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Drug Charges Against Russian Reporter Dropped After Protests

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  • Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov was released Tuesday after Russian officials dropped drug charges that had been brought against him last week.
  • Golunov said that he had been framed because of his reporting on government corruption.
  • Russian journalists responded by launching a multi-day protest, and prominent Russian newspapers called for his release in a move experts have said was unprecedented.

Golunov Released

Russian government authorities dropped drug trafficking charges against investigative journalist Ivan Golunov Tuesday, following significant backlash and protests from Russian journalists and media over his arrest.

Minister of Internal Affairs Vladimir Kolokoltsev said in a statement that the charges had been dropped because of a lack of evidence.

“According to the results of biological, forensic and fingerprint examinations and DNA testing, a decision was made to terminate the criminal prosecution of citizen Ivan Golunov due to the lack of evidence of his participation in the crime,” Kolokoltsev said in the statement.

Golunov was arrested and detained by police on Thursday, and after an invasive search, the officers claimed to have found drugs in his backpack. The police also said they found more drugs and other paraphernalia when they searched his apartment.

He was later charged with drug trafficking and taken to prison, though he denied the charges and said he was framed because of his reporting on high-level Russian corruption.

Suspicion Around Arrest

Others were quick to echo Golunov’s accusation against the police.

Golunov, who is well-known in Russia for his investigative work, had been writing for an online publication called Meduza, which is Russian-owned but is operated in Latvia to avoid persecution.

Following Golunov’s arrest, Meduza published a statement online defending him and arguing that his imprisonment was politically motivated. “We are convinced that Ivan Golunov is innocent,” the statement said. “Moreover, we have reason to believe that Goll-Loo-Noff is being persecuted because of his journalistic activities.”

Meduza also outlined suspicious activities surrounding Golunov’s arrest. According to the statement, Golunov’s lawyers requested that the police test his hands and nails to see if he had touched narcotics. The police refused.

Meduza also said that Golunov had been beaten by police when he was detained, but when he and his lawyer requested he go to a hospital he was again denied. Meduza additionally noted that Golunov had received threats over his work in recent months

Following the arrest, the police launched their own publicity campaign, publishing nine “incriminating” pictures of drugs and a pharmaceutical scale that they claimed they took at Golunov’s apartment.

However, several journalists quickly established that the pictures were not actually taken in his apartment. Shortly after, the police backtracked and admitted that most of the pictures were in fact taken elsewhere.

After the police fumble, even the Russian government acknowledged that there was conflicting information in the case.

“We have paid attention to the corrections that were later published, and we also proceed from the fact that there are several issues that are in need of a clarification,” a Kremlin spokesman said.

Protests

On Friday, Russian journalists launched a protest in front of the police headquarters in Moscow.

Under Russian law, protestors are required to get permits two weeks before planned demonstrations, but the protestors came up with a clever solution. Instead of all protesting together, activists took turns standing one at a time and holding a sign for 15 minutes or so and then passing the post off to the next person.

People lined up down the block to take turns to be the one-person protest. Reportedly, the line was so long that people waited for hours.

Unsurprisingly, police special forces moved quickly to detain about a dozen protestors, including some prominent Russian journalists who were held in custody for a little while before being released.

However, the line kept getting longer and longer, and those protests continued all weekend, even moving to the court where Golunov was set to appear for a hearing.

At the same time, a number of Russian celebrities and artists took to social media to call for Golunov’s release, and argued that his arrest was a violation of freedom of speech and an important test case for rule of law.

Russian Newspapers Express Support

The most surprising move came on Monday, when three leading Russian business newspapers published the same exact front pages with the headline: “I/We are Ivan Golunov.”

While all three of those newspapers are private rather than state-owned, all of them are usually very loyal to the Russian government.

After that, even a few very prominent pro-government broadcasters express skepticism about the case. Additionally, a petition calling for Golunov’s release reportedly received 7,500 signatures from other journalists, including those who worked for state-owned outlets.

As a result, experts have described the act as an unprecedented expression of solidarity with another journalist, as well as an unprecedented defiance of the Kremlin.

While Golunov’s release is an exciting and watershed moment for journalists in Russia, many wonder if it is just a one-off occurrence. Russia has long been criticized for its treatment of independent journalists, and just recently, have significantly ramped up their censorship efforts in the past few months.

In March, Vladimir Putin signed two new laws that would punish anyone who spread “fake news” or insulted the government with heavy fines and jail time. Under those laws, online media can be reported to the government, which then can block access to websites if the content that violates the law.

Golunov’s arrest was also not an isolated incident. On Friday, Meduza published an article listing 8 other journalists and activists who have gotten prison time for “drug charges” over the last few years.

See what others are saying: (The New Yorker) (CNN) (BBC)

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Schools Across the U.S. Cancel Classes Friday Over Unverified TikTok Threat

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Officials in multiple states said they haven’t found any credible threats but are taking additional precautions out of an abundance of safety.


School Cancelled

Schools in no fewer than 10 states either canceled classes or increased their police presence on Friday after a series of TikToks warned of imminent shooting and bombs threats.

Despite that, officials said they found little evidence to suggest the threats are credible. It’s possible no real threat was actually ever made as it’s unclear if the supposed threats originated on TikTok, another social media platform, or elsewhere. 

“We handle even rumored threats with utmost seriousness, which is why we’re working with law enforcement to look into warnings about potential violence at schools even though we have not found evidence of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok,” TikTok’s Communications team tweeted Thursday afternoon. 

Still, given the uptick of school shootings in the U.S. in recent years, many school districts across the country decided to respond to the rumors. According to The Verge, some districts in California, Minnesota, Missouri, and Texas shut down Friday. 

“Based on law enforcement interviews, Little Falls Community Schools was specifically identified in a TikTok post related to this threat,” one school district in Minnesota said in a letter Thursday. “In conversations with local law enforcement, the origins of this threat remain unknown. Therefore, school throughout the district is canceled tomorrow, Friday, December 17.”

In Gilroy, California, one high school that closed its doors Friday said it would reschedule final exams that were expected to take place the same day to January.

According to the Associated Press, several other districts in Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania stationed more police officers at their schools Friday.

Viral Misinformation or Legitimate Warnings?

As The Verge notes, “The reports of threats on TikTok may be self-perpetuating.”

For example, many of the videos online may have been created in response to initial warnings as more people hopped onto the trend. Amid school cancellations, videos have continued to sprout up — many awash with both rumors and factual information.

 “I’m scared off my ass, what do I do???”  one TikTok user said in a now-deleted video, according to People. 

“The post is vague and not directed at a specific school, and is circulating around school districts across the country,” Chicago Public Schools said in a letter, though it did not identify any specific post. “Please do not re-share any suspicious or concerning posts on social media.”

According to Dr. Amy Klinger, the director of programs for the nonprofit Educator’s School Safety Network, “This is not 2021 phenomenon.”

Instead, she told The Today Show that her network has been tracking school shooting threats since 2013, and she noted that in recent years, they’ve become more prominent on social media. 

“It’s not just somebody in a classroom of 15 people hearing someone make a threat,” she said. “It’s 15,000 people on social media, because it gets passed around and it becomes larger and larger and larger.”

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Associated Press) (People)

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Jake Paul Says He “Can’t Get Cancelled” as a Boxer

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The controversial YouTuber opened up about what it has been like to go from online fame to professional boxing.


The New Yorker Profiles Jake Paul

YouTuber and boxer Jake Paul talked about his career switch, reputation, and cancel culture in a profile published Monday in The New Yorker. 

While Paul rose to fame as the Internet’s troublemaker, he now spends most of his time in the ring. He told the outlet that one difference between YouTube and boxing is that his often controversial reputation lends better to his new career. 

“One thing that is great about being a fighter is, like, you can’t get cancelled,” Paul said. The profile noted that the sport often rewards and even encourages some degree of bad behavior.

“I’m not a saint,” Paul later continued. “I’m also not a bad guy, but I can very easily play the role.”

Paul also said the other difference between his time online and his time in boxing is the level of work. While he says he trains hard, he confessed that there was something more challenging about making regular YouTube content. 

“Being an influencer was almost harder than being a boxer,” he told The New Yorker. “You wake up in the morning and you’re, like, Damn, I have to create fifteen minutes of amazing content, and I have twelve hours of sunlight.”

Jake Paul Vs. Tommy Fury

The New Yorker profile came just after it was announced over the weekend Paul will be fighting boxer Tommy Fury in an 8-round cruiserweight fight on Showtime in December. 

“It’s time to kiss ur last name and ur family’s boxing legacy goodbye,” Paul tweeted. “DEC 18th I’m changing this wankers name to Tommy Fumbles and celebrating with Tom Brady.”

Both Paul and Fury are undefeated, according to ESPN. Like Paul, Fury has found fame outside of the sport. He has become a reality TV star in the U.K. after appearing on the hit show “Love Island.”

See what others are saying: (The New Yorker) (Dexerto) (ESPN)

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Hackers Hit Twitch Again, This Time Replacing Backgrounds With Image of Jeff Bezos

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The hack appears to be a form of trolling, though it’s possible that the infiltrators were able to uncover a security flaw while reviewing Twitch’s newly-leaked source code.


Bezos Prank

Hackers targeted Twitch for a second time this week, but rather than leaking sensitive information, the infiltrators chose to deface the platform on Friday by swapping multiple background images with a photo of former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. 

According to those who saw the replaced images firsthand, the hack appears to have mostly — and possibly only — affected game directory headers. Though the incident appears to be nothing more than a surface-level prank, as Amazon owns Twitch, it could potentially signal greater security flaws. 

For example, it’s possible the hackers could have used leaked internal security data from earlier this week to discover a network vulnerability and sneak into the platform. 

The latest jab at the platforms came after Twitch assured its users it has seen “no indication” that their login credentials were stolen during the first hack. Still, concerns have remained regarding the potential for others to now spot cracks in Twitch’s security systems.

It’s also possible the Bezos hack resulted from what’s known as “cache poisoning,” which, in this case, would refer to a more limited form of hacking that allowed the infiltrators to manipulate similar images all at once. If true, the hackers likely would not have been able to access Twitch’s back end. 

The photo changes only lasted several hours before being returned to their previous conditions. 

First Twitch Hack 

Despite suspicions and concerns, it’s unclear whether the Bezos hack is related to the major leak of Twitch’s internal data that was posted to 4chan on Wednesday.

That leak exposed Twitch’s full source code — including its security tools — as well as data on how much Twitch has individually paid every single streamer on the platform since August 2019. 

It also revealed Amazon’s at least partially developed plans for a cloud-based gaming library, codenamed Vapor, which would directly compete with the massively popular library known as Steam.

Even though Twitch has said its login credentials appear to be secure, it announced Thursday that it has reset all stream keys “out of an abundance of caution.” Users are still being urged to change their passwords and update or implement two-factor authentication if they haven’t already. 

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Forbes) (CNET)

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