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Pro-Russian Videos Get Fake Views With Help From Malware

Some pro-Russian videos appear to have gone viral, and not in a good sense. Motherboard reports that a group of unknown hackers has been infecting Internet users’ computers with viruses and using them to inflate views on news videos with a pro-Russian slant, as well as some other content.

New research by security firm Trustwave shows that victims got infected by visiting a compromised website that installed an exploit kit (an off-the-shelf software package allowing for easy attacks) on their computer, along with a trojan virus. The infected computers would then stealthily rack up views on the videos.

The videos identified by the researchers all appear to be pro-Russian, such as a one from the Iranian English-language broadcaster PressTV that quotes a Russian Parliament member justifying the annexation of Crimea. The goal of the operation, according to Trustwave researchers Rami Kogan and Arseny Levin, was to artificially increase the popularity of a video and make it more visible to users of the site Dailymotion.

Trustwave experts say the suspicious videos all share the same traits: they all have a fairly high number of views (around 320K, most of them within minutes of each other) but no social media shares or comments. By artificially inflating the clip's popularity, the fraudsters also make the video more visible to other users of the video site.

Using bots to generate fake traffic to video clips is nothing new. It is a technique to raise a clip's popularity score and achieve higher visibility. However, this is the first time we've observed the tactic used to promote video clips with a seemingly political agenda.

Both Trustwave analysts and independent security researchers told Motherboard that using malware for political aims was new, but that such ‘invisible propaganda’ could be very effective, as only its results were visible,but not the fraudulent mechanisms behind them.

“We have seen hacks that are motivated by money and other ‘hacktivist’ attacks that are motivated by politics,” Karl Sigler, the threat intelligence manager at Trustwave, told Motherboard. “This current campaign shows that those two motivations are starting to evolve and blend together.”

While it is unclear who is behind the campaign, Trustware experts speculate that those who spread the exploit kit and the malware simply aimed to make money, and that someone else paid them to add fake views to pro-Russian propaganda videos.

Municipal Referendum to Preserve Skopje Shopping Centre Scheduled

The local council of the Municipality of Centar, part of the Skopje downtown area, approved a proposal to hold a referendum to preserve the authentic look of the iconic Skopje Shopping Center. As Meta.mk reports, the referendum will take place on April 26. For the referendum to be successful, it needs a turnout of 50 percent plus one of the registered voters in the Municipality of Centar to vote in favor of preserving the original edifice.

The decision is the result of a two-year-long campaign to save the landmark from a faux-baroque reconstruction plan. The Skopje City Shopping Center is known by the local acronym GTC.

“GTC requires nurturing, renovation, reconstruction, while not losing the concept and function. Project for changing the look of GTC means distorting the essence of the object. The investor who will reconstruct the facility has to know the essence and what does GTC means to the citizens. We have nothing against the reconstruction of the GTC, its authenticity as a heritage must be kept,” said Danica Pavlovska from the Association of Architects.

She added that the referendum is the most democratic way to solve the problems of citizens and is something that allows the citizens to be aware of their power.

The activist campaign continues, with an aim to ensure high voter turnout at the referendum, using the hashtags ‘I love GTC’ (#ГоСакамГТЦ) and ‘GTC’ (#ГТЦ).

Centar decided! On April 26, we go to referendum to save GTC.
The voice of the citizens will be heard. Municipality of Centar voted to allow a referendum on GTC.

Macedonian Journalist Describes How it Feels to be Subject of State Surveillance

Prominent investigative journalist Meri Jordanovska wrote a testimony about her experience on receiving evidence that she was one of allegedly twenty thousand individuals who have been subjected to state surveillance in Macedonia. In an op-ed on Balkan Insight, Jordanovska explains: 

Meri Jordanovska. Photo: Prizma Project. Used with permission.

Meri Jordanovska. Photo: BIRN Prizma Project. Used with permission.

Each report on one of my wiretapped conversations was true: the date, the story I was working on and the sources I was getting briefed by. Everything was correct. I am not sure I will get another “diploma”. This folder was more than enough for me to clearly see what is happening in my country.I can clearly see that someone knew in advance what story I was working on. Enough for me to conclude that my sources of information were endangered. Enough for the centers of power to be able to react preventively before the story was published. Enough to become aware, even though I had always suspected this, that some people know the problems of those closest to me – people who had shared personal matters with me over the phone.

Jordanovska received a file containing surveillance of her communications during a press conference by the opposition party SDSM, at which representatives of the party also revealed that journalists had been wiretapped en masse in Macedonia. Besides publishing several conversation as proof, twenty journalists were given folders with CDs containing their own files, leaked by sources from within the Ministry of Interior. Her text is also available in Macedonian and has been republished by several independent portals in her home country, including Mojot grad.

SDSM leader Zoran Zaev claims that National Security Services illegally targeted over twenty thousand people with the surveillance, which involved illegally recording and storing phone conversations of these individuals over at least four years. His party has not yet published a list of all the alleged victims, nor a list of the wiretapped phone numbers. According to SDSM representatives, these included both citizens of Macedonia and foreigners using local telecom services, including several diplomats.

Russia's Internet Ombudsman Advocates for Storing User Data Abroad

Dmitry Marinichev. Photo by Vpetrov-71 on Wikimedia Commons.

Dmitry Marinichev. Photo by Vpetrov-71 on Wikimedia Commons.

Internet Ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev has written a letter to President Vladimir Putin, proposing amendments to the new data retention law and suggesting that Russians’ personal data could be stored abroad with the permission of the owners.

Russian Legal Information Agency (RAPSI) reports:

Marinichev has proposed allowing foreign online companies to store Russians’ personal data in a country that is a signatory to the Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data, according to Izvestia.

A total of 46 countries have ratified the convention, including Russia, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, as well as post-Soviet countries including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Ukraine.

“We don’t want to lose global online services, which will be unable to operate in Russia unless the law is amended. I suggest that amendments be discussed with the expert community,” Marinichev said, as quoted by Izvestia.

The data retention law that requires social networking sites and foreign companies providing Internet services (like airline tickets and consumer goods sales) in Russia to store Russians’ personal data on servers inside the Russian Federation, will come into effect on September 1.

Epic Car Chase in Moscow's Red Square Caught on Video

Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

An unlikely event occurred in Moscow last week, when police chased a towing truck hauling a bright yellow minivan through the Red Square in the heart of the capital.

The car chase drew many spectators, not in the least because no cars, motorbikes, or bicycles are allowed on the Red Square. And where there are spectators with smartphones, there are always photos.

 A towing truck with a minivan broke through to the Red Square—photo report:

The story only got weirder from there, as it turned out the towing truck was hijacked by the indignant owner of the very minivan it was attempting to tow. Reportedly, the man attacked the towing truck's driver and them drove off.

“The owner of the minivan that was on the towing truck hijacked the truck himself and drove into the Red Square.

Some Twitter users noted the color scheme of the two cars was reminiscent of the Ukrainian flag and drew immediate parallels with the ongoing confrontation between Ukraine and Russia.

 “A towing truck in Ukrainian colors staged a protest ride under Putlo's [Putin's] nose in the Red Square.”

Police pursued the hijacker, but he led them on quite a merry chase before they managed to stop him. Because the Red Square is one of the most popular tourist locations not only in Moscow, but in all of Russia, the event was also caught on video.

Police and a towing truck in hot pursuit in the Red Square:

The ban on access to the Red Square for motorized vehicles has been in place since 1963, when it was instituted in order to preserve the pedestrian area for the hordes of tourists admiring the views. Apparently, though, the ban does little to prevent daredevils like the towing truck hijacker from driving right through the heart of downtown Moscow—and going viral on social media while doing so.

Bulgaria's First Crowdfunding Journalism Project

Bulgaria, a member of the European Union, has a big problem with freedom of the media. The Balkan country is ranked 106 out of 180 countries in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders.

Against this unpleasant background, a new media project was established with the ambitious task of opposing the media empires of local oligarchs and providing an alternative way to access information to the public.

KlinKlin.bg, founded by journalists, designers and bloggers, aims to establish an independent crowdfunding journalist project similar in spirit to those established by colleagues in the Netherlands (decorespondent.nl), Germany (krautreporter.de) and Canada (ricochet.media). But KlinKlin faces a major challenge: 86.5% of the population has no confidence in the local media.

KlinKlin is in the early stage of collecting support and funding. For now, the site is in Bulgarian, but the team is considering an English version too. In less than a week, the Facebook page of KlinKlin has just under 2,700 fans. Below is the group's promo video complete with English subtitles.

Documenting the Systematic Decline of Women's Rights in Macedonia

Although southeast European countries are progressive in many other ways, the decline of women's reproductive rights in some Western Balkan countries has been a worrying trend. In Macedonia, several small protests have been held in recent years to demonstrate people's opposition to government involvement in determining public sentiment on issues like abortion and family planning, after the government implemented a national anti-abortion campaign that began in 2011.  

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“My body – my decision” sigh at a protest against new abortion law. Photo by Vanco Dzhambaski, CC BY-NC-SA.

Recently, Macedonian equal rights activist Ana Vasileva, known as @Amateuress on Twitter, provided a lengthy overview of the systematic decline of women's rights in Macedonia on her blog:

In recent years Macedonia has undergone a very subtle, yet dreadfully pervasive deterioration of the situation with women's rights. Mainly unnoticed or overlooked, the government latched on the popular, deeply misogynist sentiment of the suffering mother (a metaphor often used for the country itself) and after the initial surge of promise with the introduction of the gender quotas in 2006 and the adoption of the Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, which paired with the history of equal treatment from the previous system led to even higher percentages in female representation in certain areas compared to the EU average[1], things started moving downwards steadily, without sufficient public resistance.

It can arguably be claimed that the ploy began with the anti-abortion posters and newspaper ads which started littering the public space out of nowhere circa 2006-2007 without anyone claiming responsibility for them…

Google Art Project Now Features Ukrainian Street Art

Street art by Ukrainian collective Dobrye Ludi. Image from respublicafest.com.

Street art by Ukrainian collective Dobrye Ludi. Image from respublicafest.com.

Ukrainian graffiti and street art, previously visible mostly to Ukrainians and tourists walking the streets of Ukrainian cities, is now available to Internet users across the globe. Google Art Project, an extensive online collection of works of art of different genres and periods, curated by the Google Cultural Institute, now features a collection of Ukrainian street art.

Art by M-97.

Art by M-97.

Street art first appeared on Google Art Project in June 2014, and today the website features over 10 000 high resolution works of street art from 86 artistic collectives in 34 countries. The newly added Ukrainian works come from participants of “Respublica,” an international street art festival, and add to an extensive collection of captured images in an attempt to archive graffiti and murals before they disappear.

Стріт-арт перетворює вулиці міст у відкриті галереї. На жаль, ця форма мистецтва є дуже ефемерною – вона може існувати сьогодні, а вже завтра зникне назавжди. За допомогою Google Art Project ми намагаємось зберегти вуличні шедеври та зробити їх доступними для всіх.

Street art turns the city streets into open galleries. Unfortunately, this art form is rather ephemeral—it can exist today, and be gone forever tomorrow. With Google Art Project, we try to preserve the street masterpieces and make them accessible to everyone.

Art by Kislow.

Art by Kislow.

Russian Journalist Crowdfunding New Media Project on Kickstarter

Screenshot from Yakovlev's Kickstarter project page.

Screenshot from Yakovlev's Kickstarter project page.

Vladimir Yakovlev, the founder of Kommersant newspaper and former editor of Snob website, is raising funds for a new Russian independent media project on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. The project's description on the Kickstarter page claims the goal is to create a media outlet that will counteract the Russian “state propaganda machine” and help “turn zombies back into people.”

Russia today is torn by hatred caused by a multimillion-dollar state propaganda machine. This is a real danger for an entire world as we know it.
People hate each other. They have a terrible delusion that Russia is surrounded by enemies. Recent murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov is just one of numerous casualties of state-funded hatred campaign.
Now, more than ever, we need a new independent media to unite the best journalists by common goal: to stop propaganda of hatred; to find a way to resist the madness that is tearing apart an entire country bringing it closer and closer to a horrible social disaster.
I want to start this new media project as soon as possible. It will be a powerful, formidable, effective multi-media platform free of political control and Kremlin power.
[…]
If Kremlin media is so good in turning people into zombies, why can’t we create a media to turn zombies back to people?

Macedonian NGO Develops First Ever Android and iOS App to Battle Hate Speech

Macedonian Metamorphosis Foundation has developed a first among mobile applications – an app against hate speech, aiming to bring information from this area to the fingertips of mobile phone users and help them battle this odious occurrence on the Internet.

The app, available for free download both Android and iOS users, was developed in order to more effectively combat hate speech online, enabling access to the latest news in this area, access to educational and expert resources, such as a library with e-books on the matter, interactive tutorials about the various opportunities for reporting hate speech, as well as participation in events related to the fight against hate speech through an integrated calendar.

The application, dubbed simply “Don't Hate”, is the first mobile app of this kind in the world and is currently only available in Macedonian and Albanian, while its creators do plan on developing it further for other languages and markets in the near future. 

 

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