Online fake news and hate speech are fueling tribal 'genocide' in South Sudan

Online fake news and hate speech are fueling tribal 'genocide' in South Sudan

Public Radio International

South Sudan became the world’s newest country in 2011. But since breaking from Sudan, it’s been riven by its own internal conflicts between clan groups, minor warlords and government factions.

Earlier this month, the United Nations World Food Program discovered three of its workers were killed there. The violence has gotten so bad that a senior British official has made the rare move by a foreign government of calling it outright tribal “genocide.”

Meanwhile, internet monitors are watching very closely. Online hate speech and fake news posts seem to be inciting some of the real world violence, according to researchers and activists.

“There’s a huge potential for genocide using the mechanism of social media to drive the conflict,” says Stephen Kovats, a founder of #DefyHateNow, a nonprofit working to counter online hate speech in South Sudan.

In South Sudan, “inflammatory rhetoric, stereotyping and name calling have been accompanied by targeted killings and rape of members of particular ethnic groups, and by violent attacks against individuals or communities on the basis of their perceived political affiliation,” says a November report by Adama Dieng, the United Nations special adviser on the prevention of genocide. “The media, including social media, are being used to spread hatred and encourage ethnic polarization.”

Basra PeaceTech Camp concludes with support of four projects supporting integrity and transparency

Basra PeaceTech Camp concludes with support of four projects supporting integrity and transparency

FactinIraq.com

The PeaceTech Camp (PTXIraq), organized by the Sanad Foundation for Peacebuilding in Iraq, was concluded in Basra on Friday with the participation of more than 30 civil society organizations and five days of activity at the Basra International Hotel Hall.

"Peace Camp PTXIraq, in which more than 30 civil society organizations took part, included the training of participants on eight important techniques related to data documentation, interactive maps and the best use of platforms, community outreach, and industry," said Firas Al-Abbasi. "Press can record stories using smart phones, and implement programs related to integrity and transparency using those technologies. "

Hate Speech Lexicon in South Sudan

Hate Speech Lexicon in South Sudan

El Pais

Social Media fuels war in a country on the brink of genocide.

The Lexicon is the first to identify the terms used to incite violence.

There are words that kill. In the case of South Sudan, social media has emerged as a new source of ethno-political conflict. According to the United Nations and international experts, South Sudan is at the brink of genocide and has been plagued with famine throughout the region this year. Ethnic conflict has erupted since December 2013 amongst parties that are aligned with President Salva Kiir of the Dinka tribe, against those aligned with Former Vice President Riek Machar, of the Nuer tribe. Although South Sudan is among the world’s least developed countries and about 70% of its population is illiterate, hate speech and fake news disseminates through the internet and spreads violence to regions that don’t even have electricity. Local and international organizations have responded to the gravity of situation through their work. One result of this collective effort is the Lexicon of Hate Speech Terms which is the first of its kind to identify the vocabulary used to incite violence of social media.

“Until now, we only searched for words like kill, Dinka and Nuer to identify hate speech in social media. Now we can turn to new vocabulary and hashtags and follow their path from the diaspora to South Sudan,” explains Theo Dolan, the Director of PeaceTech Lab Africa and spokesperson for the lexicon. This NGO supported by the United States Institute of Peace has an office in Nairobi (Kenya) and has worked with South Sudanese in-country and in different parts of the world to define each expression, place it into social and political context, and suggest respectful alternatives. The project has three objectives: help organizations that fight hate speech identify terms and counter them; spread awareness amongst social media users about the danger of provocative language; and to promote the use of neutral words that allow the South Sudanese to express their frustration without undermining the dialogue. Based on this lexicon, PeaceTech Lab has released maps showing the common platforms used to spread hate speech, the influential users that incite conflict, and visualizations to track the use of provocative language on social media. These resources are accessible to international organizations to help with decision making. “Understanding and mapping hate speech helps us predict and alert on potential violence,” adds Dolan.

17 in 17: Partnerships for the Sustainable Development Goals

17 in 17: Partnerships for the Sustainable Development Goals

GLOBAL PARTNERSHIPS WEEK SUMMIT 2017

“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.” -Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

 

The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda is a visionary mission for global development—one that requires the immediate efforts of governments, NGOs, and businesses to bridge the capacity gap and achieve scale.

But how does one even begin to plan for 2030? Especially at a time when it seems impossible to anticipate what lies ahead in upcoming days and weeks, let alone years.

Recognizing the need to both “dream big” and act with urgency, the Global Partnerships Week on SDG Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals will examine what leaders across the public-private spectrum can do now to promote the spirit of innovation and technical ability needed to fulfill the mission outlined by the United Nations.

Sawa Shabab (Together Youth) Returns to the Radio in South Sudan

Sawa Shabab (Together Youth) Returns to the Radio in South Sudan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The New Season of the Popular Radio Drama for Youth Promotes Peace amidst Violent Conflict

FEBRUARY 2, 2017, JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN- Sawa Shabab (Together Youth), a peacebuilding
radio drama produced locally by Ammalna in partnership with PeaceTech Lab and the United States Institute of Peace, returns this week for Season 3 on Radio Miraya, Catholic Radio Network, and Internews community radio stations, among other local stations. The season premiere comes at a critical time, as reemerging violence, dire economic conditions and increasing displacement threaten to upend the world’s newest nation.

“Youth are bearing the brunt of the conflict right now, much of which is being inflamed by online hate speech. Sawa Shabab gives them space to wrestle with issues like unity and identity, while still expressing a positive vision for their country. We’ve been amazed by the response through SMS, social media, and community groups forming around the show’s key themes,” said PeaceTech Lab Africa Director, Theo Dolan.

C5 Partners open application process for world’s first peacetech accelerator

For Immediate Release

C5, PeaceTech Lab and Amazon Web Services will employ a mentoring programme and cloud computing to scale up companies and organisations creating technology for use in conflict zones

Washington, D.C. 19 December, 2016 – C5 Capital Limited (C5), the London-headquartered technology investment specialist focused on investing in cloud, cyber and big data today announced that it is now accepting applications from startups and not-for-profits working in peacetech for its new Washington DC-based scalerator, powered by Amazon Web Services (“AWS”) in partnership with PeaceTech Lab. This is the first major international peacetech program powered by cloud innovation and dedicated to scaling start-ups around the world. 

'Sawa Shabab': Youth together for peace

'Sawa Shabab': Youth together for peace

Radio Tamazuj

Francis first heard an episode of Sawa Shabab (Together Youth), the peace building radio drama, in 2014 when he was studying at the university in Wau, in Western Bahr el Ghazal.

The drama resonated with him. It was highly entertaining and presented the lives of South Sudanese youth he could identify with. Following the political violence that erupted in December 2013, he recognised that the programme was also about youth who were taking responsibility to resolve conflict themselves within their own communities.

Francis didn’t simply listen, he responded to the question posed to the audience at the end of the show by calling in and having a conversation with the Sawa Shabab team. He also texted a message after the next episode and again the following week. He was hooked.

Churchgoers massacred as attacks rage across borders

Churchgoers massacred as attacks rage across borders

The Times

Nearly 150 people were killed in a bloody weekend of terror attacks across five countries, with churchgoers, children, market shoppers and football fans among those slaughtered.

The weekend of mayhem comes at the close of a bloody year in which more than 15,000 people have been killed in 1,683 separate terrorist attacks worldwide, according to data from the US-based monitoring group PeaceTech Lab. Civilians are increasingly the victims in wars that are playing out in streets and places of worship as much as on traditional battlefields.

Research launched to map Online Hatespeech in South Sudan

Radio Miraya FM

A team of researchers from the PeaceTech Lab Africa, created by the United States institute of Peace – USIP, are undertaking research into the impact of online hate speech and how social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube have been used to generate and incite hatred.

The research stems from concerns that “countries with rapidly expanding Internet access, such as South Sudan, are also experiencing the spread of online rumors, misinformation, and targeted attacks to exploit political or ethnic differences,” says Theo Dolan, the Director of Peace Tech Lab Africa.

Speaking to Radio Miraya Breakfast show, Dolan stressed that online hate speech spread through personal and family networks, and it spreads fast – information can flow very quickly from a diaspora community in Australia to the US and back to South Sudan.

He explains what researchers seek to achieve.

Research Launched to Map Online Hate Speech in South Sudan

Research Launched to Map Online Hate Speech in South Sudan

UNMISS | UN MISSION IN SOUTH SUDAN

A team of researchers from the PeaceTech Lab Africa, created by the United States institute of Peace – USIP, are undertaking research into the impact of online hate speech and how social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube have been used to generate and incite hatred.

The research stems from concerns that “countries with rapidly expanding Internet access, such as South Sudan, are also experiencing the spread of online rumors, misinformation, and targeted attacks to exploit political or ethnic differences,” says Theo Dolan, the Director of Peace Tech Lab Africa.

“A lot of online hate speech disseminated by the diaspora communities through platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and whatsapp, is captured by the social media users”.

Speaking to Radio Miraya Breakfast show, Dolan stressed that online hate speech spread through personal and family networks, and it spreads fast – information can flow very quickly from a diaspora community in Australia to the US and back to South Sudan.

Preliminary findings

A lexicon is being generated from this research, and Dolan hopes it will serve as a useful resource for people and organizations involved in monitoring and countering hate speech.

“With more contexts around why these terms are inflammatory, people will have a better idea of how to combat the problem’, Dolan believes.

 “The resulting hate speech lexicon will be plugged into software tools to map online influencers and track the historic uses of key inflammatory terms,” Dolan explained.

How social media undermined Egypt's democratic transition

How social media undermined Egypt's democratic transition

THE WASHINGTON POST

Egypt’s 2011 uprising has become synonymous with the successful use of social media to overthrow an entrenched authoritarian regime. Popular and academic literature hold it up as the paradigm of social media’s effects on contentious politics. Activists from Bahrain and Turkey to Ukraine and St. Louis learned and applied Egyptian protest tactics such as setting up encampments in public space, preparing ways to resist police attacks, organizing protest locations and times on Facebook groups, and rapidly disseminating videos and images of protests to mass media.

But it is equally significant that Egypt’s attempted transition to democracy after the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak ended in violent political polarization and a military coup. Did social media also contribute to the failure of democratic consolidation? What does this mean for future attempts at democratic transition, given that they will probably unfold in heavily socially mediated societies, too? In a new report in the Blogs and Bullets series for PeaceTech Lab, we use unique Twitter and Facebook data to explore how social media contributed to the spread of polarization and fear in Egypt that undermined its transition.

PeaceTech Lab Welcomes ChannelsTV Nigeria CEO John Momoh as First International Board Member

September 28, 2016, WASHINGTON, DC- PeaceTech Lab has taken another step towards securing its position as an international leader in the use of technology, media, and data to accelerate local peacebuilding efforts with the addition of ChannelsTV CEO John Momoh of Lagos, Nigeria as its newest board member.

“John Momoh has long served as a distinguished voice of Nigeria, with a career spanning 37 years of broadcast media and journalism and numerous accolades reflecting both his journalistic expertise and integrity,” stated Chairman of the Board and former IBM Executive, Nicholas M. Donofrio. “We are thrilled John has agreed to join the PeaceTech Lab Board and add his voice to the growing PeaceTech movement.”

Board Member and former Undersecretary of State Tara Sonenshine agreed, “The inextricable link between media and conflict is that information is the oxygen with which a civil society breathes. We must have media experts working to ensure that civil society exists and remains free of conflict. It’s wonderful to welcome John to our Board.”

John Momoh is founder and CEO of the Channels Media Group, which operates Channels TV,  Nigeria’s leading independent news and information network. Prior to founding Channels TV in 1995, Mr. Momoh worked variously as a news anchor, senior reporter and senior producer for the Nigerian Television Authority. He is a graduate of the University of Lagos with a Master’s degree in International Law and Diplomacy and a B.Sc (with honours) in Mass Communication. In August 2016, Mr. Momoh was named Chairman of the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria, the country’s premier media association comprising a broad coalition of some 250 public and private radio and TV stations. He is the first private-sector media executive to hold the position.

PeaceTech Lab CEO and President, Sheldon Himelfarb, highlighted the significance of the Lab’s first international board member: “John Momoh brings the perspective of someone quite literally on the frontlines of conflict, who has been innovative in the use of media to increase accountability and foster positive change over the course of his career.”

Mr. Momoh expressed his appreciation, saying, “PeaceTech Lab fills a timely, critical need in efforts to combat violence and extremism around the world by leveraging people, tools, and an understanding of how technology, media, and data can reinforce peacebuilding efforts from the ground up. ChannelsTV is committed to expanding the use of data and technology to better support our journalists in the field, and I am proud to be working together to make that vision a reality.”

In March, PeaceTech Lab and ChannelsTV signed an agreement to develop the first independent Hausa-language news service aimed at strengthening the information environment in Nigeria’s northern Hausa and Fulani regions, where intensified terrorist activity carried out by Boko Haram extremists threatens Nigeria’s political and economic stability. Ranked as the deadliest terrorist organization in the world by the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, Boko Haram has contributed to a 300% increase in Nigerian deaths related to terrorism since 2014. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and largest economy according to the 2015 IMF World Economic Outlook report.  

About Channels Television Called “a network built on trust” by Financial Times, Channels is one of the leading private-sector media outlets on the African continent and has been groundbreaking in the Nigerian media space with many notable firsts including: winning the Best TV Station of the Year a record 10 times, first to stream its news and programs live on the internet, first to interface with followers via Twitter and first to create mobile apps on various platforms.

About PeaceTech Lab PeaceTech Lab works for individuals and communities affected by conflict, using technology, media, and data to accelerate local peacebuilding efforts. An independent non-profit organization, the Lab’s mission is to amplify the power of peacetech to save lives through earlier warnings and smarter responses to violence. The Lab’s programs emphasize a data-driven, cross-sector approach, engaging everyone from student engineers and citizen journalists to Fortune 500 companies in scaling the impact of peacetech.

Download full release .pdf

Download full release .doc

Extremists are turning Twitter and Facebook into theatres of War

New Scientist

IN NOVEMBER 2015, an ISIS operative shot and killed two US military contractors in Amman, Jordan. Last week, their families filed their third lawsuit against Twitter.

They are blaming the social network for the attack. “For years, Twitter knowingly and recklessly provided ISIS with accounts on its social network,” they claim in their complaint. “Through this provision of material support, Twitter enabled ISIS to acquire the resources needed to carry out numerous terrorist attacks.”

Twitter and Facebook have become theatres of war. In a report released earlier this year, the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence outlined how social networks allow states and militant groups to “blur the distinction between peace-time and war-time activities”. Thanks to social networks, they now have not clear if this is coming from them or us. If it’s us, could make this a new paragraph new ways to share propaganda, recruit people to their cause and steal information.

Some of this activity is carried out by people with fake identities, some by bots that make spam posts. For example, they can flood popular hashtags with messages promoting a particular cause or ridiculing opponents.

The report also documents incidents of “catfishing”: the use of fake profiles of attractive women to befriend people. The Taliban has reportedly used this trick to tease information out of Australian soldiers on Facebook. But it is ISIS that exemplifies this modern approach to extremism, relying heavily on social media to spread its message and recruit supporters around the world.

Click here to read full article.

Director of PeaceMedia and PeaceTech Lab Africa, Theo Dolan, on training Ethiopian Journalists

This transcript is from an interview conducted by Kibrom Worku of AfroFM News in Addis Ababa.

The role of the media in maintaining good governance and accountability is immense.

This was disclosed at a recent training for media personnel based in Addis Ababa. The US Embassy here in Addis Ababa organized the training. The government, the public, civil society, academia and the media are key stakeholders in ensuring good governance and accountability. And the media interconnects all these stakeholders creating the very strong nexus. Afro FM had an exclusive interview with, Director of Peace media and PeaceTech lab Africa, Theo Dolan. Mr. Dolan talked about the very purpose of the training.

“The purpose was to inform journalists here in Addis-- and I was also in Bahir Dar-- to help them understand how the media can support good governance and accountability. I was just trying to present a broad frame work with some examples, taken from different countries to show media’s role and really the impression I got was that there is a lot of room for media coverage of social accountability. How media can create a space for diverse voices and raise issues of good governance at the community level so, to help encourage governments to do more and support those kinds of initiative. ”

Theo also spoke about his experience on the area and what he brought to Ethiopian journalists.

“I have worked for the last 15 years with many media professional around the world and to support independent media and support capacity building for journalists, producers and media managers. And specifically in Africa at peace tech lab we work local partners in south Sudan to produce peace building radio drama for youth and we also look at research on hate speech and online hate speech to help them understand what kind of terminology is being used online. And what sorts of trends online hate speeches can lead to, to violence on ground” The director of peace media said that the role of the media goes two ways.

“I think media stands at a the critical nexus, between being able to provide accountability for the government as the watch dog also for social accountability and being able to provide voice for citizens that might not otherwise have it and with that come responsibility. Of course media have to be professional and ethical in their coverage. Otherwise there audience the general public could be damaged by in accurate reporting. In general I think the media has a critical role and need to be supported.”

Various media personnel from different media outlets in Addis Ababa participated in the training. Report by Kibrom Worku.

Giving peacetech a chance

Last year, in Abu Dhabi, a group of young coders participated in an event its organizers called a Haqqathon. “Haqq” is the Arabic word for truth, an appropriate term for a gathering aimed at mobilizing Muslim programmers to fight Islamic extremism. The winner: a mobile app allowing young people to receive answers to questions from authoritative Muslim scholars in millennial-friendly, 60-second video clips, a far cry from the hour-long treatises typically presented by the experts. “This is a way for their teachings to get through to the Twitter generation," says Shahed Amanullah, co-founder of Affinis Labs, a Falls Church, Va.–based startup accelerator and organizer of the event.

Amanullah is one of a growing number of people world-wide, working in a fledgling field called peacetech. The particular solutions vary widely, from creating mobile apps that help young Muslims connect with scholars, to crowdsourcing data about checkpoints in Aleppo. But the overall movement, “aims to empower peacebuilders around the world through technology,” says Derek Caelin, who works with Washington, D.C.-based PeaceTech Lab.

Click here to read full article.

Death of a survey

Before the global development community is plunged into a collective moment of panic, let us clarify: the survey is not dead. Or as “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” fans might say, not dead yet.

For many years, the survey has been a tool of both choice and necessity for development. This has been partially driven by the high cost and specialized technical expertise required for alternative forms of data collection and visualization.

The result is that decision-making based on big data and sentiment analysis has often been the purview of senior officials at major organizations — a top-down phenomenon we sometimes refer to as “Data for Superman.”

Yet the dynamics are changing. The arrival of mobile phones and social media in drought-, disease- and conflict-afflicted areas opens up a brand new window into human behavior. Now, technologists and health professionals such as the ones at HealthMap can track the global spread of diseases such as Ebola and Zika with up to 96 percent accuracy by automatically aggregating more than 200,000 data sources, including Twitter and news reports.

On the conflict prevention front, PeaceTech Lab has launched a tracking and reporting tool called the Open Situation Room Exchange, which provides country-specific visualizations of fragility by mapping everything from protests and violence against civilians, to online news and social media trends.

Click here to read full article.

5 Q's for Noel Dickover, Technical Director of Global Network Strategies at PeaceTech Lab

The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Noel Dickover, technical director of global network strategies at PeaceTech Lab, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) based in Washington, D.C. Dickover discussed the value of getting data into the hands of humanitarian workers on the ground, rather than just the leadership, as well as the importance of making this data usable in combating violent extremism.

Joshua New: PeaceTech Lab was created by the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), an independent federal institution, to use data and technology to help prevent and mitigate violent conflict. Why was there a need to improve how data is used in this space?

Noel Dickover: USIP created PeaceTech Lab to apply media, technology, and data in preventing violent conflict and promoting secure and peaceful societies around the world. Starting in 2008, the Lab’s work began as a Center of Innovation within USIP.  Now an independent non-profit organization, the Lab shares USIP’s physical space and benefits from the Institute’s 30-years of expertise in peacebuilding, while pioneering new ways to achieve the Lab’s own mission. The PeaceTech Lab provides tech, media, and data tools and training to peacebuilders and their allies to enable them to be more effective. We work in conflict zones to build and sustain networks of local technologists and peacebuilders interested in addressing violent conflict. The data focus allows us to engage in two-way information sharing relationships with these folks on the ground. From a situational awareness standpoint, the hope is to combine a big data view with a local network and local data to get far more granular in our understanding of the drivers of conflict, as well as the mitigation strategies that would be most effective in addressing the conflict.

Just as an example, the Lab is experimenting with ways to use big data to revolutionize how the needs assessment process is conducted for peacebuilding interventions. Currently, peacebuilding programs incorporate conflict analysis and needs assessment to determine how to prioritize resources and design the intervention. This involves a combination of desk research, outreach to partners, and on-the-ground data collection. While there are a bevy of new options to enable more efficient means of local data collection including in challenging environments, very few are exploring the possibilities of applying tools like social media listening and news analytics to build a comprehensive picture of the drivers of conflict before ever setting foot on the ground. These tools have the potential to support more targeted local data collection processes and can serve as valuable proxy indicators for ongoing monitoring and evaluation by measuring events and perceptions.

Read Full Interview Here

Simple tools offer path out of conflict

The region is also chronically underdeveloped. “There’s not just no smartphones, there’s no electricity, no phone network and maybe one or two TVs in each village,” says Helena Puig Larrauri, cofounder of Build Up, which uses technology for peacebuilding.
 
This social enterprise was tasked by the US Agency for International Development with helping to improve relationships between Dinkas and Misseriya.
 
Its approach was simple. Build Up staff gave two mixed Misseriya-Dinka teams video equipment and helped them create films about the fragile peace in the South Sudanese market town of Majok Nyithiou. These films were shown last year at various settlements along the border.
 
“This was a way of using the local information ecosystem to send out a message of peace,” says Puig Larrauri. “For the individuals and communities directly involved in the project, collaboration in the filmmaking process became a path for Dinkas and Misseriya to discuss the conflict.” 

Keep it simple

 Each conflict is unique. People fight for varied reasons that often depend on highly localised economic, social and political factors. However, common themes run through many disputes, including a lack of communication and accurate information. In this context, the ongoing explosion in access to technology, the internet and mobile phones holds great promise for peacebuilding.

Click here to read full article.

Worth Magazine

Profits of Peace

When the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, commonly known as ISIS, rolled into Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, in June 2014, the Iraqi soldiers garrisoned there dropped their guns, discarded their uniforms and fled. ISIS warriors seized abandoned weapons, including reportedly six American-supplied Black Hawk Helicopters, and piles of cash stored in banks.

But in a way, it was hard to understand why it was taken in the first place. The Iraqi soldiers outnumbered the invaders 15 to one, yet they were routed; just 2,000 insurgents conquered a city of 1.5 million people. Why did the Iraqi soldiers abandon their posts? The simple explanation is they were afraid, and the reason they were afraid had a lot to do with the was ISIS uses modern media technology...

"The arrival in conflict areas of tech and data and social media gives you a window into the human dynamics-- the DNA of conflict," [PeaceTech Lab CEO Sheldon] Himelfarb explains. That combination of technology and data, he adds, provides "unprecedented early warning."

Click here to read full article. 

How Ag Big Data Can Provide the Early Warning Signals of Global Conflict

A recent NASA study found that the drought that began in 1998 in the eastern Mediterranean Levant region, including conflict-affected countries such as Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey, was the worst drought in over 900 years.

In fact, some studies have explored the connections between climate change, migration, and social instability...

It is in this context that the PeaceTech Lab started investigating climate change-related data sources that could help detect early warning signs of social unrest and conflict. And a new movement is now underway in the peacebuilding sector to start exploring this in conflict zones.

Click here to read full article.