Late Monday, messages from the “Syrian Electronic Army” began appearing on NPR sites, Mark Memmott reports.
The hackers, “an organization that’s said to support Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime,” Memmott writes, defaced headlines and text in some stories, and some Twitter accounts were compromised.
Another message said “you can ask @deborahamos” for an explanation of the attack. NPR’s Deborah Amos has done extensive reporting about the conflict in Syria and in the course of her reports has told of the hard toll the fighting there is taking on the Syrian people.
Hackers have targeted a number of news organizations’ sites in the past year. Some, believed to be Chinese, have struck outlets including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. Messages in favor of the Syrian government appeared on Agence France-Press’ Twitter account in late February.
Max Fisher and Jared Keller wrote about the Syrian Electronic Army in August 2011, saying its “mass of apparent volunteers…reveals the most about Syria’s ongoing conflict.”
Reliable opinion polling is difficult, but some reporting from the country suggests that a significant minority of Syrians strongly support Assad; some of them, particularly young, tech-savvy men and women, would be in a position to help their government against online opposition activists. This gives Assad something that his counterparts in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya mostly lacked: a savvy, aggressive presence online.
The group is “more than a simple ideological spam factory,” Alex Fitzpatrick wrote in Mashable last August.
It has gained notoriety for downing, defacing or hijacking websites and social media profiles of major media outlets, then using them to post pro-government content. The goal? With few foreign journalists operating inside Syria, there may be a higher than normal opportunity for propaganda to Influence the outside world’s opinion of the volatile situation.