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The anxiety list for MENA entrepreneurs is long, as is the one curing it

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Hadi Khatib on AMEInfo of 18 September 2021 came up with this deep statement on the anxiety list for MENA entrepreneurs that is long, as is the one curing it

The anxiety list for MENA entrepreneurs is long, as is the one curing it

A research report on the mental health challenges and wellbeing of entrepreneurs due to COVID-19 in the MENA region revealed anxiety has several facets in the minds of these leaders. But all of these insecurities have cures.

  • 55% of startup founders said that raising investment has caused the most stress.
  • More than 95% of entrepreneurs view co-founders as family members and/or friends.
  • Research finds that entrepreneurs are happier than people in jobs.

EMPWR, a UAE-based digital media agency dedicated to mental health and an exclusive mental health partner for WAMDA and Microsoft for startups, published a research report on the mental health challenges and wellbeing of entrepreneurs due to COVID-19 in the MENA region.

The research indicated that startup founders undergo higher levels of stress than the rest of the region, with twice the likelihood of developing depression issues.

55% of startup founders said that raising investment has caused the most stress; the pandemic was the second most-cited reason cited by 33.7% of respondents.   44.2% spend at least 2 hours a week trying to de-stress. 

Other insights, uncovered by the report, include:

  • A good relationship between co-founders can help startups navigate the pandemic-hit market. More than 95% of entrepreneurs view co-founders as family members and/or friends
  • Many entrepreneurs live well below their means to fund their ventures, leading to stress that is detrimental to their health

With only 2% of healthcare budgets in the MENA region currently spent on addressing mental health, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young entrepreneurs and achievers could lead to an economic burden of $1 trillion, by 2030, according to the report.

EMPWR’s MENA partners shared special offers on their mental health services for the region’s entrepreneur community.

From Saudi Arabia:

Labayh is offering the technology ecosystem a 20% discount on their online mental health services for 2 months. Promo code: empwr, with the offer valid until October 29.

From Egypt:

O7 Therapy are offering 50% off their online mental health services, for 50 Entrepreneurs in the MENA region. Promo code: Entrepreneur50, valid until December 1, 2021.

From the UAE:

My Wellbeing Lab is offering 20 one-on-one coaching sessions to entrepreneurs that wish to be coached and helped; alongside unlimited access for any entrepreneur to their “Discovery Lab”, a platform that gives entrepreneurs and leaders insights into their mental wellbeing as well as their teams. Promo code: MWL21.

Takalam is offering 10% off for 3 months. Promo code: Impact.

Mindtales is offering the MENA ecosystem 50% off their services for one month. Their App can be downloaded here.

H.A.D Consultants is offering 20 one on one coaching sessions to entrepreneurs. Promo code: HAD_SME01.

From Oman:

Nafas, a meditation app focused on reducing stress, anxiety, and help with insomnia, is offering access to its platform. Register as a user via this link to redeem benefits. 

Entrepreneurs’ mixed emotions

Entrepreneurs must grapple with uncertainty and being personally responsible for any decision they make. They likely have the longest working hours of any occupational group and need to rapidly develop expertise across all areas of management while managing day-to-day business.

Yet despite all this, research finds that entrepreneurs are happier than people in jobs.

To understand this, a comprehensive and systematic review of 144 empirical studies of this topic, covering 50 years revealed:

1. It’s not all about pay

Work on the economics of entrepreneurship traditionally assumed that entrepreneurs bear all the stresses and uncertainties in the hope that over the long term they can expect high financial rewards for their effort. It’s false.

2. Highly stressful, but…

High workload and work intensity, as well as financial problems facing their business, are at the top of the entrepreneurs’ stress list.

But some stressors have an upside. While they require more effort in the here and now, they may lead to positive consequences such as business growth in the long term. Some entrepreneurs appear to interpret their long working hours as a challenge and therefore turn them into a positive signal.

3. Autonomy is both good and bad

The autonomy that comes with being an entrepreneur can be a double-edged sword. Entrepreneurs can make decisions about when and what they work on – and with whom they work. But recent research into how entrepreneurs experience their autonomy suggests that, at times, they struggle profoundly with it. The sheer number of decisions to make and the uncertainty about what is the best way forward can be overwhelming.

4. An addictive mix

The evidence review confirms that, by any stretch of imagination, entrepreneurs’ work is highly demanding and challenging. This, along with the positive aspects of being their own boss coupled with an often competitive personality, can lead entrepreneurs to be so engaged with their work that it can become obsessive.

So the most critical skill of entrepreneurs is perhaps how they are able to manage themselves and allow time for recovery.  

Stress management tips for entrepreneurs

Identify what the actual source of your stress is. Is it tight deadlines, procurement issues, raising capital, managing investors’ expectations, building a talented team, or delay in landing the first sale for your new startup business?

Even if numbering more than a few, break them down because unmanageable tasks look simpler when broken down into smaller segments. Then, list down how you plan to successfully tackle each issue. Meanwhile, exercising multiple times a week has been rated as one of the best tactics for managing stress.  

Another technique for handling stress is to take a break. Rest as much as you can before going back to continue with the tasks.  It’s also a good idea to reach out to friends, family, and social networks because they are likely to understand what you’re going through and offer words of wisdom and courage.

Stay away from energy-sapping junk food. Eating healthy keeps you fueled for the next challenge. Finally, get enough sleep, and power naps. Sleep helps your body and mind recover.   

Hadi Khatib is a business editor with more than 15 years of experience delivering news and copy of relevance to a wide range of audiences. If newsworthy and actionable, you will find this editor interested in hearing about your sector developments and writing about them. He can be reached at:  hadi.khatib@thewickfirm.com

Digital Transformation And Its Implications On Brands And Consumers

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It is confirmed here in The Brand Berries.com OPINIONS that Digital Transformation and its Implications on Brands and Consumers in The Middle East by Imad Sarrouf, Head of Publishers at DMS ( Member of the Choueiri Group) is as valid a statement as can be these days.

12 November 2020 

The Middle East is showing the promise to scale to unprecedented levels apropos of its digital transformation market is no news. In 2016, along with Africa, this market was valued at USD 1,1 Billion and was estimated to achieve an implausible growth by 2024.

Major powers in the Middle East including UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia have shown impressive strides towards the goal, with their Governments setting precedents by integrating digital transformation in the public sector. The growth that these regions have achieved in terms of tech-savvy infrastructure has made some of the most powerful heads turn in the Gulf direction. 

Clearly, the private sector and the public in themselves have taken the cue and are leaving no stone unturned in embracing the digital revolution. As more and more middle eastern companies pave the way for digital, such transformation is going to shape up the future of brands and consumers in this region.

The State Of Digitization Of Brands and Companies In The Middle East

At large, a territory’s adoption and adaptation to the digital era are measured with reference to the population’s access to smartphones, engagement with social media platforms, and availability of high-end digital technologies. While the Middle East has been making headlines for rising up these ladders, the scope of the implementation of digital transformation goes far beyond just that.

The digital transformation market in the middle east is basically divided into 2 regions; the GCC countries and other Arab countries. According to a survey report by Strategy And, hardly about 7.5% of the brands and companies in the GCC region understand the potential of digital transformation as a means to realize efficiencies. 

Considering that building a digital strategy for future upscaling is the fundamental step for a company towards transformation, only about 37% of the major brands in the Middle East had teams working on one. The major employable channels across a vast range of sectors for brands include big data and analytics, IoT, Cloud Computing, Cyber physics, and technologies of similar likes. Popular frontrunners leading the race of transformation include Microsoft, Google Inc, SAP, Protiviti, Ixtel, Oracle among others.

Gulf Brands Go Smart: How The Middle East Is Accelerating The Digital Revolution

Closer technical analysis of the major Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE shows that digital initiatives have taken the front seat among leading brand growth agendas. These agendas have been presenting, and are expected to continuingly present themselves under three major brackets;

Adoption Of Smarter Projects And Initiatives

These comprise the entire smart market — right from smart homes, smart healthcare, smart hospitality, and tourism, to smart transportation, entertainment, business, and shopping. Some of the most successful digital initiatives include health monitoring wristwatches, virtual assistants as tour guides, IoT based interconnected home system, among others. While the scope of AR, VR, and advanced AI is still being explored and systematically implemented, work in progress projects in this area include AR/ VR enabled cars in the mobility segment, and some medical testing procedures in the healthcare sector.

Implementation Of Smarter Payment Gateways 

The world is always in the need of a better and safer way to pay, and we have all been a witness to this when people furiously shifted to digital mode of payments as soon as they were introduced. With cryptocurrency in the picture, the only challenge is the lack of exposure and education in this area. However, several middle eastern companies are coming forward to give this option to consumers. In fact, in 2017, Dubai’s residential real estate project, Aston Plaza was the first in the world to allow full payment in the form of bitcoins. 

Customization Of Production and Operational Convenience

The way the manufacturing sector has been catching up with digital opportunities is magnanimous. The drastic shift from mass production to customized production is one of the most obvious demonstrations of the same that runs alongside the heavy reliance on light mobile apps. These apps ensure higher accuracy, operational convenience, and shipment tracking; some of the features that have become manufacturing prerequisites in an ideal digital world.

For companies that can afford a drastic change, the digital initiatives in this sector also include transforming the entire ecosystem to be more optimized, increasingly sustainable, and minimally invasive. 

In a capsule, the digital transformation scene in the companies of the Middle East is seen tracing three major models — digital business model, digital consumer model, and the digital operations model — of which the consumer model is observed to be spearheading the growth. Let’s now understand how this consumer model is being implemented despite regional limitations including the slowdowns due to the recent pandemic instituted lockdowns.

Digital Transformation Driving Middle Eastern Consumer Experience

Middle eastern companies’ digital strategies are highly driven by keeping consumer experience enhancement at the forefront. This includes micro-target marketing to improve customer engagement and channelizing customer feedback. 

Some of the most dynamic and successful initiatives include:

O2O Commerce

Online to Offline Commerce is replacing traditional retail shopping hard and fast. Retail stores are being improvised to act as mere distribution centers while more and more investments are being concentrated towards online initiatives. The lucrative combination of browsing through hundreds of options on the screen, without having to move an inch, getting discount codes and coupons by shopping online, yet getting the look and feel of shopping by personally trying and collecting as per convenience has proved to be an instant hit in this region.

Chatbots and virtual assistants

This technology has proved to be such a huge success that it has become fairly common to find chatbots on every other website or app we use. What companies in the middle east are also empowering are pharma, healthcare, and hospitality sectors through this technology. You can know the right medicine to take for mild symptoms and problems, you can schedule and monitor your family’s health checkups and reports, and coordinate your entire stay with an expert assistant. These applications have particularly received widespread recognition because of its social-distancing friendly nature. 

Middle Eastern Challenges To A Rapid Digital Adaptation

For any company, digital transformation is a major shift, that more than anything else will require capital and man-power investment. The most natural challenges that companies in the middle east are facing is the broad skill gap in the existing organizations, change in operating model to an agile one, and starting off on the right footing to make the transformation a profitable success. 

Keeping skill-building, awareness, and education at the core, however, can be a unanimous way out of the hindrances posed by these challenges. As companies find access to greater resources; human and otherwise; proficient in the field, brands will gain more confidence to take the digital leap of faith.

Read more in:


Imad Sarrouf (in feature picture above) is a digital expert with over 15 years of experience in the digital media industry working across a large portfolio of publishers and ad technology platforms in the middle east. In his position, he leads digital innovation and transformation – responsible for the ad tech solutions business and process automation to drive business growth.

E-Waste in the MENA region

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UNEarthmag with Assia Tej’s article on E-Waste in the Middle East and North Africa can be summarised as being relevant to all parts of the region. In effect, E-Waste in the MENA region with disparities between parts of it regardless of socio-economic strata could limit perhaps expectancies of theories based on Western countries cannot be copied to the MENA despite that countries are aligning to EU values. Not all values though as per Assia Tej.

While E-Waste has the potential to become a profitable enterprise, it remains under-utilized and marginalized in the Middle East and North Africa.

Image by Wamda

We buy them, use them, break or replace them, and finally throw them away. This is the cycle of electronic devices, the revolutionary gadgets that made our life easier and the recycling process harder. It is an undeniable fact that nowadays the waste from electronic devices, known as “e-waste,” has reached unparalleled levels and presents increasing new obstacles to recycling. 

We buy them, use them, break or replace them, and finally throw them away. This is the cycle of electronic devices, the revolutionary gadgets that made our life easier and the recycling process harder.

Statistically, only 15 to 20 percent of e-waste ends up being recycled globally. In the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region, this is significantly lower, approaching only 5 percent. The rest of the waste is dumped into landfills or thrown in scrap yards and warehouses. 

The global situation is overtly alarming, and the lack of information or media attention on the subject is only exacerbating the matter. The problem is exceedingly apparent when it comes to sorting. Despite the fact that E-waste is just as environmentally devastating and pollutive as plastic, it is not included in primary recycling systems. As many countries in the MENA region have no centrally established waste-sorting systems, any hope for short-term improvement in their dealing with e-waste seems futile. 

“E-waste management in the Arab region is in its startinE phase,” says the Centre of Environment and Development for the Arab region and Europe, a Cairo-based NGO. 

In countries where recycling is not yet a habit and where environmental concerns are far behind, the question remains as to how this new type of pollution will be handled by governments?

E-waste as a new profitable business

Recycling stations for electronic devices does not yet exist in the MENA region for the simple reason that it requires expensive and specialised equipment. However, the establishment of such stations would not only create a much-needed breather from increasing pollution, but it would also generate new opportunities for employment. The road to improvement would require significant financial support, which to this date has been absent from any government plans. Any attempts to recycle e-waste manually would present a huge health risk, as it may be submerged in toxic acids. 

But what if recycling started to benefit the economy? Many electronic devices, such as computers and phones, contain quantities of precious metal such as gold, silver and platinum, that could be extracted in special stations and be given another life. 

Investment in recycling is hindered by the inability of some governments to cover the costs. According to Global Recycling, “cost recovery is partially implemented in Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon (Zahlé only) and the Palestinian Territory; in Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen and Mauritania costs cannot be recovered by the services. In Egypt and in Jordan, cost recovery arrangements are made through the electricity bills.” But what if recycling started to benefit the economy? Many electronic devices, such as computers and phones, contain quantities of precious metal such as gold, silver and platinum, that could be extracted in special stations and be given another life. 

Unfortunately, this new type of pollution is largely being disregarded by populations and no further action is taken by citizens to demand and ensure the restriction of e-waste. Meanwhile, old electronics are laying neglected in unsuitable locations, as their potential continues to be overlooked. 

In the UK and Europe, companies like Apple offer financial compensation for the return of their old electronics. Discounts up to 500£ have been issued on new products in exchange for the recovery of older models. This initiative encourages people not to dump their old devices and allows companies to benefit from the reuse of worn ones. In the end, this process creates a new kind of business while being careful of environmental matters. 

Insufficient initiative? 

Some initiatives have been undertaken by governments, but there is a still a long road towards the establishment of a more complete recycling infrastructure and legislation. In Morocco, civil society played a significant role in demanding efficient e-waste solutions although overall, in the MENA region, the driving force comes from the private sector and cooperation with national and local governments.

With the assistance of the private sector, governments of various countries, such as Egypt, have addressed the need for recycling and “recycling programs” for end-of-life products, most of which are multinational companies such as Nokia or Dell. 

However, national legislation is still very poor regarding e-waste. An important legislative measure is the passage of a law on the recycling of mobile phones in the UAE. Morocco has been looking into embarking on a national e-waste management strategy, although the present legal and recycling infrastructure is not yet adequate for it. Qatar’s telecom operator, Qtel, is in the process of drafting a law on e-waste management, which is supposed to be completed by the end of 2010. Further initiatives have been noted but nothing very determinative has emerged. 

There is still a lack of a comprehensive regional e-waste strategy, and much work remains to be done at the national level. The national level requires a more extensive and process-oriented e-waste management policy, strategy. and implementation plan than what is provided by individual initiatives. E-waste recycling is a high-tech industry and will require more investment and management processes than are currently available.

This sector is a den of treasures capable of making a huge change all over the globe so investment is worth the try.  

In the end, what is needed is a global mediatization of the phenomenon that is strong enough to push governments to review their policies regarding e-waste. This sector is a den of treasures capable of making a huge change all over the globe so the investment is worth the try.  

Article by Assia Tej

Image via Wamda

Balancing freedom of expression with social responsibility

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 William Becker writing this article titled ‘Balancing freedom of expression with social responsibility’ could be taken as a pertinent illustrator of the sort of times related to dilemmas and traumas.  Democracy at best of times associates with higher human capital accumulation, lower political instability, and higher economic freedom that are quasi-impossible to go for nowadays and before the advent of that smart techno hard and software. In any case, Can democracies survive social media?


Balancing freedom of expression with social responsibility

Abraham Lincoln is credited with one of the most enduring statements in American history: “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” Unfortunately, nearly all Americans have been fooled by this. The first person to utter the statement was actually the showman P.T. Barnum.

Barnum didn’t know about the Internet or social media, of course. He’d be amazed at computers, and even more amazed that anyone could use it to send virtually any statement anywhere in the world, unfiltered and instantly. This extraordinary power allows us to fool millions of people in real time, but it also allows them to fool us. Unfortunately, there are individuals, organizations, and even nations that use social media for precisely that purpose.

The misuse of social media to spread disinformation, misinformation, propaganda, and outright lies is raising questions in democracies about how free freedom of expression should be. Social media are caught constantly between freedom of speech and social responsibility in democracies around the world. “There is an ongoing debate about where to draw the line between freedom of speech and offensive comments,” the authors of the 2020 World Population Review report. “Especially in the age of social media, concerns have arisen over whether freedom of speech is causing more harm than it is good.”

Every country that guarantees freedom of expression already puts boundaries on it. In 2015, the Pew Research Center ranked the tolerance of free speech in 38 countries, scoring them between zero and eight, with eight being the most tolerant. No country earned a score higher than 5.73. That score was awarded to the United States. Pew reported that “Americans are more tolerant of free speech than other nationalities. They also are the most supportive of freedom of the press and the right to use the Internet without government censorship.”

But the world’s most tolerant nation is struggling with an epidemic of misinformation, outright falsehoods, hate speech, conspiracy theories, and deliberate attempts by foreign and domestic groups to undermine democracy. Social media providers such as Facebook and Twitter are being challenged by Congress to find that balance between freedom of expression on the one hand, and serving as conduits of hate and harm on the other.

The U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law…abridging freedom of speech.” Yet, federal statutes prohibit speech that incites harm to others or distributes obscene materials, for example. The constraints other countries have put on free expression include libel, slander, perjury, obscenity, sedition, incitement, the disclosure of classified information, the unauthorized use of copyrighted information, trade secrets, and speech that violates privacy, dignity, and public security. People in the European Union and Argentina are guaranteed the “right to be forgotten.”

In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “the right to freedom of expression.” But it also sets boundaries against speech that damages the rights and reputations of others, jeopardizes national security, or threatens public order, health, or morals.

The Internet’s value

Another of America’s historic leaders, Thomas Jefferson, has been quoted, “If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, every American is responsible to be informed.” Ensuring that citizens are well informed is one of the Internet’s most important potentials. How close is it to fulfilling its potential?

The Pew Center for Research asked that question last July in the United States. It studied where Americans get their information and how their sources enhance their knowledge. Pew found that about one in five adults relies on social media for news and information, but 57% of them scored low when asked nine “knowledge questions.” Other researchers found a similar result for television news, probably because some of the most prominent news sources are biased in the United States.

Here is how it happened. Before cable television arrived, there were three dominant TV networks in the U.S. — ABC, CBS, and NBC. Because they used public airways to broadcast content, the federal government felt they had an obligation to public service. Each network had to obtain a broadcast license. In 1949, the federal agency in charge of licensing instituted the “Fairness Doctrine.” It required the networks to present both sides of controversial issues of public importance. Broadcasts had to be “honest, equitable, and balanced.”

Things changed when cable television came along. Cable stations didn’t use public airways. As their numbers grew, viewers could find both sides of controversial issues by channel surfing, if they took the trouble. The Fairness Doctrine fell into disuse and eventually was discontinued. Cable stations are subject to federal rules and local requirements, but their rules pertain mostly to the quality of cable services, rate structures, franchise fees, and so on. The few regulations about programming are much less strict than the standards applied to the major broadcast networks.

As a result, several cable networks began specializing in news slanted to support a political or ideological agenda. One network, Fox News, presents information in ways that appeal to and reinforce the beliefs of conservative viewers. It has proved to be a very successful formula. Fox is now the most widely watched news station in the U.S.

The Pew Research Center found that 60% of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters rely heavily on Fox News, while 53% of Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters tune into CNN, a network that tilts slightly left. In 2012, researchers determined that people who relied on Fox for news knew less about current events than people who watched no news at all. Last July, a new study showed that the same is true for people who frequent the Fox News website.

News outlets like Fox (and conservatives would say CNN) contribute to the ideological rigidity and highly emotional polarization that plagues politics in the United States today. Outlets like these do less for “the responsibility of every American to be informed” than they do for each group’s conviction than it knows better than the other. The fortification of pre-existing biases and beliefs also happens on social media, which uses algorithms to diagnose a user’s beliefs and feeds back like-minded content. We come to the question again whether social coherence and goodwill require that the relationship between free speech and social responsibility should tilt toward responsibility.

It is a delicate and even dangerous question that begs more questions. How do we make sure that whoever sets and enforces the standards of free expression is not cultivating authoritarianism?

Foreign subterfuge

Even more worrisome, perhaps, is how we keep a democracy’s information channels open but safe from nefarious state and non-state interference? Cyber espionage, warfare, and crime are pressing issues worldwide beyond the scope of this article. More relevant are the activities by some nations to interfere with and manipulate the democratic processes of others.

Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea are regarded as the nations that conduct most information warfare over the Internet. U.S. intelligence agencies confirm Russia’s manipulation of public opinion during the 2016 presidential and congressional elections. The same agencies report that Russia, China, and Iran are attempting to “hack” the 2020 election, too, in ways that favor either Trump or his opponent, Joe Biden. Experts say that other, smaller nations are working to acquire the same capabilities.

Russian leaders use social media to undermine the American people’s confidence in democracy overall. This isn’t new. “Cyber is facilitating more advanced and more effective psychological warfare, information operations, coercion and intimidation attacks,” NATO’s security expert Jamie Shea warned in 2017. “We used to worry about [hackers targeting] banks or credit cards or inconvenience to customers, now we worry about the future of democracy, the stability and health of our institutions.”

Russia’s use of fake organizations and inflammatory ads on social media is challenging Twitter and Facebook to make concessions to social responsibility. Both were criticized for failing to police Russia’s use of their networks in 2016. This year, Facebook says it will block all new political advertising a week before the November 3 election to prevent misinformation.

Facebook’s chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, says that his company disabled 1.7 billion fake accounts between January and March. Twitter has begun labeling tweets that violate its policies against fake accounts and identities. Two years ago, it created a public archive of 200 million tweets to study them for attempted manipulation. Congress has called on Facebook, Twitter, and Google to explain what they are doing to prevent foreign interference in the 2020 election.

America’s lawmakers are also concerned about foreign and domestic sources misusing Instagram, YouTube, and other social media to spread disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, possibly inciting the demonstrations, fights, and even violence the country has experienced because of government mandates to wear masks, observe social distancing, and close businesses where crowds congregate.

The Internal threats

Facebook and Twitter are taking steps to identify and/or eliminate “false facts” from inside the United States, too. The most frequent and blatant source is Donald Trump, the “Tweeter-in-Chief.” He pecks out messages on Twitter night and day to dominate the news, insult opponents, praise his own performance, and take advantage of unfiltered contact with the American people.

He set a personal record of 142 tweets during his impeachment trial in January and February, then broke it in June with 200 tweets and retweets on a single day. When Twitter began labeling Trump’s provably inaccurate tweets, the president retaliated with an executive order to regulate social media companies.

The problem is not only Trump and not only social media. “Whether it’s newspapers, television, Facebook, YouTube, or Google searches, someone is pulling strings (and) lobbying their own agendas because there are no consequences,” social media consultant Lon Safko points out. “You can say anything you want, and there are no consequences.”

Social media also is an important propaganda tool for dictators and unscrupulous leaders around the world. In 2019, researchers at the University of Oxford found evidence of organized social media manipulation campaigns in 70 countries. Twenty-six countries were using social media to “suppress fundamental human rights, discredit political opponents, and drown out dissenting opinions.” Government or political party “cyber troops” are using political bots to amplify hate speech, illegally harvest data, and mobilize “trolls” to harass political dissidents and journalists, the University reported.

“Despite the majority of adults surveyed in each country reporting that they used social networks to keep up to date with news and current affairs, a 2018 study showed that social media is the least trusted news source in the world,” says researcher Amy Watson of Statista, a statistics service. “Less than 35% of adults in Europe considered social networks to be trustworthy in this respect, yet more than 50% of adults in Portugal, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Croatia said that they got their news on social media.”

“Concerns about fake news and propaganda on social media have not stopped billions of users accessing their favorite networks on a daily basis,” she says.

So, can freedom of speech survive social media? Can Democracies? Can we find ways to balance freedom of expression with social responsibility? If the proper formula requires restrictions on speech, what should they be? If the government’s job is to protect democracy from cyber-subterfuge, how will it keep up technologies that emerge much faster than governments act?

I think about this a lot. My answers are the same as those we often hear from the world’s top experts and policymakers:

Only time will tell.

William Becker is an author and blogger in the United States. He writes about climate change and many other issues that strike his fancy.

Digital Democracy vs Techno-Authoritarianism

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DemDigest of October 7, 2020, posted Digital democracy vs techno-authoritarianism as an ‘Existential crisis’ for Chinese firms

The spread of China’s “techno-authoritarianism,” its pursuit of the “innovation advantage,” and its incompatibility with the liberal democratic model is the focus of a new report. The underlying dynamics and tensions between markets, non-state actors and governments are compelling governments to pursue strategic alliances and partnerships, and the inherent ideological differences between the Chinese system and those of open market, liberal democracies will influence outcomes, argues analyst Alex Capri.

The linkage of technology to fundamental ideological values has become a defining issue in the global technology landscape. The authoritarian use of data and artificial intelligence (AI) to conduct censorship, surveillance and mass monitoring of populations is in direct conflict with democratic standards regarding privacy and freedom of expression, he writes for the Hinrich Foundation: 

Beijing’s imposition of the national security law in Hong Kong, as well as its internment of ethnic Muslim minorities in China’s western Xinjiang autonomous region, were just several of the latest provocations causing European policymakers to rethink relations with China. Thus, for Beijing, it has become increasingly difficult to find sympathy in Europe regarding Washington’s 
campaign to crush Huawei….New partnerships, including the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence* (GPAI) and the G7 AI Initiative, that are designed to guide the liberal and transparent development of AI, stand in contrast to China’s export of techno-authoritarianism.

Coalition of the willing?

The Clean Networks program, that seeks to expunge Chinese technology from carrier networks, data storage, mobile apps, cloud networks and undersea cables, has created an existential crisis for Chinese companies, which  are increasingly viewed as de facto proxies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Capri adds. In the broader context of a US-China technology cold war, Chinese companies’ linkage to Beijing has relegated them to the status of malign actors.

A question that has begun to circulate in trade policy circles is: could a coalition of willing nations form a new global trade institution with standards that require open market principles and democratic ideals? RTWT

*The subject of a recent report from the NED’s International Forum.

In “Artificial Intelligence and Democratic Norms,” the fourth in the  “Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience” series from the International Forum for Democratic Studies, Nicholas Wright explores how to establish democratically accountable rules and norms that harness the benefits of artificial intelligence-related technologies, without infringing on fundamental rights and creating technological affordances that could facilitate authoritarian concentration of power.