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‘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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Down Vladimir Putin’s Disinformation Rabbit Hole

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/04/2022 - 6:30pm in

Steven Lacey speaks to Sian Norris about why he fell for pro-Putin disinformation – and how open conversation and debate helped him escape out of the rabbit hole

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“You start falling into echo chambers. The echo chamber I was falling into was all RT and Graham Phillips’ tweets.”

Steven Lacey’s fascination with Russia began when he was a teenager and travelled to the country on a school trip. He fell in love with the culture, the history and the people – returning to Russia and the former Soviet Union countries as an adult. He later converted to the Orthodox faith, and by the early 2010s had joined the Westminster Russia Forum – formerly the Conservative Friends of Russia. 

“I thought it sounded interesting and that I could be a bridge between faith and politics in the group,” he told Byline Times. “And because I am disabled I hoped I could raise awareness and change attitudes towards disability in Russia.”

Lacey remembers that he saw Conservative Party and UKIP members “swarming around the Embassy at that time like flies”.

When Russia invaded Crimea and the Donbas region in 2014, Lacey started to fall into the rabbit hole of pro-Vladimir Putin propaganda and disinformation – despite having friends in Ukraine and in the port city of Mariupol in particular.

On Facebook and Twitter, he saw plenty of posts from Russian-supporting accounts accusing Ukrainian people of being neo-Nazis. Having grown up in west London at a time of rising far-right hate, Lacey was primed to take Russia’s side against a force that was increasingly portrayed as being fascist. 

“I started seeing things about the far-right in Ukraine,” he said. “With my background of hating the far-right, I was susceptible to this. Then I started seeing posts claiming that [former Ukrainian] President Viktor Yanukovych had staged a US-backed coup. All these things start to take you into a very dark place, you go down a very dark tunnel.”

According to Lacey, the purpose of disinformation is to push people into a world where everything has a “black and white narrative, so you are more shut off from the truth and being open to the truth”.

“It wasn’t so much that I fell in love with what Putin was doing, I just questioned everything and didn’t believe what I was being told – instead just focusing on the counter-narrative the whole time,” he added.

Lacey became a self-described “keyboard warrior” who would take to Twitter to argue with those criticising Putin’s actions in Crimea. “I remember trolling people,” he admits. But that trolling became a turning point when security specialist and Liberal Democrat campaigner Edward Lucas challenged Lacey to a debate.

“I started to read what the other side were saying so I could prepare for what Lucas would say in a debate,” he said. “And that started to make me question what I had been looking at and what I had been accepting as the truth.”

The debate did not take place.

Having escaped the rabbit hole, it became clear to Lacey how disinformation narratives captured people’s imaginations. 

“I could start to see how Russian propaganda works,” Lacey told Byline Times. “There’s a sense of there being a strong leader, and a belief in a bright future that’s also rooted in nostalgia for the past. There’s a focus on corrupt elites and a belief that you are powerless – that you have no control over your own life as a result”.

The same was true, he argued, with disinformation around the election of Donald Trump and Brexit. 

Putin’s Propaganda Machine

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, so does the proliferation of disinformation online.

When Putin’s forces invaded Crimea, so-called independent journalists like Brit Graham Phillips posted videos claiming to be of Ukrainian neo-Nazis – fuelling a narrative that this was Russia fighting fascism.

2014 disinformation also focused on lurid and distressing stories of Ukrainian men raping young girls. This is a familiar far-right disinformation tactic that weaponises violence against women and girls to create an enemy based on race or nationality. 

Similar tropes are being used today – with pro-Putin disinformation continuing to link Ukrainians with neo-Nazism.

But those other narratives are in play too. In one post too disturbing to share, Russian propagandists build on Lacey’s comments of using a “strong leader” and harking back to a nostalgic past with an image of Vlad the Impaler surrounded by stabbed victims. Other posts featuring Aleksandr Dugin – known as ‘Putin’s Rasputin’ – celebrate a mythic past of empire, inequality and traditional values which Russia must return to in order to become great. 

For Steven Lacey, who is now a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin’s regime, the actions of the disinformation agents are unforgivable.

Having seen the destruction of Mariupol, Ukraine’s besieged city, he said: “I do not forgive propaganda journalists like Graham Phillips. I do not forgive armchair keyboard warriors. I do not forgive UK politicians who got drunk at Russian Embassy parties. And I do not forgive those who push Putin’s line. I’ll do everything I can in my small power to call-out cruelty, despotism, corruption and their connection to a far-right regime.”

Graham Phillips maintains that he is a journalist who works independently of the Russian regime.

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The ‘Big Power Off’ and the Importance of Fact-Checking

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/04/2022 - 9:11pm in

Katherine Denkinson explores the genesis of the protest against rising fuel costs and the media’s unwitting part in promoting untruths

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), a group of disabled activists from Sheffield, appeared in an article in the Star on 21 March explaining a protest it was organising in response to rising fuel costs.

Concerned and angry, the activists had planned the ‘Big Power Off’, which involved participants not using any gas or electricity on 1 April.

“The main reason we started this was because we could see the protests happening in the streets all over the country,” Jen, who runs the DPAC Twitter account, told Byline Times. “Yet so many of our members couldn’t get out to them to get their voices heard because we’re stuck in due to our disabilities and or caring responsibilities.”

Jen said the group hoped the protest would “show the Government, Ofgem and energy providers the strength of feeling that there is among the general public against the energy cost rises” and highlight the fact that “a lot of people are not going to make it to this winter”.

DPAC was not “trying to plunge the nation into chaos" but trying to get the energy suppliers’ attention, Jen added. 

Two weeks later, however, on 2 April, Karen Brady – whose Twitter bio describes her as an “author, writer, socialist, feminist and advocate for justice” – posted a tweet claiming that Spanish protestors had successfully forced the Government to roll-back energy prices by turning off the power in their homes for 10 minutes. Brady encouraged UK tweeters to do the same, using the hashtag ‘#PowerOff’.

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DPAC then contacted Brady, suggesting that she use their hashtag and pre-prepared campaign materials – focusing on a second action on 10 April.

The Big Power Off has since gained national newspaper coverage, with the original protestors seemingly being sidelined by many mainstream outlets who named and quoted Brady as the organiser. Brady’s rapid rise to popularity has led many Twitter users to question the validity of her claims.

This is a case in point of the dangers of journalists taking popular and ostensibly relevant Twitter accounts at face-value.

The Twitter Misinformation Sphere

The desperation for rolling news coverage and ‘content’ appears to have led many outlets to sacrifice fact-checking.

In 2013, the Mirror was taken to task over an article about former Arsenal player Nwankwo Kanu, which claimed that he had written-off £3 million owed to him by Portsmouth FC. BBC Sports reporter Oluwashina Okeleji called out the error, stating that the newspaper had taken their information from a fake account.

In 2020, a US radio host set up a fake Twitter account claiming that he was on a cruise ship quarantined for COVID, concocting an outlandish story which was promptly reported as fact by The New York Post

Last month, The Times published an article allegedly written by ‘Luba Dovzhenko’, a Ukrainian student who had supposedly returned to Ukraine to fight. A Twitter fact-checker and data scientist wasted no time in pointing out various anomalies within Dovzhenko’s social media accounts – including a fake profile picture (which had accompanied the article) and inconsistencies in its tweets. The Times’ Twitter account still links to the page, but clicking the link reveals that the article has since been removed. The Times has not commented publicly on the matter. 

Most recently, an ITV News report on the Big Power Off, neglected to name any of the organisers, but included one screenshot of a supporting tweet. Twitter users seeking to follow the account quickly discovered it to be a hub for COVID misinformation. Research shows that the account had been created in 2012 and posted precisely one tweet (promoting a non-existent blog) until 2021, when it became a steady stream of anti-vaccine vitriol.

The fuel protest has been shared and retweeted millions of times by various people and it is unclear why ITV News chose this account to be representative of those involved.

So who is Karen Brady? 

According to LinkedIn, she is a “founder and head hunter” who started her own employment agency (Lawden Executive Employment) in 1985, which apparently ran until 2000 and was “sold... for [$3 million] to a USA corporate”. 

Byline Times' investigation has revealed this to be only partially true. The original founder was Martyne Manning who started the company in 1985. Brady (then known as Kavanagh) owned and operated Lawden Executive Recruitment from 1990 to 1996 when it was seemingly forced into liquidation because it could not “by reason of its liabilities” continue doing business.

Following this, Brady ran the Laptop Lifestyles venture – an affiliate marketing scheme in which participants apparently make money by reposting and sharing videos from ‘get rich quick’ accounts. Her latest venture appears to be another employment agency and her early tweets reveal her to have been involved in a number of multi-level marketing schemes such as ‘Forever Living’. 

As an expat currently living in Spain, Brady’s claim that Spanish protestors convinced the Government to roll-back its energy prices carried a certain weight and has been reported by a number of outlets.

Unfortunately, the “silent collective action” Brady recommended appears never to have actually happened. In March, Madrid’s far-right Vox party organised a street protest which led to President Pedro Sanchez freezing costs and the city of Murcia held a 'lights off' protest which lasted for one minute as part of a symbolic event to highlight people’s growing concerns.

When Byline Times asked Brady for a link to local reporting of the alleged Spanish protest, she provided a screenshot of an article by EuroNews. Written on 10 April, it appears to have taken Brady’s assertions as fact because there are no links to the “silent collective action” which it mentions. Pressing Brady for a link to the actual event has thus far been met by silence. None of this newspaper's own searches have produced evidence of such an event in either the British or the Spanish press.

It is easy to look at this as a small deception to promote a greater good – but the implications are potentially more significant.

Not only has Brady’s story eclipsed reporting of already marginalised activists, but repetition of apparent falsehoods as fact damages the reputation of those reporting it – and the validity of the campaign.

A key feature of the current war in Ukraine is the war on information. The prevalence of misinformation is gradually eroding people’s trust in the mainstream media. Journalists regularly find themselves on the receiving end of abuse from trolls and truth is fast becoming harder to establish.

While it is not possible for the press to fact-check everything on Twitter, it is the duty of journalists to ensure that inaccuracies on social media do not seep onto their own platforms.

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Are personal academic blogs a thing of the past?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/04/2022 - 8:00pm in

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The personal blog was a defining feature of the early internet and there are still a number of high-profile academic blogs studiously maintained by lone scholars. However, for researchers new to academic blogging, is it still worth setting up your own blog? Reflecting on his own blogging trajectory Mark Carrigan, suggests that it may be … Continued

Why I’m Scared To Open Instagram Message Requests

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/04/2022 - 8:53pm in

A new report by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate has found women are being targeted with misogynistic abuse on Instagram's direct message function – something Sian Norris knows all too well

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The little red alert above the Message icon tells me that someone is trying to contact me on Instagram. Usually when this happens, it’s my friend adding me to her Instagram story.

But this time, when I click through to the inbox, it’s not a message from someone I follow. It’s a Message Request, meaning it has come from a stranger – someone who has found my account and wants to connect. 

There’s that moment of pause. Do I look? What if it’s important? Or something to do with work… that’s the thought that always gets me to click. I click to open. 

It takes a moment to realise what I am looking at. Row after row after row of the vomiting emoji and the middle-finger emoji. I scroll and scroll. Someone has really put the effort in to let me know how much I make them sick. 

In the scheme of things, it’s not that bad. It’s not an obscene image or pornography – something that, thankfully, I've never had to endure. When I get to the text part of the message, it’s not a threat or a fantasy of violence.

But this is the problem with online abuse. We are so used to saying: at least it wasn’t x… at least it wasn’t y… always aware that the worst kind of abuse, the x and the y, the terrifying kind that leaves you shaking and sick, is always a possibility. It’s always a click away. 

We are always aware that the worst kind is out there – it’s happening right now to other women, and next time it could be happening to you. 

My Instagram account is private. It’s mostly pictures of books, and silly selfies, and places I’ve visited. But, despite being private, strangers can still reach me via direct messages, by putting in a message request. This means that, while they can’t see my posts, I am always contactable. There’s no real way of putting up a wall against online abuse. 

It’s this aspect of Instagram that is the subject of a new report by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) – an international not-for-profit NGO that seeks to disrupt the architecture of online hate and misinformation.

It found that Instagram fails to act on nine in 10 reports of misogyny in direct messages – and that’s just the abuse that gets reported. This is one of the worst failure rates to deal with abuse, the Centre says, that it has ever encountered.

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A Culture of Misogyny

Of the 8,717 direct messages sent via Instagram to five prominent women’s accounts analysed by CCDH, one in 15 broke the social network’s rules on harassment and abuse – and yet the platform only acted on 10% of reports. 

The direct messages sent to actor Amber Heard, TV personality Rachel Riley, activist Jamie Klingler, writer Bryony Gordon, and writer and influencer Sharan Dhaliwal included 125 incidents of image-based sexual abuse. This means unsolicited pornography, men sending images of their genitals, and faked pornography – where the recipient has been photoshopped into a pornographic image. 

Other forms of abuse included telling recipients to kill themselves, rape and death threats, and one-word hatred – for instance, sending one word that could be abusive but could, in other contexts, be benign. The word 'rape' can be sent as a one-word threat, but it can't be banned by a platform where women may well be talking about their own experiences of sexual abuse.

Some of the messages even featured videos of men masturbating over images of the recipient. 

Countdown presenter Rachel Riley, who took part in the research, told CCDH how knowing that Instagram accounts have sent her these images via direct message “turns my stomach”. 

"It really makes me not want to go into my DMs at all because it’s revolting," Riley said. "It’s astounding to know that strangers are sending porn - it empowers them to know that it’s gone to your inbox.”   

The report also found that cyberflashers – men who send obscene images of themselves – were often repeat offenders, with serial cyberflashers responsible for 31.2% of this form of abuse. 

The Government is set to make cyberflashing a criminal offence in its Online Safety Bill. But the bill has been criticised by women’s rights campaigners who are concerned it is a missed opportunity to take action on violence against women and girls. 

Research by the domestic abuse charity Refuge published in 2021 found that one in three UK women have experienced online abuse or harassment on social media or another online platform, a number which rises to 62% of young women. 

However, Refuge has little confidence the Online Safety Bill will offer the necessary protections for women and girls, not least because it fails to introduce a dedicated violence against women and girls code of practice that could offer more protection to victims of gender-based abuse. 

Refuge also raised how the bill focuses on acts that are already criminal offences, such as ‘revenge porn’, meaning little is offered in the way of new protections. 

A Chilling Effect

One of the concerning aspects of the CCDH research was how women were worried to take part or contribute their experiences in case it led to further abuse or to them being punished by Instagram itself.

“Several women who use Instagram as a significant means to promote their personal brand or conduct commercial work expressed fears that the platform might punish them for criticism by deprioritising their posts,” the report said.

This suggests that online abuse has a chilling effect on women’s speech – both in that it can put women off engaging with social media, but also that women fear repercussions should they speak out about the violence committed against them online.

The highest profile woman interviewed by CCDH was actor Amber Heard, who received a large amount of abuse following her split from the film star Johnny Depp. Anyone who has ever written about the libel case he launched against her will know the depth of hatred voiced online towards Heard and anyone who defends her. 

Heard told CCDH that the failure of Instagram to act on misogynistic abuse could put women off acting in “the interests of their own safety” when it comes to speaking out against male violence.

“If I can’t utilise this tool, if I can’t open Instagram, if I can’t engage at all, then what does it say about a person who doesn’t have the emotional resources that I have, that come with age and experience?” Heard said. 

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