Fri. Apr 19th, 2024

Top 10 Sneaky Ways Governments Utilise Contemporary Media

By Thao Pham Mar 8, 2024

10. Russian Federation Modifies MH1701-Related Wiki Articles

The question of responsibility for the downing of the MH17 aircraft quickly arose following the 2014 tragedy. The pro-Russian troops were eventually found to be responsible, as more and more evidence pointed to their use of a Russian-supplied Buk anti-aircraft missile system to bring down the airliner. Along the same lines, Russian media started spreading a plethora of conspiracy theories, including that MH17 was really the missing MH370 and that the plane had been loaded with dead bodies before takeoff. However, it appears that a member of the Russian government chose to intervene in a more direct manner by editing Wikipedia articles pertaining to the incident. One day following the downing of Flight MH17, the Ukrainian military was directly implicated in a portion of the Russian Wikipedia entry regarding the tragedy. Updated text: “The plane was shot down by Ukrainian soldiers.” Fortunately, a Twitter bot has been set up to monitor Wikipedia updates made from IP addresses associated with the Russian government. Just a few days after this bot caught Russia trying to alter a page on Wikipedia in the same way, the country instantly forgot what it had learnt about trying to manipulate crowdsourced material. At that point, Russia’s defence ministry had proposed its own version of what had happened. A Ukrainian Su-25 jet shot down MH17 at 10,000 metres (33,000 ft), according to that scenario. What is the issue with the theory? Su-25 service ceiling is a meagre 7,000 metres (23,000 ft)—and that doesn’t even include the ordnance. Russia “corrected” the plane’s service ceiling to 10,000 metres (33,000 ft) on Wikipedia to lend credibility to the allegation.

There are a lot more changes than the ones listed above. There may have been seven thousand such edits to Wikipedia made by Russian state entities in the last decade.

9. This is China’s “50-Cent Party.”

Let’s skip the cliched jokes about Curtis Jackson and go to the paid social media pundits in China. The Chinese government pays these independent contractors 50 yuan (or about $1.10) for every forum post they make. Can you clarify the type of postings we’re discussing? Simply put, anything that helps the government influence public opinion in its favour. Paid opinion makers get email instructions about which issues to emphasise, which way to talk, and sometimes even which websites to visit. The task itself may become quite disorienting, as 50-centers often find themselves assuming diverse roles and engaging in self-defeating arguments through the use of numerous false identities. In 2014, the 50-Cent Party was believed to be responsible for a Twitter campaign that painted an unrealistically optimistic picture of life in Tibet, thus they had to tread carefully while trying to shape the conversation without coming across as too blatantly official. Some attractive Westerners posted videos and posts on Twitter praising the Tibetan people’s idyllic life in China. Is there a catch? Not real at all were these Twitter accounts. They virtually exclusively connected to Chinese propaganda sites and their profile images were of celebrities. Even though it was never proven that these profiles were associated with the 50-Cent Party, analysts such as Alistair Currie of Free Tibet point the finger at these paid assassins.

8. Government of Yanukovych Sends Thrilling Messages to Demonstrators

Viktor Yanukovych, president of Ukraine, was confronting growing violent resistance to his administration towards the end of January 2014. Protests against Yanukovych’s decision to withdraw from an association agreement with the EU escalated from peaceful demonstrations in November 2013 into increasingly violent clashes between riot police and protesters on January 16. In an attempt to mishandle the situation, Yanukovych passed anti-protest laws restricting freedom of assembly and speech in an attempt to regain control. Many went on the streets to show their opposition to what were called “dictatorship laws” by the media and demonstrators. After that, they got the following message on their phones: “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass riot.” Yanukovych decided to try to scare the protesters into giving up after learning nothing from how the Ukrainians responded to his becoming despotically authoritarian. The government allegedly turned the phones used to coordinate the protests into instruments of psychological pressure by sending messages to subscribers through a “pirate” cell phone tower. Tragically, for Yanukovych and the rest of Ukraine, these tough talk efforts culminated in a violent clash between government forces and protesters in late February. As many as 100 people were killed and nearly 500 injured in the fighting, and Yanukovych eventually fled the country as a result.

7. Defence Department’s “Persona Management” Initiative

Apparently the United States isn’t satisfied with just monitoring your inane Facebook updates through the Prism programme; in 2011, it came to light that the US military was developing a “persona management programme” to influence online discourse. Up to ten sock puppets, or fictitious internet personas with full backstories, might be under the control of each US operator through specialised software. Then, these aliases may participate in online forums and chat rooms by posting blog entries and comments. United States Central Command spokeswoman indicated that due to legal concerns, this technology would not be used on English-language forums or to address US audiences. The main goal was to use these bogus identities to infiltrate foreign-language extremist organisations and counter enemy propaganda. It seems that the only time it’s acceptable to use false identities is when dealing with international audiences. So, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, and Pashto would all be used in the interventions. Ntrepid, a cyber-security firm, was awarded the $2.6 million programme contract but has been unavailable for comment. Little is known about the program’s current status, so if you’re going to be chatting in Arabic, it’s best to keep your comments on topic.

6. The Dawn of Glad Tidings and ISIS

The heads of ISIS have shown to be shockingly adept at using social media to promote their cause, in addition to being merciless killers. Did you know that ISIS had its own Twitter app for Android phones? They also create outstanding propaganda videos, keep live photo feeds, and interact with their numerous Twitter followers through clever hashtag campaigns. Indeed, it did. For a short period in 2014, anybody could go to the Google Play Store and get their very own ISIS app; however, Google supposedly withdrew it soon after debut. The software, marketed as a means to stay updated on all ISIS news, was named “The Dawn of Glad Tidings” (or just “Dawn”). What happened to individuals who were fine with a malicious militant group obtaining access to their personal information? After downloading Dawn, it would request access to several account details. By transforming the host phone into a Twitter zombie, Dawn would send out haphazard tweets in the user’s stead. Whenever ISIS launched an aggressive campaign, its operatives would decide what to tweet about. The app reached a peak of 40,000 tweets a day at one point. No matter how harsh your criticisms of ISIS militants are, you cannot claim that they missed a promotional chance.

5. Israeli Students Reimburse the State for Pro-Government Posts on Social Media

An forthcoming programme to engage the country’s youth in generating pro-Israel messages on social media was announced in August 2013 by the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It was an easy pact to make: the government would pay for students’ college tuition. The expectation was that these students would promote national perspectives online as a form of compensation. “Putting public diplomacy in the hands of the public” was the description used by one Israeli official. The plan caused some controversy when it was first proposed. Danny Seaman, a public diplomacy official, was allegedly named as the leader of these government initiatives by the Israeli daily Haaretz. But there was one small issue with Seaman: On occasion, his Facebook page would contain fairly racist and anti-Muslim comments. You wouldn’t want him at the helm of a programme that seeks to promote Israel’s government in a positive light. After receiving an order to “immediately cease from making such pronouncements” from Netanyahu’s administration, Seaman’s incendiary remarks were quickly removed. In 2014, a group of 400 students began a “Israel Under Fire” organisation. In the brutal Gaza conflict, they hoped to counter what they saw as Hamas propaganda by highlighting the Israeli perspective. Although they did not specifically disclose getting any scholarships, the effort they were involved in was quite comparable, and they were all volunteers. There was a graphics team creating shareable charts and visuals, a video editing department, and individuals translating Hebrew messages into thirty languages. The government officially endorsed the students, even though they were only volunteers, and even paid to promote some of their tweets. Some others were sceptical that their efforts wouldn’t amount to government propaganda posing as public discourse, which was a predictable reaction.

4. Alleged Spyware Use in Saudi Arabia

Human Rights Watch has reported that the Saudi government may be installing a harmful app on the cellphones of its residents. Under the appearance of a real Android news app named “Qatif Today,” this rogue app steals an abundance of personal data from the user’s smartphone. This encompasses all of your saved correspondence, whether it be emails, texts, contacts, call logs, or even files from popular messaging apps and social media platforms like WhatsApp and Viber. The app’s spyware was created by an Italian firm called Hacking Team. Worse yet, it lets a remote operator control the phone’s camera and microphone to capture pictures and record conversations, which is an extremely unsettling level of citizen surveillance. The intended applications of the spyware include intelligence collection for terrorist efforts and criminal investigations. Human Rights Watch is sounding the alarm because its usage becomes more problematic in a society where civil protests and dissent are viewed as terrorist acts. The governments of other countries are being investigated for their use of the spyware, not just Saudi Arabia. Similar software was used by the Ethiopian government to eavesdrop on opposition leaders and journalists, according to Human Rights Watch.

3. British Brigade

The British Army is starting its own internet project in response to the US Army’s dominance in the field. The newly formed 77th Brigade, consisting of 1,500 individuals, is set to begin operations in April 2015. Their job description includes “controlling the narrative” in all major interactive media. Interestingly, the 77th Brigade isn’t planning to use any false identities, though. To fight what they see as aggressive disinformation tactics, these soldiers—recruited from the Territorial Army and the British Army—will instead spread information through social media, smartphones, and other platforms. It is believed that the formation of the 77th Brigade is partially a reaction to the successful recruitment and disinformation campaigns by ISIS and Russia, respectively. The 1,500 Chindits are already known by their nickname, “Chindits,” after British commandos serving in Burma during World War II. Journalism experience and social media skills are also required of the Chindits. The Chindits appear to have a less malicious goal than the majority of the examples we gave, and they intend to centre their efforts on establishing trust and exchanging information. As harmless as “non-lethal warfare” and “psychological operations” sound, that is.

2. An App Used by Chinese Authorities to Surveill Protesters

The pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong are back on the streets, and it seems they are not planning to back down from their cause. After China decided to change the way Hong Kong’s elections were conducted, the Occupy Central (With Love and Peace) movement began in late 2014. This proposed change will remove the ability for Hong Kong voters to support their preferred candidates for the Legislative Council. Protesters have effectively utilised social media and cellphones to organise their activities; they are demanding a restoration to the previous voting structure. Alternatively, a special committee would first nominate a few candidates for public voting. Claiming to have followed Saudi Arabia’s lead, the Chinese authorities allegedly spied on the demonstrators using a smartphone app. Worst of all, the app gave the impression that it had been created by Occupy Central demonstrators. “Check out this Android app designed by Code4HK for the coordination of Occupy Central! “, the WhatsApp messages would read, reaching out to protesters.The programme functions similarly to the one made by Hacking Team once installed. It learns the user’s location, web history, phone book, and more. Yes, it can also capture audio. The programme was highlighted as potentially problematic by a US business called Lacoon Mobile Security. The programme in question allegedly employs highly advanced software and “is undoubtedly being backed by a nation state.” In contrast, the Chinese government has categorically denied any involvement in cyber eavesdropping.

1. Russian Troops in the Kremlin

The Kremlin’s trolls use the Internet to sway public opinion, much like China’s 50-Cent Party. Russian trolls, in contrast to their Chinese counterparts, are paid workers who contribute to a well organised operation. The most well-known of these “troll farms” is situated in the village of Olgino, not far from St. Petersburg, but there are offices all throughout Russia where these paid, pro-Kremlin trolls work. Because of this, pro-Kremlin commentators are frequently referred to as “Olgintsy.” Their job assignments are usually rather precise, with a concentration on particular blogs or opposition individuals. Their daily comment count is set, they are required to manage multiple social media profiles, and they even have subscription and following goals. Olgino was initially brought to light in 2013 during an investigation by local Russian reporters. Investigative journalists found a hostile operation that opposed both the opposition and the West. The American people were branded as Russia’s “worst enemy” and political figures were likened to Hitler. The trolling campaign has now been intensified, with a budget of $10 million in 2014. Although the exact influence of the Kremlin effort is up for debate, it appears that certain websites covering the Russia-Ukraine war, such as The Guardian, have taken a particularly heavy blow, with their comments area rendered practically useless by an onslaught of pro-Kremlin messages. Documentarians of Russia’s disinformation, such as Catherine Fitzpatrick, hold the view that the trolls’ ability to self-censor—”You don’t participate”—enables them to drown out legal commenters. It’s a method of avoiding conversation altogether. Such strategies are effective in stifling democratic discourse.

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