Members of the amorphous hacker collective known as "Anonymous" released a video on YouTube Tuesday warning Egyptian president Mohamed Morsy that he risks cyberwarfare unless he relinquishes his claim to extrajudicial powers.
In the video, titled Anonymous #OpEgypt, a figure wearing the group's signature Guy Fawkes mask threatens cyberattacks against the Egyptian government as well as Morsy personally:
"Dr Morsy has repeatedly shown his lack of care about the core values of democracy...Now, he is gradually grasping more and more authoritarian power in his hands...To Dr. Morsy: Anonymous will not sit by and watch you washing away what thousands of Egyptians got killed and injured for...when you ignore this message, not only will we attack your organizations and websites; Anonymous will make sure you stand exposed against your people as well as the international community...we are Anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive, we do not forget. Expect us."
This isn't Anonymous' first warning to the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Egyptian government. In a video released on Nov. 7, the group announced that it would shut down the official Brotherhood website; a threat which was carried out a few days later.
Anonymous played an important role in the original 2011 Egyptian uprising against then-president Hosni Mubarak, when it successfully targeted a number of government websites and provided technical support to activists during a government-instituted Internet blackout.
Anonymous' other recent notable attempt at targeted "hacktivism" in the Middle East occurred during the conflict in Gaza earlier this month, when it claimed to have defaced 10,000 Israeli websites and released the personal data of 5,000 Israeli government officials in a press statement. Israeli officials confirmed that the government had deflected over 44 million cyberattacks, but maintained that only one website was briefly shut down.
Cyberattacks have emerged as a popular form of activism in recent Middle Eastern conflicts, especially the Syrian uprising, which has prompted hacking attempts by pro and anti-regime groups. In August, hackers loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad targeted Reuters and Al Jazeera, while an opposition group released what they claimed were over 3,000 personal emails between Assad and his wife in March.
Although it's unclear how much damage Anonymous and other cyberactivists have actually inflicted on the governments and institutions they target, anyone who has ever had their computer freeze at an inconvenient moment can sympathize with what's potentially in store for Morsy. Given the protests currently blazing across Egypt, it's hard to imagine a more inopportune time for him to experience technical difficulties.
In another cautionary Facebook tale, Sacha Dratwa, the social media director for the Israeli Defense Forces, came under fire this week for posting a picture of himself on the site with his face smeared with mud and a caption reading "Obama style."
Dratwa, a 26-year-old Belgian immigrant, has since restricted access to his Facebook page, according to an ABC News blog post, but it would seem that the damage has been done. His photo, which was reportedly posted in late September, was discovered by Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a Lebanese blogger, on Nov. 22, and the story was quickly picked up by news outlets.
Dratwa defended himself in this statement to Mother Jones:
"There have been attempts to make use of private photos from my Facebook profile in order to publicly misrepresent my opinions. Due to the amount of public attention I've garnered in recent days I have decided to restrict access to my page, in order to protect my privacy and prevent further cynical use of the information therein. I am, and have always been, completely candid about my beliefs and have nothing to hide - as reflected by my Facebook profile, which until recently was open to everyone. The aforementioned photos do not reflect my beliefs and have no bearing whatsoever on my position in the IDF."
The IDF's social media department, headed by Dratwa,
received quite a bit of media
attention during the recent conflict in Gaza, when it mounted an aggressive
campaign that included tweeting a YouTube video
of Ahmed al-Jabari's assassination and trading
threats with Hamas online. In a Tablet magazine profile, Dratwa
"We want to explain to people what happens in Israel, simply...We believe people understand the language of Facebook, the language of Twitter."
Apparently, Dratwa's not quite fluent in Facebook.
Paris Hilton, darling of tabloid papers and the star of a notorious sex tape, has opened a new store in the most bizarre of locales: the Islamic holy city of Mecca. What could go wrong?
"Loving my beautiful new store that just opened at Mecca Mall in Saudi Arabia!" Hilton tweeted on Nov. 14, causing disgruntled tweeps to engage in a heated discussion about the implications of the starlet's decision to open her store in a city that is considered the holiest site in Islam.
"R u kidding?" was one person's response, while others commented on the absurdity of such a controversial female celebrity marketing her goods in a country where women aren't permitted to drive cars. Here are some more reactions posted by folks on Twitter:
NO JOKE: Paris Hilton store just opened at Mecca Mall! O, 'tis most sweet,When in one line two crafts directly meet- parishilton.com/loving-my-beau…— Hussein Ibish (@Ibishblog) November 17, 2012
Shiite Muslims considered infidel Officially in Saudi Arabia and not welcome in kingdom But Paris Hilton’s new storein Mecca gets welcome.— Syed Haider (@haiderworld) November 18, 2012
So Paris Hilton opened a handbag store in MECCA? The world is a corrupt place at the moment. Someone please send me to Mars.— Brown Power Ranger (@OfficialEtty) November 19, 2012
Hilton has tried her hand at many careers, with varying success, including acting and singing. However, her notoriety has helped her fashion brand triumph in the global marketplace. The Mecca store is Hilton's fifth in Saudi Arabia, bringing the grand total of Paris Hilton shops to 42. "So proud to keep growing my brand!" Hilton tweeted. The store will sell perfumes, handbags, and footwear, along with other items in the hotel heiress's fashion line.
One thing's for certain -- it seems doubtful that Hilton will be invited to Saudi Arabia to promote the opening of her new store. She might have some problems with the dress code.
Jason Merritt/Getty Images
The Uprising of Women in the Arab World is not pleased with Facebook.
The group, which advocates for women's rights in the Middle East, issued a press statement on Nov. 7 claiming that Facebook, once hailed as the catalyst of the Arab Spring, was purposefully targeting the organization through censorship. After a member posted a controversial photograph to the group's Facebook page on Oct. 25, group leaders say, the social networking giant reacted by blocking the image and suspending the account of the administrator who posted it for 24 hours.
"The photograph was part of a campaign which asks the members of our Facebook page to post pictures of themselves holding banners that explain why they support The Uprising of Women in the Arab World," Diala Haider, one of the organization's administrators, explained in an interview. "Women from all the Arab countries participated and expressed their demands and outrage at social discrimination and the ways in which women have been marginalized in the public sphere."
This particular photograph was posted by Dana Bakdounes, a young woman from Syria. In it, Bakdounes is pictured with her hair uncovered, holding her passport, which has a photo of her wearing a hijab. She also holds a sign which reads: "I am with the uprising of women in the Arab world because for 20 years I was not allowed to feel the wind in my hair and on my body."
Haider says that after the first time Bakdounes' photo was removed by Facebook, supporters of The Uprising of Women in the Arab World responded by posting the image to their own Facebook pages and on Twitter. Convinced that the removal of the photograph had been an error on the part of Facebook, one of the administrators, Yalda Younes, reposted the image to the original page. Facebook then allegedly removed the photograph again and suspended her account for seven days. The group filled out a feedback request stating that Facebook's actions were a violation of free speech, and on Oct. 31 the block on Bakdounes' photo was removed. But just a week later, after the organization posted a status update on Facebook asking its supporters to follow the group on Twitter and use the hashtag #DanaWind for solidarity, Haider says Facebook suspended all five of the administrators' accounts and sent them an official notice warning that their accounts could be deleted if they violated Facebook community rules again.
"We've had a lot of religious fanatics and extremists who use offensive and insulting language in reaction to our efforts," says Haider. "They call us infidels for supporting the freedom of women to choose things like whether to wear a veil or not. We've come under attack, but that was expected.... The real surprise was Facebook's reaction to the page."
In a statement posted on Reddit on Nov. 13 and confirmed to Foreign Policy as official by a Facebook spokesman, Facebook explained that the incident was simply an error:
"We made a mistake," the statement reads. "In this case, we mistakenly blocked images from The Uprising of Women in the Arab World Page, and worked to rectify the mistake as soon as we were notified.... To be clear, the images of the woman were not in violation of our terms. Instead, a mistake was made in the process of responding to a report on controversial content.... What made this situation worse is that we made multiple mistakes over a number of days, and it took time to rectify each of these missteps."
Incidents such as the removal of Bakdounes' photo raise questions about Facebook's content moderation system, which has come under fire in recent months. In February, Amine Derkaoui, a Moroccan employee of oDesk, one of the outsourcing firms that Facebook used to moderate its content at the time, leaked internal documents to Gawker detailing the social media site's content guidelines. According to the documents, while "camel toes" and breastfeeding mothers are off limits, "Crushed heads, limbs etc are OK as long as no insides are showing." Facebook terminated its partnership with oDesk in May.
An incident similar to the removal of Bakdounes' photo occurred in April 2011 when a photograph of gay men kissing was removed (and subsequently reposted by Facebook with an apology for its "error"). The site has also been criticized for blocking the New Yorker's Facebook page after the magazine posted a cartoon that depicted female nipples. In October, a group of Navy SEALS claimed that Facebook was censoring an anti-Obama meme when it took down the image and provided no explanation for its removal until after the story was reported -- at which point Facebook issued statements to news outlets apologizing for its mistake.
These episodes begin to make more sense when you factor in the system that, at least until May, Facebook used to moderate its content. Derkaoui told Gawker that he was part of a team of 50 people from across the globe -- many from poor countries -- who moderated Facebook's content from home for as little as $1 an hour. He did not return requests for comment, and Facebook has been tightlipped about which companies it now uses to moderate content, failing to respond to emailed questions sent by Foreign Policy.
Vaughn Hester, who works at Crowdflower, a San Francisco-based crowdsourcing firm that also tasks employees from around the world with moderating content, told The Daily Beast in September that "asking moderators to flag photos that are ‘offensive' can result in very different attitudes in terms of what constitutes offensive content versus permissible content." Given what seems to be the inherent subjectivity of the content moderation industry, as well as the vast cultural and religious differences between employees from different countries, it seems possible that a photograph like Bakdounes', which Americans might not find offensive in the least, could have upset a moderator from another country.
Panagiotis Ipeirotis, an associate professor in the Operations and Management Sciences department at New York University's Stern School of Business, says that there are many ways to identify and eliminate biases in the content moderation industry.
"You might, for example, compare different moderators' work against each other," says Ipeirotis. "So, if you're worried about cultural biases, you can take five moderators from different regions and get blended input on an image."
Ipeirotis says he is unfamiliar with Facebook's content moderation policy, but maintains that the content moderation systems of different companies are only as efficient as the standards they implement.
Haider says that while she understands that mistakes are made, it's important that Facebook take incidents like this seriously because arbitrary acts of censorship aren't compatible with the site's role as a forum for free speech.
"It's only normal that Facebook, which has penetrated the whole globe, hires employees from all over the world with various religious and cultural backgrounds," she says. "This becomes problematic only when those employees favor their cultural and religious biases over Facebook's policy of respecting freedom of expression. This is why Facebook should take serious measures regarding such mistakes. We trusted that Facebook would be a supporter of freedom of expression and the uprising; we have faced the opposite by feeling that Facebook is assisting extremists and misogynists to put us in a corner.... It is disappointing, to say the least."
Facebook outlines some of its guidelines for acceptable content on its community standards page while maintaining that it attempts to balance the need for a safe online environment with its commitment to freedom of speech.
"Facebook gives people around the world the power to publish their own stories, see the world through the eyes of many other people, and connect and share wherever they go," the page reads. "The conversation that happens on Facebook -- and the opinions expressed here -- mirror the diversity of the people using Facebook. To balance the needs and interests of a global population, Facebook protects expression that meets the community standards."
Despite the removal of Bakdounes' photograph, The Uprising of Women in the Arab World's Facebook page has over 66,000 likes, and Haider acknowledges the important role that social media sites such as Facebook have played in mobilizing activist groups such as hers.
"We wanted a forum that can provide a free space for women and men from around the Arab world to meet and voice their concerns and propositions for a better reality for women within the transforming Arab societies," she says. "In this sense, Facebook helps break the borders and helps in sharing real experiences and awareness with the least possible costs."
The Egypt Independent reported on Wednesday that two children, aged nine and ten, were arrested and charged with blasphemy in the Upper Egyptian city of Beni Suef after being accused of urinating on copies of the Quran.
Ibrahim Mohammad, a local sheikh, filed a complaint about the incident, stating that the children were incited to desecrate the Muslim holy books. A prosecutor ordered that the minors be transferred to a juvenile facility on Tuesday night.
Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told the Egypt Independent that 17 cases of religious blasphemy have been filed in Egypt in the wake of violent protests against the anti-Islam film The Innocence of Muslims.
On Sept. 27, an Egyptian court upheld a six-year prison sentence for Albert Saber, a Christian man accused of posting the controversial video to his Facebook page. In a speech at the United Nations on Sept. 26, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi defended Egypt's blasphemy law, stating that "Egypt respects freedom of expression," but "one that is not used to incite hatred against anyone. One that is not directed toward one specific religion or cult."
These arrests worry activists who are concerned that free speech in Egypt is being silenced by the new government, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. In a statement released on Wednesday, the Arabic Network of Human Rights Information expressed its outrage at the crackdowns, calling them a "general inclination by the state to silence opponents."
The New York Times reported today that New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority voted 8-0 to change its rules on what advertising it will accept after the furor created by Pamela Geller's anti-Islam ads. Geller, executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, won a court case last month, compelling the MTA to post her ads, which read, "In the war between civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."
A wave of public outrage over the ads, which were posted in New York City subway stations, has lead to incidents of vandalism, with activists and angry citizens defacing the posters. On Tuesday, Egyptian-American activist and journalist Mona Eltahawy was arrested for defacing one of the ads with pink spray paint.
Ostensibly in response to the vandalism, the MTA stated that they would, from now on, prohibit advertising which "would incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace, and so harm, disrupt, or interfere with safe, efficient, and orderly transit operations." Geller's ads won't be taken down just yet, since the rule change doesn't apply ads that are currently posted; however, the new guidelines might prevent her from renewing them once they have expired. The new rules will also require that all ads featuring political, religious, or moral expressions prominently feature a disclaimer stating that the MTA does not endorse the views expressed.
Protestors at the committee meeting held signs reading "The subway belongs to the 99 percent. Take the racist ads down." According to the New York Times, Geller attended the meeting and urged MTA officials to "have the courage of your convictions." She was "repeatedly shouted down."
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Prominent Egyptian-American journalist and activist Mona Eltahawy, author of FP's May/June cover story, was arrested on Tuesday in New York City and jailed overnight following a scuffle over American Freedom Defense Initiative leader Pamela Geller's anti-Islam subway ads. In a video shot by the New York Post, Eltahawy is seen defacing one of the ads with a can of pink spray paint, until Pamela Hall, a supporter of Geller's initiative, throws herself into the line of fire.
"Mona, do you have the right to do this?" Hall yells.
"I think this is freedom of expression," Eltahawy counters before letting loose with her brightly colored weapon of choice.
Things continue in this vein until NYPD officers intervene and promptly handcuff an indignant Eltahawy, who is clad in a coat almost the same shade as her paint.
"This is what happens when you nonviolently protest in America!" she shouts to the gathering crowd.
Eltahawy was later charged with criminal mischief, making graffiti, and possession of a graffiti instrument, all misdemeanors.
Geller's ads, which read "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man" and conclude with "Support Israel. Defeat Jihad," have been the cause of a legal and political firestorm in recent weeks. In late August, a federal court ruled that the Metropolitan Transit Authority couldn't prevent the ads from being posted. This order was unaffected by the spate of violent anti-American protests over the anti-Islam film "The Innocence of Muslims" currently taking place across the globe.
"Our hands are tied," Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the authority, told the New York Times. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the decision on Sept. 21, saying that Americans often have to tolerate things they find offensive because of the First Amendment.
Geller later blogged her version of the pink spray paint spat, calling Eltahawy a "thug" and correctly predicting that "This criminal behavior and fascism will be lauded in Leftist circles." The flurry of celebratory tweets from Eltahawy's many Twitter followers following her arrest would seem to confirm Geller's fears.
Today, only the squat silhouette of a woman outlined in pink serves as a reminder of the confrontation, but Eltahawy's arrest has become something of a social media legend, inspiring the hashtags #freemona and #proudsavage as well as an online parody.
"As an US citizen I know that non-violent civil disobedience is one of many ways to fight racism," Eltahawy later tweeted.
If only Gandhi had thought of acquiring a can of pink spray paint.
They're at it again. The BBC reported on Monday that Al Jazeera was the latest media outlet to feel the wrath of the Syrian Electronic Army, a group of pro-Assad hackers who have recently been running amok in cyberspace. This time, the Qatar-based news station's Arabic SMS service was compromised, and three fake texts were sent to all subscribers. One reportedly announced that Qatar's prime minister had been the target of an assassination attempt while another added that the wife of Qatar's emir had been wounded.
Last Tuesday, Reuters reported that Al Jazeera Arabic's home page was hacked by another pro-Syrian group calling itself "al-Rashedon." The hackers posted a Syrian flag and a statement denouncing the station for its ‘‘position against Syria (people and government) and for special support of the militant terrorism" underneath a large red stamp with the word "hack."
Reuters may have been relieved that they weren't the targets this time. As Foreign Policy recently noted, the British wire service was hacked three times during the month of August. The hackers sent fake tweets from the Reuters Twitter account and also put up false posts on one of its blogs.
Also in August, Amnesty International's blog Livewire was targeted by another pro-Assad hacker group that accused the rebel army of committing massacres that have been linked to government forces. The attack, which was not claimed by any specific group of hackers, included a false blog post lamenting that "it is clear the Al Qaeda affiliated rebels are not going to stop their crimes. And with no accountability and a steady supply of weapons, why should they given they have come this far under NATO protection?"
Another one of the false posts was titled "Amnesty Calls on UN to stop the US, Qatar and Turkey funding and arming Syria Rebels," and created the impression that Amnesty International was condemning NATO and the US for meddling in the Syrian civil war. Sanjeev Bery, Amnesty International's USA advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa, explained the attack in an article published on the group's website:
"It's entirely possible that, given that we've been so forthright in criticizing the Syrian government for its crimes against humanity; that could conceivably make us the target of some kind of campaign."
As the actual war in Syria continues to spiral out of control, the long and dirty cyberwar between hackers loyal to Assad and those who support the rebels shows no signs of slowing. News organizations across the world are likely buttoning up their security systems and wondering who the next victim will be.
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