Egypt begins surveillance of Facebook, Twitter, and Skype on unprecedented scale

BuzzFeed reports: Egyptians’ online communications are now being monitored by the sister company of an American cybersecurity firm, giving the Egyptian government an unprecedented ability to comb through data from Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, among others.

See Egypt, the sister company of the U.S.-based Blue Coat, won the contract over the summer, beating out the British Gamma System, and the Israeli-founded Narus System. See Egypt has begun monitoring Egyptians’ online communications, according to several Egyptian government officials who spoke to BuzzFeed News.

“See Egypt has already worked with the government and has strong ties to the State Security Services,” said one official. He asked to remain anonymous, to protect his position within the government. “They were a natural choice and their system is already winning praise.”

While Egypt has tracked online communication in the past using surveillance systems that allowed officials to loosely monitor local networks, See Egypt is the first time the government will be widely using the Deep Packet Inspection technology that enables geolocation, tracking, and extensive monitoring of internet traffic. [Continue reading...]

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This is how you can expose ISIS using Twitter and Google Earth

The Independent: Eliot Higgins is the British analyst who, from his home in Leicester more than 3,000 miles away, helped expose Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s use of Sarin gas.

The 35-year-old began blogging about the Syrian conflict as a hobby in 2012 under the pseudonym Brown Moses, after leaving a job in admin.

He had never been to Syria and did not speak Arabic. Now, Higgins runs the crowdfunded website Bellingcat, which recently claimed to have uncovered the location of an Islamic State (Isis) training camp using Google Earth; located where James Foley was killed; and spotted the Buk missile launcher which could have downed MH17 inside Russia – all within a month of reaching its funding goal on Kickstarter.

As well as investigations, with Bellingcat, Higgins aims to help educate journalists, activists and researchers about how to geolocate, verify and investigate images and videos that appear on social media. [Continue reading...]

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How social media silences debate

Claire Cain Miller reports: The Internet might be a useful tool for activists and organizers, in episodes from the Arab Spring to the Ice Bucket Challenge. But over all, it has diminished rather than enhanced political participation, according to new data.

Social media, like Twitter and Facebook, has the effect of tamping down diversity of opinion and stifling debate about public affairs. It makes people less likely to voice opinions, particularly when they think their views differ from those of their friends, according to a report published Tuesday by researchers at Pew Research Center and Rutgers University.

The researchers also found that those who use social media regularly are more reluctant to express dissenting views in the offline world.

The Internet, it seems, is contributing to the polarization of America, as people surround themselves with people who think like them and hesitate to say anything different. Internet companies magnify the effect, by tweaking their algorithms to show us more content from people who are similar to us. [Continue reading...]

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How a fake ‘anti-semitic’ commenter smeared Common Dreams to support Israel

For Common Dreams, Lance Tapley reports: Like many other news websites, Common Dreams has been plagued by inflammatory anti-Semitic comments following its stories. But on Common Dreams these posts have been so frequent and intense they have driven away donors from a nonprofit dependent on reader generosity.

A Common Dreams investigation has discovered that more than a thousand of these damaging comments over the past two years were written with a deceptive purpose by a Jewish Harvard graduate in his thirties who was irritated by the website’s discussion of issues involving Israel.

His intricate campaign, which he has admitted to Common Dreams, included posting comments by a screen name, “JewishProgressive,” whose purpose was to draw attention to and denounce the anti-Semitic comments that he had written under many other screen names.

The deception was many-layered. At one point he had one of his characters charge that the anti-Semitic comments and the criticism of the anti-Semitic comments must be written by “internet trolls who have been known to impersonate anti-Semites in order to then double-back and accuse others of supporting anti-Semitism” — exactly what he was doing. (Trolls are posters who foment discord.)

The impersonation, this character wrote, must be part of an “elaborate Hasbara setup,” referring to an Israeli international public-relations campaign. When Common Dreams finally confronted the man behind the deceptive posting, he denied that he himself was involved with Hasbara.

His posting on Common Dreams illustrates the susceptibility of website comment threads to massive manipulation. [Continue reading...]

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Netanyahu criticized for exploiting James Foley’s death for Israeli propaganda

Huffington Post: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced widespread criticism on Thursday for using an image from the video of the killing of a U.S. reporter in a tweet that aimed to criticize Palestinian militants.

The message, posted on the official Twitter account of the prime minister’s office, compared the Palestinian militant group Hamas to the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq and included a still from the video showing the beheading of American reporter James Foley. The tweet later appeared to be deleted.

Several Twitter users perceived the tweet as insensitive and accused the prime minister’s office of trying to exploit Foley’s tragic death for propaganda purposes.

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How a Polish student’s website became an #ISIS propaganda tool

The Guardian reports: The rapid advance of the militant Islamic State movement in Syria and Iraq this year has been notable not just for its barbarity and brutality but for its deft and chilling social media operation.

Operations are routinely accompanied by grim images and videos of the atrocities perpetrated by the extremists. At the same time, Isis also takes care to document the donation of toys to children and TVs and fans to civilians in the battle for hearts and minds.

Twitter has very recently started cracking down on accounts used by Isis, and other mainstream organisations may follow. But the propagandists are web savvy, and can exploit the internet just like anyone else.

This is how, unknowingly, a 26-year-old Polish man’s website has become an essential part of Isis’s propaganda machine.

JustPaste.it, owned and managed by Mariusz Żurawek, is being used by Isis to upload a large number of images of executions, beheadings and massacres, as well as more prosaic images of life – an essential part of the group’s social media operation. [Continue reading...]

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What happens to #Ferguson affects Ferguson: Net neutrality, algorithmic filtering and Ferguson

Zeynep Tufekci writes: Ferguson is about many things, starting first with race and policing in America.

But it’s also about internet, net neutrality and algorithmic filtering.

It’s a clear example of why “saving the Internet”, as it often phrased, is not an abstract issue of concern only to nerds, Silicon Valley bosses, and few NGOs. It’s why “algorithmic filtering” is not a vague concern.

It’s a clear example why net neutrality is a human rights issue; a free speech issue; and an issue of the voiceless being heard, on their own terms.

I saw this play out in multiple countries — my home country of Turkey included — but last night, it became even more heartbreakingly apparent in the United States as well. [Continue reading...]

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How the NSA shut down the internet in Syria — by accident

As I have written here before, as much as we should fear the immense power of intelligence agencies such as the NSA, it’s important to recognize that secrecy does not merely function as an instrument of power — just as importantly it functions to conceal incompetence.

The agencies want to sustain their mystique as the valiant and stealthy defenders of national security. What they dread is being seen as over-funded bunglers.

On November 29, 2012, the internet went down in Syria. The following day, the Washington Post reported:

Though the rebels and the Syrian government blamed each other for the prolonged outage, most technology experts believe Syrian authorities caused the blackout to try to impede the rebels’ interactions and online broadcasts of the fighting.

More honest reporting might have said, it’s anyone’s guess what happened, but for what it’s worth here’s some speculation from some so-called experts.

It turns out, apparently, that the experts were wrong and the cause of the outage was a bungled NSA operation.

James Bamford has just done an extended interview with Edward Snowden which includes this:

By the time he went to work for Booz Allen in the spring of 2013, Snowden was thoroughly disillusioned, yet he had not lost his capacity for shock. One day an intelligence officer told him that TAO — a division of NSA hackers — had attempted in 2012 to remotely install an exploit in one of the core routers at a major Internet service provider in Syria, which was in the midst of a prolonged civil war. This would have given the NSA access to email and other Internet traffic from much of the country. But something went wrong, and the router was bricked instead—rendered totally inoperable. The failure of this router caused Syria to suddenly lose all connection to the Internet—although the public didn’t know that the US government was responsible. (This is the first time the claim has been revealed.)

Inside the TAO operations center, the panicked government hackers had what Snowden calls an “oh shit” moment. They raced to remotely repair the router, desperate to cover their tracks and prevent the Syrians from discovering the sophisticated infiltration software used to access the network. But because the router was bricked, they were powerless to fix the problem.

Fortunately for the NSA, the Syrians were apparently more focused on restoring the nation’s Internet than on tracking down the cause of the outage. Back at TAO’s operations center, the tension was broken with a joke that contained more than a little truth: “If we get caught, we can always point the finger at Israel.”

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‘I just want people to pay’

Even though I spend too many of my waking hours on the internet, like a hamster on an endlessly spinning wheel, I have some sympathy for John R. MacArthur’s disdain for online publishing. Indeed, it’s probably because of this sense that the internet has an unlimited capacity to eat time that I see some appeal in the idea that we might return to a pre-digital age of print.

But the passionate defense of print media that the publisher of Harper’s magazine makes, falls apart when we learn this:

On several occasions during a recent interview, he could not quite remember a fact that supported a point. His version of searching for it on Google was yelling to a staff member, who hurried to deliver the information.

Who needs Google when they have staff?

But perhaps the more relevent question would be: who needs to use Google when they have staff who can use Google?

MacArthur’s argument against online publishing is that the web isn’t “much more than a gigantic Xerox machine” that prevents publishers and writers getting paid.

Even so, when he somewhat dismissively refers to the internet as a place where people go to blow off steam, I wonder whether he is oblivious of the degree to which he indirectly relies on it — like a man who says he doesn’t need to know how to cook because all his meals get delivered by caterers.

MacArthur might believe his argument is against those who promote online media and thereby undermine the economic viability of publishing, but maybe he should imagine how he would make his case with Gutenburg.

Whereas Gutenburg came up with the means of making the written word accessible to the masses and thereby democratized human expression, the revivalists of print seem more interested in restricting access of their publications to their well-heeled subscribers.

MacArthur might believe that everyone who is cultivated enough to appreciate a quality literary magazine will also be able to afford paying for it, but in making that assumption he represents the American liberal elite with its over-sized sense of being liberal and its downplayed status as an elite.

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Why Israel is losing the social media war over Gaza

Paul Mason at Channel 4 News sees “evidence of a massive change in the balance of power between social media and the old, hierarchical media channels we used to rely on to understand wars.”

Specifically social media has the power to do three things: first, to show people reality – or a version of it – independent of what TV networks show. Second, and I think just as important, journalists on the ground are using social media to report, necessarily short-circuiting the normal editorial processes that used to filter what they said. Third, to get into your real life consciousness much more powerfully than the old media.

Let’s work through each of these new powers and understand their impact. In a society where the media is supposed to observe balance and impartiality, getting real-time access to corroborated facts independently of TV stations is not so revolutionary.

But modern-day America is not one of those countries. Its media is traditionally heavily skewed towards the pro-Israeli view. My colleague, Matt Frei, tweeted that CNN’s Wolf Blitzer interview with Netanyahu was less a grilling more “a warm bath and a back rub”. Others used more profane metaphors.

But now, for the first time in a major Arab-Israeli conflict, the American public has other sources of reality. All research says that young people everywhere regard Twitter as essentially a news service, and via your social network you can easily get served up words and pictures more impactful than anything on TV. By the time many Americans woke up on Sunday, these pictures were of dead Palestinian children.

Netanyahu complained the Hamas strategy was to provide “telegenically dead” people: but where Israel is losing the hearts and minds of the world is not via “tele” anything: it is in the JPEGs that stream into millions of people’s mobile phones every time they glance at the object in the palm of their hand.

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Why Israel is losing the American media war

Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes: Earlier this month, the IDF’s twitter feed had been full of images of besieged Israelis. But by this weekend Israel was so clearly losing the public relations war that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained to reporters, tersely, that Hamas uses “telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause.”

If Netanyahu is so bothered by how dead Palestinians look on television then he should stop killing so many of them. But his complaint is in itself a concession. The story of the conflict between Israel and Palestine looks a little bit different this time around. Social media have helped allow us to see more deeply inside war zones — in this case, inside Gaza, and allowed viewers much fuller access to the terror that grips a population under military attack.

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Behind the scenes, tech firms tell U.S. regulators: Make the internet a public utility

Quartz reports: As his own website crashed under the weight of public comments on net neutrality, the top communications regulator in the US was hearing protests directly from tech companies in New York City.

On July 15, at the Brooklyn office of the handicrafts e-commerce site Etsy, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler met with executives from tech companies. Attendants included Kickstarter CEO Yancey Strickler, Tumblr CEO David Karp, Vimeo CEO Kerry Trainor, and representatives from Spotify, Reddit, Foursquare, General Assembly, Buzzfeed, and Warby Parker, participants told Quartz. While the FCC declined to comment on the event, it will be filing an official notice of an outside meeting on its website later this week.

Wheeler has been meeting with different internet stakeholders as his agency moves to write rules designed to preserve the “open internet” this year, but what that means and how to do it remains far from a settled matter. While internet service providers, or carriers, want the freedom to charge different rates for different kinds of data, these technology firms were asking Wheeler’s agency to treat internet communication as a public utility with no discrimination allowed, a so-called “Title II reclassification.” US regulators are, at the moment, caught in the middle. [Continue reading...]

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Citing terrorism, Egypt to step up surveillance of social media

Christian Science Monitor reports: Egypt is tightening its control over social media by acquiring new software that would facilitate extensive monitoring of dissidents’ communications, putting even stay-at-home opposition supporters at risk.

Authorities say they need such tools to fight terrorism in Egypt. On Monday, two bombs exploded near the presidential palace in Cairo, killing two police officials.

However, Egypt’s planned surveillance system comes amid the most repressive period for decades. Over the past year, security forces have carried out mass arrests and torture that harken back to the darkest days of former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, according to Human Rights Watch. That raises fears that social media that helped fuel the 2011 uprising against Mubarak and remain a potent platform for free speech will no longer play this role. [Continue reading...]

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ISIS steps up international recruitment drive

The Wall Street Journal reports: A Sunni jihadist group that has seized vast territories in Iraq and Syria is parlaying its battlefield successes into a recruitment drive that is attracting more foreign fighters, say Western and Arab officials.

The message from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS: Join us in forming a Sunni-led religious state spanning from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf.

One recruitment video, released on Friday, shows gun-toting militants, speaking with British and Australian accents, extolling the virtues of jihad and inviting viewers to join their battle in Syria and Iraq.

It isn’t the first time ISIS has tried to recruit Islamists while carefully crafting its image on social media to raise its appeal among jihadists.

But the video, disseminated last week on ISIS’s first non-Arabic Twitter accounts in English, German and Russian, is the group’s first English-language drive for foot soldiers, and reflects its attempt to burnish its jihadist credentials farther afield. [Continue reading...]

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Media giants discussing deals with Vice

The New York Times reports: A black S.U.V. recently rolled through the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and stopped in front of the converted warehouse that is the global headquarters of Vice Media. Out of the vehicle stepped the media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Mr. Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox owns a small stake in Vice, and he was visiting Brooklyn to meet with Vice’s chief executive, Shane Smith. Among the topics at hand was a rumor that Vice was negotiating to collaborate with, and perhaps sell a large stake to, one of Fox’s competitors, Time Warner.

Fox is discussing a deal with Vice, too. So is Disney. Any agreement is likely to value Vice, which started as a free magazine in Montreal in 1994, at $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion. A partnership could take many shapes. But Vice, which has produced just 11 hours of programming expressly for television, is seeking its own TV network, a movie deal and a lot of money for its founders and investors.

The digital disruption that is transforming the news and entertainment businesses has led to many odd alliances, but few seem more incongruous than one that would join Vice with a corporate media conglomerate. Though financing itself mostly by making videos in partnership with large corporations, Vice has assiduously cultivated an insurgent image, with its tattooed news correspondents, hand-held cameras and journalistic stunts like sending the former basketball player Dennis Rodman to North Korea.

Along the way, Mr. Smith, 44, has routinely criticized the mainstream media and traditional television. If he can reach a deal with one of these companies, he will be joining the club he has professed to disdain.[Continue reading...]

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Despite the explosion in online analytics, marketers still don’t know what they’re doing

Pando reports: We’re in the second decade of the advertising and marketing revolution brought on by the Internet, one that has ripped the heart out of the print media industry. Digital content is targeted and responsive now, offering marketers detailed insight into who clicked, who read, and who shared.

Except the sad thing is, as evidenced by Contently’s The State of Content Marketing Measurement report, a survey of 302 marketers across April and May, is that no one really knows if the new information on offer makes any sense.

The statistics are staggering: 91 percent of marketers Contently spoke to had some level of uncertainty to whether the content performance analytics they used were a good gauge of business impact. [Continue reading...]

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A sophisticated ISIS social media campaign

CBS News reports: The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s on-the-ground offensive in northern Iraq this month has been aided, analysts say, by an unprecedented social media blitz.

Jihadi groups using Twitter and other social platforms is nothing new. During its 2013 attack on Kenya’s Westgate mall, the Somali militant group al-Shabab mixed tweets with gunshots. Observers have long warned about the growth of social media as powerful recruitment tools for terrorists.

What makes the ISIS social campaign stand out, analysts say, is its scale and sophistication.

“I think it was obvious very early on that they launched their offensive with a social media campaign well planned in advance. This wasn’t an afterthought. This wasn’t something that they made up as they went along,” said John Little, who monitors national security, conflicts and technology at Blogs of War.

The coordinated campaign has featured what appears to be disciplined, from-the-top-down message control designed to simulate organic grass-roots activity. Complete with an app and highly orchestrated hashtag pushes, the group’s social media strategy mirrors that of a marketing company building buzz around a new product.

“Big corporations wish they were as good at this as ISIS is,” said J.M. Berger, an author and analyst who specializes in social media and extremism, and has been closely monitoring the al Qaeda splinter group’s online activity.

“This is a combination of an extremely ambitious military campaign with an extremely ambitious PR campaign. Social media is most of that PR campaign.”

ISIS has developed a Twitter app for Android phones called The Dawn of Glad Tidings, Berger said. It offers users news and information about ISIS. When users sign up, they give ISIS permission to send tweets through their own personal accounts.

“Your account functions normally most of the time, but it will periodically broadcast tweets from ISIS that are also sent around at the same time to hundreds or even thousands of other accounts,” Berger told CBS News. He said the app helps ISIS get pre-approved hashtags trending on Twitter in certain areas, which then amplifies its message.

“It’s one of many tools that ISIS uses to manipulate the perception on social media that their content is bigger and more popular than it might actually be if you were looking at just their organic supporters.”

Berger reports that ISIS posted almost 40,000 tweets in one day last week as it took Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Its messages are then parroted by Internet users unaffiliated with the group and far away from the fight, sometimes called “E-hadis” or “Jihobbyists.”

“They have at least hundreds and probably more like thousands of fighters who are on social media, and then in addition to that they have many thousands of people who are casually or intensely interested in them as supporters online,” Berger said. [Continue reading...]

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Documents show how Russia’s troll army hit America

BuzzFeed reports: Russia’s campaign to shape international opinion around its invasion of Ukraine has extended to recruiting and training a new cadre of online trolls that have been deployed to spread the Kremlin’s message on the comments section of top American websites.

Plans attached to emails leaked by a mysterious Russian hacker collective show IT managers reporting on a new ideological front against the West in the comments sections of Fox News, Huffington Post, The Blaze, Politico, and WorldNetDaily.

The bizarre hive of social media activity appears to be part of a two-pronged Kremlin campaign to claim control over the internet, launching a million-dollar army of trolls to mold American public opinion as it cracks down on internet freedom at home.

“Foreign media are currently actively forming a negative image of the Russian Federation in the eyes of the global community,” one of the project’s team members, Svetlana Boiko, wrote in a strategy document. “Additionally, the discussions formed by comments to those articles are also negative in tone.

“Like any brand formed by popular opinion, Russia has its supporters (‘brand advocates’) and its opponents. The main problem is that in the foreign internet community, the ratio of supporters and opponents of Russia is about 20/80 respectively.”

The documents show instructions provided to the commenters that detail the workload expected of them. On an average working day, the Russians are to post on news articles 50 times. Each blogger is to maintain six Facebook accounts publishing at least three posts a day and discussing the news in groups at least twice a day. By the end of the first month, they are expected to have won 500 subscribers and get at least five posts on each item a day. On Twitter, the bloggers are expected to manage 10 accounts with up to 2,000 followers and tweet 50 times a day. [Continue reading...]

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