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No shame: the podcast taking on the Arab world’s sex and gender taboos | Podcasting

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Rude, fault or blemish; flaw, disgrace or shame. The word has many shades, but nearly every woman who grows up in Arabic-speaking households knows its singular weight. “Anything related to women is eib,” says Tala El-Issa, from her home in Cairo. “If they want to talk about their bodies, it’s eib, their problems – eib. Just being a woman is almost eib.”

When the team at Sowt, an Arabic podcasting network based across the Middle East, wanted to create a show that charged fearlessly into the region’s taboos around sex and gender, the title was obvious. “Eib” is now in its seventh season, the company’s longest-lasting podcast and its most popular.

It is pointed journalism couched as first-person storytelling: about getting over a bad break-up, Beirut’s drag queen scene, discovering one is gay or transgender, or becoming a widow and learning that, under Jordanian law, custody of your children can pass to their grandfather. Loose themes such as the body are used to explore topics from eating disorders to Israel’s military occupation.

“We talk about all the things in the world that are not being talked about,” says Ramsey Tesdell, Sowt’s co-founder and executive director.

Unlike podcasts such as This American Life, whose influence on a generation of programmes is unmistakable, Eib rarely uses reporters to guide stories, preferring to have the subject themselves narrate, even if names or voices are sometimes changed for privacy.

When El-Issa was asked to take over the programme in its second season, she saw a chance to challenge the silence around sexuality, identity and women in the Arab world, and the way those taboos were usually covered in foreign media.

“I was kind of bored with the whole narrative of defending women, though of course I’m with the cause. But there’s also a kind of stagnation in the way people talk about these things,” she says. “It’s not just about being politically correct, or just saying Arabs are stupid and don’t respect women. I feel like we succeeded in building a new way to talk about these things, other than [with] women as either victims or heroines. There’s this grey area where we move between the two, and it’s much more complex than traditional media make it seem.”

Analytics show most downloads come from Saudi Arabia or Egypt, though that may be as much down to the size of those markets as their appetite to hear the stories of their lives being said out loud.

“We notice it gets shared privately a lot through emails, DMs, people sharing it on WhatsApp or Telegram or Instagram messages,” Tesdell says.

When the show began in 2016, its creators understood the potential for a backlash. “Maybe we should’ve been more concerned about that but I was in the mode of no fuck’s given,” says Tesdell. It never came. Now producers say each season has hundreds of thousands of downloads.

The Eib programme logo
The Eib programme logo. Photograph: Eib

“People were desperate to hear these stories,” he says. “Everybody in the Levant has had a friend or [have themselves] been in a relationship with someone they can’t marry for whatever reason. That story is so prominent.”

Even the complaints that did come felt half-hearted. “Of course, you get the Islamists, the conservatives, there was a little bit of backlash from the church on a couple of episodes,” Tesdell says. “But it’s the typical sheikh or priest saying stuff. Because the show was so relevant and in its context … they felt old-school, irrelevant.”

That is not to say there isn’t occasional friction between the programme creators’ vision and some listeners. “The red line that always, always get us into trouble is LGBTQ issues,” El-Issa says. “People say, we loved you before but we don’t know why you’re hopping on the bandwagon, hijacking the western trend … But we made a conscious decision that if we lose people over that, they’re not our audience.”

The programme’s makers situate Eib as part of a burgeoning wider discussion of gender and sexual issues in parts of the Arab world, a loosening of rigid social mores that grew stricter in some societies from the 1970s onwards, but may now be weaker than they appear.

There is no shortage of evidence that regressive attitudes persist, from Egyptian women jailed for “immoral” Tik-Tok videos, to the 2017 arrest and torture of Sarah Hegazi, a woman who raised a rainbow flag at a Cairo concert, or the recent ridicule on air of a Lebanese sexologist by the male hosts of the TV programme on which she was appearing.

But just as the internet is shattering media around the world into innumerable streams of information, across the Arab world it is making space for new conversations about topics that as recently as a decade ago were rarely canvassed outside small, trusted circles, if at all, Tesdell says.

He likens Eib’s success to the nascent #MeToo movements in Egypt and Kuwait, sparked by social media conversations that grew too quickly and became too large to be suppressed.

“People had been fighting this for generations, and a lot of pieces fit in place: the time, the technology, the people willing to talk,” Tesdell says. “All those pieces fit into place to create this moment.”

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Amazon Web Services outage hits sites and apps such as IMDb and Tinder | Amazon

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Several Amazon services – including its website, Prime Video and applications that use Amazon Web Services (AWS) – went down for thousands of users on Tuesday.

Amazon said the outage was probably due to problems related to application programming interface (API), which is a set of protocols for building and integrating application software, Reuters reported.

“We are experiencing API and console issues in the US-East-1 Region,” Amazon said in a report on its service health dashboard, adding that it had identified the cause. By late late afternoon the outage appeared to be partially resolved, with the company saying that it was “working towards full recovery”.

“With the network device issues resolved, we are now working towards recovery of any impaired services,” the company said on the dashboard.

Downdetector showed more than 24,000 incidents of people reporting problems with Amazon. It tracks outages by collating status reports from a number of sources, including user-submitted errors on its platform.

The outage was also affecting delivery operations. Amazon’s warehouse operation use AWS and experienced disruptions, spokesperson Richard Rocha told the Washington Post. A Washington state Amazon driver said his facility had been “at a standstill” since Tuesday morning, CNBC reported.

Other services, including Amazon’s Ring security cameras, mobile banking app Chime and robot vacuum cleaner maker iRobot were also facing difficulties, according to their social media pages.

Ring said it was aware of the issue and working to resolve it. “A major Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage is currently impacting our iRobot Home App,” iRobot said on its website.

Other websites and apps affected include the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), language learning provider Duolingo and dating site Tinder, according to Downdetector.

The outage also affected presale tickets for Adele’s upcoming performances in Las Vegas. “Due to an Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage impacting companies globally, all Adele Verified Fan Presales scheduled for today have been moved to tomorrow to ensure a better experience,” Ticketmaster said on Twitter.

In June, websites including the Guardian, Reddit, Amazon, CNN, PayPal, Spotify, Al Jazeera Media Network and the New York Times were hit by a widespread hour-long outage linked to US-based content delivery network provider Fastly Inc, a smaller rival of AWS.

In July, Amazon experienced a disruption in its online stores service, which lasted for nearly two hours and affected more than 38,000 users.

Users have experienced 27 outages over the past 12 months on Amazon, according to the web tool reviewing website ToolTester.

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South Korea sets reliability standards for Big Tech • The Register

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South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has offered Big Tech some advice on how to make their services suitably resilient, and added an obligation to notify users – in Korean – when they fail.

The guidelines apply to Google, Meta (parent company of Facebook), Netflix, Naver, Kakao and Wavve. All have been told to improve their response to faults by beefing up preemptive error detection and verification systems, and create back up storage systems that enable quick content recovery.

The guidelines offer methods Big Tech can use to measure user loads, then plan accordingly to ensure their services remain available. Uptime requirements are not spelled out.

Big techs is already rather good at resilience. Google literally wrote the book on site reliability engineering.

The guidelines refer to legislation colloquially known as the “Netflix law” which requires major service outages be reported to the Ministry.

That law builds on another enacted in 2020 that made online content service providers responsible for the quality of their streaming services. It was put in place after a number of outages, including one where notifications of the problem were made on the offending company’s social media site – but only in English.

The new regulations follow South Korean telcos’ recent attempts to have platforms that guzzle their bandwidth pay for the privilege. Mobile carrier SK Broadband took legal action in October of this year, demanding Netflix pitch in some cash for the amount of bandwidth that streaming shows – such as Squid Game – consume.

In response, Netflix pointed at its own free content delivery network, Open Connect, which helps carriers to reduce traffic. Netflix then accused SK Broadband of trying to double up on profits by collecting fees from consumers and content providers at the same time.

For the record, Naver and Kakao pay carriers, while Apple TV+ and Disney+ have at the very least given lip service to the idea.

Korea isn’t the only place where telcos have noticed Big Tech taking up more than its fair share of bandwidth. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) published a letter from ten telco CEOs asking that larger platforms “contribute fairly to network costs”. ®

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Twitter acquires Slack competitor Quill to improve its messaging services

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As part of the acquisition, Quill will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company.

Twitter has acquired the messaging platform Quill, seen as a potential competitor to Slack, in order to improve its messaging tools and services.

Quill announced that it will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company to continue its original goal “to make online communication more thoughtful, and more effective, for everyone”.

The purchase of Quill could be linked to Twitter’s new strategy to reduce its reliance on ad revenue and attract paying subscribers.

Twitter’s general manager for core tech, Nick Caldwell, described Quill as a “fresher, more deliberate way to communicate. We’re bringing their experience and creativity to Twitter as we work to make messaging tools like DMs a more useful and expressive way people can have conversations on the service”.

Users of Quill have until 11 December to export their team message history before the servers are fully shut down at 1pm PST (9pm Irish time). The announcement has instructions for users who wish to import their chat history into Slack and states that all active teams will be issued full refunds.

The team thanked its users and said: “We can’t wait to show you what we’ll be working on next.”

Quill was launched in February with the goal to remove the overwhelming aspects of other messaging services and give users a more deliberate and focused form of online chat.

In an online post, Quill creator Ludwig Pettersson said: “We started Quill to increase the quality of human communication. Excited to keep doing just that, at Twitter.”

The company became a potential competitor for Slack, which was bought by Salesforce at the end of 2020 for $27.7bn. The goal of that acquisition was to combine Salesforce’s CRM platform with Slack’s communications tools to create a unified service tailored to digital-led teams around the world.

Last week, Salesforce announced the promotion of Bret Taylor to vice-chair and co-CEO, just days after he was appointed independent chair of Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey stepped down.

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