Saturday, November 4, 2017

Social Media: Blessing or Curse for Pakistan?

Is the rapid growth of social media helping or hurting Pakistani state and society?

What are the consequences of the proliferation and abuse of the new media?

What about terrorist groups like ISIS using viral images and videos to radicalize young people?  Or the state-run intelligence agencies and their agents and bots using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to spread disinformation to manipulate and divide people in countries and societies seen as hostile to their interests?

Is Pakistan being targeted by India's RAW and other hostile foreign intelligence agencies using social media to divide and manipulate Pakistanis by spreading fake news and doctored videos and images? Are they following the blueprint of the Russian intelligence troll farms that were used against America before, during and after the 2016 US presidential elections?

Should there be any codes of conduct or rules and regulations for social media users? Or should it be free-for-all?

ALKS host Faraz Darvesh discusses these questions with Riaz Haq (

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Indian BJP's Social Media Troll Farms

Social Media in Pakistan


Is India Sponsoring Terror in Pakistan?

Tarek Fatah vs Riaz Haq

Husain Haqqani vs Riaz Haq

Talk4Pak Youtube Channel


Anonymous said...

Social media has been a blessing for Pakistan. It has given the people an opportunity to interact with one another and has been the single reason why young people in the country have become so politicized. Elites and corrupt thugs of the country want to see social media crackdown and have been using excuses like "blasphemy" to have websites shut down like Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube. Prior to the internet, people had no choice but to listen to PTV Kharanama. There was no alternative and everybody was a yes man. Without the internet, there was no chance of Imran Khan and PTI ever becoming a household name.

As far as "propaganda" goes, Indian propaganda is ridiculously easy to spot. They don't even try and mask the photos and video. A simple Google reverse image search of those so-called "Baloch" photos almost always finds it way back to either Iraq or Afghanistan...with the photos being upto 10 years old. And they're always images of dead ISIS or Al Qaeda terrorists. Indian propaganda has no skill or expertise and anyone who actually believes it doesn't seem to have a very high IQ.

On the contrary, Pakistan seems to be waging quite an effective social media war upon India. They seem to be pushing the Khalistan and Dravida Nadu movements online very strongly and both seem to have caught fire. Google trends indicate that prior to 2015, Dravida Nadu was barely mentioned on the internet. Since 2015 however, the term has skyrocketed.

Social media is a blessing. When used properly, it can work to your advantage.

Riaz Haq said...

Two #Russian trolls outed. #Trump #RussiaGate #SocialMedia

Jenna Abrams and Pamela Moore were followed by tens of thousands, including members of Trump's campaign.
Updated: NOVEMBER 3, 2017 — 11:05 AM EDT

Jenna Abrams was a popular figure in right-wing social media circles. Boasting nearly 70,000 followers, Abrams was featured in numerous news articles during the 2016 election, spotlighted by outlets as varied as USA Today, the Washington Post, the BBC, and Yahoo! Sports. Her tweet about CNN airing porn during Anthony Bourdain’s show (it didn’t) was reported by numerous outlets.

But Abrams never existed.

According to information released by House Democrats earlier this week, Abrams was one of more than 2,750 fake Twitter accounts created by employees at the Internet Research Agency, a “troll farm” funded by the Russian government based in St. Petersburg. In addition to the Abrams account, several other popular conservative social media personalities — @LauraBaeley, SouthLoneStar, Ten_GOP — were all revealed to be troll accounts. All have been deactivated on Twitter.

According to the Daily Beast, the agency developed a following around the Abrams account by offering humorous, seemingly non-political takes on pop culture figures like Kim Kardashian. The agency also furnished the fake account, which dates back to 2014, with a personal website, a Gmail account and even a GoFundMe page.

Once the Abrams account began to develop a following, the tone of its tweets shifted from pokes and prods at celebrities to divisive views on hot topics like immigration and segregation.

But Abrams never existed.

According to information released by House Democrats earlier this week, Abrams was one of more than 2,750 fake Twitter accounts created by employees at the Internet Research Agency, a “troll farm” funded by the Russian government based in St. Petersburg. In addition to the Abrams account, several other popular conservative social media personalities — @LauraBaeley, SouthLoneStar, Ten_GOP — were all revealed to be troll accounts. All have been deactivated on Twitter.

According to the Daily Beast, the agency developed a following around the Abrams account by offering humorous, seemingly non-political takes on pop culture figures like Kim Kardashian. The agency also furnished the fake account, which dates back to 2014, with a personal website, a Gmail account and even a GoFundMe page.

Once the Abrams account began to develop a following, the tone of its tweets shifted from pokes and prods at celebrities to divisive views on hot topics like immigration and segregation.


Pamela Moore, another popular online personality during the 2016 election who tweeted using the handle @Pamela_Moore13. was also created in the same Russian troll factory with the same basic mission — to sow division and heighten racial tension among Americans.

Unlike the Abrams account, which went out of its way to say it wasn’t pro-Trump, nearly all of Moore’s tweets leading up to the election appear to have crafted to support Trump’s campaign. Among the account’s most widely shared posts leading up to the election were tweets repeating lies and conspiracy theories about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and pushing themes of Trump’s campaign, including this anti-refugee post that was shared more than 4,700 times.

Riaz Haq said...

Most Facebook content censored at government request July-Dec 2016

India at no 4 with 719 requests

Pakistan at no 15 with 16 requests

1 Brazil
2 Turkey
3 Germany
4 India
5 France
6 Israel
7 Austria
8 UK
9 Russia
10 Argentina

Riaz Haq said...

#Broadband users in #Pakistan cross 48.13 million • Dispatch News Desk #3g #4g #smartphones

The total broadband subscribers including for 3G and 4G services have crossed around 48.13 million mark in the Country till September this year, registering a reasonable growth rate with each passing month.

As per latest figures issued by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the number of broadband users was around 46.9 million till August 2017 and major contribution in one month has been made in shape of 3G and 4G subscribers by Mobile Phone Operators which reached 46 million by August.

The tele-density of total broadband has reached 22.6 per cent while tele-density for mobile broadband touched 21.6 per cent mark till the period mentioned. Total mobile phone subscribers in the country have reached 141 million mark with tele-density of 70.25 till August 2017.

The number of broadband subscribers in other technologies included DSL 15,53,062, HFC 51,226, Wimax 1,55,747, FTTH 52,749, EvDO 5,68,368 and other 9,264 subscribers.

Experts of telecom industry are having a viewpoint that portable mobile broadband devices like MiFi and Wingles are one of the main reasons of this growth in 3G/4G subscribers and many more will follow this trend in upcoming days.

Meanwhile, the Country’s largest mobile phone operator, Mobilink has overtaken its competitors as 3G/4G player after official figures were released by PTA. Jazz subscribers base was 13.7 million 3G and 1.35 million 4G till the period mentioned.

A senior official of the Company said key to this leading position is consistent investment to further innovate on behalf of subscribers by delivering not just the best 3G/4G and voice network, but also improvements in customer service, and product lines.

Riaz Haq said...

'We know what you're doing': Theresa May slams Russia over election meddling and fake news
The Prime Minister said Russia wants to "sow discord in the West"

"This has included meddling in elections, and hacking the Danish Ministry of Defence and the Bundestag, among many others.

"It is seeking to weaponise information. Deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and Photoshopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions.

"So I have a very simple message for Russia.

"We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed. Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of Western nations to the alliances that bind us.

"The UK will do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise."

Mrs May also stressed the need to improve relations with Russia to avoid a return to the Cold War, saying: "While we must beware, we also want to engage."

She evoked the hope that greeted the fall of the Soviet Union, saying Britain and Russia should not be "in a state of perpetual confrontation", and announced that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will visit Moscow in the coming months for talks.

"We know that a strong and prosperous Russia which plays by the rules would be in the interests of the United Kingdom, Europe and the world.

Riaz Haq said...


Psychologists and students of advertising say the ads were cleverly designed to look like other internet memes, and to appeal to readers’ emotions. Jay Van Bavel, an associate professor of psychology at NYU, says he was surprised at the sophistication of the campaign. “It wasn’t transparent lies. It was just pushing our buttons,” says Van Bavel. “To me, this is more pernicious. It’s not a matter of fiction that we can root out with fact-checking. It’s more about turning Americans against each other.”

The ads took issues that voters care about and then “fed them to us as aggressively as possible,” he says.

Facebook estimates that 10 million people saw the paid ads and up to 150 million people saw other content from the fake accounts, which Facebook has traced to the Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-backed troll farm. The ads were placed by fake accounts with names like United Muslims of America, Blacktivist, and LGBT United that could have passed for real Facebook groups.

“The IRA are not amateurs, they're clearly familiarizing themselves with the kind of content that resonates with the target audiences,” says Renee DiResta, researcher with Data for Democracy, a nonprofit group that has been digging into the data on Russian-linked accounts.

The ads did not look like the products of Madison Avenue. Rather, they camouflaged themselves in the vernacular of the Internet. Jennifer Grygiel, a communications professor at Syracuse University who teaches about memes, thinks the low-budget look is an engagement strategy. They want to make it appear as though the ads “could have been created by your average American. They don’t want glossy high production.” Grygiel said that ads from the LGBT United group reminded her of events she’s been involved in. The ad was plastered with rainbows and tells Facebook users, “I’m just really excited to go out and protest the Westboro Church!”

Grygiel also noticed the use of iconography like cowboys, American flags, and women in burqas in that Heart of Texas ad. “It was almost distilled to the point of it being pop art,” she says. “Essentially what they’re doing with some of these memes is like a culture mash. It’s almost like re-mixing American culture and in this case some American fears.”

The text of some ads included spelling mistakes and non-idiomatic English, but DiResta, of Data for Democracy, says relying heavily on images minimizes “the possibility of giveaway errors” that would become apparent in a longer post.

Riaz Haq said...

She Warned of ‘Peer-to-Peer Misinformation.’ Congress Listened.

SAN FRANCISCO — Before the sun came up on Oct. 31, Renee DiResta sat in bed in her pajamas and logged into a virtual war room.

For years, Ms. DiResta had battled disinformation campaigns, cataloging data on how malicious actors spread fake narratives online. That morning, wearing headphones so she wouldn’t wake up her two sleeping children, Ms. DiResta watched on her laptop screen as lawyers representing Facebook, Google and Twitter spoke at congressional hearings that focused on the role social media played in a Russian disinformation campaign ahead of the 2016 election.

Ms. DiResta knew the lines of questioning inside and out. Along with a handful of people with a similarly obsessive interest in mapping data across social media, she had helped prepare congressional staff members ahead of the hearings. That morning, they gathered in a dedicated channel on the Slack messaging app to watch and listen for answers to questions they had been asking for years.

“We were monitoring closely to see when the companies gave misleading or partial answers so that we could follow up,” said Ms. DiResta, 36, who became immersed in disinformation campaigns in her spare time outside of her job as a founder and head of marketing at Haven, a shipping technology company.

How a small group of self-made experts came to advise Congress on disinformation campaigns is a testament to just how long tech companies have failed to find a solution to the problem. For years, the informal group — about a dozen or so people — have meticulously logged data and published reports on how easy it was to manipulate social media platforms.

Van Bavel, the NYU professor, has studied a phenomenon he calls “moral contagion,” referring to the use of moral emotional language to help content go viral on social networks. He says tugging at those emotions tends to drive people deeper into ideological echo chambers, dynamics he saw at play in the Russian ads. “What you’re more likely to click on is stuff that triggers this part of the brain that is so primal,” he says. “Russians knows as much. They know how to pull us apart and agitate us.”

There’s nothing new about campaigns to manipulate voters, but Van Bavel believes says it can be more polarizing in the internet age because access to media is more fragmented and curated.


Bruce McClintock, an adjunct policy analyst at the Rand Corporation and a retired brigadier general who served as the senior defense official at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, says the ads resonate with Russian and Soviet tactics of other eras.

“It’s about spreading disinformation, propaganda, counterfeit official documents to increase confusion,” he says. McClintock says the goal of the campaign likely was broader than just the election and includes the long-term objective of weakening the US and undermining America’s reputation in the eyes of the world.

He notes that Russian operatives have been accused of inflaming racial tensions in the US before, including unconfirmed reports that the KGB sent fake letters from the Ku Klux Klan and spread conspiracy theories that the US government was behind the assassination of Martin Luther King. More recently, there was a KGB campaign that US scientists had developed HIV as a biological weapons experiment. This technique approaches disinformation like “a conspiracy theory incubator,” he says.

Riaz Haq said...

Signs of Russian Meddling in Brexit Referendum

LONDON — More than 150,000 Russian-language Twitter accounts posted tens of thousands of messages in English urging Britain to leave the European Union in the days before last year’s referendum on the issue, a team of researchers disclosed on Wednesday.

More than 400 of the accounts that Twitter has already identified to congressional investigators as tools of the Kremlin, other researchers said, also posted divisive messages about Britain’s decision on withdrawing from the bloc, or Brexit, both before and after the vote.

Most of the messages sought to inflame fears about Muslims and immigrants to help drive the vote, suggesting parallels to the strategy that Russian propagandists employed in the United States in the 2016 election to try to intensify the polarization of the electorate.

The separate findings amount to the strongest evidence yet of a Russian attempt to use social media to manipulate British politics in the same way the Kremlin has done in the United States, France and elsewhere.


Researchers study Twitter for indications of broader patterns in social media, because information about its users and contents is more accessible than in the larger but less-open platforms like Facebook. But without the disclosure of more information from the companies, social scientists said, neither of the findings disclosed this week will provide conclusive evidence of a deliberate Kremlin campaign to influence the Brexit vote or other British elections.

Ms. Cram, for example, noted that Russian propagandists might have used hashtags related to Brexit only because they fit with protectionist, nativist or anti-Muslim themes that resonated in the context of the American election, as well.

“These accounts were definitely using Brexit hashtags,” she said, “but we cannot say whether they were primarily trying to influence Brexit or whether it was a side effect of them trying to wreak discord generally.”

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has denied trying to influence the Brexit vote. But concerns about Russia’s use of social media to meddle in elections have become so commonplace that the Spanish government recently accused Russians of playing a significant role in the push for Catalan independence.

A third, smaller survey, reported last week by Wired magazine, found that 29 of the Russian-linked Twitter accounts identified to Congress had also tweeted 139 times about Britain or Europe. Blaming terrorist attacks on Islam or railing against immigrants were favorite themes, said Jonathon Morgan, chief executive of New Knowledge, a digital security firm based in Austin, Tex., that conducted the survey.

“Many of these accounts strongly pushed the narrative that all Muslims should be equated with terrorists and made the case that Muslims should be banned from Europe,” he said. “That is very consistent with the Russian strategy on U.S. issues, and the fact that they were using the same tactics to target Europeans is extremely telling.”

Riaz Haq said...

John Swinton - Yes, He Said It, But...

John Swinton: Yes, he said it, but...

One night, probably in 1880, John Swinton, then the preeminent New York journalist, was the guest of honour at a banquet given him by the leaders of his craft. Someone who knew neither the press nor Swinton offered a toast to the independent press. Swinton outraged his colleagues by replying:

"There is no such thing, at this date of the world's history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.

"There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty_four hours my occupation would be gone.

"The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press?

"We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes."

(Source: Labor's Untold Story, by Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, published by United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, NY, 1955/1979.)