Lebanon newspaper goes black to raise alarm over political crisis

A man checks a copy of the Lebanese English-language newspaper ‘The Daily Star’, which refrained from publishing news articles in its print edition in protest against the ‘deteriorating situation’ in Lebanon. (AFP)
Updated 08 August 2019

Lebanon newspaper goes black to raise alarm over political crisis

  • The newspaper’s Lebanon and online editor Joseph Habboush said the move sought to convey alarm to the ruling class
  • Lebanon is one of the world’s most indebted countries, with public debt now standing at more than 150 percent of GDP

BEIRUT: A prominent Lebanese daily Thursday appeared on newsstands with a black front page in the second such protest by a local paper in less than a year over the country’s lingering political crisis.
“Lebanon,” read the cover of The Daily Star, the country’s only English-language newspaper.
On 10 blank pages inside, it listed a string of woes including “government deadlock,” “pollution” “unemployment,” “illegal weapons” and “public debt.”
“Wake up before it’s too late!” it concluded on its back page, with the issue’s single picture of a cedar, the country’s national emblem.
The newspaper’s Lebanon and online editor Joseph Habboush said the move sought to convey alarm to the ruling class.
“We wanted to deliver a warning to the politicians and officials that the situation has reached an alarming level,” he said.
In October last year, the country’s oldest newspaper An-Nahar printed an entirely blank issue to protest a political deadlock over forming a cabinet.
The government was formed in January after an eight-month hiatus, but the cabinet has now not met for over a month since a shootout killed a minister’s two bodyguards.
In a rare comment, the US embassy on Wednesday warned against any inflammation of tensions over the incident in Qabr el-Shamoun on June 30.
“The US has conveyed in clear terms to Lebanese authorities our expectation that they will handle this matter in a way that achieves justice without politically motivated inflammation of sectarian or communal tensions,” it said.
Growth in Lebanon has plummeted in the wake of endless political deadlocks in recent years, compounded by the 2011 breakout of civil war in neighboring Syria.
The country hosts 1.5 million Syrians who have fled the conflict, often blamed in Lebanon for putting pressure on an already struggling economy.
Unemployment stands at more than 20 percent, according to the government.
Lebanon is one of the world’s most indebted countries, with public debt now standing at more than 150 percent of GDP, according to the finance ministry.
Successive governments have been unable to address a waste management crisis or improve an electricity grid that causes daily power cuts, a phenomenon that has long outlived Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.
The print media has also been facing a crisis, with several publications either closing or disappearing in print.
A source at the Daily Star who asked not to be named said employees had not yet been paid wages for June and July.
The Daily Star is a private newspaper owned by the family of Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri, according to press watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
Since July 30, staff at the Hariri-owned Future TV have gone on strike over unpaid salaries, with only re-runs aired for around a week.


Twitter shuts more than 200,000 Chinese accounts targeting Hong Kong protests

Updated 20 August 2019

Twitter shuts more than 200,000 Chinese accounts targeting Hong Kong protests

  • Twitter traced the Hong Kong campaign to two fake Chinese and English Twitter accounts that pretended to be news organizations based in Hong Kong
  • An additional 936 core accounts Twitter believes originated from within China attempted to sow political discord in Hong Kong

 

 

WASHINGTON: Twitter said Monday it has suspended more than 200,000 accounts that it believes were part of a Chinese government influence campaign targeting the protest movement in Hong Kong.
The company also said it will ban ads from state-backed media companies, expanding a prohibition it first applied in 2017 to two Russian entities.
Both measures are part of what a senior company official portrayed in an interview as a broader effort to curb malicious political activity on a popular platform that has been criticized for enabling election interference around the world and for accepting money for ads that amount to propaganda by state-run media organizations.
The accounts were suspended for violating the social networking platform’s terms of service and “because we think this is not how people can come to Twitter to get informed,” the official said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, said the Chinese activity was reported to the FBI, which investigated Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election through social media.
After being notified by Twitter and conducting its own investigation, Facebook said Monday that it has also removed seven pages, three groups and five accounts, including some portraying protesters as cockroaches and terrorists.
Facebook, which is more widely used in Hong Kong, does not release the data on such state-backed influence operations.
Twitter traced the Hong Kong campaign to two fake Chinese and English Twitter accounts that pretended to be news organizations based in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy demonstrators have taken to the streets since early June calling for full democracy and an inquiry into what they say is police violence against protesters.
Though Twitter is banned in China, it is available in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region.
The Chinese language account, @HKpoliticalnew, and the English account, @ctcc507, pushed tweets depicting protesters as violent criminals in a campaign aimed at influencing public opinion around the world. One of those accounts was tied to a suspended Facebook account that went by the same moniker: HKpoliticalnew.
An additional 936 core accounts Twitter believes originated from within China attempted to sow political discord in Hong Kong by undermining the protest movement’s legitimacy and political positions.
About 200,000 more automated Twitter accounts amplified the messages, engaging with the core accounts in the network. Few tweeted more than once, the official said, mostly because Twitter quickly caught many of them.
The Twitter official said the investigation remains ongoing and there could be further disclosures.
The Twitter campaign reflects the fact that the Chinese government has studied the role of social media in mass movements and fears the Hong Kong protests could spark wider unrest, said James Lewis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“This is standard Chinese practice domestically, and we know that after 2016 they studied what the Russians did in the US carefully,” Lewis said. “So it sounds like this is the first time they’re deploying their new toy.”
Twitter has sought to more aggressively monitor its network for malicious political activity since the 2016 presidential election and to be more transparent about its investigations, publicly releasing such data about state-backed influence operations since October so others can evaluate it, the official said.
“We’re not only telling the public this happened, we’re also putting the data out there so people can study it for themselves,” the official said.
As for state-backed media organizations, they are still allowed to use Twitter, but are no longer allowed to pay for ads, which show up regardless of whether you have elected to follow the group’s tweet.
Twitter declined to provide a list of what it considers state-backed media organizations, but a representative said it may consider doing so in the future. In 2017, Twitter specifically announced it would ban Russia-based RT and Sputnik from advertising on its platform.