Censoring Syria Videocracy and the Cyberwar for Your Mind

With Russian and Syrian pro-government forces taking action in the Idlib Governate located in the far northwest corner of Syria as shown in red on this map:

…one of America’s most powerful companies has seen fit to remove certain Syrian government and news agency websites from YouTube.

Here’s what you will now see on the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) channel:

Here’s what you will now see on the Syrian Ministry of Defense channel:

Here’s what you will now see on the SamaTV news channel:

SamaTV is a television station located in Damascus.  If you can understand Arabic, SamaTV’s webpage can be accessed here.

Apparently, Google (the proud owner of YouTube) has also shuttered the Syrian President’s YouTube channel as well as the Ortas channel (the main broadcaster for both television and radio in Syria better known as the Organization of Syrian Arab Radio and TV).

It isn’t clear whether these takedowns were related to Google’s recent termination of YouTube channels, blogs on Blogger and Google+ accounts that it claims were linked to Iran.  Here’s what Google terminated:

1.) 39 YouTube channels that had a whopping 13,466 total U.S. views on relevant videos.

2.) 6 blogs on Google’s Blogger platform.

3.) 13 Google+ accounts.

I find it rather amazing that all of this effort went into censoring 39 YouTube channels that had under 14,000 hits from American users (assuming that none of these hits appeared to be American because viewers were using an American server on their VPN) 

Google claims that their Threat Analysis Group along with partners at Jigsaw and Google’s Trust and Safety Team have worked together to identify influence operations launched by foreign governments.  In particularly, they have noted an “influence campaign from Iran” as stated here:

To complement the work of our internal teams, we engage FireEye, a leading cybersecurity group, and other top security consultants, to provide us with intelligence. For the last two months, Google and Jigsaw have worked closely with FireEye on the influence operation linked to Iran that FireEye identified this week. We’re grateful to FireEye for identifying some suspicious Google accounts (three email accounts, three YouTube channels, and three Google+ accounts), which we swiftly disabled. FireEye’s full report has just been published today. It’s worth reading.

In addition to the intelligence we received from FireEye, our teams have investigated a broader range of suspicious actors linked to Iran who have engaged in this effort. We’ve updated U.S. lawmakers and law enforcement about the results of our investigation, including its relation to political content in the United States. We wanted to provide a summary of what we told them.

Our technical research has identified evidence that these actors are associated with the IRIB, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.

We can’t go into all the technical details without giving away information that would be helpful to others seeking to abuse our platforms, but we have observed the following:

1.) Technical data associated with these actors is strongly linked to the official IRIB IP address space.

2.) Domain ownership information about these actors is strongly linked to IRIB account information.

3.) Account metadata and subscriber information associated with these actors is strongly linked to the corresponding information associated with the IRIB, indicating common ownership and control.

These facts, taken together with other technical signals and analysis, indicate that this effort was carried out as part of the overall operations of the IRIB organization, since at least January 2017. This finding is consistent with internet activity we’ve warned about in recent years from Iran….

Actors engaged in this type of influence operation violate our policies, and we swiftly remove such content from our services and terminate these actors’ accounts. Additionally, we use a number of robust methods, including IP blocking, to prevent individuals or entities in Iran from opening advertising accounts.

Apparently, censorship under the guise of protecting gullible social media users has become a regular feature of the post-truth Information Age.  What is extremely concerning about these developments is that we have no choice but to accept the word of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and other major companies with a social platform bent that are concerned that their users see only one side of Washington’s narrative about Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria and God knows who else.  The fact that these major players in cyberspace are headquartered in the United States should give us cause to ponder the neutrality of their banning and removal operations.  After all, history has shown that conquering forces almost always try to control the media as a key part of taking over a nation.    The recent developments at Google’s YouTube show us that we are now living in a videocracy and that, yes, there is a cyberwar on for your mind.  The truth is out there; now you just have to work harder to find it.

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