How a ‘carbon cage’ blocks climate mitigation

Screengrab from What is a 'Carbon Cage,' and why are you stuck in one right now?
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Fake Facebook accounts used to attack detained Moroccan journalists in coordinated online campaign

Members of the Tunisian Journalists Union expressing support of Radi and Raissouni on World Press Freedom Day in Tunis, Tunisia. Credit: Jdidi Wassim/SOPA Images/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News
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As press freedom deteriorates in Morocco, journalists face credibility attacks from fake Facebook accounts and government-aligned news outlets.

By Chris Tenove

Omar Radi likely knew his arrest was coming on July 29, 2020. For years, the state-aligned media had attacked Radi, one of only a few Moroccan journalists openly critical of the regime. Five days prior to Radi being taken into custody on questionable charges including undermining state security by receiving foreign funding and collaborating with foreign intelligence, and rape, the media outlet Chouf TV published an article calling for his arrest. This and other articles denouncing Radi were enthusiastically shared and liked by Facebook users. Some added comments calling Radi a “cursed traitor,” a “spy” and a “sellout.”

But many of these Facebook accounts were not what they seemed to be. An investigation by the US-based DFRLab, working with the Global Reporting Centre and Simon Fraser University’s Disinformation Project, identified a network of 43 Facebook accounts that used fake profiles, synchronized messaging, and other tactics as part of a coordinated online campaign to malign Omar Radi. In response to this investigation, Meta — Facebook’s parent company — took down the 43 accounts in May 2022. 

Radi was not the only Moroccan journalist facing this kind of harassment. The same network of 43 accounts also amplified an online campaign against Soulaimane Raissouni, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Akhbar al-Youm. Like Radi, Raissouni faced attacks from Chouf TV and other state-aligned news outlets before and after his arrest in May, 2020. Both journalists are now in prison on what the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports to be “trumped up sexual assault and ‘morals’ charges” following trials that violated due process standards. DFRLab published our team’s investigative report, which provides details about the situation.

Screenshots of comments by fake Facebook accounts on the July 2020 Chouf TV post, accompanied with translations by Ahmed Al-Rawi. (Source: Facebook)

Online smear campaigns used to stifle press freedom in Morocco

The online campaigns against Moroccan journalists occurred against a backdrop of declining press freedom in the country, according to CPJ and Reporters Without Borders. Radi, Raissouni, and five other Moroccan journalists are believed to have been targeted with spyware along with several human right activists and dissidents critical of the government.

Our joint investigation shows how social media platforms are used as tools to silence voices critical of the Moroccan government, and reveals how fake Facebook accounts are used to promote misleading and spurious claims about journalists. It also found:

  • Many accounts in the network used stock photos for Facebook profile pictures, “liked” each other’s identical posts, and posted similar content in close or identical time spans, including posts that amplified articles from state-aligned media sources.
  • The network targeting Radi and Raissouni also posted derogatory or misleading messages about human rights defenders, opposition politicians, and dissident YouTubers.
  • Meta took action on the 43 accounts identified by our investigation after determining they were linked to a previous network of 385 accounts, six Facebook pages, and 40 Instagram accounts that Meta deplatformed in February 2021.
  • Accounts in the network also posted misleading and spurious claims about efforts by Amnesty International and the Pegasus Project to expose the use of surveillance technologies to spy on journalists, human rights activists, and other critical voices.

This collaborative investigation is part of a larger Global Reporting Centre project examining efforts to discredit and harass journalists globally. We have partnered with the Committee to Protect Journalists and PEN Canada, along with the DFRLab, and Simon Fraser University’s Disinformation Project. If you would like to be notified when we release our findings in 2023, you can stay in the loop by subscribing to our newsletter.

Read the full report from DFRLab on Medium here.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Maria Ressa speaks on disinformation and democracy

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In conversation with Carol Off, journalist Maria Ressa reminds us that democracy is fragile.

“Disinformation is stripping away the foundations of what made democracy — of what made journalism.”

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa’s words were met with rapt silence from the packed auditorium at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts on Tuesday, September 13.

The evening started off on a celebratory note, with Ressa receiving an honorary degree from SFU. “Mom and dad, are you listening?” Ressa grinned at the audience, “I was supposed to be a doctor!”

As part of the SFU Speaker Series, co-hosted by SFU Public Square, the Ouano Foundation, and the Global Reporting Centre, Ressa spoke with journalist Carol Off, former host of CBC’s As It Happens, about “how democracy dies by a thousand cuts.” This is the overarching theme of her soon to be published book, How to Stand Up to a Dictator.

The book is a retrospective on Ressa’s experience reporting on former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s government and its disinformation cells. As the CEO, co-founder and President of Rappler, the country’s top digital news site, Ressa became the target of an ongoing organized harassment campaign by the Philippine government. She has since been arrested on at least seven charges related to exposing the government’s corrupt practices and was convicted of cyber-libel earlier this year. She is out on bail pending her appeal.

But the threat of a jail sentence hasn’t diminished her resolve. During the public event, Ressa highlighted the tangled threads of social media, propaganda, disinformation, and how they all combine to pose a threat to democracy.

Ressa explained how astroturfing, the practice of deceptive messaging designed to look like public sentiment, gains traction and legitimacy on social media, becoming a ‘fact’ weaponized against a target. “It’s hate on an exponential scale,” Ressa said, “something I now call behaviour modification. It’s free speech used to stifle free speech.”

Ressa explained what she sees as the key culprits — social media platforms where data collected for micro-targeting by advertisers can now be used for geopolitical power plays. Her investigations and data analysis at Rappler found that bad actors behave the same way in disinformation campaigns across the globe: in the Philippines at the height of the drug wars, in the UK during Brexit, and in the United States during the January 6th insurrection.

“They targeted both sides, pro and against, and they don’t care because they weren’t trying to make you believe in something. They were just trying to make you doubt everything.”

And this is why Ressa identifies the use of social media to spread disinformation, hate, and propaganda as the deadliest threat to democracy.

“The reason why we have democratically elected so many illiberal leaders is because our information ecosystem has been determined by the algorithmic choices of Facebook,” she said emphatically.

Midway through the conversation about fake news, alternate facts and disinformation, Off asked how journalists can continue to be watchdogs of society when their credibility is so diminished.

“‘How do we restore trust?’” Ressa repeated, “as if it’s in our power to do so,” highlighting how the industry is at the mercy of the tech platforms and lost a significant amount of autonomy when its distribution model moved to the internet.

Despite the marked somber tone that permeated the conversation — occasionally interrupted by Ressa’s humour, sharp insight, and wide grin — optimism and solutions were the focus towards the end of the discussion. On September 2, Ressa launched an action plan with nine fellow Nobel laureates, at The Nobel Peace Center’s Freedom of Expression Conference to address the world’s “information crisis.” The plan details an antitrust approach to technology platforms, pushes for data privacy, and calls to end surveillance for profit: a move that they believe would “put the guardrails in place” for democracy.

After sixty minutes of careful answers on the state of the world, Ressa’s vulnerability finally showed when Off gently enquired why she was going back to the Philippines, where if convicted, she would spend the rest of her life incarcerated. At first, Ressa brought up her fellow colleagues at Rappler, who could face the consequences in her stead. Then she reflected on her career as a journalist and what journalism meant to her.

“The baton was passed to me at a very bad time,” she laughed, “but I’m not going to drop it, and I’m going to hand it off to the next news head.”

She paused, and then her voice wavered,

“It’s because I believe in this. I believe in all of you.”

The standing ovation lasted a full minute.


Follow our work on disinformation campaigns targeting journalists here.

China’s capture of Ghana’s fishing industry threatening food security

Photo: Kwabena Adu Koranteng
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Read the story here.

An Evening with Jane Coop

November 13, 2022 | 6:30 – 9:30pm PST

In the spirit of the Global Reporting Centre’s thoughtful, deep-dive approach, we are hosting an intimate salon dinner with a group of thought leaders, journalists, and philanthropists to raise funds for the future of global journalism. The evening will feature fine dining and a private performance by renowned concert pianist Jane Coop, hosted in the private home of a foremost chamber musician. 

Tickets are $1,000 (eligible for tax receipt), and limited to 12 guests. Event proceeds will support the ongoing work of the Global Reporting Centre. Our current projects include a series of stories related to data privacy, surveillance technology, and the erosion of democratic accountability; a global investigation on how journalists are defamed and harassed globally; and food insecurity.

This exclusive musical salon is a one-of-a-kind event not to be missed.

For more information, please contact andrea.zeelievarga@globalreportingcentre.org.

WHAT’S THE HARM? CONSIDERING THE COMMUNITY IMPACTS OF HATE CRIME

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Dr. Barbara Perry, Director, Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism University of Ontario Institute of Technology

Dr. Perry has written extensively about inequality, justice and the motivations behind hate crimes. Her publications include Silent Victims: Hate Crime Against Native Americans (2008), Policing Race and Place: Under- and Over-policing in Indian Country (2009), Hate Crimes (2009), Diversity, Crime and Justice in Canada (2011) and Right-wing Extremism in Canada (co-authored 2019). Dr. Perry has made substantial contributions to scholarship on hate crime in Canada, including work on anti-Muslim violence, hate crime against LGBTQ communities, the community impacts of hate crime, and right-wing extremism. She has received awards from the American Society of Criminology (2009, 2020), the province of Ontario (2018), as well as visiting fellowships in the UK and New Zealand.

WHY ARE BABY BOOMERS KILLING THEMSELVES? FROM THE SUMMER OF LOVE TO THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT

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Mr. Don Gillmor, Award-winning journalist and author

Mr. Gillmor’s prolific production includes the two-volume Canada: A People’s History (2002) that appeared as a companion to the CBC series of that name, and his first novel, the critically acclaimed Kanata (2009). He has won eleven National Magazine awards as well as two Governor General’s awards. Yuck: A Love Story, one of his nine books for children, won the 2000 Governor-General’s Award for Children’s Literature. His book, To the River: Losing My Brother (2018), a study of his brother’s suicide and its impact on those left behind, was awarded the 2019 Governor-General’s Award for English-language non-fiction. Mr. Gillmor has been senior editor of The Walrus, and contributing editor for Saturday Night, Toronto Life, Rolling Stone, GQ, The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star.

[CANCELLED] EXPLORING THE HIDDEN EARTH – GROUNDWATERS AND DEEP SUBSURFACE LIFE 

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Dr. Barbara Sherwood Lollar, C.C., Dr. Norman Keevil Chair in Ore Deposits, Geology Professor in Earth Sciences, University of Toronto

Dr. Sherwood Lollar has revolutionized the development of innovative mechanisms for groundwater remediation. In 2013 Canadian Geographic magazine listed her among the Ten Canadians “Changing the World” for her discovery of the “billion-year-old water” and its implications for life on other planets. This discovery was recognized as one of the Top Ten Science Stories that year. Dr. Sherwood Lollar has been recipient of multiple distinguished awards including the 2021 Massey Medal from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the Canada Council Killam Prize in the field of Natural Sciences (2020), the 2019 Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering (NSERC’s highest honour), the 2019 C.C. Patterson Award for environmental chemistry, and the 2012 Eni Award in Protection of the Environment. She is an elected member of the U.S. National Academies (2021), a Fellow of the Royal Society of London (2019), the Royal Society of Canada (2004), the American Geophysical Union (2015), the Geochemical Society, the European Association of Geochemistry (2019), and the Royal Canadian Geographic Society (2019).

TECHNOLOGY + ART: HOW THE GOLDEN AGE OF TV DRAMA CAME ABOUT

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Mr. John Doyle, The Globe & Mail’s television critic

Mr. Doyle has appeared on numerous TV and radio programs to talk about popular culture, television, soccer, and Ireland. His essays have appeared in the Review section of the G&M since 1997, as well as the journal TV Quarterly. His writing has also appeared in Report on Business magazine, Elle Canada, Flare, En Route, Books in Canada, The Irish Times, and the Toronto Star. His columns and freelance articles have been reprinted in the US, UK and Australia, as well as his book, A Great Feast of Light: Growing Up Irish in the Television Age (2005). Mr. Doyle has covered World and Euro cup competitions since 2002. His book about soccer, The World is a Ball: The Joy, Madness, and Meaning of Soccer (2010) was a national bestseller and longlisted for The William Hill Irish Sports Book of The Year.

COLD WAR WITH CHINA: WHAT’S A UNIVERSITY TO DO?

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Dr. Paul Evans, Professor and HSBC Chair in Asian Research, UBC School of Public Policy and Global Affairs

Dr. Evans’ research and public diplomacy focus on relations between Canada and China, and on security issues and processes in the Asia Pacific region, and the emergence of techno-nationalism as a defining force in regional affairs. He was a co-founder of the Council for Security Cooperation in Asia Pacific, the Canadian Consortium on Human Security, and the Canada-Korea Forum, and was appointed by the Government of Canada to the ASEAN Regional Forum’s Experts and Eminent Persons (2012). Dr. Evans has directed research centres and programs at UBC, Harvard University, York University and the University of Toronto, and served as Co-CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. His books include The Asia-Pacific Security Lexicon (translated into six Asian languages) and Engaging China: Myth, Aspiration and Strategy in Canadian Policy from Trudeau to Harper (2014).

TREES TELL TALES: UBC’S CHANGING LANDSCAPES

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Shona Ellis, Professor of Teaching, Department of Botany, and Associate Head of Biology, University of British Columbia

An expert on the native plant life of British Columbia, Shona Ellis has restructured UBC’s Biology program, the largest undergraduate science program offered at UBC, by shifting instructional strategies to improve teaching and student advising, as well as integrating sustainability into the curriculum so students become informed global citizens. She has demonstrated outstanding achievement in advancing pedagogical innovation and leadership, reflective teaching practices and service to the general community. She has twice won both the Killam Teaching Award and the student directed Just Desserts Award. Her current projects include a study of spatial and temporal variation in the forest plant communities of Pacific Spirit Park.

THE ORIGIN OF MODERN SPECIES

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Dr. Dolph Schluter, O.B.C., C.M., Professor of Evolutionary Biology and Canada Research Chair, Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia

Professor Schluter is the world’s foremost authority on the role that ecology plays in the origin and divergence of new species. His work has fundamentally changed our understanding of evolution, revealing the ecological mechanisms driving speciation and probing the factors generating and maintaining biodiversity. His work has appeared in Evolution, Nature, Science, and Trends in Ecology and Evolution. With close to 50,000 citations to his research, Dr. Schluter has received the Sewall Wright Award and the Darwin-Wallace Medal. His long list of honours includes membership in the Royal Society of London, the Royal Society of Canada, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the US National Academy of Sciences. His current work focuses on the radiation of new species of threespine sticklebacks in lakes of coastal British Columbia. The species are among the youngest on earth and occur in lakes that are less than 12,000 years old.

TRAPPED INSIDE YOUR HEAD: AN ETHICS JOURNEY IN MODERN BIOMEDICINE FOR THE BRAIN

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Dr. Judy Illes, C.M., P.h.D., Professor of Neurology, Distinguished University Scholar and UBC Distinguished Scholar in Neuroethics, University of British Columbia

Dr. Illes’ research, teaching and outreach initiatives are devoted to ethical, legal, social and policy challenges at the intersection of the brain sciences and biomedical ethics. She writes frequently for the Vancouver Sun and The Conversation Canada, and hosts community outreach activities covering challenging ethical problems related to biomedicine and the brain. Dr. Illes is also co-lead of the Canadian Brain Research Strategy of the International Brain Initiative, and sits on numerous advisory boards, including as Vice Chair of the Institute for Neuroscience Mental Health and Addiction of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. She is a Director-at-Large of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the International Women’s Forum. Her latest books, a series on Developments in Neuroethics and Bioethics, feature pain, global mental health, do-it-yourself brain devices, neurolaw, and neuroarchitecture.

HOW TO PRONOUNCE KNIFE

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Dal Grauer Memorial Lecture | Ms. Souvankham Thammavongsa, Jack McClelland Writer in Residence, University of Toronto

Ms. Thammavongsa’s fiction pieces have appeared in outlets such as The New Yorker, Harper’s, Granta, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, The Walrus, and The New York Times Book Review. Her short story “Slingshot” published in Harper’s Magazine won the O. Henry Award in 2019. Her debut book of fiction, How to Pronounce Knife, won the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and was named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN America Open Book Award, the Danuta Gleed Award, and the Trillium Book Award, and one of Time’s Must-Read Books of 2020. The title story was a finalist for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Ms. Thammavongsa is also the author of four poetry books: Light (2013) winner of the Trillium Book Award for Poetry; Found (2007); Small Arguments (2003), winner of the ReLit Award; and, most recently, Cluster (2019).

Photo by Sarah Bodri