US Capitol rioters accused of erasing content from social media, phones

Pro-Trump supporters storm the US Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (File/AFP)
Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (File/AFP)
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Updated 04 July 2021

US Capitol rioters accused of erasing content from social media, phones

Pro-Trump supporters storm the US Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (File/AFP)
  • Experts say the efforts to scrub the social media accounts reveal a desperate willingness to manipulate evidence once these people realized they were in hot water
  • Only a handful of the more than 500 people across the US who have been arrested in the riot have actually been charged

PHOENIX: They flaunted their participation in the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol on social media and then, apparently realizing they were in legal trouble, rushed to delete evidence of it, authorities say. Now their attempts to cover up their role in the deadly siege are likely to come back to haunt them in court.
An Associated Press review of court records has found that at least 49 defendants are accused of trying to erase incriminating photos, videos and texts from phones or social media accounts documenting their conduct as a pro-Donald Trump mob stormed Congress and briefly interrupted the certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory.
Experts say the efforts to scrub the social media accounts reveal a desperate willingness to manipulate evidence once these people realized they were in hot water. And, they say, it can serve as powerful proof of people’s consciousness of guilt and can make it harder to negotiate plea deals and seek leniency at sentencing.
“It makes them look tricky, makes them look sneaky,” said Gabriel J. Chin, who teaches criminal law at the University of California, Davis.
One such defendant is James Breheny, a member of the Oath Keepers extremist group, who bragged in texts to others about being inside the Capitol during the insurrection, authorities say. An associate instructed Breheny, in an encrypted message two days after the riot, to “delete all pictures, messages and get a new phone,” according to court documents.
That same day, the FBI said, Breheny shut down his Facebook account, where he had photos that he taken during the riot and complained the government had grown tyrannical. “The People’s Duty is to replace that Government with one they agree with,” Breheny wrote on Facebook on Jan. 6 in an exchange about the riot. “I’m all ears. What’s our options???”
Breheney’s lawyer, Harley Breite, said his client never obstructed the riot investigation or destroyed evidence, and that Breheny didn’t know when he shut down account that his content would be considered evidence.
Breite rejected the notion that Breheny might have been able to recognize, in the days immediately after Jan. 6 when the riot dominated news coverage, that the attack was a serious situation that could put Breheny’s liberty at risk.
“You can’t delete evidence if you don’t know you are being charged with anything,” Breite said.
Other defendants who have not been accused of destroying evidence still engaged in exchanges with others about deleting content, according to court documents.
The FBI said one woman who posted video and comments showing she was inside the Capitol during the attack later decided not to restore her new phone with her iCloud content — a move that authorities suspect was aimed at preventing them from uncovering the material.
In another case, authorities say screenshots from a North Carolina man’s deleted Facebook posts contradicted his claim during an interview with an FBI agent that he didn’t intend on disrupting the Electoral College certification.
Erasing digital content isn’t as easy as deleting content from phones, removing social media posts or shutting down accounts. Investigators have been able to retrieve the digital content by requesting it from social media companies, even after accounts are shut down.
Posts made on Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms are recoverable for a certain period of time, and authorities routinely ask those companies to preserve the records until they get court orders to view the posts, said Adam Scott Wandt, a public policy professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who trains law enforcement on cyber-based investigations.
Authorities also have other avenues for investigating whether someone has tried to delete evidence.
Even when a person removes content from an account, authorities may still get access to it if it had been backed up on a cloud server. People who aren’t involved in a crime yet were sent incriminating videos or photos may end up forwarding them to investigators. Also, metadata embedded in digital content can show whether it has been modified or deleted.
“You can’t do it,” said Joel Hirschhorn, a criminal defense lawyer in Miami who is not involved in Capitol riot cases. “The metadata will do them in every time.”
Only a handful of the more than 500 people across the US who have been arrested in the riot have actually been charged with tampering for deleting incriminating material from their phones or Facebook accounts.
They include several defendants in the sweeping case against members and associates of the Oath Keepers extremist group, who are accused of conspiring to block the certification of the vote. In one instance, a defendant instructed another to “make sure that all signal comms about the op has been deleted and burned,” authorities say.
But even if it does not result in more charges, deleting evidence will make it difficult for those defendants to get much benefit at sentencing for accepting responsibility for their actions, said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School.
Some lawyers might argue their clients removed the content to lessen the social impact that the attack had on their families and show they do not support what had occurred during the riot. But she said that argument has limits.
“The words ‘self-serving’ will come to mind,” Levenson said. “That’s what the prosecutors will argue — you removed it because all of a sudden, you have to face the consequences of your actions.”
Matthew Mark Wood, who acknowledged deleting content from his phone and Facebook account that showed presence in the Capitol during the riot, told an FBI agent that he did not intend on disrupting the Electoral College certification.
But investigators say screenshots of two of his deleted Facebook posts tell a different story.
In the posts, Wood reveled in rioters sending “those politicians running” and declared that he had stood up against a tyrannical government in the face of a stolen election, the FBI said in court records. “When diplomacy doesn’t work and your message has gone undelivered, it shouldn’t surprise you when we revolt,” Wood wrote. His lawyer did not return a call seeking comment.
Even though she is not accused of deleting content that showed she was inside the Capitol during the riot, one defendant told her father that she was not going to restore her new phone with her iCloud backup about three weeks after the riot, the FBI said.
“Stay off the clouds!” the father warned his daughter, according to authorities. “They are how they are screwing with us.”


Georgia jails prominent critical journalist

Georgia jails prominent critical journalist
Updated 16 May 2022

Georgia jails prominent critical journalist

Georgia jails prominent critical journalist
  • Lawyer: Political repressions are under way in Georgia
  • Rights groups have also concern over media freedom in Georgia

TBILISI: Georgia on Monday jailed for three and a half years a prominent journalist and owner of the country’s most popular television station critical of the Black Sea nation’s government.
Nika Gvaramia, an anchor and owner of the pro-opposition Mtavari TV, was found guilty of harming financial interests of a television station he had earlier run, a judge of the Tbilisi city court said.
Gvaramia has also been a lawyer of Georgia’s ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili who is serving a six-year jail term for abuse of power — a conviction he has denounced as politically-motivated.
Gvaramia has said his case was aimed at silencing critical media.
His lawyer Dito Sadzaglishvili said that the verdict was illegal, adding that “Gvaramia was taken into political captivity.”
“Political repressions are under way in Georgia,” he said.
“In democratic countries, journalists are not jailed for their dissenting views.”
Georgia’s prominent TV personalities and managers have long accused the ruling Georgian Dream party’s government of using the judiciary to stifle independent voices.
Rights groups have also expressed concern over media freedom in Georgia, saying managers and owners of nearly all independent TV stations critical of the Georgian government are under investigation.
Georgia’s rights ombudsperson, Nino Lomjaria, and Transparency International said Sunday they had studied Gvaramia’s case and found no proof of wrongdoing.
In October 2015, Gvaramia said a government middleman had threatened to release secretly-recorded videos showing what he described as his “private life” in an attempt to force him to quit journalism.
In 2007-2009, Gvaramia held several government posts in Saakashvili’s cabinet, overseeing his anti-corruption crusade.
Independent media in Georgia has often had fraught relations with authorities since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.


Facebook: from Harvard dorm to global phenomenon

Facebook: from Harvard dorm to global phenomenon
Updated 16 May 2022

Facebook: from Harvard dorm to global phenomenon

Facebook: from Harvard dorm to global phenomenon
  • Young users increasingly desert it for the likes of TikTok or Snapchat, but with 1.96 billion users, one-quarter of the globe’s population, it remains the biggest social media platform

WASHINGTON: Key chapters in the history of Facebook, the world’s biggest social media application, which marks the tenth anniversary Wednesday of its stock market debut.

In 2003, 19-year-old Harvard computer whiz Mark Zuckerberg begins working out of his dormitory room on an online network aimed initially at connecting Harvard students.
The following year he launched thefacebook.com with three Harvard roommates and classmates: Chris Hughes, Eduardo Saverin and Dustin Moskovitz.
As membership is opened up to other colleges around North America Zuckerberg quits his studies and moves to Silicon Valley.
The new company receives its first investment from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who stumps up $500,000, and officially changes its name to Facebook in 2005.

In 2006, US media conglomerate Viacom and Yahoo make separate plays for Facebook, but both are turned down.
Microsoft takes a $240 million stake in the company a year later, by which time Facebook has 50 million users.
That year sees Zuckerberg admitting to privacy-related “mistakes” for the first time, over an ad platform called Beacon that tracked purchases made by Facebook members and let their friends know what they had bought.
In 2008, the platform topples MySpace to become the world’s most popular social networking website and launches its first mobile app the following year.

David Fincher’s story of the origins of Facebook, “The Social Network,” hits movie theaters in 2010 and wins Oscars for best adapted screenplay, original score and film editing.
Time magazine that year names Zuckerberg as Person of the Year for “transforming the way we live our lives every day.”
As membership rockets, Facebook plays a growing role in shaping public debate.
In 2011, the platform plays a key role in giving a voice to disillusioned Arab youth in the Arab Spring of revolts that began that year in Tunisia.

In 2012, Facebook snaps up photograph-sharing app Instagram for $1 billion and files for an initial public offering.
The biggest IPO ever in the tech sector raises some $16 billion and values the company at $104 billion.
A hoodie-clad Zuckerberg remotely rings the Nasdaq bell from Facebook’s California headquarters on the first day of trading.
By October 2012, Facebook’s membership has topped one billion.

In 2014, Facebook pays a small fortune to try boost its popularity among younger smartphone users by buying messaging platform WhatsApp in a cash and stock deal valued at $19 billion.
As it continues moving up in the world, it moves into new Frank Gehry-designed headquarters in Silicon Valley, with a rooftop park and “the largest open floor plan in the world.”

In 2016, Facebook is embroiled in controversy over Russia’s alleged use of it and other social media platforms to try influence the outcome of the election that brought Donald Trump to the White House.
In 2018, Facebook is again at the center of scandal after it emerges that British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica stealthily harvested the personal data of millions of Facebook users and used it for political purposes, including trying to rally support for Trump.
Zuckerberg is grilled in the US Congress over Facebook’s handling of user data and the way the network is being manipulated to undermine democracy.
The Facebook boss vows to do more to combat fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech and to tighten data privacy.

In 2021, Zuckerberg announces that Facebook has changed its company name to Meta — Greek for “beyond” but also meaning the metaverse — the virtual world which he sees as representing the future of the Internet.
On February 3, 2022, the company’s share price plunges, wiping more than $200 billion off its market value after it warns of slowing revenue growth.
As young users increasingly desert it for the likes of TikTok or Snapchat, the company admits to losing a million active daily users. But with 1.96 billion users, one-quarter of the globe’s population it remains the biggest social media platform.
 

 


Blinken offers support to family of slain Palestinian journalist

Blinken offers support to family of slain Palestinian journalist
Updated 15 May 2022

Blinken offers support to family of slain Palestinian journalist

Blinken offers support to family of slain Palestinian journalist
  • At her funeral on Friday, baton-wielding Israeli police descended upon mourners and grabbed Palestinian flags
  • Blinken offered the support of US diplomats in Jerusalem to the family of Abu Akleh

BERLIN: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Sunday for a “credible” investigation into the death of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh as he offered condolences to her family.
Blinken said he spoke with the brother of Shireen Abu Akleh, who was a US citizen, during his flight Saturday to Berlin for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers.
“I had a chance to express deep condolences for her loss, our deep respect for the work that she did as a journalist for many years,” Blinken told reporters in Berlin.
He said he discussed the “need to have an immediate and a credible investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death.”
He said the Al Jazeera journalist was “widely respected around the world.”
Blinken offered the support of US diplomats in Jerusalem to the family of Abu Akleh, who also held US citizenship, a US official said.
Al Jazeera said Israel shot her “in cold blood.” Israel, which has been facing a series of attacks, initially said Palestinian gunmen could be to blame before backtracking and promising to investigate.
At her funeral on Friday, baton-wielding Israeli police descended upon mourners and grabbed Palestinian flags, with the pallbearers struggling not to drop her casket.
Blinken earlier said he was “deeply troubled” by the Israeli police’s actions and the State Department urged a transparent investigation into her killing.


Egypt slams Israeli attack on funeral of Al Jazeera journalist

Egypt slams Israeli attack on funeral of Al Jazeera journalist
Updated 14 May 2022

Egypt slams Israeli attack on funeral of Al Jazeera journalist

Egypt slams Israeli attack on funeral of Al Jazeera journalist
  • Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian, was killed on Wednesday by an Israeli bullet in the face

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Ministry expressed its “total rejection and strong condemnation of the attacks on the funeral of the late Shireen Abu Akleh by the Israeli authorities.”

Ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez said: “Such unacceptable … attacks represent a violation of the rights of the Palestinian people and the sanctity of the dead.”

The official Palestine News Agency reported that dozens of participants in the funeral procession of the Al Jazeera journalist suffered suffocation, bruises and fractures due to the Israeli police assault on them.

Abu Akleh, a Palestinian, was killed on Wednesday by an Israeli bullet in the face while covering an operation by Israeli forces in Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.

The UN Security Council condemned her killing, calling for “an immediate, thorough, transparent, fair and impartial investigation,” and stressing the need to ensure accountability.


Palestine-Israel: NYT, BBC and AFP slammed for ‘shamelessly’ inaccurate framing of journalist Abu Akleh funeral clashes

Police forces charged at the crowd carrying the coffin, kicking and beating pallbearers with batons. (AFP)
Police forces charged at the crowd carrying the coffin, kicking and beating pallbearers with batons. (AFP)
Updated 14 May 2022

Palestine-Israel: NYT, BBC and AFP slammed for ‘shamelessly’ inaccurate framing of journalist Abu Akleh funeral clashes

Police forces charged at the crowd carrying the coffin, kicking and beating pallbearers with batons. (AFP)

LONDON: Analysts, journalists and more criticized “inaccurate” and “misleading” headlines and tweets published by Western media outlets such as the New York Times, BBC and AFP regarding slain Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and the clashes that ensued at her funeral procession.

Shocking scenes of violence broke out at Abu Akleh’s funeral as Israeli police officers charged at mourners carrying the journalist’s coffin through Jerusalem’s Old City. Police forces charged at the crowd carrying the coffin, kicking and beating pallbearers with batons.

Tear-gas shells and rubber bullets were hurled at chanting mourners in an attempt to stop them from raising Palestinian flags in the old city.

“Shireen Abu Akleh funeral sees clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian mourners in Jerusalem,” read a New York Times headline on Friday, which was criticized for “shamelessly equating the victims with the aggressors,” journalist and commentator Eyad Abu Chakra tweeted.

And the New York Times was not the only publication that was criticized, with the BBC tweeting that “violence broke out” at the slain Al-Jazeera journalist’s funeral as her coffin was “jostled as Israeli police and Palestinians clashed as it left hospital.

“Israeli occupation forces attacked the funeral procession, beat mourners, caused her casket to fall to the ground and the BBC tweets one of the worst obfuscations of Israeli violence yet,” AJ+’s Sana Saeed tweeted.

Bassam Khawaja, co-director of the Human Rights and Privatization Project at NYU’s School of Law, called the tweet “essentially misinformation from the BBC.

“I don’t know how you get from what has been widely acknowledged as a one-sided attack on a funeral procession to ‘violence breaks out.’”

Another tweeter, Kira Davidson, wrote: “Western media has really been telling on itself throughout its coverage of Shireen Abu Akleh’s murder and funeral. To call this anything but violent suppression in support of apartheid is a grave injustice to her memory and her work as a journalist, and a failure in reporting.”

Even Western news media’s reporting on Abu Akleh’s cold-blooded killing was highly inaccurate.

“Shireen Abu Akleh, Trailblazing Palestinian Journalist, Dies at 51,” read the New York Times article on her death. Abu Akleh was shot in the head while covering an Israeli raid in Jenin; she was wearing a press jacket.

“This reads like an obituary headline for someone who died in their bed. There is no world in which it’s acceptable, and it happens over and over again,” Khawaja wrote in another tweet.

“I understand we don’t yet have all the facts. And keep in mind that editors, not reporters, write headlines. But this wording was a deliberate choice, and it blatantly misrepresents what happened today.”

Jewish Voice for Peace, a human rights organization, posted on its Instagram account a more precise rephrasing of the headline — “Shireen Abu Akleh, Trailblazing Palestinian Journalist, Assassinated by Israeli Sniper While Wearing a Press Vest and Reporting on Israeli Military Violence.”