“Muslims are like cockroaches. An infestation that needs to be eradicated. Immediately. Permanently”, reads the tweet by one of thousands of anonymous far-right Twitter accounts that spread hate against ethnic and religious minorities each day.
Mr Arshad is one of a growing group of digital media stars who use YouTube videos, Facebook posts, tweets, photos and standup comedy to counter the barrage of extremist propaganda online — particularly from social media-savvy terrorist groups such as Isis. His YouTube series, which tackles issues facing Muslim youth in London, has been watched more than 73m times. One video, “I’m a Muslim, not a terrorist” has been screened in more than 100 schools around the UK by the police.
With just 22 days to go until the election starts, like many social media addicts I am wondering just how much more Official Political Tweeting I can take.
Politics with a small p is, of course, on fire. My social media feeds sizzle with the anger of people from across the globe: over the racism of cops in Ferguson, US, over the destruction of antiquities by Isis, over Jihadi John, over Netanyahu’s 26 standing ovations and, above all, over the alleged criminal behaviour of bankers.
Yet the average mainstream politician runs a Twitter feed sublimely indifferent to the issues that excite the world. “Glad to be on the doorstep in Acme-shire, where we had a good discussion about local nursery provision,” is typical MP’s tweet. It is often accompanied by a photograph of the said meeting, in which nobody at all looks glad, nor indeed involved in any kind of discussion.
The social media output of MPs looks even more unhinged when you see it in the context of the debates raging among their constituents online. In fact, if you look closely at people in a party political hustings these days, you will find many of the punters and all the journalists glued to their phones, discussing almost everything except what the meeting is about.
In this context, the decision by the UK’s newly founded Pirate party to crowdsource its manifesto looks interesting. The Pirate party phenomenon started in Sweden in 2006 and spread to 20 EU countries including Germany, where it secured its one MEP in the 2014 elections.
Up to now, its obsessions have been grouped around the issues of internet freedom, state surveillance and the monopolisation of intellectual property and communications. But a glance at the Reddit page where the crowdsourced UK manifesto is being assembled reveals a much wider agenda. If you discount the pure techie stuff, the top five policies being discussed right now are publication of all government documents; removal of CCTV from public places; exempting small businesses from EU VAT rules; scaling all fines against a convicted person’s wealth; and – as with the Greens – paying everybody a basic income from taxation.
If you interrogate the subtext of these discussions, it is possible to come up with quite an accurate picture of what this part of the UK electorate is worried about. Namely, the size and unaccountable power of the state; criminality and tax evasion among corporations; and the venality and powerlessness of official politics. And though the Pirate party’s membership is small, my online life tells me these are indeed the political worries of a generation.
Another Briton had died in Syria, and back in London investigators were busy “scraping” through his online peer network for clues about fellow Islamic State (Isis) foot soldiers.
It was little surprise that Rhonan Malik knew two Canadian brothers, Gregory and Collin Gordon. After all, Twitter rumours suggested that all three had been killed in the same December air strike. More intriguing was the prodigious Facebookpresence of Collin Gordon which indicated that, shortly before becoming a jihadist, he had been “quite the party boy”.
On a labyrinthine upper floor of King’s College London is the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), the first global initiative of its type, whose offices are frequently contacted by counter-terrorism officers, hungry for information on the continuing flow of Britons to the ranks of Isis.
At 4.30pm on Thursday the centre’s researchers were assiduously examining social media “accounts of value”, noting the ongoing ripples of jubilation following the Charlie Hebdo and Paris attacks. A pseudonymous jihadist from Manchester, Abu QaQa, had said that the shootings had persuaded Isis and al-Qaida supporters to bury their differences.
“He’s saying we should be happy that jihad was made against the crusaders. It doesn’t matter that AQ and IS have been fighting each other – if it brings attacks against the west he’ll support it,” said Joseph Carter, research fellow at the ICSR.
So far the centre’s database has amassed profiles of about 700 western foreign fighters who have joined either Isis or groups such as al-Qaida’s Syrian offshoot, the al-Nusra Front. Each individual is categorised according to 72 data points, such as their birthplace or previous employment. At one point the database held the particulars of up to 90 Britons, a figure that has dwindled to around 50, largely as a consequence of coalition air strikes against Isis positions – Malik is believed to be at least the 35th Briton killed in Syria during 2014 – while a handful have simply vanished without trace from social media.
from the dangerous-and-stupid dept
Every so often, people who don’t really understand the importance of anonymity or how it enables free speech (especially among marginalized people), think they have a brilliant idea: “just end real anonymity online.” They don’t seem to understand just how shortsighted such an idea is. It’s one that stems from the privilege of being in power. And who knows that particular privilege better than members of the House of Lords in the UK — a group that is more or less defined by excess privilege? The Communications Committee of the House of Lords has now issued a report concerning “social media and criminal offenses” in which they basically recommend scrapping anonymity online. It’s not a true “real names” proposal — as the idea is that web services would be required to collect real names at signup, but then could allow those users to do things pseudonymously or anonymously. But, still, their actions could then easily be traced back to a real person if the “powers that be” deemed it necessary. Here’s the key bit:
From our perspective in the United Kingdom, if the behaviour which is currently criminal is to remain criminal and also capable of prosecution, we consider that it would be proportionate to require the operators of websites first to establish the identity of people opening accounts but that it is also proportionate to allow people thereafter to use websites using pseudonyms or anonymously. There is little point in criminalising certain behaviour and at the same time legitimately making that same behaviour impossible to detect. We recognise that this is a difficult question, especially as it relates to jurisdiction and enforcement.
The report notes that the findings are “tentative” and that these recommendations might possibly “be an undesirably chilling step towards tyranny,” but they don’t seem that concerned about it, or they wouldn’t have made the general recommendation in the first place.