New series ‘Love Storiyaan’ features six real couples from social media initiative India Love Project

Farida Saha and Sunit Kumar Saha

Rahul Banerjee first saw Subhadra Khaperde at a Narmada Bachao Andolan rally in 1991. It was love at first sight for the IIT (Kharagpur) graduate, who had decided to work for the rights of the Adivasi community in Madhya Pradesh. After months of wooing, Subhadra too fell in love with Rahul. Two years later, when the couple decided to tie the knot, neither of their families approved because she is a Dalit Neo-Buddhist activist and he, a Hindu Brahmin.

Subhadra and Rahul’s story is one of six that features on Amazon Prime Video’s Valentine’s Day offering, Love Storiyaan. Produced by Dharmatic Entertainment, this anthology is inspired by India Love Project, a social media initiative by journalists Priya Ramani, Samar Halarnkar and Niloufer Venkatraman that celebrates love outside the shackles of religion, caste, ethnicity and gender.

Rahul Banerjee and Subhadra Khaperde

Rahul Banerjee and Subhadra Khaperde

Somen Mishra, who heads Dharmatic’s creative development and has conceptualised the show, briefly toyed with the idea of Love Storiyaan being a fictional show but then decided against it. “There have been quite a few anthologies already, and I think it’s more exciting to feature real people who have fought against the odds,” he says. It was an inspired choice for Mishra, given how impactful and heart-warming the final product has turned out to be.

Not adding the razzle-dazzle of fictional storytelling has allowed Love Storiyaan to stay true to its emotional core. It’s not just the narrative choice though, it’s also the selection of storytellers. The six directors — Akshay Indikar, Archana Phadke, Collin D’Cunha, Hardik Mehta, Shazia Iqbal and Vivek Soni — all share something in common with the real-life protagonists. “We wanted the stories to resonate with each of them, ” says Mishra.

Marathi filmmaker Akshay Indikar, for instance, had an intercaste marriage and is from the Dalit community. For him, Subhadra and Rahul’s story is not just about them finding each other, it also highlights their passion for a cause. “They have dedicated their lives to the upliftment of others. I wanted to document their struggles and strength,” says Indikar, whose last film Sthalpuran, a tender tale of an eight-year-old coping with change, premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2020.

Akshay Indikar

Akshay Indikar

Crossing borders

Having experienced the ‘othering’ that follows when someone marries out of their religion, both in her immediate and extended families, award-winning director Shazia Iqbal immediately gravitated towards the Sahas, a Kolkata-based couple in their 70s, who met and fell in love during the Bangladesh Liberation Movement in 1971. “They had to cross borders and leave behind their families just to be together and yet they aren’t bitter. That’s what fascinated me about them,” she says. “We travelled with them to Bangladesh, where they were returning after years to meet their families. Farida’s brother Bachu was still very angry with her [for having married a Hindu] and didn’t want to meet her.” Understandably, there was a lot of apprehension about visiting Bachu’s home but once the brother-sister started talking, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

Shazia Iqbal

Shazia Iqbal

What Archana Phadke, an alumna of the Berlinale Talent campus and a National Award winner, came away with after telling the story of Dhanya Ravindran and Homayon Khoram was that ‘love is strength’. Dhanya is from Kerala, while Homayon is from Afghanistan, and they fell in love when studying in Moscow. “Most love stories we see on screen end with marriage. Sustaining a marriage takes a lot of work and resilience, even when it’s within the same community,” says Phadke. Through their marriage spanning two decades, the couple has overcome many obstacles, including eking out a living in war-torn Afghanistan.

Dhanya Ravindran and Homayon Khoram 

Dhanya Ravindran and Homayon Khoram 

Archana Phadke

Archana Phadke

On the surface, Aekta Kapoor and Ullekh N.P.’s life is a typical North Indian-meets-South Indian story. And, director Hardik Mehta knew a thing or two about marriage that crosses borders. “Mine is also a love marriage that involved a bunch of Gujaratis travelling for two days in the Sabarmati Express to Lucknow,” he says. What was different was that Mehta had his family’s approval. “In India, marriages aren’t just about two people wanting to spend the rest of their lives together. It’s about families coming together.” In Aekta and Ullekh’s case, the antagonists were the former’s two daughters from an earlier marriage. “It was interesting how the couple won over the young girls,” says Mehta.

Aekta Kapoor and Ullekh N.P.

Aekta Kapoor and Ullekh N.P.

Hardik Mehta

Hardik Mehta

Rivals to lovers

Chronicling the love story of Nicholas J. Kharnami and Rajani K. Chhetri was emotional for Vivek Soni, who co-wrote and directed the Sanya Malhotra-starrer Meenakshi Sundareshwar (2021). Nicholas and Rajani are Shillong-based radio jockeys who first spoke to each other over an on-air prank. “They used to work at rival stations and an avid listener brought them together,” says Soni. Spending days with the crew meant that when Rajani and Nicholas finally sat down in front of the camera, no subject — commitment-phobia, disapproving parents, different religions and even addiction — was off the table. “They just opened up. There was so much that I hadn’t even thought of that came up in our conversations,” says Soni.

Nicholas J. Kharnami and Rajani K. Chhetri

Nicholas J. Kharnami and Rajani K. Chhetri

Vivek Soni

Vivek Soni

Kolkata residents Tista Das and Dipan first met in 2017 at a helpline for trans persons in Kolkata. Dipan had travelled from his home in Assam seeking help with a gender reassignment surgery. Three years later, their union made history-of-sorts as the first rainbow marriage between two transgender individuals in West Bengal. “So much of Tista and Dipan’s early life went in finding themselves and learning to love who they are. Finding someone who’d love them was a very distant dream for both. Theirs is a story that is so life-affirming and transformative,” says director Collin D’Cunha.

Tista Das and Dipan Chakraborty

Tista Das and Dipan Chakraborty

Collin D’Cunha

Collin D’Cunha

The film journalist is the author of Parveen Babi: A Life.

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Is cryptocurrency helping Hamas fund terrorism?

The US and Israel have stepped up their efforts to limit cryptocurrency transfers to Hamas since the group’s brutal October 7 attacks on Israel. Bitcoin, Dogecoin and Ethereum are increasingly blamed as conduits of funding for Islamist groups, but to what extent is this justified?

In the wake of Hamas’s attacks on Israeli territory on October 7 that were unprecedented in scale, the role of digital currencies like Bitcoin and Dogecoin and crypto exchange platforms in financing the radical Islamist movement are increasingly under scrutiny.

On October 19, the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) proposed new regulations identifying “Convertible Virtual Currency Mixing (CVC mixing) as a class of transactions of primary money laundering concern … to combat its use by malicious actors including Hamas [and] Palestinian Islamic Jihad”.

These online services, known more casually as “mixers” or “tumblers”, mix cryptocurrency of illicit origin with other cryptocurrency funds. As such, “the risk of employing crypto mixers to launder money or conceal earnings is pretty considerable”, acknowledges crypto industry news site Cointelegraph.

Appeals for Bitcoin via Facebook, Instagram and Telegram

In the wake of the October 7 assault, the Israeli defence ministry claimed it had seized virtual wallets linked to Hamas that had received $41 million (€39 million) between 2019 and 2023. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, for its part, has raised $94 million (€89 million) in cryptocurrency in recent years, according to Elliptic, a British firm that analyses virtual currency transactions.

And that’s not all. Washington also decided on October 18 to sanction “Buy Cash”, a Gaza-based company accused of “facilitating” cryptocurrency transfers to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

“Hamas’s use of crypto first came to light in January 2019,” writes David Carlisle, co-founder of Elliptic, in a blog post published on October 11. The al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, was caught red-handed while organising a call for Bitcoin donations via Facebook and Instagram

At first, these “funding 2.0” initiatives only raised a few thousand dollars, but Hamas has increasingly used social networks as funding channels ever since. And the Palestinian group formally listed as a terrorist organisation by the EU and the US is not alone in its actions. “Using crypto in conjunction with social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram, and I’ve seen Telegram mentioned recently – has become quite popular,” says Nicholas Ryder, a professor of law and specialist in terrorist financing networks at Cardiff University.

The recent attention paid to funds transferred to Hamas in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies may give the impression that without this windfall, the Islamist movement would be bankrupt or would, at least, have had a much harder time financing its attacks on Israel.

Secondary means

“There is a degree of hyperbole about this topic. It’s relatively new, has cachet and is unknown by many people, so of course it attracts attention. You cannot ignore it, but if you think about the pros and cons of [using it for] raising or moving funds, crypto is not the best,” says Tom Keatinge, director of the Centre for Financial Crime Research and Security Studies at the Royal United Service Institute, one of the UK’s leading think tanks on security issues.

For example, Hamas, which Forbes magazine ranked in 2014 as “one of the richest terrorist groups in the world”, has an estimated annual budget of nearly $1 billion. Most of the money comes from “expatriates or private donors in the Gulf region”, points out German news channel Deutsche Welle.

In this respect, the $41 million in cryptocurrencies seized by the Israeli authorities may seem like a drop in the bucket for Hamas. What’s more, these amounts should be taken with a grain of salt: it can be very difficult to separate funds intended to finance terrorist activities from others in a virtual wallet, Chainalysis, an American blockchain analysis company, notes in a blog post.

“[It’s] impossible to quantify how much money is transferred via crypto, but it has become a more and more prominent funding method,” says Ryder.

The rise of Bitcoin, Ethereum and Dogecoin in the world of terrorism can be explained first and foremost by the simplicity of making a transaction, notes Keatinge: “It’s easy, and I can make a donation from my couch at home.” It’s also much quicker than having to open a bank account and find intermediaries willing to transfer the fund. “You just need a smartphone and/or a laptop,” adds Ryder.

International authorities are also putting more effort into countering traditional terrorist financing channels, so these groups are trying to compensate with new ways of raising money. “The more we put pressure on traditional ways of financing, the more they’ll find alternative ways like crypto. And we are becoming better at fighting against the traditional means of financing. It’s like a balloon: when you squeeze one part, the other gets bigger,” says Keatinge.

Not so anonymous

Hamas, al Qaeda and Hezbollah don’t hesitate to combine the best of both worlds, either. For example, there can now be a cryptocurrency dimension to the use of fake NGOs, a classic means of funding for terrorist groups. “They can cut the top 10 to 15 percent and convert it into crypto, and then transfer it in order to make it more difficult to trace,” explains Ryder.

However, these movements’ interest in such new funding methods is not as strong as current media noise might suggest, because they are not ultimately as anonymous as we’ve been led to believe. “It may seem as though crypto is some kind of secret way to channel funds, but it has vulnerability. As soon as you start blockchain transactions, they are traceable. They’re not as secretive as many people think,” says Keatinge.

Indeed, all Bitcoin transactions pass through the blockchain, which is the digital equivalent of a ledger that is accessible to all. Admittedly, the names of those transferring or receiving the funds do not appear, but it is possible to track every movement of funds, and companies such as Chainalysis and Elliptic have become masters in the art of tracing their origin.

Of course, there are ways of making these transactions more anonymous, but they come at the expense of ease and speed – the main advantages of the use of cryptocurrencies for terrorists and other criminals. In the end, it’s still easier and more anonymous to hand-deliver suitcases full of cash.

This article is a translation of the original in French

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Eight Hours Of Sleep And No Back-To-Back Meetings: How Mark Zuckerberg Organizes His Days

Mark Zuckerberg isn’t pulling many all-nighters these days.

The CEO of Facebook parent Meta—who once embodied the hoodie-clad, hackathon, boy wonder startup founder—has grown up after running the social networking giant for almost two decades.

For years, Zuckerberg had been cast as one of Silicon Valley’s most notorious leaders, as Facebook faced ire from lawmakers and the public for allegedly crippling democracy, being used as a tool to fuel genocide and harming users as the company chased relentless growth. Zuckerberg, who turns 40 next year, has since begun a transformation into one of tech’s elder statesmen—especially as he plays foil to Elon Musk and his chaos at Facebook rival X, formerly known as Twitter.

So who is this new grown-up Zuck, and how does that translate into everyday life for the famous billionaire? For starters, he gets roughly eight hours of sleep. (He measures it using an Oura sleep tracker). He also shuns back-to-back meetings, allocating at least an hour to process and follow up with folks afterward.

In a wide-ranging interview with Forbes’ Kerry Dolan, Zuckerberg opened up about several other topics, including his new obsession with mixed martial arts, singing Taylor Swift songs with his young daughters, and flying (well, co-piloting) a helicopter to work.

Here are a few of the most interesting details from their conversation.

On company growth:

“One philosophy that I’ve always had is … the thing that determines your destiny is not a competitor, it’s how you execute. And I think most companies probably focus too much on competitors, and maybe even focus too much on ideas. And I think at the end of the day, a lot of what makes great companies great is the ability to just relentlessly execute, and efficiently execute and do that rigorously and just get better and better at it all the time.”

On fatherhood:

Zuckerberg has a special routine he follows every night to put his daughters–ages 7, 6 and 6 months old–to bed, says Zuckerberg’s pediatrician wife, Priscilla Chan. First, he does something with them that they really like. “Recently it’s been learning every lyric of the Taylor Swift songs,” says Chan. (They went as a family to see Swift in concert in late July, which-natch– Zuckerberg posted about on Instagram.) His two older girls read to themselves. “Right now Max is reading Harry Potter, which is a little bit scary … so sometimes I’ll read it to her,” says Zuckerberg. And, then, says Chan, “He goes through everyone that loves them, he tells them the three most important things in life are health, family and friends, and something to look forward to. And then he sings to them, I think it’s Debbie Freidman’s version of Mi Shebeirach,” a Hebrew prayer for healing. The only time Chan puts the girls to bed, she says, is if there’s a board meeting or if he’s traveling. Work dinners for her husband happen after the girls’ bedtime.

On jiujitsu and mixed martial arts:

His latest passion, picked up during the pandemic, is jiujitsu and mixed martial arts (MMA). On his Instagram account in July, Zuckerberg shared bare-chested photos of himself and his MMA sparring partners at Lake Tahoe, and another set from when his coach awarded him a blue belt in jiujitsu. And in early September, he posted a reel of him and his friends having an MMA battle on a floating dojo on Lake Tahoe. He lights up when talking about the sport, and pulls out his phone to share more photos from a recent MMA session.

“My physical routine in the morning has been really helpful for me to reset. I try to do something where I don’t or actually can’t think too much,” he says, explaining that’s why he switched from running to jiujitsu and MMA. “The thing that those have in common is you really need to focus on what you’re doing, or else you’re going to … get punched in the face.” And as he told his followers on Threads about jiujitsu: “I just love this sport. It’s so primal and lets me be my true competitive self.”

For years, Zuckerberg has publicly set himself annual challenges: learn Chinese, visit cities all over the U.S., only eat meat that he killed himself. His new challenge: “I want to do an MMA competition, or do a kind of formal fight sometime in the next year.” Who would his opponent be? “I’m probably going to do it with somebody that takes the sport really seriously and does it competitively or as a professional.”

On his daily schedule:

“I don’t stay up super late at night. … I’ll wake up and there will be a bunch of emails. Usually, people aren’t emailing me about things that are going well. It’s a very diverse set of things that are breaking across the company.”

“I’ll respond to a bunch of emails in the morning and have a bunch of time to do that. But then I want to be able to show up to work and be able to push forward.” So he takes a break to exercise (often jiujitsu or MMA —see above). “I try to work out six or seven days a week.”

Zuckerberg says he gets eight hours of sleep a night, which he describes as “very instrumented.” He uses an Oura ring, which “tells you [your] level of deep sleep, and what your heart rate is when you’re sleeping.”

On meetings:

“I actually like trying to have a rule… for every hour of meeting that I have, the team sends out the pre-reads in advance. I want to have at least an hour to read the materials and think about it. And then I want to have at least an hour to follow up with different people after the meeting.”

On what he’s learned after being CEO of Facebook and Meta for almost 20 years:

“I knew so little when I was getting started… I’d say there’s a lot about management and leadership that I’ve learned. I think probably the most important thing is I feel like I’ve learned how to express the things that are important to me in a way that is that can translate to an organization.”

On flying:

Zuckerberg flew in from his home in Lake Tahoe to the Meta offices in Menlo Park to speak with Forbes. “Normally I’d fly a helicopter. I like flying,” he says. But 100 mile an hour winds in the mountains near Tahoe derailed that plan. “You can actually do it,” Zuckerberg says of flying in winds that high. “It’s just uncomfortable.”

He says he started learning to fly a helicopter a couple years ago, and flies with a co-pilot now. The F.A.A. lists him as having a student license.

On turning down a $1 billion buyout from Yahoo in 2006:

“When I didn’t want to sell the company early on, I think the investors were like, oh, maybe we should get like, should we get a different team? And it’s like, oh, well, you can’t.”

“If someone offers you a billion dollars, you’re like, oh, well, we’re not really making much money today. So what does it mean to be worth a billion dollars, and what does that mean over time? And we haven’t really spent a lot of time, to that point, talking about the long term vision. I think most people are at the company because they just love the product and thought it was awesome and just want to make things better every day. So that was probably the hardest moment in running a company. I mean, it’s just because I didn’t know what I was doing.”

On taking big swings:

“I think over time, what matters is just taking a bunch of big swings, and being able to connect on enough of them. And I think there just aren’t that many places in the world where you can make the kind of long term bets that we have.”

On management:

“I actually think that when you’re running something, you should be as involved in the details as you can be. Obviously, there’s way more stuff that I just don’t have time to be involved with. …Anything that I’m kind of focused on or interested in or want to be in the details on, I will be. I try to be in the details of as many things as possible.”

On Threads:

“I’m optimistic about our trajectory. We saw unprecedented growth out of the gate and more importantly we’re seeing more people coming back daily than I’d expected. Now, we’re focused on retention and improving the basics. After that, we’ll focus on growing the community to the scale we think is possible. We’ve run this playbook many times before — with Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Stories, Reels, and more — and this is as good of a start as we could have hoped for, so I’m really happy with the path we’re on here.”

On AI and Facebook products:

AI “will go across everything. The characters will have Instagram and Facebook profiles. And you’ll be able to talk to them in WhatsApp and Messenger and Instagram, and they’ll be embodied as avatars and virtual reality.”

On that possible fight with Elon Musk:

“I don’t think that’s gonna happen.”

On retirement:

“I think I’m going to be running Meta for a long time.”



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Kriti Sanon launches own skincare brand “Hyphen” on her 33rd birthday! : Bollywood News – Bollywood Hungama

In the ever-expanding world of celebrity beauty brands, a new entrant has emerged. Bollywood star and birthday girl Kriti Sanon is the latest celebrity to jump on the bandwagon, as she recently launched her own skincare line named “Hyphen.” The expectations are naturally high when it comes to celebrity brands, and Kriti Sanon’s venture into the beauty industry has created a buzz.

Kriti Sanon launches own skincare brand “Hyphen” on her 33rd birthday!

Today, Kriti took to her Instagram and shared a post announcing her brand. Talking about it, Kriti said in the video, “Why do we put people in a box? And say, this is who you are? Why can’t we be everything we want to be in life? I refuse to be a full stop or be limited by a bracket. I’d rather be a hyphen. Hyphen has hope! Hope that there’s going to be something more after it. Hyphen is a hope of possibilities, opportunities of adding more chapters to my life. I’m an engineer, a model, an actor, an entrepreneur, a producer, a separately poet, a fitness enthusiast, a skin nerd and a lot more. And I don’t want to stop. I like that I can hyphen anything to my life. They say you can’t have it all. But why not? Just hyphen it.”

Sharing the post, the actress wrote in caption, “|-| appy Birthday to me! IT’S FINALLY HERE! Today, on 27th July 2023, my heart is filled with joy and gratitude as I welcome you all to our world of HYPHEN !“

Talking about her brand, Kriti wrote, “HYPHEN is a hope of possibilities, opportunities and of adding more chapters to life! And this chapter of my life is super special! Turning my obsession of skincare into passion and then into a dream- a dream of getting a lot of amazing ingredients together to make power-packed products that actually work! We’ve hyphened the power of nature and potency of science to give multiple benefits from each product. People say “You can’t have it all!” But why not? Just HYPHEN it!! Here’s to glowing and growing together!”

Expressing her gratitude, Kriti wrote, “I cant thank the entire team of Hyphen and my co-founders enough who’ve worked endlessly to get our baby out on my birthday Best birthday gift ever!!!! @always_brewing @tarunsharma88 @mohitjain.3110 @vikas.lachhwani @saurabh2014_ism We are LIVE! Check out all the products on letshyphen.com.”

PEP Technologies, the parent company of mCaffeine, has formed an unprecedented partnership with the highly influential Kriti Sanon. This unique collaboration combines mCaffeine’s expertise in R&D, marketing, supply chain, distribution, logistics and digital marketing with Kriti’s strong influence and passion for skincare. As industry leaders, they aim to revolutionize their respective fields. In addition, Kriti Sanon has “skin in the game,” showcasing her commitment and belief in the partnership’s potential, further solidifying her dedication to the venture’s success.

PEP Technologies will invest 30 crore in Hyphen as the first round of investment, being the majority shareholder, fueling the partnership’s growth and success. The alliance promises groundbreaking advancements, a broader market reach, and unparalleled innovations. Together, they embark on an exciting journey to create an ideal and impactful partnership.

Teaming up with PEP Technologies, the parent company of mCaffeine, Kriti Sanon has transformed her passion for skincare into a thriving business with the creation of Hyphen. As a co-founder of the brand, she expressed her deep-rooted interest in skincare, which has grown even stronger over the years. Hyphen, according to Kriti, is the perfect culmination of her love for beauty and her entrepreneurial spirit. “From a young age, I’ve been passionate about skincare, and as I’ve grown older it has only intensified. Hyphen serves as the perfect amalgamation of these two aspects,” said Kriti Sanon in a statement.

The skincare line, Hyphen, has debuted with three daily products, thoughtfully priced between Rs 450 and Rs 650. The range includes the Barrier Care Cream, available in two variants catering to oily skin and normal to dry skin types, the Golden Hour Glow Serum, and the All I Need Sunscreen SPF 50 PA++++. The brand boasts an impressive reach, being available in 18,000 pin codes right from its launch.

Commenting on the brand launch and partnership, Kriti Sanon, Co-founder, and Chief Customer Officer, Hyphen expresses, “We are very excited to unveil our extraordinary brand, Hyphen, to the world. Teaming up with my partners and co-founders Tarun, Vaishali, Vikas, Saurabh and Mohit fills me with excitement as we prepare to introduce a range of revolutionary products capable of addressing numerous skin concerns. Our journey starts with rigorous research and comprehensive market studies, and the experience that the PEP Technologies team has, enabled us to truly understand the industry and pave the way for Hyphen’s creation. From a young age, I’ve been passionate about skincare, and as I’ve grown older it has only intensified. Hyphen serves as the perfect amalgamation of these two aspects. In my role as the Co-Founder and Chief Customer Officer, I have tried and tested all three products from the brand, and I have been applying them since the past four months, and believe me, it really made a difference in my skincare regime. My utmost desire is for our valued customers to experience the same sense of satisfaction after using our products. With the power of nature and the potency of science, I can proudly say that we have created a powerful yet balanced and rightly priced solution for skin concerns. With PEP technologies firmly established in the industry, their profound knowledge and extensive experience position them as one of the industry’s pioneers. Their proven track record and expertise makes them an ideal partner for us as we launch Hyphen and venture into the skincare market. As we embark on this exciting journey, we eagerly anticipate receiving feedback from our cherished customers. We are “the more” you deserve.”

Moreover, as Kriti has truly arrived as more empowered and more full of spirit with the announcement commercial of her beauty brand HYPHEN, the ideology of the same indeed resonated extensively with her personality. The actress has certainly written the advertisement herself. While she has been working on the product for a year now, she has been involved in every bit of developing the product right from, testing all the products to using them all for 4 months.

On the film front, Kriti was last seen in Om Raut directorial Adipurush. Produced by T-Series, Bhushan Kumar & Krishan Kumar, Om Raut, Prasad Sutar, and Rajesh Nair of Retrophiles, it was released worldwide on June 16, 2023. The actress will be next seen in Ganapath with Tiger Shroff, The Crew alongside Kareena Kapoor Khan and Tabu, and an untitled next with Shahid Kapoor, which is set to release on December 7. There have also been reports about the yet-untitled film that will see Kriti as a robot and Shahid as a scientist, who falls in love with the former. Dharmendra is also part of the project.

Also Read: Kriti Sanon rocks the Khaki power suit, embarking on a new cinematic journey as a producer

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RFK Jr. And Elon Musk: Two Great Dicks That Taste Like Sh*t!

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. sure has come a long way from 2014, when he angered fossil fuel lobbyists by saying that climate change deniers should be jailed. Or maybe not such a long way; by 2005 he was already spreading the anti-vax gospel and falsely claiming that childhood vaccines cause autism. And now he’s running for president and everyone is reminding you what a complete freakass whackaloon he is.

We’ll do our part. Hey, remember that long-ago time in 2022 when he said, of COVID vaccine mandates, that at least in Nazi Germany “you could cross the Alps into Switzerland, you could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did.”

Kennedy did his part to help out that educational endeavor Monday night by sitting down with chief Twitter troll Elon Musk, who seems to love conspiratorial bullshit nearly as much as Kennedy does. He started out by thanking Musk for ending all the terrible “censorship” on the platform — by making it a free-for all for COVID and vaccine disinformation, not to mention for Nazis, far-Right conspiracy theories, and rampant hatred of transgender people, but also by actually censoring people on behalf of authoritarian governments. Kennedy also explained that in 2021, “the government pressured Mark Zuckerberg” to ban him from Instagram, although now his account has been restored because he’s running for president. Talk about ineffective censorship!


Rolling Stone reports that for the first 40 minutes of the Twitter Spaces chat, Kennedy barely talked about his candidacy, because he and Musk were too busy telling each other how much they admired each other for being courageous and shit, which is honestly what free speech is for.

At one point, Kennedy asked where Musk got the courage to be like one of America’s Founders by being “willing to take this huge, massive, unspeakable economic hit on behalf of a principle for a country in which you weren’t even born?” Musk, who does kind of have US citizenship after all, replied, “I should say I do very much consider myself an American.” Musk also acknowledged that advertisers had deserted the platform because he was so very committed to democracy, at least for people who think he’s cool, so it’s been “frankly a struggle to break even” (he is not breaking even) and then everyone with an $8 blue checkmark felt very warm that they had done their part to save America and/or Twitter.

After they both agreed that free speech is the very best, and that they both really love free speech the most, Kennedy bemoaned the sad fact that “we’re no longer living in a democratic system,” because Big Pharma controls the government and silences brave advocates of medical disinformation, which would explain why we only hear from anti-vaxxers everywhere on social media but not yet in (most) doctors’ offices.

Among other great trolls, Musk and Kennedy were joined by Tulsi Gabbard and Michael Shellenberger, author of books about how environmentalism is bad for everyone and global warming is happening but is honestly no big deal, yeesh, calm down. UPDATE/CORRECTION: I initially had a brain fart and confused Shellenberger with a different “contrarian” dipshit, Alex Berenson, formerly of the New York Times. Wonkette regrets the error.

Kennedy and Musk agreed that America shouldn’t be supporting the Ukrainian government, since as Kennedy put it, the Ukrainian people are “almost equally” victimized by America as by Russians. Musk added that the war was kind of our fault anyway, since “We are sending the flower of Ukrainian youth and Russian youth to die in the trenches, and it’s morally reprehensible,” and when you think about it, we probably shouldn’t be ordering Russia’s youth flowers around like that, how would we like it huh?

The conversation got even more sane when Gabbard added that

the U.S. had turned Ukraine into a “slaughterhouse” and blamed the conflict on an “elitist cabal of war-mongers” who had seized control of the Democratic Party.

Those war-mongers, Kennedy warned, hadn’t just taken control of the Democratic party: They were in control of the Deep State as well.

He recalled being told by Donald Trump’s former CIA Director Mike Pompeo that the “top layer of that agency is made up almost entirely of people who do not believe in the American institutions of democracy,” which is pretty rich coming from a top guy in the Trump administration.

Kennedy also said he opposed an assault weapons ban, because the Second Amendment is pretty awesome, and anyway, the problem isn’t guns, it’s antidepressant meds, which turn people into mass shooters, explaining that

“prior to the introduction of Prozac, we had almost none of these events in our country. […] The one thing that we have, it’s different than anybody in the world, is the amount of psychiatric drugs our children are taking.” He then alleged that the National Institutes of Health won’t research the supposed link between these drugs and shootings “because they’re working with the pharmaceutical industry.”

It’s pretty convincing until you remember that antidepressants are prescribed worldwide, but in countries where there aren’t more guns than people, there aren’t a bunch of school shootings. Also, maybe someone could have pointed out that only about a quarter of mass shooters use antidepressants, while 100 percent of them use firearms, albeit not usually with a doctor’s prescription.

Along the way, Kennedy also insisted that COVID was a “bioweapon,” lied that after the passage of the Affordable Care Act the “Democrats were getting more money from pharma than Republicans” (it’s the other way around, according to STAT News, but then STAT News believes vaccines work), and promised to go to the US-Mexico border to “try to formulate policies that will seal the border permanently,” so he really sounds like the mainstream Democrat that everyone on the far Right has been looking for, the end and OPEN THREAD.

[Rolling Stone / Insider / NYT]

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Daily Wire host’s thread takes deep, disturbing dive into Lia Thomas’ social media circle

Last year, University of Kentucky swimming star Riley Gaines spoke out about being displaced by trans UPenn swimmer Lia Thomas on the awards podium despite tying for fifth place in the NCAA women’s championship 200-meter freestyle race. Thomas received a trophy that day, while Gaines did not:

Speaking with The Daily Wire in a phone conversation, Riley Gaines said that as NCAA officials were handing out trophies on the podium following the race, he said:  “Hey, I just want to let you know, we only have one fifth place trophy, so yours will be coming in the mail. We went ahead and gave the fifth place trophy to Lia, but you can pose on the podium with the sixth place trophy.”

“I just want you to know that we respect you and admire your swim so much, but we just want Lia to hold the fifth place trophy,” the official responded, according to Gaines, who The Daily Wire said  “laughed incredulously… as she repeated his words.”

“I was probably running my mouth a little more than I should,” she said. “I told the guy, ‘I don’t think that’s that’s right, and I don’t think that’s fair. There’s no dispute that only one of us can hold the trophy, but I think given the circumstances, you’re just trying to save face a little bit.’”

Gaines went on to be increasingly outspoken about what she viewed — correctly — as an affront to women’s sports. She even got suspended from Twitter for a while for her vocal opposition to Thomas being allowed to compete as a woman despite being biologically male.

Lia Thomas was nominated last July for NCAA’s Woman of the Year. So was Gaines. But of the two of them, only Gaines had earned her nomination.

Gaines recently sat down for an interview on The Daily Wire’s sports-focused show “Crain & Company,” and apparently the interview lit an investigative fire under Jake Crain et al. In an extensive and disturbing thread, Crain reveals some of the material they found in their quest to learn more about Lia Thomas — and the company Thomas allegedly keeps:

You can read Wawro’s thread here. It’s quite disturbing in its own right.

Here’s the interview:

Now, to be clear, we’re not here to pass judgment on Lia Thomas’ or Gwen Weiskopf’s being trans. That’s their prerogative. But their decision to live their lives as trans women becomes a problem when it interferes negatively in the lives of other people, people like Riley Gaines. Thomas’ presence has disrupted Gaines and other elite female college swimmers’ athletic careers, not to mention made Gaines et al. feel physically uncomfortable and violated, as was the case when Thomas was allowed to change in the women’s changing room. The NCAA should take serious issue with that as well as with the troubling and genuinely problematic social media posts done by and involving Thomas.

Is Thomas really NCAA Woman of the Year material? Or would she be better intensive therapy material? It would appear that the answer can only be the latter.

The sooner, the better.

***

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I’m a parent with an active social media brand: Here’s what you need to check on your child’s social media right now | CNN

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If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you’ll know I wear a lot of hats: romance author, parent of funny tweenagers, part-time teacher, amateur homesteader, grumbling celiac and the wife of a seriously outdoorsy guy.

Because I’m an author with a major publisher in today’s competitive market, I’ve been tasked with stepping up my social media brand: participation, creation and all. The more transparent and likable I am online, the better my books sell. Therefore, to social media I go.

It’s rare to find someone with no social media presence these days, but there’s a marked difference between posting a few pictures for family and friends and actively creating social media content as part of your daily life.

With a whopping 95% of teens polled having access to smartphones (and 98% of teens over 15), according to an August Pew Research Center survey on teens, social media and technology, it doesn’t look like social media platforms are going away anytime soon.

Not only are they key social tools, but they also allow teens to feel more a part of things in their communities. Many teens like being online, according to a November Pew Research Center survey on teen life on social media. Eighty percent of the teens surveyed felt more connected to what is happening in their friends’ lives, while 71% felt social media allows them to showcase their creativity.

So, while posting online is work for me, it’s a way of life for the tweens and teens I see creating and publishing content online. As a parent of two middle schoolers, I know how important social media is to them, and I also know what’s out there. I see the good, the bad and the viral, and I’ve have put together some guidelines, based on what I’ve seen, for my fellow parents to watch for.

Here are eight questions to ask yourself as you check out your children’s social media accounts.

If you don’t, it’s time to start. It’s like when I had to look up the term “situationship,” I saw that ignorance is not bliss in this case. Or really any case when it comes to your children. Both of my children have smartphones, but even if your children don’t have smartphones, if they have any sort of device — phone, tablet, school laptop — it’s likely they have some sort of social media account out there. Every app our children wish to add to their smart devices comes through my husband’s and my phone notifications for approval. Before I approve any apps, I’ll read the reviews, run an internet search and text my mom friends for their experience.

Most tweens and teens use social media for socializing with local friends.

If I’m still uncertain about an app, I’ll hold off on approving it until I can sit down with my children and ask them why they want it. Sometimes just waiting and forcing a short discussion is enough to convince them they no longer want it. In our household, I avoid any apps that run social surveys, allow anonymous feedback or require the individual to use location services.

If you don’t have your family phone plan all hooked together with parental controls, I’d advise setting that up ASAP. Because different devices and apps have different ways to monitor and set up parental controls, it’s impossible to link all the options here. However, a quick search will give you exactly the coverage you are comfortable with, including apps that track your child’s text messages and changing the settings on your child’s phone to lock down at a certain time every night.

The top social media platforms teens use today are YouTube (95% of teens polled), TikTok (67%), Instagram (62%) and Snapchat (59%), according to the Pew Research Center survey on teens and social media tech. Other social media platforms teens use less frequently are Twitter, Reddit, WhatsApp and Facebook. Most notably, Facebook is seeing a significant downturn in teen users. This list isn’t exhaustive, however. I would check out your children’s devices for group chat apps (such as Slack or Discord) and also scroll through their sport or activity apps where group chat capabilities exist.

I’ve seen preteens and teens using their real names, birthdate, home address, pets’ names, locker numbers or their school baseball team. Any of that information could be used to identify your child and location in real life or using a quick Google search. All of that is an absolute “no” in our house.

I also tell my kids not to answer the fun surveys and quizzes that invite children to share their unique information and repost it for others to see. These can be useful tools for predators and people trying to steal your children’s identity.

What I do: I made the choice a long ago to withhold the names of my children and partner. It’s not an exact science, and I know some clever digging could find them. For my husband, it’s for the sake of his privacy and also the protection of his professionalism. Just because he’s married to a romance author doesn’t mean he should have to answer for my online antics, whatever they may be. For my children, I want to avoid anything embarrassing that could be traced back to them during their college application season.

Even if your children keep their social media profiles private (more on that later), their biographical information, screen name and avatar or profile picture are public information.

Do an internet search of your child’s name to see what’s out there and scroll through images to make sure there isn’t anything you wouldn’t want to be made public. In our household, I’ve asked my children to use generic items or illustrated avatars in their social media bios.

What I do: Parents who do have active social media accounts may want to do a search of their own names. When my first book was published in 2019, I did a search of my name and images and found many photos of my children that came directly from my social media pages. I hadn’t posted pictures of them, but I did use a family photo as my profile photo and those are public record. Once I deleted them, the photos disappeared.

Another “no” in our household is posting videos or photos of our home or bedrooms. Something that feels innocent and innocuous to your middle schooler may not feel that way to an adult seeking out inappropriate content.

I learned this from one of my children’s Pinterest accounts. My kid loves to create themed videos using her own photos and stock pictures, and she’s gained over 500 followers in a short period of time. She has completely followed our rules and I know, because I check and follow her myself — but it hasn’t stopped the influx of adult men following her content.

What we do: Over the holidays, I sat with her and went through each follower one by one and blocked anyone we decided was there for the wrong reasons. In the end, we blocked close to 30 adult men on her account. (I also know that some predators cleverly disguise themselves as children or teens, and we may not catch them all, but this is still a worthy exercise.)

We also talk to our children about how to protect themselves. They wouldn’t want those strangers standing in their bedroom; therefore, they don’t want to post videos of their bedroom or bathroom or classroom for strangers to view.

This is a tricky one for lots of reasons. For content creators to build their following, they need to remain public on social media. If your child is an entrepreneur or artist hoping to grab attention, locking down their account will prevent that from happening.

That said, a way around this is to have two accounts. First, a private one, locked down and only used for family and close friends, and second, a public one that lacks identifiers but showcases whatever branding the child is hoping to grow. I’ve come across some well-managed public accounts for children who have giant followings and noticed they are usually run by parents, who state that right in the profile. I like this. If your children want public profiles because they are hoping to catch the attention of a talent scout, having the accounts monitored by a responsible adult who has their best interest in mind is a healthy compromise.

This is the exception, however. Most tweens and teens today use their social media for socializing with local friends. The benefit of keeping their account as private (or as private as can be) is threefold. It allows them to screen who follows their content, thus preventing our Pinterest fiasco. It prevents strangers from accessing their content and making it viral without their permission. And it protects them from unsolicited contact with strangers.

Not all social media platforms have the option to make your account “private.” For example, YouTube has parental controls that can be adjusted at any time. TikTok and Instagram can be made private (which means users must approve followers) by making the change in the account settings. Once the account is private, a little padlock will show next to the username.

Snapchat allows users to approve followers on a case-by-case basis as well as turn off features that disclose a user’s location. Notably, Snapchat also informs users when another user takes a screenshot of their story, which is a feature other social media platforms don’t have yet.

Most group chat apps don’t have the ability to go private so much as they ask users to approve of follower requests. Take time to discuss with your children who they allow to follow them and what personal information they allow those followers to know. It’s also a great time to teach them the art of “blocking” those individuals who are unsafe or unkind.

My suggestion is to log in, scroll around and even ask your children to teach you about the platforms they use. Then, when they roll their eyes at you, go ahead and tell them about your first Hotmail email address and the way you picked the perfect emo playlist on your Myspace page … and when they’re bent over laughing, sneak a peek at their follower list. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

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Robby Soave drops Facebook Files, detailing federal gov’t ‘jawboning’ to censor inconvenient content

Chances are pretty good that by this point, you’ve read through at least a couple of the extensive threads and articles known as The Twitter Files, and you’ve seen the disturbing lengths to which Democrats and the federal government have gone — with varying degrees of cooperation from Twitter execs and middle management — to suppress information and push false narratives and silence debate.

And you may have gotten the sneaking suspicion that, given just how damning and disturbing these revelations were, it was entirely possible that the suppression of information and pushing of false narratives and silencing of debate weren’t just issues at Twitter. And you’d evidently be right.

Today, Reason’s Robby Soave has a new exposé to share, and this one is all about censorship at Facebook and Instagram, carried out at the behest of the federal government, including the Centers for Disease Control. And, as was the case with The Twitter Files, you’ll want to take the time to read this one:

Good Lord.

And it gets messier still:

And there we have it. How many Twitter users were laughed at or denounced as conspiracy theorists for suspecting that censorship was at play? They turned out to be right. And now we have compelling evidence that Facebook did the exact same thing. It’s not a conspiracy theory; it’s reality.

Anyone else get the feeling that all the revelations are just barely scratching the surface of what went on between the Biden administration and Twitter and Facebook?

***

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Leaked documents reveal Meta knew Instagram was pushing girls towards content that harmed mental health- Technology News, Firstpost

If there’s anything that Elon Musk’s Twitter saga and Twitter Files has shown us, its that content moderation by social media platforms is anything but straightforward. Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook need to strike the balance between making a user’s feed as engaging as possible, and keeping users, especially impressionable users away from harmful content. This is where most social media platforms fail miserably.

Be it Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, content moderation is guided by profits, and as Twitter files showed, by ideology more than it is by the set policy. Instagram, in particular, has been often been accused of being influenced by profits while moderating content. Image Credit: AFP

A previously unpublished document that has not been leaked from Meta, shows that the people heading Meta when it was still called Facebook, knew that Instagram was intentionally pushing young teenage girls to dangerous and harmful content, and did nothing to stop it.

The document reveals, how an Instagram employee ran an investigation on Instagram’s algorithm and recommendations, by pretending to be a 13-year-old girl looking for diet tips. Instead of showing the user content from medical and proper fitness experts, the algorithm chose to show content from more viral topics that got more engagement, which was adjacent to having a proper diet. These “adjacent” viral topics turned out to be content around anorexia. The user was led to graphic content and recommendations to follow accounts titled “skinny binge” and “apple core anorexic.”

It is a known fact that Instagram was aware of the fact that almost 33 per cent of all teenage users of the platform feel worse about their bodies because of the app’s recommended content, and the algorithm Insta used to curate a user’s feed. Instagram was also aware that teens who used the app felt higher rates of anxiety and depression.

This is not the first time that Instagram’s algorithms and the content that it pushes on users has been a topic of contention for mental health experts and advocates. Earlier this year Instagram was officially listed as the cause of death by a coroner in the UK in a case involving a 14-year-old girl named Molly Russell, who died by suicide in 2017.

In Molly Russell’s case, one of the key areas that the trial was focusing on was whether Molly watching thousands of posts on platforms like Instagram and Pinterest promoting self-harm had anything to do with the fact that she killed herself. In his testimony as the coroner, Andrew Walker concluded that Russell’s death couldn’t be ruled a suicide. Instead, he described her cause of death as “an act of self-harm whilst suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content.” Walker, at one point, described the content that Russell liked or saved in the days ahead of her death as so disturbing, that he found it “almost impossible to watch.”

“The platforms operated in such a way using algorithms as to result, in some circumstances, of binge periods of images, video clips and text,” which “romanticized acts of self-harm” and “sought to isolate and discourage discussion with those who may have been able to help,” Walker said.

Cases like these have opened up the debate about the content moderation policies that social media platforms have, and how they play out in real life. Attorney Matt Bergman started the Social Media Victims Law Center after reading the Facebook Papers, which were disclosed by whistleblower Frances Haugen last year. He’s now working with more than 1,200 families who are pursuing lawsuits against social media companies.

“Time after time, when they have an opportunity to choose between the safety of our kids and profits, they always choose profits,” said Bergman in an interview with a news agency in the US. He argues the design of social media platforms is ultimately hurting kids. 

“They have intentionally designed a product that is addictive,” Bergman said. “They understand that if children stay online, they make more money. It doesn’t matter how harmful the material is.” Bergman argues the apps were explicitly designed to evade parental authority and is calling for better age and identity verification protocols.

Meta’s global head of safety Antigone Davis has said “we want teens to be safe online” and that Instagram doesn’t “allow content promoting self-harm or eating disorders.” Davis also said Meta has improved Instagram’s “age verification technology.”

Several activists and advocacy groups are of the opinion that content moderation across platforms needs an overhaul. While the larger consensus is that social media platforms need to have independent moderation councils, and should regulate content themselves, others have expressed that there is a need for a larger and global body that sets policies for content moderation. 

Taking away content moderation from platforms and assigning an independent council that overlooks all social media platforms’ moderation policies opens up a whole new can of worms. For example, it will be much easier for regimes to suppress political dissidents and news that may be unfavorable to a regime. This is what exactly Twitter Files is trying to show. The fact remains, however, that content moderation as we know it, is broken and needs to be fixed, stat.

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