Online propaganda campaign in Yemen, Iraq, other countries linked to US military: Meta

The tactics adopted by the US network were similar to those used in anti-Western campaigns. (AFP/File)
The tactics adopted by the US network were similar to those used in anti-Western campaigns. (AFP/File)
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Updated 24 November 2022

Online propaganda campaign in Yemen, Iraq, other countries linked to US military: Meta

Online propaganda campaign in Yemen, Iraq, other countries linked to US military: Meta
  • Tech firm in August took down accounts promoting US narratives in Middle East
  • Report confirms previous media speculation about American military involvement

LONDON: Online propaganda campaigns that targeted Middle Eastern countries including Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria were linked to US military, technology firm Meta has claimed.

In its latest adversarial threat report, the company said the network that coordinated the campaigns used fake social media accounts to promote pro-Western narratives and was taken down in August after an independent research group flagged the profiles to Facebook’s parent company.

The findings of the report said: “The US network — linked to individuals associated with the US military — operated across many internet services and focused on Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Somalia, Syria, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.”

The social media giant said 39 Facebook accounts, 16 Facebook pages, two groups, and 26 Instagram accounts had been removed for violating its policy on “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” a term used to describe the coordination of accounts and adoption of techniques to publish, promote, and spread false content.

The campaigns, believed to be the first of their kind, were designed to discredit Russia, China, Iran, and other countries, while promoting American views and values.

The tactics adopted by the US network were similar to those used in anti-Western campaigns, such as the use of fake people and the dissemination of artificially generated photos across multiple platforms.

“The people behind this activity posted primarily in Arabic, Farsi, and Russian about news and current events, including terrorism concerns and praise of the US military, as well as content about the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic — some of which we removed for violating our misinformation policy,” the report added.

Although experts believe the campaigns were largely ineffective and their reach was very limited, Meta argued that the operations ran across many internet services, including Twitter, YouTube, Telegram, VKontakte, and Odnoklassniki.

“Although the people behind this operation attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the US military,” Meta said in the report, adding that, “the majority of this operation’s posts had little to no engagement from authentic communities.”

The report appeared to confirm previous speculation made by various media outlets that the US military had been behind the campaigns.

In September, the Pentagon ordered an in-depth inquiry into its overseas social media operations after the White House and other government officials were reported to be growing increasingly concerned about the use of clandestine online warfare and influence operations.

Such covert activities, according to Congress, risked damaging US credibility by evoking the propaganda operations used by authoritarian governments to promote agendas at home and abroad.

The US Department of Defense said it had been, “aware of the report published by Meta, but at this time, we do not have any further comments on the report or potential actions that may be taken by the department as a result of the report.”


Twitter says users will be able to appeal account suspension

Twitter says users will be able to appeal account suspension
Updated 28 January 2023

Twitter says users will be able to appeal account suspension

Twitter says users will be able to appeal account suspension
  • Under the new criteria, Twitter accounts will only be suspended for severe or ongoing and repeat violations of the platform’s policies

BENGALURU, India: Twitter users will be able to appeal account suspensions and be evaluated under the social media platform’s new criteria for reinstatement, starting Feb. 1, the company said on Friday.
Under the new criteria, which follow billionaire Elon Musk’s purchase of the company in October, Twitter accounts will only be suspended for severe or ongoing and repeat violations of the platform’s policies.
Severe policy violations include engaging in illegal content or activity, inciting or threatening violence or harm, and engaging in targeted harassment of other users, among others.
Twitter said that going forward, it will take less severe action, in comparison to account suspension, such as limiting the reach of tweets that violate its policies or asking users to remove tweets before continuing to use the account.
In December, Musk came under fire for suspending accounts of several journalists over a controversy on publishing public data about the billionaire’s plane. He later reinstated the accounts.


Indian students defy ban on BBC’s Modi documentary despite arrests

Indian students defy ban on BBC’s Modi documentary despite arrests
Updated 28 January 2023

Indian students defy ban on BBC’s Modi documentary despite arrests

Indian students defy ban on BBC’s Modi documentary despite arrests
  • Documentary investigates Narendra Modi’s role in the deadly Gujarat riots in 2002
  • Government sees the British broadcaster’s program as ‘manipulation by foreign power’

NEW DELHI: Indian students are defying a ban on a BBC program examining Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s past, despite arrests and attempts by authorities to prevent them from organizing screenings.

The two-part program, “India: The Modi Question,” examines claims about Modi’s role in the 2002 riots in Gujarat that left more than 1,000 dead, most of them Muslims.

Modi was serving as chief minister of the western state when the violence broke out.

The government banned the documentary over the weekend using emergency powers under information technology laws, but students continued to organize screenings across the country.

At least 13 students of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi were detained for 24 hours on Wednesday, after they tried to show the documentary at their campus. 

HIGHLIGHTS

• Documentary investigates Narendra Modi’s role in the deadly Gujarat riots in 2002.

• Government sees the British broadcaster’s program as ‘manipulation by foreign power.’

“We were handed over to the police by the proctor of Jamia Islamia University. On Friday, the Jamia authorities shut down all the facilities for students,” one of the arrested, Azeez Shareef from the Students Federation of India, told Arab News.

“We grew up with a certain idea of India, with secular values and democratic principles, but this government has attacked everything.”

Earlier this week, authorities cut off electricity at Jawaharlal Nehru University when students gathered to screen the documentary.

“We wanted to screen the documentary so that youth can form their own opinion,” said Aishe Ghosh, president of Jawaharlal Nehru Students Union.

“The new generation does not remember what happened in Gujarat in 2002 because they were too young. But when we see today’s reality, it’s important for the young generation to make the link that the same political party that is in power in Delhi was responsible in some form or another in manufacturing a pogrom in the state of Gujarat.”

She added that universities are where students should have “space to debate and discuss and differ.”

As the government ban means the film cannot be streamed or shared on social media — and Twitter and YouTube have complied with a government request to take down links to the documentary — students argue there is no explicit ban on screenings.

“Where is the order to ban the documentary?” said Abhisek Nandan, president of the Student Union of the University of Hyderabad, which has organized a screening and discussion on the first episode of the program.

“The documentary carries the truth about Gujarati riots that journalists and civil society groups have been telling for the last 20 years.”

Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party sees the British broadcaster’s film as manipulation and an assault on India’s judicial system.

“A foreign power undermining the judicial system of India is not the right thing to do. The entire episode of the Gujarat riot has minutely been scrutinized by all, including the judiciary,” BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Mittal told Arab News.

In 2013, a court in Gujarat found Modi not directly responsible for the riots. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling in 2022.

“The documentary is an assault on the judicial system of this country. That’s why it is not permitted,” Mittal said.

“The country is right in not allowing manipulation by a foreign power.”

The film could undermine Modi’s reputation at a time when India is chairing the Group of 20 largest economies and will host the G20 summit this year.

“It’s obvious that PM Modi realized that the documentary had the potential to hurt his reputation at a time when he could least afford it,” political analyst Sanjay Kapoor told Arab News.  

“For him, the G20 platform provided him an opportunity to showcase himself as a world leader, and he didn’t want his image to be sullied as someone who was complicit in the Gujarat genocide.”

 

 


Saudi Arabia’s KAICIID launches journalism program for Arabs

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 27 January 2023

Saudi Arabia’s KAICIID launches journalism program for Arabs

Photo/Shutterstock
  • KAICIID’s secretary-general, Dr. Zuhair Alharthi, said that the second edition of the fellowship program was launched following the success achieved in the first edition, which helped journalists combat hate speech and promote a culture of dialogue

RIYADH: The King Abdullah International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, KAICIID, announced on Thursday the launch of the second edition of its Journalism Fellowship Program for Dialogue in the Arab region.

The program targets a new group of male and female journalists from the Arab region who will receive training on dialogue journalism, conduct professional reports that focus on matters related to interfaith and intercultural dialogue, religious relations, identity, and conflicts.

The aim is to enhance pluralism, diversity, peaceful coexistence, set ethical standards of journalism, and to combat hate speech.

KAICIID’s secretary-general, Dr. Zuhair Alharthi, said that the second edition of the fellowship program was launched following the success achieved in the first edition, which helped journalists combat hate speech and promote a culture of dialogue.

According to the approved schedule for the program, selected candidates will be invited for interviews by late February, with the program to begin online in March followed by on-the-ground training in April.

As per the admission rules to the program, a relevant committee should select between 20 to 25 journalists between the ages of 28 and 40.

They must be working in print, audio, or digital media, and have at least five years of experience in journalism or in other related fields; they must have a professional record in sensitive conflict environments, and they need to be citizens of an Arab country.

Wasim Haddad, the director of programs in the Arab region, said: “This program is one of the main axes within the center’s work strategy in the Arab region, which primarily aims at building social cohesion and promoting the values of dialogue and common citizenship through intensified work and building partnerships with religious leaders, policy makers, the youth, and women as main pillars of change in the region, as it is clear to everyone the leading roles the media can play in this regard.”

 

 


End of an Era: BBC Arabic Radio goes off air after 85 years

End of an Era: BBC Arabic Radio goes off air after 85 years
Updated 29 January 2023

End of an Era: BBC Arabic Radio goes off air after 85 years

End of an Era: BBC Arabic Radio goes off air after 85 years
  • The move comes as part of the World Service's cost cuts

LONDON: “Tears in my eyes as I listen to the last broadcast by BBC Arabic, closing down after 85 years. It meant so much to so many people here over the decades,” tweeted British journalist Jim Muir, Middle East correspondent for the BBC News, “Now the airwaves are dead. End of an era.”

BBC’s Arabic radio service officially ended its decades-long broadcast on Friday, leaving behind a legacy that many believe to be everlasting. 

The station launched in early 1938 as the BBC Empire Service’s first foreign language radio broadcast.

"BBC Arabic will always be a beautiful picture from the good old days; its professionalism a great education and its stars exceptional mentors and examples to follow," journalist Eyad Abu Chakra told Arab News.

He added that the radio station was his father's favorite. "Despite his reservations on some of its political coverage and views, he always admired its professionalism, informative program, and high caliber presenters," he added.

"I grew up admiring several names, whom I was later honored to meet and befriend after settling in London in the fall of 1978," Abu Chakra continued, "the Bush House canteen was one of my favorite meeting places in the late 1970s. It took me short walks from my Asharq Al-Awsat office in Gough Square and, later, High Holborn, to Bush House, where I enjoyed the hospitality of the BBC giants of the day."

"To name just a few of my BBC dearest friends, departed and alive, there were the greats Musa Beshuti, Akram Saleh, Hassan Al Karmi, Nadim Nasser & Madiha AlMadfa’i, Majed Serhan, Huda Al-Rasheed and many others."

Many journalists and public figures took to Twitter to express grief and share fond memories of BBC’s Arabic radio station. Some believed the event marked a decline in the United Kingdom’s soft power while others recalled their days at the studios. 

“It's far beyond sad and painful to see BBC Arabic radio shutting down today,” wrote Egypt-based BBC Arabic correspondent Sally Nabil on Twitter. 

“It's incredibly difficult to describe how we feel!” She added. 

Amal Mudallali, former permanent representative of Lebanon to the UN, said: “As someone who worked for the BBC Arabic, I do not understand the decision.

“It is the only thing people know and remember about Britania, as we call it, in the region for generations.”

The final words and signature statement of BBC Arabic radio presenter Mahmoud Almossallami, “Huna London” (This is London), seems to have brought tears to many eyes. 

Almousallami’s daughter, Osha, wrote: “I grew up listening to my dad presenting on BBC Arabic, and now here he is, presenting the final hour of BBC Arabic before it's closed and taken off the air.

“It really is the end of an era.”

The head of David Nott Foundation, Elly Nott, wrote: “Huna London no more,” hailing BBC Arabic radio for helping her to learn its language. 

BBC News Lead Technical Operator Jack Mooney shared a footage showing the last moments as the Arabic news network went off the air, while sound producer Tome Roles wrote: “I’ll always treasure the magic of sitting in a tiny studio at 3 am in London, picturing the sun rising thousands of miles away, and wondering about the lives of those tuning in.”

“It’s a painful moment,” wrote photographer Ali Al-Baroodi. 

“BBC Arabic was one of few windows to the world in the time of the economic blockade (in the) 1990s (and) ISIS occupation,” he added, “Iraq was under (a) huge blackout. My father used to stock batteries for his radio in prep for the tough times.”

BBC correspondent Emir Nader shared the last two minutes of the Arabic radio’s final broadcast and wrote: “Today is a tragic day for Arab media… One of many huge losses following cuts in BBC World Service's budget.”


Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza
Updated 27 January 2023

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza
  • The ruling prohibits anyone from sharing links to Meduza's website

LONDON: Russia on Thursday declared Meduza, its most prominent independent news website, an “undesirable organization,” banning the outlet’s operation on Russian territory under the threat of felony prosecution.

Russia’s prosecutor-general said in an official statement that Meduza, which was founded by Russian journalists in Latvia, “threatens the foundations of constitutional order and the security of the Russian Federation.”

The ruling prohibits the outlet’s activities in Russia as well as any reference to it, even by posting a hyperlink on social media. Anyone who fails to cooperate may face a prison sentence of up to six years, according to The Guardian.

Russian officials previously labeled Meduza a “foreign agent,” hindering the news website’s ability to raise funds through advertising and forcing it to shift to a crowdfunding model.

“We believe in what we do. We believe in freedom of speech. We believe in a democratic Russia. The bigger the pressure, the harder we will stand up to it,” Meduza said in a statement.

With the onset of the Ukraine war in February 2022, the Russian government banned several outlets, including Echo of Moscow and TV Rain, the country’s only independent news channel.

Russian lawmakers introduced a bill in May 2022 outlawing “discrediting the armed forces,” with a prison sentence of up to 15 years for criticizing the Russian military.

Russia has been cracking down on “undesirable organizations” since 2015, according to Meduza, granting the prosecutor-general the power to label as such any organization that purportedly imperils the country’s “constitutional-order foundations” or national security.