canada to protest the Modi government’s Citizenship Amendment Act.

For the first time since Modi visited Canada in 2015, protests against his government in Canadian cities were covered on national newscasts.

The growing outrage in Canada has finally penetrated the national consciousness. The heartbreak felt many South Asian immigrants to Canada over what’s occurring in the subcontinent is finally being acknowledged.

That marks a breakthrough.

However, Canadian politicians avoided these noisy demonstrations and the vast, vast majority of elected officials in this country remain insensitive to the community’s fears about what Modi might do in the future. And these same Canadian politicians have proven to be utterly useless to the brave Indians who challenge the prevailing Hindutva ideology of Hindu supremacy being advanced by Modi and his cohorts in the BJP.

Already, 23 people have died in India in uprisings against the citizenship legislation. It allows people fleeing persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan to obtain Indian citizenship, as long as they’re not Muslims.

Indians Abroad for a Pluralist India held their demonstration in Holland Park in Surrey, B.C.
Jaffar Bhamji

Annie Ohana honoured at protest

Indians Abroad for Pluralist India’s demonstration in Surrey’s Holland Park began with a moment of silence. It was for those who’ve lost their lives in the recent Indian demonstrations.

Speakers included Muslim community leaders Itrath Syed, Furqan Gehlen, and Dawood Ismail; Hindu interfaith chaplain Arun Chatterjee; Sikh activists Gian Singh Gill and Kulwinder Singh; Niovi Patsicakis of the Global Peace Alliance; leftists Prabhjot Kaur Hundal, Rawait Singh, and Joseph Theriault; and educator and former NDP candidate Annie Ohana.

Ohana, who ran in Fleetwood–Port Kells in the last federal election, was presented with a medal of courage by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India for her willingness to speak up about what’s happening in India and her long record of antiracism.

She and another NDP candidate in the last federal election, Svend Robinson, are among the very few who’ve raised Canadians’ awareness about what’s occurring in India. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has also spoken out on the odd occasion.

In contrast, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Industry Minister Navdeep Bains, and members of B.C. premier John Horgan’s cabinet have not leveraged their high political positions to advance the cause of human rights in India since Modi became prime minister.

This is despite growing outrage among the South Asian diaspora, which is now seeping into the Canadian mainstream.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah embrace a radical form of Hindu nationalism known as Hindutva.

Another genocide around the corner?

In the words of Amnesty International, the Indian state is “criminalizing protest”.

Ominously, the Modi government plans to extend a National Register of Citizens from the northeastern state of Assam to all of India by 2021. If that happens, everyone will carry national identity cards.

The cabinet minister who will oversee this is none other than Amit Shah, the same minister who shut down the Internet in Kashmir, which is the only Muslim-majority region in the country. Politicians have been jailed and an entire region was turned into an open-air prison.

This has prompted fears that the BJP, which argues that India is a Hindu nation, may embark on a genocide against Muslims along the lines of what occurred in Gujarat in 2002 when Modi was the state’s chief minister.

It’s worth reviewing the words of Arundhati Roy in an essay about the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat.

“The genocide began as collective punishment for an unsolved crime—the burning of a railway coash in which fifty-three Hindu pilgrims burned to death,” she writes in My Seditious Heart. “In a carefully planned orgy of supposed retaliation, two thousand Muslims were slaughtered in broad daylight by squads of armed killers, organized by fascist militias, and backed by the Gujarat government and the administration of the day.

“Muslim women were gang-raped and burned alive,” Roy continues. “Muslim shops, Muslim businesses, and Muslim shrines and mosques were systematically destroyed. Two thousand were killed and more than one hundred thousand people were driven from their homes.” 

Later in that same essay, she points out that the Congress politician who campaigned against Modi was “publicly butchered”. After Ehsan Jafri was cut to pieces, his body was set on fire so he could be burned alive.

“While the mob that lynched Jafri, murdered several people, and gang-raped twelve women—before burning them alive—was gathering, the Ahmedabad commissioner of police, P.C. Pandey, was kind enough to visit the neighbourhood,” Roy writes. “After Modi was reelected, Pandey was promoted and made Gujarat’s director general of police. The entire killing apparatus remains in place.”

Yes, the killing apparatus remains in place.

And the Canadian government, which professes such a keen interest in human rights, can’t be bothered to utter a peep of concern.

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Facebook’s safety head tells UK lawmakers it does not amplify hate

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Facebook Inc‘s https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebooks-zuckerberg-kicks-off-its-virtual-reality-event-with-metaverse-vision-2021-10-28 algorithms demote rather than promote polarising content, its global head of safety told British lawmakers on Thursday, adding that the U.S. company would welcome effective government regulation.

Governments in Europe and the United States are grappling with regulating social media platforms to reduce the spread of harmful content, particularly for young users.

Britain is leading the charge by bringing forward laws that could fine social media companies up to 10% of their turnover if they fail to remove or limit the spread of illegal content.

Secondary legislation that would make company directors liable could be proposed if the measures do not work.

Facebook https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-asks-employees-preserve-internal-documents-legal-inquiries-2021-10-27 whistleblower Frances Haugen https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-sees-safety-cost-whistleblower-says-2021-10-25 told the same committee of lawmakers on Monday that Facebook’s algorithms pushed extreme and divisive content to users.

Facebook’s Antigone Davis denied the charge.

“I don’t agree that we are amplifying hate,” Davis told the committee on Thursday, adding: “I think we try to take in signals to ensure that we demote content that is divisive for example, or polarising.”

She said she could not guarantee a user would not be recommended hateful content, but Facebook was using AI to reduce its prevalence to 0.05%.

“We have zero interest in amplifying hate on our platform and creating a bad experience for people, they won’t come back,” she said. “Our advertisers won’t let it happen either.”

Davis said Facebook, which announced on Thursday it would rebrand as Meta, wanted regulators to contribute to making social media platforms safer, for example in research into eating disorders or body image.

“Many of these are societal issues and we would like a regulator to play a role,” she said, adding Facebook would welcome a regulator with “proportionate and effective enforcement powers”.

“I think criminal liability for directors is a pretty serious step and I’m not sure we need it to take action.”

 

(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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Facebook to be called Meta in nod to its ‘metaverse’ vision

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Facebook Inc is now called Meta, the company said on Thursday, in a rebrand that focuses on its ambitions building the “metaverse,” a shared virtual environment that it bets will be the next big computing platform.

The rebrand comes as the world’s largest social media company battles criticisms from lawmakers and regulators over its market power, algorithmic decisions and the policing of abuses on its platforms.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg, speaking at the company’s live-streamed virtual and augmented reality conference, said the new name reflected its ambitions to build the metaverse, rather than its namesake social media service.

The metaverse, a term first coined in a dystopian novel three decades ago and now attracting buzz in Silicon Valley, refers broadly to the idea of a shared virtual environment which can be accessed by people using different devices.

“Right now, our brand is so tightly linked to one product that it can’t possibly represent everything that we’re doing today, let alone in the future,” said Zuckerberg.

The company, which has invested heavily in augmented and virtual reality, said the change would bring together its different apps and technologies under one new brand. It said it would not change its corporate structure.

The tech giant, which reports about 2.9 billion monthly users, has faced increasing scrutiny in recent years from global lawmakers and regulators.

In the latest controversy, whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-sees-safety-cost-whistleblower-says-2021-10-25 leaked documents which she said showed the company chose profit over user safety. Zuckerberg earlier this week said the documents were being used to paint a “false picture.”

The company said in a blog post that it intends to start trading under the new stock ticker it has reserved, MVRS, on Dec. 1. On Thursday, it unveiled a new sign at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, replacing its thumbs-up “Like” logo with a blue infinity shape.

Facebook said this week that its hardware division Facebook Reality Labs, which is responsible for AR and VR efforts, would become a separate reporting unit and that its investment in it would reduce this year’s total operating profit by about $10 billion. The unit will now be called Reality Labs, its head Andrew “Boz” Bosworth tweeted on Thursday.

Zuckerberg said the new name also reflects that over time, users will not need to use Facebook to use the company’s other services.

This year, the company created a product team focused on the metaverse and it recently announced plans to hire 10,000 employees in Europe over the next five years to work on the effort.

Facebook shares were up 3.7% at $323.81 on Thursday afternoon.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in New York and Sheila Dang in DallasEditing by Ken Li and Matthew Lewis)

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg lays out ‘metaverse’ vision at developers event

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Facebook Inc CEO Mark Zuckerberg said privacy and safety would need to be built into the metaverse, as he opened the company’s annual conference on virtual and augmented reality on Thursday.

Facebook continues to battle criticism over its market power, its content moderation practices and harms linked to its social media platforms. The tech giant, which reports about 2.9 billion monthly users, has faced increasing scrutiny in recent years from global lawmakers and regulators.

In the latest controversy, whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-sees-safety-cost-whistleblower-says-2021-10-25 leaked documents which she said showed the company chose profit over user safety. Zuckerberg earlier this week said the documents were being used to paint a “false picture.”

The metaverse, a term first coined in a dystopian novel three decades ago and now attracting buzz in Silicon Valley, refers broadly to the idea of a shared virtual environment which can be accessed by people using different devices.

Zuckerberg has increasingly been promoting the idea of Facebook, which has invested heavily in augmented and virtual reality, as a “metaverse” company https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-sets-up-new-team-work-metaverse-2021-07-26 rather than a social media one.

The CEO, speaking during the live-streamed Facebook Connect event, gave examples of privacy and safety controls that would be needed in the metaverse, such as the ability to block someone from appearing in your space. Zuckerberg is betting that the metaverse will be the next big computing platform, calling it “the successor to the mobile internet.”

The whistleblower documents, which were first reported by the Wall Street Journal, show internal research and employee discussions on Instagram’s effects on the mental health of teens and whether Facebook stokes divisions, as well as its handling of activity around the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and inconsistencies in content moderation for users around the globe.

The company gave a slew of updates for its VR and AR products. It said it would this year launch a way for people using its Oculus VR headset to call friends using Facebook Messenger and for people to invite others to a social version of their home, dubbed “Horizon Home,” to talk and play games as avatars.

Facebook also said it would introduce a way for Oculus Quest users to use different 2D apps like Slack, Dropbox and Facebook while in this “Horizon Home” VR space.

The company, which began a beta test of its virtual meeting spaces “Horizon Workrooms” earlier this year, said it was working on ways of customizing these with company logos and designs and said it would be bringing more work capabilities into consumer Quest devices. It also announced new fitness offerings for Oculus Quest users.

Facebook said this week that its hardware division Facebook Reality Labs, which is responsible for AR and VR efforts, would become a separate reporting unit and that its investment in it would reduce this year’s total operating profit by about $10 billion.

This year, Facebook created a product team focused on the metaverse and it recently announced plans to hire 10,000 employees in Europe over the next five years to work on the effort.

Facebook also said it would run a $150 million education program aimed at helping AR and VR creators and developers.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in New York and Sheila Dang in DallasEditing by Matthew Lewis)

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