Facebook: Fake scientist used to spread anti-US propaganda

Facebook uncovered fake accounts affiliated with the network that had also waded into US politics last year. (File/AFP)
Facebook uncovered fake accounts affiliated with the network that had also waded into US politics last year. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 December 2021

Facebook: Fake scientist used to spread anti-US propaganda

Facebook uncovered fake accounts affiliated with the network that had also waded into US politics last year. (File/AFP)
  • Disinformation network with ties to China used hundreds of fake social media accounts to spread anti-US propaganda, Facebook said
  • China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said in the past that the country’s government does not employ trickery on social media

A disinformation network with ties to China used hundreds of fake social media accounts — including one belonging to a fictitious Swiss biologist — to spread an unfounded claim that the US pressured scientists to blame China for the coronavirus, Facebook said Wednesday.
The company based in Menlo Park, California, did not directly attribute the network to the Chinese government. But it noted employees of Chinese state-run companies, and the country’s state-run media, worked to amplify the misleading claims, which were soon the subject of news headlines in China.
“In effect it worked like an online hall of mirrors, endlessly reflecting the original fake persona and its anti-US disinformation,” according to Ben Nimmo, who leads investigations into disinformation at Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram.
The operation began in July, when a Facebook account was created in the name of Wilson Edwards, a self-professed Swiss biologist. That same day, the account user claimed, without evidence, that US officials were using “enormous pressure and even intimidation” to get scientists to back calls for renewed investigations into the origin of the virus.
Within hours, hundreds of other accounts — some of which were created only that day — began liking, posting or linking to the post. Many of the accounts were later found to be fake, with some of the users posing as westerners and others using likely fabricated profile photos. Facebook said it found links between the accounts and a tech firm based in Chengdu, China, as well as to overseas employees of Chinese infrastructure companies.
Within a week of the initial post, large media outlets in China were reporting on the claims of US intimidation as if they had been made by a real scientist.
The operation was exposed when Swiss authorities announced in August that they had no record of any biologist with Edwards’ name. “If you exist, we would like to meet you!” the Swiss embassy in Beijing tweeted.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said in the past that the country’s government does not employ trickery on social media. Efforts to contact the companies cited in the report weren’t immediately successful on Wednesday.
In all, Meta removed about 600 accounts on Facebook and Instagram that were linked to the network, Nimmo told reporters on a call Wednesday that touched on the company’s response to several disinformation networks around the world.
Facebook uncovered fake accounts affiliated with the network that had also waded into US politics last year, with some posting memes that both attacked and supported ex-President Donald Trump. One post on Instagram called him “the worst president ever!” The group behind the effort also created accounts on Twitter, which has since suspended the account supposedly created by Edwards.
Nimmo said the network was easily spotted by its clumsy tactics. Several of the fake accounts sent out identical posts at similar times — a clear indication of coordination. Another person apparently working for the network posted instructions for reposting the claim in what Facebook determined was likely a sloppy mistake.
China’s disinformation networks have consistently been haphazard, said Bret Schafer, who heads the information manipulation team at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a non-partisan think tank in Washington.
The network unearthed by Facebook show that the Chinese are still working on their influence campaign strategy, unlike Russia, which has spent decades crafting disinformation campaigns that target unwitting Americans online and go undetected for years.
“It didn’t take long for this to be unraveled,” Schafer said. “The Chinese are still a bit sloppier with what they do. I can’t imagine the Russians doing something like this, where they just create a persona out of thin air.”


German journalist acquitted of terror charges in Turkey

German journalist acquitted of terror charges in Turkey
Updated 18 January 2022

German journalist acquitted of terror charges in Turkey

German journalist acquitted of terror charges in Turkey
  • Mesale Tolu was accused of engaging in terror propaganda and being a member of a banned left-wing group
  • Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey at 153 out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index of 2021

ISTANBUL: A Turkish court has acquitted German journalist Mesale Tolu after years on trial for terror-related charges.
“After 4 years, 8 months and 20 days: Acquitted of both charges!” Tolu tweeted after her acquittal. She was accused of engaging in terror propaganda and being a member of a banned left-wing group — the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party.
Tolu, 38, was placed in pre-trial detention for eight months in 2017. She was later released but was barred from leaving Turkey until August 2018. She lives in Germany.
Before her arrest, Tolu worked as a translator and journalist for the Turkish ETHA news agency.
German-Turkish relations were tense at the time of Tolu’s arrest, when eight other German or German-Turkish citizens were imprisoned. Berlin considered the arrests to be politically motivated.
Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey at 153 out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index of 2021. At least 34 media employees are currently behind bars, according to Turkey’s Journalists Union.


Lebanon: Hezbollah trolls harass critical Black news anchor with racist tweets

The fury targeting Dalia Ahmad came after she described the country’s long-reigning party officials as crocodiles. (Twitter)
The fury targeting Dalia Ahmad came after she described the country’s long-reigning party officials as crocodiles. (Twitter)
Updated 17 January 2022

Lebanon: Hezbollah trolls harass critical Black news anchor with racist tweets

The fury targeting Dalia Ahmad came after she described the country’s long-reigning party officials as crocodiles. (Twitter)
  • Al Jadeed’s Sudanese TV anchor Dalia Ahmad was racially harassed and targeted by Hezbollah
  • Sudanese TV host Dalia Ahmad called a “black dog” and worse in racist abuse campaign launched by Hezbollah on Twitter

BEIRUT: Hate-filled, misogynist, and racist tweets have targeted a Sudanese TV anchor following a report on her show that criticized the Lebanese government, including Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

The fury targeting Dalia Ahmad came after she described the country’s long-reigning party officials as crocodiles during her show “Fashet Khalq” on Lebanon’s Al-Jadeed news channel. 

#DogBreedImprovement was trending in Lebanon in Arabic after vicious tweets sent out by Hezbollah loyalist accounts attacked Ahmad and the color of her skin.

“You’d be sitting under the safety of God when a black dog comes and starts barking, you want to hit it but then it appears not to be a dog but a black female dog from Sudan,” read a tweet from a profile featuring a photo of the slain Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.

 

 

“May God curse the sperm that settled in the womb of the mother of those who offend you, Mr. Nasrallah #DogBreedImprovement,” read another tweet in Arabic. The account’s profile has the word Hezbollah in Arabic with a yellow heart next to it.

 

 

Another tweet read: “Without #hizbollah Dalia Ahmed would have been offered for sale in the slave market, along with her ilk, by ISIS.”  

“Never in my life have I bullied or criticized the creation of our Lord, but this despicable woman, because her heart and tongue are so black they are reflecting on her ugly and malicious face,” read a tweet from @KassemHala555, which had a black smiley face emoji at the end and two images of Ahmad.

 

 

“By God, by God, whoever wants to attack the Al-Sayyed (Nasrallah), I want to wipe the ground with them and curse those who gave birth to them,” read another tweet from @KassemHala555, whose profile features the Lebanese and Iranian flags. This tweet had an image of Ahmad with the face of a dog photoshopped over hers.

 

 

Journalists loyal to Hezbollah and media representatives also chimed in. Journalist Hosein Mortada, who has more than 494,000 followers, tweeted a picture of Ahmad with the comment: “There are breeds that don’t improve because their genes are unclean from the start.”

His tweet is no longer visible because, according to the platform, it “violated the Twitter Rules.”

There were some who came to the defense of Ahmad, including Emmy-nominated director and writer Lucien Bourjeily who tweeted: “My dears: ‘crocodiles’ is a very nice description. Your leaders are corrupt, scammers, and criminals, and an entire society is being destroyed at their hands! How many are you after defending those who impoverished you, plundered you, and destroyed your lives?”

 

 

Hezbollah and its loyalists have a record of harassing and attacking female journalists.

In January of last year, Alhurra news anchor Layal Alekhtiar received death threats and was subjected to harassment online after tweeting a video of the unveiling of a Soleimani statue and a line from the Qur’an that said: “What are these statues to which you are so devoted?”

In October 2020, independent journalist Luna Safwan was targeted by Hezbollah in an online abuse campaign after her tweet criticizing the party was carried by an Israeli news channel and she was accused of cooperating with Israel. 

Lebanese journalist Maryam Seif Eddine, known for her staunch criticism of Hezbollah despite being Shiite, received death threats from the group while her mother and brother were physically assaulted, with her sibling being left with a broken nose. Party loyalists had targeted her family home in Burj El-Barajneh, in the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut.

Before that, as the country witnessed mass protests in 2019, former LBC news anchor and Shiite journalist Dima Sadek was subjected to harassment by the group after her phone was stolen from her during a demonstration. The harassment, she said, was followed by insulting and threatening phone calls to her mother, who suffered a stroke as a result of the stress.

MTV reporter Nawal Berry, also a Shiite, suffered violent attacks by supporters of Hezbollah and its allies while covering the early days of the protests. Loyalists smashed her team’s camera, snatched the microphone she was holding, spat on her, and kicked her in the leg.

 


Netflix’s market share squeezed as competition increases: Industry report

Netflix’s market share squeezed as competition increases: Industry report
Updated 17 January 2022

Netflix’s market share squeezed as competition increases: Industry report

Netflix’s market share squeezed as competition increases: Industry report

DUBAI: With more than 200 streaming providers around the globe the number of platforms is proliferating, according to Flixed.

And while the coronavirus pandemic has spurred unprecedented growth in viewership the gradual return to normality has seen a churn in subscribers for many streaming companies.

Netflix, which remains the world leader in the streaming space, last year commanded a 21 percent share of the US subscription video-on-demand market, but with competition increasing, it has been experiencing a slowdown, data analytics firm GlobalData said.

The company’s share of US revenue from subscription streaming video was forecast to shrink to 30.8 percent by the end of 2021, from nearly 50 percent in 2018, according to market researcher eMarketer.

Francesca Gregory, associate analyst in thematic research at GlobalData, said: “Netflix experienced a slow start to 2021, following a light slate of content as pandemic production problems came to the fore.

“Although fresh content in its third quarter boosted subscribers to 214 million, competing platforms are experiencing explosive growth.”

By November, Disney+ had racked up 118 million subscribers, and Amazon Prime had 175 million.

“As the number of streaming platforms increases, and the market approaches peak fragmentation, SVOD platforms will use content portfolios to differentiate themselves,” Gregory added.

For example, Amazon has committed $1 billion to its “The Lord of the Rings” even before an episode has aired, while Netflix was forecast to spend more on original programming than ever before. By 2025, 46.5 percent of its projected $18.92 billion budget will go toward original content, compared with 37.8 percent in 2020, eMarketer said.

Besides content portfolios, companies will have to explore alternative revenue sources.

Gregory said: “We have already started to see Netflix branching out to different areas, with the launch of Netflix Games in November 2021 and a co-streaming partnership with Twitch. I wouldn’t be surprised if the company looked to experiment with more gaming streaming platforms in the future.”

She pointed out that as competition increased during 2022, “reaching different audiences will continue to be a key strategy. Companies that fail to secure a market niche will have a limited shelf life in the crowded SVOD market.”


Media campaigns praised for ‘making a difference’ 

Media campaigns praised for ‘making a difference’ 
Updated 17 January 2022

Media campaigns praised for ‘making a difference’ 

Media campaigns praised for ‘making a difference’ 
  • WARC 2021 awards highlight 56 initiatives for major brands, nonprofits, health groups

DUBAI: Media campaigns for some of the world’s biggest brands have been praised for their effectiveness, insight and innovation as part of marketing intelligence firm WARC’s 2021 media awards.

The global awards program, now in its sixth year, rewards communications planning that has made a positive impact on business results. The awards examine the insight, strategy and analytics that influence effective media investment.

This year, the awards saw 56 campaigns win across diverse markets and product categories for global brands including adidas, L’Oreal, McDonald’s, Nespresso and TikTok, and local brands such as Change The Ref in the US, Claro in Chile, NHS England, Omroep Zwart in the Netherlands and Yili in China.

Four juries — one for each category — made up of of experts from both the agency and client-side awarded four grand prix trophies, 10 golds, 17 silvers, 25 bronzes and 12 special awards for specific areas of excellence.

Overall, the UK led with eight wins. China, Germany, the US and Vietnam won four awards each, followed by Canada, which scored three wins. India, Malaysia and New Zealand, each won two awards, and Chile, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Netherlands, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Sri Lanka, Turkey and the UAE each won one award.

In the effective channel integration category, PHD Canada won the grand prix and path-to-purchase award for “Vacation Intervention,” which saw Air Transat convince 75,000 workers not to lose their unused vacation days, with nearly 50 percent of reservations coming from new clients.

“Travel brands tend to be very lower-funnel and promo-led, especially in the lead-up to big holiday seasons. ‘Vacation Intervention’ went the other way with a strong insight, a very interesting central idea and a multi-channel campaign that was fun, topical and successful,” said jury member Ronnie Thomas, group director of global business development Publicis Groupe.

The POE award, which looks at how a strategy successfully linked paid, owned and earned media, and a gold went to FP7 McCann Dubai for “A Dad’s Job” for Home Center. The effective cross-channel measurement award and a silver went to MediaCom’s global campaign “PS5 — 2020’s biggest entertainment launch” for gaming console Sony PlayStation.  

Havas Sports & Entertainment won the grand prix for French welfare association L’Enfant Bleu in the effective use of tech category.

The winning campaign “Undercover Avatar” saw the agency create an in-game confidante to enable children to speak out about abuse. The activity generated 700 million media impressions and resulted in the French government working on solutions that will turn video games into a new way to identify abused children.

“Leveraging a native behavior (and interest) in a smart way — a really powerful way to do things purposefully different,” said judge Luca Vergano, vice president of strategy at Elephant.

The initiative also won two special awards: Most scalable idea and platform pioneer.

MullenLowe US won the special award, the early adopter, and a gold for “Ring King” for Burger King.

In the effective use of partnerships and sponsorships category, McCann Paris and FP7 McCann Dubai won the grand prix and effective native award for Lebanese Breast Cancer Foundation for “The Bread Exam.”

The nonprofit collaborated with a traditional baker to create a bread-making video demonstrating how to self-examine. The campaign reached 112 million people, and in nine months increased awareness by 83 percent and screenings by 41 percent.

“They identified breast cancer as something that is difficult to talk about in culture, but managed to make it part of the conversation through the topic of bread making, something that is an integral part of the culture,” said judge Faisal Alani, head of partnerships at eBay.

“They tackled the problem in an incredibly thoughtful way; it really warmed my heart.”

COPA90 won two special swards — the collaboration with an influencer award for Budweiser’s “Messi X Budweiser 644,” and the successful sponsorship award for “Music Keeps Us Playing” for Pepsi and Pepsi MAX, as well as a silver and bronze, respectively.

In the best use of data category, the grand prix and personalization award went to FCB New Zealand for “Personalizing Danger,” a campaign for Water Safety New Zealand. By combining historical, real-time and future data, the agency built a predictive model to reduce deaths of young men from drowning. The campaign reached 95 percent of its target audience and achieved zero deaths. 

“Other entrants are just gathering data. But to actually save lives? If only one life is saved, it’s already a success. This is data put to good use,” said judge Kathrin Jesse, chief strategy officer and partner at Wirz Group, Switzerland.

The data-driven insight award was given to MullenLowe US for Burger King’s “Delay Your Way,” which also won a gold, and the attribution award went to Ekimetrics for “Using Advanced Analytics to Market Profitability in a Pandemic” for hospitality brand Accor, which also won a bronze. 


Russia demands Facebook unblock foreign ministry-linked page

Russia demands Facebook unblock foreign ministry-linked page
Updated 17 January 2022

Russia demands Facebook unblock foreign ministry-linked page

Russia demands Facebook unblock foreign ministry-linked page
  • Russia demanded that Facebook immediately lift all restrictions on the official page of Russian foreign ministry
  • The block was instigated on Friday for publishing “illegal content”
MOSCOW: Russia’s media regulator has demanded that Facebook “immediately” lift all restrictions on the official page of the country’s delegation for arms control talks in Vienna.
The Facebook page, which is affiliated to Russia’s foreign ministry, was taken down on Friday for publishing “illegal content,” according to delegation head Konstantin Gavrilov.
Media watchdog Roskomnadzor said Sunday evening that it has sent a letter to Meta, Facebook’s parent company, “with the demand to immediately lift all restrictions” from the Facebook page and “explain the reasons for introducing them.”
“Such actions of the administration of the Facebook social network violate the key principles of free distribution of information,” Roskomnadzor said.
The regulator added that it considers this an “act of censorship.”
The page was still unavailable on Monday morning.
Gavrilov told state news agency TASS on Sunday that the delegation uses the Facebook page to post statements from Russia’s leadership or the foreign ministry.
“This is a blatant act of censorship in the information space,” Gavrilov said in a statement on Twitter, requesting support from the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
In February 2021, the delegation’s account on Twitter had also been temporarily blocked, TASS reported.
Russia has repeatedly fined US tech giants, including Meta, for ignoring content moderation requests as the country ramps up its control of Internet platforms.
In December, Meta was slapped with its largest fine yet — the equivalent of $27 million — for repeatedly failing to delete illegal content.