China Extends Military Exercises as Taiwan Battles Cyberattacks

That’s the headline on my most recent story, with my colleague Joyu Wang, which ran online Monday and on Tuesday’s WSJ page one.

It began:

China said it was extending its military exercises around Taiwan following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit last week while Taiwan’s military on Monday accused Beijing of carrying on sustained cyberattacks against the island that rendered key government-run websites inaccessible.

China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army, said Monday that it would continue with exercises for an unspecified period of time after wrapping up four days of maneuvers between Thursday and Sunday, which demonstrated its ability to effectively blockade the island.

The PLA’s Eastern Theater Command, which oversees operations closest to Taiwan, said Monday’s drills focused on joint antisubmarine and sea assault operations around the island, with new footage released on its social media account showing naval ships and fighter jets involved in a joint exercise.

In addition to its more visible military maneuvers, Taiwanese Lt. Gen. Lu Chien-chung told a news conference Monday, “the Chinese Communist Party didn’t go easy on the internet,” accusing Beijing of continuing a campaign aimed at crippling key Taiwanese websites.

Click through to read the rest.

Newley's Notes

NN289: Welcome, Dossett Shanti Purnell!

Sent as a newsletter Sunday, August 7. Want to join my email list? Sign up here.

👋 Hi friends,

Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

This is my first NN since taking a break in late January, and I have…

🚨 A special announcement, by far the most important I have ever made here at NN:

👶 Anasuya and I had a baby boy in February!

His name is Dossett Shanti Purnell.

We named him for my great grandfather, Dossett, and Anasuya’s grandfather, Shanti, which is a Sanskrit word meaning peace.

As I mentioned in a brief post, he is big (he tipped the scales at 8.6 pounds at birth, measuring 21 inches long), he is healthy, he is a voracious eater, and he is a sound sleeper.

🤗 We are beyond happy.

My WSJ latest:

🗞 While it’s hard to follow that news, I’ve had a few stories out since returning from parental leave.

🔍 On Thursday I wrote about a pro-China online campaign that a cybersecurity firm says pumped out bogus social media posts and news articles. The goal, at least in part: to try to discredit a prominent U.S.-based anthropologist who has illuminated China’s crackdown on Muslims in the country’s Xinjiang region.

⚖️ Earlier, I wrote about Amazon suing the administrators of thousands of Facebook groups it said are used to coordinate fake reviews.

🇮🇳 In another story, a colleague and I detailed Facebook’s first global human rights report – which contained limited information on the controversial human rights impact I assessment on India that I covered in November.

🐦 And I also wrote about Twitter filing a legal challenge in India against the government’s orders to block some tweets and accounts.

I’ll likely be back with normal news links in future dispatches, but in the meantime…

Here are 10 recommendations for books, TV shows and podcasts I’ve enjoyed since I was last in touch:

1) 📱 A thought-provoking nonfiction book on tech: “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,” by Jaron Lanier.

2) 🤑 And another: “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” by Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff. Worth a read, not only because it’ll help you determine who, among the many people throwing the phrase “surveillance capitalism” around these days, has actually read the book.

3) 🔪 A masterful psychological thriller: “Hannibal,” by Thomas Harris. (I have read “The Silence of the Lambs” a couple of times, but somehow had missed its sequel.)

4) 🧠 An excellent book about the importance of the tales we tell ourselves: “The Power of Story,” by performance psychologist Jim Loehr. (He also wrote a book I read three decades ago that had a lasting impact on me: “Mental Toughness Training for Sports.”)

5) 📹 “How To with John Wilson,” is a comedic documentary series on HBO I’d heard great things about since it came out a couple years ago. It is hilarious, insightful, and quirky.

6) 🇺🇸 Another excellent HBO series, just out this year, is “Somebody Somewhere,” starring Bridget Everett. It’s about life in a small town in Kansas.

7) 🏀 A fantastic Netflix series: “Last Chance U: Basketball.” While other seasons are about football, this spin-off focuses on junior college basketball players in Los Angeles. It’s as much about the players’ lives as it is about the sport.

8) 🌮 Also on Netflix: “The Taco Chronicles.” Filmed in Mexico, each episode examines a different kind of taco – pastor, carnitas, asada, etc. – featuring interviews with chefs and critics on its historical roots and cultural importance.

9) 🎧 I’m not sure how it took me so long to finally listen to the Accidental Tech podcast, but I’m so glad I finally did. Basically: three nerds get extremely geeky on Apple/Mac tech topics, coding, cars, streaming services, video games and more. Also might have the catchiest bespoke podcast theme song ever created.

10) 🗣 Another podcast I’m loving: Chatter, hosted by the Washington Post’s Shane Harris and David Priess of Lawfare. Deep discussions about national security issues with fascinating people, including spy novelists.


🦴 Dog-related video of the week:

he’s stealing his brother’s bone while he’s asleep 😂


💡 Quote of the week:

“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” ― Soren Kierkegaard


👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,



Pro-Beijing Online Campaign Targets U.S.-Based Xinjiang Researcher, Cybersecurity Firm Says

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Thursday. It begins:

HONG KONG—A pro-Beijing online propaganda campaign has used phony websites and social-media posts to try to discredit a prominent German anthropologist who has investigated China’s crackdown on Muslims, according to cybersecurity researchers.

The activity, which dates to last year and continues, is part of a complex effort to push pro-China narratives using more than 70 suspected inauthentic news websites in 11 languages, all tied to a Chinese public-relations firm, according to a new report made public Thursday by the U.S.-based cybersecurity firm Mandiant Inc.

There is no evidence linking the activity to the Chinese government, Mandiant said, but the public-relations firm advertised its services as “positive energy packages.” State media in China have used the term “positive energy” to refer to the dissemination through social media of messages that promote Beijing’s views and policies.

To target the anthropologist Adrian Zenz, who has sifted through large numbers of Chinese government documents to illuminate the mass detention and policing of Turkik Muslims in Xinjiang, the campaign manufactured website articles and a December Twitter post. The tweet contained what Mandiant calls three fabricated letters purporting to show Mr. Zenz has received funding for his research from Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Steve Bannon, a former adviser to President Donald Trump.

Click through to read the rest.


Introducing Dossett Shanti Purnell

👶 I am so happy to tell you that Anasuya and I had a baby boy, Dossett Shanti Purnell, in February.

He is named for my great-grandfather, Dossett, and Anasuya’s grandfather, Shanti, the Sanskrit word for peace.

Dossett weighed a hefty 8.6 pounds at birth and measured 21 inches long.

He is healthy.

He is growingly quickly.

And so far he is proving to be a total delight: sleeps soundly, eats voraciously, and is a ton of fun.

We are so, so happy.

Oh, and yes: Ginger adores him. 🤗

Journalism Tech

Amazon Sues Administrators of More Than 10,000 Facebook Groups Over Fake Reviews

That’s the headline on a story I wrote Tuesday. It begins: Inc. said it filed a lawsuit against the administrators of what it says are more than 10,000 Facebook groups used to coordinate fake reviews of Amazon products.

Those in charge of the Facebook groups solicit the reviews for items ranging from camera tripods to car stereos in exchange for free products or money, Amazon said in a statement.

The activity, which is against Amazon’s rules, occurs across Amazon’s stores in the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan, the company said. Such bogus reviews are typically used to boost products’ ratings and increase the likelihood customers buy them.

The lawsuit represents “proactive legal action targeting bad actors,” Amazon Vice President Dharmesh Mehta said.

My colleague Nicole Nguyen wrote last year about the problem of inauthentic reviews on Amazon.

And she has a new story out Wednesday, in the wake of Amazon’s suit, with tips on spotting fake reviews.

Journalism Tech

Facebook Parent Meta Details Human-Rights Efforts

I’m late in sharing it here, but that’s the headline on a story I wrote last week with my colleague Salvador Rodriguez. It begins:

Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. released its first annual report Thursday on the effect its services have on global human rights, highlighting its efforts to combat challenges including human trafficking, the spread of misinformation and attacks on election integrity.

Facebook’s global operations are drawing scrutiny from rights groups and regulators. While user growth has stalled in rich countries, it continues to expand internationally, especially in populous, developing markets.

You may recall I wrote in November about Facebook’s India human rights impact assessment, a separate report that was commissioned some time ago. Rights groups told me they believed Facebook was trying to stifle it.

This newest report contains a summary of the India HRIA. The HRIA was done by a law firm Facebook commissioned to do the work. Facebook says it has no plans to release the HRIA in its entirety.

That’s drawn more criticism from groups that contributed to the HRIA. One called Facebook’s decision “deeply disappointing.”

You can read Facebook’s full human rights report on their website here. The India material begins on page 57.

India Journalism Tech

Twitter Fights India’s Order Compelling the Company to Block Some Tweets

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Tuesday. It begins:

Twitter Inc. said Tuesday it has filed a legal challenge against the Indian government’s orders that the social-media company block some users’ accounts and individual tweets in the country, ramping up a battle over online speech between U.S. tech giants and New Delhi.

In recent weeks, Twitter rendered unviewable in India tweets from a prominent Indian journalist and the founder of a popular fact-checking website, according to a public database of removal requests for online material. The two between them have more than two million followers.

The tweets, from journalist Rana Ayyub and from Mohammed Zubair of the Alt News website, referred to what they called an anti-Muslim climate in the country. Last month, the killing of a Hindu man by two Muslim men who said they were avenging an insult to Islam inflamed religious tensions in the country.

Orders from India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology compelling Twitter to block tweets “demonstrate excessive use of powers and are disproportionate,” according to a summary of the petition viewed by The Wall Street Journal. Twitter said it filed the application for a judicial review of the orders Tuesday in the high court of the state of Karnataka, where the company is registered.

If such orders aren’t followed, Twitter staff in the country could be imprisoned for up to seven years and face a fine, according to the country’s IT Act.

Click through to read the rest.


Another Facebook Files Accolade: Deadline Club’s Public Service Award

Deadline Club Facebook Files

Following our Polk and SABEW wins, I’m proud to say my colleague Jeff Horwitz and our Wall Street Journal Facebook Files team has picked up another accolade: the public service award from The Deadline Club. (That’s the name of the New York City chapter of the the Society of Professional Journalists.)

The Club wrote:

“The ‘Facebook Files’ is a dazzling 10-reporter, 17-story package built on extensive original interviewing and research, and an archeological-grade probe of internal Facebook documents, including internal studies, online employee discussions and drafts of presentations to senior management. The Wall Street Journal’s coverage did not just force Facebook to change its core business practices. It also goaded governments and individuals worldwide to reexamine society’s relationship with technology itself and the power and pervasiveness of social media.”


We Won a SABEW Award for our Facebook Files Series

SABEW award

I’m proud to say that my colleagues Jeff Horwitz, Georgia Wells, Justin Scheck, Deepa Seetharaman and I won the 2021 investigative award (for large news organizations) from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, or SABEW, for our “Facebook Files” series.

“In an example of truly exemplary reporting that arguably had scope beyond compare, the judges unanimously chose Facebook Files as the winner in our category,” SABEW said. “The series featured remarkable reporting and writing that exposed the ways Facebook knew it was injuring its 3-billion-plus users and the repeated failures to make efforts to protect the users.”

(We also won a George Polk award in March for the series. And last year Jeff and I won a SABEW for our stories on Facebook and hate speech in India.)

Book Notes

Book Notes: ‘Lean on Pete: a Novel,’ by Willy Vlautin

Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin

Lean on Pete: A Novel
By Willy Vlautin
Published: 2010
Publisher: Harper Perennial
ISBN-10: 0061456535
Amazon link

First off: This novel is heartbreaking. Heartbreaking! And memorable.

The narrator, Charlie, is a 15-year-old boy living with his neglectful, penniless, peripatetic father in Portland, Oregon. Charlie, struggling to feed himself while his father disappears for days at a time, takes a job with a race horse owner, himself a washed up, abusive figure. Charlie becomes enamored with one of his boss’s horses, the ailing Lean on Pete.

After Charlie suffers a tragedy, he takes Lean on Pete on a classic hero’s journey across Oregon and farther east. Bad things happen along the way.

Did I mention this book is heartbreaking?

It contains searing descriptions of people who live on the margins of society — the homeless, alcoholics, juvenile offenders, drug addicts.

I like Vlautin’s writing style. It’s spare and direct. The book is compelling read, despite its abounding sadness.

(It’s also, apparently, a 2017 movie with an all-star cast. I haven’t seen it, but it’ll give it a watch.)

For previous Book Notes posts, click here.