Sunday, 12 September 2010

Social Networking and Conflict Resolution?

I'm reposting this great post from Global Chaos mostly not to forget it.

I’m sure the fact that Azeris, Turks, and Armenians keep hacking each other’s (usually official) websites is not news to most of my readers (in principle, at least). What was news to me, however, was the idea of hacking an individual’s social networking and email accounts.

Last weekend, as I opened my Facebook homepage, here’s what I saw (click on the images to enlarge):

Nareg is a “global Armenian” in the true sense of the word: patriotic but also skeptical, very open minded, and certainly not of the chauvinist type. I should say, I particularly enjoy following his “links” feed on Facebook, as he usually shares insightful articles, raises interesting questions and, often, facilitates engaging “comment discussions.” In short, such an unexpected diatribe of abuse obviously raised a red flag.

What is more, his profile had been completely redone, and here is what his "Info" page looked like:

Very sad.

I remember that during a discussion on the potential of the new media in bringing about conflict resolution, a school-mate from Abkhazia shared the story of his Facebook page becoming the venue for hate speech and a war of insults among representatives of various "parties" in conflict. Obviously, there are many other ways of abusing the virtual "socializing space", especially for those who are new media-savvy. It is just sad to see people going through all that trouble for such senseless "projects".

More importantly, it is sad to see that while some enthusiastic peace-makers are working so hard to bring the conflicting sides together online, others are abusing the very same platforms (and the Internet, in general) for no meaningful purpose, at all. I'm still cautiously (and should I say, skeptically) hopeful, though.

Nareg kindly agreed to share some details of his "encounter" with Global Chaos:

GC - Besides your Facebook profile, you also had some other online accounts hacked...

N- I had the same password for everything. I imagine the hacker infiltrated the Facebook profile first, then worked on to Yahoo, and LinkedIn, and Gmail.

GC - How did you find out about the hack, and when?

N - Friends, friends and more friends. [...] I was in the library, chatting with someone, when a fellow student came up to me and said that I should look into my Facebook, as it was probably hacked. [...] A lot of friends who saw me on campus informed me of it, and I meanwhile got phone messages, voice mail as well as SMS - my brother all the way from Armenia, friends and family from LA to DC. [...]

GC - How long did the "incident" last?

N - I think the whole episode lasted from about 9 a.m. to about 1 p.m., US Mountain Time, on Saturday, September 4. It took some time to re-re-acquire Facebook and Yahoo. Gmail took a few days, actually. And my LinkedIn page is still out of reach for me, but that says more about LinkedIn's lackluster security settings.

GC - Why do you think you were targeted, specifically?

N - This is a mystery to me. On the one hand, I feel very flattered. After all, some Azerbaijani person took all this trouble to create problems for me. In truth, there was minimal damage done. I restored the Yahoo account with some loss of e-mails, it is true, but probably nothing important. And I don't know what will happen with LinkedIn, but I was not much of a user there anyway. So, I do feel personally a little bit victimized on the one hand, but more flattered on the other.
But the hacker was probably not doing this as a compliment to me. So why indeed? I guess it could be lumped up under the general rubric of regional antagonism. After all, Armenians, Turks and Azerbaijanis hack one-another's websites all the time. As I type, for example, the Armenian Church's Eastern Diocese's website is hacked.
But why me? I could pretend to be someone important. But I'm not. I have a fair few Facebook friends, and I often share news articles, whether Armenian-related or not, but why such a thing would motivate an Azerbaijani hacker specifically against me, I cannot say. I imagine they or he or she found an Armenian, broke the password, and went to work.

GC - What do you think is the purpose behind such "hacking" incidents?

N - I am actually very curious indeed about the psychology behind all this. I guess I never thought about it much before, because I never had to face it personally. And it isn't surprising, really, to find the general regional antagonism spread to cyberspace.
But now I would like to put myself in this Azerbaijani's shoes. I imagine and understand the hatred, but so much that it inspires one to go through all this trouble to deface an Armenian's Facebook page and try to mess up his e-mail accounts? I am not sure what motivates it, exactly, and, what is more, what it accomplishes.
Let me make a confession. I wrote to him/her. I wrote, using an anonymous e-mail address, to, requesting a reply to another anonymous e-mail address. I don't think the hacker knows English very well (except for a certain four-letter word), but I wrote anyway, and would really love a response. We can have our differences, our political tensions and all that sort of thing, but do we really need to hack each other's websites? And personal Facebook pages?
I also wrote to the Azerbaijani Facebook friends I have. Five of them, smart young people. I asked them what they made of all this, and am yet awaiting a response.

Read my recent post on a short video by the Eurasia Foundation, exploring the stereotypes between Armenians and Azeris in Yerevan and Baku.

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