Thursday. 15/12/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Andrew Mueller

Social anxiety

The annual revenue generated by Meta, Facebook’s parent company, is comfortably north of $100bn (€94bn), so the prospect of getting hit for US$2bn (€1.9bn) might not perturb it untowardly. But a case before Kenya’s high court could prove to be an important step in persuading social-media platforms to take responsibility for what they disseminate.

The suit has been brought by Abrham Meareg, the son of an Ethiopian academic who was shot dead outside his home in Bahir Dar in November 2021. Amid sectarian tension in the Amhara region, Professor Meareg Amare Abrha had been persistently threatened on Facebook in posts that revealed identifying information. The suit, filed by lawyer Mercy Mutemi (pictured, on right), alleges that Facebook was asked to remove the posts but didn’t until it was too late.

This is hardly the first time that a social-media platform has been accused of contributing to real-world violence. But it will hopefully be an exacting test of the argument often made by such platforms that they are neutral conduits, no guiltier than a telecoms company across whose lines criminals plan a bank robbery.

But we know that social-media platforms can moderate content because they do. Even Twitter, whose new owner, Elon Musk, styles himself as a free-speech crusader, responds to reports of hateful conduct (Musk oversaw the suspension of Kanye West’s account, for example). What that suggests is that everything in your feed appears because the platform in question has decided, even if by default, to allow it.

Meareg’s $2bn suit could nudge thinking on this subject towards the idea that social-media platforms are more like legacy mastheads than they might prefer to believe – and no newspaper ever felt remotely obliged to print every demented letter that it was sent. If it ends up costing these platforms fortunes in moderator salaries to stop their apps being turned into weapons then tough. Besides which, a company that rakes in $100bn a year can afford it.

Andrew Mueller is a Monocle contributing editor and the host of Monocle 24’s ‘The Foreign Desk’.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / France

Left behind

Earlier this year Jean-Luc Mélenchon (pictured) was being heralded as the new leader of the French left after he finished third in the first round of April’s presidential election with 22 per cent of the vote, narrowly behind the far-right’s Marine Le Pen. But if his party, La France Insoumise, enjoyed a honeymoon period afterwards, it was short-lived. The party has been involved in a domestic-violence scandal that culminated in one of its rising stars, Adrien Quatennens, being handed a four-month suspended sentence earlier this week. There has also been consternation over the selection of the party’s new leader, Manuel Bompard (Mélenchon has officially retired, though he remains a force behind the scenes), who is one of four new leaders recently elected by France’s opposition parties. Not everyone is happy, with some party members claiming that they weren’t consulted and lamenting the lack of a vote. These are wobbly times for France’s left.

Image: Getty Images

Media / Global

Reporting for duty

Iran is now the world’s third-largest jailer of journalists according to new data from NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in mid-September that triggered nationwide protests, 31 journalists have been imprisoned, adding to the 14 already detained. But violence against journalists is also on the rise globally, RSF’s director of operations and campaigns, Rebecca Vincent, tells Monocle 24’s The Briefing.

South America has been a hot spot for killings this year, while China and Myanmar lead the charge for detentions. Western governments must call out attacks on the press everywhere, argues Vincent. “Our politicians raise [the issue] when it’s convenient,” she says. “They are willing to raise it with certain places and not with others.” As an example, she cites the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. A free press means better-informed people and a fairer society. The democratic world needs to do everything it can to make it a priority.

Image: Ecovative

Fashion / Global

House of fungi

Mushroom leather has become one of the most sought-after materials in fashion as the industry looks for more sustainable alternatives. Even Parisian luxury brand Hermès, best known for its traditional leather craftsmanship, has been investing in developing the fungi-derived fabric. But up until recently, resources have been limited and reserved for early adopters such as Hermès.

Ecovative, one of the largest producers of mycelium products, is looking to change this by increasing production and making its materials more readily available. The New York-based company has acquired Lambert Spawn Europa, a mushroom-spawn-production facility based in the Netherlands, which will greatly increase its capacity to produce mushroom packaging, leather-like fabrics and high-performance foams. The move will enable Ecovative to provide the fashion industry with an alternative to plastic-based products on a much bigger scale. “This acquisition puts us in a position to supply our quickly growing global network of clients and licensees,” says CEO and co-founder Eben Bayer.

Image: Getty Images

Culture / South Korea

Soldier boy

South Korean teenagers have been contemplating what the future looks like for K-pop sensation BTS after the oldest member of the group began military service earlier this week. Kim Seok-jin (known to his fans simply as Jin, pictured second left) attended an army boot camp in Yeoncheon, sparking a debate about whether he should be granted an exemption. At least 18 months’ military service is mandatory for all able-bodied men under the age of 30 in South Korea but players for the country’s national football team (including Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min) gained exemption after winning gold in the 2018 Asian Games.

The country’s leading K-pop band contributes more than $4bn (€3.7bn) to South Korea’s economy annually and is a potent soft-power symbol. The group will apparently return once everyone has completed their service. One big question remains: could a lengthy hiatus affect the band’s popularity?

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Monocle 24 / Monocle On Design

Mattiazzi, turntables and design in Budapest

Nevio Mattiazzi shares the history of his furniture factory in northeastern Italy and author Gideon Schwartz discusses the design of the turntable.

Monocle Films / Global

The future of Japanese craftsmanship

For the release of our book about Japan, we produced a film series that dives into the intriguing ecosystem that has preserved Japanese traditional skills over centuries. Meet the people who are future-proofing the age-old know-how.

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