Facebook, Fake News and Verification

Facebook has a fake news problem. In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election as the 45th President of the United States, the social network has come under sustained criticism for failing to prevent the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Numerous articles have been written dissecting the phenomenon, the possible impact it had on the US election and what Facebook should be doing about it.

But what has been fundamentally missing from the discussion is the responsibility of users to verify the content they consume online; particularly on social media where content is shared by “trusted” friends and family. As an open source intelligence (OSINT) centre, our day-to-day work involves critically evaluating publicly available information to verify the accuracy, veracity and reliability of sources and content.  Continue reading

Iran’s Social Media Contradictions

The social media landscape in Iran is complex and contradictory. Some platforms, notably Facebook and Twitter, are banned while others, such as Facebook-owned Instagram, are not. Despite this, millions of young, tech-savvy Iranians, regularly access blocked platforms using virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxy servers. Adding to the contradictions, Ayatollah Khamenei rails against Western decadence yet like other senior Iranian leaders, he has official pages on Instagram and on the ostensibly banned Facebook and Twitter. Meanwhile, young Iranians use Instagram to post content that is antithetical to the regime’s morality and social norms and native social media platforms directly imitate or clone popular platforms while having suspiciously similar lists of “rules”. What explains all these contradictions in Iranian social media and the government’s attitude to it? Continue reading

Japan Shows off its Diplomatic Muscle

Post by David Cosolo, Research Intern at ICSA

With a rapidly changing regional context and increasing tension from neighbouring states, Japan’s foreign affairs plate is very full. In the last seven months, North Korean nuclear tests, incursions into territorial water by Chinese vessels, and planned construction of Russian military bases in the disputed Northern Territories, are just a sample of the activities undertaken by regional actors in East Asia. Japan has approached these arguably aggressive activities, and subsequent perceived rise in tension, by showing off its muscle. Not the traditional military kind, but rather an unprecedented display, in Japanese terms, of diplomatic soft power. Continue reading

Can Turkey Achieve its Domestic Nuclear Ambitions?

Post by Holly Mortimer, Research Intern at the International Centre for Security Analysis

As Turkey’s nuclear energy programme slowly progresses with the ceremonial ground breaking  for the first Russian-built plant at Akkuyu, and the ratification of the  intergovernmental agreement with Japan for the second plant at Sinop, President Erdogan and other senior government officials continue to promote the idea of a fully domestic nuclear capability. This ambition is in line with their wider domestic agenda ahead of the 2023 centenary of the Turkish Republic; widely interpreted as an attempt by the Justice and Development party (AKP) to drum up nationalistic support.

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United Arab Emirates: The Middle East’s Nuclear “Golden Child”?

Post by Rachel Hoffman,  Research Intern at the International Centre for Security Analysis.

A Google search for the phrase ‘middle east nuclear program’ yields numerous articles and discussions on the nuclear programmes of Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Unsurprisingly, Iran is the most prominent search result given the current negotiations between the country and the P5+1 over its nuclear programme. Interest in Israel’s highly suspected but as yet unacknowledged nuclear weapons programme has risen recently. This followed a proposal at the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference that would encourage steps to make the Middle East a nuclear weapon free zone, potentially compromising Israel’s strategic ambiguity. And recent comments by a handful of high-ranking officials suggesting Saudi Arabia may pursue nuclear weapons to combat Iran’s growing influence have captured international attention.

However, for those closely watching Middle Eastern nuclear programmes, one country seems conspicuously absent from these results – the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As of June 6th 2015, the one mention of the UAE’s rapidly developing nuclear energy programme in the first 32 pages of Google results is on page five, indicating how little attention the country’s nuclear ambitions have received within broader public discourse and popular media. The irony of this lack of attention is that the UAE is arguably pursuing the most transparent and well-documented Middle Eastern nuclear programme to date.

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