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Tanks And Twitter: Sudan Generals’ Multi-pronged War

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Tanks And Twitter: Sudan Generals' Multi-pronged War

When a power struggle between Sudan’s top generals erupted into bloodshed, battle-hardened commanders unleashed every weapon in their arsenal — fighter jets, tanks and also social media.

Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy-turned-rival Mohamed Hamdan Daglo have been “flooding the media with false information”, said Raghdan Orsud of Beam Reports, which investigates disinformation in Sudan.

For five million people in Sudan’s capital — trapped inside their homes as street fighting has raged, including around the state TV headquarters — Twitter and Facebook quickly became key sources of information.

Both rival forces have since issued “twisted facts” in online media campaigns aimed at deepening the “state of fear”, said Mohamed Suliman, disinformation researcher at Boston’s Northeastern University.

The fighting has seen the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) — a force tens of thousands strong, formed from the Janjaweed militia that led years of extreme violence in the Darfur region — take on the regular army.

While neither side has seemingly seized the advantage so far, in the war of words the paramilitaries are “outpacing” the army’s “old tactics”, Suliman said.

Both sides have a history of using social media to push their message in their battles for control.

Burhan and Daglo are former allies who seized power in a 2021 coup but later fell out in a bitter power struggle, which erupted into open conflict on April 15.

Daglo — commonly known as Hemeti — is a former camel trader and militia commander accused of leading forces that have committed multiple atrocities.

Recently he has sought to portray himself as a statesman.

Two days into the fighting, some social media users were taken aback when Daglo began to release posts in polished English arguing the RSF were battling “radical Islamists” who are “waging a brutal campaign against innocent people”.

Many saw proof in those messages that the RSF is “benefiting from expert service and assistance in terms of its online image and messaging”, a specialist on the region told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Experts from the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab recorded an increase in the RSF’s long-running disinformation campaign since December 2022.

DFRLab tracked two networks — one with “at least 900 potentially hijacked Twitter accounts” — that were “artificially amplifying” the popularity of RSF posts.

Before fighting started, they “portrayed Hemeti as a reformist general who supports the move toward democracy, a competent leader of a powerful paramilitary force and a viable future leader for Sudan,” DFRLab’s Tessa Knight wrote.

When fighting began, their tone shifted to brand Daglo as a “hero fighting to protect Sudan and cleanse the country of traitors”.

Burhan and the army have also sought to win the information battle, but have been using more “traditional” propaganda, Orsud said.

AFP fact-checkers have recorded a flurry of misleading posts praising the army using old footage, including from conflicts in Yemen and Libya and — in at least one instance –- a video game.

Other fake videos purported to show wads of cash being seized at Daglo’s home.

Adding to the information confusion, on Thursday, Twitter stripped accounts of free blue verification ticks, including from Burhan’s official account.

With the check marks now available for cash, at least one account falsely purporting to be the RSF bought a blue tick and lied that Daglo had died.

The RSF’s account also bought a blue tick, while Daglo’s retained a grey checkmark, signifying that he is a government official.

When AFP attempted to reach Twitter for comment, the company replied with an email showing an emoji of a coiled pile of faeces.

Social media warfare is nothing new for the RSF.

Beam Reports tracked “a systematic campaign to polish the paramilitaries’ image” on Facebook that began in May 2019, after the army’s ouster of dictator Omar al-Bashir.

Between 2019 and 2021, Facebook shut down over a thousand Facebook and Instagram accounts linked to the RSF for “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, including hundreds just a month before Burhan and Daglo led their coup.

Seeking a rebrand from militia commander to statesman, Daglo has previously employed outside help, including a $6 million deal in May 2019 with a Canadian lobbying firm to engage with leaders including in the United States, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The following month, in June 2019, RSF gunmen were accused of crushing pro-democracy protests in Khartoum in which 128 people were killed.

Past investigations have pointed to foreign support, including from the Russian mercenary Wagner group, who experts say is involved in lucrative RSF-controlled gold mines.

In 2019 and 2021, Facebook found Sudanese accounts boosting state and Russian media connected to the Internet Research Agency, a group linked to Wagner.

In March 2022, the so-called Troika group — Britain, Norway and the United States — said the Wagner group “spreads disinformation on social media” in Sudan.

The same month, a Sudanese security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that “Russian experts are involved in communications security and monitoring social networks”.

Khartoum has repeatedly denied Wagner operates in Sudan.

Others look towards the United Arab Emirates.

According to the DFRLab, some pages removed by Facebook in 2021 “featured administrators based in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates”.

Both countries have been close to the generals, who contributed troops to the Saudi-led coalition fighting Huthi forces in Yemen.

Orsud, of Beam Reports, said recent RSF tweets showing the “UAE timezone” led some to allege the accounts were “managed from the UAE”, claims not possible to verify independently.

Fighting on the street continues, but in terms of the media war, Orsud said she does not “think either campaign is sophisticated or hard to counter”, as Sudanese civilians take it upon themselves to find the truth.

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Facebook Faces Yet Another Outage: Platform Encounters Technical Issues Again

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Facebook Problem Again

Uppdated: It seems that today’s issues with Facebook haven’t affected as many users as the last time. A smaller group of people appears to be impacted this time around, which is a relief compared to the larger incident before. Nevertheless, it’s still frustrating for those affected, and hopefully, the issues will be resolved soon by the Facebook team.

Facebook had another problem today (March 20, 2024). According to Downdetector, a website that shows when other websites are not working, many people had trouble using Facebook.

This isn’t the first time Facebook has had issues. Just a little while ago, there was another problem that stopped people from using the site. Today, when people tried to use Facebook, it didn’t work like it should. People couldn’t see their friends’ posts, and sometimes the website wouldn’t even load.

Downdetector, which watches out for problems on websites, showed that lots of people were having trouble with Facebook. People from all over the world said they couldn’t use the site, and they were not happy about it.

When websites like Facebook have problems, it affects a lot of people. It’s not just about not being able to see posts or chat with friends. It can also impact businesses that use Facebook to reach customers.

Since Facebook owns Messenger and Instagram, the problems with Facebook also meant that people had trouble using these apps. It made the situation even more frustrating for many users, who rely on these apps to stay connected with others.

During this recent problem, one thing is obvious: the internet is always changing, and even big websites like Facebook can have problems. While people wait for Facebook to fix the issue, it shows us how easily things online can go wrong. It’s a good reminder that we should have backup plans for staying connected online, just in case something like this happens again.

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Christian family goes in hiding after being cleared of blasphemy

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Christian family goes in hiding after being cleared of blasphemy

LAHORE, Pakistan — A court in Pakistan granted bail to a Christian falsely charged with blasphemy, but he and his family have separated and gone into hiding amid threats to their lives, sources said.

Haroon Shahzad (right) with attorney Aneeqa Maria. | The Voice Society/Morning Star News

Haroon Shahzad, 45, was released from Sargodha District Jail on Nov. 15, said his attorney, Aneeqa Maria. Shahzad was charged with blasphemy on June 30 after posting Bible verses on Facebook that infuriated Muslims, causing dozens of Christian families in Chak 49 Shumaali, near Sargodha in Punjab Province, to flee their homes.

Lahore High Court Judge Ali Baqir Najfi granted bail on Nov. 6, but the decision and his release on Nov. 15 were not made public until now due to security fears for his life, Maria said.

Shahzad told Morning Star News by telephone from an undisclosed location that the false accusation has changed his family’s lives forever.

“My family has been on the run from the time I was implicated in this false charge and arrested by the police under mob pressure,” Shahzad told Morning Star News. “My eldest daughter had just started her second year in college, but it’s been more than four months now that she hasn’t been able to return to her institution. My other children are also unable to resume their education as my family is compelled to change their location after 15-20 days as a security precaution.”

Though he was not tortured during incarceration, he said, the pain of being away from his family and thinking about their well-being and safety gave him countless sleepless nights.

“All of this is due to the fact that the complainant, Imran Ladhar, has widely shared my photo on social media and declared me liable for death for alleged blasphemy,” he said in a choked voice. “As soon as Ladhar heard about my bail, he and his accomplices started gathering people in the village and incited them against me and my family. He’s trying his best to ensure that we are never able to go back to the village.”

Shahzad has met with his family only once since his release on bail, and they are unable to return to their village in the foreseeable future, he said.

“We are not together,” he told Morning Star News. “They are living at a relative’s house while I’m taking refuge elsewhere. I don’t know when this agonizing situation will come to an end.”

The Christian said the complainant, said to be a member of Islamist extremist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan and also allegedly connected with banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, filed the charge because of a grudge. Shahzad said he and his family had obtained valuable government land and allotted it for construction of a church building, and Ladhar and others had filed multiple cases against the allotment and lost all of them after a four-year legal battle.

“Another probable reason for Ladhar’s jealousy could be that we were financially better off than most Christian families of the village,” he said. “I was running a successful paint business in Sargodha city, but that too has shut down due to this case.”

Regarding the social media post, Shahzad said he had no intention of hurting Muslim sentiments by sharing the biblical verse on his Facebook page.

“I posted the verse a week before Eid Al Adha [Feast of the Sacrifice] but I had no idea that it would be used to target me and my family,” he said. “In fact, when I came to know that Ladhar was provoking the villagers against me, I deleted the post and decided to meet the village elders to explain my position.”

The village elders were already influenced by Ladhar and refused to listen to him, Shahzad said.

“I was left with no option but to flee the village when I heard that Ladhar was amassing a mob to attack me,” he said.

Shahzad pleaded with government authorities for justice, saying he should not be punished for sharing a verse from the Bible that in no way constituted blasphemy.

Similar to other cases

Shahzad’s attorney, Maria, told Morning Star News that events in Shahzad’s case were similar to other blasphemy cases filed against Christians.

“Defective investigation, mala fide on the part of the police and complainant, violent protests against the accused persons and threats to them and their families, forcing their displacement from their ancestral areas, have become hallmarks of all blasphemy allegations in Pakistan,” said Maria, head of The Voice Society, a Christian paralegal organization.

She said that the case filed against Shahzad was gross violation of Section 196 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which states that police cannot register a case under the Section 295-A blasphemy statute against a private citizen without the approval of the provincial government or federal agencies.

Maria added that Shahzad and his family have continued to suffer even though there was no evidence of blasphemy.

“The social stigma attached with a blasphemy accusation will likely have a long-lasting impact on their lives, whereas his accuser, Imran Ladhar, would not have to face any consequence of his false accusation,” she said.

The judge who granted bail noted that Shahzad was charged with blasphemy under Section 295-A, which is a non-cognizable offense, and Section 298, which is bailable. The judge also noted that police had not submitted the forensic report of Shahzad’s cell phone and said evidence was required to prove that the social media was blasphemous, according to Maria.

Bail was set at 100,000 Pakistani rupees (US $350) and two personal sureties, and the judge ordered police to further investigate, she said.

Shahzad, a paint contractor, on June 29 posted on his Facebook page 1 Cor. 10:18-21 regarding food sacrificed to idols, as Muslims were beginning the four-day festival of Eid al-Adha, which involves slaughtering an animal and sharing the meat.

A Muslim villager took a screenshot of the post, sent it to local social media groups and accused Shahzad of likening Muslims to pagans and disrespecting the Abrahamic tradition of animal sacrifice.

Though Shahzad made no comment in the post, inflammatory or otherwise, the situation became tense after Friday prayers when announcements were made from mosque loudspeakers telling people to gather for a protest, family sources previously told Morning Star News.

Fearing violence as mobs grew in the village, most Christian families fled their homes, leaving everything behind.

In a bid to restore order, the police registered a case against Shahzad under Sections 295-A and 298. Section 295-A relates to “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” and is punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years and fine, or both. Section 298 prescribes up to one year in prison and a fine, or both, for hurting religious sentiments.

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, up from eighth the previous year.

Morning Star News is the only independent news service focusing exclusively on the persecution of Christians. The nonprofit’s mission is to provide complete, reliable, even-handed news in order to empower those in the free world to help persecuted Christians, and to encourage persecuted Christians by informing them that they are not alone in their suffering.

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Individual + Team Stats: Hornets vs. Timberwolves

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CHARLOTTE HORNETS MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES You can follow us for future coverage by liking us on Facebook & following us on X: Facebook – All Hornets X – …

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