At a glance.
- No Clubhouse spring in China.
- Myanmar's crackdown on data.
- Influence operations as a combined arms exercise: the British experience.
- Keeping up with content moderation.
China's fleeting Clubhouse spring is now over.
A large number of Chinese users had flocked to the new US social medium Clubhouse, the Nikkei reported last Friday, where they enjoyed surprising and unaccustomed freedom of expression. The app's popularity jumped suddenly last week after Elon Musk appeared on the platform and a preference cascade followed in his train, as it has in so many other recent cases. Although Clubhouse is an audio-based app, Chinese users were creating "silent rooms," Protocol says, which they used as a censorship evading network.
It didn't last long. Beijing blocked the app this past Monday, according to TechCrunch, closing off what had briefly been an unmoderated network for both China and the Chinese diaspora. Clubhouse's website is still available on the Mainland, but its app is inaccessible and unlikely to return, as compliance with Beijing's Internet regulations would be prohibitively onerous.
It's worth noting that Clubhouse's lack of moderation has drawn strongly negative reactions from Americans who themselves aspire to more regulated, more restricted modes of discourse.
Suppression of data continues in Myanmar's crackdown on online communication.
On Saturday Myanmar’s Ministry of Transport and Communications directed that all mobile operators serving the country block the nation’s data network. Voice and SMS services will, TechCrunch reports, remain available. The general interdiction of data services follows earlier decisions by the country’s new military government to block first, Facebook, and then Instagram and Twitter. The ruling junta has sought to tamp down opportunities for mobilization of dissent and opposition since it took power in a coup last month.
Influence operations, UK-style.
The Grey Zone podcast featured an interview with GCHQ Director Jeremy Fleming and General Sir Patrick Sanders, head of the UK’s Strategic Command, also responsible for military cyber operations, in which they described Britain’s cyber operations against ISIS. British cyber forces disrupted the terrorist group’s drone operations, denied their operators’ mobile service, and interfered with online propaganda.
The campaign by Britain’s National Cyber Force, most active in 2016 and 2017, is, Sky News says, the UK’s only publicly avowed offensive cyber operation to date. The counter-propaganda, influence operation, is in some ways the most interesting and intrusive of the efforts. Fleming is quoted as saying, "We prevented their propaganda, both through physical actions on the battlefield, but also remotely getting to their servers, getting to the places that they stored their material." The intrusion into ISIS networks extended to locking ISIS members out of accounts, deleting or altering the group’s information, and taking down online posts and videos.
"We wanted to ensure that when they tried to co-ordinate attacks on our forces, their devices didn't work, that they couldn't trust the orders that were coming to them from their seniors," General Sanders said, adding that deception and misdirection were important ways of degrading ISIS combat power.
Tactically, British cyber operators (said to have been working closely with allies, including the US) were able to block ISIS commanders’ orders from reaching subordinates, and were also able to misdirect ISIS forces on the ground, in some cases sending their units into kill zones.
It was, General Sanders explained, a combined arms, multidomain effort. The cyber operations didn’t stand on their own. "We wanted to deceive them and to misdirect them,” he said, “to make them less effective, less cohesive and sap their morale. But you can't just do that in cyberspace. You have to co-ordinate and integrate that with activities that are going on on the ground, whether it's from our own forces, special forces and others."
Content moderation scorecard.
For those keeping score on the content moderation front, Lawfare shared that YouTube demonetized the Epoch Times, Google blocked ads from a group opposing court-packing (a belief shared by the majority of Americans, the host noted), and Facebook banned ads from the US Governor Newsom recall effort after the LA Times discovered anti-vaxxer, QAnon, and Proud Boys devotees in the initiative’s ranks. The host expressed concern that a surefire way to deplatform a movement has become linking it to a left-wing “boogeyman.”
The segment wrapped up with a review of the Facebook Oversight Board’s first round of verdicts, which overturned four of five initial moderation choices, citing justifications like an “inappropriately vague” definition of “misinformation,” and “did not comply with international human rights standards on limiting freedom of expression.” Some expect the outcome of the President Trump case, which seeks the Board’s “recommendations on suspensions when the user is a political leader,” to serve as a litmus test of the Board’s legitimacy. The hosts predicted the decision will be overturned at least in part, with the Board’s foreign membership serving as a moderating influence on American biases.