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Troubling anti-Freemason Facebook posts preceded arsons

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Benjamin Orion Carlson Kohlman, 42, is due back in Vancouver Provincial Court on April 6 on charges of arson and assaulting a police officer. He remains in custody.

Author of the article:

Kim Bolan

The aftermath of the scene at the Masonic Temple on Rupert Street  in Vancouver on Tuesday, March 30, 2021.
The aftermath of the scene at the Masonic Temple on Rupert Street in Vancouver on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. Photo by Shane MacKichan

A man suspected of setting fires at three Masonic halls earlier this week appears to have posted conspiratorial Facebook commentary against the Freemasons and the COVID-19 vaccination program.

Benjamin Orion Carlson Kohlman, 42, is due back in Vancouver provincial court on April 6 on charges of arson and assaulting a police officer. He remains in custody.

So far, he has only been charged in connection with a fire set at the Masonic Temple near Rupert Street and East 29th Avenue in Vancouver just before 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday. But he is a suspect in arson attacks on two other Masonic buildings in North Vancouver earlier Tuesday morning.

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Vancouver police Sgt. Steve Addison wouldn’t comment on whether investigators are looking at social media accounts that appear to belong to Kohlman and have several posts in recent months referencing Freemasons.

“This is a very serious and ongoing investigation that is now before the courts. It would not be appropriate to discuss specific investigative steps that have taken place, or to talk about evidence that has been gathered while in the search for a motive,” Addison said.

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But intelligence expert Phil Gurski, a former senior strategic analyst with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said he would expect investigators to be poring over Facebook and any other social media accounts.

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Gurski, president of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting, said in an interview that police would want to see if any suspect was inspired to act by someone else, or perhaps even had assistance.

“I’m guessing they would be turning over some rocks right now to see if he was the lone actor who truly, by himself, got ramped up by talking to people, sharing information online and getting inspired,” he said, speaking generally. “Or is it part of something a little bigger?”

A Facebook page belonging to Kohlman included a post time-stamped at 8:07 a.m. Tuesday appearing to take credit for the attacks.

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“I just cleaned 3 satanic club houses and nobody could do anything.”

Dozens of commenters criticized the post, assuming it was written by the arson suspect.

“You are one of the sickest puppies,” one responder wrote. “Don’t you realize that Shriners and Freemason — they save thousands of children’s lives every year.”

The page also had several conspiratorial posts about COVID-19 vaccines and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Back in January, the page featured a post stating, “the radio said that they can vaccinate 33,000 per day. The 33 means it’s a Freemason conspiracy. I bet those things are full of nano tech to spy on the whole world.”

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The page also featured posts about Freemason symbols influencing the logos of major online media companies such as Facebook and Google.

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Kohlman is Facebook friends with people associated with the Flat Earth movement, including high-profile member and anti-masker Mak Parhar. Parhar is facing three charges of violating the quarantine last fall after travelling to the U.S. for a Flat Earth convention. He is due back in court May 5.

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Parhar said in an email Friday that he has not spoken or seen Kohlman in more than a year.

“If Ben really did start these fires, I am shocked and upset that he would take such drastic and criminal actions. That is not the Ben Kohlman that I knew,” Parhar said.

“All I can speculate on is that maybe his life has been extremely affected negatively by the COVID Scam and criminal lockdowns placed upon humanity.”

He said he first met Kohlman about three years ago when he attended a Flat Earth meeting organized by Parhar.

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“I was able to have many conversations with him and over time,” he said. “We all found Ben to be a very nice guy. He is very soft-spoken and mild-mannered in all my experiences with him.”

He said Kohlman “never ever discussed ideas about hurting innocent people or causing damage to their property. In fact, we usually talked about how we wanted to help people to see through lies.”

Gurski said the fact Masonic buildings were targeted is not surprising given the organization has been a target of conspiracy theories from far-right groups like QAnon.

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“First and foremost, there’s no question that the Masons have been seen by a variety of actors — and not just the QAnon wankers — as this kind of, you know, world domination, mind control, they’re the power behind the throne kind of thing … all this crap you see, ” Gurski said. “It doesn’t surprise me that an individual who may buy into conspiracy theories, writ large, whether they’re specifically QAnon or not, would see the Masons and think, ‘We’ve got to do something about these guys before it’s too late.’”

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But he said the other possibility is simply that a suspect in a case like this “may seriously have some mental health issues.”

Some people struggling with their mental health during the pandemic may have “gone down the rabbit hole, the Internet, and found some of this information and translate it into a call-to-action.”

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Gurski said most people who buy into bogus conspiracy information online are not going to act on it.

“Most people will be content to, you know, retweet, or repost, or whatever,” he said. “The vast majority of people simply do not have the intention or the capability for action.”

kbolan@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/kbolan

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Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey

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Facebook has had its share of controversies this year. The company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents.

Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.

Yahoo Finance notes, “Facebook has had its share of controversies this year.” Starting in January, Meta-owned WhatsApp got caught up in a huge controversy after the messaging app announced a new privacy policy (Terms of Service). WhatsApp said it would collect user information and share it with third-party apps for a better user experience. However, the app gave users no choice but later made modifications to the policy under pressure. Similarly, the company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents showing the company’s problematic practices. It was revealed that Meta-owned Instagram had a negative impact on teenage girls, but the company did almost nothing to rectify the problem.

Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.

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However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.

On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.

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Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal

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In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.

In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.

Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws

It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.

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Russian social media laws

As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.

The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.

With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.

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Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.


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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com.

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