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Kelly Gang Mistaken For Baristas

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/08/2021 - 7:33am in


Embarrassed troopers have admitted they released the notorious Ned Kelly gang from captivity after being fooled into thinking they were a group of baristas on their way to open a pop-up cafe in Glenrowan.

“They all had big bushy beards just like in the posters but explained that they were hanging around the bank because they wanted to go see the manager about getting a loan to start a craft brewery,” Victorian troopers spokesperson Constable James Poshtwit told a press conference. “Ned then whipped me up a tasty sourdough damper on the campfire and a billy of Japanese matcha tea.”

“They were carrying a large metal object with a slot cut into it that Ned told us was a cappuccino machine,” Constable Edward Bullyboy confirmed to The (un)Australian. “We apologised profusely and let them go as they said they were already late for an appointment with Sidney Nolan to have their portraits done for their Facebook profile.”

Gang leader Ned Kelly released a statement saying he was confident that heavy armour covering his head was all he needed because he believed that troopers were too stupid to ever think of aiming for his legs.

[This article first appeared in The (un)Australian on August 11, 1879. It is reproduced as part of a historical series looking back on early (un)Australian articles.]

Peter Green

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Actually, Facebook Does Kill People

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/08/2021 - 10:30pm in

Photo credit: Phil Pasquini / _____ On July 16, a reporter writing a story about Covid-19 vaccine disinformation asked...

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Book Review: The Public and their Platforms: Public Sociology in an Era of Social Media by Mark Carrigan and Lambros Fatsis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/07/2021 - 7:00pm in

In The Public and their Platforms: Public Sociology in an Era of Social Media, Mark Carrigan and Lambros Fatsis explore the discipline of sociology at a time when public life is increasingly shaped by social media platforms. Published in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this timely book argues that contemporary interactions between sociology, publics and social media platforms demand … Continued

As social media classify and rank our ‘memories’, what will this mean for the way we remember?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/07/2021 - 8:00pm in

There are few things more intimately personal than our memories. However, as more of human experience becomes mediated through social media, memories have become a significant resource for social media companies to exploit. Drawing on their new book Social Media and the Automatic Production of Memory, David Beer and Ben Jacobsen explore how a social … Continued

Doctor Who: Captain Jack & The Master Team Up? Blame Cancel Culture!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 18/07/2021 - 10:53am in

Well, it looks like Piers Morgan has a friend & ally in Doctor Who star John Barrowman, who believes "cancel culture" is the REAL culprit.

The Bay of Tweets: Documents Point to US Hand in Cuba Protests

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/07/2021 - 4:00am in

HAVANA — Cuba was rocked by a series of anti-government street protests earlier this week. The U.S. establishment immediately hailed the events, putting its full weight behind the protestors. Yet documents suggest that Washington might be more involved in the events than it cares to publicly divulge.

As many have reported, the protests, which started on Sunday in the town of San Antonio de los Baños in the west of the island, were led and vocally supported by artists and musicians, particularly from its vibrant hip-hop scene.

“For those new to the issue of Cuba, the protests we are witnessing were started by artists, not politicians. This song ‘Patria y Vida’ powerfully explains how young Cubans feel. And its release was so impactful, you will go to jail if caught playing it in Cuba,” said Florida Senator Marco Rubio, referencing a track by rapper Yotuel.

Both NPR and The New York Times published in-depth features about the song and how it was galvanizing the movement. “The Hip-Hop Song That’s Driving Cuba’s Unprecedented Protests,” ran NPR’s headline. Yotuel himself led a sympathy demonstration in Miami.

But what these accounts did not mention was the remarkable extent to which Cuban rappers like Yotuel have been recruited by the American government in order to sow discontent in the Caribbean nation. The latest grant publications of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) — an organization established by the Reagan administration as a front group for the CIA — show that Washington is trying to infiltrate the Cuban arts scene in order to bring about regime change. “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” NED co-founder Allen Weinstein once told The Washington Post.

Yotuel Romero

Yotuel poses with workers, July 14, 2021, at at a Cuban restaurant in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. Wilfredo Lee | AP

For instance, one project, entitled “Empowering Cuban Hip-Hop Artists as Leaders in Society,” states that its goal is to “promote citizen participation and social change,” and to “raise awareness about the role hip-hop artists have in strengthening democracy in the region.” Another, called “Promoting Freedom of Expression in Cuba through the Arts,” claims it is helping local artists on projects related to “democracy, human rights, and historical memory,” and to help “increase awareness about the Cuban reality.” This “reality,” as President Joe Biden himself stated this week, is that the Cuban government is an “authoritarian regime” that has meted out “decades of repression” while leaders only “enrich themselves.”

Other operations the NED is currently funding include enhancing Cuban civil society’s ability to “propose political alternatives” and to “transition to democracy.” The agency never divulges with whom it works inside Cuba, nor any more information beyond a couple of anodyne blurbs, leaving Cubans to wonder whether any group even vaguely challenging political or societal norms is secretly bankrolled by Washington.

“The State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the U.S. Agency for Global Media have all financed programs to support Cuban artists, journalists, bloggers and musicians,” Tracey Eaton, a journalist who runs The Cuba Money Project, told MintPress. “It’s impossible to say how many U.S. tax dollars have gone toward these programs over the years because details of many projects are kept secret,” he added.

A currently active grant offer from the NED’s sister organization, USAID, is offering $2 million worth of funding to groups that use culture to bring about social change in Cuba. Applicants have until July 30 to ask for up to $1 million each. The announcement itself references Yotuel’s song, noting, “Artists and musicians have taken to the streets to protest government repression, producing anthems such as ‘Patria y Vida,’ which has not only brought greater global awareness to the plight of the Cuban people but also served as a rallying cry for change on the island.”

The hip-hop scene in particular has long been a target for American agencies like the NED and USAID. Gaining popularity in the late 1990s, local rappers had a considerable impact on society, helping bring to the fore many previously under-discussed topics. The U.S. saw their biting critiques of racism as a wedge they could exploit, and attempted to recruit them into their ranks, although it is far from clear how far they got in this endeavor, as few in the rap community wanted to be part of such an operation.

The graphic below shows how much money various artists have received from the US government. Credit | Cuba Money Project

Writers, Artists, Performers

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MintPress also spoke with Professor Sujatha Fernandes, a sociologist at the University of Sydney and an expert in Cuban music culture. Fernandes stated:

For many years, under the banner of regime change, organizations like USAID have tried to infiltrate Cuban rap groups and fund covert operations to provoke youth protests. These programs have involved a frightening level of manipulation of Cuban artists, have put Cubans at risk, and threatened a closure of the critical spaces of artistic dialogue many worked hard to build.”

Other areas in which U.S. organizations are focussing resources include sports journalism — which the NED hopes to use as a “vehicle to narrate the political, social, and cultural realities of Cuban society” — and gender and LGBTQ+ groups, the intersectional empire apparently seeing an opportunity to also use these issues to increase fissures in Cuban society.

The House Appropriations Budget, published earlier this month, also sets aside up to $20 million for “democracy programs” in Cuba, including those that support “free enterprise and private business organizations.” What is meant by “democracy” is made clear in the document, which states in no uncertain terms that “none of the funds made available under such paragraph may be used for assistance for the government of Cuba.” Thus, any mention of “democracy” in Cuba is all but synonymous with regime change.


Capitalizing on a battered economy

The protests began on Sunday after a power outage left residents in San Antonio de los Baños without electricity during the summer heat. That appeared to be the spark that led to hundreds of people marching in the street. However, Cuba’s economy has also taken a nosedive of late. As Professor Aviva Chomsky of Salem State University, author of “A History of the Cuban Revolution,” told MintPress:

Cuba’s current economic situation is pretty dire (as is, I should point out, almost all of the Third World’s). The U.S. embargo (or, as Cubans call it, blockade) has been yet another obstacle (on top of the obstacles faced by all poor countries) in Cuba’s fight against COVID-19. The collapse of tourism has been devastating to Cuba’s economy — again, as it has been in pretty much all tourism-heavy places.”

However, Chomsky also noted that it could be a mistake to label all the protestors as yearning for free-market shock therapy. “It’s interesting to note that many of the protesters are actually protesting Cuba’s capitalist reforms, rather than socialism. ‘They have money to build hotels but we have no money for food, we are starving,’ said one protester. That’s capitalism in a nutshell!” Chomsky said.

Rick Scott Cuba protests

Florida Sen. Rick Scott holds a photo of Cuban protesters during a press conference in DC, July 13, 2021. J. Scott Applewhite | AP

Eaton was skeptical of the idea that all those marching were in the pay of the U.S. “Certainly, much of the uprising was organic, driven by Cubans who are desperate, poor, hungry and fed up with their government’s inability to meet their basic needs,” he said. Yet there were signs that at least some were not simply making a point about the lack of food in stores or medicines in pharmacies. A number of demonstrators marched underneath the American flag and the events were immediately endorsed by the U.S. government.

“We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom,” read an official statement from the White House. Julie Chung, Biden’s Acting Assistant Secretary for U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, added:

Cuba’s people continue to bravely express yearning for freedom in the face of repression. We call on Cuba’s government to: refrain from violence, listen to their citizens’ demands, respect protestor and journalist rights. The Cuban people have waited long enough for ¡Libertad!”

Republicans went much further. Mayor of Miami Francis Suarez demanded that the United States intervene militarily, telling Fox News that the U.S. should put together a “coalition of potential military action in Cuba.” Meanwhile, Florida Congressman Anthony Sabbatini called for regime change on the island, tweeting:


The corporate media cheering section

Corporate media were also extremely interested in the protests, devoting a great deal of column inches and air time to the demonstrations. This is extremely unusual for such actions in Latin America. Colombia has been living through months of general strikes against a repressive government, while there have been three years of near-daily protests in Haiti that were almost completely ignored until earlier this month, when U.S.-backed President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated.

The effect of U.S. sanctions was constantly downplayed or not even mentioned in reporting. For example, The Washington Post’s editorial board came out in favor of the protestors, claiming Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel was reacting “with predictable thuggishness…blaming everything on the United States and the U.S. trade embargo.” Other outlets did not even mention the embargo, leaving readers with the impression that the events could only be understood as a democratic uprising against a decaying dictatorship.

This is particularly pernicious because government documents explicitly state that the goal of the U.S. sanctions is to “decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and [the] overthrow of [the] government” — exactly the conditions brewing in Cuba right now. Professor Chomsky noted:

The U.S. embargo/blockade is one (not the only) cause of Cuba’s economic crisis. The U.S. has overtly and continuously said that the goal of the embargo is to destroy Cuba’s economy so that the government will collapse. So it’s not just reasonable, it’s obvious that the U.S. has some kind of hand in this.”

Chomsky also took issue with the media’s explanation of events, stating:

Look at coverage of Black Lives Matter or Occupy Wall Street protests in this country. One thing that we see consistently is that when people protest in capitalist countries, the media never explains the problems they are protesting as caused by capitalism. When people protest in communist or socialist countries, the media attributes the problems to communism or socialism.”

Media were at pains to emphasize how large and widespread the anti-government demonstrations were, insisting that the pro-government counter-demonstrations were smaller in number, despite images from the protests suggesting that the opposite might be true. As Reuters reported, “Thousands took to the streets in various parts of Havana on Sunday including the historic centre, drowning out groups of government supporters waving the Cuban flag and chanting Fidel.”

If this were the case, it is odd indeed that so many outlets used images of pro-government movements to illustrate the supposed size and scope of the anti-government action. The Guardian, Fox News, The Financial Times, NBC and Yahoo! News all falsely claimed a picture of a large socialist gathering was, in fact, an anti-government demo. The large red and black banners emblazoned with the words “26 Julio” (the name of Fidel Castro’s political party) should have been a dead giveaway to any editors or fact checkers. Meanwhile, CNN and National Geographic illustrated articles on the protests in Cuba with images of gatherings in Miami — gatherings that looked far better attended than any similar ones 90 miles to the south.


Social media meltdown

Social media also played a pivotal role in turning what was a localized protest into a nationwide event. NBC’s Director of Latin America, Mary Murray, noted that it was only when live streams of the events were picked up and signal-boosted by the expat community in Miami that it “started to catch fire,” something that suggests the growth of the movement was partially artificial. After the government blocked the internet, the protests died down.

The hashtag #SOSCuba trended for over a day. There are currently over 120,000 photos on Instagram using the hashtag. But as Arnold August, the writer of a host of books on Cuba and Cuban-American relations, told MintPress, much of the attention the protests was getting was the result of inauthentic activity:

The latest attempt of regime change also has its roots in Spain. Historically, the former colonizer of Cuba plays its role in all major attempts of regime change, not only for Cuba, but also, for example, in Venezuela. The July operation made intensive use of robots, algorithms and accounts recently created for the occasion.”

#soscuba hashtag

Within days the #SOSCUBA hashtag generated over 120,000 images on Instagram

August noted that the first account using #SOSCuba on Twitter was actually located in Spain. This account posted nearly 1,300 tweets on July 11. The hashtag was also buoyed by hundreds of accounts tweeting the exact same phrases in Spanish, replete with the same small typos. One common message read (translated from Spanish), “Cuba is going through the greatest humanitarian crisis since the start of the pandemic. Anyone who posts the hashtag #SOSCuba would help us a lot. Everyone who sees this should help with the hashtag.” Another text, reading “We Cubans don’t want the end of the embargo if that means the regime and dictatorship stays, we want them gone, no more communism,” was so overused that it became a meme in itself, with social media users parodying it, posting the text alongside pictures of demonstrations beside the Eiffel Tower, crowds at Disneyland, or pictures of Trump’s inauguration. Spanish journalist Julian Macías Tovar also cataloged the suspicious number of brand new accounts using the hashtag.

Much of the operation was so crude that it could not have failed to be discovered, and many of the accounts, including the first user of the #SOSCuba hashtag, have now been suspended for inauthentic behavior. Yet Twitter itself still chose to put the protests at the top of its “What’s Happening” for over 24 hours, meaning that every user would be notified, a decision that further amplified the astroturfed movement.

Twitter leadership has long displayed open hostility towards the Cuban government. In 2019, it took coordinated action to suspend virtually every Cuban state media account, as well as those belonging to the Communist Party. This was part of a wider trend of deleting or banning accounts favorable to governments the U.S. State Department considers enemies, including Venezuela, China and Russia.

In 2010, USAID secretly created a Cuban social media app called Zunzuneo, often described as Cuba’s Twitter. At its peak, it had 40,000 Cuban users — a very large number for that time on the famously Internet-sparse island. None of these users were aware that the app had been secretly designed and marketed to them by the U.S. government. The point was to create a great service that would slowly start to feed Cubans regime-change propaganda and direct them to protests and “smart mobs” aimed at triggering a color-style revolution.

In an effort to hide its ownership of the project, the U.S. government held a secret meeting with Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, aimed at getting him to invest in the project. It is unclear to what extent, if any, Dorsey helped, as he has declined to speak on the matter. This is not the only anti-government app the U.S. has funded in Cuba. Yet, considering both what happened this week and the increasingly close ties between Silicon Valley and the National Security State, it is possible the U.S. government considers further cloak-and-dagger apps unnecessary: Twitter already acts as an instrument for regime change.


Cuba in perennial crosshairs

By the end of the nineteenth century, the United States had effectively conquered its entire contiguous landmass; the frontier was declared closed in 1890. Almost immediately, it began to look for opportunities to expand westwards into the Pacific — to Hawaii, the Philippines and Guam. It also began looking southwards. In 1898, the U.S. intervened in the Cuban Independence War against Spain, using the mysterious sinking of the U.S.S. Maine as a pretext to invade and occupy Cuba. The U.S. operated Cuba as a client state for decades, until the Batista regime was overthrown in the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

The U.S. launched a botched invasion of the island in 1961, the Bay of Pigs event driving Castro closer to the Soviet Union, laying the groundwork for the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year. The U.S. reportedly attempted to kill Castro hundreds of times, all without any luck. It did, however, carry out a bitter and protracted terroristic war against Cuba and its infrastructure, including using biological weapons against the island. Along with this came a long-standing economic war, the 60-year U.S. blockade of the island that throttled its development. In addition to this, it has attempted to bombard the Caribbean nation with anti-communist propaganda. TV Martí, a Florida-based media network, has cost the U.S. taxpayer well over half a billion dollars since its creation in 1990, despite the fact that the Cuban government successfully jams the signal, meaning virtually nobody watches its content.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba was left without its main trading partner, to which it had geared its economy. Without a guaranteed buyer for its sugar, and without subsidized Russian oil imports, the economy crashed. Sensing blood, the U.S. intensified the sanctions. Yet Cuba pulled through the grim time collectively known as the “Special Period.”

After a wave of left-wing, anti-imperialist governments came to power across Latin America in the 2000s, the Obama administration was forced to move towards normalizing diplomatic relations with the island. However, once in office, President Donald Trump reversed these actions, intensifying the blockade and halting vital remittances from Cuban-Americans to the island. Trump advisor John Bolton labeled Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua a “troika of tyranny” — a clear reference to George Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, implying that these three nations could expect military action against them soon. In its last days, the Trump administration also declared Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism.

While Biden had intimated that he might turn the U.S. Cuba policy back to the Obama days, he has, so far, done little to move away from the Trump line, his unequivocal endorsement of this week’s actions the latest example of this.

Despite monumental worldwide media coverage, encouragement and legitimation from world leaders, including the president of the United States himself, the recent action petered out after barely 24 hours. In most cases, counter-protests effectively diluted the protests, without the need for repressive forces to be deployed.

The U.S. government can cause economic misery for the Cuban people, but it cannot, it appears, convince them to overthrow their government. “The current events in Cuba constitute in reality the U.S.S. Maine of 2021,” August said. If this really was an attempted color revolution, as August is implying, it was not a very successful one, amounting to little more than a Bay of Tweets.

Feature photo | Floridians from Cuba’s ex-pat community in Hialeah, Fla., shout during a protest against the Cuban government, July 15, 2021. Marta Lavandier | AP

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post The Bay of Tweets: Documents Point to US Hand in Cuba Protests appeared first on MintPress News.

Book Review: The Crowdsourced Panopticon: Conformity and Control on Social Media by Jeremy Weissman

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/06/2021 - 7:00pm in

In The Crowdsourced Panopticon: Conformity and Control on Social Media, Jeremy Weissman explores the role of ‘peer-to-peer’ surveillance through social media and how this is increasingly shaping our behaviour. This is a welcome addition to the scholarly work on surveillance and privacy, writes Matt Bluemink, with a clear, approachable writing style and a wealth of empirical examples. This review … Continued

Jessica Ashooh: The Taming of Reddit and the National Security State Plant Tabbed to Do It

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/06/2021 - 11:13am in

SAN FRANCISCO — Reddit is one of the world’s most influential news and social media platforms. The website attracted over 1.2 billion visits in April 2021 alone, making it the United States’ eighth most visited site, ahead of other leviathans like Twitter, Instagram and eBay. Now majority-owned by a much larger corporate publishing empire, Reddit is also far ahead of more established news sites, garnering three times the numbers of Fox News and five times those of The New York Times.

That is why it was so surprising that so little was made of the company’s decision to appoint foreign policy hawk Jessica Ashooh to the position of Director of Policy in 2017, at which time it was also the eight most visited site in the U.S. Ashooh, who had been a Middle East foreign policy wonk at NATO’s think tank the Atlantic Council, was appointed at around the same time that the Senate Select Intelligence Committee was demanding more control over the popular website, on the grounds that it was being used to spread disinformation. In her role as Director of Policy, she oversees all government relations and public policy for the company, in addition to managing content, product and advertising. Yet a Google search for “Jessica Ashooh Reddit” filtered between late 2016 and early 2017 (after she was appointed) elicits zero relevant results, meaning not one media outlet even mentioned the questionable appointment.

This is all the more hair-raising, given her resume as a high state official — all of which raises serious questions about the extent of collaboration between Silicon Valley and the national security state.


A hawk’s talons on Syria

The Atlantic Council is the de-facto brains of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and takes funding from the military alliance, as well as from the U.S. government, the U.S. military, Middle Eastern dictatorships, other Western governments, big tech companies, and weapons manufacturers. Its board of directors has been and continues to be a who’s who of high U.S. statespeople like Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, as well as senior military commanders such as retired generals Wesley Clark, David Petraeus, H.R. McMaster, James “Mad Dog” Mattis, the late Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, and Admiral James Stavridis. At least seven former CIA directors are also on the board. As such, the council chooses to represent both political wings of the national security state.

Jessica Ashooh Resume

Ashooh’s LinkedIn resume epitomizes the troubling relantionship between think tanks and big tech

Between 2015 and 2017, Ashooh was Deputy Director of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Strategy Task Force, working directly with and under Madeline Albright and Stephen Hadley. This is particularly noteworthy, given both these individuals’ roles in the region. As Bill Clinton’s secretary of state, Albright oversaw the Iraq sanctions and the Oil for Food Program, denounced as “genocide” by the successive United Nations diplomats charged with carrying them out. In an infamous interview with 60 Minutes, Albright casually brushed off a question about her role in the killing of half a million children, stating “the price is worth it.” Meanwhile, Hadley was deputy or senior national security advisor to the government of George W. Bush throughout the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions, surely the greatest crimes against humanity thus far in the 21st century.

Ashooh appears to be as hawkish as her bosses. Her particular area of expertise is the war in Syria, regarding which she has been among the most belligerent voices, constantly calling for more American intervention to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad. In a 2015 interview with Al Jazeera, she praised the U.K. government’s decision to bomb the country, claiming that the British public was “coming around” to the idea of war. A shocked interviewer asked “how will the British airstrikes [on] Syria…make the British public any safer?” Ashooh replied that it was “generally a positive decision” because “it goes a long way in improving international consensus on the way forward on Syria,” although she lamented that there wouldn’t be “much improvement in the situation without ground troops.” There will be “no political solution without a military element,” she predicted, essentially making the pitch for war.

Ashooh has also constantly praised and supported Syria’s opposition forces. In 2016, she said that she was very happy that “fighters on the ground from a number of key factions” were uniting against the “Assad regime.” She condemned Russia for claiming these opposition forces were members of terrorist groups like Al-Nusra, Jaysh al-Islam or ISIS, insisting that these were “moderate” rebels.

Of course, the idea that there was still any measurable distance between “moderate” rebels and outright militant jihadists by 2016 was hard to maintain. Even The Washington Post by this time was admitting as much, noting that so-called moderates were now so “intermingled” with al-Nusra that it was difficult to tell them apart.

Nevertheless, the New Hampshire native took to the pages of The New York Times to demand that the U.S. arm the opposition. Of course, it was already doing so, the CIA spending $1 billion per year fielding rebel mercenary armies in the conflict — with one in every 15 dollars the agency spent going to this endeavor. All of this Ashooh surely knew, yet she maintained that the West must continue to “jack up the price” of Russia defending Assad. “As long as [Assad] remains in power and remains the figurehead of the Syrian government…this conflict won’t end,” she said, laying out her regime-change-or-bust position. Just weeks before unexpectedly taking over at Reddit, Ashooh seemed to still be in full foreign-policy-hawk mode, condemning Obama in the pages of The Washington Post for his apparent softness on Syria and demanding that Trump “restore U.S. credibility” by “order[ing] targeted, punitive strikes against the Assad regime.”

Jessica Ashooh

Ashooh attends British Polo Day at Abu Dhabi’s Ghantoot Racing and Polo Club. Photo | Ahlan


Dirty war, dirty warrior

Ashooh is actually even more involved in the Syrian conflict than one might realize from her hawkish opinions alone. Between 2011 and 2015, she worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, in her own words, “[p]rovid[ing] senior decision makers with policy analysis and strategic advice, with a particular focus on Syria.”

At that time the UAE was using its enormous financial clout to arm and fund a myriad of jihadist groups attempting to overthow the secular strongman Assad and establish some kind of Islamic state. Far from a conspiracy theory, this comes straight from the horse’s mouth, as then-Vice President Joe Biden revealed in a Q&A session in 2014. The future president frankly stated:

The Saudis, the Emiratis, what were they doing?…They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world. “

Under pressure, he later apologized for his loose lips.

MintPress News asked the Emirati Ministry of Foreign Affairs to comment on precisely what Ashooh’s role was, but they failed to respond.

Jessica Ashooh Kurdistan

Ashooh is pictured during her time as a “consultant” in Iraqi Kurdistan. Photo | Academyalumni

Ashooh herself appears to have been a relatively major player in the Syrian Civil War. In her previously mentioned Washington Post article, she notes that her boss was a former Emirati Air Force General and that she was flown to Istanbul in 2013 to attend an emergency meeting with leaders of the Syrian opposition, as well as ambassadors from unnamed Arab and Western states, in order to plan a response to a reported chemical weapons attack and to help the U.S. “coordinate with the Syrian opposition.”

At the same time as she was advising the nation on Middle Eastern affairs, the UAE was widely accused of flying ISIS and al-Qaeda leaders into Yemen to help them intensify the Saudi-led onslaught on the impoverished nation and of smuggling U.S.-made weaponry — including small arms, TOW missiles and Oshkosh fighting vehicles — to the jihadist groups. While Ashooh’s writing is careful to maintain a distinction between the “moderate” rebels she supports and the fundamentalist radicals she does not, it certainly is noteworthy that the entities she worked for consistently seem to end up in league with the most regressive forces in the region. MintPress also reached out to Reddit for comment on why they appointed Ashooh, given her past history, and on the wider phenomenon of government penetration of social media. The company initially promised to issue a response to the inquiry but has not followed through with it.


Opposing some dictatorships, supporting others

Regime change is on the table for more than just one Middle Eastern nation. In a 2017 paper for the Center for the National Interest — a think tank established by former Republican President Richard Nixon and the “Godfather of Neoconservatism,” Irving Kristol — Ashooh explores the different options for forcing regime change in Iran, but concludes that overthrowing the “odious regime” is an impossible task right now, and criticizes the idea as a quixotic dream.

Nevertheless, she is far from an Iran dove. An Atlantic Council report she co-wrote insists that “Iranian interference in the Arab world must be deterred,” and that “America’s friends and partners must be reassured that the U.S. opposes Iranian hegemony and will work with them to prevent it.”

Ashooh’s commitment to fighting against Middle Eastern dictatorships might seem more principled if she did not appear so enamored of the least democratic one of them all. In 2016, she accompanied Albright and Hadley to Saudi Arabia and praised the monarchy’s dynamic leadership on the economy and its nurturing of a new generation. “It was really really exciting to see that level of energy and the level of government support for these young people who were interested in shaping their own futures…it was just wonderful,” she said. In an article about her experience for business news website Market Watch, she waxed lyrical about how forward-thinking the Saudi government is and how the country has become “a hub for the dynamic and positive change that is swelling up throughout the region.” Presumably, this excludes Yemen, a nation they were bombing relentlessly. In a 2020 interview, Ashooh revealed that her dream job would be U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. One of her earliest comments on her public Reddit page (made before she began working there) is deflecting the Kingdom from criticism of its dreadful treatment of women.

Jessica Ashooh Reddit profile

Ashooh’s Reddit account, which doesn’t identify her real identity,  uses the moniker, arabscarab

As part of the Atlantic Council, Ashooh was tasked with envisaging a new Middle East for the 21st century. Given her output, it seems that she advocates for a transition towards a more privatized, free-market economic setup, not completely unlike the shock therapy tried in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. “We have to “encourage states to make the reforms that move economies from state-based to ones that support entrepreneurship, because the age of state-based economies is over,” she said at a talk at New York University in 2015, adding:

You’ve got to move to support entrepreneurship in the region and let people take advantage of the natural industrial tendencies of people in the Middle East. My God, if you’ve ever been to a Turkish bazaar or a market in Cairo you know that these countries are perfectly capable of having functioning market economies. But the state has gotten in the way.

Ashooh’s LinkedIn profile also notes that in 2010, she worked as an advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Planning “on a variety of strategic and economic development issues,” but does not go into any more detail about what those issues were. A further biography merely states that her consultancy agency “provid[ed] strategic and management consulting services to the Ministry of Planning of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Northern Iraq.” Unsurprisingly, the organization has links to the U.S. military; the agency’s lead partner being a former Army captain.


Think Tankie

Ashooh comes from a relatively prominent New Hampshire family of Lebanese descent, the most notable of which is probably her uncle Richard. Richard Ashooh was Donald Trump’s Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration and a former executive at weapons manufacturer BAE Systems. Unlike her uncle, Jessica appears to lean more Democratic, having donated money to a number of local politicians, as well as to anti-Trump Republican groups aimed at convincing them to vote blue, such as Right Side PAC and the now infamous Lincoln Project. However, she also appears to have great respect for many Republicans, having written her doctoral thesis at Oxford University on the Middle East policy of the George W. Bush administration. She also stated that the person she would have most liked to have met was 41st President George Bush Senior, describing him as possessing “incredible amounts of strategy, finesse and restraint.” Thus, her political views appear to be exactly in the center of the neoliberal “blob” in Washington.

Ashooh also worked for the right-wing think tank the CATO Institute and is a Term Member of the more Democratic-aligned Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The CFR’s term member program is intended to, in its own words, “cultivate the next generation of foreign policy leaders.”


Surveillance Valley

How and why, then, did a hawkish young mandarin hothoused at elite universities and in the halls of state power end up an executive at an anarchic messageboard site with an anti-establishment reputation? Virtually everyone else in senior roles at Reddit has relevant backgrounds in marketing or tech, having worked with comparable companies such as Yelp, Expedia and Snapchat.

Tom Secker — a journalist, podcaster and researcher who runs, an online archive about government involvement in the entertainment industry — was deeply skeptical. “That someone whose entire career has been in international relations and foreign affairs is now the senior policy wonk at Reddit is simply bizarre. Given her ties to the CFR, Atlantic Council and the like, it’s downright suspicious,” Secker told MintPress.

Underneath the surface, however, the Atlantic Council has been rapidly expanding its influence and control over big social media companies. In 2018, it announced that it would be partnering with Facebook to promote trustworthy sources and derank, demote and even delete low quality or fake news, thus effectively curating what the platform’s 2.85 billion worldwide users see in their news feeds. But the effect of recent algorithmic changes has been to throttle alternative media traffic in favor of establishment sources such as CNN, Fox News and The New York Times. Even such more mainstream liberal sites as Mother Jones have seen their numbers crater. Facebook later admitted that they were directly targeting Mother Jones because of its left-leaning content, raising the question that if such a middle-of-the-road liberal outlet was being penalized, wasn’t the collapse in traffic to more radical publications surely deliberate? Given the Atlantic Council’s funding and the identities of those on its board, their control over social media is tantamount to state censorship on a global level.

Earlier this year, Facebook also hired NATO press officer Ben Nimmo to be its intelligence chief, in another move that dismayed free-speech advocates. In the past, Nimmo has identified a Welsh pensioner and an internationally known Ukranian pianist as Russian bots, raising more questions about the suitability of the Atlantic Council to be an arbiter of truth online.

The Facebook-Atlantic Council link mirrors that of Microsoft with NewsGuard, a new piece of software purportedly trying to fight fake news by placing either green shields or red warning logos, corresponding to an outlet’s credibility, beside all links in its browser, Microsoft Edge — this credibility being decided entirely by NewsGuard itself. Newsguard pushed Microsoft to install the software on all its products as standard. Again, however, NewsGuard’s system rated establishment websites like Fox News and CNN as trustworthy but independent media as suspect. And again, a glance at its advisory board makes it clear that this is a state operation. Those in key positions included George W. Bush’s Secretary of Homeland Security and former NSA and CIA Director General Michael Hayden; ex-White House Communications Director Don Baer; and former Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Worse still, NewsGuard is also linked to a PR agency employed in whitewashing the Saudi government’s human-rights record and its role in the carnage in Yemen.

Twitter, too, has some extremely troubling links with state power. In 2019 Gordon MacMillan, a senior Twitter executive responsible for the Middle East region, was outed as an active duty officer in the British Army’s 77th Brigade, a unit dedicated to online operations and psychological warfare. Far from causing a scandal, only one major U.S. outlet even mentioned the story, and the journalist in question resigned from the profession weeks later, claiming the existence of a network of top-down state censors who quash stories that threaten the power and prestige of the national security state. To this day, MacMillan remains in his post at Twitter, strongly suggesting the social media company knew of his role before he was hired.

Over the past few years, Twitter, Reddit and Facebook have announced the deletion of hundreds of thousands of accounts linked to sources in Russia, Iran, China and other enemy states, often on the recommendation of Western governments or state-sponsored intelligence organizations. However, they never seem willing or able to find any manipulation of their platforms by Western governments. Thus, the upshot of this has been to slowly dissuade critics of Western foreign policy from using their services.

“The mainstream media-politik establishment has managed to get a hold over Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — shadow-banning and downrating posts considered ‘Russian propaganda’ or whatever other excuse they use to marginalize perspectives and content outside of the mainstream,” Secker told MintPress. “Audiences for this sort of content are increasingly pissed off and alienated by the major social media sites.”

Increasingly, unwelcome political voices are either brushed off by centrist pundits as repeating Russian talking points or smeared as being amplified by Kremlin-based bot farms. The popularity of movements on the left like Black Lives Matter or the Bernie Sanders’ campaign were written off as partially linked to Russia, while others suggested that the January 6 insurrection in Washington was essentially a Russian operation.

The irony is that many of the wildest accusations against Putin that have fed this climate of suspicion began life in Atlantic Council documents. For example, the organization has published a series of studies that suggest that virtually every European political party challenging the neoliberal status quo in some way — from Labour and UKIP in the U.K. to Syriza and Golden Dawn in Greece and PODEMOS and Vox in Spain — are secretly controlled by Russia, functioning as the “Kremlin’s Trojan Horses,” in its words.

The Atlantic Council is also deeply intertwined with a U.K. government-funded organization called the Integrity Initiative, something that purports to be a group defending democracy from disinformation. However, in practice, it appears to be doing the opposite: planting disinformation about politicians’ supposed links to Russia in order to undermine them. The Integrity Initiative is a government-backed cluster of journalists who operate in unison to conduct propaganda blitzes on unsuspecting publics. In 2018, it launched a successful operation to prevent Colonel Pedro Baños being appointed Spain’s head of national security. Considering Baños too soft on Russia for the Atlantic Council and other hawks’ liking, the initiative sprung into action, creating a storm of protest that led to another individual being chosen.

Reddit actually played a key role in a 2019 propaganda blitz against anti-war Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. A few days before the U.K.’s general election, Corbyn promoted documents leaked on the platform that showed that Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson was negotiating with American companies, putting much of the country’s National Health Service up for sale. With just days to go before polls opened, it could have proved a game changer. Reddit quickly came to Johnson’s rescue, however, asserting that the documents were part of a Russian disinformation campaign. The story in the pliant British press switched from “Boris Johnson is selling off the NHS” to “Corbyn promotes Russian disinfo,” thus greasing the skids for an easy victory for the hardline anti-Russia Conservative Party, an outcome the hawks at the Atlantic Council were no doubt relieved by, given Corbyn’s open skepticism about war, empire and nuclear weapons. The veracity of the documents was not challenged.


For a while…

Founded in 2005, Reddit has grown to become one of the world’s largest and most influential websites. However, it began life as an anarchistic messageboard whose culture was profoundly libertarian and anti-establishment. For years, the company’s administrators took a near free speech absolutist position. Aaron Swartz, Reddit’s co-founder, was an open source hacktivist and even attempted to download and publish the entirety of academic publisher Jstor’s library. When authorities got wind of what he was doing, they threatened him with 40 years in prison, an action that caused him to take his own life in 2013.

Reddit’s own position on free information and free speech was often so extreme it caused huge controversy. The site became the internet’s largest source of child pornography. It was only after CNN began reporting on it to a nationwide audience that things began to change. Other, grossly offensive communities like /r/BeatingWomen and /r/CoonTown were also protected.

Nevertheless, the culture established by anarchistic tech bros remained for some years, with the site resembling darker corners of the internet like 4Chan and 8Chan as much as more family-friendly mainstream social media like Facebook.

Ashooh’s arrival in 2017 coincided with a new era in the site’s history. Gone were the days of protecting communities that would bring in bad publicity. Her team quickly brought in a new content policy and began to delete communities that violated it. Last year, she oversaw the banning of over 2,000 communities in a single day, including /r/The_Donald, the main Donald Trump subreddit, and /r/ChapoTrapHouse, the most active left-wing community. These decisions have helped the money flow in; since 2017 revenue has more than tripled.

However, what has been lost across the internet is the liberatory potential of these technologies. In the 1990s and 2000s, many predicted that the internet would usher in a new era of egalitarianism and genuine democracy, helping even to reduce barriers and tensions between nations. For a while, the new medium allowed political actors to challenge the status quo and gain huge followings quickly. Alternative media was easily outperforming legacy media, and challenging the status quo when it came to news. Seeing that, the reaction since 2016 has been swift, as the elite have moved to retighten their grip over the means of communication. Ashooh’s jump from national security state official to Reddit Director of Policy is just one more point of reference on that chart.

Feature photo | Graphic by Antonio Cabrera

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post Jessica Ashooh: The Taming of Reddit and the National Security State Plant Tabbed to Do It appeared first on MintPress News.

Book Review: The Crowdsourced Panopticon: Conformity and Control on Social Media by Jeremy Weissman

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/06/2021 - 8:37pm in

In The Crowdsourced Panopticon: Conformity and Control on Social Media, Jeremy Weissman explores the role of ‘peer-to-peer’ surveillance through social media and how this is increasingly shaping our behaviour. This is a welcome addition to the scholarly work on surveillance and privacy, writes Matt Bluemink, with a clear, approachable writing style and a wealth of empirical examples. 

The Crowdsourced Panopticon: Conformity and Control on Social Media. Jeremy Weissman. Rowman and Littlefield. 2020.

Find this book (affiliate link): amazon-logo

In The Crowdsourced Panopticon: Conformity and Control on Social Media, philosopher Jeremy Weissman has taken on one of the most pressing issues affecting contemporary societies: the role of surveillance on social media. As our world becomes increasingly digitised, and more and more of our interactions are mediated through the internet, social media has become an inescapable part of life for billions of people. These technologies exhibit a kind of social power that has never been seen before in history, and Weissman claims that this power has ever growing influence over our behaviour.

In recent years, the mainstream success of academic studies into social media surveillance, such Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, has brought the importance of these issues into the public domain like never before. However, the focus of Weissman’s book is not on the ‘top-down’ surveillance capabilities of tech giants such as Facebook and Google. Instead, he argues that: ‘New ubiquitous information and communication technologies, in particular recording-enabled smart phones and social media programs, are giving rise to a profound new power for ordinary people to monitor and track each other on a global scale’ (83). He shines a light on how this ‘peer-to-peer’ (P2P) surveillance has the power to infiltrate every aspect of our lives, turning us from autonomous individuals into an anonymous ‘public’ in which all individuality has been stamped out through fear of humiliation.

This sounds like a bleak image, but throughout the book Weissman expertly combines empirical studies and philosophical analyses to paint a picture of a world in which our lives are continually broadcast to, and judged by, what Marshall McLuhan called ‘the global village’. In the early chapters Weissman draws on the works of Plato, John Stuart Mill and Eric Fromm to highlight the power of conformity and its negative effects on human action. Whereas much of the literature on surveillance focuses on the power of governments or corporations, Weissman takes a different approach. He reminds us of Mill’s argument that the greatest restrictions on personal liberty do not always come from authoritarian institutions, but from ordinary people — from the public itself.

Photo by Lianhao Qu on Unsplash

This emphasis on an anonymous, de-individualised public is at the heart of what we might call Weissman’s liberal-existentialist analysis of conformity, which takes him from Mill and Fromm to the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Here he brilliantly uses Kierkegaard’s Two Ages (1846) to analyse the existential problems that arise through our engagement with social media. In the digital world, anonymity is a double-edged sword. It frees us from the consequences of our actions, but also forces us to conform to the faceless tyranny of ‘public opinion’.

Kierkegaard argued that the actualised individual must have the power to look inwards and find their true calling — an idea that one is willing to live and die for. But to do this, he insisted we must ‘silence the noise of the external world and the chatter of public opinion’ (45). Only then can we establish ‘an ethical stance despite the whole world’ (47). However, Weissman shows that in the internet age, this is becoming increasingly difficult. The hyper-connectivity that is brought through social media is forcing us to always be ‘on’, always connected, always looking outwards rather than cultivating the inwardness necessary for self-realisation.

Weissman argues that this existential crisis is a fundamentally collective issue. We can only realise ourselves through forming communities with others. But the bonds that are required to form communities cannot be created if we have lost our individuality in a crowd. On this note, one might argue, as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg does, that social media inherently brings people together, but Weissman points to a number of studies that highlight increasing detachment people feel from their social media ‘friends’. In essence, the more we expose our lives to others online, the more we are forced to conform to this perceived idea of ‘normality’ which is instilled in us by the anonymous ‘public’:

in a passionless society driven by a detached public opinion behind a screen, instead of a community of separately strong individuals emerging in their shared enthusiastic and even risky determination for a shared passion, what arises is, as Kierkegaard ominously heralds, “a monstrous abstraction, an all-encompassing something that is nothing, a mirage — and this phantom is the public” (53).


This existentialist analysis of social media is perhaps the strongest and most valuable contribution of Weissman’s book. The utilisation of Kierkegaard, a philosopher who experienced first-hand the tyranny of public opinion and a figure who is not automatically associated with privacy studies, certainly makes The Crowdsourced Panopticon stand out from the crowd.

However, in the later chapters, Weissman moves into more familiar territory. The liberal-existentialist analysis of public opinion in the first part of the book sets the stage for the transition from conformity to control. Here, Weissman develops his concept of P2P surveillance through a Foucauldian analysis of power (hence the panopticon in the title). Once again, using a sufficient number of empirical studies to back up his claims, he argues that the nature of social media conformity has led to new methods of control that are not merely operated from a top-down perspective. Instead, each one of us has been put into the jailer’s position at the centre of the panopticon. We are all constantly and anonymously controlling the behaviour of those around us purely through the P2P surveillance that is an inherent part of social media.

Although the chapters on Michel Foucault are well-researched and empirically backed up, there are perhaps too many pages spent going over well-trodden ground. Weissman’s emphasis on P2P surveillance is a welcome addition to the literature, but privacy and surveillance scholars such as David Murakami Wood, David Lyon and Jeffery H. Reiman (among many others) have been utilising Foucault’s analysis of disciplinary power in general, and the panopticon in particular, for many years. Furthermore, considering this section of the book was titled ‘Control’, it may have been beneficial to address Gilles Deleuze’s ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’, especially given his critique of Foucault and the theoretical parallels to many of the concepts Weissman develops in this section of the book.

Finally, it would have strengthened the book’s argument if the ‘strategies of resistance’ had been expanded beyond the final chapter. The critical literature on surveillance is becoming stronger year on year, but scholars would do well to devote more energy to fleshing out methods of resistance that are adapted to our current technological climate. Nonetheless, these are fairly minor qualms in what is, on the whole, an excellent book. The Crowdsourced Panopticon is a welcome addition to the scholarly work on surveillance and privacy, but the clear, approachable writing style and wealth of empirical examples make it just as accessible to non-experts. Weissman has certainly done his part to increase awareness of how social media affects our behaviour, and has laid the foundations for how we might behave in the future.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.


Using Twitter as a data source an overview of social media research tools (2021)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/05/2021 - 8:00pm in

In this edition of Wasim Ahmed’s long-running series on using Twitter data as a research tool, Wasim considers the significance of the newly introduced Twitter ‘academic research product track’ and the different ways in which Twitter and social media data have been used to analyse the global COVID-19 pandemic, as well as updating his regular list … Continued