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Inside the far rights Flemish victory

Flanders, the far right and Facebook.

That was the cocktail that helped the Belgian party Vlaams Be..

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Flanders, the far right and Facebook.

That was the cocktail that helped the Belgian party Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) stage a surprise sorpasso in last weekends “triple election” to the federal, regional and European parliaments. As the results came in, the young guard currently in charge of the far-right, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam party saw that their strategy — conceived almost five years ago — had paid off.

Vlaams Belang won up to 18.5 percent of votes in Dutch-speaking Flanders, a whopping 12.6-point surge compared to the last triple elections in 2014. Isolated for the past three decades from the political mainstream by an anti-extremist cordon sanitaire, Vlaams Belang managed to come second behind Belgiums largest party, the right-wing New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), which scored 24.8 percent.

Party Chairman Tom Van Griekens description of the winning formula sounds deceptively simple: “We talked about people, our people, and they have to come first,” he told POLITICO on Monday, as Belgiums political establishment wondered how to respond to one of the biggest surprises of the weekends voting. Dazed and confused, the countrys more moderate political forces initially had few clues to offer on how they intend to break the resulting political deadlock and form federal and regional governments.

Facebooks ads library reveals a social media strategy that was focused on the final weeks of the election campaign, and mostly targeted young voters aged 18 to 34.

Somehow, Vlaams Belangs campaign delivered it 15 parliamentary seats in the federal parliament, up from a previous three seats. In the Flemish region, the party jumps to 23 seats from six. Aligned at the EU level with Marine Le Pens far-right National Rally list in France and Matteo Salvinis League party in Italy, the party will be sending three MEPs to the European Parliament as well.

Young and male

The party scored especially well with young, male voters, Van Grieken said — a trend that had been spotted by pollsters ahead of Sundays votes.

“Were the most popular party with young people, and political scientists agonize over why this is the case. Its pretty simple: We had terror attacks [in Brussels in 2016], the biggest migration crisis,” he said. He added that Belgiums integration policy encourages cultural diversity but also causes resentment among some Flemish youngsters “who say We want to experience our culture.”

If one single candidate epitomizes how Vlaams Belang won over young voters, its Dries Van Langenhove.

Dries Van Langenhove | Dirk Waem/AFP via Getty Images

A 26-year-old who recently aligned himself to the party as an independent candidate, Van Langenhove gained national prominence as leader of an extreme-right youth movement called Shield and Friends, which is part of a broader phenomenon of so-called “Generation Identity” groups cropping up across Europe.

Last September, an investigation by Belgian public broadcaster VRT documented how Van Langenhoves group was running blatantly anti-Semitic and racist online chatrooms on platforms like Facebook and the gaming app Discord — flirting with neo-Nazi ideology and memes linked to the U.S. alt-right movement.

The investigation shocked many Belgians. But Van Langenhove dismissed accusations and said the investigation misrepresented him, and used the spotlight to his own advantage, rallying young, far-right sympathizers at universities and elsewhere behind him. Then Vlaams Belang announced in January that it had recruited the extreme-right youngster to lead its list of candidates in one of Flanders five provincial constituencies.

“Polls show I score very well with Flemish youth — even that Im the most popular politician with that group,” Van Langenhove told POLITICO. Asked about his attachment to the identitarian movement Shield and Friends, he said: “Shield and Friends remains the future if you ask me. A real change in mentality with the Flemish youth remains necessary.”

Social spending

While Van Langenhove faced criticism, scrutiny and expressions of revulsion from the mainstream media and political figures, he performed well on social media.

“What I do, my job, I cant do it without social media,” Van Langenhove said, adding that his new seat in Belgiums federal parliament would help protect him from censorship for hate speech on platforms like Facebook.

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other platforms have come under criticism around the world in recent years for boosting fringe and radical groups in the political debate at the expense of moderates. These companies have tried to turn the tide by tweaking algorithms to repress messages that incite hatred. In the past year, under pressure from political leaders in Europe and elsewhere, they have also increasingly blocked and banned political figures who have violated their rules against spreading hate speech.

In Belgium, Vlaams Belang has been more effective than probably any other party in concentrating its message — and campaign budget — on Facebook and other online platforms to spread its message.

Public broadcaster VRT calculated that Vlaams Belangs expenditure on social media was double that of the countrys largest (and richest) party, the New Flemish Alliance. The latter also spent half its online budget on Google ads, which Vlaams Belang didnt do. In total, Vlaams Belang spent nearly as much on Facebook and Google as all of the other Flemish parties combined.

The man behind that online campaign, Bart Claes, has spent years working outside of the public eye to build up an audience and test tools targeting subgroups of Flemish voters sensitive to the partys radical-right messaging.

For inspiration, Claes turned to Brexit and the Trump campaign. “For some time I was really obsessed about these campaigns,” Claes told POLITICO, adding that he had devoured books and documentaries on how these U.K. and U.S. political shocks were delivered to study their potential application in Flanders.

It was clear to him that Vlaams Belangs particular message sticks more easily with social media audiences.

“This is the scroll generation. People have an attention span of one, maybe two seconds. Within that time a message has to be clear, and thats easier for a party with clear positions than it is for parties in the [political] center,” he said.

Ad campaign

Claes said he and another social media team member looked for ways to identify those potential voters. They came up with a social media strategy that, he said, reached 1.5 million Flemish people per day during the campaign whom the party could attempt to sway in its favor.

Facebooks ads library reveals a social media strategy that was focused on the final weeks of the election campaign, and mostly targeted young voters aged 18 to 34.

The Flemish far-right party spent €400,551 on ad campaigns on Facebook and Instagram between March and May 25, according to the ads library. Over €125,000 of that was spent during the last week before the election.

Far-right leader and chairman of the Vlaams Belang Party Tom Van Grieken atteRead More – Source

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Twitter users are exposing pro-Russian sentiment in China, and Beijing is not happy

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Anonymous Twitter users are exposing the extreme nationalism and pro-Russian sentiment circulating online in China — and Beijing is not happy about it.

Scores of screen-grabbed posts from China’s most popular social media platforms have been translated and shared on Twitter in recent weeks, offering Western audiences a rare glimpse into the Chinese internet.
Among those posts: a prominent military blog falsely claiming a Russian attack on a train station in Kramatorsk was actually carried out by Ukraine, a well known media commentator dismissing the atrocities in Bucha, and a vlogger with hundreds of thousands of followers using a misogynistic term for Ukraine.
The posts appear courtesy of anonymous Twitter users who say their aim is to expose Western audiences to the true extent of pro-Russian or nationalistic content on China’s heavily censored platforms.
They often come under the hashtag of “The Great Translation Movement,” or shared by an account with the same name run by a decentralized, anonymous team that crowdsources the collection and translation of popular posts on Ukraine and other hot topics, according to an administrator interviewed by CNN. Many, but not all, appear to have been widely liked or shared within China — selection criteria cited by the administrator.
Since the account’s launch in early March it has already made plenty of friends and enemies — attracting both 116,000 followers (and counting) and a slew of criticism from China’s state-run media.
The movement was formed in response to China’s alleged hypocrisy in portraying itself as neutral on Ukraine, even while its state and social media circulated pro-Russian narratives, the administrator told CNN.
“We want the outside world to at least know what is going on inside, because we don’t think there could be any change made from inside,” said the administrator, who requested anonymity due to security concerns.

In bad faith?

China’s state media has lashed out against what it decries as “cherry picked content.” The overseas arm of the People’s Daily — the mouthpiece of China’s ruling Communist Party — has claimed the translators behind the movement are guilty of attributing the “extreme remarks” of some netizens to the “whole country.”
The nationalistic Global Times newspaper has accused the group of being “Chinese-speaking bad faith actors” and one of its opinion writers claimed the group included “foreign hostile forces” perpetuating “psychological warfare against China.”
Outside China, media experts caution the posts do not show a holistic view of public opinion in China and appear to at least partially be selected for shock value — but could still be useful in bringing these elements of China’s media sphere to light.
Critics also say the group’s tweets show evidence of its own bias — such as in posts that use a term comparing China to Nazi Germany.
Posts which gain traction on China’s social media must be seen in light of its highly censored environment, where nationalistic voices thrive and liberal ones have largely retreated or been censored, experts say.
But the administrator who spoke to CNN said the point was to highlight the visibility of such posts — some coming from popular influencers, comments receiving thousands of likes or from prominent commenstators, and even government-backed news outlets.
“Our goal is to raise awareness about the state of public opinion in China, whether it is purely the result of spontaneous interactions (or) the result of government censorship,” the administrator said.
“We want to counter the effort of the Chinese state-affiliated media by showing the West some content they do not want to show.”

Dual messaging

The resistance against the group from China’s state media highlights the sensitivities around how China wants to present itself on the world stage, especially at a time when it has been attempting to walk a diplomatic tightrope between Russia and the West over Ukraine.
China has often sought to present two different narratives — one for domestic audiences and another for those overseas. This is made possible through both a language barrier and an online ecosystem that bans apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Great Translation Movement breaks down both of these barriers.
“Even before the social media era, the way China talks internally through its state media is something it doesn’t appreciate being parsed and translated for the world,” said David Bandurski, director of the China Media Project, a research program in partnership with the Journalism & Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong.
And when it comes to Ukraine, China has sought to portray itself — at least to overseas audiences — as unaligned and invested in calling for peace. But its media coverage back home tells a different story, Bandurski said.
“If you just look at (state) media coverage, it’s really hard to talk about neutrality … Everything they have said is amplifying disinformation and aligning with Russia in terms of narratives.”
While the tone of state-backed media is clear, experts say it is difficult to gauge public opinion in China simply by looking at social media, even when it comes to popular influencers or viral posts.
Like anywhere in the world, views on social media can be extreme. In China, heavy manipulation and censorship often amplifies select voices.
“The authorities certainly have an interest in promoting their preferred narrative online, and they have the technical and political means to unapologetically ‘guide public opinion,'” said Florian Schneider, director of the Leiden Asia Center in The Netherlands.
“We should also not underestimate the power of social media algorithms: as pro-Russia statements become mainstream, they receive ever more likes and shares, which makes them more visible,” he said.

Suppressed voices, echo chambers

The situation is complicated: Beijing too has reason to be wary of ultra-nationalist voices, which platforms sometimes censor. And while nationalist rhetoric has become more dominant online in recent years, the loudest voices may not show a majority.
Bandurski said that an analogy would be looking at ultra-conservative voices in the US media environment, and assuming that was representative of the American perspective.
“So the danger is this kind of echo chamber of content, which we might assume is representative of China and its perspective, and it’s really a lot more complicated than that,” he said.
Maria Repnikova, director of the Center for Global Information Studies at Georgia State University, said when it comes to Ukraine there have been “alternative voices talking about the war…but they’re not as dominant or as loud or as visible.” Their posts may either be censored or hard to detect as social media users may express dissenting views through code and allusion.
She also asks if things would be different if images of bombarded cities of Ukraine or the atrocities in Bucha were not restricted in China.
“If people could see all of those images and scenes, would that be a different story? Would different voices pick up?”
The Great Translation Movement administrator said they hoped that the movement could help push Beijing to tone down the rhetoric on these platforms so that there would be room for more voices.
“In today’s Chinese mainstream discourse there is a very limited space for people who have a rational mind to speak,” the administrator said.
“Even if you speak out and if it doesn’t get deleted, you are still going to be spammed…and people are going to say you are a spy… the dignity of people themselves is destroyed.”

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BLACKBERRY PHONES TO STOP WORKING AS COMPANY FINALLY PULLS PLUG

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independent– BlackBerry phones, once the height of mobile devices, are finally being shut off.

The company announced that services for the older devices will be brought to an end on 4 January. At that point, they will “no longer reliably function”, BlackBerry said, and will be unable to get data, texts or make phone calls, including to emergency numbers.

It is just the latest in a series of endings for the once equally beloved and hated name, which helped drive the mobile revolution and was at the forefront of business and technology. While the BlackBerry has been declared dead a number of times before, the latest move means that the phones themselves will actually stop working.

In 2016, after its phones had been replaced largely by smartphones from Apple and others, BlackBerry announced that it had transitioned away from phones and into making software and that it would focus on providing security tools to companies and governments. It has sold the BlackBerry brand to other companies, who have created devices bearing the name.

In 2020, BlackBerry said that with that move complete, it would start taking offline the legacy services that allowed those old devices to keep working. Phones that run any of BlackBerry’s own operating systems – BlackBerry 7.1 OS and earlier, BlackBerry 10 software – were given an “end of life or termination date” at the start of 2022.

Next week, that date will finally arrive and support will end. While the phones will still be able to perform some of their functions without BlackBerry’s services, many of their central features will be removed, and the phones will not work reliably.

BlackBerry said the support was being removed in recognition of the fact that it now works in security software and that the old products did not reflect its business. It had prolonged support in the years since that transition “as an expression of thanks to our loyal partners and customers”, it said.

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70 Jupiter-sized ‘rogue planets’ discovered in our galaxy

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independent– A team of astronomers discovered at least 70 ‘rogue’ planets in our galaxy, the largest collection ever found to date.

While conventional planets (like those in our Solar System) orbit a star, rogue planets roam freely without travelling around a nearby star.

“We did not know how many to expect and are excited to have found so many,” said Núria Miret-Roig, an astronomer at the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Bordeaux.

­It would usually be impossible to detect rogue planets because they are hard to spot far from a star’s light. One key fact of their existence made them visible: these planets still give off enough heat to glow millions of years after their creation, making them visible to powerful telescopes.

This heat allowed the 70 planets – each with masses close to that of Jupiter – to be discovered in the Scorpius and Ophiuchus constellations.

“We measured the tiny motions, the colours and luminosities of tens of millions of sources in a large area of the sky,” explained Ms Miret-Roig. “These measurements allowed us to securely identify the faintest objects in this region, the rogue planets.”

The astronomers’ study suggests there could be many more elusive, starless planets yet to be discovered, numbering in the billions in the Milky Way alone.

By studying these planets, astronomers believe they could unlock clues as to how the mysterious objects come to be. It is hypothesised they are generated from the collapse of gas clouds too small to create stars, but they could also have been ejected from a parent system.

“These objects are extremely faint and little can be done to study them with current facilities,” says Hervé Bouy, another astronomer at the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique. “The ELT [Extremely Large Telescope, currently being built in Chile] will be absolutely crucial to gathering more information about most of the rogue planets we have found.”

The exact number of rogue planets discovered is vague, because the observations made by the researchers do not allow them to measure the mass of the objects. Bodies with a mass 13 times greater than that of Jupiter are unlikely to be planets, but relying on brightness makes this figure unclear.

The brightness of these objects is also related to age, as the older the planet is the dimmer it will be. The brightest objects in the sample could have a mass greater than the upper limit but be older and therefore dimmer. Researchers estimate there could be as many as 100 more planets yet to be discovered because of this uncertainty.

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