Digital Threat Digest - 11 August 2022
PGI’s Digital Investigations Team brings you the Digital Threat Digest, SOCMINT and OSINT insights into disinformation, influence operations, and online harms.
BeReal, will it save us all or is it all the same?
I realised I was old when my partner’s sister asked me if I had BeReal. Not only did I not ‘have it’ I had no idea what it was – YIKES! A quick google made me realise that I had in fact been left behind and a new ‘cool’ app had been created for the Gen Z folk. BeReal’s concept is simple, you get a notification at a random time during the day, and you have a two-minute window to upload a ‘BeReal’ – two photos using your phone’s front and back camera to capture the authenticity of your life. For example, you’re at the office staring at a blank screen (won’t name and shame my colleagues who do that) or you’re making avocado toast in your messy kitchen. Essentially, you are supposed to capture the untouched, the uncurated, the unfiltered.
This is supposed to be the complete opposite to Instagram where people have been campaigning to ‘bring back the old Instagram’; where people are real, they’re not promoting an unattainable body or impossible diet. I get it, Gen Z are all for the authentic, cool, ‘I don’t care but care’ attitude, but if we were really wanting to ‘be real’ then maybe we wouldn’t need an app at all – we wouldn’t have to share our daily moments, even the most mundane of moments. Unfortunately, society has ‘advanced’ so that we all crave some form of recognition via the virtual world.
That’s not my main issue, my issue or question rather is if BeReal will stay this ‘authentic’ or if like other social media, will exacerbate FOMO. After all, what if one of your friends is being ‘authentic’ in a fancy restaurant in Paris while you’re in bed watching Netflix, the comparison will never end. What if, in order to make yourself interesting, you take a photo of a reality that’s not yours to keep up? Then there is the issue of perpetuating the presence of surveillance; people know what you’re doing and while it disappears, we know that stalkers, criminals etc. don’t need much. Lastly, we do not know what possible harm this app could cause – maybe trolls, bots, the whole lot will find their way on there.
Or maybe I’m wrong and this app will save us all, only time will tell but my lack of optimism is also a reflection of what I fear the world has become, a life on a screen, hoping to be recognised, loved, and always wanting more.
Eat, Pray, Human Rights Abuse
I am truly jealous of travel vloggers who have made holidaying their career. Like many others online, I avidly consume their videos as a window into far-flung landscapes and cultures outside of my daily experience. The popularity of this content on social media has not gone unnoticed by the world’s dictatorships. Countries from China to Saudi Arabia have exploited the naïve wanderlust of western influencers to rehabilitate their image.
This recent article highlights how the Syrian government has recruited influencers to showcase the ‘real’ Syria to western audiences. Travel vloggers are granted a visa by a regime-approved travel agency and assigned minders. At best, the resulting videos provide an airbrushed picture of the country and its ongoing war. At worst, they parrot regime narratives and deny their role in the conflict.
The use of these presentable western faces helps the regime to disguise its propaganda. It demonstrates the skill with which dictatorships can use the online media environments to promote their ideas with less suspicion than if it came from official channels. Regimes are using any and all means to slip their ideas past our awareness. While vloggers should better interrogate the conditions of their trip, as viewers we also need to be alert to how content is influenced by the political conditions and media environments of its origin.
More about Protection Group International's Digital Investigations
PGI’s Social Media Intelligence Analysts combine modern exploitative technology with deep human analytical expertise that covers the social media platforms themselves and the behaviours and the intents of those who use them. Our experienced analyst team have a deep understanding of how various threat groups use social media and follow a three-pronged approach focused on content, behaviour and infrastructure to assess and substantiate threat landscapes.
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