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Philosophers on the Internet

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/05/2022 - 12:12am in

In today’s irony report, Daily Nous editor Justin Weinberg, who mere days ago announced he would be taking a break from the website, has returned to it to post about, of all things, philosophers on the internet.

Hi folks. I had a great time earlier this month discussing philosophy and philosophers on the internet with Leigh Johnson, Richard Lee, and Charles Peterson on their podcast, Hotel Bar Sessions (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Audible, and everywhere else). This team knows how to put together a well-produced show and structure a group conversation that makes for a good listen, and I think a lot of you will enjoy the episode I was on, which was released today.

In it, we talk about the various ways philosophy is online and how philosophers use the internet, what’s good and bad about the internet in regards to philosophy, how philosophers act—and should act—on social media, the extent to which philosophers need to be online for professional advancement, who is doing good work online, and more. Check it out! (And feel free to comment here about it).

The Punditocracy and the Subversion of Progress

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 24/05/2022 - 7:30pm in

How is the modern media environment emboldening people who want to destroy popular social justice campaigns for their own personal gain?

Political debate across the broadcast media is being destabilised by the presence of knowledge-bereft ‘personalities’, particularly drawn from the right.

Our democratic conversation has been raided by self-serving actors who use the space not as a forum for nuanced analysis, but as a means of burgeoning their personal brand. They are masters in stirring up conflict, consequently blocking the path of progress – particularly for the young.

These media personalities range from former tabloid journalists, such as Piers Morgan, to figureheads affiliated with largely failed political projects – such as Laurence Fox, founder of the Reclaim Party – to young commentators seeking their moment in the spotlight, like 19-year-old university student-turned occasional Good Morning Britain panellist Sophie Corcoran. 

Twitter is an intrinsic factor in the rise of these political personalities. A 2021 study by the Guardian found that algorithmic bias on Twitter favours right-wing politicians and personalities. This head start, alongside the clickbait-reactivity of the platform – encouraging the speedy and the sensational over the calm and the judicious – has allowed previously little-known loudmouths to gain inflated levels of public notoriety.

Fox is a classic example. The former actor and unsuccessful 2021 London Mayoral candidate told The Times in 2019 that he had been “totally radicalised” by watching YouTube videos about ‘woke culture’ and ‘political correctness’.

Since then, his standing as a political figure has mushroomed, triggered by an appearance on BBC Question Time in January 2020 and helping him to gain 300,000 Twitter followers. 

Fox is now something of a regular across mainstream broadcasting, spouting his vague anti-political-correctness agenda across the airwaves. Just last week, he appeared on the BBC's Politics Live alongside Ellie Mae O’Hagan from the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) think tank, discussing the proposed windfall tax on energy companies.

Fox’s laddy delivery, mixed with a painfully evident lack of prior knowledge, epitomises what Otto English has described in these pages as ‘politainment’ – the rise of “ridiculous diversions into colourful stories about bells and fireworks overshadowing the real issues of the day”.

A Depreciating Asset

The mainstreaming of angry, right-wing media pundits is yet another act in the UK’s long-running ‘culture war’, which pits different demographic groups against each other for cynical political purposes.

The outcome has been deeply corrosive to democracy, elevating the unevidenced ramblings of online agitators above the wisdom of certified experts. Politics has become commodified, even and especially on the BBC, which propelled Fox to stardom in the same way that it did Nigel Farage – another serial electoral loser – during the decade prior. A lack of seriousness therefore pervades modern British politics, from Downing Street to the dimly-lit studios of GB News.

Younger personalities such as Darren Grimes and Sophie Corcoran in particular seem to embody a brand of extreme cynicism. Their primary function seems to be destructive: using poorly-formed opinions and tabloid catchphrases to tear down the cause of progress. From environmental activism to racial equality movements, these commentators both undermine the young activists who represent the body of young-progressive opinion in the UK, and neuter their social causes.

The strand of thinking that aligns these personalities is the ‘war on woke’.

The word “woke” originated in the 2010s from African American vernacular, meaning to be “alert to racial prejudice and discrimination”. It has come more recently to colloquially mean awareness of a broader range of social justice issues – and has been framed in a negative context by the right.

Andrew Doyle, the GB News presenter and right-wing comedian, is soon to publish a book entitled, ‘The New Puritans: How the Religion of Social Justice Captured the Western World’.

Fox, Doyle and their acolytes fight against this perceived ‘woke’ enemy, without a tangible sense of who actually constitutes that enemy. As the education policy expert Sam Freedman has written – in relation to the hard-right outrage over the alleged cancelling of Shakespeare in schools (something that has not happened): “A new trend I’ve noticed, when you run out of real culture war issues, you just imagine ones that might exist in the future and fight them.”

Theirs is a perpetual battle against social justice – fighting against a contrived present world of aggressive ‘woke snowflakes’ in order to return to an imagined past.

And this has been the stated aim of right-wing upstarts in the broadcast media – notably GB News, whose co-founder Andrew Neil said that the channel would take on the woke establishment – and Talk TV, whose flagship presenter Piers Morgan used his opening night monologue to say that: “I want to issue an urgent trigger warning for all ultra-sensitive, permanently offended woke snowflakes who may have accidentally tuned into this show. You are not going to enjoy my show. It’s going to really annoy you.”

Yet, despite their continued prominence on our screens and social media platforms, the appeal of right-wing culture warriors appears to be dwindling. While posters and banners could be spotted around many of the UK’s major cities promoting Morgan’s new show, his daily viewing figures have plummeted. Last Wednesday – some three weeks after launch – just 24,000 people tuned in.

The posters in question stated “love him or hate him, you don’t want to miss him”. It has quickly been made apparent that, whatever the public’s personal opinion of Morgan, the majority did, in fact, want to miss him. And for all the attempts by professional provocateurs to stoke the culture war, perhaps the nation does value experts – and unity – after all.

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British Politics is Now Awash with Money and Social Media – Do We Care?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/05/2022 - 8:08pm in

Former Labour MP Ian Lucas explores how digital campaigning and Big Tech has driven a coach and horses through the UK’s historically robust electoral rules

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This month’s local elections revealed mixed results. Despite losing almost 500 seats, with a backdrop of repeated scandals in Downing Street, the Conservatives maintained residual support sufficient to keep Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. Though opposition parties made progress, it was by no means sufficient to ensure that the Conservatives will lose the next general election. What explains the Tory resilience?

To me, a spectre is haunting British politics – the spectre of money. 

Unseen and undiscussed, money has, in the past decade, driven our politics down a new path – undiscovered even by most who work in politics. I was one of them. 

For 18 years, I was a Labour MP, a minister, an opposition spokesman and, from 2015, a member of Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee which a landmark report on disinformation and fake news – uncovering the new, dark world of social media, its political uses and the money involved. It was only in that final role that the transformation of our politics in the last decade was, piece by piece, revealed to me.

Of course, money has always played a role. The Conservatives have always had more money than other parties but, to some extent, the impact of political spending was mitigated by rules. Our politics has, historically, been governed by strict rules – some of the most important of them related to money.

During meetings with US politicians over the years, I learned that they were astonished by how little UK politicians spent on elections. I explained to them that we had spending limits within our constituencies and that, in the half a dozen elections in which I had been a parliamentary candidate, I spent, usually, about £6,000. The most I ever spent was £12,000 in the hotly contested 2017 General Election.

Those US politicians were astounded. They said they usually spent a full day a week on the telephone, asking people for political donations, and needed hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for TV advertising – an essential weapon in the US political campaign race. In the UK, I told them, TV political advertising was banned and this was a big reason why I, someone with working-class parents brought up in a council house without political patronage, could be a UK Member of Parliament.

I fear that those days are gone.

The rules governing elections in the UK now, effectively, no longer apply. The limits on spending that were an intrinsic part of our system are gone. Elections are now being fought in a new way. The traditional methods of canvassing – door-knocking, telephoning, leafletting – have been superseded. The most influential campaigning now takes place online. And, for the most part, online is an ungoverned space.

Campaigning on social media has huge advantages for politicians. Information on voters, their personal preferences, what motivates them and what does not, is now available from online platforms that survey voters’ internet use and use that information to target them with individualised, targeted political messaging.

While targeted political messages have always been delivered, it usually depended on information collected by political parties themselves, explicitly for that purpose or perhaps based on demographic or economic information. It was limited in the numbers of voters reached and the parties’ capacity to individualise its content.

Many social media companies now use surveillance information for targeted messaging, reaching thousands, even millions, of voters daily. They make no distinction between political and any other sort of advertising. This is entirely alien to the political tradition in the UK. We have always treated political advertising differently – that is why we made the decision decades ago to ban TV political advertising. 

Online, however, electoral law has not applied in elections since 2015.

Our historic prohibition on political advertising on TV has been bypassed by political advertising online, with filmed political adverts now used daily on social media platforms; ads that must be paid for. Basic requirements such as imprints to identify the source of messages, for instance, have also not been legally required and are only now being introduced.

Extraordinarily, there are also only very limited restrictions on elections spending, with limits only applying for what the Electoral Commission calls “the regulated period” – the specified few weeks before an election takes place. Outside of this, political spending is unlimited by law. Even within that period, there is confusion about to whom spending limits apply. Does a generic, paid for social media advert from a political party count as a local election expense?

Political campaigning online is now constant. It is delivered inside and outside of electoral periods and Boris Johnson is never happier than when he is campaigning; projecting images of a Prime Minister in a hi-viz jacket, out and about among the voters. Those are the images delivered in films and photos daily on social media platforms; individually targeted at voters chosen as receptive to them, based on their past internet use. The result of bought social media use of this kind has been an explosion of political campaign spending. And it is very clear that enormous amounts of money are now being spent on social media advertising by political candidates. 

In the period since August 2018, for example, the Conservatives have nationally donated more than £700,000 for advertising to the West Midland Midlands Conservative Mayor Andy Street, according to the Electoral Commission. Since November 2018, Street has spent more than £104,000 on Facebook advertising alone. Though not a national politician, Street is a strategically important political figure for the Conservatives, one of only two regional mayors and his 2021 re-election was hotly contested. The other Conservative regional Mayor is Teesside’s Ben Houchen who, according to Facebook, bought more than £69,000 of advertising from it in the period from November 2018.

We have limited knowledge of where the donations to individual candidates to pay for these adverts are sourced.

At the Electoral Commission, the source of donations to Andy Street is, unhelpfully, recorded as “the Conservative Party”. This is problematic when considering transparency of those in senior political roles. If we do not know the ultimate source of donations, how do we consider questions such as undue influence? In this way, it is very difficult to get to the bottom of where big donations come from and why they are made.

Spending on social media advertising is a new, significant expense which requires a new income stream for political parties.

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Recent press reports, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have highlighted Russian-linked donations to the Conservative Party.

Jane Bradley of The New York Times reported this month on a donation of $630,225 by former Conservative Party Treasurer, Ehud Sheleg. Her article states that the donation “originated in a Russian account of Mr Sheleg’s father-in-law, Sergei Kopytov, who was once a senior politician in the previous pro-Kremlin Government of Ukraine. He now owns real estate and hotel businesses in Crimea and Russia”. According to a suspicious activity alert by Barclays Bank to the UK National Crime Agency, $2.5 million was transferred from Kopytov’s bank account in Russia in January 2018. The alert reads: “Kopytov can be said with considerable certainty to have been the true source of the donation.” Sheleg’s lawyers say that the $2.5 million was a gift.

Another Conservative Party donor, Alexander Temerko – described by Catherine Belton in her book Putin’s People as “the ultimate lobbyist” – has, individually and through companies, given more than £1 million to the Conservative Party since 2012. Temerko has been very active in making donations to north-east England Tory MPs but is not recorded as having made donations to Houchen’s campaign. 

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are now spending more on social media advertising – they have little option if they want to effectively compete at the next general election. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have signalled their intention to largely maintain the status quo by, incredibly, passing an Elections Act which largely fails to address the issues relating to online campaigning and its financing. 

The electoral spending race is working for the Conservatives. The question for opposition parties is whether this is the type of politics we want. And, if not, what will they do about it if they have the opportunity?

Ian Lucas’ book, ‘Digital Gangsters: The Inside Story of How Greed, Lies and Technology Broke Democracy’, is published by Byline Books

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Polarisation and the network harassment of science journalists.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/05/2022 - 8:00pm in

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Social media

Reporting on their qualitative research into the online abuse faced by science journalists in the USA, Lisa Palmer and Silvio Waisbord, find an uptick in the online harassment of science journalists alongside a lack of institutional support, especially for reporters working in precarious freelance contracts. For the past several years, we’ve watched with rising concern as … Continued

‘Wipe Jews Off the Face of the Earth’: Racism and Antisemitic Slurs of Viral YouTuber Exposed

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 07/05/2022 - 4:52am in

A recording exclusively obtained by Byline Times exposes YouTuber and Infowars alumnus Paul Joseph Watson using racist, homophobic and antisemitic slurs

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Far-right YouTuber and former Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson said he would like Jewish people to be wiped off the face of the Earth, in an exclusive recording obtained by Byline Times.

In the recording, made during a party and shared with this newspaper by an anonymous source, 39-year-old Watson can be heard saying: “I really think you should press the button to wipe Jews off the face of the Earth.”

The recording was confirmed by three secondary sources. Byline Times contacted Watson, and his lawyers, with numerous requests for comment but received no response.

Watson uses a string of racist and homophobic epithets and claims that he is sick of “media f****t activists” sticking signs “up in my face trying to get me to join the gay f****t Palestinian cause. I don’t give a shit about Israel and Palestine. I care about white people. Not sand n****r Jew P**i f****t  c**ns”.

https://youtu.be/WVBkklYGLTc

One secondary source said that they had heard Watson make similar comments on other occasions.

The recording was also shared on social media as Byline Times was compiling this report.

Despite being part of the 'alt-right', a movement that has often repeated antisemitic conspiracies, Watson has a quote from the Jewish Voice NY on his Twitter profile and has been defended by right-wing Jewish bloggers as not being antisemitic.

Jewish Voice NY told Byline Times that it “never endorsed Paul Joseph Watson”.

The alt-right is a term used to describe a new generation of far-right and white nationalist actors who emerged online in the early 2010s. The category is loosely-defined and covers a range of right-wing political positions – from Republican Party candidates and Donald Trump followers, to online trolls and those who hold more extremist beliefs such as Holocaust denial and 'scientific racism'.

In a recent video about the French Presidential Election, Watson used the murder of a Jewish man in Paris as a rhetorical tool to attack President Emmanuel Macron, and, more broadly, France’s African migrant communities. 

However, the recording suggests he holds violently antisemitic and racist views. 

Joe Mulhall, director of research at Hope Not Hate – the UK’s leading anti-fascism and antiracism campaign group, told Byline Times that Watson "has long been a high-profile figure in the global far-right and has a long history of spreading racist and Islamophobic conspiracy theories" but that "he has always been careful to try and stay within platform moderation policies to avoid being de-platformed and to protect his income".

"That he would engage in such vile racism in private comes as no surprise but does serve as a reminder that many of those who push anti-migrant and anti-immigration politics are sometimes motivated by more extreme racism,” he added.

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Prison Planet and the Alt-Right

Otherwise known as 'Prison Planet', Paul Joseph Watson has a large social media following – including 1.9 million subscribers on YouTube, 1.2 million followers on Twitter, and more than 56,000 subscribers on Telegram. He was removed from Facebook in 2019 – an act that led to President Donald Trump tweeting in his defence. 

He came to prominence attacking the “woke mob” and SJWs – social justice warriors – as well as feminism and anti-racist movements.

One of his videos, called 'Didn’t End Racism', mocks how re-evaluating racism in popular culture and footballers taking the knee has not ended racism. Another claims that the media is institutionally racist against white people. 

In the latter, Watson said that it is “racist to stigmatise and demonise an entire group of people for the actions of a few individuals” before accusing the media of doing exactly this to white people. “I refuse to be demonised for the colour of my skin,” he added.

Watson endeavours to keep high-profile company. He has appeared on the YouTube show of Candace Owens, formerly of the US youth conservative movement Turning Point USA and wife of Conservative Party and Reform UK Party donor George Farmer. Owens faced controversy when she said that Adolf Hitler “was a national socialist. But if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, okay, fine”. 

Watson has interacted with tech billionaire Elon Musk on Twitter.

Watson is also known to be a close associate of people linked to Nigel Farage: Michael Heaver, Farage’s former press aide and a former Brexit Party MEP, and Farage’s press aide Dan Jukes. Heaver shared an Instagram post of himself, Watson, Jukes and George Farmer having drinks. Byline Times is not suggesting that Owens, Farmer, Musk, Heaver, Jukes or Farage would condone Watson’s rant.

There has been some suggestion that the UK movement known as the ‘alt-lite’ has become emboldened since the election of Donald Trump in 2016.

The 'alt-lite' – also known as the 'new right' – is a loosely-defined group of mostly online right-wing actors and commentators who share right-wing views. The Anti-Defamation League has described it as operating "in the orbit of the alt-right", and that it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the groupings as there is significant cross-over.

That cross-over can be seen in the way that, not long after Trump’s election, Watson discussed racial IQ differences, saying that “it’s a fact” that there’s a “measurable difference in IQ” in people between the Global North and South, and that low IQ is “linked to aggression”. These are far-right talking points with a long and ignoble history.

It would also appear that Watson has become more comfortable using overtly anti-immigrant language in his content.

In a YouTube film about the 2022 French Presidential Election, he repeated conspiracy content that Paris has “no-go zones” and “lawless ghettos inhabited by untold numbers of illegal immigrants”. He supported the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen’s stance on “prioritising French people in France” and shared dog whistle homophobic stills of Macron embracing a black man to a soundtrack of Je T’Aime – the song by Serge Gainsbourg.

On Telegram, he shared a post praising the success of the film The Northman, saying that “people enjoy seeing races in their correct historical and mythological settings, rather than being drip-fed banal social engineering projects cooked up by a board of diversity quotas”.

Watson has also followed the far-right trend of siding with Vladimir Putin since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and repeated Russian claims that alleged war crimes in Bucha were a “false flag”. 

In a video made the day of Russia’s invasion, he quoted a tweet that ‘joked’ how Putin’s “manly recruitment ads stand no chance against Ukraine’s they/them army” – referring to gender neutral pronouns and trans rights. “Turns out NATO’s commitment to inclusion and diversity didn’t deter Putin”, he continues, before quoting a second tweet that said the West was “low on patriotism and manhood”. Again, these are common far-right talking points. 

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Like his former colleague Alex Jones, US-led conspiracist movements, and UK far-right figures such as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (known as 'Tommy Robinson'), Watson has expressed scepticism about the COVID-19 vaccine, repeatedly posting examples of people getting Coronavirus despite being full vaccinated.

A further example in which Watson appears to be shifting towards more US-centric talking points is over abortion – an issue that has traditionally been less of a focus for the UK ‘alt-lite’.

He posted content from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in which the Republican politician said that abortion “has no place in a civilised society”. Further, Watson has repeated US-style far-right conspiracy about so-called “at-birth” or “after-birth” abortions – such medical interventions do not exist.

“Paul Joseph Watson led rebranding to call hard-right authoritarian politics in the West ‘the New Right’,” said the Southern Poverty Law Centre’s Michael Hayden. The centre is collaborating with Byline Times on making the recording public.

“From the recording and everything else we’ve seen since Brexit and Trump’s election — these people are just cynical racists trying to make money and gain power over other people’s lives,” he said. “The fact that Watson has been able to survive so long online is an embarrassment for YouTube and Twitter, two companies that have played such a big role in radicalising extremists.”

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Government Refusing to Release Documents Related to Meeting Between Boris Johnson and Cambridge Analytica

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/05/2022 - 9:57pm in

The Foreign Office is withholding information about the Prime Minister’s meeting with the defunct data firm in the wake of Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, Sam Bright reports

The Foreign Office has denied a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from Byline Times, in relation to the meetings held between Boris Johnson, Sir Alan Duncan and the infamous data harvesting firm Cambridge Analytica.

On 8 December 2016, while serving as Foreign Secretary, Johnson held a meeting with Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix. According to Government records, the meeting was held “to discuss [the] US political situation”.

A day earlier, Duncan – who was at the time serving as Minister of State for Europe and the Americas – had also met with Nix “to discuss the US election result and build senior contacts with the transition team”.

However, when Johnson was asked in the House of Commons in July 2019 why he met Cambridge Analytica, he responded: “Mr Speaker, I have no idea.” Both Nix and Johnson are Old Etonians.

Byline Times recently submitted a FOI request, asking the Foreign Office for all correspondence, including minutes, related to these two meetings. However, while the department confirmed that it “does hold information” relevant to the request, it has decided to withhold this information due national interest and personal data concerns.

Indeed, the Foreign Office claims that releasing the requested information “could potentially damage the bilateral relationship between the UK and the United States of America" and that "this would reduce the UK Government’s ability to protect and promote UK interests through its relations with the United States of America, which would not be in the public interest".

It also said that the Government must adhere to the principle that personal data should be processed lawfully, fairly and transparently. “It is the fairness aspect of this principle, which, in our view, would be breached by disclosure,” the response states.

The only information provided by the Government is seemingly a series of emails sent between officials in London and Washington about Duncan’s meeting with Cambridge Analytica on 7 December. However, all the information contained in these messages is redacted, aside from one email saying: “Can you do a quick summary of other points? I’ll do a memory jogger for the Minister ahead of the meeting so that he covers what was discussed. Keywords are fine.”

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A Sordid Tale

It is ironic that the Government is using data protection concerns as a reason to deny releasing information about its meetings with Cambridge Analytica.

The firm, which has now been dissolved, came to international notoriety in 2018 after it was revealed by the Observer that data from 50 million Facebook users had been harvested by the firm without authorisation.

Cambridge Analytica consequently used this vast data bank to build a software programme that could predict and influence choices at the ballot box, through targeted online adverts.

“We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles," Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie told the Observer. "And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on."

The big data firm claimed to possess up to 5,000 data points on more than 230 million Americans, and said that it had worked on more than 200 elections across the globe.

One of these elections was the 2016 US Presidential Election – for which it was paid some $6 million to help the campaign of Ted Cruz, who lost the Republican nomination to Donald Trump. The firm then switched to the Trump campaign, with its vice president Steve Bannon appointed as Trump’s campaign manager.

It has also been claimed that Cambridge Analytica worked on the pro-Brexit campaign, with Leave.EU's former communications director Andy Wigmore saying that Cambridge Analytica was “more than happy to help... we shared a lot of information”.

An undercover investigation by Channel 4 in March 2018 then exposed Alexander Nix boasting about seeding pro-Trump messages online through a web of anonymity. “We just put information into the bloodstream to the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again over time to watch it take shape," he said. "And so this stuff infiltrates the online community and expands but with no branding – so it’s unattributable, untrackable."

Executives at the firm were also filmed talking about using bribes, ex-spies, fake IDs and sex workers to influence election campaigns.

Although Cambridge Analytica closed its doors in May 2018, many of its senior figures have gone on to work for other firms using data to influence political campaigns. Brad Parscale, the man who hired Cambridge Analytica to work on Trump’s 2016 campaign, was appointed as Trump’s campaign manager during the 2020 re-election contest.

Facebook was fined $5 billion by Federal Trade Commission in America over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and £500,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK (the maximum fine available).

The Times further exposed that an executive at Cambridge Analytica’s parent firm, SCL, had briefed UK Government officials on the use of data in the 2016 Presidential Election – though the details of the meetings between Alexander Nix, Sir Alan Duncan and Boris Johnson have never been revealed.

Byline Times has asked the Foreign Office to review its decision about withholding the information relating to these meetings. This newspaper will report back with further developments.

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Leave, Adapt, Resist – Time to rethink Academic Twitter?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/05/2022 - 8:00pm in

As Twitter moves to become a private company owned by the billionaire Elon Musk, Mark Carrigan, reflects on the increasing importance academic social media and academic twitter has secured in universities for building academic communities and for public engagement and impact. Assessing what the acquisition might mean in terms of relations on the platform, he argues … Continued

Alternative social media open thread

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 01/05/2022 - 6:46pm in

Following Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, some progressive/left-leaning people have left, or are considering to leave. I haven’t left. So far Twitter has been very useful for me for (1) political activism, especially regarding Higher Education policies in my own country; (2) as a source of information – it’s partly a supplement to newspapers and other traditional media; (3) exchanging information with others, worldwide; (4) some debate and exchange of arguments, which sadly is probably part of the reason the blogosphere has been in decline over the last decade. Hence, there are still reasons not to leave, but obviously I am waiting to see how Twitter under Musk-rule will change.

Nevertheless, it’s high time to start looking seriously into the alternatives; this might make it easier/less costly to leave if we ever judge we have to. I’m at square zero concerning Twitter-alternatives, and surely I’m not the only one. Hence my question: what are your experiences on other social media platforms, and do you have any advice to offer to those considering to move to another place?

Government Stalling on Releasing Boris Johnson WhatsApp Messages

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/04/2022 - 11:00pm in

Iain Overton reports on attempts by campaigners to force greater transparency from the Government on the Prime Minister’s use of private messaging apps

The Cabinet Office is considering whether or not to release information on how many WhatsApp messages sent by Boris Johnson in 2021 have been saved for posterity, saying that it could be dangerous to do so in the national interest.

When asked under Freedom of Information (FOI) how many of the Prime Minister’s WhatsApp messages were saved that were relevant to the public record in 2021, the Cabinet Office replied that it requires “further time to consider the public interest test”. The reason cited was “national security”. The Cabinet Office said that it would aim to have a response by 23 May.

Earlier this year, a witness statement was given to the High Court by Sarah Harrison, the chief operating officer for the Cabinet Office, in relation to a court case brought by public interest group The Citizens – challenging the Government on its saving of WhatsApp messages. In it, Harrison claimed that “various WhatsApp groups had been set up [by those in Downing Street]. These were largely used for general discussion or informal conversation”.

“Anything relevant to public record would be saved either through the Prime Minister’s Private Office support team (who provide 24 hour administrative assistance),” said Harrison, or “by actions being formally commissioned by officials through Government channels and/or the box process, in accordance with the Number 10 WhatsApp policy.”

In denying how many messages were saved by Johnson’s Private Office support team, the Cabinet Office stated: “We are considering whether the public interest in neither confirming nor denying whether we hold the information you requested outweighs the public interest in confirming whether we hold it.”

The delay in response to the FOI request comes as the Prime Minister was reported to have messaged Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner to make clear that he views claims about her in a Sunday newspaper as misogynistic. The Mail on Sunday reported that an unnamed Conservative MP claimed that Rayner tries to distract the Prime Minister in the Commons by crossing and uncrossing her legs – akin to the character played by actress Sharon Stone in the film Basic Instinct

It has previously been revealed that Johnson communicated privately, via WhatsApp, with the Conservative Party donor – Lord David Brownlow – who helped to fund the Prime Minister’s lavish Downing Street flat refurbishment. The affair led to the Conservatives being fined £17,800 for “failing to accurately report a donation”.

Transparency Blockade

In the evidence submitted to the High Court, it was also noted that the Prime Minister obtained a new telephone number after his old number was identified as being in the public domain in April 2021.

“In April 2021, in light of a well-publicised security breach,” the Cabinet Office explained, “the Prime Minister implemented security advice relating to a mobile device. The effect was that historic messages were no longer available to search and the phone is not active.”

It was acknowledged that text messages had allegedly been “used as part of the method of communication between the Prime Minister, Dominic Cummings, Professor Sir Chris Whitty and others”, when discussing the Coronavirus pandemic.

Cummings has previously tweeted screen-grabs of a WhatsApp message by Johnson in which the Prime Minister referred to then Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock as “totally f*cking hopeless”. 

The Cabinet Office has stated that it has “no record of any SMS messages being sent conducting Government business” from the Prime Minister to other members of staff.

In her submission, Harrison also acknowledged that the Prime Minister uses a private email in his work “in order to edit speeches”, though she stressed that he does not use it for day-to-day work.

It has previously been revealed that former Junior Health Minister Lord James Bethell – who worked under Hancock – was not able to release WhatsApp messages related to the negotiation of certain COVID-19 contracts because his phone was passed to a family member and wiped, rendering it unsearchable.

He first said that the phone was “lost” – before changing his account of events and claiming that it was “broken”.

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The Government has been mired in transparency scandals since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic – famously forced to release a series of documents showing its communication with the healthcare giant Randox, after previously suggesting that it had ‘lost’ the minutes of its meetings with the firm.

More recently, the Labour Party was successful in forcing the Government to agree to release evidence relating to Boris Johnson’s involvement in the appointment of Evgeny Lebedev to the House of Lords.

Baron Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia is the son of a former KGB spy and it has been reported that Johnson personally influenced the security services to drop their official concerns about appointing Lebedev to the Lords.

The Government criticised Labour’s efforts to secure more information about Lebedev’s appointment, but its MPs did not vote against the Opposition’s proposal.

Iain Overton, who leads the Byline Intelligence Team, also works on a freelance basis for The Citizens

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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Why is ‘Putin’s Rasputin’ Still on Facebook?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/04/2022 - 8:45pm in

A Byline Times investigation reveals that Aleksandr Dugin is still sharing conspiracy theories and disinformation with his thousands of followers

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The Facebook page of the man known as 'Putin’s Rasputin', Aleksandr Dugin, is continuing to promote disinformation following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – including claims that the crimes committed in Bucha were a “scenario” created by the West.

Many of the more concerning posts identified by Byline Times appeared to have been removed from Dugin’s page after this newspaper contacted Meta about the far-right ideologue’s presence on its website. 

Dugin has two pages – one with 52,000 likes and a second with 19,000 likes. The first page often links to content from the second profile, while the second is more up-to-date.

A Telegram profile named 'Alexander Dugin | Z' has 8,239 subscribers and an Instagram account that appears to be linked to Dugin has 8,046 followers, meaning that Facebook is the social media platform where he has the most influence. 

A close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dugin advocates for the creation of a Eurasian empire. His philosophy is fascistic in its desire to return to a so-called ‘natural order’ and to build a fascist mythic past that reverses progress and returns humanity to a pre-Enlightenment state. 

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Conspiracy and Propaganda

Posting multiple times a day, Dugin’s page includes statements claiming that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is justified as it is against “Ukrainian Nazism” that was created by “liberal globalists in the West” – Russian disinformation used to justify the war as a way of 'de-Nazifying' Ukraine. 

His page talks of the “imperial awakening of Russia”, claims that the West wants the war to continue, and that human rights is a totalitarian concept.

Most troublingly of all, Dugin’s page claimed that "what happened in Bucha was a scenario prepared by Western countries and Ukrainian forces. The aim was to sabotage the peace mission undertaken by Turkey and to reset the positive distance taken in the Istanbul talks”.


It appears that this post was removed by Facebook after Byline Times alerted Meta to its presence. The post was also shared on Telegram, along with a post referring to the atrocities there as a “fake attack”.

The Ukrainian city of Bucha is where Russia faces multiple allegations of war crimes including summary executions, the targeting of civilians and rape. The claim that these crimes were staged or did not happen is a popular conspiracy theory circulating in pro-Putin circles online. 

His page talks about “Z victory worldwide”, refers to Ukraine as a “rimland” and says that Russia “will restore order, justice, prosperity and decent living standards in Ukraine. Russia brings freedom”. 

Dugin greeted Russia’s invasion with posts celebrating the war as “salvation" and a statement that the "the modern West, where the Rothschilds, Soros, Swabians, Bill Gates and Zuckerbergs [sic] triumph, is the most disgusting phenomenon in world history”.

The war “is a religious moment" and "not just geopolitics or conflict of interests. This is a clash of civilizations”.

Alongside his own posts, Dugin links to the Katehon website – a think tank linked to the sanctioned oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev, who was recently indicted by the US justice system. Dugin was formerly an editor at Malofeyev’s Tsargrad TV project.   

Facebook’s Response to War

Aleksandr Dugin’s continued presence on the social network is not the only example of Facebook failing to tackle disinformation about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A study published in March by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate found that it failed to label 80% of articles on its platform promoting a fast-spreading conspiracy theory that the US is funding the use of bioweapons in Ukraine.

As reported by Byline Times, the conspiracy theory was also circulating around WhatsApp, a second Meta company. 

However, Facebook has reacted to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in other ways. The day after the invasion, the head of security at Meta (formerly Facebook) announced that the company would no longer accept advert money from Russian state media outlets such as RT and Sputnik. It also removed a disinformation network targeting people in Ukraine.

Russia has banned Facebook.

But Professor Rafal Pankowski, of the Never Again Association – an anti-racist organisation in Poland – told Byline Times that “what is important and highly problematic is the impact Dugin has outside of Russia".

"It is yet one more example of the paradoxical internationalisation of radical nationalism enabled to a large extent by the big social media platforms," he said. "He is the biggest symbol and ideologue of Russian neo-fascism and, as such, has served as a point of reference and inspiration for extreme-right and fascist groups all over the world.

"He has legitimised and inspired countless extreme-right movements and activists in many countries, amplifying their hostility to the very idea of democracy, the universal values of human rights and freedoms. He is definitely one of the most influential voices of global fascism today. 

“Through maintaining Dugin's propaganda online (almost two months since the beginning of the invasion, Facebook has been complicit in the glorification of ongoing mass murder.”

Wendy Via, of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, said that social media companies have a "misguided view of the role they should play in the geopolitical landscape as evidenced over and over by the destruction the companies leave in their wake".

"Facebook often wilfully ignores its own policies for its own benefit, ignoring users’ safety," she told this newspaper. "Dugin is a very influential and powerful person and Facebook has a long history of allowing the politically powerful free rein to violate the rules – a global practice that must stop. And the enforcement of their policies is haphazard at best. Even when they make the decision to act, as they say they have regarding the invasion of Ukraine, they’re incompetent to carry out the decisions.

"It seems that they only temporarily learn from any of their mistakes and are rarely interested in moral decisions or building trust.”

A Meta spokesperson told Byline Times: “We have taken extensive steps to fight the spread of misinformation relating to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including labelling content from state-controlled media entities, and continue to consult with outside experts to make sure that our policies are consistently up-to-date.

"We have the most robust system for fact-checking false claims of any platform and our special operations centre is staffed by experts from across the company, including native Russian and Ukrainian speakers, who are monitoring the platform around the clock.” 

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