Ad industry may gripe about adblockers, but they broke the contract – not us

By Andrew McStay, Bangor University

The latest version of Apple’s operating system for phones and tablets, iOS9, allows the installation of adblocking software that removes advertising, analytics and tracking within Apple’s Safari browser. While Apple’s smartphone market share is only around 14% worldwide, this has prompted another outpouring from the mobile and web advertising industry on the effects of adblockers, and discussion as to whether a “free” web can exist without adverts.

It’s not a straightforward question: advertising executives and publishers complain that ads fund “free” content and adblockers break this contract. Defenders of adblocking point out that the techniques used to serve ads are underhand and that the ads themselves are intrusive. Who is right?

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Justice should be the driving force for reporting on the refugee crisis

By Steven Harkins, University of Sheffield

If truth, accuracy and objectivity guaranteed that all journalism would be ethical, the cause of the Syrian refugees would have been taken up long before the shocking images of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach. The publication of the image triggered a brief volte-face in sections of the British press that had been blaming the victims for the refugee crisis.

Newspapers agonised over the ethical issues raised by publishing such a shocking image. In response to reader’s complaints for publishing the image, Berlin-based newspaper Bild removed every image from a subsequent edition.

This will become a staple case study for journalism ethics students at universities. But it will also raise questions about how journalists are trained. Journalism education should not only be able to teach people how to do journalism but also why.

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Can one terrible image change the direction of a humanitarian crisis?

By Gabriel Moreno Esparza, Northumbria University, Newcastle

The harrowing picture of a man carrying the corpse of a drowned boy on Bodrum beach published by numerous news organisations could be the defining image of a globally significant event.

As a piece of photojournalism it has already made an impact in a way Daniel Etter’s moving picture of a crying father holding his children after landing on Kos beach did not. Etter’s piece was said to have “brought the world to tears” and has been used for fundraising . It was certainly example of how photojournalism is “at its best when it embodies our ability to benefit the issues and people with whom we connect“.

But the images of the little boy, taken by Nilüfer Demir, a photographer for the Turkish news agency Doğan, seem to have touched a deeper nerve.

We’ve since been told that the boy’s name was Aylan Kurdi and that his mother and brother also died trying to get to Europe, while his father survived.

The Huffington Post reports that this image in particular has prompted several British opposition politicians to call for action. “Bodrum” quickly became a top trending topic on Facebook, while the hashtags #refugeeswelcome and #SyriaCrisis were the centre of attention on Twitter.

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Turkey arrests 3 Vice News journalists on terrorism charges

The New York Times reports: Three journalists for Vice News have been formally arrested in southeast Turkey and charged with aiding a terrorist organization, four days after they were detained while covering the conflict between Kurdish separatists and the Turkish state.

News media rights groups denounced a ruling on Monday by a Turkish court, which said that Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury, both British citizens, and their Iraqi news assistant had “knowingly and willingly helped an armed terrorist organization” without being a part of its “hierarchical structure,” the semiofficial Anadolu News Agency reported.

Although the court did not name the terrorist organization, Tahir Elci, the head of the Diyarbakir Bar Association in southeast Turkey, who is representing the journalists, said that the three had been accused of having links to the Islamic State and the YDG-H, a group affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The Kurdish group, which is often referred to by its Turkish initials, P.K.K., is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

“They were accused of meeting and siding with both the Islamic State and the P.K.K.-affiliated group,” Mr. Elci said in a telephone interview from Diyarbakir. “The accusations are based on video footage, documents and photographs seized from the journalists.”

Turkey’s broad antiterror laws have created an increasingly difficult environment for journalists, according to news media advocates. For several years, Turkey had jailed more journalists than any other country, and this year, it ranked 149th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders news media freedom index. [Continue reading…]


The AP’s controversial and badly flawed Iran inspections story, explained

Max Fisher writes: On Wednesday afternoon, the Associated Press published an exclusive report on the Iran nuclear program so shocking that many political pundits declared the nuclear deal dead in the water. But the article turned out to be a lot less damning that it looked — and the AP, which scrubbed many of the most damning details, is now itself part of this increasingly bizarre story.

To get a handle on all this, I spoke to Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert at Middlebury College’s Monterey Institute of International Studies. What follows is a primer on what happened, what the AP story said and how it changed, as well as the nuclear issues involved — a place called Parchin and something known as PMD — and what they mean for the nuclear deal.

The bottom line here is that this is all over a mild and widely anticipated compromise on a single set of inspections to a single, long-dormant site. The AP, deliberately or not, has distorted that into something that sounds much worse, but actually isn’t. The whole incident is a fascinating, if disturbing, example of how misleading reporting on technical issues can play into the politics of foreign policy. [Continue reading…]


Not just the editorial page — WSJ reporting on climate change also skewed

Media Matters reports: When it comes to covering climate change, it’s not just The Wall Street Journal’s editorial section that is problematic in the Rupert Murdoch era — a new study shows the paper’s newsroom has misinformed readers on the issue, too.

A new joint study from researchers at Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Oslo appearing in the journal Public Understanding of Science (PUS) found major differences between the climate change reporting of The Wall Street Journal and other major U.S. newspapers. The July 30 study, titled “Polarizing news? Representations of threat and efficacy in leading US newspapers’ coverage of climate change,” examined non-opinion-based climate change articles in The Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post from 2006 to 2011.

The study found some disturbing trends in The Wall Street Journal’s news reporting on climate change, including that the Journal was less likely than the other newspapers to discuss the threats or impacts of climate change and more likely to frame climate action as ineffective or even harmful. The authors of the study concluded that, given the Journal’s conservative readership, the negative nature of its climate reporting “could exacerbate ideological polarization on climate change.” [Continue reading…]


Buzzfeed editor finds HuffPost Arabi too inclusive

If Buzzfeed’s Tom Gara is to be believed, there’s reason to fear that Huffington Post’s new Arabic site is aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Particularly disturbing (to some readers) is that a site generally known for being progressive, would provide space for the criticism of selfie culture, “a mainstay of the Huffington Post’s English-language sites”.

Unlike Gara, I have no problem with conservative Islamists or anyone else taking issue with selfie culture. Frankly, the idea that it needs defending seems to me quite perverse — especially when it results in arguments like the following.

Casey Miller, for instance, values selfies because she thinks they help maintain “intimate friendship” with long-distance friends without the “commitment of Skype.” (Those, I guess, would be the friendships one hopes to sustain without having to sacrifice time. Why spend 10 minutes talking, instead of 10 seconds taking and sending a selfie?)

Research — and common sense — does however suggest that selfies offer weak bonds. As Time reported in 2013:

“Increased frequency of sharing photographs of the self, regardless of the type of target sharing the photographs, is related to a decrease in intimacy,” concludes the joint study conducted by the University of Birmingham, the University of Edinburgh, and Heriot-Watt University. In other words, people who constantly share photos of themselves generally tend to have more shallow personal relationships.

As Galen Guengerich astutely observes, “the selfie chronicles a counter-Copernican revolution.”

Nicholas Sabloff, the Huffington Post’s executive international editor, sidestepping this particular debate on mobile device-shaped culture, told BuzzFeed News that regarding the anti-selfie post written by an Algerian columnist, “The views on the blog do not reflect HuffPost’s global editorial viewpoint, nor the viewpoint of our HuffPost Arabi editors.”

But that didn’t stop Buzzfeed disingenuously claiming in its headline that Arabi “takes a stand” against selfies.

Gara seems to be especially suspicious of Arabi’s editor-in-chief, Anas Fouda, who previously worked for Al Jazeera and its rival, Al Arabiya.

In signing up with the Huffington Post, he appears to have taken inspiration for the Arabic site from founder Arianna Huffington herself.

The first time the two met and discussed the concept of Huffington Post Arabi, “she spoke to me of the wisdom that is in our region, a region that was once the cradle of civilization and religion,” Fouda wrote in his editor’s note marking the launch of Huffington Post Arabi.

That note, like much of the content on the new site, then took an unexpected twist. “I in turn believe in the positivity of looking for a way out,” he wrote, “and that the inherent wisdom that stems from our history and religious heritage are necessary weapons in this time of #WorldWar3.”

This time of #WorldWar3?

Wow, an “unexpected twist” — but only for those who neglected to read the opening of Fouda’s piece. Which is to say, rather than taking an unexpected twist, his commentary came full circle and ended where it began:

It took several years before people started to realize that Europe’s war of 1914 to 1918 was both big and influential enough to be worthy of being called a “World War.” So they gave it that grand name, and added “First” two decades later when they fought a second war that was not any less vicious or influential.

People fight wars first and come up with names that suit their grandeur and influence later. Years from now, historians will look at what happened in our region and perhaps won’t find a more appropriate name than #WorldWar3, especially since the world will never return to what it once was.

In this region, half of the world is fighting a proxy war against the other half. America, Russia, Israel, international military alliances, old monarchies and dictatorships are all fighting here to preserve or expand their areas of influence. At the same time, armed sectarian, religious, or ethnic groups — ones that have no face other than that of rage — fight to abolish all that is old, to create a new map, and perhaps a new world order.

When newly appointed at Buzzfeed after leaving the Wall Street Journal, Gara said in an interview:

if you’re running a news organization on the assumption people are dumb and deserve to be fed trash, not only are you kind of evil, but you’re missing out on the much bigger opportunity of assuming people want to read great stuff and know what’s really going on in the world.

Arianna Huffington offers Gara the excuse that his post might be a reflection of the August news slump.

That might be true, but equally so, this seems to me like a case of dishing out trash on the assumption that people are dumb.


How Western business helps Putin’s propaganda machine

Peter Pomerantsev writes: Watching Russian TV recently is a disturbing business. As Stephen Ennis at BBC Monitoring has painstakingly recorded, Russian media has developed a habit of delivering death threats to opposition members, using anti-Semitic insinuations against its opponents, screaming about the threat of the “homosexual sodomite tsunami,” and recommending burning the hearts of homosexuals while indulging in “techniques of psychological conditioning designed to excite extreme emotions of aggression and hatred in the viewer.”

It has helped “hallucinate a war into reality in Ukraine” (the Economist’s phrase) with fabricated scare stories about Ukrainian militia crucifying ethnic Russian children, “fascist Juntas” taking power in Kiev and U.S. plots to engineer ethnic cleansing in Donbas, while launching targeted, untrue and vicious attacks on Western academics in Russia as “fifth columnists” (I could go on — but you get the idea).

Zhanna Nemtsova, the daughter of murdered politician Boris Nemtsov, blames Kremlin TV for the death of her father: “Russian propaganda kills,” writes Nemtsova, “it kills reason and common sense but it also kills human beings.”

But here’s the odd thing. In between the frothing rants against the evil West, Kremlin television is full of ads for IKEA, Procter and Gamble and Mercedes, while the rest of the TV schedule is rammed with Russian versions of Western reality shows licensed from British and American production companies. Kremlin TV’s anti-Western hate-speech is financially propped up by Western advertising, and relies on the success of TV formats bought from Western producers.

“If you really want to hurt Russian propaganda consider putting moral pressure on Western advertisers and production companies to stop cooperating with the Kremlin’s hate-channels,” advises USC Annenberg scholar Vasily Gatov. [Continue reading…]


‘Netanyahu cheered up by U.S. missile offer’: how the Onion scooped Haaretz

The Guardian reports: ‘US Soothes Upset Netanyahu With Shipment of Ballistic Missiles’ sounds like a headline from the Onion. And it is – except that this time it’s true. International media organisations have regularly been caught out by the satirical news site, fooled into thinking that Kim Jong-un really was voted the world’s sexiest man, or that Americans would prefer a beer with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than Barack Obama.

But this time editors of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz were spooked by a story in the Onion from the previous day that matched what they had heard as fact.

Last week, the paper reported a senior US official as saying that Obama had spoken to the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, offering to “begin immediate talks about upgrading the Israel Defence Forces’ offensive and defensive capabilities” after US negotiators reached a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme, which was condemned by Israel. But the day before, the Onion had published a tongue-in-cheek piece announcing that the Israeli government would receive “a nice, big shipment of ballistic missiles” to help them come to terms with the Iran deal. [Continue reading…]


ISIS and the Hollywood visual style

Cori E. Dauber and Mark Robinson write: The slick production techniques ISIS uses in its propaganda are the reason people have written about their videos as “Hollywood quality” or “like Hollywood movies.” Obviously this is not, strictly speaking, true. When people write about ISIS videos being like “Hollywood action films,” they don’t mean that in a literal sense – Hollywood blockbusters, after all, cost on average several hundreds of millions of dollars to produce. But that doesn’t mean people saying that aren’t onto something. They’re seeing something in ISIS videos that is reminiscent of Hollywood films that they don’t see in the videos of other groups. Yes, ISIS videos are of far higher quality than are those of other groups – we would say they are, technically, a generation ahead of most others. But there’s something else going on here that people are cueing on. We would argue that, visually, ISIS videos mimic what could be called a “Hollywood visual style.” And this is being done so systematically and carefully that, while its entirely possible that it’s accidental, we find that very unlikely.

While there has been a great deal of work done on the way ISIS uses Social Media to distribute their materials, our focus is on the content of their output, specifically, on their visual material. We believe this focus is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the enormous amount of empirical research that argues that visual material, in many contexts, can actually be more powerful than textual. That is to say, the image can trump the word: it more effectively draws the viewer’s attention, it is remembered more accurately and for a longer period of time.

That’s all well and good, but what specifically does it mean to say that ISIS material is sophisticated in visual terms, or that their videos are done in a “Hollywood visual style?” While that’s a complicated question to get after, one can start by breaking it down in terms of the way ISIS makes use of some of the compositional elements of production to contribute to the persuasive power of their materials, in a way that other groups either cannot or simply do not. [Continue reading…]


As Hollywood lobbied State Department, it built free home theaters for U.S. embassies

By Robert Faturechi, ProPublica, July 2, 2015

This story was co-published with The Daily Beast.

Hollywood’s efforts to win political clout have always stretched across the country, from glitzy campaign fundraisers in Beverly Hills to cocktail parties with power brokers in Washington.

Last year, the film industry staked out another zone of influence: U.S. embassies. Its lobbying arm paid to renovate screening rooms in at least four overseas outposts, hoping the new theaters would help ambassadors and their foreign guests “keep U.S. cultural interests top of mind,” according to an internal email.

That was the same year that the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the six biggest studios, reported it was lobbying the State Department on issues including piracy and online content distribution. Hollywood’s interests 2013 including its push for tougher copyright rules in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact 2013 often put the industry at odds with Silicon Valley.

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Video: A better democracy will need a better press


Inside the hack of the century

Peter Elkind writes: On Monday, Nov. 3, 2014, a four-man team from Norse Corp., a small “threat-intelligence” firm based in Silicon Valley, arrived early for an 11:30 a.m. meeting on the studio lot of Sony Pictures Entertainment, in the Los Angeles suburb of Culver City. They were scheduled to see Sony’s top cybersecurity managers to pitch Norse’s services in defending the studio against hackers, who had been plaguing Sony for years.

After a quick security check at the front gate and then proceeding to the George Burns Building on the east side of the Sony lot, the Norse group walked straight into the unlocked first-floor offices of the information security department, marked with a small sign reading info sec. There was no receptionist or security guard to check who they were; in fact, there was no one in sight at all. The room contained cubicles with unattended computers providing access to Sony’s international data network.

The visitors found their way to a small sitting area outside the office of Jason Spaltro, Sony’s senior vice president for information security, settled in, and waited. Alone. For about 15 minutes.

“I got a little shocked,” says Tommy Stiansen, Norse’s co-founder and chief technology officer. “Their Info Sec was empty, and all their screens were logged in. Basically the janitor can walk straight into their Info Sec department.” Adds Mickey Shapiro, a veteran entertainment attorney who helped set up the meeting and was present that day: “If we were bad guys, we could have done something horrible.”

Finally Spaltro, who’s worked at Sony since 1998, showed up and led them to a nearby conference room, where another studio information security executive was waiting. The meeting began, and as Stiansen described how Norse scopes out potential threats, Spaltro interrupted: “Boy, that could really help us with that North Korean film!” According to the four Norse representatives, Spaltro explained that he was worried about a Seth Rogen comedy called The Interview that the studio was preparing to release on Christmas Day. It featured a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the country’s actual leader. Recalls Stiansen: “They said North Korea is threatening them.” (Sony denies any mention of a North Korean cyberthreat.)

After about an hour the Sony team declared the session “very productive,” according to the Norse team, and promised to be in touch. They departed, leaving the visitors to find their own way out.

Three weeks later — starting at about 7 a.m. Pacific time on Monday, Nov. 24 — a crushing cyberattack was launched on Sony Pictures. Employees logging on to its network were met with the sound of gunfire, scrolling threats, and the menacing image of a fiery skeleton looming over the tiny zombified heads of the studio’s top two executives.

Before Sony’s IT staff could pull the plug, the hackers’ malware had leaped from machine to machine throughout the lot and across continents, wiping out half of Sony’s global network. It erased everything stored on 3,262 of the company’s 6,797 personal computers and 837 of its 1,555 servers. To make sure nothing could be recovered, the attackers had even added a little extra poison: a special deleting algorithm that overwrote the data seven different ways. When that was done, the code zapped each computer’s startup software, rendering the machines brain-dead.

From the moment the malware was launched — months after the hackers first broke in — it took just one hour to throw Sony Pictures back into the era of the Betamax. The studio was reduced to using fax machines, communicating through posted messages, and paying its 7,000 employees with paper checks.

That was only the beginning of Sony’s horror story. [Continue reading…]


The tabloid king who shapes how Russians sees the world

Christopher Miller reports: Aram Gabrelyanov isn’t a man to mince words.

And what this tabloid king really dislikes are “assholes” and “traitors” who challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As if to dispel any doubts about his allegiance, his office has been decorated as a shrine to the president: On the wall above his desk hangs a portrait of Putin in hockey gear; a collection of photos of the president — as a young man, a KGB agent and as the leader of Russia — is displayed prominently on a bookshelf.

“I believe that the national leader should be beyond criticism,” says Gabrelyanov, in the Moscow offices of LifeNews, the sensationalist and popular 24-hour television channel and website he founded with his son Ashot. (His son served as general director until last year when he quit and moved to Brooklyn to launch a news app named Babo.)

The older Gabrelyanov resembles a boxer out of a 1930s gangster noir — he is jowly, sports dark stubble and his handshake is crushing. But his disposition is gregarious rather than menacing, and he has a ready arsenal of witty anecdotes and scintillating stories.

A constant stream of often salacious stories also underpins the channel’s slogan: “First in breaking news,” and there are rumors Russia’s intelligence community often feeds the channel information.

The channel is owned by the News Media holding company, fifty percent of which in turn is owned by the National Media Group of Yury Kovalchuk and Gennady Timchenko, two of Putin’s billionaire cronies who are on the U.S. government’s sanctions list.

Gabrelyanov denies that Russian security services use the channel to spread stories but freely admits that “doctors, nurses, police officers, politicians, all sorts of people” are on the LifeNews payroll. He calls these leakers “agents” and while he pays his staff salaries nearly five times what other outlets pay, the newsroom understands that a big portion of their wages are meant to buy off sources. [Continue reading…]


Video: John Oliver on torture


Digital journalism: The next generation

Michael Massing writes: Arriving at BuzzFeed’s editorial offices (housed in temporary quarters while the main office is being renovated), I found two adjoining cavernous spaces filled with long tables, at which sat some two hundred people gazing at computer screens. I was introduced to Shani Hilton, the executive editor for news. Thirty years old, she had worked for, the Washington City Paper, and the Center for American Progress before joining BuzzFeed in 2013. I asked her to cite some recent stories she felt were noteworthy. She mentioned a report by Ben Smith about the threat by an Uber executive to dig up dirt on a reporter who had criticized the company (it kicked up a storm); a story by Aram Roston on financial conflicts of interest involving a top NSA official (which led to the official’s resignation); and “Fostering Profits,” an investigation into deaths, sex abuse, and gaps in oversight at the nation’s largest for-profit foster care company. As for regular beats, Hilton mentioned two in which she felt BuzzFeed had excelled—marriage equality and rape culture.

From talking with Hilton and with Ben Smith (now editor in chief) and from sampling BuzzFeed’s home page, I came away convinced of its commitment to being a serious provider of news; there’s a sense of earnest aspiration about the place. At the same time, I was surprised by how conventional—and tame—most of its reports are. Much of BuzzFeed’s news feed seems indistinguishable from that of a wire service. Its investigations, while commendable, fall squarely within the parameters of investigative reporting as traditionally practiced in this country, with a narrow focus on managerial malfeasance, conflicts of interest, and workplace abuses. There’s little effort to examine, for example, the activities of hedge fund managers, Internet billionaires, or other pillars of the new oligarchy.

In April, Ben Smith removed two BuzzFeed posts that were critical of the advertising campaigns for Dove cosmetics and the Hasbro board game Monopoly. Both Dove and Hasbro advertise on the site. After coming under much fire, Smith restored the posts, though he denied that their original removal had had anything to do with pressure from advertisers. Soon after, the writer of the post critical of Dove, Arabelle Sicardi, resigned. So much for “true journalistic independence.” Overall, BuzzFeed’s practice of journalism seems nowhere near as pioneering as the sleek platform it has developed to deliver its product. [Continue reading…]


Patrick Cockburn — not quite in a league of his own

In those quarters where the mainstream media is viewed with suspicion if not outright contempt, it’s commonplace to witness a strange anomaly: a handful of mainstream journalists have acquired a hallowed status which results in their reporting being treated as though it possesses unquestionable authority.

This is strange because if one assumes the position of refusing to belong to a flock of “sheep” who blindly believe the mainstream media, it makes no sense to join a different flock of equally uncritical admirers of a few celebrated investigative journalists.

What this anomaly most likely reveals is a lack of critical discernment being directed in any direction. Skepticism and blind faith turn out to be two sides of the same coin. Authority is assigned on the basis of perceived allegiances rather than the integrity of the journalism.

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: Patrick Cockburn, the Irish foreign correspondent for The Independent, has an eclectic following. He is admired by Noam Chomsky and Rand Paul; and last December, when he won the British equivalent of a Pulitzer for his coverage of Syria and Iraq, the judges declared his journalism in a “league of its own” and wondered “whether the Government should [consider] pensioning off the whole of MI6 and [hire] Patrick Cockburn instead.”

Cockburn is conscious of his exalted position. He frequently admonishes his colleagues against the distortions born of “political bias and simple error.” In his recent book, The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution, he declares, “there is no alternative to first-hand reporting”. He adds: “Journalists rarely fully admit to themselves or others the degree to which they rely on secondary and self-interested sources”.

Journalists rarely admit such things—even those as self-aware as Cockburn is. Consider this gripping, first-hand account of the slaughter of religious minorities by the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra that appears on page 89 of his book. “In Adra on the northern outskirts of Damascus in early 2014, I witnessed [Nusra] forces storm a housing complex by advancing through a drainage pipe which came out behind government lines, where they proceeded to kill Alawites and Christians.” Cockburn was witnessing a war crime.

But there is a problem. The atrocity might or might not have happened but Cockburn certainly didn’t witness it. [Continue reading…]


The ‘ISIS cyberwar’ hype machine is doing more harm than good

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai writes: Last week, hackers claiming to be affiliated with the extremist group known as the Islamic State released an Anonymous-style video making vague threats of “electronic war” against Europe and the US.

There is no proof or evidence that the video actually comes from the group, nor there is any evidence the group, also known as ISIS, has any ability to do anything damaging online other than taking over Twitter feeds or random media sites with their “cyberattacks.”

Yet, that didn’t stop a new round of breathless hype. On Sunday, The Hill wrote that ISIS was preparing for “cyberwar” and an “all-out cyber crusade.”

Looks like ISIS wannabes successfully hacked the media once again. [Continue reading…]