Jihad Selfies: British Extremists in Syria Love Social Media
After being publicly sacked by al Qaeda leader Aymann al-Zawahiri and accidentally beheadinga fighter from one of their main allies in Syria, it’s fair to say the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)’s PR campaign has suffered in recent weeks. So, like any half decent group of militant extremists, they obviously want to address this slip. Unfortunately, a traditional media outreach is very difficult for them, given ISIS’s policy of kidnapping journalists. So they’ve turned, like many before them, to social media.
Over the past few weeks, foreign fighters from ISIS and their subgroup the Muhajireen Brigade have been busy uploading selfies across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, in an effort to publicize their cause and win more recruits to the Syrian jihad. They offer a bizarre and fascinating look inside Syria’s most feared and least understood militant groups.
On paper, the Muhajireen Brigade are separate to ISIS, but they’re considered by some analysts to be a front group for the larger jihadist outfit. The social media evidence seems to support this view.
This picture (above) shows British fighter Ibrahim al-Mazwagi in battle with Omar Shishani, a Georgian Chechen who formerly led the Muhajireen Brigade, and is now ISIS’s military commander in Northern Syria.
Al-Mazwagi was killed in battle in February, aged 21. This is a collage made to honor him as a martyr, along with his friend and fellow casualty, Abu Qudama.
Above are two other recent British martyrs, Choukri Ellekhlifi, 22, and Mohammed el-Araj, 23. The pair are shown here at a jihadist internet café in Atmeh, a Syrian border town that is now firmly under ISIS control.
Look through your Facebook feed and chances are you’ll find a bunch of half-truths, conspiracies, and chain letter–quality hoaxes sharing space with links to reputable news stories. In the past month, I’ve come across links to an article about Chinese people eating soup made of human fetus (a retread of an old racist rumor), a story about how former Liberian president Charles Taylor was a CIA agent (this one was actually reported by the Boston Globe, but later pretty much completely retracted), and a tale of a lesbian ex-Marine waitress who got stiffed on a tip by a homophobic couple (the couple now claims they gave her an ample tip; it’s not clear who is lying or what is going on).
With the exception of that last story, it would have been pretty easy for the sharers to do a quick Google search and determine that the OMG or WTF item they were about to post was outdated or untrue. The whole point of the internet is that you have pretty much the sum total of human knowledge sitting at your fingertips! It takes TWO SECONDS to research the thing you are thinking about sharing and find out that the Daily Currant is a shitty satire site, or that there is no“Abortionplex,” or that those “legal notices” your friends are posting on Facebook don’t do anything—yet even journalists and others who should know better fall for this crap.
Don’t Have People in Blackface at Your Birthday Party
Welcome to another edition of This Week in Racism. I’ll be ranking news stories on a scale of 1 to RACIST, with “1” being the least racist and “RACIST” being the most racist.
-An Australian girl currently known only as “Olivia” became internet infamous this week for posting a bunch of photos from her "Africa"-themed 21st birthday party. In Australia, I guess “Africa-themed” parties traditionally include plenty of racist caricatures of black people, dudes in gorilla costumes, and a dude in a KKK outfit. If you haven’t had your eyeballs melted by these pictures yet, please prepare to lose your ability to see the majesty of human existence!
Still trying to figure out what a Klansman is doing at an African-themed birthday party. You can’t tell a black person to “go back to Africa” if they’re already there.
An elephant never forgets… unless we’re talking about remembering to respect ethnic minorities!
Please note the title of the album on Facebook was “This is My Africa.” I’ve never been to Africa, but if it’s as lame as this party looks, then you can have it, baby.
The girl who threw the party issued a statement on her Tumblr, which was subsequently deleted. In the statement, she offered a rebuttal to anyone who dared be offended by her friends’ decision to buy all the grease paint and Darque Tan oil in Australia and apply it to their faces:
"I am 100% sure that parties would be held that would be ‘Australian themed’ or American themed or even countries of the world, and in that instance I don’t believe anyone would be offended. People wear oktoberfest cotumes [sic] to parties and no one cracks it that they are not German?"
I am 100 percent sure that if I had an Australian-themed party, I wouldn’t paint my face white. But that just might be because I hate costume parties. RACIST
We’re staunchly anti-parody accounts here at VICE Mag Tumblr, but we’ll make an exception for this one, because it’s about us. Some of @vice_is_hip's tweets are too silly (and its handle is dumb), but there's some solid headlines there too. They'll probably all end up as real articles.
We Talked to the Syrian Electronic Army About Yesterday’s Hacks of the New York Times and Twitter
VICE: How did you gain access to the DNS of the companies you targeted? And why did you go after Twitter—aren’t there many people on Twitter against potential US intervention?
Th3Pr0: We hit Melbourne IT and gained access to all the company domains, however we attacked Twitter after they closed our account 15 time and we did warned them.
Last time we spoke, you said the Syrian Electronic Army had no contact with the Syrian government. Is that still the case?
We contacted the Syrian government lately to deliver the databases of Viber.com,Tango.com, and TrueCaller.com.
And why would these websites be important to the Syrian government?
Huge numbers of terrorists use Viber and Tango for contacting (communication).
Tell us more about the recent website attacks. They are much more advanced than your previous ones.
We have many types of attacks and we use a certain type depending on the target and how secure it is.
Who do you feel is responsible for the chemical attacks?
Of course the terrorist groups like AlNusra and the FSA, as commanded by the USA to be the means and justification to strike Syria militarily.
What evidence do you have to support your view?
The Syrian army won’t/wouldn’t use chemical weapons, and a military official has stated that this is political suicide. In addition, the fast progress by the Syrian army in Al-Ghouta.
Facebook and Censorship’s Slippery Slope
The First Amendment is great, huh? It gives people the right to (mostly) say whatever they like, because the lawyers and landholders who wrote the Constitution recognized that democracy requires people to debate and share opinions without worrying about reprisals or censorship from the government. The cost of this is that you have to allow people to hold racist protests and draw pictures of animals with human sex parts and so on, but allowing people to hold and share beliefs that most people find abhorrent or stupid is how we know we are free. Ayn Rand once said, by way of defending pornography, “Every infringement of human rights has begun with a suppression of a given right’s least attractive practitioners.” We should be free to write and say whatever we want, even if we’re pornographers, racists, or fans of Ayn Rand’s books.
We don’t have those same rights on Facebook, however.
Facebook isn’t just a cool place for you to hang out and chat with your buddies and share hot new content you found surfing the World Wide Web. It’s a platform owned by a massive corporation that makes money off of advertising and can do pretty much whatever it likes with the stuff you post on it. Which isn’t to say Facebook is evil, exactly, but it’s not your friend, and it’s not under any legal obligation to protect speech or use its site to say whatever you like. Zuckerberg and company get to decide what is and is not permissible on their property, and since they own the internet’s second-most-popular site, that gives them a lot of power.
In practice, Facebook uses this power to make itself as advertiser-friendly as possible. This means they suspend users for posting NSFW content and remove photos of “offensive” body parts like dicks and female nipples. They’ve also taken down aggressively racist content and videos of extreme violence. The arguments for banning these kinds of content are simple—Facebook is used by children and millions of users who are offended by that nasty stuff, and the website is supposed to be a place that “helps you connect and share with the people in your life,” not a free-for-all where hate groups can organize and broadcast their poison.
VICE: What made you decide to hack the Onion this week after spending so much time targeting serious news organizations?
The Shadow: We are well aware of the satirical nature of the Onion, but this does not detract from the fact that the basis of their “humor” was rooted in the narrative promoted by most major corporate media. What convinced us to make our move was an article titled “The Onion Website Joins the U.S. Anti-Syria Club" by Shamus Cooke that details how the Onion can be a more effective wartime propaganda tool than even “serious” and seemingly credible media. The irresponsible promotion of chemical weapons claims and attribution of all the mayhem in Syria on the one side attempting to keep order is very much an assumption of their focus on Syria. This is why the majority of informed people do not find such articles funny.
Why did you accuse the Onion of taking “Zionist money” in exchange for defaming Syria?
We have various tactics when we penetrate a media outlet. For the Onion, we decided to loosely follow their style. We do not seriously suggest any kind of money transfer from unnamed “Zionist” sources, we realize it is more likely that the Onion follows the corporate line as a matter of ideology. During the Second World War, both the Germans and the Americans used satire to attack one another. The Onion serves the same sort of wartime role that the Disney anti-German short films did back then.
What do you think about the Onion's response?
Many readers found it in poor taste. One Twitter user responded with a simple “yikes.” This reaction was exactly what we were hoping for, as the writer placed all their anger in it, dropping the mask of the real situation in Syria. The rebels were depicted in the exact same manner as reality, so it cannot really be classified as satire except with one difference—the Syrian army will win and we don’t have a “base” that can be attacked.
—We spoke to an alleged member of the Syrian Electronic Army about hacking The Onion’s Twitter. Full interview
Meet the Man Behind @DadBoner
Twitter has also held a greal deal of fascination for me. As someone with a lowly amount of followers, it has always geeked me out knowing that you can @ or talk to someone that you would never have the opportunity to speak to in real life.
For some reason or another I have always held a great amount of respect for Michigan. I started following Karl Welzein née @DadBoner just to get my lowest-common denominator kicks. With tweets like “Starbucks acts like they’re so fancy. You sell hot black water and muffins. Calm down.” and “Never understood why people count how many drinks they have. A real man drinks by body feel. More natural. Boozin’ ain’t math, you guys” I knew I had to met this man some day. By the time our series My Life Online rolled around I knew the man behind this satirical masterpiece would be perfect for the show. I looked online and saw that Ology and Deadspin had discovered that a comedian named Mike Burns was DadBoner, but Mike had neither confirmed nor denied if that was the case. I was intrigued. I saw that Mike was repped by Creative Artists Agency and did a cold call to the offices general LA number. In what only can be defined as sheer luck, I was put on a conference call with Mike Burns and his agent who then told me he would give me the DadBoner exclusive (whatever that means.)
When I met Mike outside his apartment in Echo Park he seemed tired and a bit rough around the edges. He eyed me warily as only a veteran of the comedy and entertainment world can. He smoked a cigarette and asked me what we should do. It seemed fitting that Mike was the man behind this gluttonous, out there twitter feed. Karl could say all the things that Mike wanted to but couldn’t say in his own voice (for fear of retribution). It later occurred to me that every one of us might have a Karl inside; Mike is just more wanton to let him out.
I traveled out to LA for Click. Print. Gun and Jerome LOL and, as it turned out, to have some drinks and get to know Mike and his crew. We watched WWE, drank some domestos (that means beer), and talked about the internet as it relates to comedy. I like to think of it as a tragicomedy.
—Erin Lee Carr
Read Karl’s posts on Vice.com here.