Foreign AffairsSupplementary written evidence from the BBC World Service

Social media uses web-based and mobile technologies and turns communication via the internet into active dialogue. BBC World Service and other international broadcasters now make extensive use of social networking sites like Facebook because they are powerful tools for communicating with audiences.

There are a number of ways that BBC World Service use of social media can be affected in order to prevent or corrupt it.

Sites can be blocked

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are all being blocked in China. Only internal social media sites such as Sina Weibo (Twitter equivalent in China run by local Chinese operators) or Renren (a Facebook-type site) are permitted. All social media sites in China are subject to censorship at ISP and central government level (by operating at the ISP level, posts and blogs can be quickly and completely blocked).

The weibo accounts of the Head of BBC Chinese Service (in the name of his official capacity) were closed by the weibo operators in September 2012, under the administrative order of the Chinese authorities. However, the official weibo accounts of, the educational site from the BBC, are still accessible in China.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are all officially blocked in Iran but many people still have access to them through Virtual Private Networks (VPN). Ayatollah Khamenei himself has an official Twitter account and Tehran municipality has a verified Twitter account.

Sites can be hacked

Our Persian Service reports attempts to hack BBC email and other social media accounts and, in the case of staff personal accounts, some of these have been successful.

False sites or accounts can be created mirroring the genuine ones

BBC Persian presenters’ and other programme Facebook pages have been cloned and altered to include biased stories.

The Persian service has also experienced denial of service attacks on telephone lines serving its interactive programmes.

For further general information on these aspects, the following web links may be of interest:

This article from the MIT Technology Review explores the increasing efficiency and sophistication of the censorship of social media in China, drawing on research from various academic institutions. Looking at how monitoring which posts are being blocked can reveal insights into the Chinese government’s censorship strategy, it also notes how much social media has been embraced by the government itself.

This article on the Deutsche Welle website considers the use of social media in Iran by both activists and pro-regime supporters. The “social engineering” type cyber-attacks (creation of duplicate false sites or accounts mentioned in the original BBC World Service written evidence) are also highlighted.

This article looks at how users of Twitter and Facebook can be identified by IP trackers and considers research currently being done for Bahrain Watch and Citizen Lab. It also notes the ease with which fake domains and accounts can be created and references a new report from Access (a human rights organisation focussing on protecting digital freedoms) in the “Global Civil Society at Risk” series.

31 July 2013

Prepared 15th October 2013