Death sentence over Facebook post amid Pakistan crackdown

A Pakistan government crackdown on freedom of speech online has reached worrying new levels, activists say, after a young man was sentenced to death over a series of Facebook posts.

On Saturday, 30-year-old Taimoor Raza became the first person to receive a death sentence in a Pakistan anti-terrorism court for “using derogatory remarks … in respect of the Holy Prophet” on social media.

Amnesty International’s Pakistan campaigner, Nadia Rahman, said in a statement the conviction set a “dangerous precedent.”

“No one one should be hauled before an anti-terrorism court or any other court solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief online,” she said.

Human rights advocates said 2017 has seen an unprecedented crackdown by the government on Pakistanis’ freedom of speech on the internet and in social media.

In January, the government shut down the websites and blogs of four online activists who regularly campaigned for humans rights and religious freedom, according to Human Rights Watch, right after they went missing simultaneously.

They were later released. There is no proven involvement of the government in their abductions.

Pakistan Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said in March “nothing can be greater than our religion to us” in stopping blasphemy on the internet.

“If social media platforms do not cooperate with us despite all our efforts, then we will take the strictest of measures against such platforms in the country,” he said.

In May, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority sent millions of citizens a text message warning them against sharing blasphemy online.

“The uploading and sharing of blasphemous content on the internet is a punishable action under the law. Such content should be reported for legal action,” the alert said.

Usama Khilji, director of the freedom of speech NGO Bolo Bhi, told CNN asking citizens to report each others actions online encouraged “mob justice.”

“Asking people to record cases of blasphemy online (means) the state’s responsibility is being transferred onto citizens,” he said.

Laws ‘open to abuse’

It isn’t just the freedom of speech laws in the spotlight after the Facebook ruling — blasphemy laws in Pakistan have long been controversial, including a mandatory death sentence for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

A 2016 report by Amnesty International found the laws are “open to abuse” and anyone who is accused is usually presumed to be guilty, leaving them open to mob retribution.

There were 91 blasphemy cases concerning the Prophet or his companions registered between 2011 and 2015, the report said.

Specific blasphemy laws which punished perceived insults to Islam were introduced between 1980 and 1986, during a period of martial law under the military government of General Zia-ul-Haq. They were never removed once martial law ended.

The laws have been recently extended to acts committed on the Internet and social media. In March, three people were arrested for posting allegedly blasphemous content online.

No one has ever been executed under the law, but in the past year, violent public responses to accusations of blasphemy have raised further concerns from activists.

In April, a young man was brutally beaten to death by his fellow students at a university in Mardan, after being accused of blasphemy on campus. Fifty-seven people were arrested after the lynching. The man himself was later acquitted by authorities two months after he was killed.

In her statement, Rahman said the government should instead be holding to account those who have lynched alleged blasphemers rather than arresting young men accused online.

‘Miscarriage of justice’

Prosecutor Shafique Qureshi told CNN Taimoor Raza was accused of regularly sharing “blasphemous pictures and status updates” on his Facebook page, which criticized the companions of the prophet and the prophet himself.

Raza was arrested on 5 April at a bus stop where he was listening loudly to blasphemous content on his phone, according to Qureshi.

The images were found on his phone and his Facebook page and were examined by Islamic studies professors and found to be blasphemous. Raza is now being held in a so-called high treason jail in Sialkot.

But Raza’s lawyer Fida Hussain Rana said his client was innocent and had been set up on social media.

“Two individuals … instigated Taimoor on Facebook Chat to get him to say things against the Prophet Muhammad. Taimoor never said anything blasphemous,” he said in a statement.

Rana said the trial was a “miscarriage of justice” and that there would be an appeal within two days.

A spokesman for Facebook said in a statement the social media site was “deeply saddened and concerned” by the sentence. “We do not provide any government with direct access to people’s data,” he said.

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Facebook misled EU officials over WhatsApp deal

Facebook has been fined €110 million ($122 million) for misleading European officials about its takeover of WhatsApp.

As part of a regulatory review of the merger, Facebook told the European Commission in 2014 that it would not be able to match up existing user profiles with WhatsApp phone numbers.

Two years later it did exactly that.

The European Commission said Thursday that Facebook staff knew at the time of the review that it was technically possible.

It’s the first time Europe’s antitrust agency has fined a company for providing misleading information about a takeover. But it won’t have an impact on the deal, which was completed in October 2014.

Facebook paid $19 billion for WhatsApp, by far its largest acquisition ever. Using the messaging app’s data allows Facebook to target its ads better, boosting profits.

“Today’s decision sends a clear signal to companies that they must comply with all aspects of EU merger rules, including the obligation to provide correct information,” said Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s top antitrust official.

Facebook said it had made an honest mistake.

“We’ve acted in good faith since our very first interactions with the Commission and we’ve sought to provide accurate information at every turn,” the company said in a statement.

“The errors we made in our 2014 filings were not intentional and the Commission has confirmed that they did not impact the outcome of the merger review,” it added.

Facebook’s fine is the latest in a series of legal headaches for big U.S. companies in Europe.

Apple, Amazon and Google are facing antitrust, tax avoidance and data protection probes.

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Instagram rips off Snapchat, again — this time with face filters

Facebook, which in recent months has copied many of Snapchat’s features, is back at it again.

Facebook-owned Instagram on Tuesday announced several new features, including face filters similar to the ones Snapchat debuted about 19 months ago that turned users into puppies and puking rainbow faces.

Instagram is starting out with eight filters, including furry koala ears and tiaras. Some of the filters — like Snapchat’s — also work with a second person in the frame.

To use the new face filters on Instagram, swipe into the camera and look for a new face icon in the bottom right-hand corner. Tap to view and try on different filters for your face. Then take a photo, video or Boomerang (Instagram’s app that makes short videos that loop back and forth).

Last August, Instagram launched Stories — a clone of Snapchat’s photo and video posts that are shared by users and disappear after 24 hours. The move is potentially hurting Snapchat.

Snapchat added only five million daily active users in the final three months of last year, down from at least 10 million added in each of the previous four quarters. That slowdown coincided with Instagram launching the copycat feature.

In its most recent quarter, Snapchat parent company Snap reported 166 million daily active users, an addition of just eight million from the prior quarter. Last month, Instagram said Stories had more than 200 million daily active users — or more than the number of daily users for Snapchat in total.

Facebook also introduced a nearly identical Stories feature on its namesake platform in late March, but it hasn’t been widely adopted. It now also offers similar features on Messenger and WhatsApp.

On an earnings call with analysts last week, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel finally fired back at Facebook. “If you want to be a creative company, you have got to be comfortable with and basically enjoy the fact that people copy your stuff,” Spiegel said.

Instagram on Tuesday also revealed a new “rewind” mode that plays a video in reverse — another feature Snapchat already offers.

“Drop a microphone and watch it fly up into your hand. Capture a fountain in motion and share a rewind of the water floating back up. Experiment with some magic tricks of your own and defy the laws of physics wherever you are,” Instagram wrote in a blog post.

The company also added a new hashtag sticker and the ability to make a custom hashtag with simple text. By tapping the hashtag, users can explore related content.

And finally, Instagram unveiled an eraser tool. After taking a photo or video, users can select a drawing tool and tap and hold to fill the entire screen with color. Then, using the eraser brush, they can show parts of the photo or video underneath.

Snapchat revealed its own “magic eraser” feature — just last week.

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Teen’s Wendy’s tweet is third most popular of all time

A Nevada teen is now credited with having the third most popular tweet of all time after he asked Wendy’s for free chicken nuggets for a year.

According to USA Today, Carter Wilkerson, 16, is on track to win free chicken nuggets for a year by garnering 2.6 million retweets as of Wednesday morning. Wilkerson’s initial tweet asked how many retweets it would take to win the food, and Wendy’s responded by telling the teen he’d need 18 million.

Wilkerson’s tweet is third only to Ellen DeGeneres’ famous Oscar tweet that earned 3.2 million retweets, and Barack Obama’s “Four more years.” tweet that gathered 900,000 retweets.

Wilkerson’s parents are lobbying for Wendy’s to donate the prize, or to consider another form of reward to give to those in need. Wilkerson says it would be nice to receive a consolation prize, and many of his followers agree.


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Nivea pulls ‘white is purity’ advert after outcry

Nivea has withdrawn an advert that was branded racist on social media and shared by right-wing groups.

The German skincare maker’s ad for a deodorant included a picture of a woman and the slogan “white is purity.”

It was posted on Nivea’s Middle East Facebook page with the caption: “Keep it clean, keep it bright. Don’t let anything ruin it.”

The post sparked a backlash, with social media users accusing Nivea of being racist and insensitive.

“Come on Nivea. This is so racist that I do not even know where to begin. Speechless. In future, refer to clothes or products, not colors,” Scott Bellows posted on Twitter.

Beiersdorf, the Hamburg-based company that owns Nivea, Eucerin and other skincare brands, said it decided to take the advert down due to what it called “concerns about ethnic discrimination.”

“We are deeply sorry to anyone who may take offense to this specific post. After realizing that the post is misleading, it was immediately withdrawn,” the company said in a statement.

The advert was also shared by accounts that have previously posted content promoting white supremacist views.

This is not the first time Nivea has run into trouble with its advertising. Back in 2011, it apologized for an advert that featured what appeared to be a mask of a black man with an Afro hair style and a beard. The copy accompanying the ad read, “Look Like You Give a Damn. Re-civilize Yourself.”

It’s not alone, either.

Pepsi was accused Tuesday of appropriating the Black Lives Matter movement to sell soda, after it ran an add that showed model Kendall Jenner offering a Pepsi to a police officer during a protest.

Chinese detergent company Qiaobi apologized last year for an advertisement that showed a light-skinned Chinese woman throwing a black man covered in paint into a washing machine.

After undergoing a wash, the man emerged as a light-skinned, clean Chinese man.

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