The New York Times reports: In a new online threat to American military personnel, the Islamic State has called on its members and sympathizers in the United States to kill 100 service members whose names, photos and purported addresses it posted on a website.
The group said that the personnel had participated in efforts to defeat it in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.
Defense Department and F.B.I. officials said that they were aware of the website and were investigating the posting.
It does not appear that the information had been hacked from government servers. One Defense Department official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said that most of the information could be found in public records, residential address search sites and social media.
The officials said the list appears to be drawn from personnel who have appeared in news articles about airstrikes on the militant group.
Some of the names also appear to be drawn from the Defense Department’s own official reports on the campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL.
But the list also included armed services personnel and others in the United States or elsewhere who have had nothing to do with the bombing campaigns, officials said. [Continue reading…]
You will find more statistics at Statista
Olga Bugorkova reports: Over the past year, Russia has seen an unprecedented rise in the activity of “Kremlin trolls” – bloggers allegedly paid by the state to criticise Ukraine and the West on social media and post favourable comments about the leadership in Moscow.
Though the existence and even whereabouts of the alleged “cyber army” are no secret, recent media reports appear to have revealed some details of how one of the tools of Russian propaganda operates on an everyday basis.
The Internet Research Agency (“Agentstvo Internet Issledovaniya”) employs at least 400 people and occupies an unremarkable office in one of the residential areas in St Petersburg. [Continue reading…]
J.M. Berger writes: Social networks offer an incredible tool for tapping into the collective unconscious, a virtual Jungian arena in which competition might be expected to amplify the critical values and anxieties of millions of people in real time.
In early 2015, these critical issues included the ambiguous color of a random dress, the so-called Islamic State, and llamas — in that order.
How did we get here?
The answer to this question is, predictably, complex. Divining the mood of the masses has always been a tricky business. Prior to the rise of democracy, there were few consistent tools for this purpose, aside from counting how many pitchforks and torches the peasants were waving outside the gates. The vote became one way to quantify citizen priorities. But in practice, democracy is reductive. A finite number of candidates run for a finite number of offices, and the winners infer what their constituents want and need.
The explosion of affordable communications technologies allowed such inferences to become more accurate over time. Still, at every stage, reductionist influences kept whittling and shaping the raw data of public opinion. Pollsters decided what to ask and how to phrase the questions. Politicians decided which issues to exploit. News editors and producers made judgment calls about what was newsworthy.
Social media has introduced a new and profound layer of complication to how we listen to the voice of the masses. The technology has replaced the reductionism of the old world with a bafflingly dense ecosystem of echo and amplification. [Continue reading…]
Reuters: Social media and other technology are making it increasingly difficult to combat militants who are using such modern resources to share information and conduct operations, the head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency said on Friday.
CIA Director John Brennan, in a speech in New York, said such communications heighten the challenge of dealing with diffuse threats and attacks across the world from groups like Islamic State, known also as ISIL, and others.
“New technologies can help groups like ISIL coordinate operations, attract new recruits, disseminate propaganda, and inspire sympathizers across the globe to act in their name,” Brennan said, using an acronym for the militant group that has taken hold in Syria and Iraq.
“The overall threat of terrorism is greatly amplified by today’s interconnected world, where an incident in one corner of the globe can instantly spark a reaction thousands of miles away; and where a lone extremist can go online and learn how to carry out an attack without ever leaving home,” Brennan said.
John Borthwick writes: 2014 certainly ended up as the year of the media hack. The Sony incident and the ham handed response by the company and theatrical distributors, pushed the hacking of a media company and its ransoming into the mainstream. The entire incident was surreal, partially because it was both an example of a media company getting hacked and media hacking. There has been a lot of attention on the former; we want to dig into the latter — media hacking.
Media Hacking refers to the usage and manipulation of social media and associated algorithms to define a narrative or political frame. Individuals, states, and non-state actors are increasingly using Media Hacking techniques to advance political agendas. Over the past year we’ve seen a number of such incidents occur — where both social media and mainstream media were manipulated to advance a particular agenda. Two examples follow, one which I tracked and one Gilad tracked.
Open your browser and search for ISIS France. The first recommendation that Google offers is “ISIS France support”. Why is the most sophisticated algorithm in the world prompting me that the most frequently used search term about ISIS and France relates to French support? The answer has nothing to do with the tragic murders at the French satirical magazine. It’s a hack. Google search algorithm was effectively hacked to produce this result.
On August 26th Vox ran a story with the title “One in six French people say they support ISIS”. The headline is disconcerting — the article highlights that in the 18–24yr old bracket, 27% of French youth surveyed support ISIS. I remember seeing this in my Twitter feed and thinking this makes no sense, 10M people in France, a quarter of French youth, support ISIS? A bit of digging yielded some perspective.
The article is based on a survey of random phone interviews conducted by a British marketing agency called ICM. ICM randomly dialed 1,001 people in France. This seems like a small sample, but 1,000 randomly selected callers is statistically significant for a population the size of France. While the overall sample is relevant the sub samples aren’t — the sample size that yielded the 27% number was based on a sample size of 105 people. That’s not meaningful. And the questions in the survey were oblique — if you look at the source data, it’s possible that people who were interviewed thought this was a general statement of support of Iraq, not ISIS and while the survey refers to ISIS the French have several other words they use. Finally the survey data indicated only 2.7% of people had a very favorable view — most people grouped into the unfavorable group (62%) or the “don’t know” group (23%) so methodology wise, it’s a mixed bag, at best.
Beyond the methodology, the survey was commissioned by Russian news agency Rossiya Segodnya. The trail of the media breadcrumbs seem to be as follows: Rossiya Segodnya commissioned a survey to test support or opposition to the admissions of Georgia and the Ukraine into the EU, the ISIS question was secondary. On August 18th Russia Today ran the story with the headline: “15% of French people back ISIS militants, poll finds.” Over the following week the Russia Today story was reposted, in particular the summary infographic (above) propagated around the internet, mostly on French sites. A Tinyeye search for the URL of the image for the infographic shows some of the sites who ran it.
The Vox story ran a week later. In an email exchange Max Fisher (author of the Vox post) said he thought he saw the data in Tweet. The Vox story combined two surveys (the one by ICM and one by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion), sources were cited (including that Rossiya Segodnya commissioned the survey) and they included an infographic from Russia Today. With the headline — “One in six French people say they support ISIS” — the story started to circulate on social media, in particular on Twitter. Media hacks take advantage of the decontextualized structure of real time news feeds — you see a Tweet from a known news site, with a provocative headline and maybe the infographic image included — you retweet it. Maybe you intend the read the story, might be you just want to Tweet something interesting and proactive, maybe you recognize the source, maybe you dont. [Continue reading…]
Although much ink has been spilled on ISIS’s activity on Twitter, very basic questions about the group’s social media strategy remain unanswered. In a new analysis paper, J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan answer fundamental questions about how many Twitter users support ISIS, who and where they are, and how they participate in its highly organized online activities.
Previous analyses of ISIS’s Twitter reach have relied on limited segments of the overall ISIS social network. The small, cellular nature of that network—and the focus on particular subsets within the network such as foreign fighters—may create misleading conclusions. This information vacuum extends to discussions of how the West should respond to the group’s online campaigns.
Berger and Morgan present a demographic snapshot of ISIS supporters on Twitter by analyzing a sample of 20,000 ISIS-supporting Twitter accounts. Using a sophisticated and innovative methodology, the authors map the locations, preferred languages, and the number and type of followers of these accounts.
Among the key findings:
• From September through December 2014, the authors estimate that at least 46,000 Twitter accounts were used by ISIS supporters, although not all of them were active at the same time.
Accounts Created, By Year
• Typical ISIS supporters were located within the organization’s territories in Syria and Iraq, as well as in regions contested by ISIS. Hundreds of ISIS-supporting accounts sent tweets with location metadata embedded.
Location Claimed in Profile
• Almost one in five ISIS supporters selected English as their primary language when using Twitter. Three quarters selected Arabic.
• ISIS-supporting accounts had an average of about 1,000 followers each, considerably higher than an ordinary Twitter user. ISIS-supporting accounts were also considerably more active than non-supporting users.
• A minimum of 1,000 ISIS-supporting accounts were suspended by Twitter between September and December 2014. Accounts that tweeted most often and had the most followers were most likely to be suspended.
• Much of ISIS’s social media success can be attributed to a relatively small group of hyperactive users, numbering between 500 and 2,000 accounts, which tweet in concentrated bursts of high volume.
Simon Cottee writes: ISIS’s métier is shock and gore, whereas the [U.S. State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications] CSCC’s, to put it unkindly, is more mock and bore, more Fred Flintstone than Freddy Krueger. Shock and gore, needless to say, is where the action is — and hence where the Internet traffic tends to go. “You’re never going to be able to match the power of their outrageousness,” Fernandez said, conceding this disadvantage.
ISIS has a vast network of “fanboys,” as its virtual supporters are widely and derisively known, who disseminate the group’s online propaganda. (ISIS ennobles them with the title “knights of the uploading.”) They are dedicated, self-sufficient, and even, Fernandez said, occasionally funny. And they are everywhere on Twitter, despite the social-media network’s efforts to ban them. Fernandez described the group’s embrace of social media as “a stroke of genius on their part.” The CSCC doesn’t have fanboys.
More crucially, ISIS has a narrative. This is often described by the group’s opponents as “superficial” or “bankrupt.” Only it isn’t. It is immensely rich. The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence estimates that of the 20,000 or more foreign jihadists believed to have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq, around 100 are from the United States. These fighters may be naive or stupid, but they didn’t sacrifice everything for nothing. John Horgan, director of the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies at University of Massachusetts Lowell, told me that people who join groups like ISIS “are trying to find a path, to answer a call to something, to right some perceived wrong, to do something truly meaningful with their lives.”
The CSCC doesn’t have a narrative — not one, at any rate, remotely comparable in emotional affect and resonance to that of ISIS. No one is more sharply aware of this than Fernandez himself. “ISIS’s message,” he said, “is that Muslims are being killed and that they’re the solution. … There is an appeal to violence, obviously, but there is also an appeal to the best in people, to people’s aspirations, hopes and dreams, to their deepest yearnings for identity, faith, and self-actualization. We don’t have a counter-narrative that speaks to that. What we have is half a message: ‘Don’t do this.’ But we lack the ‘do this instead.’ That’s not very exciting. The positive narrative is always more powerful, especially if it involves dressing in black like a ninja, having a cool flag, being on television, and fighting for your people.” [Continue reading…]
It’s a bit misleading to keep on talking about the need for a counter-narrative when narratives are nothing more than marketing strategies.
ISIS’s marketing strategy is coupled with the realities it has created on the ground. It might be marketing hype to pronounce the territory under its control as a caliphate, but the fact is, it does control real territory as large as a medium-sized country. Without that territory, it would have next to nothing to market.
Countering ISIS requires much more than coming up with a better pitch — it has to be a pitch for something tangible and not just some vacuous promise of a better future. Such a narrative (if it can be found) can neither be crafted nor delivered by the U.S. government
Alyssa Bereznak writes: When Robin Williams died last August, people around the world rushed online to mourn the loss of the actor. “Oh dear God. The wonderful Robin Williams has gone,” Bette Midler tweeted. “No words,” added a somber Billy Crystal. “Shame. I liked Jumanji,” tweeted one England-based Twitter user. “Good movie. Loved it as a kid,” replied an account with the handle @Mujahid4life.
“Mujahid,” for those unfamiliar, roughly translates to “jihadist warrior.” And this particular handle belonged to a 19-year-old British-born guy by the name of Abdullah, who happened to be both a supporter of the Islamic State and a big Robin Williams fan.
Abdullah’s opinion of the fallen star unleashed a torrent of blog posts, most of which marveled at the fact that a member of an organization that openly beheads its enemies could also have the emotional capacity to mourn a U.S. comedian on Twitter. But however surreal it was to watch Hollywood actors and terrorist sympathizers tangle online, those voyeuristic bloggers missed a larger point. That moment encapsulated a key pillar of the group’s now infamous social media fortress: Spreading extremist ideology doesn’t need to start with religious screeds and beheadings. It starts — as a social media 101 instructor might say — by simply taking part in the conversation. [Continue reading…]
Phys.org: Twitter said Monday it saw a 40 percent jump in government request for user data in late 2014, with sharp rises coming from both Turkey and Russia.
The “transparency report” released by the messaging platform showed the United States remained the largest source of data queries with 1,622 over the last six months of the year, but that notable increases came from Turkey and Russia.
The total number of requests globally was 2,871, up from 2,058 in the first six months of the year.
Turkey — which blocked Twitter and other social media last year for leaking data about government corruption — vaulted to the number two spot with 356 requests, the Twitter report said.
The Daily Beast reports: The British army is creating a special force of Facebook warriors, skilled in psychological operations and use of social media to engage in unconventional warfare in the information age.
The 77th Brigade, to be based in Hermitage, near Newbury, in Berkshire, will be about 1,500-strong and formed of units drawn from across the army. It will formally come into being in April.
The brigade will be responsible for what is described as non-lethal warfare. Both the Israeli and US army already engage heavily in psychological operations.
Against a background of 24-hour news, smartphones and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, the force will attempt to control the narrative.
The 77th will include regulars and reservists and recruitment will begin in the spring. Soldiers with journalism skills and familiarity with social media are among those being sought. [Continue reading…]
Jon Ronson writes: I’ve known Adam Curtis for nearly 20 years. We’re friends. We see movies together, and once even went to Romania on a mini-break to attend an auction of Nicolae Ceausescu’s belongings. But it would be wrong to characterise our friendship as frivolous. Most of the time when we’re together I’m just intensely cross-questioning him about some new book idea I have.
Sometimes Adam will say something that seems baffling and wrong at the time, but makes perfect sense a few years later. I could give you lots of examples, but here’s one: I’m about to publish a book – So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – about how social media is evolving into a cold and conservative place, a giant echo chamber where what we believe is constantly reinforced by people who believe the same thing, and when people step out of line in the smallest ways we destroy them. Adam was warning me about Twitter’s propensity to turn this way six years ago, when it was still a Garden of Eden. Sometimes talking to Adam feels like finding the results of some horse race of the future, where the long-shot horse wins.
I suppose it’s no surprise that Adam would notice this stuff about social media so early on. It’s what his films are almost always about – power and social control. However, people don’t only enjoy them for the subject matter, but for how they look, too – his wonderful, strange use of archive.
His new film, Bitter Lake, is his most experimental yet. And I think it’s his best. It’s still journalism: it’s about our relationship with Afghanistan, and how we don’t know what to do, and so we just repeat the mistakes of the past. But he’s allowed his use of archive to blossom crazily. Fifty percent of the film has no commentary. Instead, he’s created this dreamlike, fantastical collage from historical footage and raw, unedited news footage. Sometimes it’s just a shot of a man walking down a road in some Afghan town, and you don’t know why he’s chosen it, and then something happens and you think, ‘Ah!’ (Or, more often, ‘Oh God.’) It might be something small and odd. Or it might be something huge and terrible.
Nightmarish things happen in Bitter Lake. There are shots of people dying. It’s a film that could never be on TV. It’s too disturbing. And it’s too long as well – nearly two and a half hours. And so he’s putting it straight onto BBC iPlayer. I think, with this film, he’s invented a whole new way of telling a nonfiction story.
VICE asked the two of us to have an email conversation about his work. We started just before Christmas, and carried on until after the New Year. [Continue reading…]
Caitlin Dewey writes: Only two weeks after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a strongly worded #JeSuisCharlie statement on the importance of free speech, Facebook has agreed to censor images of the prophet Muhammad in Turkey — including the very type of image that precipitated the Charlie Hebdo attack.
It’s an illustration, perhaps, of how extremely complicated and nuanced issues of online speech really are. It’s also conclusive proof of what many tech critics said of Zuckerberg’s free-speech declaration at the time: Sweeping promises are all well and good, but Facebook’s record doesn’t entirely back it up.
Just this December, Facebook agreed to censor the page of Russia’s leading Putin critic, Alexei Navalny, at the request of Russian Internet regulators. (It is a sign, the Post’s Michael Birnbaum wrote from Moscow, of “new limits on Facebook’s ability to serve as a platform for political opposition movements.”) Critics have previously accused the site of taking down pages tied to dissidents in Syria and China; the International Campaign for Tibet is currently circulating a petition against alleged Facebook censorship, which has been signed more than 20,000 times. [Continue reading…]
Al-Akhbar reports: The Mufti of Saudi Arabia was right on the mark when he recently said that Twitter was a source of “evil” and a “scourge” for his kingdom. Secret Saudi documents from the interior and defense ministries were leaked on Twitter on Tuesday.
The documents reveal much about the Saudi government’s efforts to spy on its citizens and monitor their accounts, as well as details on arrest warrants and detention of individuals who called for political reform, and the “royal hysteria” over otherwise unremarkable articles published online.
Saudi Arabia being a police state won’t come as news to most people. What is new, however, is that the public can now examine the kingdom’s administrative mechanisms for spying and surveillance — thanks to classified documents leaked on social media sites.
Tom Jacobs writes: Why does one community have higher levels of heart disease than another? Some of the reasons are obvious, such as income and education levels or local eating and exercise norms.
But as epidemiologists have long argued, other likely factors are more ephemeral. Among them: how angry or content the residents tend to feel, and whether the environment fosters a sense of social connectedness.
Measuring such things is tough, but newly published research reports telling indicators can be found in bursts of 140 characters or less. Examining data on a county-by-county basis, it finds a strong connection between two seemingly disparate factors: deaths caused by the narrowing and hardening of coronary arteries and the language residents use on their Twitter accounts. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Turkish officials threatened to shut down Twitter in the country unless the social-media company blocked the account of a left-wing newspaper that had circulated documents about a military police raid on Turkish Intelligence Agency trucks that were traveling to Syria last January.
The demand came on Thursday, a day after a local court in Adana, a southern Turkish province, issued an order barring coverage of the investigation, hinting at the possibility of an overall ban on social media networks where documents on legal proceedings of the raid have been circulated.
The court argued that publication of the information violated national security and interfered with a continuing inquiry. Turkish government officials strongly denied opposition claims that the intelligence agency’s trucks had carried weapons for extremists fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Instead, the trucks were trying to deliver humanitarian aid for the Turkmen minority in Syria, who had been stranded in the conflict since 2011, officials said.
Networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus complied with the court order on Wednesday, removing content from accounts to avert a shutdown, Turkish news outlets reported.
But the BirGun newspaper, as well as other Twitter users, continued to challenge the ban by posting new messages. Twitter refused to block the newspaper’s account but did block specific messages that BirGun had posted showing images of leaked documents in which the military police were said to have confirmed that the trucks contained weapons and explosives. The documents also said the weapons were destined for Al Qaeda. [Continue reading…]
Vice News reports: An anonymous whistleblower is captivating Turkey by tweeting revelations from the upper echelons of Turkish politics. The latest claims are the most explosive yet: The whistleblower says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plotted terrorist-style attacks on Turkish civilians to frame his opponents.
The whistleblower, who operates on Twitter as Fuat Avni (@FuatAnvi, or @FuatAvniEng for tweets in English), claims he’s male, works alone, and is part of Erdogan’s inner circle. In Turkey, a country that ranks 154th out of 180 in the press freedom index compiled by Reporters without Borders, Fuat Avni has shattered the tightly controlled political discourse and enthralled Turks.
“Fuat Avni’s consistent credibility has established him as a reliable source of information,” Greg Barton, an expert on Turkish politics at Monash University, told VICE News. “The tweets are taken seriously because they have substance behind them; they predict something breaking that is then confirmed to be true.”
In the latest series of tweets, posted January 9, he claims Erdogan and the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, Hakan Fidan, are planning “a terror act that would kill dozens of innocent people in a large city,” while framing the Gülenists — a splinter faction of Erdogan’s government and his main opposition — for the attack. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press: A local news agency says Turkish prosecutors are seeking up to five years in prison for a former television presenter who was detained last month for posting a tweet suggesting a cover-up in a government corruption scandal.
Private Dogan news agency reported Friday that Sedef Kabas was charged with “targeting public servants tasked with fighting against terrorism.”
She was questioned after telling her Twitter followers not to forget the name of a prosecutor who dropped a corruption and bribery probe earlier this year that implicated people close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.