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How do terror messages spread on Twitter?

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Washington: Researchers are studying issues such as what type of information and propaganda from terror organisations go viral on the social media, how that information spreads and what kind of people/ groups participate in its spread.

The study in this regard is being undertaken by researchers at Arizona State University in order to “develop better tools to detect extremist networks promoting violence and block their online content”, nationaldefensemagazine.org reported.

“Terror groups like ISIS target those who feel alienated and marginalized within the society they live in. They rarely are able to recruit entire groups, especially in Western countries,” study leader Hasan Davulcu was quoted as saying.

Research shows that alienated individuals are more likely to fall prey to images than traditional forms of propaganda.

The study will focus primarily on information cascades, “wherein large numbers of individuals participate to spread information and opinions across the globe, often times producing significant changes in attitudes and behaviors”, Davulcu said.

“Understanding how these cascades happen is important to understanding the methods used by terror organisations for recruiting individuals through social media,” Davulcu added.

Co-researcher Paulo Shakarian was reported as saying that when looking at tweets that reached 50 recipients, less that two per cent of those tweets end up going on to reach another 500 recipients.

“The community structure matters in terms of the proliferation of information on social media. If a tweet can reach 50 individuals with diverse backgrounds, then it is more likely to spread,” he added.

“We’re trying to understand the relationship between the online and the offline world,” he said.

“The researchers have algorithms to track political online discourse in Malaysia, Indonesia and Britain, and are working on one for Libya,” Davulcu said.

(IANS)

 

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Equal Yet Divided? Feminists Maintain Silence Over Muslim Woman’s Choice to Not Wear Hijab: What’s Wrong With Present Day Feminists

The Western activist-feminists today are undoubtedly absorbed in struggles to liberate themselves from the grasp of the oppressive male hegemony

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Western feminists continue to defend a woman’s right to wear the hijab. Then why is little talked about girls who ‘choose’ to not wear it? Pixabay
  • Despite an active feminist movement, women in Islamic countries continue to remain outside areas of attention
  • Outrage emerged following Muslim chess player’s decision to not wear a hijab during a game, an issue that is yet to come under the radar of the Western feminists

August 22, 2017 : Unless you have been living under a rock, you would know the magnanimity of the worldwide feminist movement in support of women’s rights to be treated as equals irrespective of their nationality, religion or sexual orientation.

Upon comparison to the mainstream Western feminism, mentions of Islamic feminism do not occupy evident, or for what matter, visible part of conversations.

  • In 2014, artist Atena Farghadani was sentenced to an imprisonment of 12 years for posting a satirical caricature on Facebook as a protest against the proposed legislation against women’s rights and birth control. She was held guilty for ‘spreading propaganda’.
  • In 2015, 26-year old Iranian-British Ghoncheh Ghavami was arrested in Tehran for trying to attend a men’s volleyball match.
  • In 2014, Loujain al-Hathloul, a human rights defender in Saudi Arabia was first arrested for driving cars in a kingdom where it is forbidden. She was more recently re-arrested in June 2017, the exact reason for which has not been made public. However, Amnesty International believes the arrest has been made to curb her peaceful efforts to defend women’s rights.

Today, Farghadani, Ghavami and Loujain al-Hathloul have been reduced to mere names on a list of millions of women whose basic rights have been mercilessly desecrated.

But American feminists are yet to speak up about these injustices- they continue to be too occupied with their own victimization to raise voice against the injustices meted out to women like Farghadani.

The Western activist-feminists today are undoubtedly absorbed in struggles to liberate themselves from the grasp of the oppressive male hegemony. However, in their fights against phantom epidemics and unnecessary grievances, the gender activists today have deviated from the real fight against inequality.

ALSO READ Exclusive: 12 Sexist Remarks that Every Woman can relate to!

In the last two years, Western feminists have often turned to social networking platforms to raise issues, draw attention and mobilize support. While the increasingly global reach of  online networking sites like Twitter, and Facebook, and the inherent power of ‘hashtag activism’ can largely assist women find solidarity , the latest trend has been a far cry from the real cause.

In the last two years, some of the widely used hashtags were #FreeTheNipples, #LesPrincessesOntDesPoils or #PrincessesHaveHair and #BigUndiesOutForSam.

The former was a campaign to de-sexualize women’s breasts and the next promotes acceptance of body-hair on women. The third campaign drew support from women in favor of comfortable under-garments for women. Imagine, if the imprisoned Muslim women of Iran and Afghanistan, who lack political rights and are vulnerable to physical violence because of their faith, were to tweet, what would they say about these struggles? Will these be the issues they would raise, I doubt.

The World Economic Forum asserts an inverse relationship between women rights and states with Islam as dominant religion.

The Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2016 placed Islam as the dominant religion in the lowest ranking 44 states for women rights and equality (that means states un-supportive of womens’ rights). Evidently, in states that the report claims most supportive of women rights, the density of Islam followers is very low.

It will be wrong to say that because women in Islamic countries suffer at the hands of misogyny, the Western women should compromise with less serious prejudices. However, what needs to be highlighted is why feminist actions continue to be restricted to physical borders.  Women in different corners of the world today have one thing in common – their fight for basic rights as upheld in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Why then are the so-called liberal women’s rights activists only raising issues of one section of people and not for all?

In the Western liberal societies, the hijab has very recently emerged as a symbol of resistance to Islamophobia, against policies from President Trump’s administration aiming to establish divisions between ‘them’ and ‘us’.  Western feminists have, since long, defended a woman’s right to wear the hijab. However, very little is talked about girls who ‘choose’ to not don the veil.

ALSO READ:  Being feminine: How far are we from understanding feminism in its real form

In January, Dorsa Derakhshani, an 18-year old Iranian chess grandmaster refused to wear a hijab at a tournament in Gibraltar and instead chose to wear only a headband. Her decision to defy the Iranian law which calls upon all women to wear a headscarf in public drew massive flack from staunch radical Muslims, following which she was kicked out of the national team.

The Somali born Ex-politician and feminist critic, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who herself wore the burqa as a teenager, strongly believes that the debate over the controversial head covering is no more about religious or cultural practices but about the equality of women. “Expecting half of humanity to go around covered in black sacks is just evil sexism,” she had written for a report published in The Australian.

The author has repeatedly expressed her concern over the apathetic stance of western feminists in support of liberal Muslim women for which she has been increasingly labeled as ‘Islamophobic’.

However, what needs to be understood here is that raising questions on cultural practices in Islam does not make one Islamophobic.

American philosopher, Martha Craven Nussbaum had rightly pointed out that the feminist theory heeds diminutive consideration to struggles of women outside United States. While this may come across as demeaning to some, that does seem like the present day state of affairs.

The need of the hour is to shatter the dominant opinion which holds that Islam and feminism are not consistent and that one can either be a Muslim or associated with feminism but not both. This, however, can only stem from a larger understanding that human rights- including rights of women, are meant for all and not just a few and definitely must not be restricted by religion.


 

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Dark side of Social Media: Is opinion formation on Facebook, Twitter governed by propaganda?

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By Ishan Kukreti

Social Media is a proven addiction. Of world’s 7.2 billion people, a staggering 2.78 billion have an active Social Media account. Internet has undoubtedly brought everyone just a click away, just a screen apart. However, it has made experience, vicarious and reality, virtual.

Given the fact that such a huge population is at one place, apart from facilitating communication and bringing the world a bit closer, it also creates a bracket that can easily be targeted for various reasons. Propaganda being one of them.

Online initiation by extremist groups like ISIS is just one know example. The subtle conditioning of individuals over telecom network, just like through TV, newspaper and radio is a reality one can’t close eyes to.

The big brother is watching you

Propaganda has been a major weapon in the arsenal of status quo to subtly maintain its authority. According to Marxist theory, the Hegemon uses its soft power, through various media channels, to create an artificial cultural construct that sustains and promotes its interest.

In the present world of Web 2.0, the methods of extending this soft power have become very easy. Each Smartphone user carries highly potent propaganda in his/her pocket. Uncle Sam which once stared at people from wall posters at the street’s corner, now smiles at them through their laptop/phone screens. In a way, the job of a propagandist has never been easier. In the digital world he doesn’t have to go to the masses, the masses come to him.Uncle_Sam_(pointing_finger) There is a reason why we see certain information on web and not the other. There is a reason why Charlie Hebdo was on everybody’s Facebook feed while the massacre of more than 2,000 Nigerians by Boko Haram passed without eliciting a peep from the world. There is a reason behind kitsch is always trending, while relevant information is buried in some obscure corner.

The reason is that the flow of information is not unfiltered. The information reaching a set of people at a given point of time passes through various algorithmic filters. While folks go crazy over the color of a dress, a new bastion of humanity falls somewhere in the world, a new breach is made on the lives of those who don’t matter.

“A lot of manipulation is going on in social media. Firms have their in-house IT departments which push and promote their agenda and stifling the democratic process. You will not hear about sensitive issues like land acquisition on platforms like Facebook and Twitter because they are against the status quo.” says Rajan Vohra, a computer science researcher in data mining.

The human intervention

Like every media, Social Media too has its ways, overt or covert, of manufacturing opinions. The difference is that on the new medium (Internet), due to its personalized interactivity, convincing/coercing is easier. Any active political commentators on Social Media can tell the treatment meted out to them.

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A vocal and cohesive minority is all it takes to create trends on Social Media. The hashtag wars between BJP and AAP trending daily on Twitter say a lot about opinion formation and consent manufacturing. A company or political party with its army of loyal supporters can drown any voice of dissent. The case is not just limited to Social Media, prominent news sites have also reported incidents of online bullying on sensitive issues.

“The image of reality promoted on Social Media is not necessarily the true picture. Truth is not based on a hundred, or thousand or even ten thousand people saying something. Facebook groups and Twitter handles of political parties and big firms have thousands of followers. For them, pushing their agenda becomes a cake walk, as does drowning out dissident voices. Most of the times the real issues are not so simple as touted on Facebook or Twitter.” opines Madhav Dhar, an economic consultant.

Whose media is it anyway?

According to Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model, the ownership of a media outlet shapes its content. The nexus between the US government and Google was exposed by Julian Assange in his piece, “Google is not what it seems” while a recent report claimed that 25% of news on Twitter is bogus.

Posting, sharing, liking, commenting in a quasi-real life simulation on issues public or personal is as close as the masses can get to being a creator of mass media messages in today’s world. However, the ground reality remains that even these media platforms are owned by someone. They have their own structure of gate-keeping or filtering information, and possibly agendas too.

sm-questionmark-237x300The scope of Social Media in terms of reach makes it a sort of Midas touch of media, whose alchemical effects are not entirely unknown to the big money, the vested interests. PR companies like APCO have the ability to alter Google search results while paid ads on Facebook tremendously increase the visibility of posts.

Postscript

Every age has its Hitlers and Stalins. And every age has its ways of propagating their ideas, good, bad or ugly. However, the meteoric rise in the use of technology has made billions sitting ducks for advertisers and propagandists. The dark side of the fairy tale called Social Media is yet inconspicuous to the attention deficit users playing mirror-mirror-on-the-Fb wall, but the big bad wolf is on the prowl outside.

Today, discretion and critical thinking are attributes needed more than any other time in history.