politics of cyberspace

Targeted disinformation neutralizes US left

Progressives in the United States show little awareness of the disinformation specially targeting them. Denialism about Russian interference in the US elections, and the horrific realities of Russia's client state in Syria, is now translating into denialism about how dangerous the Trump presidency is. Syria solidarity activists have long been aware of the flood of pro-Assad disinformation on social media. Research from the University of Washington corroborated what activists have observed—it documented four times as many disinformation tweets about the Syrian White Helmets volunteer first-responder group in 2017 compared to factual tweets. In 2016, we saw the same pro-Assad sites and writers post memes and articles that trashed Hillary Clinton, equated Clinton and Trump, or even portrayed Clinton as the worse choice. They dominated "Leftbook" social media and helped depress the progressive vote. Ten million fewer Democrats voted in 2016 than 2012—a decisive factor in Trump's win. We are seeing a replay now. Biden and Harris are denounced far more than Trump on some "left" sites, while Trump's incipient fascism is downplayed.

China: resistance to curbs on Mongolian language

Thousands of ethnic Mongolians in the remote north of the People's Republic of China have gathered outside schools to protest a new policy that would restrict the use of their language in the public education system—a rare display of mass discontent. The policy change in Inner Mongolia means all schools in the region will now be required to teach core subjects in Mandarin, mirroring similar moves in Tibet and Xinjiang to assimilate local indigenous peoples. Students have walked out of classes and assembled outside school buildings shouting, "Mongolian is our mother language!" The protests, which have mounted over the past week, have been centered on Tongliao and Ulaanhad municipalities, where hundreds of students and parents have faced off against police.

Algeria: dissident journalist sentenced to prison

An Algerian court on Aug. 10 sentenced journalist Khaled Drareni to three years in prison for speaking out against the government. Drareni, who is well known in Algeria and has a twitter account of roughly 150,000 followers, is editor of Casbah Tribune news website and correspondent for international TV5 Monde and media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF). He reported widely on the Hirak protest movement against the rule of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune. At trial, prosecutors used as evidence a Facebook post Drareni shared, calling for a general strike. The court found him guilty of "endangering national unity" and "inciting" unlawful gatherings.

Podcast: Verizon delenda est II

In Episode 55 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg exposes the hidden agenda behind Verizon's abandonment of landline service. Far from being driven by public demand, the ubiquity of wireless has been instrumented by Verizon and imposed on the populace as a design to finally extinguish the public entitlement of telephone service. Verizon is the most recent inheritor of this public trust responsibility that goes back to the establishment of the New York Telephone Company as a state utility in 1896. But the trust responsibilities go with the old copper wires—once they are gone, Verizon no longer has legal obligations as a "carrier of last resort." Weinberg calls for a public expropriation of Verizon, and making internet access as well as phone service a public entitlement. Those who are refusing to give up their landlines are, consciously or not, on the frontline of resistance to corporate rule—and the attendant digitization of all reality. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.

Net silence as Belarus explodes into protest

Long-ruling strongman Alexander Lukashenko has cut off internet across most of Belarus as the country explodes into angry protests in the wake of contested presidential elections. Riot police are unleashing harsh repression, using rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and water hoses against demonstrators in Minsk. One person has been reported killed and many more wounded, including several police officers. According to preliminary results, Lukashenko won an unlikely 80% of the vote in the Aug. 9 election, with the main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya taking only 10%. Tikhanovskaya was a surprise replacement for her husband Sergei, a popular blogger who was arrested after he attempted to launch a presidential campaign. She held large rallies in Minsk and other cities, riding a groundswell of popular discontent with Lukashenko. (Politico, The Guardian, Meduza)

Saudi Arabia imprisons Yemeni dissident blogger

A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a Yemeni blogger to 10 months in prison, a fine of 10,000 riyals ($2,600) and deportation for a social media post supporting equal rights for people in same-sex relationships, Human Rights Watch announced July 28. Mohamad al-Bokari was arrested in Riyadh on April 8, after posting a video on social media, which authorities said contained "sexual references" and "violated public order and morals." This was apparently a reference to the line: "Everyone has rights and should be able to practice them freely, including gay people." Sources told HRW that al-Bokari was subjected to a forced anal exam, an internationally discredited practice used to seek "proof" of homosexual conduct. HRW says the practice has no scientific basis, violates medical ethics, and constitutes cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment that may rise to the level of torture. Al-Bokari was charged with "violating public morality" and "imitating women." 

Iran high court suspends execution of protesters

Iran's Supreme Court on July 19 suspended the execution of three men who faced charges following the November 2019 anti-government protests. The Revolutionary Court in Tehran had in February convicted the three men of moharebeh (waging war against God), and "destroying and setting fire to public property with the aim of confronting the political system of the Islamic republic," in addition to other charges. The high court confirmed their death sentences last week, citing supposed evidence on the phones of the accused that they set fire to banks, buses and public buildings during the protests. Following a request from the lawyers representing the accused, the Supreme Court has decided to review their case.

Ethiopia: slaying of musician sparks Oromo uprising

The military has been deployed in the Ethiopian capital amid a general uprising by the Oromo people that broke out after the assassination of a popular singer. Hachalu Hundessa, shot dead while driving on the outskirts of Addis Ababa on June 29, was an icon of the Oromo protest movement that has been mounting since 2015. His songs, such as "Maalan Jira?" (What Existence is Mine?) and "Jirraa" (We are Here), have been hailed as the "soundtrack of the Oromo revolution," and he was named "Oromo Person of the Year" by cultural advocates in 2017. Police say two have been arrested in connection with the killing, but rebellion continues to spread across Central Ethiopia. At least 80 have been killed and many detained. The prominent Oromo leader Jawar Mohammed is among those arrested.

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