Posts Tagged ‘IT’

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.

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#NetFreedom in Syria, Between Sanctions and Censorship

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Free Syrian Internet - Image by Flickr user azraiman

A delegation of US tech companies and policymakers are visiting Syria today and holding a meeting with President Bashar Al Assad and high-ranking officials. The tech delegation (#techdel on Twitter, and “techdel” hereafter) came after coordination on high diplomatic levels and as a part of the Obama administration’s policy of engaging with Syria, according to William Burns, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.

A tweet by Alec Ross, the techdel’s leader, summed up the United States’ attitude towards the visit:

This trip to #Syria will test Syria’s willingness to engage more responsibly on issues of #netfreedom

Of course Net freedom is craved by Syrian users; Censorship is strict and many popular websites are blocked by the Syrian government (Facebook and YouTube to name a couple), and perceived cyber-dissidents have many a time received prison sentences ranging between 3-5 years in most cases. What the techdel seems oblivious to is how much the U.S. sanctions on Syria are complicit in further limiting internet freedoms for Syrian users. Jared Cohen, Member of Secretary Clinton’s Policy Planning Staff and a member of the delegation, tweeted:

Big gap between older & younger Syrians on challenges to business. Youth blame lack of education, not sanctions

Just to show how misguided that statement is, I’ll draw up a few comparisons between Syrian governmental censorship and U.S. imposed IT sanctions: Read the rest of this entry »