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...]
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...]
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...]
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...]
Jonathan Salem Baskin writes: The FTC has ruled that data brokers need to be more transparent. The slow reveal of NSA snooping details continues (as Glenn Greenwald’s book may get made into a movie, and you can bet Snowden’s tome is already being ghost-written). eBay has just joined the long list of businesses to have its data hacked. The privacy issue isn’t going away any time soon, though the commercial social media sites have deftly surfed the edges of the wave. Considering the low thresholds of user loyalty these platforms command, and the inexpensive ease by which true P2P communicating can be accomplished, I wonder how long before the leading “Big Social” companies either address the issue clearly , or are forced by regulators or consumers to suffer the consequences of failing to do so.
For instance, when Facebook recently announced changes to its default privacy settings on sharing with friends, it was revealed also that it could access smartphone mics to capture and analyze the songs, TV shows and other things users heard. Google suffered a court ruling in Europe earlier this year, forcing it to allow petitioners to be “forgotten” by its search engine, just as the continued rollout of its glasses promised to add every waking moment of users’ lives to its database (it also recently announced it would no longer scan students’ emails for marketing purposes, while admitting it had used data collected from its apps for government customers for just such purposes).
Add to these headlines the recurring experience of opt-in screens or other detailed mouseprint agreements users are required to approve in order to use many online services (Yahoo just changed its policy to deny users the ability to request that their behavior not get tracked, and called it an improvement in “personalized experience”). Even Wiki’s latest privacy changes are laudable for their transparency, but still woefully complex, as if they’re written only for the initiated to understand, let alone find.
This is muddled communicating, at best, and it’s hard not to think that it’s purposeful, since the profitability of these services depends on users remaining unaware of the extent to which their privacy is (or will be) exploited. [Continue reading...]
Karl Taro Greenfeld writes: I can’t help it. Every few weeks, my wife mentions the latest book her book club is reading, and no matter what it is, whether I’ve read it or not, I offer an opinion of the work, based entirely on … what, exactly? Often, these are books I’ve not even read a review or essay about, yet I freely hold forth on the grandiosity of Cheryl Strayed or the restrained sentimentality of Edwidge Danticat. These data motes are gleaned, apparently, from the ether — or, more realistically, from various social media feeds.
What was Solange Knowles’s elevator attack on Jay-Z about? I didn’t watch the security-camera video on TMZ — it would have taken too long — but I scrolled through enough chatter to know that Solange had scrubbed her Instagram feed of photos of her sister, Beyoncé. How about this season of “Game of Thrones” and that nonconsensual intercourse in the crypt? I don’t watch the show, but I’ve scanned the recaps on Vulture.com, and I am prepared to argue that this was deeply offensive. Is Pope Francis a postmodern pontiff? I’ve never listened to one of his homilies nor watched his recent “60 Minutes” appearance, but I’ve seen plenty of his @Pontifex tweets retweeted, so I’m ready to say his position on inequality and social justice is remarkably progressive.
It’s never been so easy to pretend to know so much without actually knowing anything. We pick topical, relevant bits from Facebook, Twitter or emailed news alerts, and then regurgitate them. Instead of watching “Mad Men” or the Super Bowl or the Oscars or a presidential debate, you can simply scroll through someone else’s live-tweeting of it, or read the recaps the next day. Our cultural canon is becoming determined by whatever gets the most clicks.
In his 1987 book “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know,” E. D. Hirsch Jr. listed 5,000 essential concepts and names — 1066, Babbitt, Pickwickian — that educated people should be familiar with. (Or at least that’s what I believe he wrote, not having actually read the book.) Mr. Hirsch’s book, along with its contemporary “The Closing of the American Mind” by Allan Bloom, made the point that cultural literacy — Mr. Bloom’s canon — was the bedrock of our agreed-upon values.
What we all feel now is the constant pressure to know enough, at all times, lest we be revealed as culturally illiterate. So that we can survive an elevator pitch, a business meeting, a visit to the office kitchenette, a cocktail party, so that we can post, tweet, chat, comment, text as if we have seen, read, watched, listened. What matters to us, awash in petabytes of data, is not necessarily having actually consumed this content firsthand but simply knowing that it exists — and having a position on it, being able to engage in the chatter about it. We come perilously close to performing a pastiche of knowledgeability that is really a new model of know-nothingness. [Continue reading...]
Ars Technica: Hector Xavier Monsegur, the hacker known as “Sabu,” became a confidential FBI informant following his 2011 arrest. But he continued to direct other hackers to attack more than 2,000 Internet domains in 2012, including sites operated by the Iranian, Syrian, and Brazilian governments.
Based on documents obtained by the New York Times, those attacks were carried out with the knowledge of the FBI agents supervising Monsegur. The Times report suggests that the data obtained in the attacks—including information on Syrian government sites—was passed to US intelligence agencies by the FBI.
Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly wants to exploit the climate of distrust that has been generated by the NSA and other branches of the U.S. government that have undermined internet security and sees in this the opportunity to push for a Russian internet — one in which the Russian government can exercise greater control over social media.
“The Internet emerged as a special project of the CIA USA, and continues to be developed as such,” said Putin [at the conference Mediaforum in St. Petersburg today]. Moreover, the president noted that the national search engine Yandex and the social network VKontakte are trying to develop business, mathematical and informational programming in Russia. “Our companies didn’t have resources free for such capital investments, but now they have appeared,” said the head of state. Putin expressed the hope that the Russian Internet would develop rather intensively and rapidly and will secure the interests of the Russian Federation.”
Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reports:
Russia’s popular bloggers will now have to brace for considerable restrictions of their rights. The State Duma has just adopted a law introducing new rules they will have to abide by. The document incorporates a package of bills for effective struggle against terrorism and extremism. Earlier, the bill drew a mixed response from society, including sharp criticism from human rights activists.
The law introduces a new term: “Internet user called blogger.” Bloggers will be obliged to declare their family name and initials and e-mail address. Those authors whose personal website or page in social networks has 3,000 visitors or more a day must have themselves registered on a special list and abide by restrictions applicable to the mass media. In other words, registration requires the blogger should check the authenticity of published information and also mention age restrictions for users. Also, bloggers will have to follow mass media laws concerning electioneering, resistance to extremism and the publication of information about people’s private lives. An abuse of these requirements will be punishable with a fine of 10,000 to 30,000 roubles (roughly 300 dollars to 1,000 dollars) for individuals and 300,000 roubles (10,000 roubles) for legal entities. A second violation will be punishable with the website’s suspension for one month.
The Russian investigative journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan write:
The NSA scandal made a perfect excuse for the Russian authorities to launch a campaign to bring global web platforms such as Gmail and Facebook under Russian law—either requiring them to be accessible in Russia by the domain extension .ru, or obliging them to be hosted on Russian territory. Under Russian control, these companies and their Russian users could protect their data from U.S. government surveillance and, most importantly, be completely transparent for Russian secret services.
Russia wants to shift supervision and control of the Internet from global companies to local or national authorities, allowing the FSB more authority and latitude to thwart penetration from outside. At December’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) conference in Dubai, Moscow tried to win over other countries to its plan for a new system of control. The key to the project is to hand off the functions of managing distribution of domain names/IP-addresses from the U.S.-based organization ICANN to an international organization such as the ITU, where Russia can play a central role. Russia also proposed limiting the right of access to the Internet in such cases where “telecommunication services are used for the purpose of interfering in the internal affairs or undermining the sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity, and public safety of other states, or to divulge information of a sensitive nature.” Some 89 countries voted for the Russian proposals, but not the United States, United Kingdom, Western Europe, Australia, or Canada. The result is a stalemate.
Web services would be required to build backdoors for the Russian secret services to access what’s stored there. Prominent Russian MP Sergei Zheleznyak, a member of the ruling United Russia party, has called on Russia to reclaim its “digital sovereignty” and wean its citizens off foreign websites. He said he would introduce legislation this fall to create a “national server,” which analysts say would require foreign websites to register on Russian territory, thus giving the Kremlin’s own security services the access they have long been seeking. Of course, building such a national system would defeat the global value of the Internet.
Shane Harris writes:
When U.S. officials warn of the threat foreign cyber spies pose to American companies and government agencies, they usually focus on China, which has long been home to the world’s most relentless and aggressive hackers. But new information shows that Russian and Eastern European hackers, who have historically focused their energies on crime and fraud, now account for a large and growing percentage of all cyber espionage, most of which is directed at the United States.
Individuals and groups in Eastern Europe, and particularly in Russia and Russian-speaking countries, are responsible for a fifth of all cyber spying incidents in the world, according to a global study of data breaches conducted by Verizon, published this week. The spies are targeting a range of companies as varied as the global economy itself, and are stealing manufacturing designs, proprietary technology and confidential business plans. The cyber spies steal information on behalf of their governments in order to manufacture cheaper versions of technologies or weapons systems, or to give their home country’s corporations a leg up on their foreign competitors.
Moscow Times reports: Pavel Durov, the founder of Russia’s largest social networking website, fled the country on Tuesday, a day after he said he was forced out as the company’s CEO for refusing to share users’ personal data with Russian law enforcement agencies.
Durov, who created Vkontakte seven years ago, first announced his intention to leave the company on April 1 but withdrew his resignation letter two days later. On Monday, he announced that he had been fired and that the social network would now fall under “full control” of Kremlin-linked Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin and Vkontakte billionaire shareholder Alisher Usmanov.
The move to oust Durov is widely seen as part of a wider campaign by the Kremlin to tighten its grip on the Internet, and observers said the authorities aimed to “cleanse” the management of Russian Internet companies in the hopes of gaining control of their content.
Last week, Durov said in an interview with the New Times that the Federal Security Service had turned up the pressure on Vkontakte employees dramatically in recent months, demanding that Durov release personal information about Euromaidan activists. He said the Prosecutor General’s Office ordered him to shut down a group on the website dedicated to anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, though he refused to do so.
“I am out of Russia and have no plans to go back,” Durov said Tuesday in an interview with Techcrunch, a news website focused on technology. He said he intended to launch a mobile social network outside Russia. [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: The head of the U.S. government agency that secretly created a “Cuban Twitter” communications network designed to undermine the communist government in Cuba is expected to testify next week before a senator who thinks the whole idea was “dumb, dumb, dumb.” The congressional hearing could resolve key questions around the clandestine program, including whether the Obama administration adequately informed lawmakers about its plans.
Administration officials on Thursday defended the program, saying it had been “debated” by Congress and wasn’t a covert operation that required White House approval. But two senior Democrats on congressional intelligence and judiciary committees said they had known nothing about the effort.
An Associated Press investigation found that the network was built using secret shell companies and financed through a foreign bank. The project, which lasted more than two years and drew tens of thousands of subscribers, sought to evade Cuba’s stranglehold on the Internet with a social media platform.
The program aimed first to build a Cuban audience, mostly young people. Then the plan was to push them toward dissent.
But the Cuban users of the network, called ZunZuneo, were not aware it was created by the U.S. Agency for International Development, overseen by the State Department. They also did not know that American contractors running the program were gathering personal data about them, in the hope that the information might be used someday for political purposes. [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.
McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company’s ties to the U.S. government.
McSpedon didn’t work for the CIA. This was a program paid for and run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid.
According to documents obtained by The Associated Press and multiple interviews with people involved in the project, the plan was to develop a bare-bones “Cuban Twitter,” using cellphone text messaging to evade Cuba’s strict control of information and its stranglehold restrictions over the Internet. In a play on Twitter, it was called ZunZuneo — slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet.
Documents show the U.S. government planned to build a subscriber base through “non-controversial content”: news messages on soccer, music, and hurricane updates. Later when the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, operators would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize “smart mobs” — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban Spring, or, as one USAID document put it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”
At its peak, the project drew in more than 40,000 Cubans to share news and exchange opinions. But its subscribers were never aware it was created by the U.S. government, or that American contractors were gathering their private data in the hope that it might be used for political purposes. [Continue reading...]
International Business Times reports: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ban of YouTube occurred after a leaked conversation between Head of Turkish Intelligence Hakan Fidan and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu that he wanted removed from the video-sharing website.
The leaked call details Erdogan’s thoughts that an attack on Syria “must be seen as an opportunity for us [Turkey]“.
In the conversation, intelligence chief Fidan says that he will send four men from Syria to attack Turkey to “make up a cause of war”.
Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Yaşar Güler replies that Fidan’s projected actions are “a direct cause of war…what you’re going to do is a direct cause of war”.
Turkey’s foreign ministry said the leaked recording of top officials discussing the Syria operation was “partially manipulated” and is a “wretched attack” on national security.
In the leaked video, Fidan is discussing with Davutoğlu, Güler and other officials a possible operation within Syria to secure the tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman empire.
Full transcript (translated by @castizbey): [Continue reading...]
Reuters adds: Turkey threatened two weeks ago to retaliate for any attack on the tomb following clashes between militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al Qaeda breakaway group, and rival rebel groups in the area, east of Aleppo near the Turkish border.
“An operation against ISIL has international legitimacy. We will define it as al Qaeda. There are no issues on the al Qaeda framework. When it comes to the Suleyman Shah tomb, it’s about the protection of national soil,” a voice presented as that of foreign ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu says.
When the discussion turns to the need to justify such an operation, the voice purportedly of Fidan says: “Now look, my commander, if there is to be justification, the justification is, I send four men to the other side. I get them to fire eight missiles into empty land. That’s not a problem. Justification can be created.”
The foreign ministry said it was natural for state officials to discuss defending Turkish territory.
“In the meeting it was confirmed that Turkey would take necessary steps decisively to protect the security of our personnel at the Suleyman Shah tomb and Turkey’s will to defend it in the face of an attack was reiterated,” the statement said.
Human Rights Watch: The Turkish government’s decision to close down YouTube by administrative order is a disastrous move for freedom of expression and the right to access information in Turkey. The government similarly closed down Twitter on March 21. The restrictions violate Turkey’s obligations under international human rights law and domestic law.
The closure of YouTube by a decision of Turkey’s Telecommunications Communication Directorate came shortly after two leaked conversations were posted on the site. The conversations purported to be the foreign minister, his undersecretary, the head of the National Intelligence Agency, and deputy chief of staff of the Turkish Armed Forces discussing Turkey’s Syria policy.
“The decision to close down a whole website because of some content is arbitrary, disproportionate, and a flagrant violation of free speech and the right to access information online,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior researcher for Turkey at Human Rights Watch. “The order blocking YouTube should be reversed immediately, and access to Twitter restored without delay.” [Continue reading...]
Zeynep Zileli Rabanea writes: When it comes to being resourceful to overcome challenges, Turks always find a way. They have the humour, quick wittedness, and a soul rebellious enough to make their voice heard. But most importantly they have experience with censorship and bullying intimidation tactics by those in power.
On March 20, Facebook was full of numbers posted by Turkish users. The call was for Twitter users to change their DNS settings to 220.127.116.11 – 18.104.22.168 in order to continue having access to the widely used social media site in Turkey, which had been shut down upon Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s orders. Twitter’s “crime” was being the platform where audio recordings showing corruption in Erdogan’s inner circle were circulating.
With a week left before municipal elections in Turkey, Erdogan’s decision is not a foolish move politically. Erdogan had come to power in the first place by cleverly playing on Turkish people’s sense of pride, and now relies again on the same “us against them” strategy.
Although Erdogan has many critics because of his actions of intimidation, he has just as many supporters who get off on his talks that tap into the country’s long felt inferiority complex against the West, and at home against the western half of Turkey.
One of Erdogan’s talents is knowing how to play on the weaknesses of his public. This was exactly the message in a speech delivered one week before the elections: “Twitter, schmitter! We will wipe out all of these… The International community can say this or that. I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is.”
A statement which received cheers from a frenzied audience. [Continue reading...]
Hurriyet Daily News reports: The number of messages tweeted by users in Turkey has not dropped since access to Twitter was banned, statistics have shown. What’s more, the hashtags #TwitterisblockedinTurkey and #TurkeyBlockedTwitter became trending topics worldwide only a few hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced his intention to “wipe out” the microblogging website.
According a report from Twitturk, which records the statistics of Turkish Twitter users, over half a million tweets were posted in just 10 hours, despite the ban.
That number would mark no sharp fall from the average number of tweets posted in the country, which is around 1.8 million per day.
“I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic’s state,” Erdoğan said when he announced the ban.
Everyone is now witnessing the power of the state and the fact that it is less than Turkey’s prime minister seems to have imagined.
What that seems to imply is that when Erdoğan issued his order, no one around him had the guts to tell him it wouldn’t work.
Either that, or they purposefully set him up, knowing that this show of strength would quickly become a very public display of his impotence.
Today’s Zaman reports: Hours after Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to shut down Twitter and other social media platforms, government has restricted access to Twitter in most parts of the country, citing a court ruling on Thursday.
During a rally, Erdoğan said he did not care about the international response, his latest outburst in an increasingly bitter election campaign.
Hours after his threat, the Turkish government rushed to partially restrict access to Twitter, sparking public outrage on social media as people sought ways to avoid the restriction.
Thousands of tweets flooded in Twitter, vehemently criticizing the government ban. With partial ban on Twitter, Turkey now stands along with countries such as N.Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia on internet freedom. [Continue reading...]
Turkish users: you can send Tweets using SMS. Avea and Vodafone text START to 2444. Turkcell text START to 2555.
— Policy (@policy) March 20, 2014
The program can compare two photos and determine whether they are of the same person with 97.25% accuracy — just a hair below the 97.53% facial recognition rate of actual human beings.
DeepFace goes way beyond Facebook’s current facial recognition that suggests tags for images. [Continue reading...]