Sunday, April 29, 2018

Social Media Promote Tribalism in Pakistan

Social media newsfeeds are driven by users' profiles to reinforce their preferences and prejudices.  Newsfeeds are customized for each user. Any posts that don't fit these profiles don't get displayed. The result is increasing tribalism in the world. American and British intelligence agencies claim that Russian intelligence has used social media to promote divisions and manipulate public opinion in the West.  Like the US and the UK, Pakistan also has ethnic, sectarian and regional fault-lines that make it vulnerable to similar social media manipulation.  It is very likely that intelligence agencies of countries hostile to Pakistan are exploiting these divisions for their own ends. Various pronouncements by India's current and former intelligence and security officials reinforce this suspicion.

Tribalism:

All human are born with tribal instincts. People embrace group identities based on birthplace, language, region, sect, religion, nation, school, sports team, etc to define themselves.

Such group affiliations can give people a sense of belonging but they are sometimes also used to exclude others with the purpose of promoting hostility and violence. Social media platforms are being used both ways: To unite and to divide people.

Powerful new media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp lend themselves for use as extensions of covert warfares carried out by intelligence agencies against nations they see as hostile.

Social Media Platforms:

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are powerful magnets for marketers,  extremist groups and intelligence agencies. They spend a lot of time and money on such platforms to reach and manipulate their targets.

Trolls and bots proliferate and societies become more deeply divided along political, ethnic, racial, religious, ideological and regional lines.  It is a problem that all nations in the world have to respond to.

Developed nations in Europe and North America with stronger institutions are generally more capable of dealing with the consequences of such divisions.  But the increasing social media penetration in less capable developing nations with weak institutions cause them to sometimes descend into violent riots. In a recent piece titled "Where Countries Are Tinderboxes and Facebook is a Match",  the New York Times has mentioned recent examples of riots and lynchings caused by social media posts in India, Indonesia, Mexico, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

Brexit and Trump:

The unexpected result of Brexit, the British vote to leave the European Union, shocked many in the UK and Europe. It was soon followed by an even bigger shock with the unexpected election of Donald J. Trump as the President of the United States. Western intelligence agencies have now concluded that Russian intelligence agency sponsored trolls played a major role in manipulating the public opinion in the United Kingdom and the United States.

In February 2018, the US justice department indicted 13 Russians and three Russian entities in an alleged conspiracy to defraud the United States, including by tampering in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Donald Trump and against Hillary Clinton, according to media reports.

The US DOJ indictment identified the Internet Research Agency, a St Petersburg-based group to which millions of impostor social media accounts have been traced, as a primary offender. The indictment also charged Russian individuals who funded the alleged election tampering conspiracy or who otherwise participated in it.

Some of the Russian social media posts were used to organize protests and counter protests in the United States on issues relating to race and religion.

US Senator Richard Burr confirmed that two groups converged outside the Islamic Da’wah Center of Houston in 2016, the Texas Tribune reported. One had gathered at the behest of the “Heart of Texas” Facebook group for a “Stop Islamification of Texas” rally, while the other, spurred on by the “United Muslims of America” Facebook page, had organized a counter-protest to “Save Islamic Knowledge.”

A Russian-sponsored Facebook ad appeared in late 2015 or early 2016, sources told CNN, and though it was meant to appear supportive of Black Lives Matter movement, it may also have conveyed the group as threatening to some white residents of those cities.

Indian Trolls:

It can be safely assumed that Russians are not alone in using social media against nations they see as hostile to them. It is also a safe bet that Indian intelligence agencies are most likely deploying their troll farms and bots to divide Pakistanis.

India's ruling BJP party has extensively used social media apps to spread rumors, innuendo,  fake news, outright lies and various forms of disinformation against anyone seen to be even mildly critical of their leader Narendra Modi. Their harshest abuse has been targeted at the Opposition Congress party leaders, various liberal individuals and groups, Muslims and Pakistanis.

Swati Chaturvedi, author of I Am a Troll, has cited many instances of hateful tweets from Modi-loving Hindu trolls, including Singer Abhijeet's lies to generate hatred against Muslims and Pakistan and BJP MP Hukum Singh's false claim of "Hindu exodus" from Kairana in western Uttar Pradesh blaming it on Muslims.

Vikram Sood, a former top spy in India, has elaborated on India's covert warfare options to target Pakistan in the following words: "The media is a favorite instrument, provided it is not left to the bureaucrats because then we will end up with some clumsy and implausible propaganda effort. More than the electronic and print media, it is now the internet and YouTube that can be the next-generation weapons of psychological war. Terrorists use these liberally and so should those required to counter terrorism."

In a 2013 speech at Sastra University, Indian Prime Minister Modi's National Security Advisor Ajit Doval revealed his covert war strategy against Pakistan as follows:  "How do you tackle Pakistan?.....We start working on Pakistan's vulnerabilities-- economic, internal security, political, isolating them internationally, it can be anything..... it can be defeating Pakistan's policies in Afghanistan...... You stop the terrorists by denying them weapons, funds and manpower. Deny them funds by countering with one-and-a-half times more funding. If they have 1200 crores give them 1800 crores and they are on our side...who are the Taliban fighting for? It's because they haven't got jobs or someone has misled them. The Taliban are mercenaries. So go for more of the covert thing (against Pakistan)..."

Summary: 

Social media newsfeeds are driven by users' profiles to reinforce their preferences and prejudices.  Newsfeeds are customized for each user. Any posts that don't fit these profiles don't get displayed. The result is increasing tribalism in the world. American and British intelligence agencies claim that Russian intelligence has used social media to manipulate public opinion in the West.  Like the US and the UK, Pakistan also has ethnic, sectarian and regional fault-lines that make it vulnerable to similar social media manipulation.  It is very likely that intelligence agencies of countries hostile to Pakistan are exploiting these divisions for their own ends. Various pronouncements by India's current and former intelligence and security officials reinforce this suspicion.

Here's a discussion on the subject in Urdu:

https://youtu.be/zuPMy65O6-s




Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Social Media: Blessing or Curse For Pakistan?

Planted Stories in Media

Indian BJP Troll Farm

Kulbhushan Jadhav Caught in Balochistan

The Story of Pakistan's M8 Motorway

Pakistan-China-Russia vs India-Japan-US

Riaz Haq's Youtube Channel

6 comments:

Riaz Haq said...

Could Facebook Data Leaks Impact Pakistan’s Elections?
In Pakistan the spread of misinformation is a much graver problem than the impact it might have on polling.

https://thediplomat.com/2018/05/could-facebook-data-leaks-impact-pakistans-elections/

While testifying before a joint hearing of the U.S. Senate’s Commerce and Judiciary committees, Zuckerberg said his company was introducing the latest new artificial intelligence tools to target fake accounts.

However, digital analysts and rights activists warn that while these actions would help protect data henceforth, Facebook can’t do much to undo the damage that might’ve already been done owing to the data leaks from the past.

“There is no way of undoing a particular case of data theft. Short of deleting or destroying the database, no other action would be useful, and it’s nearly impossible since as they say ‘the data has left the building’,” says Asad Baig, the founder and executive director of Media Matters for Democracy, while speaking with The Diplomat.

“The fact of the matter is, [Cambridge Analytica] has Facebook user data, including the users from Pakistan and if someone wants to exploit it for profiling, and use it for political gains to fine-tune their messages for a local public nothing much can be done about it, and the parties who exploit this data will have an undue advantage in their political campaigns.”

CEO and founder of Digital Rights Foundation, Nighat Dad, agrees that previous damage can’t be undone, but adds that Facebook needs to completely rethink its model to serve users.

“What Facebook can certainly do is to ensure that it takes strict measures to protect the data of its users in the future. This can only be done by strong privacy policies and their implementation that serve the users instead of the corporation itself,” she told The Diplomat.

While fake news has impacted voting patterns the world over, it has become especially problematic in Pakistan with all leading political parties asking their social media teams to create fake profiles as part of their social media strategy.

Talking to The Diplomat off the record, social media managers from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), and the two main opposition parties Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), confirmed that creation of fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to propagate their narratives was the official policy of each party.

“Everyone’s running fake Facebook accounts and Twitter bots, so we’re just keeping pace with what others are doing,” a social media executive of the PML-N who requested anonymity told The Diplomat. “It was the PTI that started this trend. So we’re just countering propaganda with propaganda,” they added, citing the fact that one of the rumours that the PML-N social media team has had to counter in recent weeks was the false report that the party has hired Cambridge Analytica’s services for the upcoming elections.

Kaleem Hafeez, a member of the PTI social media team, told The Diplomat that his party isn’t ruling out the possibility of the PML-N purchasing data to manipulate elections, considering the party’s control over the IT ministry.

“Our data analysts are monitoring what other parties are doing, and the undemocratic tools and methods being used to rig elections digitally,” Hafeez said. “Considering that the PML-N was involved in heavy on-field rigging in the 2013 balloting, it won’t be a surprise if they do the same digitally as well.”

Riaz Haq said...

Russian news may be biased – but so is much western media
Piers Robinson
Manipulation of the news for propaganda purposes is not the prerogative of the west’s enemies. It’s vital to look at all media, including the UK’s, with a critical eye

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/02/russian-propaganda-western-media-manipulation

Whatever the accuracy, or lack thereof, of RT and whatever its actual impact on western audiences, one of the problems with these kinds of arguments is that they fall straight into the trap of presenting media that are aligned with official adversaries as inherently propagandistic and deceitful, while the output of “our” media is presumed to be objective and truthful. Moreover, the impression given is that our governments engage in truthful “public relations”, “strategic communication” and “public diplomacy” while the Russians lie through “propaganda”.

Neither of these claims has significant academic support. A substantial body of research conducted over many decades highlights the proximity between western news media and their respective governments, especially in the realm of foreign affairs. For reasons that include overreliance on government officials as news sources, economic constraints, the imperatives of big business and good old-fashioned patriotism, mainstream western media frequently fail to meet democratic expectations regarding independence. In our own study of UK media coverage of the 2003 Iraq invasion, Manchester University found that most UK mainstream media performed to reinforce official views rather than to challenge them.

As for the supposedly benign communication activities of our own governments – again, there are ample grounds to challenge the understanding that the “strategic communication” activities of our governments can be understood as free from the kind of manipulative “propaganda” of which the Russian government is accused. Indeed western governments frequently engage in strategies of manipulation through deception involving exaggeration, omission and misdirection. This was recently observed quite clearly during the run-up to the Iraq war when intelligence was manipulated in order to mobilise public support for the Iraq invasion.

Moreover, the recent Chilcot report describes how, in the early days after 9/11 “regime-change hawks” in Washington argued that “a coalition put together for one purpose (against international terrorism) could be used to clear up other problems in the region”. Tony Blair had discussed how phases 1 and 2 of the “war on terror” would require a “dedicated tightly knit propaganda unit”.

One might reasonably conclude from all this evidence that the western public fell foul of a major deceptive propaganda campaign which involved exploiting terrorism threats in order to “clear up other problems” and which was instigated by our own governments and communicated through “our” media. Propaganda and deception is not, it would appear, the sole preserve of non-western states; it is alive and well in western democracies.

These are confusing times for consumers of the news, and the issue of which media outlets should be trusted is as demanding and critical as ever. Given the level of conflict and potential conflict in the world today, plus pressing global issues regarding environmental crisis, poverty and resources, it is essential that people learn to navigate the media and defend themselves against manipulation. The first step towards becoming more informed is to avoid seeing our governments and media as free from manipulation while demonising “foreign” governments and media as full of propagandistic lies.

Riaz Haq said...

Pashteen calls soldiers "terrorists in uniforms"

Demands end to check posts which will lead to power vacuum filled by Taliban will attack Pashtuns and Non-Pashtuns alike.

Demands international guarantors.

Western media promoting it as "Pashtun Spring". Remember what happened to "Arab Spring"?


https://thesydney.news/2018/04/22/voa-exposed/


Recently I came across the twitter profile of the leader of the newly formed ethnic movement in Pakistan and was shocked to see that many of the posts on his profile were either fake or photoshopped, I was already shilly-shallying about this movement but seeing fake photos and blunt propaganda made it easy for me to understand the motives and intentions behind it.

I am sharing some of the tweets from that specific profile been convincingly refuted by different Pakistani social media users.

List of tweets using fake pictures by Manzoor Pashteen for propaganda purposes. He rebrands all voilent acts by TTP & terrorists as acts by Army including APS incident. Typical TTP sympathiser mindset. Now TTP apologists & sympathizers are talking about human rights & peace. https://t.co/wp6vpRleNW


Saad
@Saad__tweets
List of tweets using fake pictures by Manzoor Pashteen for propaganda purposes. He rebrands all voilent acts by TTP & terrorists as acts by Army including APS incident. Typical TTP sympathiser mindset. Now TTP apologists & sympathizers are talking about human rights & peace. https://twitter.com/BhittaniKhannnn/status/976104265990189056 …

7:44 AM - Mar 20, witter Ads info and privacy

Asfandyar Bhittani🇵🇰

@BhittaniKhannnn
Fake/Propaganda by Manzoor Pahteen https://twitter.com/manzoorpashteen/status/678491388237975552 …
Link to Original http://tucson.com/entertainment/readers-share-woodstock-stories/article_5fc8382f-d176-5f90-8b65-e3342423c766.html …

Fake by MP https://twitter.com/manzoorpashteen/status/678491105051156481 …
Link to Original http://niemanreports.org/articles/the-sights-sounds-and-smells-of-afghanistan/ …

Fake by MP https://twitter.com/manzoorpashteen/status/737924840972275712 …
Link to Original https://www.rferl.org/a/taliban_militants_burn_villages_in_northwestern_pakistan/24290667.html …

😎🎤🔻 #MICDrop https://twitter.com/RaghKhan93/status/976044860473008128 …

7:32 AM - Mar 20, 2018

Taliban 'Razes' Pakistan Villages
Local residents say Taliban militants have burned three villages in northwestern Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan.

rferl.org
117
86 people are talking about this
Twitter Ads info and privacyThese Fake photos & propaganda from @manzoorpashteen’s personal account tells a lot about the credibility, honesty & intentions of the #PashtunTahafuzMovement.
View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Abid Atozai
@AbidAtozai
These Fake photos & propaganda from @manzoorpashteen’s personal account tells a lot about the credibility, honesty & intentions of the #PashtunTahafuzMovement.

No wonder #TTPisPTM is trending in Pakistan.

7:57 AM - Mar 31, 2018
160
152 people are talking about this
Twitter Ads info and privacy

Riaz Haq said...

https://www.geo.tv/latest/197971-dg-ispr-briefs-media-on-ceasefire-violations-by-india



Social media being used against Pakistan, institutions: DG ISPR



Speaking of Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) for the first time, the DG ISPR referred to several questions pertaining to the sudden emergence of the movement.

"How did Manzoor Ahmed Masood was renamed as Manzoor Pashteen; how did this campaign start on social media; how were 5000 social media accounts made in Afghanistan in a single day; how was a 'topi' (cap) started manufacturing outside the country and coming into Pakistan; how did small group of individuals started staging anti-Pakistan protests outside the country," he questioned.

In this regard, the DG ISPR also noted publishing of articles by foreign newspapers and live telecast of Pashteen by foreign media outlets on Facebook and Twitter.

Major General Ghafoor told the media that he met with Manzoor Pashteen and Mohsin Dawar, who shared their concerns. "They came to our office, we had a discussion for an hour or two about Naqeeb Mehsud, missing persons, unexploded ordnance [in tribal areas] and check-posts issues."

He said that he separated Mohsin Dawar and Manzoor Pashteen from other people and took them to his office, adding, "Then I got them to speak to all GOCs and IG FC, got them time, [told them] all your issues should be resolved, go meet the GOCs.

"They returned and also held a meeting, and I received a text from Mohsin Dawar thanking me for facilitating and getting their issues resolved," the DG ISPR said.

He, however, said that "those who are enemies of Pakistan and still want to see the country unstable, if they join you and start praising you then one needs to look inward what is this happening."

Major General Ghafoor further said that Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa gave strict instructions not to deal with PTM gatherings through force anywhere.

No action has been taken against them so far, the army spokesperson pointed out, adding that "we have many proofs of how they are being used".

On the incident in Wana, South Waziristan, the DG ISPR said the Mehsud tribe has fought against terrorism for years. The [tribe] then fought among itself, and the casualties were rescued by Army helicopters.

A propaganda was instigated that a girl was killed by Army firing, he said.

"Pakistan has achieved peace by rendering sacrifices in the past 20 years. What we achieved, nobody was able to achieve. Now, it's time to be united and progress."

"We are not [affected] by false slogans on social media. The nation's love for the army has only increased in the [past] 10 years."

“We cannot respond to [everyone]. We are focused on our work,” he added.

The army spokesperson further said that a lot of accusations were made but time proved all the accusations to be false.

“No army [in the world] has been as successful as Pakistan army in the war against terrorism,” he said.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan army spokesperson accuses journalists of anti-state activity on social media
June 5, 2018 1:54 PM ET

https://cpj.org/2018/06/pakistan-army-spokesperson-accuses-journalists-of-.php

New York, June 5, 2018--The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned comments from Major General Asif Ghafoor, spokesperson for Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies, who accused journalists of sharing anti-state remarks on social media.

At a press conference yesterday, Ghafoor derided the rise of social media troll accounts, which he said spread propaganda against the army and state, and said that Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was monitoring such accounts and those that engage with them, including journalists.

During his presentation, Ghafoor showed a graphic featuring an alleged troll account's Twitter activity and the journalists and other individuals allegedly connected to the account, who, Ghafoor said, redistributed anti-state and anti-army propaganda from the troll's account.

The journalists featured on the graphic include Ammar Masood and Fakhar Durrani, both with media Jang Media Group, Umar Cheema from the Jang-owned daily The News, Azaz Syed from the Jang-owned broadcaster Geo TV, and Matiullah Jan with the broadcaster Waqt News. Cheema received CPJ's International Press Freedom Award in 2011.

"Displaying photos of journalists alleged to help push anti-state propaganda in Pakistan is tantamount to putting a giant target on their backs," said Steven Butler, CPJ's Asia program coordinator in Washington, D.C. "General Ghafoor should apologize for his comments and explain how security forces might help promote journalist safety in Pakistan, where reporters and editors are routinely threatened, attacked, and killed for their work."

Pakistani authorities have cracked down on press freedom ahead of national parliamentary elections scheduled for July 25. Recently, CPJ documented disruptions to the distribution of Dawn newspaper and access to television channel Geo TV.

Riaz Haq said...

Don't blame #WhatsApp for #India's mob #violence. Whimsical sunrise greetings are evidence of India being amusingly, enticingly colorful. But India is not, deep down, a friendly country. #Lynchistan #lynchings #Modi #BJP

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-07-18/lynch-mobs-are-india-s-problem-not-whatsapp-s via @bopinion


As far as Indians are concerned, the mobile phone was invented so we could use WhatsApp. The messaging app’s little green icon is now an inextricable part of our lives. We might survive without Facebook, which I haven’t checked in weeks. We might turn up our noses at Instagram, which seems to consist entirely of people’s vacation photos in Lisbon. We might even undergo Twitter detox days. But when an Indian has tired of WhatsApp, she has tired of life.


We are members of dozens of groups -- high school, college, workplace and that group from that conference three years ago which is inexplicably still active. We argue about politics, forward long, off-color jokes and, according to Google, crash each other’s phones with incredibly data-heavy “Good Morning” messages. This last addiction has claimed even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who plaintively complained to a group of his MPs that they never responded to his morning greetings. That was a rare strategic error on the prime minister’s part; Modi’s landslide victory in 2014 netted him 270-plus MPs, and now they’re all wishing him good morning on his in-house version of WhatsApp.


Whimsical sunrise greetings are evidence of India being amusingly, enticingly colorful. But India is not, deep down, a friendly country. And we have turned even WhatsApp into something dangerous and scary. Last week, a mob of 2,000 attacked a group of four men in a car in the southern state of Karnataka, beating and kicking one of them to death after dragging him through a muddy field on a rope. The reason? Rumors had spread across the area that the men, IT professionals from Hyderabad who were just passing through in search of good natural honey, were in fact planning to abduct local children. And how had these rumors spread? WhatsApp, of course.


Dozens of people have been lynched in similar circumstances -- some on suspicion of stealing children, others because they were believed to be killing cows. And that’s not the end of WhatsApp’s apparent offenses against law and order in India: Since at least 2013, full-scale riots have been instigated by people forwarding and misidentifying videos.

Unsurprisingly, responses have been stern. The Supreme Court has demanded that Parliament consider an anti-lynching law. The ministry of information technology has warned WhatsApp that it “cannot evade accountability and responsibility.” WhatsApp itself has taken out full-page ads warning against fake news and has changed its interface to indicate when content is original and when it has simply been forwarded from elsewhere. The Indian state would no doubt be happier if WhatsApp just shut down.

Yet, I am quite uncomfortable with this scapegoating of what is, in the end, a pretty innocuous little platform. Technology is what we make of it. If we in India choose to use convenient messaging to form lynch mobs, that tells us more about India than it does about WhatsApp.