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...]
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...]
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...]
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...]
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.
Add PM of Israel to the list of those using pics of James Foley being beheaded for low-end politicking: https://t.co/yQdc7QgOPk
— Tom Gara (@tomgara) August 21, 2014
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...]
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...]
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.
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.
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...]