All posts by Rhys Crilley

5 Trends Behind the Rise of UKIP

This morning Douglass Carswell became the first UKIP MP, winning 21,113 votes (59.66%) in the Clacton by-election. Whilst I’ve spent all morning banging my head on my desk and shouting angrily at the sky in a state of incredulity, others have been providing interesting analysis of what’s going on in British politics.

Dr Matthew Goodwin and Dr Robert Ford are the authors of Revolt on the Right, and their most recent book essentially asks ‘how is UKIP even a thing?! Like seriously, WTF?!’

Obviously the questions are worded a bit differently, and it turns out the answer isn’t, like I thought at first, ‘because people are idiots’. It’s way more complex than that.

Taking to Twitter they’ve outlined 5 key trends that explain the rise of UKIP.

1) The working class are dissatisfied with the traditional parties.

2) People who leave school at or before 16 and people over 65 are shifting to UKIP.

3) David Cameron is pretty unpopular.

4) Pretty much everyone feels abandoned by the government.

5) People are eurosceptic, anti-migration, and pessimistic.

Sad times.


The NATO Summit Twitter Fight

The 2014 NATO Summit presents an opportunity for world leaders to sit around and solve bicker about security issues ranging ‘from fragile states to piracy, from terrorism to cyber attacks‘.

This year you don’t have to be any where near Newport to enjoy the friendly ‘banter’ and juvenile japes of the NATO summit, as many participants have taken to social media in order to communicate to audiences diss each other publicly.

One case in point being this tweet from Canada’s delegation…

In response Russia tweeted back…

If you forget about the 2600 deaths and 6000 serious injuries in the ongoing Ukrainian conflict it’s almost quite funny. #AnnexationLOLS.

To be fair, it’s kind of refreshing to see some state social media usage that isn’t dull, predictable and boring. But let’s just hope that all the delegations to the NATO summit are putting in as much thought and effort in to actually dealing with the serious issues at hand, as they are to bickering on social media.

The Israel/Palestine Photoshop War

Images and perception are now widely considered as an important aspect of contemporary conflict, and some scholars even go as far as regarding images as weapons of war. Regardless of if they are weapons or not, images are being used in strategic ways on social media by both the Israel Defence Force and Palestinians in the context of the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

The IDF, have been circulating images across social media sites like twitter and instagram. These images range from photographs of IDF troops and weapons, to infographics which talk about the number of rockets fired by Hamas. The destruction of Gaza is sanitised through its invisibility.

On the Palestinian side the images tell a different story. These images are harrowing, they depict horrors that are very real; flattened neighbourhoods, grieving families, injured and dead children.

One development in this conflict that has caught my attention has been the use of images that have not simply been edited, but have been completely faked by the use of digital editing software.

For example the IDF has instagrammed these two images;

Whereas these images have been circulated by Palestinians;

These images are interesting for several reasons. Their content is completely faked; missiles and explosions have been digitally added to photographs. The similarities of these sets of images are quite revealing, both sets of images are aimed at invoking a sense of empathy in audiences.

They use similar locations; New York is used by both parties, Paris is used by one and London is used by the other. Thus attempting to address the ‘west’ by drawing upon (somewhat crassly) previous terror attacks such as 9/11 and 7/7. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the IDF haven’t tried to address audiences in Cairo or Dubai, but they have in Ireland…

What does this addressing of different audiences reveal about the strategies and intentions of the actors involved in the conflict? How are audiences responding to these clearly faked images? And what is the impact of this?

There’s potentially an interesting research project on this case here, and I think we need to consider how we account for fake content in our understandings of images and their political significance. War has never been so photoshopped.

iSecuritization? China says the iPhone is a threat to national security

In what I am shamelessly calling iSecuritization, Chinese Central Televison (CCTV) have said that the iPhone is a threat to national security. This is due to the ‘frequent locations’ feature, which Apple states is used in order to ‘to learn places that are significant to you’.

If you’ve got an iPhone it’s worth checking out. Frequent locations is turned on by default and it’s currently tracking your movements. Have a look at your frequent locations and realise how creepy your iPhone is by following these instructions.

CCTV state that frequent locations amounts to a threat to national security as, according to one researcher quoted in the Independent, ‘if this information was accessed on a large scale it could reveal a country’s economic situation and “even state secrets”.’

Unfortunately my frequent locations don’t reveal anything half as interesting.

photo (1)

But regardless of how uninteresting my activities may be, frequent locations and the fact it’s turned on by default does draw out some interesting issues in regards to surveillance and security (which Zygmut Bauman and David Lyon cover in detail).

Apple say that they have ‘never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers, and we never will’. And I guess that’s good news. Apple is tracking your every move by default and might not be sharing it with governments, but what can they do with it themselves? Frequent locations may not be a threat to national security, but is it a threat to yours?

Despite the Rumble of Russian Tanks the Main Weapon in Ukraine is Information

This is an article by our friend Dr Victoria Hudson, research associate in Politics and International Relations at Aston University and was originally published at The Conversation.

“In the information age, success is not merely the result of whose army wins, but also of whose story wins.” The words of Harvard scholar Joseph Nye have been borne out in Ukraine.

At the moment, the Moscow narrative appears to have the upper hand both in Crimea and in Russia – where the Putin government has moved recently to stifle dissent.

Footage and photographs of thousands of jubilant Crimeans celebrating through the night after an overwhelming vote to secede from Ukraine carry an emphatic message. As one headline in Russia, quoted by the BBC, trumpeted: “Crimea is now returning to Russia.”

Embed from Getty Images

Each development in the rapidly unfolding crisis has been chronicled by media professionals and citizen journalists on social media. Each of the key parties to the debate spins a contrary narrative, grounded in different world views. Which account proves more convincing will help to determine which political outcomes are ultimately accepted as legitimate; not only in Ukraine and the West, but in the international community more broadly.

When the Crimean parliament declared independence from Ukraine, its members refused to recognise the interim national government which they perceive as having seized power following a fascist coup-d’état. The pro-Western opposition claims Yanukovych’s alleged order to shoot on protesters rendered the former president unfit to rule.

In the run-up to the Crimean referendum – and in its immediate aftermath – the competing narratives were just as starkly opposed. The pro-Russian side argues, with a degree of justification, that the overwhelming vote has been a reaffirmation of Russian sovereignty in Crimea, since the region was transferred within the Soviet Union in 1954 by Khrushchev, who did not foresee Ukraine becoming an independent state. In the West, the vote has been dismissed as illegal under Ukraine’s constitution and international law.

But this struggle is not only about “the facts” but increasingly about the power over their interpretation and the capacity to disseminate that view effectively.

Information war

In the information war of the past weeks, Russia has scored several bullseyes. Kremlin-backed English-language channel Russia Today first released an intercepted call between assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador to Kyiv, Geoffrey Pyatt, in which the interlocutors discussed their views about the future of Ukraine. While the Western media has focused on the profanities used to express frustration with the EU, the greater scandal is actually the empowered tone with which they discussed their preferences among the opposition leaders, who are condescendingly abbreviated to “Yats” and “Klitsch”.

In a second diplomatic exchange leaked by Russia Today, Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet was heard to tell the EU’s high representative Catherine Ashton: “There is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition”. Both parties to this conversation have since sought to reframe it as a discussion of a conspiracy theory, rather than an “assessment of the opposition’s involvement in the violence”.

While question marks hover over Russia Today’s objectivity, not to mention the provenance of the intercepted dialogue, the recording has provoked a storm of debate on social media. Despite the fact that such disagreements about the origins of the crisis have filtered through into the mainstream Western press, there is a prevailing sense that such core questions have been displaced on the agenda by escalating current events.

Embed from Getty Images

Meanwhile, both sides have delved into the shadows of Nazism in rhetorical support of their position. The Russian side points to the radical right-wing elements in the interim government to discredit the opposition movement as “Banderivtsi” in reference to Stepan Bandera, who is reviled by Russia as the leader of Ukrainian collaboration with the Nazis.

For its part, the opposition, along with Hilary Clinton, has sought to equate the probable presence of Russian forces in Crimea with Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938. While the moniker “Putler” and gaudy visual memes of the Russian president with a superimposed toothbrush moustache are social media-friendly, the more powerful move in evoking the trope of appeasement, as before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, lies in its emotive appeal to European powers to take punitive action against Moscow.

Such is the volume and velocity of recent events, keeping abreast of political developments is not conducive to balanced, evidence-based judgements. And the emotional content of much of the coverage from both sides has done little to foster critical reflection on events. While the USA and Russia trade accusations of disinformation, EU hesitancy to act against Russia might be seen not simply as an indicator of weakness or fear of the rebounding consequences of economic sanctions, but as a sign of backstage misgivings about the information emerging from Kiev.

To build a steady foundation for peace acceptable to all Ukrainians, including those in Crimea, and in order for the fledgling Ukrainian government to legitimise its rule, justice must be done and be seen to be done. The EU should press for the urgent, independent investigation of all criminal acts, against both protesters and state representatives.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Kitten’s Law, Internet Research and The DARPA Pet Photo Contest

Godwin’s law is an internet adage that asserts that the longer an online discussion goes on, the more likely  some kind of comparison with Hitler or the Nazi’s will be mentioned. It’s pretty much a bonafide, objective truth – just read the comments section on your average political article on any major news site.

Recently I’ve been thinking that there’s another internet law, and rather than Nazi’s this one involves kittens, dogs and other animals. I propose that “as internet research grows longer, the probability of coming across animal pictures approaches 1″ —​ that is, if your research  takes into account the internet (regardless of topic or scope), sooner or later you’ll come across a picture of cute animals.

I think we should call it ‘kitten’s law’ (‘Crilley’s law’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it). What got me thinking about this was a recent conference on the topic of ‘social influence in the information age’ hosted by the Ministry of Defence and the Defence Science Technology Laboratory. As such, you’d expect it to be a very serious affair with no room for lolcats. But no, within the first 3 minutes of the keynote speech, an image of a kitten popped up. Throughout the day I saw a further 4 cats in various presentations. And today…

Well today I came across the DARPA Pet Photo Contest. Quite possibly one of the weirdest things to have ever happened on this planet. Ever.

DARPA is the American Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and  is responsible for developing military things like Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, stealth boats and the terminator, *ahem* I mean ‘robots featuring task-level autonomy that can operate in the hazardous, degraded conditions common in disaster zones’. Or the post-apocalyptic world after Skynet launches all the nukes.

Anyway, the photo contest involves DARPA employees submitting ‘pictures of their pets in costume, with patriotic and science themes strongly encouraged’. Meet the winner, Freddy.

Here’s the runners up:

And my personal favourite, Henry.

So there, even when you’re researching something niche and ‘serious’ like how various political actors use contemporary digital technologies to claim legitimacy for violence you’ll come across animal photos. In fact maybe part of the answer to my research question is that they use lolcats and dog’s dressed up as robotic IED detectors, but as much as I’d love to write a chapter (read: whole thesis) on this I’m not sure it would actually fly. Maybe I should just stick a photo of a kitten in there and call it a day?!

World Press Photo Awards 2014

The World Press Photo Awards have been announced today and they feature some amazing  photography by some of the best photojournalists on the planet.

The awards go to the very best images created by photojournalists. Judged by a panel of experts ‘the contest creates a bridge linking the professionals with the general public. As the announcement of the winners makes headlines around the world, so the inspirational role of photojournalism is highlighted to an audience of hundreds of millions.’

The World Press Photo Awards have now been running for 55 years and the prize winning photos from this year are all worth checking out. Below are a few of my personal favourites, selected because they not only show important events but because they are incredibly good photos.

The main prize of the The World Press Photo Award 2014 has gone to John Stanmeyer and it’s a powerful shot of ‘African migrants on the shore of Djibouti city at night, raising their phones in an attempt to capture an inexpensive signal from neighboring Somalia’.

Photo by John Stanmeyer

This image by Taslima Akhter was awarded 3rd in the category of spot news singles and is particularly haunting; taken in the aftermath of a garment factory collapse in Bangladesh.

Photo by Taslima Akhter

Moises Saman won the 2nd prize in the general news singles category with this image of a bomb maker in Aleppo, Syria.

Photo by Moises Saman

In the general news stories category, William Daniels was awarded second with his images from the Central African Republic. Here, a young girl stands in the doorway of a house. Two days earlier a member of her family, 21-year-old Fleuri Doumana, was killed by a grenade launched by a member of the Muslim militia.

Photo by William Daniels

Christopher Venegas, was awarded 3rd prize in the contemporary issues singles category. His image shows police arriving to a crime scene where five people have been killed in retaliation against other organized criminal groups in Mexico.

Photo by Christopher Vanegas

In the daily life singles category, Julius Schrank won first prize. His image shows Kachin Independence Army fighters, in the besieged Burmese city of Laiza, drinking and celebrating at a funeral of one of their commanders who died the day before.

Photo by Julius Schrank

Tanya Habjouqa won second prize in the daily life stories category. Her series of images explores small moments of pleasure where ordinary Palestinians demonstrate a desire to live, not just simply survive. This image depicts a young man enjoying a cigarette in his car as the back-up finally clears at a check point on the last evening of Ramadan. The sheep is being brought home for the upcoming Eid celebration.

Photo by Tanya Habjouqa

Peter van Agtmael’s portraits of Bobby Henline have been awarded second place in the observed portraits stories category. American soldier Bobby Henline was the sole survivor of an IED blast in Iraq. ‘The bones in his face were fractured, burns covered close to 40 percent of his body, and his left hand later had to be amputated. He spent two weeks in a coma. After a long recovery, Henline started providing comic relief for other burn survivors.’ This is an image of him in a Dallas motel, Bobby is now a standup comedian with a routine built around his injuries.

Photo by Peter van Agtmael

Images are one of the main ways in which we make sense of what’s going on around the world and with the proliferation of image making technologies, some people have argued that photojournalism is dying. Whether that’s the case or not, the World Press Photo Awards 2014 show that professional photojournalism is still an incredibly powerful, moving, and important art form.

View all of the World Press Photo Award 2014 winners here.

Syria: Whole Neighbourhoods Destroyed

The horrific figures of death and human suffering in Syria are bewildering. Over 2 million people have been forced to flee the country as refugees, over 6.5 million people are internally displaced and over 100,000 people have been killed as the civil war rages on.

It’s hard to really imagine such destruction, and several satellite images by Human Rights Watch highlight how whole neighbourhoods have been obliterated.

This is the Mezzeh area, Damascus. You can see extensive demolition of dozens of high-rise residential and commercial buildings along the main road between Mezzeh Air Base and the neighborhood of Daraya.

This is the Masha’ al-Arb’een neighbourhood, Hama.

See more images like this over at Human Rights Watch.

A Twitter Q&A on Cybersecurity with P.W. Singer

Over the past week, the defence practice group at Powell Tate communications and public affairs have been collecting questions for a reddit style AMA with P.W. Singer (director of the Brookings institute and author of Wired for War) on twitter.

I’ve always find it hard to make sense of much of the cybersecurity and cyberwar stuff I’ve read and I’ve always found this slightly worrying as I like to think I’m, ahem, a relatively smart guy with a keen interest in security and the cyber world we all now inhabit. Moreover, it’s interesting that cybersecurity hasn’t been on the syllabi of any of the security courses i’ve taken at any level of my studies. Fortunately, Singer’s forthcoming book Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know, looks like it’ll address this lacuna and provide a handy guide to cybersecurity for scholars and students of International Relations and Security.

I haven’t got my hands on the book yet, but the Twitter Q&A has provided a few short insights into some important cybersecurity issues. Below are just some of the highlights with a few comments from myself for good measure.

What?! It’s not China? Or organised criminal gangs? Or angsty teenagers in their bedrooms? Apparently not. It’s simply the fact that we don’t really understand cybersecurity and therefore don’t act in ways that are appropriate to ensure it. As in the offline world, it seems that cybersecurity threats from external actors are overplayed. It’s not a dangerous unseen enemy that poses the greatest threat to our security, it’s our own lack of understanding. And maybe if we stopped picking up USB sticks in car parks and plugging them in at work we’d be a little bit more secure.

The proto arms race sounds, and is, quite worrying. Viruses such as Stuxnet, Duqu and Flame are all allegedly weaponised forms of malware purportedly created by the USA and Israel. Intended to cause harm either by actually subverting Iran’s nuclear facilities or gathering information about them, I guess the problem with these is that once they are out of the bottle, anyone who gets their hands on them can learn from and adapt the code. Thus they’re a danger in the ‘wrong hands’ and they also undermine trust within the international community.

The second point about a more authoritarian internet seems to be something that is happening through both the NSA PRISM scandal and through the introduction of more and more legislation to regulate what can be accessed online.

It’s good to see someone actually involved in the policy world pointing out that the extent of the NSA online spying was both dumb and legally questionable. Something which several of the US NatSec community rarely point out.

Was the Fox News headline for this ‘4 month old potential terrorist launches biological weapon at airport’?! If not, it should have been.

The whole set of questions and answers is worth looking at so check out @peterwsinger and @PTdefense on twitter and drop your thoughts in the comment box below. Singer’s book looks like it’ll be a great read and I’m sure it’ll go into way more depth on the issues covered in 140 characters on Twitter.

Teaching International Relations With Memes

I thought I had the revolutionary idea of using memes to engage with my students on the IR theory courses I teach but it turns out Dr Jack Holland has already beaten me to it!

The idea behind using memes is that they’ll be a funny way to highlight interesting theoretical points in a concise way. I’m going to roll one out in this weeks class and then set my students a task of producing a meme related to the course content  over Christmas. Because surely they’ve got nothing better to do over the holidays…

Here’s the first one I’ve come up with that ties in to this week’s class on constructivism. Conspiracy Keanu gets to grips with a bit of Wendt…

I’m a bit worried that my students won’t be quite as nerdy as me and won’t get the whole meme thing, so if anyone out there has tried teaching IR/politics using memes then it’d be good to hear how it went down!

Here’s one meme that they should all appreciate…