WordPress Rejects Second Legal Request to Remove Photoshopped Image Mocking Indian PM

— Mumbai’s cyber police department seeks to remove content hosted on this blog, BuzzFeed, Google Blogger, Amazon CloudFront, Tumblr, and Flickr

In August, my hosting provider, WordPress, rejected a legal request by Mumbai cyber police to censor a clearly photoshopped image I republished from BuzzFeed last year.

The image, which depicted Indian prime minister Narendra Modi homoerotically embracing his right-hand man Rajnath Singh on an idyllic beach, was deleted by BuzzFeed following a legal threat from Mumbai police alleging defamation.

In case you missed it the first time:

Last week, WordPress rejected a second request by Mumbai police to remove the offending image from my blog. Here is an excerpt from that request as provided to me by Automattic, the company behind WordPress:

Subject: – Remove Photo, Preserve and Provide Details of Objectionable/morphed photo …SHO (SML 28/09/2019)

WHEREAS, Cyber Police Station, Crime Branch, C.I.D., Mumbai, has received a complaint regarding uploading of Objectionable Material by below mentioned link showing morphed/Vulgar Photos/Comments on Muslim Community gods and goddess, BJP Leaders & National Congress leader party in abusive and vulgar manner.

It is found that the suspects are posting such exclamatory and defamatory morphed/vulgar photos with the purpose to create UNREST, BREACH of PEACE which might result in LAW & ORDER problems in Maharashtra, India…

REQUIRED INFORMATION
1. Creation details -IP address with date and time.
2. Login and logout details I.P. Address with date and time from
date…
3. Address book and scraps details of the user
4. Registered Email ID used to access these URLs.
5. Registered Mobile Number of these URLs.
6. Any Other relevant Information of

Please furnish information on TOP PRIORITY BASIS so as to avoid Law and
Order problems in Maharashtra and INDIA.

Thanking in anticipation of an early response to facilitate the enquiries.

(S.S.Sahasrabudhe)
Senior Inspector of Police,
Cyber Police Station,
Crime Branch, CID, Mumbai.

Here is what a spokesperson for Automattic sent me in an e-mail:

As the request does not comply with our requirements, we will not be taking any action against your site at this time … While we may preserve information about your account, we have not turned over any information. We will not turn over any information unless we receive a valid request for the information, or a court order. If we do receive such a request, unless we are legally prohibited from doing so, we will inform you and provide you time when you may attempt to quash or legally challenge the request.

In addition to targeting content on my blog, the request also asked to remove content hosted on BuzzFeed, Google Blogger, Amazon CloudFront, Tumblr, and Flickr, including:

• This parody movie poster depicting Modi as an action hero (via Amazon CloudFront):

• This image depicting Modi as a Lion (via BuzzFeed):

• This image of Modi in a dress (via BuzzFeed):

• This image of Modi dressed as Aladdin (via BuzzFeed):

It does not appear that BuzzFeed, Amazon, Google, or Flickr have complied with the Mumbai police department’s demands. However, all the offending content hosted on Tumblr, including several anti-Islamic and pornographic images, has been deleted.

The Mumbai cyber police did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

You can read the full request via the Scribd embed below.

Sanctioned Kremlin Propagandist Alexander Malkevich Denies Allegations He Tried to Meddle in African Elections

“What does it mean – ‘the files lead to the trolls factory’? It’s a bunch of words,” said Malkevich, who is accused of orchestrating election interference campaigns in Africa

Alexander Malkevich (source)

Recently, reports have emerged of a new Kremlin-backed strategy to influence African elections.

In April, BBC News reported that dozens of Russian nationals masquerading as “tourists” and election “observers” had been spotted in Madagascar. Later that same month, CNN reported on an “insidious” Russian strategy to quell anti-government protests in Sudan. Then in July, Bloomberg reported that authorities in Libya had arrested two men for allegedly carrying out a plot to install Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the toppled dictator.

All three stories identified Russian catering oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin aka “Putin’s cook” as the man pulling the strings. But there’s another notable Kremlin-linked figure whose seeming involvement has largely gone unreported.

Readers of this blog will remember Alexander Malkevich as the former editor of Russian propaganda website USA Really, but “whose fumbling misadventures in American media have,” according to the New York Times, “made him seem more like a Sacha Baron Cohen character than a sinister propagandist.”

Malkevich exited USA Really in February shortly after the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned him for “attempted election interference.” Since then, he’s been heading up the Foundation for the Protection of National Values (FPNV), a self-described “small non-government organisation” that conducts sociological research in various countries to sell to “businessmen and for other people who are in need of them.”

FPNV recently made headlines after Malkevich announced the company was raising money to pay convicted Russian agent Maria Butina’s legal bills.

Maria Butina (source)

On FPNV’s site, Malkevich boasts that the two men detained in Libya — Russian political strategist Maxim Shugaley and his interpreter, Samer Hassan Seifan — currently work for FPNV. According to Bloomberg, information gleaned from laptops and memory sticks have further identified the two men as working for the infamous Internet Research Agency (IRA), better known as the Russian troll factory.

Reached by e-mail, Malkevich confirmed that Shugaley and Seifan currently work for FPNV, but dismissed all other charges as a meaningless “bunch of words,” insisting that the men were merely conducting “routine field research.”

“What does it mean – ‘the files lead to the trolls factory’? it’s a bunch of words,” Malkevich told Shooting the Messenger. “They had nothing criminal. Abstracts, transcripts of conversations, photos, videos and other multimedia files, on the basis of which our research was made. And the part of it is already absolutely openly published on our site!”

It’s not the first time Malkevich has admitted to employing prominent members of Prigozhin’s infamous troll factory.

Yevgeny Prigozhin (source)

In April, CNN reported on an “insidious strategy” to quell protests against Sudan’s dictatorial former president Omar al-Bashir late last year. The strategy — allegedly orchestrated by St. Petersburg mining company M-Invest with support from a military construction firm co-owned by Prigozhin — involved “spreading misinformation on social media, blaming Israel for fomenting the unrest, and even carrying out public executions to make an example of ‘looters,’” according to CNN’s sources.

Documents obtained by the London-based Dossier Center show that M-Invest’s presence in Sudan was facilitated by Mikhail Potepkin, a St. Petersburg press agent and, allegedly, a prominent member of Prigozhin’s troll factory.

Shortly after CNN’s report — which made no mention of Malkevich or FPNV — Malkevich published a statement on FPNV’s site in which he freely admitted that Potepkin and his colleague, Russian political strategist Petr Bychkov, traveled to Sudan on behalf of the company last year to carry out sociological research, advise al-Bashir’s government on ways to “[avoid] mass casualties among the civilian population,” and ensure “the bloodless transfer of power” in the country.

In an e-mail, Malkevich retracted his previous claim that Potepkin and Bychkov secretly worked for FPNV in 2018, but confirmed that the two men do currently work as consultants to its research in Africa.

“Several people in Africa worked as researchers for many months before the appearance of our foundation,” Malkevich explained in an audio recording. “In spring, it was easy and it was useful for me and for us to establish some working relationship, working negotiations with them because they do have special and deep experience in this field.”

Malkevich added that he “[knows] nothing about side projects of Petr and Mikhail” and denied having any connection to Prigozhin.

Mikhail Potepkin (source)

Online information about Potepkin is scarce, although his Facebook page states that he works as a press officer at the Russian state-owned “Fuel and Energy Complex of Saint-Petersburg.” He’s also identified in several news articles as a member of the Nashi movement, a Russian anti-fascist group.

Potepkin’s name also pops up in connection with another company co-owned by data analyst Anna Bogacheva, who along with Prigozhin was one of 13 Russian nationals indicted last year in connection with IRA interference efforts.

Malkevich denied having any knowledge of Bogacheva.

Petr Bychkov (source)

Bychkov is perhaps best known in the west for his attempts to meddle in South Africa’s general election earlier this year. According to South African newspaper the Daily Maverick, Bychkov, in coordination with yet another Prigozhin-linked NGO based in Russia, secretly campaigned to re-elect the ruling African National Congress party (ANC) by spreading disinformation about ANC’s political opponents.

The Daily Maverick’s exclusive does not mention Malkevich or FPNV, and Malkevich has not yet publicly addressed the article. Meanwhile, FPNV continues to publish research on its site while appearing to implicate itself in news stories about Russian interference in Africa.

You can listen to Malkevich’s full statement via the Soundcloud link below.

Reason: Indian Government Attempts to Remove Material From Western Sites

— Reason magazine’s The Volokh Conspiracy hoists Indian cyber police for making frivolous legal demand to censor this blog

Via “Indian Government Attempts to Remove Material from Western Sites,” by Eugene Volokh, Reason, August 27, 2019:

Northern Irish blogger Dean Sterling Jones reports on a successful demand that Buzzfeed remove the photo, and on an unsuccessful demand that WordPress remove it from Jones’ own blog post, which had reported on the Buzzfeed incident. I confirmed that the takedown demand came from the Mumbai Cyber Police…

Click here to read the full story.

BuzzFeed News: Underground Economy Selling Links From Big News Sites

— Shady online marketers are selling links in articles on the New York Times, BBC, CNN, and other news sites. ICYMI, here’s my latest for BuzzFeed News.

Via “There’s An Underground Economy Selling Links From The New York Times, BBC, CNN, And Other Big News Sites,” by Dean Sterling Jones, BuzzFeed News, July 26, 2019:

In 2012, the Hollywood Reporter published a glowing obituary for Patricia Disney, the first wife of former Walt Disney executive Roy Disney. In tribute to her philanthropic work, the obituary included a link to WeLovePatty.com, a memorial site where readers could donate to charities in her honor. But if you click on the link to that memorial site today, you’ll be taken to blaze4days.com, a cannabis blog offering content such as “Videos to Watch When High (Best of 2019).”

At some point, her family took down WeLovePatty.com and stopped paying for the domain name. That enabled it to be hijacked by parasitic digital marketers who trick readers into visiting sites that sometimes sell sketchy products and services. Search engine optimization consultants buy expired URLs that have been linked to by prominent news websites and redirect these domains to their clients’ sites in a bid to game search results.

Click here to read the full story.

WordPress Rejects Mumbai Cyber Squad’s Frivolous Legal Request to Censor This Blog

— Mumbai cyber police are determined to scrub the Internet of homoerotic photos of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi

Last year, I blogged about bullying attempts by Mumbai’s cyber police squad to censor BuzzFeed re: this clearly doctored image of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi embracing his right-hand man Rajnath Singh on an idyllic beach.

source

Since then, I’ve noticed an almost daily volley of oddly specific incoming search terms on my blog, including: “modi fuck pics,” “modi sex,” and “india fuck modi.” Either someone really likes Narendra Modi, or Mumbai’s cyber police are spending all of their time scouring the Internet for reasons to be offended.

Today, it appears that mystery has been solved. Automattic, the company behind blogging platform WordPress, has rejected a frivolous legal request by the apparently easily offended cyber division to censor my earlier blog post. Written in a Trumpian ALL CAPS style, the three-page document states that the department was acting on a complaint it received from an unknown person, who objected to the allegedly “perverse” rendering of Modi and Singh.

“It is found that the suspects are posting such exclamatory and defamatory morphed/vulgar photos with the purpose to create UNREST, BREACHofPEACE which might result in LAW&ORDER problems in Maharashtra, India,” reads the nonsensical request, which was personally signed by Senior Inspector of Police, S.S.Sahasrabudhe.

From there, somehow it gets worse, with the department demanding that Automattic immediately furnish the mobile phone numbers, login details, e-mail and IP addresses of publishers of the offending content. The demand is listed as a “TOP PRIORITY BASIS so as to avoid Law and Order problems in Maharashtra and INDIA.”

An addendum to the document cites Section 91 of India’s Code of Criminal Procedure, which broadly permits “any officer in charge of a police station” to request “any document or other thing” from “the person in whose possession…such document or thing is believed to be.”

In an e-mail, a representative for Automattic dismissed the request.

“As the request does not comply with our requirements, we will not be taking any action against your site at this time,” the spokesperson said. “While we may preserve information about your account, we have not turned over any information. We will not turn over any information unless we receive a valid request for the information, or a court order. If we do receive such a request, unless we are legally prohibited from doing so, we will inform you and provide you time when you may attempt to quash or legally challenge the request.”

In addition to my blog, the cyber squad’s demand also targeted at least one other blog allegedly responsible for hosting objectionable content, which I will now share in the interests of full disclosure.

Maria Butina’s Russian Advocate Responds to News Coverage of His Latest Fundraising Efforts

— Alexander Ionov, who currently oversees convicted Russian agent Maria Butina’s legal fund, claims U.S. journalists are putting “psychological pressure” on Butina’s lawyers

From left: Alexander Ionov, Valery Butin, and Alexander Malkevich (source)

Last week, I blogged a quick story re: Maria Butina’s recent fundraising efforts. Investigative reporter Casey Michel also wrote about this story via his perch at ThinkProgress (click here to read).

In my post, Russian journalist/propagandist Alexander Malkevich told me he recently paid Butina’s lawyers 5 million rubles (approximately $76,000) via a Moscow-based NGO named the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR) in order to circumvent sanctions imposed on him by the U.S. Treasury Department in December.

On Tuesday, Malkevich held a joint press conference with AGMR’s founder Alexander Ionov, in which Ionov appeared to comment on the two stories by me and Michel.

Via Malkevich’s advocacy website, The Foundation for the Protection of National Values:

Alexander Ionov said that the task now is to do everything possible so that the legal interests and rights of Maria Butina are respected, and this requires the work of lawyers. He hopes that the support provided will help shorten the term of the Russians in prison.

The human rights activist also said that the lawyers had already prepared documents for filing an appeal. At the same time, he noted that now in the USA psychological pressure is being put on them, including from a number of American media [emphasis added].

“When they saw that there were citizens concerned about the situation, funds transferring money, they began a campaign to counteract the receipt of money by lawyers, so that they would refuse protection,” said Alexander Ionov.

ThinkProgress Shout-out

— ThinkProgress cites Shooting the Messenger story re: Russian propaganda site

Yesterday, Shooting the Messenger and American news website ThinkProgress published stories about efforts by Russian propagandist Alexander Malkevich and others to help raise money for convicted Russian agent Maria Butina.

The ThinkProgress story, by investigative reporter Casey Michel, cited some of my previous work on Malkevich. Thanks Casey!

Via “Leading voices in Russian interference efforts rally to support Maria Butina” by Casey Michel, ThinkProgress, May 29, 2019:

An upcoming press conference in Moscow to support jailed Russian agent Maria Butina will bring together some of the most notable voices in Russian interference efforts over the past few years, from the leading figure organizing American secessionists to a sanctioned Russian social media operator.

The press conference, scheduled for next Tuesday, will be hosted by Alexander Malkevich, a sanctioned Russian disinformation operative who helps run the Russia-based Foundation for the Protection of National Values. The foundation describes itself as “a non-profit organization whose activities are aimed at protecting the national interests of the Russian Federation,” including the “preserv[ation] of traditional culture.”

Malkevich is best-known for helping create a disinformation site called “USA Really,” which has previously been linked to media operations led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a sanctioned Russian official close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s Chef,” helped oversee Russia’s social media interference operations through 2016…

As the release announcing the sanctions read, Malkevich, via “USA Really,” was “engaged in efforts to post content focused on divisive political issues.” Malkevich, as journalist Dean Sterling Jones has reported, has since left “USA Really,” but not before he decided to hang a Confederate flag on the office walls (as well as a flag in support of Russia-backed militants in eastern Ukraine).

Click here to read the full article

Sanctioned Russian Propagandist Alexander Malkevich Joins Maria Butina Fundraising Efforts

— Alexander Malkevich, who was sanctioned for “attempted election interference” last year, joins crowdfunding efforts to help pay convicted Russian agent Maria Butina’s legal bills

— Malkevich “did not contribute personal funds!” says Butina’s designated fundraiser Alexander Ionov, who runs a Kremlin-backed NGO that helped promote U.S. separatist groups

Alexander Malkevich (source)

Alexander Malkevich, former editor-in-chief of sanctioned Russian propaganda website USA Really, has announced he is crowdfunding to help pay convicted Russian agent Maria Butina’s legal bills.

The announcement was made last week via Malkevich’s non-profit advocacy organisation, The Foundation for the Protection of National Values (FPNV), which claims it has paid 5 million rubles (approximately $76,000) into a fund set up by Butina’s lawyers last year.

FPNV “​​intends to protect the rights of a compatriot who has become hostage to the US government,” reads a statement on the site. “Since [Butina was] detained in July 2018 [for acting as an unregistered agent of the Kremlin], the US authorities used inhumane measures against her and violated her rights to obtain the necessary information and use them in the political sphere.”

Maria Butina (source)

In an e-mail, Malkevich said he is donating the raised money through the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR)—a Moscow-based NGO charged with overseeing Butina’s legal fund—in order to circumvent sanctions imposed on him by the U.S. Treasury Department in December.

“Of course I am not paying [Butina’s lawyers] directly because I am under sanctions,” he told Shooting the Messenger. “But I am the producer of this crowdfunding.”

AGMR was founded in 2012 by Russian lawyer and businessman Alexander Ionov, whose Kremlin-backed efforts to promote U.S. separatist groups received praise from Russian president Vladimir Putin. Ionov got involved in Butina’s case in October with the launch of MariaButinaFund.ru, a Russian-language mirror of Butina’s American fundraising site, MariaButinaFund.com.

Alexander Ionov (source)

When asked about Malkevich’s crowdfunding efforts, Ionov said he “does not know about the amounts collected [by] Malkevich,” but that “to date, [the] Fund has received 5 million rubles from individuals and public organizations.”

He added that Malkevich “did not contribute personal funds!”

Butina’s personal lawyer Robert Driscoll did not return a request for comment.

Malkevich found fame last year as the founder of USA Really, a Russian propaganda site explicitly aimed at U.S. audiences. After crashing a November 6 election night party at Washington, D.C.’s National Press Club, the Treasury Department accused him of “attempted election interference” and forbade U.S. individuals and businesses from transacting with him and his site. He exited the site in March to lead Russia’s Civic Chamber of Mass Media, from which he currently advises the Kremlin on media policy.

Malkevich and Ionov are scheduled to hold a joint press conference at the offices of Moscow’s Izvestia newspaper on June 4.

Fair Use and Copyright Abuse: WordPress Dismisses Abusive DMCA Complaint About My Story on DMCA Abuse

— Automattic, the Californian tech company behind blogging platform WordPress, has dismissed a copyright complaint about this blog by conservative writer Michael Moates, citing fair use protections

In February, I published a story about frivolous attempts to suppress sexual harassment claims against conservative writer Michael Moates.

As I wrote in that story, since October someone has been filing copyright complaints in Moates’ name requesting that Google delist a bunch of news articles, including stories by Right Wing Watch and Raw Story, that reported on lewd and inappropriate messages he allegedly sent to three young women, including two underage girls (click here to read more about the allegations).

Late last month, Automattic received a brand new copyright complaint, sent from Moates’ personal e-mail address, targeting my story and requesting the removal of a number of photos and images (two of which were embedded from other sites), including a screenshot of a Facebook exchange in which he appeared to proposition sexual/domestic assault victims’ advocate Kylie Thomas to go on a date with him.

source

In an e-mail yesterday, Automattic, whose free speech bonafides include fighting copyright abuse by suing on behalf of its users and even tolerating a few less-than-flattering posts by this blog (see: Arif Trumps WordPress), said it has decided not to comply with the complaint, citing fair use protections.

Here’s Automattic’s e-mail, including Moates’ complaint, in full:

Sal P. (Automattic)
May 2, 23:10 UTC

Hello,

We have received a DMCA notice for material published on your WordPress.com site.

Normally this would mean that we’d have to disable access to the material. However, because we believe that this instance falls under fair use protections, we will not be removing it at this time.

Section 107 of the US Copyright Act identifies various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. You can learn more about that here:

Copyright and Fair Use
Copyright Law of the United States

While we believe that your use of the material is protected (we have fought for our users in similar cases in the past – see “WordPress wins against ‘straight pride’ group in copyright censorship case”), please keep in mind that the complainant may choose to continue to pursue this matter, perhaps directly with you. If you would prefer, you are still able to delete the content from your site yourself.

The notice we received from the complainant follows.

— BEGIN NOTICE —

First name: Michael
Last name: Moates
Company name:
Address: [Redacted]
City: [Redacted]
State/Region/Province: [Redacted]
ZIP: [Redacted]
Country: United States (US)
Phone number: [Redacted]
Email address: michael.moates@thenarrativetimes.org

Copyright holder: Michael Moates

Location of unauthorized material:
shootingthemessenger.blog/tag/michael-moates/
shootingthemessenger.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/moates.kylie_..jpg

Location of original materials:
http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=815500755265835&set=piaarp.100004177545170&type=3&theater
http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=965443223604920&set=a.360042224145026&type=3&theater

Description of original materials:
See embeded copyright images on page:

Moates in front of White House
Moates and Sean Hannity

See photos in story

Photo of Moates attached to Facebook message

I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.
I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
I acknowledge that a copy of this infringement notice and any correspondence related to it, including any contact information I provided above (address, telephone number, and email address), will be forwarded to the user who uploaded the content at issue. I also acknowledge that a note may be placed on the site in question detailing the name of the copyright owner who submitted the takedown notice.

Digital signature: Michael Moates
Signed on: 2019-04-27 09:21:23

— END NOTICE —

Sal P. | Community Guardian | WordPress.com

Byline at BuzzFeed

— The Frisky was a popular site for women. Now it’s a marketing scam leeching off the brand. Read my latest at BuzzFeed News.

Via “How A Popular Women’s Website Became A Pay-To-Play Nightmare” by Dean Sterling Jones, BuzzFeed News, April 22, 2019:

On first glance, the Frisky appears to be a thriving women’s entertainment and lifestyle website. Founded in 2008 “for women, by women,” the site currently attracts over 1 million pageviews per month.

But beneath the surface, the site is filled with a strange mix of awkwardly written celebrity clickbait, articles promoting floorcare and acupuncture, and a post that attacks Long Island attorney Frederick Oberlander, a nemesis of onetime Trump business partner Felix Sater. The bylines of the site’s original authors have also been scrubbed and replaced by pseudonyms and stolen profile photos.

The Frisky as it once existed is gone. Today it’s a vampire website feeding off the property’s former popularity and brand name to sell pay-for-play articles in order to influence search engine rankings. The site is one of a growing number of once-lucrative web domains that are taken over and then milked for every last drop of search engine optimization value before they are inevitably downranked for shady practices.

Click here to read the full story.