Defining The Issues
People following the #Syria hash tag on Twitter in the recent weeks to track the developments of the Syrian protests and the deadly governmental crackdown on peaceful protesters must have noticed two major annoyances:
First was the proliferation of what tweeps dubbed as the “twitter eggs,” a group of newly created and mostly image-less twitter accounts that cussed out, verbally assaulted, and threatened anyone tweeting favorably about the ongoing protests, or criticizing the regime. Those accounts were believed to be manned by Syrian Mokhabarat[intelligence] agents with poor command of both written Arabic and English, and an endless arsenal of bile and insults. Several twitter users created lists to make it easier for the rest to track and report those accounts for spam. Here are a couple of examples.
Second, which is more damaging, is the creation of various spam accounts that mainly target #Syria hash tag; flooding it with predetermined set of tweets– every few minutes–about varied topics such as photography, old Syrian sport scores, links to Syrian comedy shows, pro-regime news, and threats against a long list of tweeps who expressed their support of the protests.
Identifying The Cause
At first I thought this was a badly timed annoyance, and several users were already reporting those abusive accounts. However, a couple of users apparently discovered some foul play. The parody account @SyrianPresident tweeted:
Stop it mukhabarat Twitter is not #Bashar’s spam machine! > @TheLovelySyria #Syria #Homs #Aleppo #Damascus #Lebanon http://is.gd/Plii1Z
and @syrianrebels responded:
@SyrianPresident it’s a company in Syria that send automated msgs, a dedicated owner they use server of @eghna check website #Syria branch
I went to investigate the Bahrain based Eghna Developement and Support*, which among other things provides “political campaign solutions.” I searched for any affiliation with Syria, and sure enough, one of the main suspected #Syria spam accounts was featured in their success stories page.
Eghna claims that “LovelySyria is using EGHNA Media Server to promote intersting photography about Syria using their twitter accounts. EGHNA Media Server helped Lovely Syria get attention to the beauty of Syria, and build a community of people who love the country and admire its beauty.” The only problem with that claim is that the lovelysyria.com website is only a Drupal login page void of content. There’s no way of creating a new user account, and therefore any claims of fostering a community are false.
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Ali Abdulemam is the founder of the very popular forum BahrainOnline.org, and a Global Voices Advocacy author. He was arrested on September 4th after receiving an order to appear at a National Security facility. Bahrain News Agency (BNA) claimed[ar] he was arrested while attempting to flee the country.
Ali was arrested once before in 2005 for reasons related with his online activity. His arrest now is a part of a government crackdown on internet websites and forums in Bahrain. A day before Ali’s arrest the Bahrain Center for Human Rights published an urgent call for action[ar] reporting arrests of human rights activists, politicians, and religious figures. The plea included reports of severe torture and prisoner abuse. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) have also reported on a massive campaign to block dozens of websites and persecute activists and political figures.
You can contact Bahraini officials to demand freedom for Ali and other activists by using the following contact info provided by Bahrain Centre for Human Rights:
Sheik Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa
King of Bahrain
Fax: +973 176 64 587
Sheik Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa
Fax: +973 1753 2839
Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa
Phone: +973 172 27 555
Fax: +973 172 12 603
Sheik Khalid Bin Ali Al Khalifa
Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs
Phone: +973 175 31 333
Fax: +973 175 31 284
You can also directly contact the Foreign Minister on twitter @khalidalkhalifa
Today, March 12, is the World Day Against Cyber Censorship. Thus, it’s a perfect timing to finally pen down some of the ideas on the topic that I’ve intended to write for so long. Threatened Voices is a Global Voices Advocacy “collaborative mapping project to build a database of bloggers who have been threatened, arrested or killed for speaking out online and to draw attention to the campaigns to free them.”
As you can see from the map, Arabic speaking countries are a ‘hot area’ where many voices are threatened. I looked closely at the data to see what I can get out of it. My approach was to select a sample of the worst offenders and do a little comparison. I chose the following regimes for this mini-research project I did: Assad of Syria, Mubarak of Egypt, Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mohammed VI of Morocco, Saud of Saudi Arabia, Al Nahyan of UAE, and Sabah of Kuwait. Now wouldn’t it be interesting to see comparison between a regime’s years in power opposed to how many voices were threatened in those years? I thought so too and here’s what I found:
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Voices Threatened vs. Years in Power*
- Care to act?
Today is Blog Action Day, this year’s theme is Climate Change which many of you know is happening rapidly. Sea levels are rising at an increasing pace, and we’re losing glaciers and polar ice caps. Global action on the subject is a long way from being satisfactory or effective. The US demands China to lower their CO2 emissions because China is the worst offender when it comes to emissions. On the other hand, China demands that the US lower emissions since the US has the largest carbon print per capita. The blame game goes on and in the end – which is coming a lot sooner than we projected – all of us are losing. Read the rest of this entry »