Facebook removes fake Bangladesh news sites

An employee at a photography institute checks his Facebook account in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (AP)
Updated 21 December 2018
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Facebook removes fake Bangladesh news sites

  • Facebook has come under intense criticism for its role in spreading false and divisive messages, from phony political accounts weighing in on the 2016 US presidential election

DHAKA, Bangladesh: Facebook is shutting down a series of fake news sites spreading false information about the Bangladesh opposition days before national elections, an official from the social media platform told The Associated Press.
The sites — nine Facebook pages designed to mimic legitimate news outlets, as well as six fake personal accounts spreading anti-opposition propaganda — were created by Bangladeshis with government ties, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said in an exclusive interview.
The sites would be shut down “for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior” by Thursday evening at the latest, he said by telephone from California.
A threat intelligence company that Facebook worked with determined that the people who created and managed the sites are “associated with the government,” he said, declining to provide further details.
Twitter later said it had suspended 15 accounts in Bangladesh, most with fewer than 50 followers, “for engaging in coordinated platform manipulation.”
“Based on our initial analysis, it appears that some of these accounts may have ties to state-sponsored actors,” it said on Twitter. It gave few other details and it was not immediately clear when the suspensions occurred.
On Facebook, the sites were all designed to look like authentic news pages, including one operated by the BBC’s Bangla-language service and another by the popular Bangladeshi online newspaper bdnews24.com.
The sites would report false information about such things as turmoil in the camp of imprisoned opposition leader Khaled Zia.
“These are fake but look like independent news outlets,” said Gleicher, noting all were “pro-government and anti-opposition.”
Facebook began its investigation of the pages in November, and the Thursday shutdowns were “prompted by both external and internal evidence, including a tip from Graphika, a threat intelligence company that we work with,” he said.
While the nine pages did not immediately seem to have particularly large reach by Facebook standards — Gleicher said one had 11,900 followers — it comes at a key time for Bangladesh, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attempting to return to office for a third consecutive time in Dec. 30 elections.
“Frankly, this is a small network involving Bangladesh but this is very important for us” Gleicher said, adding that Facebook “does not want people or organizations creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are, or what they are doing.”
Facebook has come under intense criticism for its role in spreading false and divisive messages, from phony political accounts weighing in on the 2016 US presidential election to racist statements in Myanmar.
Gleicher said Thursday’s move was part of Facebook’s efforts to remove fraudulent pages and accounts. The company disabled 754 million fake accounts globally in the third quarter of this year, up from 583 million in the first quarter in 2018.
One false post reported that Zia, the country’s most prominent opposition figure, had fired the general secretary of her Bangladesh Nationalist Party. The report, on the sham version of bdnews24.com, said Zia had ordered the firing in a videotaped message sent from prison. Another story, on the fake BBC site, falsely described deep divisions within Zia’s party. It was illustrated with a photo of a burned car, implying those divisions had led to riots during an opposition rally.
The top editor at bdnews24.com, told the AP that he was aware of multiple fake sites for his outlet and had contacted regulatory and law enforcement agencies to get them closed. But “nothing happened,” Toufique Imrose Khalidi said.
“There are other clone sites for bdnews24.com. Our readers get confused and we lose revenue because they think these are real,” he said.
Sabir Mustafa, editor of the BBC’s Bangla-language service, said from London that other fake sites had been found in the past, but were shut down after the BBC notified Facebook, or the domains where the websites operated.
“Whenever we find a fake BBC Bangla Facebook page, we report it and they are removed,” Mustafa said.
Zakir Hossain Khan, a spokesman for the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission or BTRC, told the AP by phone that it was regularly in touch with Facebook for anything that could “destabilize the public order,” but it had received no recent complaints.
Fake news is not limited to pro-government sites.
In November, security officials arrested a Bangladeshi student studying in South Korea for his alleged involvement in creating 22 fake news portals spreading anti-government propaganda, police said. Police said the student is a member of Islami Chhatra Shibir, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami party, a key ally of Zia’s party.
Bangladesh’s chaotic politics has been dominated for years by the fierce rivalry between Hasina and Zia. Police say at least five people have died and dozens more have been injured in political clashes since Dec. 10.
Opposition leaders, along with international rights groups, have accused the government and security agencies of abusing their power to arrest opposition activists and intimidate others into silence. The government denies that.
Zia, a former prime minister, is serving seven years in prison on corruption charges in one case and 10 years in a second case. Her supporters say both were politically motivated. An appeals court recently ruled she could not run for office because of the convictions.


Al Jazeera Arabic’s long history of anti-Semitism

Updated 21 May 2019
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Al Jazeera Arabic’s long history of anti-Semitism

  • Experts: Chairman Hamad bin Thamer to blame as Qatari network comes under fire over ‘Holocaust denial’ video

LONDON: Al Jazeera came under renewed fire last weekend following the airing of a video branded as “Holocaust denial” on Arabic youth channel AJ+, which claimed that Jews exaggerated the scale of the genocide to help establish Israel.
This, however, is not the only incident in which the Qatari-owned news network was seen as being anti-Semitic and promoting such rhetoric. It has, time and again, proven to be a platform for preachers of hate, war and extremism.
Experts told Arab News that hate speech has been the cornerstone of Al Jazeera since its inception, saying the two employees fired for the recent AJ+ Arabic video were mere scapegoats.
If anyone is to blame, experts said, it is the long-term chairman of the Al Jazeera network, Qatari royal Hamad bin Thamer Al-Thani.
“If someone deserves the punishment, it would be him because of the channel’s history under his management,” said veteran journalist Abdellatif El-Menawy, who was until 2011 the head of news at Egypt’s national broadcaster.
El-Menawy said what happened at AJ+ is not surprising given that Al Jazeera’s reputation and history are “based on stirring hatred among people.”

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RELATED: Qatari network Al Jazeera slammed over ‘Holocaust denial’ film

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He added: “Proof of this is when the channel adopted, at a stage in its history, Osama bin Laden and his extremist speech that divided the world. There are also advocates of terrorism and discrimination who had TV programs for years, such as Yusuf Al-Qaradawi (who calls) for hatred of the other.”
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera English’s former international bureau chief, Mohamed Fahmy, told Arab News that the network’s editorial policy is “just as duplicit(ous) as the foreign policy of the Qatari government, which funds and drives the force of the daily coverage” of the channel. “One day they’re praising the Jewish community on their English-language channel directed at Western viewers, and the next day they’re promoting hate speech against the Jews on their Arabic channels, and allowing preachers like Qatar-based Yusuf Al-Qaradawi to endorse the killing of innocent women and children on Al Jazeera Arabic just because they’re Jews.”
Through his Al Jazeera program “Sharia and Life,” Egyptian cleric Al-Qaradawi issued religious edicts calling for the killing of Jews.
“Take the treacherous Jewish aggressors … They’ve spread too much tyranny and corruption on Earth. Oh God, take this Jewish Zionist band of aggressors and don’t spare a single one of them. Oh God, count their numbers, slay them one by one and spare none,” he said in a Jan. 9, 2009, sermon aired on Al Jazeera Arabic. In another sermon aired on Jan. 29 and 30 that same year, Al-Qaradawi said: “Throughout history, God has imposed upon them (Jews) people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was that of Hitler. What he did to them — even though they exaggerate this issue — he managed to put a limit to what they were doing. This was a divine punishment for them. Next time, God willing, it will be done at the hands of the faithful believers.”
Fahmy is engaged in an ongoing lawsuit against the network for negligence, and he is not the only one to have taken legal action. Shannon High-Bassalik, Al Jazeera America’s former senior vice president for programming and documentaries, sued the defunct US network and its former CEO Ehab Al-Shihabi for violating her civil rights and breaching her contract.

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BIO

Name

Hamad bin Thamer Al-Thani

Role 

Chairman of Al Jazeera Media Network since 1994

Government ties 

Cousin of former Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani

Controversies 

Under Hamad bin Thamer’s tenure, Al Jazeera was seen as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood and imprisoned former Egyptian President Mohammed Al-Mursi. Al Jazeera’s program “Sharia and Life,” with Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, was widely criticized for inciting hatred and anti-Semitism. Al Jazeera also aired “exclusive” Osama bin Laden tapes.

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In one clause of the lawsuit, High-Bassalik said: “As ratings failed to live up to the expectations of management, Al Jazeera openly decided to abandon all pretense of neutrality in favor of putting the Arabic viewpoint front and center, openly demanding that programs be aired that criticized countries such as America, Israel and Egypt.”
Employees made inflammatory statements such as “Israelis are like Hitler,” and “anyone who supports Israel should die a fiery death,” the lawsuit claimed. “Rather than discipline these offending employees, the Company brazenly demonstrated its true feelings by terminating the employment of individuals who dared stand up to complain about such blatant discrimination, especially coming from an ostensibly unbiased news organization.”
While there are many examples that give a sense of the anti-Semitic rhetoric that flows through the network’s airwaves, its most recent video led to the suspension of two journalists, with the network’s top bosses washing their hands of the case.
“The video content and accompanying posts were swiftly deleted by AJ+ senior management from all AJ+ pages and accounts on social media, as it contravened the Network’s editorial standards,” a company statement said.
But El-Menawy said: “The decision to stop and punish those who participated in such a documentary is a bluff.” Al Jazeera representatives did not respond when asked by Arab News whether action would be taken against other employees at the network.
US Embassy cables acquired by UK newspaper The Guardian in 2009 prove just how interconnected the Qatari government and Al Jazeera are.
“Al Jazeera, the most watched satellite television station in the Middle East, is heavily subsidized by the Qatari government and has proved itself a useful tool for the station’s political masters … Despite (the government of Qatar’s) protestations to the contrary, Al Jazeera remains one of Qatar’s most valuable political and diplomatic tools,” the cable read.
Fahmy, who is now CEO of the Canada-based Investigative Journal, said: “Unfortunately, it’s a network that’s nothing more than an extension of Qatari intelligence. It’s not a conclusion based only on the content it airs, but mostly on the malicious news-gathering process and irregular and illegal practices behind the scenes, with individuals and terrorist groups — a process that can in no way be affiliated with the noble craft of journalism.”