Social network free speech-potential praised by UN expert

Social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter have been praised as key tools in helping facilitating the recent political uprisings across some Middle East and North African nations, according to Frank La Rue, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.

La Rue’s comments, which were issued ahead of World Press Freedom Day today, aim to raise awareness of the role he believed social networking had played in allowing individuals all other the world to share information instantaneously, particularly during protests seen in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Saud Arabia.

“As one activist tweeted during the protests in Egypt, ‘we use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world’,” he noted in a statement printed by the Agence France Presse (AFP) news agency. “I believe that we are currently in a historic moment. Never in the history of humankind have individuals been so interconnected across the globe.”

La Rue stressed that despite this potential, the internet was still being censored by some governments along with the use of “age-old tactics” like intimidation, arrests, torture, disappearances and killings to try and suppress freedom of speech.

“The power of the Internet to awaken individuals to question and challenge the status quo and to expose corruption and wrongdoing has generated fear among the powerful,” said the UN expert. “The events in the Middle East and North Africa have shown that it is never a viable long-term option to suppress the voices of the people,” he added, calling on “all governments to choose reform over repression”.


Police will investigate those pictured committing crimes in Facebook nude photo haul

Maldives Police Service today said that further action will be taken against people pictured committing crimes in the files acquired by Facebook blackmailers.

A media officer said police were unable to confirm whether any political figures were be involved in the case while the investigations continued.

Police have arrested 14 persons including a minor – reportedly a 17 year old girl – for alleged involvement in acquiring nude pictures and videos of Maldivians through two profiles that both used the same image of a young blonde woman wearing sunglasses.

The two false profiles – the front for an alleged blackmailing ring that netted incriminating photos of those who signed up – had netted a combined 2500 ‘friends’, most of them Maldivian, making the scope of the blackmail operation potentially massive.

The ring poses a “security risk” for politicians in the Maldives, Deputy Speaker of the People’s Majlis Ahmed Nazim told Minivan News, but was unlikely to lead to parliamentary censorship in the future on how the internet was used.

Nazim, who is also a member of the People’s Alliance (PA) Party, said that police investigations into accusations that two Facebook profiles had been used to acquire “hundreds of nude pictures and videos” of Maldivians were not expected to impact MPs’ social networking.

”While some of the pictures were taken of people while drunk other pictures were taken without the consent of the persons [involved],” police confirmed yesterday, adding that Maldivians across the social spectrum had been affected by the racket.

Nazim said that despite allegations appearing in the media that certain national politicians might themselves have been blackmailed already through some of the content acquired through the profiles, he did not expect a review of how social networking was used by MPs in the future.

“[The investigation] is obviously a very concerning fact, but it is the first time this has happened in the country,” he said. “Almost all MPs have profiles they use to spread messages and communicate with their constituents, which is important. There is nothing that can be done about this.”

Despite raising suspicions that the Facebook profiles may have intentionally targeted specific sections of society like political figures and civil servants, President’s Office Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair claimed that the developments were not a cause of “alarm” for the government.

“No one has provided conclusive evidence that anyone in the government is involved in the case,” he said. “However, it appears that a group of cyber criminals have tried to target a certain group of peoples including MPs and government officials. They have certainly not been going after fishermen.”

Zuhair added that the fact that these files and videos were now out in the open and available for public scrutiny should “make everyone more cautious of their behaviour online”.

“The very fact this has come to light shows that all people should be more careful when using social network sites like Facebook or their webcams,” he added.

Police investigation

Police investigating the case have reported that some people in the Facebook files were allegedly performing explicit acts in the presence of minors, and warned that this “could affect the future and discipline of the minors”.

”The case relates to the rights of many citizens and affects the social policy of the Maldives, and may also affect the safety of the society,” said police.

Information gathered so far had revealed that people from all levels of Maldivian society were affected, “including underage females juveniles, young women, professional and semi-professional persons, and people of both genders working all across the country.”

Police appealed to Maldivians to be more careful approving friendships with strangers on social networks.

”It is notable that underage females are victims in this crime, and that a minor was arrested as a suspect. It is necessary that parents monitor the work of minors when they use internet and social networks,” said police.

Two Facebook profiles identified as being involved in the ring where those belonging to ‘Lyshiaa Limanom’ and ‘Angelic Sharrown’. Both of these profiles show the same picture of a young blonde woman wearing sunglasses, and each profile has between 1200-1300 Facebook ‘friends’ – most of them Maldivian.

Police warned Maldivians to be careful of receiving invitations and messages from these profiles.

Social media adoption in the Maldives is prodigious, particularly Facebook, with almost a third of the country’s population signed up to the service.

According to statistics from Facebook, the Maldives has 89,460 registered users – two thirds of whom are male. Almost half Maldivian Facebook users are aged under 18.

Police late last year identified cyber crimes such as hacking as a major concern for both private and public organizations, leading it to form a special team to try and curb illegal online practices.