Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Insulting Royal Family in Thailand Gets Man 25 Years in Prison

April 1, 2015


Thai man jailed for 25 years for insulting monarchy on Facebook

Rights groups Wednesday lambasted a Thai military court for jailing a businessman for 25 years for making allegedly defamatory Facebook posts about the monarchy, one of the toughest known sentences for lese majeste.


The sentencing of 58-year-old Theinsutham Suthijittaseranee comes as concerns mount over a bid by the nation’s junta leader to replace martial law that has blanketed the kingdom for months with new security measures retaining sweeping powers for the military.

Theinsutham was sentenced on Tuesday to 10 years for each of five counts of posting messages on the social networking website deemed to be defamatory to the Thai royal family, his lawyer told AFP.

The sentence was halved as the defendant pleaded guilty, but it is still among the toughest sentences yet for insulting the monarchy.

“The 25-year sentence is one of the harshest we are aware of. It is particularly problematic given that it was issued by a military tribunal,” Sam Zarifi, regional director for legal rights group the International Commission of Jurists, told AFP.

“Given the defendant’s age, it comes close to being a life sentence.”

Amnesty International condemned the conviction as “preposterous” and called for an end to lese majeste prosecutions, which have surged since royalist generals toppled the remnants of the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in May last year.

Domestic and international media routinely self-censor reporting of the Thai monarchy, including royal defamation trials, lest they too fall foul of the draconian law, which carries up to 15 years in jail for every count of insulting, defaming or threatening the monarchy.

Critics of the law say it is used as a weapon against the political enemies of the royalist elite.

‘Descent into dictatorship’ -

Freedom of expression and dissent have been smothered by martial law imposed by the Thai junta since last May’s coup.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said he had asked Thailand’s revered but elderly king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, for permission to lift martial law.

But rights groups have expressed alarm at Prayut’s move to replace it with sweeping security powers under Section 44 of an interim constitution governing the kingdom.

Under the section, Prayut can unilaterally issue orders to suppress “any act that undermines public peace and order or national security, the monarchy, national economics or the administration of state affairs”.

Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the section effectively grants the junta leader unfettered power and “will mark Thailand’s deepening descent into dictatorship”.

Thailand has been mired in political turmoil since populist politician Thaksin Shinawatra was toppled by a coup in 2006.

The Bangkok elite — flanked by the military and swathes of the kingdom’s judiciary — has spent the intervening years trying to unpick the electoral success of parties linked to Thaksin, culminating in last year’s coup.

The army says it had to intervene to end bloody protests against the Shinawatra clan, accusing the family of poisoning Thailand with corruption and cronyism and duping their rural poor heartlands with populist policies.




Family issues add to Hong Kong leader’s public relations problems

March 28, 2015


Leung Chai-yan, daughter of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, poses on the red carpet during the 2015 amfAR Hong Kong gala at Shaw Studios in Hong Kong on March 14. (Anthony Wallace / AFP/Getty Images)

By Tiffany Ap
The Los Angeles Times

It was almost like a scene out of a Disney movie, a princess-crying-in-a-castle shot. In this case, though, it was none other than the daughter of top Hong Kong official Leung Chun-ying, who was seen weeping on the balcony of a grand old colonial building in Hong Kong

For the semi-autonomous Chinese territory of 7.3 million, the episode one morning last week was akin to Sasha Obama sobbing on a White House portico — as an ambulance, paramedics and a horde of journalists waited outside the gates.

Even throughout the long series of pro-democracy protests last fall, when massive crowds took to the streets, China’s central government in Beijing staunchly backed Leung. However, recurring personal controversies swirling around his second child, Leung Chai-yan, 23, have added to the chief executive’s public relations problems.

Leung Chai-yan’s lavish lifestyle — she often refers to herself as “Princess Chai-yan” — seems directly at odds with the national austerity campaign initiated by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Moreover, her erratic public outbursts have become increasingly frequent and serious, compounding the unresolved negative public sentiment toward her father left over from the protests.

The chief executive’s approval rating sank to 39.6% in a University of Hong Kong poll this month, barely above his all-time low of 38.9% at the height of the protests in October.

Leung Chai-yan, a law student at the London School of Economics, wrote on Facebook in October, at the height of the protests, that Hong Kong taxpayers funded her expensive shopping sprees. That followed a June incident in which Leung and his wife flew to London to see their daughter after she posted photos of her cut and bleeding wrists.

Trouble surfaced again at an AIDS fundraiser during an Art Basel fair held in Hong Kong this month in which dozens of foreign celebrities and art world VIPs descended on the city. Swaying down the red carpet, her eyes drooping, some photographers yelled out, “Can you walk?”

The tabloids feasted on the spectacle at an event attended by Kate Moss, Gwyneth Paltrow, Victoria Beckham and Robin Thicke. But even more fodder followed when Leung Chai-yan posted a flurry of erratic social media messages alleging verbal and physical abuse by her mother.

One, rife with profanities, claimed that her mother had accused her of “getting into bed with people,” and “being a prostitute” and alleged that her mother had also pushed and slapped her.

After the balcony episode, emergency services confirmed that they had dispatched paramedics to the Leungs’ residence but left without taking anyone to the hospital. Leung Chai-yan posted (and then deleted) an item saying she was being pressured to say she had changed her mind about wanting an ambulance.

In a news conference later, the chief executive denied that his daughter was held against her will or that anyone had been injured. He said his daughter was receiving treatment for emotional health issues.

The public airing of dirty laundry compounds problems for Leung, still facing public anger over the pace of democratic reforms and concern that livelihoods are being marginalized in favor of big businesses catering to mainland Chinese tourists.

Multiple protests against so-called “parallel traders” — mainland Chinese visitors who cross the border several times a day to buy goods in Hong Kong and resell them on mainland — have also kept Leung in the hot seat.

Last week, a leading opposition politician, Alan Leong, challenged Leung to a televised debate on political reform.

Tellingly, public sentiment seems to have turned in favor of Leung Chai-yan. Although she stirred immense ire with her comments about enjoying taxpayer-funded shopping sprees, support for her seems to have grown steadily as she rebels against her father.

After the balcony incident, a small crowd gathered outside the chief executive’s mansion, Government House, holding signs asking for the police to investigate whether Leung Chai-yan had been abused. “Save Chai-yan! We are all Leung Chai-yan,” read the placards.

Since then, it appears that Leung Chai-yan has left home, posting on Instagram to her more than 22,000 followers that she was on the move.

“Hate to admit I’m actually terrified inside. Running away. Skipping town,” the post read. “Yes- irresponsible I know. This is crazy. Going somewhere alone I’ve never been before with just a small suitcase and a pair of flip-flops.#ByeHome #RunningAway #NoIdeaWhatImDoing#WhereIsLifeHeading.”

Ap is a special correspondent.


Leung Chai-yan, 23, posted photos and messages on Instagram suggesting she had left home.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s eldest daughter said she had “officially” left home this morning, a day after claiming online that she’d had a violent row with her mother and that she had been “held against her will” at home.

Ambulances arrived at the Government House yesterday morning, where the Hong Kong leader and his family lives, hours after Chai-yan began posting a series of Facebook posts detailing the dispute and her plans to leave home “forever”.

The incident prompted Leung Chun-ying to hold a press conference that afternoon, in which he denied there was domestic violence in their home. He also said that his 23-year-old daughter had been dealing with health and emotional issues for a few years, and he asked the public to give her space to recover.


Chinese have no need for websites blocked by Great Firewall — “Beijing will tell you everything you need to know”

March 26, 2015


If Beijing is successful in its bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics then foreigners who attend will get uncensored internet access, but this isn’t an issue for Chinese who “don’t like” sites like Facebook and Twitter, an official said on Wednesday.

China keeps a tight rein on its internet. The government has warned that social media, particularly foreign services, could be a destabilising force for Chinese society or even affect the country’s security.

Popular foreign social media sites like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook as well as Google’s main search engine and Gmail service are all inaccessible in China without specialised software to vault what is known as the “Great Firewall”.

China had committed to providing media with the same freedom to report on the 2008 Beijing summer Olympics as they enjoyed at previous Games.

But when the main press centre opened, journalists complained of finding access to sites deemed sensitive to China’s communist leadership blocked. A senior International Olympic Committee (IOC) official later admitted that some IOC officials cut a deal to let China block sensitive websites.

Wang Hui, spokeswoman for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games Bid Committee, told a news briefing that China was an open country committed to having an open internet.

“Everyone always brings up Facebook and Twitter, but people around me don’t like to use it,” Wang said, when asked whether foreign visitors would access uncensored Internet access if the city won the 2022 Games.

“With our Weibo and WeChat, China’s 650 million [web users] can freely use these tools to exchange and receive information,” she said, referring to wildly popular Chinese social media tools which are subject to often quite strict government censorship.

“If you gave these [Facebook and Twitter] to me, I would not use them. I like using Weibo and WeChat.”

Foreign visitors, including the press, spectators or athletes, would get open internet access in 2022, Wang added, without explaining how exactly this would work.

“Without a doubt, 2022 will be even more open than 2008.”

Despite being blocked in China, Beijing 2022 organisers have set up official Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, aimed at a foreign audience, though to little apparent effect.

The Beijing 2022 Twitter account, which sent its first tweet in early November, is only followed by some 550 people. Its official Facebook page has attracted just over 400 likes since it was sent up at about the same time.

An IOC evaluation team is in China this week, and the final decision on who gets the Games will be made in July. The only other city bidding is Kazakhstan’s Almaty.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s eldest daughter said she had “officially” left home after abuse drama

March 18, 2015


Peter So
South China Morning Post

Hong Kong Chief Leung Chun-Ying: Trouble in The Office and At Home — Asks for ‘some space’ for his daughter who says, “There’s only so much a human can take.”

March 17, 2015

Leung Chun-Ying’s daughter Leung Chai-Yan claimed on Facebook that her mother had physically and verbally abused her and threatened to call the police. She is also threatening to “leave home forever”.

A screengrab of Leung Chai Yan’s Facebook post, with which she expressed her desire to leave home.

HONG KONG: Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-Ying on Tuesday (Mar 17) asked the local media to give his daughter, Leung Chai-Yan, “some space” after she allegedly posted online about being pushed and slapped by her mother, Regina Tong.

In a series of Facebook postings on Tuesday, 23-year-old Leung Chai-Yan said her mother physically abused her and threatened to call the police. She said she felt trapped and that her mother’s real personality was very different from her public one.

She also claimed she does not have the same “legal rights as a normal Hong Kong citizen because of who her parents are”, with no access to public hospital services, among others. In a post pinned to the top of her Facebook timeline, she added that she’s “leaving home forever”.

“There’s only so much a human can take. If I need to better my life and find happiness, this is what I’ve gotta do. I’m doing this. Finally,” she wrote.

Hong Kong chief Leung refused to respond to whether it was a case of domestic violence, but thanked the media for their concern before the regular Executive Council meeting Tuesday morning.

This is not the first controversy by his daughter. Last year, she posted a photo on Facebook, which appeared to show her lying in a bathtub, with a slashed wrist asking “will I bleed to death?” More recently, she did a series of TV interviews on a local cable network, shedding some light on her relationship with her father.

She admitted that she suffers from depression, and was “pretty familiar with the insides of a London ambulance”. Ms Leung is a law student at the London School of Economics.

China’s Great Firewall — And Poisoning Internet Attacks From China

March 1, 2015

By Adam Pasick

Software designer Craig Hockenberry noticed something very strange was happening to his small corporate website The Iconfactory one morning last month: traffic had suddenly spiked to extremely high levels—equivalent to more than double the amount of data transmitted when Kim Kardashian’s naked photos were published last year.

The reason, he quickly discovered, was that China’s Great Firewall—the elaborate machinery that China’s government uses to censor the internet—was redirecting enormous amounts of bogus traffic to his site, which designs online icons, quickly swamping his servers.

“When I looked at the server traffic, there was only one thing I could say,” he wrote on his blog. “Holy shit.”

Hockenberry was only the latest unfortunate site administrator to experience an ugly side effect of the Great Firewall, known as DNS poisoning. A brief explainer: When you type a URL into your web browser, it is converted into a numeric IP address by a domain name server (DNS). Often these are run by internet service providers or companies like Google, but in China they are run by the government—specifically the Ministry of State Security, which is responsible for operating the Great Firewall (often referred to as the GFW).

When a Chinese internet user attempts to visit a banned site such as Facebook, Google, or Twitter, the GFW reroutes the request. For a long time it sent users to non-existent IP addresses, but lately, for reasons unknown, it has been sending them to seemingly random sites like Iconfactory, which are quickly debilitated by the massive inflow of data.

The surge to Hockenberry’s site on Jan. 20 preceded a major internet disruption in China on Jan. 21 that was conclusively caused by GWF DNS poisoning, according to, a group that fights Chinese internet censorship. Much of the internet was inaccessible to Chinese users for several hours as most of the country’s web requests—equivalent to hundreds of thousands per second—were redirected to a single IP address, used by Dynamic Internet Technology, a small US company that helps users circumvent the GFW. The company’s president speculated that DNS rerouting was not an intentional attack on his company, but rather the result of human error.

Other website administrators have reported similar incidents in the past. According to Greatfire, Chinese users attempting to access banned sites have been redirected to foreign porn sites, random sites in Russia, and to a site owned by the South Korean government. “In essence, GFW is sending Chinese users to DDOS the Korea government’s website,” the group wrote. DDOS stands for distributed denial of service, and is a common type of attack by hackers trying to take down a website by flooding it with traffic from virus-infested computers under their control.

Hockenberry concluded: “Every machine in China has the potential be a part of a massive DDOS attack on innocent sites. As my colleague Sean quipped, ‘They have weaponized their entire population.’”

Art by Nemu Asakura

Obamanet promises to fix an Internet that isn’t broken

February 23, 2015


BlackBerry and AT&T are already making moves that could exploit new ‘utility’ regulations

By L. Gordon Crovitz
The Wall Street Journal

Critics of President Obama’s “net neutrality” plan call it ObamaCare for the Internet.

That’s unfair to ObamaCare.

Both ObamaCare and “Obamanet” submit huge industries to complex regulations. Their supporters say the new rules had to be passed before anyone could read them. But at least ObamaCare claimed it would solve long-standing problems. Obamanet promises to fix an Internet that isn’t broken.

The permissionless Internet, which allows anyone to introduce a website, app or device without government review, ends this week. On Thursday the three Democrats among the five commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission will vote to regulate the Internet under rules written for monopoly utilities.

No one, including the bullied FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, thought the agency would go this far. The big politicization came when President Obama in November demanded that the supposedly independent FCC apply the agency’s most extreme regulation to the Internet. A recent page-one Wall Street Journal story headlined “Net Neutrality: How White House Thwarted FCC Chief” documented “an unusual, secretive effort inside the White House . . . acting as a parallel version of the FCC itself.”

Congress is demanding details of this interference. In the early 1980s, a congressional investigation blasted President Reagan for telling his FCC chairman his view of regulations about television reruns. “I believe it is imperative for the integrity of all regulatory processes that the president unequivocally declare that he will express no view in the matter and that he will do nothing to intervene in the work of the FCC,” said Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat.

Mr. Obama’s role raises legal as well as political questions. Those harmed by the new rules could argue in court that political pressure made the agency’s actions “arbitrary and capricious.”

The more than 300 pages of new regulations are secret, but Mr. Wheeler says they will subject the Internet to the key provisions of Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, under which the FCC oversaw Ma Bell.

Title II authorizes the commission to decide what “charges” and “practices” are “just and reasonable”—an enormous amount of discretion. Former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell has found 290 federal appeals court opinions on this section and more than 1,700 FCC administrative interpretations.

Defenders of the Obama plan claim that there will be regulatory “forbearance,” though not from the just-and-reasonable test. They also promise not to regulate prices, a pledge that Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has called “flat-out false.” He added: “The only limit on the FCC’s discretion to regulate rates is its own determination of whether rates are ‘just and reasonable,’ which isn’t much of a restriction at all.”

View image on Twitter

Ajit Pai holds President Obama’s 332-page plan to regulate the Internet

The Supreme Court has ruled that if the FCC applies Title II to the Internet, all uses of telecommunications will have to pass the “just and reasonable” test. Bureaucrats can review the fairness of Google ’s search results, Facebook ’s news feeds and news sites’ links to one another and to advertisers. BlackBerry is already lobbying the FCC to force Apple and Netflix to offer apps for BlackBerry’s unpopular phones. Bureaucrats will oversee peering, content-delivery networks and other parts of the interconnected network that enables everything from Netflix and YouTube to security drones and online surgery.

Supporters of Obamanet describe it as a counter to the broadband duopoly of cable and telecom companies. In reality, it gives duopolists another tool to block competition. Utility regulations let dominant companies complain that innovations from upstarts fail the “just and reasonable” test—as truly disruptive innovations often do.

AT&T has decades of experience leveraging FCC regulations to stop competition. Last week AT&T announced a high-speed broadband plan that charges an extra $29 a month to people who don’t want to be tracked for online advertising. New competitor Google Fiber can offer low-cost broadband only because it also earns revenues from online advertising. In other words, AT&T has already built a case against Google Fiber that Google’s cross-subsidization from advertising is not “just and reasonable.”

Utility regulation was designed to maintain the status quo, and it succeeds. This is why the railroads, Ma Bell and the local water monopoly were never known for innovation. The Internet was different because its technologies, business models and creativity were permissionless.

This week Mr. Obama’s bureaucrats will give him the regulated Internet he demands. Unless Congress or the courts block Obamanet, it will be the end of the Internet as we know it.


Scott Walker dismisses critics who say he dropped out of college

February 18, 2015

‘We’ve had an Ivy-trained lawyer in the White House for six years who’s pretty good at reading off the teleprompter but has done a pretty lousy job leading this country’

A Basic Primer On The Scott Walker Case For Ignorant Reporters

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is dismissing “elitist” critics who say his lack of a college degree could work against him should he run for president.

Last week, former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean brought up Walker’s lack of education, saying, “The issue is, how well educated is this guy?”

“I worry about people being president of the United States not knowing much about the world and not knowing much about science,” Dean said on MSNBC. “I worry about that.”

“That’s the kind of elitist, government-knows-best, top-down approach we’ve had for years,” Walker told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly Tuesday.

The Republican governor and possible presidential hopeful turned the criticism into a zinger against President Barack Obama, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Columbia and a law degree at Harvard.

“We’ve had an Ivy-trained lawyer in the White House for six years who’s pretty good at reading off the teleprompter, but has done a pretty lousy job leading this country,” Walker said. “I’d rather have a fighter who’s proven he can take on the big government special interests and win.”

Walker dropped out of Marquette in 1990 during his senior year to take a full-time job at the American Red Cross and focus on politics.

“We have people who helped found Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, plenty of other successful businesses and enterprises across this country who did the exact same sort of thing I did,” Walker said. “I’ve got two sons in college. I hope they finish, I expect that. … We value college for those who want to pursue a career, but in the end you don’t have to have that.”

Walker, who made headlines during a tour of London last week when he declined to answer an interviewer’s question about evolution, addressed that controversy, too.

“I think God created the earth,” he told Kelly, but added: “I think science and my faith aren’t incompatible.”

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Islamic extremism: How Europe is pushing back — “We are against terrorism and radicalism”

February 18, 2015


By Peter Ford and Sara Miller Llana

From mosques to TV studios to family kitchens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike are trying to stem the tide of young Europeans signing up to fight for the self-declared Islamic State.


Protesters in Madrid, organized by the Arab Culture Foundation with the support of more than 50 mosques, rallied last month against the terrorist attacks in Paris under the slogan ‘against terrorism and radicalism.’
Amsterdam, Paris, and London — On the ground floor of a redbrick walk-up overlooking Amsterdam’s Amstel River, in his inconspicuous mosque, Muslim cleric Said Akhrif delivers a sermon on tolerance. It is the third in a series of talks that the youthful imam has given to the group of faithful, sitting on a red carpet in front of him, since Islamic extremists slaughtered 12 people at the offices of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.Mr. Akhrif’s message on this Friday afternoon – delivered in Arabic and then translated into Dutch – is that the prophet Muhammad was a man with a cool head. His purpose, the Moroccan-born cleric explains, is to encourage Muslims “to remain calm” in the face of adversity “and not get frustrated.”That message lies at the heart of a swelling effort across Europe, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, to stop more young Muslims from waging jihad, or holy war. Through sermons and online advertising, from TV studios to family kitchens to psychiatrists’ couches, Muslims and non-Muslims alike are scrambling to stem the tide of young Europeans volunteering to fight with Islamic State (known as both IS and ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, or to wreak havoc at home.

Recommended: Sunni and Shiite Islam: Do you know the difference? Take our quiz.

“Our task is to make Islamic extremism as unappealing to young Muslims today as communism is now to Western teens,” says Maajid Nawaz, who runs the Quilliam Foundation, a London-based group seeking to counter radicalization.

That is a hydra-headed job. Young European Muslims can be tempted by or trapped into violent extremism in many ways, say those trying to steer them in a different direction. Some are teen rebels. Some feel motivated by what they believe to be a just cause. Some are excited by the promised thrills of “gangster Islam.” Others get carried away by fanatical utopianism.

Most European governments have decided that “prevention is better than cure,” but only after disasters. The Dutch government launched a slew of counterradicalization programs after an Islamist militant shot and stabbed Theo van Gogh to death as the filmmaker rode his bicycle to work in 2004.

The British authorities set up their own preventive scheme in the wake of suicide bombings in July 2005 that killed 52 people. The French government launched an anti-jihad website at the end of January.

Though Europe’s security services clearly have a key role to play in preventing Islamic-inspired terrorism, they are often overwhelmed by the challenge: French Prime Minister Manuel Valls says nearly 3,000 potential French jihadis need constant surveillance but the General Directorate for Internal Security has only 3,800 agents. The government has promised to bolster the security services, adding 1,100 positions over the next three years.

Even that may not be enough. The housing projects where extremist recruiters work “are almost hermetically sealed ghettos for the secret service,” worries Louis Caprioli, a former head of antiterrorism at the French equivalent of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. “We cannot do discreet surveillance there.”

Across the Channel, Britain’s MI5 is also realistic about the limits to the security services’ reach. “We face a very serious level of threat that is complex to combat and unlikely to abate significantly for some time,” MI5 chief Andrew Parker said in January. “We know we cannot hope to stop everything.”

In the end, security experts acknowledge, identifying potential terrorists, tracking them, waiting until they do something for which they can be convicted, and locking them up is not enough.

“There is a pool of thousands” of potential jihadis in Europe, says Mr. Caprioli.

The key is to reach them before they become radicalized.

•     •     •

Stemming that spread is Akhrif’s top priority, in and out of his pulpit, at Al Kabir mosque. The mosque’s leaders are seeking municipal funding for Internet outreach, planning a Web forum where moderate imams would weigh in and visitors could post their thoughts whenever an explosive event – such as a US drone strike killing civilians – stirs local emotions.

“Let’s teach the Islam of peace, against the so-called Islamic State,” says Al Kabir chairman Mohamed Echarrouti, who speaks in a soft, raspy voice and seems to wear an almost constant smile.

This is not the first time he has done this kind of work. After Mr. Van Gogh’s murder in 2004, Al Kabir worked with 18 mosques, teaching leaders how to spot radicalization and urging them to welcome young men and women at risk into their houses of worship. That was daring: Many mosques shun such people for fear of their influence and the risk they pose to the mosque’s reputation.

“Let’s get them into the mosque instead of on the streets, on the Internet, or with hate imams,” Mr. Echarrouti says.

Such clear engagement is uncommon in Europe, where moderate Muslim leaders are often uncomfortable dealing with the terrorist fringe acting in the name of their religion. They complain that they are unfairly blamed for the outrages committed by people over whom they have no control.

British Muslim leaders, for example, reacted with prickly defensiveness when Eric Pickles, the minister for Communities and Local Government, suggested recently that they had “a precious opportunity, and an important responsibility, in explaining and demonstrating how faith in Islam can be part of British identity.”

“We can’t put an imam behind every believer,” says Lhaj Thami Breze, former president of the Union of Islamic Organizations in France, which promotes moderate “French Islam.” “And, anyway, these young radicals don’t listen to us. They say we have sold out” to the authorities.

Nonetheless, argues Rashad Ali, a former Islamic radical who now mentors potential jihadis under a British government counterradicalization program, community leaders “should be making the arguments. Extremists might not listen to them but they might engage with people who are not so hardcore.”

Not that mosques appear to be where it’s at anymore when it comes to radicalization. Today a new generation of disaffected Muslims across Europe are finding their religion on the Web, at the feet of “Sheikh Google,” as some Muslims put it.

“They are not being radicalized by real people, but on the Internet,” says Margaret Gilmore, a specialist in security at the Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank.

It is not hard, if you know where to look, to follow jihadis in Syria and Iraq on Twitter or Facebook and read of their exploits. YouTube is a ready source of fiery sermons by pro-jihadi self-appointed imams. Social media offer like-minded young people a chance to join groups and forums that reinforce any tendency toward violent extremism.

The Internet provides “a virtual substitute community … and the primary means of communication” for radical Islamists, says a report issued recently by the Center for the Prevention of Islamic Sectarianism, which works with parents in France worried that their children might be slipping into jihadism.

Governments have had limited success in persuading Google, Facebook, and Twitter to take down pro-jihadi posts and videos, and as quickly as the authorities block a site it comes back up. So counterradicalization activists are taking the fight to the enemy.

“We need to be better Web marketers than ISIS,” says Ross Frenett, who runs the London-based Against Violent Extremism (AVE) network of former Islamic extremists now trying to deter young people from following in their footsteps.

Mr. Frenett’s group uses Web analytics to identify people at risk by the search terms they have used and their browsing history, and then buys ad space to ensure that they receive a message and a link to a website designed to make them think about their religion and their intentions. On Twitter, Frenett pays to target such ads at all the followers of well-known jihadis.

In an even more direct effort to engage people at risk, AVE is organizing former extremists to contact them personally online.

“If you ‘like’ ISIS on Facebook, two people are watching at the moment,” says Frenett. “Someone from the security services and an ISIS recruiter. We want to reach out to them, too.”

Thousands of people are at risk, Frenett says. His pilot program has so far dealt only with a few dozen, and only about one-third of them have engaged in online discussion. “More needs to be done like this,” he suggests.

•     •     •

If cyberspace is one front line in the battle against jihadism, it’s in real-life communities like Slotervaart, in Amsterdam, where people face the daily challenge of bridging Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

Slotervaart, where bearded men and veiled women are as much a part of the well-planned cityscape as traditional Dutch men and women riding their bikes, is one of the most diverse places in Amsterdam. It sits in the New West district, which counts both the largest Muslim and largest youth populations in the city, according to its district chairman, Achmed Baadoud, who was born in Morocco. There are 17 mosques, serving 48,000 people of Turkish and Moroccan descent – a third of the local population.

Those demographics could have proved a potent brew amid the passions stirred by the terrorist attack in Paris. Instead, Mr. Baadoud says, he witnessed a more “emancipated” response from his community compared with the mood a decade ago when Slotervaart was at the center of the maelstrom: The Muslim extremist who nearly decapitated Van Gogh in broad daylight hailed from here.

That calm is no accident. “It has to do with knowledge, with investments in contact and networks,” Baadoud says.

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ISIS has nearly perfected the dissemination of violent propaganda

February 18, 2015

With Vines, tweets and listicles, IS spreads its hateful message. Can the West find a way to fight back?

By Alyssa Bereznak 
Yahoo News          

           When Robin Williams died last August, people around the world rushed online to mourn the loss of the actor. “Oh dear God. The wonderful Robin Williams has gone,” Bette Midler tweeted. “No words,” added a somber Billy Crystal. “Shame. I liked Jumanji,” tweeted one England-based Twitter user. “Good movie. Loved it as a kid,” replied an account with the handle @Mujahid4life.

“Mujahid,” for those unfamiliar, roughly translates to “jihadist warrior.” And this particular handle belonged to a 19-year-old British-born guy by the name of Abdullah, who happened to be both a supporter of the Islamic State and a big Robin Williams fan.

Abdullah’s opinion of the fallen star unleashed a torrent of blog posts, most of which marveled at the fact that a member of an organization that openly beheads its enemies could also have the emotional capacity to mourn a U.S. comedian on Twitter. But however surreal it was to watch Hollywood actors and terrorist sympathizers tangle online, those voyeuristic bloggers missed a larger point. That moment encapsulated a key pillar of the group’s now infamous social media fortress: Spreading extremist ideology doesn’t need to start with religious screeds and beheadings. It starts — as a social media 101 instructor might say — by simply taking part in the conversation.

It’s been less than a year since IS burst onto the stage, seizing large amounts of territory and shocking the world with its brutally violent tactics. During that time, the group has evolved into a highly sophisticated multimedia organization, boasting slick social media strategies that could give major corporate marketing teams a run for their money. IS knows how to package its extremist ideology in the form of well-produced videos, attractive graphics, polished magazines and strategic online posts. It’s also strikingly savvy at spreading them online, tailoring their presentation and message to media sites like Twitter, YouTube and Vine. The messages are hypercustomized in language, tone and content to reach as many people possible and ultimately go viral. As Marshall Sella recently wrote in Matter, IS is “an entire brand family, the equivalents of the Apple logo’s glow … terrorism’s Coca-Cola.” There’s no need to hold an IS-stamped watch or baseball hat in your hands to face the truth: IS is a powerful and terrifying brand that we were not prepared to reckon with.

How exactly did we go from the days of fuzzy, subtitled Osama bin Laden bootlegs to a Travel Channel-esque hub for propaganda and recruitment? As sophisticated as IS is at promoting its message on public platforms, it is deeply protective of its digital tradecraft. Here’s what we know:

Building a digital empire

IS runs all its communications through the official propaganda headquarters it launched in the spring of 2014, the Al-Hayat Media Center. This is where skilled, well-paid IS supporters work with high-tech equipment and the latest editing and design tools to produce recruitment films, propaganda materials like its glossy magazine Dabiq and its most famous product: gruesome torture videos.

Though this is the terrorist group’s central communications hub, its influence extends to about 20 other branches spread out along IS’ claimed territory, according to estimates by Daniel Cohen, a research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies. Local offices are able to take cues from the main center, but they also have room to create location-specific content to more effectively communicate to the fighters in those areas. For example, supporters in France have access to Dar al Islam, IS’ French-language propaganda magazine. Aref Ali Nayed, the Libyan ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, put it well when he told the New York Times that “the Islamists have been very clever at rebranding. They have learned the franchising model from McDonald’s. They give you the methodology, standards and propaganda material.”

Sheer volume dictates that these centers cannot approve every piece of IS-related social media that floats through the digital ether. Rather than try to monitor each message from the community, the media centers offer jihadist soldiers guidelines on the types of messages they should post.

“From the beginning, [members of IS] started to send pictures from Twitter,” he told Yahoo News. “They did it for purposeful recruitment. Instead of showing the fights, they’d show people sitting and eating pizza in their lockers. Or they’d show people watching TV together, playing PlayStation together. They are targeting a young audience and speaking to them in the same language, showing that it’s a pleasant place.”


Islamic State branding (via The Institute for National Security Studies)

Islamic State branding (via The Institute for National Security Studies)

It was perhaps the same genre of audience-based marketing that, in September, encouraged Western-based IS sympathizer Anjem Choudary to tweet a short listicle titled “10 Facts from the Islamic State that everyone should know.” (Number 7: “For every newly married couples are given 700usd as a gift.”)

The all-seeing Oz character who’s behind it has yet to be publicly identified. Senior IS leader Abu Muhammad al-Adnani acts as Al-Hayat’s main spokesperson and public face. However, he’s not widely believed to also be the brains behind the operation.

“Usually the people up on the frontlines aren’t the strategist,” Cohen said. “Just like a McDonald’s ad campaign. Someone came up with the concept and the script. But they’re never the same person who stars in the commercial.”

How the gears turn

Al-Hayat’s most infamous work by far is “A Message to America,” the HD, scripted video that broadcast the beheading of American journalist James Foley. It was a despicable act that, as President Barack Obama said, shocked “the conscience of the entire world.” The video didn’t become famous, however, until it became impossible to ignore in your social feeds. And it made it to your social feeds, in part, via IS’ persistent and measured strategy of link-spamming.

As Gawker’s Sam Biddle recently wrote, “ISIS has nearly perfected the dissemination of violent propaganda, much as BuzzFeed has nearly perfected the dissemination of quizzes and videos.”

The dissemination starts with a few IS supporters’ social media accounts, and ends with the continuous posting and reposting of a link or video by as many people as possible. In the old days of al-Qaida, terrorists would gather its press material in password-protected Web forums, which would then act as a central location where terrorists could access and distribute the information individually. But these sites would often be spied on or shut down.

“It became very clear for ISIS that [the Web forum] was not exactly the ideal hub for distribution,” Laith Allhouri, a director of terrorist activity tracking at deep-Web research firm Flashpoint Partners, told Yahoo News. “It wasn’t reaching the masses quick enough. They wanted to post something online that would reach CNN in minutes.”

That’s when IS turned to Twitter, a fluid, easy-to-use platform that’s famous for its brevity, immediacy and wide reach. If the Al-Hayat Media Center wants to distribute its latest missive, it calls on a loosely organized department of Internet-savvy supporters to post the link to their Twitter accounts. This league is cobbled together by people who aren’t qualified to fight but still believe in the jihadist cause. Sometimes that means the wife of an IS soldier living in Syria; other times it’s just some kid in a basement in New Zealand who’s interested in supporting the organization’s mission. Whoever they are, they post link after link after link on Twitter until the piece of content in question sinks its claws and goes viral. Working together, these supporters can generate up to 90,000 tweets and other social media interactions per day. This technique, according to Allhouri, is very effective on sites like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

A militant Islamist fighter uses a mobile to film his fellow fighters taking part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa pro...

A militant Islamist fighter uses a mobile to film his fellow fighters taking part in a military parade along the …

As American tech companies caught up with IS’ tactics, they began mass-deleting their accounts, erasing whatever extremist messages it directed at the public. But for committed IS supporters, wiping out an account is a mere hiccup in the mission. If Twitter deletes their accounts, for instance, they simply turn to one of the dozens more they’ve preemptively created under different pseudonyms, complete with a saved list of followers they had from the last handle. It’s the classic technique of Internet trolls who want to avoid being banned from the comments section for abuse. Allhouri said he’s seen one individual’s Twitter accounts deleted and then rebooted more than 100 times.

In April 2014, IS’ Palestinian branch even developed an Android app called The Dawn of Glad Tidings, which connected to users’ Twitter accounts and posted pro-IS Tweets with popular hashtags and images to their personal feeds. Its engineers spaced out the automated postings, just enough so it wouldn’t set off Twitter’s spam-detecting algorithm. Thousands signed up, but the software was dismantled once it became too public.

“ISIS is utilizing an American corporation in distributing this terrorist propaganda that is extremely violent, and even crosses the limits [of what] al-Qaida would find acceptable,” Allhouri said. “Twitter realized it needs to be proactive and amplify its campaign to find these accounts.”

But as larger tech companies crack down on IS’ presence on their networks, its supporters have wormed their way into a host of other, less surveilled online communication tools. The group has tried to establish its presence on the European social networking site Diaspora and the Russian Facebook equivalent VK (both of which eventually blocked it). It has also targeted discussion forums on and messaging apps like Kik. It is the first terrorist organization to use Vine, which allowed it to automatically embed and loop videos in Twitter timelines. (Those supporters have even figured out that it takes longer for companies to flag a video if they post a six-second clip that only leads up to a beheading but doesn’t actually show it, according to Cohen.)

Read the rest:—how-the-islamic-state-became-a-branding-behemoth-034732792.html




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