Social media in government: 6 to 12 April 2015


In the UK, immigration has attracted a lot of buzz in light of the upcoming elections. The Scots are warning Edinburgh against break-ins, and the French TV5Monde was hacked by ISIS. The Russians were also hacked by their own Anonymous International but still found the time to make memes illegal. Turks made YouTube and Twitter illegal, then they legalised them again, while a Bahrain human rights activist live-streamed his arrest. Google is angry with an Egyptian digital certificate organisation while the Dubai Police force got an award for its social media use. The Lebanese have fallen victim to a scam American Ambassador, and Malaysians are arresting defiant cartoonists. The Chinese are looking for 10 million positive youth volunteers despite police in Hunan and Inner Mongolia arresting 60-year-old uncles and environmentalists. The Canadians are concerned with privacy and how bureaucrats and the police use Twitter and Facebook. Americans are angry at the police for another reason and Clinton announces her Presidential bid via social media. Mexican netizens are mad – again – at corrupt politicians as are middle class Salvadorians and Brazilians in general.


The United Kingdom

Immigration is the third biggest issue in the upcoming UK elections. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) has begun the #IAmAnImmigrant campaign to publicise the positive aspects of immigration. The campaign features the faces and personal stories of immigrants to the country. Stories and images can be found online and offline.

Sources: @JCWInews In Scotland, the police have launched a public service campaign to educate citizens about home break-ins. Home break-ins have been occurring more frequently in Edinburgh, so the police have used legos to construct common ways that burglars can enter the house and posted photos of each lego scene to social media. The campaign is called Operation RAC (#OpRAC).

Sources:  @mashsocialmedia@blathnaidhealy


Last Wednesday all 11 channels as well as the Facebook and Twitter accounts of TV5 Monde were hacked by a group that claimed allegiance to ISIS. The group commandeered the Facebook account to allegedly post the personal images and photos of the relatives of French citizens involved in anti-ISIS activities. “Soldiers of France, stay away from the Islamic State! You have the chance to save your families, take advantage of it,” read one message on the Facebook page. “The CyberCaliphate continues its cyberjihad against the enemies of Islamic State.” Comments also referred to the Charlie Hebdo attack in January and threatened the French President. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls tweeted:

Sources:  @manuelvalls


Anonymous International (also known on Twitter as Shaltay Boltay or @b0ltai2 and @b0ltai) leaked 40 thousand text messages belonging to influential Kremlin official Timur Prokopenko. Shaltay Boltay has released a number of private documents since first publishing Putin’s New year’s national address hours before the speech was broadcast in 2013. While these text messages have been met with a muted reaction from the Kremlin, some journalists with whom Prokopenko texted have moved to explain their communications with the official. RBC  (Russian media) general director Nikolay Molibog posted his explanation to Facebook. In his Facebook post, Molibog confirmed the texts were real and apologised for any inappropriate communications while defending his association with Prokopenko.

Sources:   A new poll by the independent Levada Center has demonstrated that Russians overall approve of the Russian leader in Chechnya, a fervent social media user and alleged human rights violator, Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov is on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, the Russian VKontakte (the Russian Facebook), and LiveJournal. One of his bodyguards is rumoured to be the man behind the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov (allegedly caught on security camera, according to Russian social media. However, nothing has been verified.) Kadyrov is appreciated, according to the poll, because he keeps Chechnya stable – and it can’t hurt that he does well popularising his image amongst his social networks.

Дорогие друзья! Сегодня мальчики решили сделать Лечи Курбанову большой подарок на день рождения. По их просьбе мы организовали в честь именинника турнир. Ахмад, Эли и Адам показали всё, чему их научили настоящие мастера. Состоялось несколько поединков. Строгая судейская бригада отметила возросшее мастерство ребят и их выносливость. По единогласному решению победителями стали все трое, а также их настоящее братство и, конечно, дружба с тренером! Мальчики после боев преподнесли Лечи памятный сувенир. #Кадыров #Россия #Чечня #Лечи #Ахмад #Эли #Адам
A video posted by Аллах Велик!!! (@kadyrov_95) on Apr 9, 2015 at 2:07pm PDT

Sources: @mashsocialmedia Russia’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor has outlawed celebrity memes. Roskomnadzor posted the legal clarification in a VKontakte post last week. The rule follows a lawsuit led by Russian singer Valeri Syutkin, who was the subject of a meme so popular that his last name became synonymous with domestic violence. (The meme juxtaposed the face of the singer, a well-known “lady’s man,” with an expression from a song about “smacking a bitch.“) The law now clarifies that “use of photos of public personas for the purposes of internet memes not pertaining to the actual celebrity” is illegal.

Sources: @mashsocialmedia@moneyries

Middle East


Google will no longer trust digital certificates issued by Mideast Communication Systems (MCS), an intermediate certificate authority vetted by China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC). MCS has been issuing fake digital certificates. This means that it’s possible the Egyptian Government, among others, has access to the private log-ins and personal communications of individuals on various social networks (email, Facebook, WhatsApp, etc.). Google will implement their exclusion in future updates of their browser Chrome. Sources: Google Security blog@middleeastmnt


Last week in Turkey, Twitter and YouTube (along with about 100 websites) were banned Monday and then accessible again nationwide by the end of Tuesday. Why? As mentioned in this blog on April 6th, terrorists from the far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) took Istanbul prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz hostage. Kiraz had been overseeing a controversial case linked to the Gezi protests of May 2013. The prosecutor died during the rescue mission, and photos of the prosecutor while being held hostage as well as of his body post-rescue mission were published on a number of traditional and social media sites. As a result, the Turkish Government withheld the accreditation of several media organizations and journalists who then could not attend the April 1st funeral of Kiraz. Four Turkish newspapers faced criminal investigations due to their publication of the photos. Even Google received a warning from Istanbul’s 1st Criminal Court of Peace. While the legality of these bans is under question in some quarters, a presidential spokesman insisted that, “[w]hat happened after the prosecutor’s killing is as grim as the incident itself. Those photos weren’t used by foreign media agencies. The demand from the prosecutor’s office is that these images not be used in any platforms. This is an obligation derived from a necessity. There would be no ban if those photos weren’t shared over and over again. This isn’t about restricting freedoms..” Turks used VPNs and applications like AnchorFree’s HotSpot Shield to securely bypass the ban while Turks and others promoted the hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey online.

Sources: @MenekseTK, The Global Voices Netizen Report A draft document from the National Security Council (NSC) that was leaked to media lists potential threats to Turkey. The document highlights social media along with terror groups including ISIS and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as among these threats. Turkey’s NSC includes the president, the Turkish government and the commanders of the Turkish Armed Forces. (Just a reminder, as noted earlier in this blog, Canada also listed social media as a threat to national security in a document obtained by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.) Sources: @Yenisafak, @NewsweekEurope Turkish elections will be held the 7th of June, and social media is shaping up to be a key source of relevant (mis?)information.


Internet scammers attempted to con Lebanese out of money by pretending to be the US Ambassador David Hale on social media. Scammers promised some Lebanese a United Nations job in exchange for money. The US Embassy in Lebanon posted a statement entitled, “The Ambassador Does Not Want Your Money” and invited Lebanese to connect with the real Ambassador Hale, who noted that the US Ambassador has no control over United Nations job appointments. 

Sources: @DailyStarLeb, @BazziNYU


Nabeel Rajab, a human rights activist, was arrested April 2nd after he posted Tweets alleging prisoners in Bahrain’s Jau Prison are tortured. Rajab posted a video of himself explaining his arrest moments before the police apprehended him outside his home in Bani Jamra. Rajab has been arrested before for his Twitter comments, specifically when he compared Bahrain’s security forces to an “incubator” for ISIS militants.

Sources:  @NABEELRAJAB, @JustAmiraThe Global Voices Netizen Report

United Arab Emirates

At the Sharjah Government Communication Awards (GCA), the Sharjah Police General Headquarters won Best Government Social Media Practice for its constant engagement with citizens via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.



The Chinese Government aims to recruit 10 million volunteers from the youth wing of the Communist Party to “spread positive energy” on the Internet. Currently China employs what is referred to as the “50 cent party,” online recruits that are supposedly paid 50 Chinese cents (about 8 US cents) per positive comment about the Government online. Now, according to a document from the China Communist Youth League dated February 13th, 20 percent of the League is to be recruited as “cyber civilisation volunteers” “to promote socialist core values.” Individual volunteers will be called upon to participate in “sunshine comment” campaigns. In support of recruitment, the League has published promotional cartoons to its Weibo account. (Curious – how similar is this to the Israeli #StandwithUs and “Social Media Ambassadors” campaigns mentioned in this blog in late January of this year?)

Sources: Portland Press HeraldThe Washington Post Protestors told the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) that over 2000 Chinese riot police injured 100 and killed one when shutting down a demonstration against toxic waste. The week-long protest in the Inner Mongolia region of China was in reaction to rising health problems and pollution resulting from a chemical refinery plant in the region. Protestors posted images of the protest and the problems in the region to social media, prompting local government authorities to state that it would close the chemical complex and conduct environmental testing. However, the protestors were still “to be cleared up forcibly” according to a separate statement from the local government.

Sources: @ThomasImmervoll, Southern Mongolia Human Rights Information Centre The wives of soldiers serving in China’s People’s Liberation Army have been warned to stop using social media or expect to be monitored when doing so. The Chinese military authorities are concerned that sensitive information was perhaps shared via th WeChat social media network.

Sources: @qilindigital Ou Shaokun, a sixty-something Chinese man known in Hunan as “Uncle Ou of Guangzhou” is “more famous than the mayor.”  Ou is well-known and appreciated for exposing the misuse of government cars via Chinese social media.  Ou posts images of cars being misused to Weibo, or at least he did. After Ou posted photos of two government cars being used for private purposes, Changsha police arrested him for allegedly soliciting a prostitute. In China, such charges against critics are frequently perceived as suspicious, especially when followed by public confessions. Ou not only refused to confess, he stridently denied the charges. Ou’s official charges were illegally published to social media, prompting a sympathetic outcry against attempts to public humiliate him. When Chinese netizens attempted to investigate who had published Ou’s official charges online, the Weibo account behind the exposure mysteriously disappeared.

Sources: @SCMP_News In Fujian province, there was an explosion and hydrocarbon fire at a chemical plant last week that provoked social media discussion about the dangers of having such a plant nearby. The plant was originally to be located in a more urban area, but protests in 2007 succeeded in getting the plant moved to a more rural area.  Sources: Associated Press


India is using social media, among more traditional methods, to find and support Indians trapped in Yemen, where internal conflict has made the country unsafe. Indian officials have used social media to post evacuation details, to answer questions and to propose alternative ways to get out of Yemen in the case of cancelled flights or ships. India’s success in securing the safety of its own nationals has led other countries to request assistance from the Indian Government in recovering their own Yemen-based nationals.

During a three-day Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference on Parliament, Media, and Law, the Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan stated,  “Self-regulation is the best for media and it should be understood that with rights come responsibility and hence this freedom should [be] exercised wisely and responsibly….with [the] powerful right to freedom, comes great responsibility….How to achieve this — whether by an imposed law or by guidelines voluntarily adopted by media — is a question. We have distinct systems of regulation for broadcast media, print media and social media.” Mahajan asked conference participants to debate the proposed need for better regulation of the media – whether by the media itself, by the government, or by individuals. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu followed up, noting, “Social media helped government to gauge [the] people’s mood and chalk out developmental programmes accordingly. Social media had changed the traditional way of government working.”

Sources: @SumitraTai, @EconomicTimes, @ncbn, @CPA_Secretariat, @AgoraParl Business Today in India contends that the Indian Prime Minister Modi is losing millions of likes on Facebook over the Land Acquisition Bill. The Bill has been used by th Opposition to suggest Modi is not favouring farmers and the poor, which Modi contests. Arvind Gupta, convener of Modi’s BJP national communication cell, disputes that the likes on Facebook have been lost due to the bill, claiming, “This does not reflect anything as it is a technical issue. Facebook periodically cleanses ‘likes’ from accounts that have been inactive for long or have been deactivated or are not trustworthy. This is a routine technical matter.” Sources: @BT_India Meanwhile, Modi’s Government, like many governments across the world, is analysing online reaction and social media sentiment towards his Government and individual campaigns. Using online data-mining tools and algorithms, a team based in New Delhi lets Modi’s advisors know daily how netizens feel about Modi. The Ice Hockey Association of India started a #SupportIceHockey social media campaign to raise funds for its under-resourced team. “The response has been very good as we already have collected half of the targeted 2 million rupees ($32,250),” the director Akshay Kumar said. One of the goals of the team is to participate in the Asian games or the Olympics in order to be eligible for government funding.

Sources: BitGiving


On Tuesday, May 6th, after 10 hours of debate, the Malaysian Parliament passed the prevention of Terrorism Act by a vote of 79 to 60. The Act bypasses the judiciary and permits the police to detain suspects for as many as 59 days. The Prime Minister’s Government has also introduced changes to strengthen the Sedition Act, an Act he once promised to abolish. Malaysian lawyers, among others, have used Twitter and other social media and to protest the new Terrorism Act and the proposals to alter the Sedition Act. Even members of the Prime Minister’s own party have suggested that the Malaysian people are losing trust in the Prime Minister, potentially threatening the governing coalition which has won every election since the country’s independence in 1957.

A Malaysian human rights lawyere arrested for a Tweet on hudud (covered in this blog here) has been released on bail but still faces charges. Eric Paulsen, the lawyer, was arrested under Section 4(1)(c) of the Sedition Act 1948 – Paulsen allegedly accused the Malaysian Islamic Development Department of promoting extremism in the Tweet.

Sources: @chelle_yesudas, @EricPaulsen101 The Malaysian cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, who goes by his pen-name Zunar, was charged with nine counts of sedition for Tweets last week. Zunar allegedly insulted the judiciary when Tweeting about former Malay politician Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s conviction in a Sodomy case. Zunar’s next court appearance will be May 20th. Charges under Section 4(1)(c) of the Malaysian Sedition Act are punishable by a fine of up to RM5,000 and three years in prison. Zunar has promised to keep drawing despite the possibility of prison.

Sources: @zunarkartunis, The Global Voices Netizen Report,


In Indonesia the Government closed 22 websites at the beginning of the week that the Government perceived as radical. Islamic organisations protested the infringement on free speech and what the Government characterised as “radical,” forcing the Indonesian Government to re-open some of the downed sites. By last Tuesday,,,,,,,,, were all back online. Government officials justified their authority to shut down sites under Ministerial Regulation No. 19/2014 on negative content, created to implement Law No. 11/2008 on electronic information and transactions (ITE) – essentially legislation to curb hate or negative speech. A representative of the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), Wahyudi Djafar, disagreed, noting “Without a strong legal framework and accountable procedures, [closing these sites] is nothing but a repressive measure.” Sources: @jakpost, @wahyudidjafar


Last week, the Guardian revealed that the companies and individuals working with asylum seekers in Australia became subject to strict social media regulations this past February. Those working with “transferees,” as the asylum seekers are called, are not allowed to maintain any sort of contact with transferees on social media. In addition, those working with transferees are not allowed to share any “incompatible material” online – including participating in any sort of online discussion or content sharing related to Australia’s asylum policy. This includes compliments and endorsements of the policy or politicians and officials involved in the policy. The onus of maintaining silence and ensuring no former transferees end up as Facebook friends, email contacts, or Twitter followers is on the employees and the companies. “A breach of this policy may result in disciplinary action up to and including instant dismissal,” according to the policy. Oh, and of course government and government-contracted employees involved with Australia’s asylum seekers are not allowed to have online relations with “incompatible organisations” – those that oppose Australia’s public policies towards current and ex-transferees.

Sources: @SimonThomsen

In the Australian state of Victoria, local Latrobe City Council Councillor Christine Sindt has refused to remove anti-Islamic posts that she has made to her Facebook page. Sindt claims that her Facebook page “reflects [her] personal views.” Sources: @ABCNews

North America


Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien publicly recommended that Bell Canada dial back its tracking of customers’ clicks, calls, and television habits. The Commissioner recommended that customers opt-in to be tracked, but Bell initially decided to ignore the recommendation. As a result, activists on social media publicised the event and the Privacy Commissioner considered pursuing a change from Bell in the Federal Court of Canada. Bell has since decided to abide by the Commissioner’s approach.

Sources: @mgeist In Newfoundland, a Canadian made threats towards a local official on Twitter. In response to the Tweets, a police officer visited the home of the man, who allegedly threatened the officer with a loaded rifle. The officer shot and killed the man, leading to an independent investigation into the local security procedures.

Sources: @VOCMNEWS In Alberta, the province Premier has called for May elections. As part of election rules, there can be no announcements or campaigns for fear that provincial and local bureaucrats will be perceived as favouring a particular political party or politician. This means that even the most (supposedly?) innocuous social media accounts have gone quiet, including the Alberta Parks Twitter account, the Tyrrell Museum social media outlets, the Alberta Culture and Tourism social media accounts, and the Alberta Wildfire Management Twitter account. A local journalist argues that this may be a bit too cautious, even for bureaucrats. Can the election rules be better implemented, at least on social media? Sources: @Paulatics


Presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton launched her campaign with an online video. Via social media, former Secretary of State and former First Lady Hillary Clinton announced that she is seeking the Democratic party nomination for President of the USA in 2016. The announcement coincides with the new season of Game of Thrones, in which strong female characters join an epic battle for the position of a country’s ruler. As a result, netizens have cracked a few jokes – and spread a few memes – about Hilary’s candidacy.
Sources: anybody in US social media remotely interested in politics

Snapchat published it first transparency report. Snapchat allows users to exchange photographs and videos that are only active for a limited time. The users sharing the content set the time limit during which their subscribers can view the content.The US Government made 375 requests for 666 data points (by far the highest number of requests) and Snapchat complied with 92% of these requests. For a breakdown on the penetration of Snapchat, go here.

Sources: @Snapchat, @verge A protest led by members of the Enewetak Atoll Clean-Up Project Vets Facebook group is gaining traction. The members of the group are veteran US soldiers, deployed in the 1970s to clean up after nuclear testing on the atoll. Many have suffered a number of health problems most likely linked to radiation exposure gained during the clean-up project. However, until now, little has been done to address their needs. The Vets are petitioning to change their status to “atomic veterans” so that they will be automatically compensated for the cost of their cancer-related healthcare.

Sources: The Sun Journal Protestors from 99Rise, an organisation dedicated to removing “big money” from American politics through nonviolent action, succeeded in smuggling a video camera into the US Supreme Court during a federal hearing. The group uploaded the footage to YouTube and has since been threatened with up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine. The charge is “picketing or parading” the US Supreme Court.This is the second time the group has managed to get protestors into the Court.

Sources: @99rise The 2015 Government Social Media Conference & Expo (GSMCON) is the first social media conference for U.S. city, county and state government. It will be held from April 29 to May 1, 2015 in Reno, Nevada. For more information go here. Sources: @GovernmentSM In the USA, an all too common scam is one in which, via social media or email, someone promises individuals access to a government grant. To get the promised grant, users are asked to provide their bank details to the scam artist, usually with disastrous results. A current scam of this sort has attracted enough victims that some local media are warning users to be careful. Sources: @heralddispatch Phone footage in which an African-American man runs away from a policeman after having been stopped for a minor traffic violation while the policeman shoots the fleeing man in the back 8 times has been widely circulated. In part, the video’s popularity has grown because the South Carolina policeman, a white man, lied about the encounter, claiming the victim stole the policeman’s weapon and a struggle ensued. The phone footage proves this is a blatant lie. A passerby filmed the incident and shared it with the victim’s family, who leaked the video to the press. An investigation into the policeman’s actions has been initiated.

Sources: @mashsocialmedia@moneyries


Social media is increasingly used to hold abusive public officials accountable. Last week in another scandal, the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party apologised for having rented five helicopters for campaign activities in the state of Michoacán.

This follows the recent dismissal of the head of the National Water Committee, David Korenfeld, after a Facebook post showed him using a helicopter belonging to the Government to go on vacation with his family….which follows Manuel Velasco, the Green Party governor of the state of Chiapas, being required to apologise to a volunteer that he was filmed slapping in the face. (The video was shown on YouTube – Velasco was also filmed being carried around in a litter held up by his constituents. Again, posted to YouTube to the ire of Velasco and the Mexican people…for different reasons…) All these activities have been shared on social media, inspiring angry reactions from Mexican netizens. Social media is gaining even more traction in the public eye following the dismissal of famous journalist Carmen Aristegui from Radio MVS after she begin investigating the purchase of a house by the Mexican First Lady. (This was covered at the end of March in this blog.) Aristegui claimed her dismissal came as a direct order from the Mexican President’s office. More social shares focusing on official corruption in Mexico can be found by following the hashtag #UnMexicanoPatriota (#AMexicanPatriot). Sources: @TheTicoTimes

Central America

El Salvador

BBC Trending (@BBCtrending) explored a recent and unusually loud online discussion around an all-too-common issue in El Salvador: sexual abuse towards minors and gang violence. Juan Jose Martinez, an anthropologist doing research for Unicef, the UN Children’s Fund, reported that a headmaster in a low-income neighborhood that openly sexually abused and raped female students “as young as 12 on a daily basis” in addition to being violent with male students. Despite reporting these allegations to both the federal government and Unicef, no one did anything. Frustrated, Martinez published his findings in the online magazine Factum. The article generated over a thousand comments on Facebook. Salvadorians expressed their rage over the authorities inaction. Martinez, upon reading the comments, told BBC Trending, “The fact that the middle and upper class, who are the ones with Internet access, were shocked and surprised by this article shows how little they know about poor neighbourhoods. We just need to spend five minutes of our time to speak with our housecleaner in order to realise how brutal life in those communities is.”


Sources: @BBCtrending

South America


Confused about the online demonstrations preceding and succeeding the offline protests against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff? These protests were covered in this blog mid-March – the hashtag for the anti-Government protestors, calling for Rousseff’s impeachment, was #RIPDilma. For a round-up of some reasoned social media comments on the national situation, I recommend this post on Global Voices by Taisa Sganzerla.



e-Discovery and digital evidence on the web is not always easy to collect, verify, and share in legal cases. That’s where WebPreserver comes in. This Canadian company aims to help litigators involved in cases of doxxing, cyberstalking, online harassment, threats, etc. WebPreserver not only makes a screen-capture, and collects source-code and metadata, it authenticates everything with a 256-bit digital signature and timestamp to comply with the E-Sign Act, Federal Rules of Evidence, and other regulatory requirements.

This application, created by a Czech and Slovak parliamentary monitoring organisation, allows users to store, visualise and analyse parliamentary votes. The developers were inspired by Green Circle, a Czech environmental group that had been tracking parliamentary votes related to environmental legislation. The information Green Circle collected was trapped in detailed Excel spreadsheets, and the KohoVolit developers used their skills to make the information easier to analyse and understand. They then expanded the application to look at all parliamentary votes in their countries.

Sources: @KohoVolitEU,


Countries that block social media in one graphic

Posted by Jody Sieradzki, the Vice-President of Content for Dadaviz, this “report” gives you the countries that block social media.For a great infographic in how to get around bans in these countries, check out this one from AdWeek.

Sources:  @JodySieradzki, @dadaviz,

Terms of Service

Terms of Service is a book that reviews what privacy is and how it can be returned to users in the era of social media. The author, Jacob Sivlerman, makes the case that social media users need to “take back ownership of their digital selves.” He argues that social media companies create products designed “to encourage shallow engagement and discourage dissent.”


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