Posts Tagged ‘Cyber Activism’

Spam Bots Flooding Twitter to Drown Info About #Syria Protests [Updated]

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Syrian Hackers Deface the Website of Brown County, Ohio

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Syria-News today reported that Syrian Hackers defaced the website of Brown County, Ohio. Below you’ll find a screen grab of the page that was still defaced at the time of writing this post. The hackers went by the names The Pro, SaQeR SyRia, and boy-25 and identified themselves as being from the Occupied Golan Heights.

Screen capture of Brown County website, accessed 10:00 am EST, Feb 16, 2011

The hackers did not list any demands apart from apparently bringing attention to the Golan Heights which Israel invaded in 1967 and annexed later completely ignoring International Law and UN resolutions. Unfortunately Brown County was punished for a crime it didn’t commit. Hacking is in no way acceptable. Surely you can’t hope to solve major regional geopolitical problems by hacking websites of an innocent county in north-eastern US. The hack seems to have happened some time ago, at least it’s been long enough for Google spiders to index it:

Screen capture of Brown County Ohio Google search, accessed 10:30 am EST, Feb 16, 2011

Syrian reactions to the news were divided between cheering the hackers on and berating them. Below are some translations of comments left on the afore-mentioned Syria-news article:

Susu: You’re a master, keep on hacking other Israeli and American websites!

Rami: What an achievement! People show off scientific discoveries and inventions and you go about hacking American websites? I don’t know what to say… you’re leaving us with no friends

blah: Bravo! make them hate us more!

Huda: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This is a stupid operation that is surely to backfire. What’s the use? Is it just to show off? Does inserting the Quran help Islam or harms it? [...] I believe this is an operation to link Syria to Islamist terrorism.

Mahmoud: DUMB TERRORIST! Do you know what you’re doing? Do you realize that you’re acting like Al Qaeda? Do you know that you’re linking Syria to Al Qaeda  when you abuse the Quran and use it in your operation? Oh my God how will we make you understand?

Hacking governmental website has become a common occurrence in Syria recently. Youth have repeatedly hacked the websites of ministries and universities as they view it their only way to get their demands across to the government. The demands varied between asking for a better education, protesting unemployment, and frequent power outages. Sometimes, their only target was to point out security flaws in these websites suggesting that the government should invest some more in protecting its online presence.


Freedom for Ali Abdulemam

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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
Prime Minister
Fax: +973 1753 2839

Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa
Foreign Minister
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


World Day Against Cyber Censorship

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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:

Voices Threatened vs. Years in Power*

Voices Threatened Vs Years in Power Read the rest of this entry »


Where I've Been, Gaza took me

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Gaza took me, I didn’t go there, But ever since January 1st I’ve been spending most of my evenings at the Syrian Red Crescent, working with the volunteers on the Donations Campaign for Gaza relief efforts.

I will not say anything about the massacre, I still can’t find the words. Instead, here’s how you can help and stay updated with the latest news from the Syrian Red Crescent:

Follow the live twitter updates for latest info on the campaign and how you can help.

Check the Flickr page for photos of the campaign and aid convoys that have been sent.

Join the Syrian Red Crescent’s Facebook group.

Subscribe to the youtube channel for videos from the Red Crescent.
The donations drive has been great thus far and 4 convoys of aid have already entered Gaza. we need your support to spread the word online. Your donations are making a difference.
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In other news, I’m now an Author on Global Voices Online. You can grab my first post here.