In modern disinformation warfare, social media is the main battlefield.
- Twitter and Facebook say they've deleted multiple accounts that appear to be connected to a state-backed disinformation campaign.
- The accounts paint the Hong Kong protesters in an extremely negative light, with some calling them cockroaches.
- In Hong Kong, hundreds of thousands of protesters have been marching for 11 weeks, in what started as a fierce objection to a bill that would extradite Hong Kong citizens to China.
Facebook and Twitter said they've removed suspicious accounts and pages that have been spreading disinformation about protesters in Hong Kong. Both social media companies said the accounts appear to be linked to a coordinated smear campaign backed by the Chinese government.
Posts from these accounts portray the protesters as radical and violent. One example posted to Facebook reads, in part: "They will shoot to kill with a slingshot. They took a nurse's right eye. They are the Hong Kong cockroaches." Another post likens the protesters to ISIS fighters. On Twitter, one message read, "We don't want you radical people in Hong Kong. Just get out of here!"
Facebook said it had deleted five accounts, seven pages, and three groups, all of which were followed by more than 15,000 other accounts, combined.
In a blog post, Twitter wrote that many of these suspicious accounts used virtual private networks (VPNs) to mask their IP addresses. But some that didn't use VPNs had IP addresses in mainland China.
"The accounts we are sharing today represent the most active portions of this campaign; a larger, spammy network of approximately 200,000 accounts — many created following our initial suspensions — were proactively suspended before they were substantially active on the service," Twitter wrote.
Twitter also ran sponsored posts — paid for by Chinese state-controlled media — criticizing the Hong Kong protesters, according to a new report from Business Insider.
"Two months on, the escalating violence in Hong Kong has taken a heavy toll on the social order," one sponsored tweet read, adding, "all walks of life in Hong Kong called for a brake to be put on the blatant violence and for order to be restored."
Twitter will reportedly begin banning state-backed media in a month. Currently, Facebook doesn't plan to ban state-backed media posts.
China is taking notes from Russia
The New York Times wrote that China has "adopted Russia's playbook" in its recent string of social media manipulation. That seems true. After all, even though both nations are known for using censorship and disinformation to control public opinion, they've historically used different strategies to do so. At the 2019 RSA Conference, an annual IT event, researchers described the basic difference between the two: Russia's strategy is disruptive and destructive, China's is about using wide-reaching control to paint a positive image of the state.
"Today, China employs three primary tactics to control people online," Kelly Sheridan wrote in an article for Dark Reading, in which she spoke with Priscilla Moriuchi, head of nation-state research at Recorded Future. "The first is outright censorship: People are blocked from posting comments or posts on certain topics, and recipients of banned messages don't receive them. Next up is social media regulation: Platforms including Twitter and Facebook are blocked, and other social media is required to comply with state censorship organizations. Finally, it distributes fake comments."
China's goal, it seems, is to fill its censored internet with positive comments about the state. Meanwhile, Russia's strategy is markedly more offensive.
"Researchers pinpointed several trends in [Russia's] election disruption reinforced across social media platforms: a clear preference for one candidate, targeting of specific opponents, real-world impact (voter suppression), and secessionist/insurrectionist messages," Sheridan wrote. "Their goals are disruptive and destructive; as a result, their social media operations use similar tactics."
China knows how successful Russia has been in sowing discord in American public discourse, starting with the 2016 presidential election and, likely, continuing to this very moment. So it would be little surprise if China is simply taking notes from the Kremlin to pivot to a new style of disinformation warfare. After all, as the New York Times notes, Bangladesh, Iran, and Venezuela already have done the same.
What are Hong Kongers protesting?
For the eleventh straight weekend, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers jammed the streets of their city — undeterred by tropical rainstorms, a police ban, and the omnipresent threat of violence — to protest a proposed law that would allow officials to extradite citizens to mainland China. Now, their demands also include for leader Carrie Lam to step down, investigations into police brutality, and, in general, more democratic freedoms.
Hong Kong officials have already arrested hundreds of protestors. Chinese paramilitary forces were seen practicing crowd control in a stadium near the Hong Kong border. As of Monday, neither side has shown any sign of giving up ground anytime soon.
On Sunday, NPR spoke with Alvin Yeung, a Hong Kong lawmaker and leader of the Civic Party, a pro-democracy political party, about the ongoing protests.
"All I can say is Hong Kong people are determined, and we are not easy to give up," Yeung said. "We wish to be as peaceful as possible to tell not Hong Kong people and Beijing but also to the rest of the world that our demands are reasonable. Our demands are highly sensible. And it is the Hong Kong government that should be responsible for all this. As to strategy, Hong Kong people has been learning from Bruce Lee, the cultural master, that we have to be water. So whenever we can, we would show our force, show our power and determination. But we would try to avoid having clashes with the police."
Scientists are planning a Scientists’ March on Washington on April 22 to protest the Trump administration’s anti-science policies.
There are certain things that we accept as facts with no alternatives. The Earth is becoming warmer due to human action. The diversity of life arose by evolution. Politicians who devalue expertise risk making decisions that do not reflect reality and must be held accountable. An American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world.
These are the words written by the organizers of the upcoming Scientists' March on Washington. The date has been set: on Earth Day, April 22, 2017, scientists hope to summon a sea of smart people with a love for science — like you — and the pursuit of knowledge.
The march grew out of a discussion on Reddit, with a private Facebook group and Twitter account launched on Monday, January 23. In just a couple of days, the group had 300,000 members. Their public Twitter account has 288,000 followers and their public Facebook page has 20,832 followers as of this writing. You can also sign up to receive email updates on the march. The organizers are also looking for help.
The scientific community has been under attack for a while now by Christians who take issue with Darwinian evolution, preferring the Bible’s account. And while nobody wants climate change to be real, it is, though some would rather ignore the supporting evidence and overwhelming consensus of the scientific community to reinforce their own denial. There’s a growing cult of ignorance in which people pride themselves on their lack of scientific knowledge, and it threatens to plunge us all into a new dark age.
Nowhere is this being felt more acutely than in the U.S., where the new Trump administration — along with many Congressional Republicans — is firm in its denial of climate change and in their desire to control the national conversation on a range of scientific issues. Through anti-science appointments, the barring of publications from federal science agencies, and the freeze of all research funding, it all amounts to an unprecedented attack on fact-based knowledge. It’s the chilling — and terrifying — first step of a process in which truth can become whatever a group of politicians say it is.
To protect their findings, and the truth, scientists began frantically grabbing and preserving climate change data before the administration came into office. Since the inauguration, employees of muzzled departments have started rogue Twitter accounts as an uncensored outlet for information — unfortunately, many of these have now been handed over to others as employees fear for their jobs.
Caroline Weinberg, one of the march’s organizers, says, “This is not a partisan issue. People from all parts of the political spectrum should be alarmed by these efforts to deny scientific progress. Scientific research moves us forward and we should not allow asinine policies to thwart it.” She adds that science lovers are as welcome as scientists to participate in the march.
It has never been more important for scientists of all stripes to come together and have their voices heard in government.
— March for Science (@ScienceMarchDC) January 25, 2017
Top image via Spin.
There is censorship in science, admits Bill Nye – but not nearly as much as there should be.
There are certainly some science labs and military research projects that are for classified eyes only, says Bill Nye, but in his view the more pressing issue regarding science and censorship is the proliferation of exaggerated and twisted science studies, and outright pseudoscience on the internet. It's a topic particularly relevant in the wake of heightened fake news awareness. We ordinary citizens may never crack the code of the secret projects government scientists may or may not be working on, but we can get busy educating ourselves and fine-tuning our critical thinking skills so we aren't led astray by false stories.
Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
The UK government is discussing legislation that would require all internet service providers to block websites with “adult content”, specifically those without age verification.
When asked if five dollar pornography on the street corner was too high a price to pay for free speech The West Wing’s President Bartlet, as played by Martin Sheen, replied, “No... On the other hand, I think that five dollars is too high a price to pay for pornography”.
The notion of how much access to pornography people should be allowed to have is a moral question that has been a bother for ages. Today we have, perhaps, the simplest and most extensive access to it we have ever had. The supply of free pornography on the internet is so great that even Playboy magazine has abandoned showing frontal nudity, on the grounds that it cannot compete in the new market.
In response to the unfiltered access to such media online, the government of the United Kingdom has proposed legislation which would require all internet service providers to block websites with “adult content”, specifically those without age verification. The proposal will be added to the upcoming Digital Economy Bill 2016-17.
While the manner of how the internet will be regulated exactly if the bill is passed and how it will be applied in law is new and specific to this case, the question of the morality of pornography and the attempt to control its distribution is nothing new.
In the United States, the Comstock laws prevented the mailing of pornography, contraceptives, personal letters of a sexual nature, or any information relating to said items via the postal system. These laws, passed in 1873, remained in effect until 1957. The law was so broadly defined that anatomy textbooks were occasionally unable to be sent by mail. For his part, Mr. Anthony Comstock, for whom the laws were named, was a radical moral activist both loved and loathed. He was later lampooned in BioShock Infinite, with the puritanical villain taking his name.
Ethically, there are many ways to view the question of the availability of pornography in society. For some it is an issue of temperance; others see it as an issue of purity. There are still others who find it objectionable, but see the idea of the state interfering with access to be anathema. In this case, the issue is tied to “how free is too free” speech, as the stated goal is to make it more difficult for children to access such images.
While this bill is geared towards fixing a hole in British internet law. The wording of it has a few proponents of free speech alarmed. In particular, they are concerned that the wording of the bill and its use of the term “adult content” is too vague and could lead to censorship beyond that of the original intention.
Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, said about the bill:
“This could lead to tens of thousands of websites being blocked, despite their content being perfectly legal. In no way should this proposal be legislated for in this bill. There has been no thought or consultation, and the government has not even begun to define how blocking might be attempted. They have no idea if it would work well or badly, or whether there is serious enough harm to justify such a massive restriction on UK adults access to legal material.”
On the other hand. Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport claimed in response:
“The Government is committed to keeping children safe from harmful pornographic content online and that is exactly what we are doing. Only adults should be allowed to view such content and we have appointed a regulator, BBFC, to make sure the right age checks are in place to make that happen. If sites refuse to comply, they should be blocked.”
At the time of writing, the bill is still being discussed. The question of if it passes or not is still up in the air. The actual ability of the British government to regulate such traffic remains in question, as a simple image search can produce some remarkably risqué images if requested. In any case, the question of free speech vs public morality rages on, and will continue to do so.