Week in Review: June 8, 2016

by Grant Baker

Popular Nationalist Ukrainian Website Places Over 5,000 Journalists on a “Terrorist List”

Andrew E. Kramer, a journalist covering the Ukraine conflict for the New York Times, reacted to being placed on what he dubs “the world’s first list of terrorist journalists” in a recent article. Though the designation by a nationalist Ukrainian website has not caused him any traveling problems, Kramer says the Ukrainian government’s growing anger with those reporting from both the Ukrainian and pro-Russian side of the current conflict poses a threat to journalists. The Ukrainian government officially condemned the publication of the list, but interior minister Arsen B. Avakov wrote on his Facebook page: “War is like war…a friend sincerely fighting is more important for me than the opinions of liberals and latent separatists who think too much of themselves.” The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wrote a letter to the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, expressing their concern over the publication of the list and the limited reaction from the government. Concerns surrounding Russia’s powerful propaganda network, which has played a role in the Syrian conflict as well, inform the opinion of Ukrainian nationalists.

Laos Continues to Crack Down on Social Media Criticisms

Three Laotian citizens working in Thailand were recently arrested in Laos for criticizing the government on Facebook. The government subsequently forced them to apologize on the state sponsored television channel. Somphone Phimmasone, Lodkham Thammavong and Soukan Chaithad took a stand against the government’s policies on “corruption, deforestation and human rights violations” while they were working in Thailand, but were arrested after returning to Laos. This arrest highlights a broader trend with the communist regime in Laos, which has a zero tolerance policy for protests within the country. The government is trying to extend this same policy to social media but has faced more hurdles. As Preeti Jha notes in a recent Al-Jazeera article, due to Laos’ extreme poverty, citizens regularly decide to emigrate from the country for employment opportunities. This has inspired the Laotian government to extend its censorship to citizens living outside the country, like in this most recent case. There are no concrete charges against these three prisoners, but just last year “a Polish national of Laotian heritage was jailed for nearly five years for alleged anti government criticism online.” The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) also reports that the three Laotians who were arrested protested in front of Laos’ embassy in Thailand in December of 2015. Read more about the televised apology here.

3 Iranians Begin Jail Sentence for “Distributing Underground Music”

Iran is still finding new ways to censor freedom of expression; in 2015, the Iranian government sentenced Mehdi and Hossein Rajabian, two brothers in a band, and Youssef Emadi, their videographer, to six years in prison for “distributing underground music.” The government later shortened the sentence to three years, and on June 6th the three men began their sentence. Human rights groups such as Amnesty have condemned the ruling both for the government’s decision and the fact that the government tried the three men without a lawyer. Furthermore, Amnesty claims that the men experienced torture in prison and that the Iranian government obtained their confessions using these methods. As suppression ramps up, three political prisoners (Mohammed Sadiq Kabudvand, Farhad Atlasi and Ehsan Mazandari) in Iran are currently on hunger strike, and many more remain in prison. Moreover, this is not the first time that Iran has cracked down on artists; in 2014 Iran sentenced men and women who posted a YouTube video of themselves dancing to Pharrell’s song “Happy” to jail time and lashes. The recent jailing of the two musicians and videographer emphasizes the Iranian government’s decision to double down on censorship despite complaints from various human rights organizations and Western governments.

Twitter Debuts New Emojis for the EU Referendum and Returns with Ramadan Emojis for the Second Year

Recently, Twitter debuted custom Emojis for Britain’s vote on the EU referendum on whether or not Britain should remain in the EU in an effort to encourage more young people, particularly those younger than thirty-five, to vote. From NBA All-Star voting to advertisements for the Super Bowl, Twitter has attached custom Emojis to hashtags in the past, but usually to help corporations with their branding. Allegedly, Twitter charged over seven figures for custom Emojis during the Super Bowl; however, the “Brexit” Emojis indicate Twitter’s growing interest in using the platform to promote civic engagement. In January, Twitter debuted the “I Voted” Emoji for the American presidential primaries, which was supposed to be a “digital version of the iconic ‘I Voted’ sticker.” Similarly, when you use either the hashtag #EURefReady or #EURef, a “neon tick” Emoji will appear next to the hashtag. 

The EU Referendum Emoji is not the only one that you will see on Twitter this week; for the second year in a row, the hashtags #Ramadan, #Eid and #Iftar all produce corresponding Emojis. Twitter explained that it “expect[s] a huge number of people to use the platform to get in touch with loved ones during what is a very special time of year” and hopes that the Emojis will add to the experience. Between the Emojis for the referendum and the return of the Ramadan Emojis, it is clear that Twitter intends to make the custom Emoji a fixture of the Twitter experience.

Anti-Defamation League Adds the Anti-Semitic “(((echo)))” Symbol to List of Hate Symbols

In the past week the Anti-Defamation League “has added the ‘“(((echo)))’” symbol, used online by white supremacists to single out Jews, to its online database of hate symbols,” and Google Chrome has removed an extension, called Coincidence Detector, that automatically places these three parentheses around a word. Members of the “alt-right” including many who identify as Trump supporters, place three parentheses around the names of prominent Jewish journalists, politicians and public figures either on Twitter or on similar forums. This lets others know that this person is Jewish and in turn, members of the “alt-right” pile on harassment including “death threats, anti-Semitic cartoons, images of concentration camps and executed Jews, threatening emails, even home phone calls.” The phenomenon first gained attention in the media when Jonathan Weisman, an editor at the New York Times, detailed his experience with the parentheses. A huge part of the issue is that the symbol is incredibly difficult to search on both Twitter and search engines such as Google because many of these searches do not recognize symbols and punctuation marks in general. As Cooper Fleishman and Anthony Smith point out, when you search “((()))” on Twitter, it does not return any results, and if you search (((Last Name))), all last names show up—search results are simply too big to analyze.