Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Egypt's Internet trolls : The Union "Ep.1"

The international media is currently having a long serious discussion about fake news and internet trolls in the social media.
Only after the US presidential elections and its results, the world decided to put the spotlight on that dark use of social media.
Only , now we got Mark Zuckerberg speaking about how  misinformation spreaders are using his platform and how to fight back for the first time.
Sadly , we know very well about fake news or how Zuckerberg described it as "misinformation" and its impact first hand in the Middle East especially in the Arab spring countries before the west or the US but nobody cared till it reached to the States.

The social media is always highlighted for its role in the Arab spring, especially in the Egyptian
Once upon time in 2011 "Reuters" 
Well, I think it is time to let the world knows that the social media is also destroying the Arab Spring.
Ironically at the same time, the West was speaking about the fake news and the Russian machine propaganda, we had our own "fake news scandal" in November.
It came unexpectedly out of the blue when one of the biggest Pro-regime conspiracy theorists exposed how the so-called
e-committees aka Pro-regime internet trolls work from inside.
Nobody is speaking about it any more thought in Egypt, so I thought it was good to bring it back. It gives you a glimpse of our own in-house problem

On 5 November Pro-regime supporter/university professor/social media celebrity Khaled Refaat published a Facebook post on his account with alleged screenshots from a closed Pro-regime Facebook group for exposing who they are and how they are organizing themselves online.

The story started with a fight inside the group  when Refaat seemed to violate the rule of not criticizing El-Sisi outside it and being vocal about it.Soon , he began to criticize the group indirectly describing it as an "e-committee" on his FB account.
It seems that the members of the groups attacked and being reported him to the Facebook to close his account in return.

In retaliation, he decided to bring down the temple by speaking directly about that group posting screenshots from showing its admins giving directives its members.
That Facebook group is "State supporters union" and according to Refaat , it was founded allegedly by Media figure Ibrahim El-Garhi.
Refaat added that El-Garhi included nearly 22 admins from famous figures known for their support to the regime and their hate to the 25 January revolution judging from the names. "Very interesting names but I won't have the time to speak about them specifically".

According to Refaat , they were gathered to have discussions in one place.The group was a private one by an invitation and it reached at one point 14,000 members according to the screenshots.

The screenshots included one where El-Garhi told the members not to criticize the government's economic decision outside the group as well an order to spread posts supporting current Central Bank governor Tarek Amer.
There was another interesting post by a member or admin in the group calling the members to spread "positive news" or "rumors" to weaken the US dollar in Egypt !!

Another interesting screenshot , Refaat posted was how one of the admins suggested to pick one of "junkies" aka "25 January revolution" activists and make comics and fun of her or him.
An alleged screenshot showing one of the admins telling the members
to "pick on" of the January revolution activists 

Another screenshot included posts from admins telling members to report opponent pages. Interestingly in that screenshot, there is a mention of a group called "Mafia Battalion" whose role is to monitor international and foreign news websites.  

Now what was known for real is the group was founded reportedly by a dentist called Shaimaa Refaat on 22 October who made El-Garhi and others as admins.

Two admins of that Facebook were among the main speakers at El-Sisi's National Youth Conference : Ibrahim El-Garhi and Mohamed Negm.

El-Garhi had an interesting opinion during the conference that the media and journalists in Egypt "believe that they can shape the public opinion in Egypt" demanding strict penalty laws against journalists !!
Negm is considered an economic expert on Facebook who does not see a problem that Egypt suffers from corruption because China suffers from corruption among other things.
Oh, he also says that people should not get involved with politics just like in India !! Yes, the biggest democracy on earth !!

This is the first smoking gun and hard evidence for real on how the Pro-regime supporters organize themselves by their own confession. They do not see that what they are doing is wrong but in other parts of the world : It is called Internet trolling.

You may think that their numbers are not significant. We are nearly 100 million Egyptians whereas there are 22 million Egyptians at least using the Facebook in 2015. Still, we are speaking a group that includes influential people in their circle that spread misinformation and wider circle.
Ibrahim El-Garhi's Facebook page got one million followers alone.

After coming out to the light 

Despite the group was exposed , it is active and its membership grew to more than 50,000.
According to what I have heard , many people were added without their knowledge by the administrators as the group came under the spotlight.
Boldly Ibrahim El-Garhi defended himself in a long sponsored FB post to spread on Facebook insisting that he did not do anything wrong.  The former reporter says that he is not ashamed and that he is defending Egypt.
He will also continue defending and supporting the current regime.
I cannot find that post anymore on El-Garhi's official Facebook page which got more than one million fans. "Updated on 8/12/2016 : El-Garhi closed his official Facebook page from two days ago for no reason but his personal FB account is still there. " 
Amazingly, he did not claim that the screenshots were fabricated !!
Pro-regime Youm 7 and its sister sites publish from time to time news on how the group launches hashtags on twitter to fight the "enemy of the state" and how they are successful in beating Qataris and MBs online.
The Youm7 managing editor Dandarawy El-Hawary is from the admins of the FB.
Nobody speaks about this group anymore or what they do.
This is what you can consider a normalization of something totally wrong.

A history of Web brigades/internet trolling 

The e-committees aka Internet trolls aka Web brigades are not something new in Egypt.
The web brigades appeared in Egypt when Gamal Mubarak and NDP had their own "e-committees" or "internet trolls" in 2009 according to blogger/journalist and social media expert Mohamed Atef.
I remember those days.
Those trolls did not stop after the 25 January revolution.
After the revolution and the ouster of Mubarak as well the rise of social , we were introduced to the MB internet trolls that have been active in Morsi's short presidential term.

They disappeared after the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood dramatically but they have been replaced actively and strongly by the Pro-Sisi/state internet trolls.The same techniques and the same misinformation that hurts the nation for real.

In April , El-Sisi himself stated that he could send two brigades to close down the "net" while he was criticizing the social media.

Social media is a double-aged weapon. I think that Freedom of expression can end Internet trolling but internet trolling is taking an advantage of Freedom of expression and democracy in the worst way ever.
I have got no problem with Pro-regime supporters online as long as they do not troll others or spread misinformation as well hate and ultra-nationalism.
Of course, I do not understand why the state would need internet trolling and misinformation as a tool of support !?

I do not know how we can end this problem globally but I know when Egypt gets its true democratically elected civilian regime which will be held accountable on every single move in front of  true democratically elected parliament and the Egyptian people, those Pro-regime web brigades will disappear forever.

To those members of Web brigades who think that they are doing their patriotic duty by defaming and spreading lies about dissidents and fake victories, one day you will regret that and you will know that you have hurt and harmed your country more than any enemy could have done.

For those opportunists who join those groups for the sake of fame or power, Karma is there and it is a matter of time.

In those difficult days , I pray to God to help Egypt.
P.s I wrote this quickly and I consider this is the first episode of series about political internet trolling in Egypt. I hope I can do it inshallah. 

1 comment:

  1. Whoever controls the media and cyber space will shape the hearts and minds of majority of people. You have the freedom to flip the remote control or to hover with the mouse, yet your options are defined for you. Dictatorship evolved by technology, the models of Idi Amin and Ceausescu belong to the past.

    The state needs internet trolling because reality is actually miserable. Manufactured public perception by web brigades creates an illusive reality. Yet, the country can’t remain in state of bi-polar realities for long. Reality on the ground will take over.

    The internet played a major role in the Arabic Spring, especially in Egypt. But this was Revolution 2.0 . Modes of resistance need to be developed faster than Windows releases. The time is ripe for Revolution 3.0


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