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How Russia Feeds the Factory of Unthinking

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/09/2022 - 7:26pm in

From Ukrainians being mainly Jewish to allegations of black magic, hypnotism and colonising Africa, Oleksiy Pluzhnyk explores the Kremlin's exploitation of the conspiratorial mindset

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It had been a week since I started talking to Samir (not his real name), a young Syrian man living in Aleppo. As a Ukrainian, I was interested in Syrians’ attitudes towards the recent Russian invasion. Even though we both had a fresh memory of Russian war crimes, our conversations remained mostly prosaic and almost indistinguishable from any other interactions I'd had with Syrians before. That was until I received a spontaneous and rather unexpected message asking: “So, you are Jewish, right?”

I was puzzled. We had not touched upon this in our conversation.

“Anyway, I know that most Ukrainian citizens are Jewish,” he said. When I asked him why he thought this, he messaged: “My professor has told us that. He is from Russia.”

I was curious. I had never heard of such delusion before. 

There's no need to explain the attitude towards Jews in the region, especially in Syria with its history of wars with Israel, the Golan Heights issue, and current highly aggressive relations with the country. But it seemed suspicious how beneficial this was for Russia – for people to believe that Ukraine consists mainly of the group that is arguably one of the most hated by locals, even though there is no basis for this.

African Colonialists

Similar thoughts were provoked by Jonathan Moyo, Zimbabwe’s former Minister of Higher Education, when he tweeted that Ukrainians are “the masters of colonialism, slavery, and imperialism”. This has been echoed by other users of social media in Africa that claim Ukraine is "racist".

This is despite the fact that Ukraine has not colonised anyone. On the contrary, Ukrainians themselves were colonised by the Russians and had a long and tragic history of serfdom strongly resembling slavery, abolished only in 1861.

But that is not the point. Racism by Africans equates to what Israel represents for Syrians – a highly sensitive issue provoking strong emotions, which tend to overshadow rational thinking, especially when a person doesn’t know much about the object around which the manipulative lie revolves. These blinding emotions leave a person suspicious and prejudiced towards the unknown.

That’s the principle basis on which a conspiratorial mindset is formed. As Peter Pomerantsev – author of This is not Propaganda and Nothing is True and Everything is Possible – has aptly put it several times, conspiracy is used to explain those things which a person doesn’t really understand, to pave a fictional way through an extremely difficult and unknown world.

This kind of propaganda has its roots in circumstances in which trust is dissolved or is absent to begin with, and where suspicion and doubt are high. When people feel lost, they seem to side with those who offer simplistic and emotional explanations. “Of course, then you need Putin, Trump or Bolsonaro to help you with things that you’re failing to grasp,” Pomerantsev observes.

Many of those making such statements about Ukrainians may not even realise that these narratives are profitable to Russia – but they are. Indeed, Russia is the main global provider of these all-answering explanations and conspiracies.

Masters of the Irrational

The Kremlin's reaction to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014 was chaotic. According to Pomerantsev, “the reports that characterised the crash as everything from an assault by Ukrainian fighter jets following US instructions, to an attempted NATO attack on Putin’s private jet... were trying not so much to convince viewers of any one version of events, but rather to leave them confused, paranoid".

Russia constantly and tirelessly produces largely mystical conspiracy content, filling both the information environment of the country itself and spreading it around the world.

"In the headquarters of the Ukrainian military, we found traces of black magic practices" an article by Russia’s largest state-owned media RIA Novosti has observed.

“The arsonist who put the car of the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces on fire had been kidnapped and hypnotised by Ukrainians”, a popular media outlet Lenta.Ru wrote in August.

In the Middle East and Africa, Russian media narratives around the war in Ukraine consistently contain conspiracies – from the hidden Zionist hand responsible for the war in Syria, to the US firing missiles at Russia, and the West being responsible for the global food crisis.

In the end, some people’s indifference towards the country – about which they will know practically nothing – can transform into a zealous commitment to Russian narratives.  

“Some things about Ukrainian history that I had never known about before foreigners 'enlightened' me," wrote a Ukrainian on Twitter reacting to the foreign conspiracy Ukrainians are facing online. "Ukraine colonised Africa; Ukraine occupied Palestine."

It is difficult to draw conclusions about whether such narratives are that widespread, as well as about the authenticity of their authors, but they definitely reveal the dangers of conspiratorial thinking.

These dangers are wider than just Russian propaganda. In this case, we confront something bigger – the dark side of people’s nature itself.

From Trump incessantly turning to conspiracies during the insurrection at the US Capitol, to the popularity of far-right conspiracist Danny Kollár in Slovakia, to African belief in the Ukrainian empire, and Syrian assuredness about the Jewish majority here, the global system of reason is under attack. What is thought to be unthinkable becomes mainstream. Every society is at risk.

Some people will sincerely hate Ukraine for things it has nothing to do with. This is a great victory for irrational conspiracies, and Russia is one of the biggest factories of unthinking to nourish it. But the tendency to a conspiratorial mindset is truly global – and that is why it is a global threat.

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More than Half of Incels Support Paedophilia, Finds New Report

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/09/2022 - 6:42pm in

Research by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate has found widespread acceptance of sexual violence against children in 'incel' communities

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More than half of those posting on the world’s biggest ‘incel’ forum support sexualisation of children aged under 18, according to a new report.

The world’s largest incel forum changed its rules in March to explicitly permit the sexualisation of pubescent minors, i.e. girls aged 13 to 16. 

The findings by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) support previous investigations by Byline Times which found numerous posts on incels.net, a popular incel meeting place, referring to 'jailbait' and expressing a desire to abuse girls aged 13 and above. 

Incels are a misogynistic online sub-culture that believes men are superior to women, that they are entitled to sex and to women’s bodies, and which often hold white supremacist beliefs alongside their male supremacist ideology. They refer to women as 'foids' or 'femoids' and 'roasts', and often use explicitly racist, misogynistic and violent language. 

The sexualisation of girls often stems from an expressed desire to have girlfriends or wives who have not been 'ruined' by 'Chads' – high status alpha males who have sex with multiple women.

In incel culture, men fantasise about recreating a 'golden age' whereby women are not permitted to have autonomy, including the right to divorce, to choose who to have sex with, to vote, or to abortion. Instead, women should "perform their gender specific duties", as one incel put it.

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While the majority of incels are from America (43.8% of users on the incel forum examined by the CCDH), increasing numbers of boys and men from the UK have joined. According to data from the CCDH, 7.5% of the forum’s 17,000 users are from the UK, with 4.2% from Poland.

This again tallies with independent investigations by Byline Times which have found frequent references to Poland. During the 2019 Women’s Strike protests that followed the decision to extend the country’s ban on abortion, men posted in praise of the Government, calling it 'based' (slang for ‘good’) for banning abortion and praising heavy-handed security tactics in suppressing the protests. 

“They deserve to be chained like the animals they are,” wrote one incels.net member, responding to videos of the Polish protests. “The army should start raping them on the streets,” wrote another, and “every country should copy and paste [Poland’s] laws.”

“Incels are not lone wolves or socially isolated,” Imran Ahmad, CEO of the CCDH, said. “They are in fact enmeshed in highly active communities with a coherent, evolving ideology that has radicalised further in the past 18 months. They are egging each other on to commit mass violence, normalising sexual violence against women and even codified their approval of sexualising children."

Violent Fantasies

Since 2013, 59 people have been killed as a result of incel-linked violence, including six people in Plymouth, UK, last August. 

The incel forum is packed with fantasies of violence, with the CCDH finding that, in an 18-month period, the word 'rape' appeared every 29 minutes. In total, the researchers found that the words appeared more than 18,000 times and was used by 39% of users. 

Forums included 'women are designed to be raped' and 'rape is f*cking awesome'. Discussions of rape showed that 89% of forum users were supportive of sexual violence. 

Research by Byline Times found that fantasies of violence extended beyond rape. One particularly distressing post described putting a grenade inside a woman’s anus and cutting off her breasts “with a machete”. Another poster wrote how vaginas should be kept on “leashes”. One of the less extreme posts fantasised about how “women have to suffer, and if they don’t want to suffer, we make them suffer”.  

Along with fantasies about rape and other forms of violence against women, incel forums are increasingly accepting of paedophilia. The CCDH's research found that more than a quarter of incels have posted on the forum using paedophilia keywords. 

Byline Times’ investigations found users fantasising about “jailbait”, a term used to denote teenage girls. The CCDH found that “jailbait” or “JB” featured in 1,716 posts over 18 months; while the term “loli”, short for “Lolita”, was mentioned 3,117 times. It would appear “loli” has become more popular, perhaps as it is more coded than “jailbait” which is a commonly-understood term.

Paedophilia is presented as normal, with one forum poster writing: “Any straight normal human will lust over minifoids, all the normies will deny it though.”

The CCDH found one thread created by a regular contributor which contained an image of a then 12-year-old child, along with the comment: “Who in their right mind would prefer a 22 year old roasty to this?”

“Big Tech companies, like YouTube, Twitter and Cloudflare, have enabled this community,” Ahmed added. “They know about the problem but have failed to act. They are voluntarily providing a platform and monetising content that encourages atrocities against women and girls.

"We need new legislation to force Big Tech to do the right thing and protect women, girls and the young men who are being drawn into this evil ideology.”

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Rattling the Cage

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 21/09/2022 - 11:41pm in

Claiming authorship in the age of the internet.

An introvert’s guide to academic networking and hybrid events

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/09/2022 - 8:00pm in

As academic conferences and events re-emerge after a period of COVID-19 induced absence, Mark Carrigan, takes stock of the new post-pandemic world of academic meetings and provides four strategies for how academics can productively navigate and build networks in a world of hybrid interactions. I hesitate to use the term ‘networking’. There are few words … Continued

Aphorism and twitter – A distinct medium for constructing knowledge

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/09/2022 - 8:00pm in

Twitter can be written off as a distinctly unserious medium, a place for fads, bullying and the latest cat videos. However, as Steve Fuller discusses the unique format of a tweet can also be a space for concision, constructive ambiguity as well as a technology for teaching complex ideas. In October 2011, relatively early in … Continued

John Pilger: Silencing the Lambs. How Propaganda Works

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/09/2022 - 1:58am in

In the 1970s, I met one of Hitler’s leading propagandists, Leni Riefenstahl, whose epic films glorified the Nazis. We happened to be staying at the same lodge in Kenya, where she was on a photography assignment, having escaped the fate of other friends of the Fuhrer.

She told me that the ‘patriotic messages’ of her films were dependent not on ‘orders from above’ but on what she called the ‘submissive void’ of the German public.

Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie? I asked.  ‘Yes, especially them,’ she said.

I think of this as I look around at the propaganda now consuming Western societies.

Of course, we are very different from Germany in the 1930s. We live in information societies. We are globalists. We have never been more aware, more in touch, better connected.

Are we? Or do we live in a Media Society where brainwashing is insidious and relentless, and perception is filtered according to the needs and lies of state and corporate power?

The United States dominates the Western world’s media. All but one of the top ten media companies are based in North America. The internet and social media – Google, Twitter, Facebook – are mostly American owned and controlled.

In my lifetime, the United States has overthrown or attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, mostly democracies. It has interfered in democratic elections in 30 countries. It has dropped bombs on the people of 30 countries, most of them poor and defenceless. It has attempted to murder the leaders of 50 countries.  It has fought to suppress liberation movements in 20 countries.

The extent and scale of this carnage is largely unreported, unrecognized; and those responsible continue to dominate Anglo-American political life.

In the years before he died in 2008, the playwright Harold Pinter made two extraordinary speeches, which broke a silence.

‘US foreign policy,’ he said, is ‘best defined as follows: kiss my arse or I’ll kick your head in. It is as simple and as crude as that. What is interesting about it is that it’s so incredibly successful. It possesses the structures of disinformation, use of rhetoric, distortion of language, which are very persuasive, but are actually a pack of lies. It is very successful propaganda. They have the money, they have the technology, they have all the means to get away with it, and they do.”

In accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature, Pinter said this:

The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

Pinter was a friend of mine and possibly the last great political sage – that is, before dissenting politics were gentrified. I asked him if the ‘hypnosis’ he referred to was the ‘submissive void’ described by Leni Riefenstahl.

‘It’s the same,’ he replied. ‘It means the brainwashing is so thorough we are programmed to swallow a pack of lies. If we don’t recognise propaganda, we may accept it as normal and believe it. That’s the submissive void.’

In our systems of corporate democracy, war is an economic necessity, the perfect marriage of public subsidy and private profit: socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor. The day after 9/11 the stock prices of the war industry soared. More bloodshed was coming, which is great for business.

Today, the most profitable wars have their own brand. They are called ‘forever wars’: Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and now Ukraine. All are based on a pack of lies.

Iraq is the most infamous, with its weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist. Nato’s destruction of Libya in 2011 was justified by a massacre in Benghazi that didn’t happen. Afghanistan was a convenient revenge war for 9/11, which had nothing to do with the people of Afghanistan.

Today, the news from Afghanistan is how evil the Taliban are – not that Joe Biden’s theft of $7billion of the country’s bank reserves is causing widespread suffering. Recently, National Public Radio in Washington devoted two hours to Afghanistan – and 30 seconds to its starving people.

At its summit in Madrid in June, Nato, which is controlled by the United States, adopted a strategy document that militarises the European continent, and escalates the prospect of war with Russia and China. It proposes ‘multi domain warfighting against nuclear-armed peer-competitor. In other words, nuclear war.

It says: ‘Nato’s enlargement has been an historic success’.

I read that in disbelief.

A measure of this ‘historic success’ is the war in Ukraine, news of which is mostly not news, but a one-sided litany of jingoism, distortion, omission.  I have reported a number of wars and have never known such blanket propaganda.

In February, Russia invaded Ukraine as a response to almost eight years of killing and criminal destruction in the Russian-speaking region of Donbass on their border.

In 2014, the United States had sponsored a coup in Kyiv that got rid of Ukraine’s democratically elected, Russian-friendly president and installed a successor whom the Americans made clear was their man.

In recent years, American ‘defender’ missiles have been installed in eastern Europe, Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, almost certainly aimed at Russia, accompanied by false assurances all the way back to James Baker’s ‘promise’ to Gorbachev in February 1990 that Nato would never expand beyond Germany.

Ukraine is the frontline. Nato has effectively reached the very borderland through which Hitler’s army stormed in 1941, leaving more than 23 million dead in the Soviet Union.

Last December, Russia proposed a far-reaching security plan for Europe. This was dismissed, derided or suppressed in the Western media. Who read its step-by-step proposals? On 24 February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy threatened to develop nuclear weapons unless America armed and protected Ukraine.  This was the final straw.

On the same day, Russia invaded – according to the Western media, an unprovoked act of congenital infamy. The history, the lies, the peace proposals, the solemn agreements on Donbass at Minsk counted for nothing.

On 25 April, the US Defence Secretary, General Lloyd Austin, flew into Kyiv and confirmed that America’s aim was to destroy the Russian Federation – the word he used was ‘weaken’. America had got the war it wanted, waged by an American bankrolled and armed proxy and expendable pawn.

Almost none of this was explained to Western audiences.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is wanton and inexcusable. It is a crime to invade a sovereign country. There are no ‘buts’ – except one.

When did the present war in Ukraine begin and who started it? According to the United Nations, between 2014 and this year, some 14,000 people have been killed in the Kyiv regime’s civil war on the Donbass. Many of the attacks were carried out by neo-Nazis.

Watch an ITV news report from May 2014, by the veteran reporter James Mates, who is shelled, along with civilians in the city of Mariupol, by Ukraine’s Azov (neo-Nazi) battalion.

In the same month, dozens of Russian-speaking people were burned alive or suffocated in a trade union building in Odessa besieged by fascist thugs, the followers of the Nazi collaborator and anti-Semitic fanatic Stephen Bandera.  The New York Times called the thugs ‘nationalists’.

‘The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment,’ said Andreiy Biletsky, founder of the Azov Battaltion, ‘is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival, a crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.’

Since February, a campaign of self-appointed ‘news monitors’ (mostly funded by the Americans and British with links to governments) have sought to maintain the absurdity that Ukraine’s neo-Nazis don’t exist.

Airbrushing, a term once associated with Stalin’s purges, has become a tool of mainstream journalism.

In less than a decade, a ‘good’ China has been airbrushed and a ‘bad’ China has replaced it: from the world’s workshop to a budding new Satan.

Much of this propaganda originates in the US, and is transmitted through proxies and ‘think-tanks’, such as the notorious Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the voice of the arms industry, and by zealous journalists such as Peter Hartcher of the Sydney Morning Herald, who labeled those spreading Chinese influence as ‘rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows’ and called for these ‘pests’ to be ‘eradicated’.

News about China in the West is almost entirely about the threat from Beijing. Airbrushed are the 400 American military bases that surround most of China, an armed necklace that reaches from Australia to the Pacific and south east Asia, Japan and Korea. The Japanese island of Okinawa and the Korean island of Jeju are loaded guns aimed point blank at the industrial heart of China. A Pentagon official described this as a ‘noose’.

Palestine has been misreported for as long as I can remember. To the BBC, there is the ‘conflict’ of ‘two narratives’. The longest, most brutal, lawless military occupation in modern times is unmentionable.

The stricken people of Yemen barely exist. They are media unpeople.  While the Saudis rain down their American cluster bombs with British advisors working alongside the Saudi targeting officers, more than half a million children face starvation.

This brainwashing by omission has a long history. The slaughter of the First World War was suppressed by reporters who were knighted for their compliance and confessed in their memoirs.  In 1917, the editor of the Manchester Guardian, C.P. Scott, confided to prime minister Lloyd George: ‘If people really knew [the truth], the war would be stopped tomorrow, but they don’t know and can’t know.’

The refusal to see people and events as those in other countries see them is a media virus in the West, as debilitating as Covid.  It is as if we see the world through a one-way mirror, in which ‘we’ are moral and benign and ‘they’ are not. It is a profoundly imperial view.

The history that is a living presence in China and Russia is rarely explained and rarely understood. Vladimir Putin is Adolf Hitler. Xi Jinping is Fu Man Chu. Epic achievements, such as the eradication of abject poverty in China, are barely known. How perverse and squalid this is.

When will we allow ourselves to understand? Training journalists factory style is not the answer. Neither is the wondrous digital tool, which is a means, not an end, like the one-finger typewriter and the linotype machine.

In recent years, some of the best journalists have been eased out of the mainstream. ‘Defenestrated’ is the word used. The spaces once open to mavericks, to journalists who went against the grain, truth-tellers, have closed.

The case of Julian Assange is the most shocking.  When Julian and WikiLeaks could win readers and prizes for the Guardian, the New York Times and other self-important ‘papers of record’, he was celebrated.

When the dark state objected and demanded the destruction of hard drives and the assassination of Julian’s character, he was made a public enemy. Vice President Biden called him a ‘hi-tech terrorist’. Hillary Clinton asked, ‘Can’t we just drone this guy?’

The ensuing campaign of abuse and vilification against Julian Assange – the UN Rapporteur on Torture called it ‘mobbing’ — brought the liberal press to its lowest ebb. We know who they are. I think of them as collaborators: as Vichy journalists.

When will real journalists stand up? An inspirational samizdat  already exists on the internet: Consortium News, founded by the great reporter Robert Parry, Max Blumenthal’s  Grayzone, MintPress News, Media Lens, Declassified UK, Alborada, Electronic Intifada, WSWS, ZNet, ICH, Counter Punch, Independent Australia, the work of Chris Hedges, Patrick Lawrence, Jonathan Cook, Diana Johnstone, Caitlin Johnstone and others who will forgive me for not mentioning them here.

And when will writers stand up, as they did against the rise of fascism in the 1930s? When will film-makers stand up, as they did against the Cold War in the 1940s? When will satirists stand up, as they did a generation ago?

Having soaked for 82 years in a deep bath of righteousness that is the official version of the last world war, isn’t it time those who are meant to keep the record straight declared their independence and decoded the propaganda? The urgency is greater than ever.

Feature photo | Illustration by MintPress News

John Pilger has twice won Britain’s highest award for journalism and has been International Reporter of the Year, News Reporter of the Year and Descriptive Writer of the Year. He has made 61 documentary films and has won an Emmy, a BAFTA the Royal Television Society prize and the Sydney Peace Prize. His ‘Cambodia Year Zero’ is named as one of the ten most important films of the 20th century. This article is an edited version of an address to the Trondheim World Festival, Norway. He can be contacted at www.johnpilger.com

The post John Pilger: Silencing the Lambs. How Propaganda Works appeared first on MintPress News.

The focus on misinformation leads to a profound misunderstanding of why people believe and act on bad information

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 05/09/2022 - 8:00pm in

Misinformation has been a prominent paradigm in the explanation of social, political, and more recently epidemiological phenomena since the middle of the last decade. However, Daniel Williams argues that a focus on misinformation is limiting when used to explain these phenomena. Primarily, as it distracts us from more important ways in which information can be … Continued

Can the Milk Tea Alliance Take Its Fight Offline?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/09/2022 - 6:00pm in

In Asia, a new movement for democracy has been gaining strength – but how can it enact change on the ground when it comes to corruption and authoritarianism?

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On 16 December 1773, protestors in Boston, Massachusetts dumped chests of tea into the harbour to protest against sweeping new laws imposed by the government in London. Their actions led to what eventually became the American Revolution, ending British rule in the United States for good. Nearly 250 years later, the humble cup of tea is once again being claimed as a symbol of unity in the face of oppression.

In Thailand, it’s called Cha Nom Yen. It’s drunk cold and it’s sweetened with bright red sala syrup. In the teashops of Myanmar, people drink super sweet tea thickened with condensed milk, not dissimilar to the Hong Kong Silk Stocking Tea. And the Taiwanese Boba tea, which has in recent years found its way onto British high streets, is made cold with balls of thick tapioca pearls sucked up through wide plastic straws and chewed alongside drinking the beverage.

Masala Chai in India, Teh Tarik in Malaysia, and Sut Chai in China’s Xinjiang. Across Asia, you can find a variation of this kind of milky tea in most cafes and on street corners. But two years ago, an online spat between a Thai celebrity and Chinese nationalists over the sovereignty of Taiwan birthed a new internet-based political movement united by a shared love of tea and freedom.

Dubbed the 'Milk Tea Alliance', this loose union of predominantly young social media users now spans multiple countries across Asia.

For Eden, an artist originally from Hong Kong who moderates an Alliance discussion forum via the encrypted messaging service Telegram, the movement aims to spread the message worldwide about the crimes of dictatorships and corrupt governments. He says that, during critical periods, the Alliance ensures news is “spread like wildfire, providing a channel for activists and world politicians to communicate through”.

Despite the threat of domestic authoritarianism in their own countries, antagonism towards the Chinese Communist Party in particular is a unifying thread in the Milk Tea Alliance. The name itself is in defiance of China, where tea is typically drunk without milk.

During the recent visit to Taiwan by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, an enraged government in Beijing conducted several days of military exercises designed to cow Taipei and intimidate the West. Sensing an opportunity, members of the Alliance shared satirical maps on Twitter describing China as “West Taiwan” or “North Hong Kong”, alongside doctored images of Chinese President Xi Jinping as the children’s character Winnie the Pooh, a likeness the premier is rumoured to loathe.

In the two years since it formed, the Alliance has spread its reach throughout Asia.

Garet-Krittapas Ched, president of the political science student union of Chulalongkorn University and executive editor of the pro-democracy publishing House Samyan Press in Thailand, says that the Alliance is a “community where people feel harmony when fighting against authoritarian regimes” and that the network helps like-minded groups to share tactics.

But the Alliance has drawn criticism from some quarters, with detractors saying that internet-based activism can be difficult to translate into real-world action.

Austin Wang, assistant professor in the department of political science at the University of Nevada, analysed online trends associated with the hashtag #MilkTeaAlliance for a blog on his university’s webpage. 

Wang found that, during the violent uprisings in Thailand and Myanmar last July, #MilkTeaAlliance seemed to lose its spell, drawing on support predominantly from Western democracies such as the United States and the UK rather than its founders within Thailand or Hong Kong.

Thai academic Wichuta Teeratanabodee, a senior analyst at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, has researched the social reach of the Alliance. She disagrees with Wang and says that describing the movement as just a hashtag or trend minimises its value for outreach.

“Instead of seeing a movement as just a group of people calling for something, I think we should see it within a broader context," she says. "You’re trying to gain supporters, and you’re trying to educate people. Of course it is a hashtag, but when that hashtag trends online others can read and see what is happening and what the protestors are talking about. It is a kind of pedagogical arena for people to learn about different issues in different countries.”

Indeed, Wang admits that attention from the West is no bad thing. He says “timely support from the established democracies provides for a complementary role” in mobilising support within Asia.

Teeratanabodee agrees: “There was a time when Western brands came out and banned goods that were produced in [the Xinjiang region of China where the Uyghur minority is persecuted], so we can look at civil society and see how much the West can have an impact through consumerism.”

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It is clear that for some members of the Alliance, online activism is not enough.

Last month, the military junta in control of Myanmar executed four pro-democracy spokespeople. In response, and to mark the anniversary of the notorious 8888 uprisings in the country, protestors covertly took to the streets carrying umbrellas – a symbol of the pro-democracy movement originating in Hong Kong. Photos of the activists circulated on social media this month, with tweets accompanied by #MilkTeaAlliance. 

In a speech expressing his sympathy with protestors in Myanmar, Hong Kong protest leader Nathan Law reaffirmed the principles of cross-border solidarity that the Alliance represents.

“As an individual, I cannot do much to help the people suffering in Burma, but at least I can guarantee that Hong Kong people, the population in Milk Tea Alliance, and the people supporting democracy around the world are standing with you," he has said. "You are not alone.” 

For Ched, the fight for freedom can’t be won solely through social media because “online words are not enough to make change" but believes the Alliance "has raised people’s awareness, as we have seen more Taiwan Independent flags and Hong Kong flags flown during some protests in Thailand" and it has "also led to some protests of symbolic action in front of the Chinese embassy in Bangkok”.

“Perhaps in the future people will be more aware and join the demonstrations in front of embassies or government buildings,” Ched says.

Can the Milk Tea Alliance transform its activism from the realm of hashtags and memes into real-world action? “We will have to see,” says Teeratanabodee, “we are all looking forward to seeing how that's going to happen.”

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The Memes Fighting Russian Propaganda

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 31/08/2022 - 10:26pm in

Chris Hamill-Stewart explores how a decentralised network of meme-makers is subverting Putin’s online trolls

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Information and public opinion have been hotly contested since Russia invaded Ukraine six months ago – and it will come as no surprise that a significant part of that fight is being conducted on social media.

Perhaps more surprising, though, is the rise of the ‘fellas’. These are Shiba Inu memes – viral images with slight variations – known as 'doge': clad in Ukrainian military attire, full tracksuits or something else entirely.

Classically pictured alongside the American-supplied HIMARS long-range rocket systems, the fellas – or North Atlantic Fellas Organisation (NAFO) – have come to play a vital role in the online and shared effort to counter Kremlin propaganda.

And now they’ve been recognised right at the top. In recent weeks, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence’s Twitter account gave a shout out to “a unique entity – North Atlantic Fellas Organisation #NAFO”. It added: “Thanks for your fierce fight against Kremlin’s propaganda and trolls. We salute you, fellas!”

This was followed-up by Ukraine’s Minister of Defence, Oleksii Reznikov, who changed his profile picture to a NAFO meme and tweeted: “My personal salute to #NAFOfellas. I’d like to thank each person behind Shiba Inu cartoon. Your donations to support our defenders, your fight [versus] misinformation is valuable... NAFO expansion is non-negotiable!”

The fellas’ meme first emerged in late May, when one user shared the NATO emblem with a Shiba Inu doge meme superimposed on top. The ostensibly playful memes play a vital role in countering pro-Kremlin propaganda online.

Vasyl Myroshnychenko, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Australia and New Zealand, told Byline Times: “I’ve been following what they’ve been doing.”

He said he became aware of the NAFO movement after he himself became the target of Russian attacks online. The movement came to his aid, by amplifying his posts and by burying pro-Russian posters.

“I have spent years fighting Russian disinformation and propaganda,” he said. “I think what NAFO is offering is a very innovative thing, because they are able to mobilise many people. Basically anybody who has free time, understands how Twitter works and understands the subject, they can contribute to our efforts.

“Russia is capable of maintaining large armies of trolls. When you have 1,000 or 2,000 people who are on salary, full-time, amplifying Russian voices internationally or on social media, and it’s all coordinated and fully funded, it’s difficult to counteract it.”

But NAFO, he said, provides an effective counterweight to the Russian misinformation armies “because it is decentralised and everybody can join”.

“They use humour to counteract the misinformation," he told Byline Times. "The way they do it is very smart" – adding that the grassroots nature of the NAFO movement is a key part of its strength.

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But the memes don’t just mitigate Russia’s troll farms – they are also used as a way of funding the Ukrainian war effort.

Users will share proof of their donations and request the creation of a Shiba Inu to their own liking – requests that other fellas are usually only too happy to oblige.

A significant portion of that cash is sent to the Georgian Legion, foreign fighters operating in Ukraine and with a significant following on social media. One Twitter user, @Kama_Kamilia, through whom a chunk of the donations to the war effort are sent, announced recently that more than $175,000 had been raised for foreign fighters in Ukraine.

Taras Reshetylo, a branch commander in the Georgian Legion, told Byline Times: “It’s very basic: it saves lives. The Georgian Legion has been able to sustain a very, very low casualty rate due to the fact that we were able to equip our guys better and more efficiently. It’s a very direct correlation: NAFO equals saved lives.”

The money raised, he said, has been used to purchase night vision goggles, armour plates, vehicles and anti-drone weapons.

Reshetylo added that, in addition to the material benefits of NAFO, “the environment they created on Twitter supports us, it lifts our morale".

"We really like the idea of resistance on Twitter, that’s the whole point of NAFO," he added. "It’s not about the money – it’s about sending the message. And we did send the message. Lots of Russians are noticing this stuff and the effect it has on our morale.”

The Counter-Offensive

Yossi Mekelberg, a former professor of international relations and an associate at UK think tank Chatham House, told Byline Times that “in a war, you have the battle on the ground and the battle of the narratives" and "it’s about creating a narrative that will portray yourself in the best possible way, and your enemy in the worst possible way”.

“In the 21st Century, with social media, as long as you are short and to the point, you don’t need to write long essays about this – if you have one meme or a sentence on Twitter, it resonates with people,” he said.

The success of the fellas movement may have made it a target for the ever-present Russian information warfare machine. Already, users share screenshots of blocked accounts that they suggest are created by Russian disinformation experts to infiltrate and discredit the movement.

In a slightly tongue-in-cheek prediction – but one that isn’t beyond the realms of Vladimir Putin’s trolls farms – Michael Weiss, director of special investigations at the Free Russia Foundation, tweeted: “Eventually @bellingcat is going to show there’s an entire GRU unit devoted to infiltrating and demoralising the #NAFOfellas and then I will hang up my spurs and breed Belgian Shepherds for a living.”

But Weiss may be right. Ambassador Myroshnychenko told Byline Times that Russia is likely already trying to infiltrate the group and find out who the key figures are – but those efforts, he believes, will fail.

“NAFO is impossible to undermine,” he said, “it is decentralised; it’s just a group of random people.”

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How the CIA has Infiltrated Social Media Companies, with Alan MacLeod

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 27/08/2022 - 12:18am in

 
The MintPress podcast, “The Watchdog,” hosted by British-Iraqi hip hop artist Lowkey, closely examines organizations about which it is in the public interest to know – including intelligence, lobby and special interest groups influencing policies that infringe on free speech and target dissent. The Watchdog goes against the grain by casting a light on stories largely ignored by the mainstream, corporate media.

It is a story that is straight out of a dystopian science fiction novel. Big social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Google, have gone on a hiring spree, recruiting dozens of CIA officers to run their most important, politically sensitive departments – and almost no one is talking about it.

On episode 39 of “The Watchdog” podcast, Lowkey speaks to Alan MacLeod, an investigative journalist who has spent months painstakingly combing through employment databases and corporate social media sites like LinkedIn to catalog this national security state infiltration of many of the largest social media platforms.

One of these platforms is Facebook, the world’s most influential news distributor. Recently, the Silicon Valley giant released a PR video featuring a man they identify as “Aaron” – the company’s Senior Product Policy Manager for Misinformation. Aaron informs viewers that he and his team think deeply about how to balance their commitment to freedom of speech with their duty to protect users from harm and violence, and underlines that “transparency is incredibly important in the work I do.”

There is one problem with this, as MacLeod explained:

Aaron is, in fact, a senior CIA agent. Or at least he was until a couple of years ago, when he left his post at the agency, where he was a senior analytic manager, to take a job at Facebook. As Facebook itself describes, he is basically the person in charge of the team that is deciding what gets zapped off the platform and what gets promoted.”

Nor was he a minor pen pusher at the CIA. In fact, he was so high up that he wrote the President’s Daily Brief, a document read out to the commander-in-chief in the Oval Office every day. The fact that a former high-ranking CIA member is now influencing content moderation on Facebook should concern everyone, MacLeod notes, telling Lowkey that,

This has huge consequences, not just for media organizations who live and die by the amount of clicks they get on Facebook…but it also affects what 3 billion people see in their news feeds. Because that’s how many people actually get their news from Facebook.”

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer and Podcast Producer for MintPress News. He has worked at the company since 2019. Before joining MintPress, he was an academic and a freelance journalist specializing in Latin America and in analyzing media and propaganda.

His series of articles for MintPress News has highlighted the connections between the national security state and big social media outlets like Reddit, Facebook, Google, TikTok and Twitter. To understand more about this worrying trend, follow the links above or watch the interview exclusively at MintPress News.

Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip-hop artist, academic and political campaigner. As a musician, he has collaborated with the Arctic Monkeys, Wretch 32, Immortal Technique and Akala. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network and The Peace and Justice Project, founded by Jeremy Corbyn. He has spoken and performed on platforms from the Oxford Union to the Royal Albert Hall and Glastonbury. His latest album, Soundtrack To The Struggle 2, featured Noam Chomsky and Frankie Boyle and has been streamed millions of times.

The post How the CIA has Infiltrated Social Media Companies, with Alan MacLeod appeared first on MintPress News.

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