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The Instagram Administration: How the Conservative PR Apparatus Captured the British State

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/02/2022 - 2:49am in

The Instagram AdministrationHow the Conservative PR Apparatus Captured the British State

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s new title shows that the Conservative Party is using state institutions as party political weapons, says Sam Bright


Boris Johnson conducted a ‘mini’ reshuffle of his Cabinet this week – designed to stop, or at least delay, a coup against his leadership triggered by a series of revelations about the exploits of his staff during lockdown.

While the country is enraged, Johnson is focused squarely on his party. Rumours suggest that the spectre of a no-confidence vote is lurking in the near future, with dozens of MPs reportedly having submitted their letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs.

It takes 54 letters to trigger this vote – a fate that Johnson is trying to repel with all his remaining political clout.

So, as well as appointing fresh figures to enforce party discipline, the Prime Minister has bestowed an old ally with a new ministerial title. Jacob Rees-Mogg, a perennial backbench rebel before his Cabinet appointment in July 2019, has been appointed as the Minister of State for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency – the first person to hold this office.

Even by Johnson’s standards, this was a shamelessly political move. Rees-Mogg is a disciple of radical, pro-Brexit backbench MPs who plagued Theresa May’s time as Prime Minister and are now pulling Johnson further towards the right – threatening to trigger a no confidence vote as they do so. Rees-Mogg was lifted into the Cabinet from this band of hard-right rebels, and his new role is presumably designed to remind the plotters of their indebtedness to the Prime Minister – who delivered a hard Brexit and purged a swathe of moderates from the party.

However, while Rees-Mogg serves a function for Johnson’s political ambitions, it’s difficult to see how his new role will serve the country. The responsibility for dealing with Brexit – signing trade deals and dealing with its aftershocks – lies with numerous other Government departments. It, therefore, appears as though Rees-Mogg has merely been appointed as a professional Brexit cheerleader.

This is laughable and expeditious – but it also signals a wider and more worrying trend, of the Conservative Party using the organs and functions of the state as public relations tools.

Boris Johnson’s Savile Lies& the Conservative Smear Machine
Adam Bienkov

Just last week, for example, the Government released an official report into the benefits of Brexit, written by civil servants and paid for by the taxpayer. As Chris Grey has observed in these pages, the Government’s report was not an objective, mathematical cost-benefit analysis – given that not a single downside of Brexit was mentioned in its 100 pages. Rather, it was a word salad of half-truths, exaggerations and policies that could have been implemented even despite Brexit. It was a party political broadcast, packaged as official, impartial, objective fact.

Rees-Mogg is also not the only Cabinet member whose title is derived from a Conservative Party slogan. Michael Gove is the Secretary of State for Levelling Up – a political phrase coined and deployed by Johnson during the 2019 General Election campaign. This suggests an administration motivated by projection over substance, with the roles of ministers derived from a party manifesto rather than the concerns of the nation.

An Instagram Administration

Ultimately, Johnson’s Government is a product of the Instagram age – it recognises that clever branding (and a carefree attitude to controversy) is the recipe for viral popularity, diminishing the need for competence, substance and detail. Thus, the advisors tasked with cultivating Johnson’s image have been brought from the Conservative campaign trail into Government – let loose on the machinery of the state.

As revealed by Byline Times, the meme merchants Topham Guerin – reportedly responsible for the Conservative Party’s notorious ‘Fact Check UK’ Twitter stunt during the 2019 election campaign – were hired by the Government to advise on Coronavirus communications. Chloe Westley, who has run social media for various libertarian campaigns, still appears to be a Downing Street special advisor – despite the controversy that surrounded her appointment.

This process of fleeting fame has, of course, worked in reverse during Johnson’s present predicament. As Daniel Finkelstein points out in the Times, Johnson has in the past been the beneficiary of cascading popular opinion – someone whose following was built on everyone else seeming to like him – mirroring online trends. However, without any substance to underpin this support, public opinion has rapidly shifted away from Johnson, evaporating into the ether.

What remains, however, is the widespread adoption of Johnson’s techniques among his Cabinet acolytes, who have manipulated the machinery of the state to buttress their own PR efforts.

Rishi Sunak has been mocked even within the Conservative Party for using every policy announcement as a self-promotion opportunity – flashy graphics frequently deployed by the Treasury on social media with the Chancellor’s signature, or accompanied by his beaming, airbrushed headshot.

Indeed, the trend of style over substance has transcended from Number 10 to Number 11 – epitomised by Sunak’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, which gave discounts to diners in the summer of 2020, when lockdown restrictions had been eased. The scheme incubated new COVID infection clusters, and barely impacted hospitality trade, but it allowed the Chancellor – a millionaire privately educated former banker – to swagger through Wagamama with a katsu curry, reinforcing his image as a regular guy simply wanting to make his people happy.

The Hangover ofBullingdon ClubBritain
Peter Jukes

Following this fad has been Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, whose apparent fascination with photo opportunities led her to recently impersonate Margaret Thatcher by posing on a tank in Estonia. In October, it was noted that Truss was seeking to hire a ‘digital media special advisor’ to rival Sunak’s slick online persona, while the Times reported that – in the six weeks after September’s Cabinet reshuffle – 267 pictures of Truss had been posted to the Government’s Flickr account (free images that can be used by journalists and press officers), which was 163 more than all other Cabinet ministers combined.

This deployment of state resources in the name of political posturing may seem trivial, but it has established a precedent with more serious implications: namely, if senior Cabinet ministers believe that the organs of the state are tools to further their own ambitions, then democracy itself can be subsumed to the interests of one political party.

This has been evident in the case of the Government’s Elections Bill, currently progressing through Parliament, which proposes limiting the franchise by demanding that people produce a photo ID when they vote. Such a policy will hit marginalised people the hardest – particularly immigrants – who are comparatively less likely to vote for the Conservatives.

Gerrymandering has been a toxic feature of the American political system in recent decades, through which Republican legislators have manipulated the boundaries of democracy to boost their chances of victory. Under Donald Trump, this approach reached its logical end-point, with the Republican President claiming that he alone had the right to govern, despite comfortably losing the 2020 election to Joe Biden.

Ultimately, however, if you believe that democracy is one of your possessions, you are entirely unwilling to consider that it sometimes involves you losing. Just like Trump, this is Johnson’s instinct – a man who has never lost, who has failed upwards at every juncture – attempting to preserve what he sees as his God-given right.




Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.




Disinfo Lab: An Online Hindu Nationalist Disinformation Campaign

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 09/02/2022 - 10:25pm in

Disinfo LabAn Online Hindu Nationalist Disinformation Campaign

CJ Werleman looks at evidence of a co-ordinated and sophisticated effort to smear critics of the right wing Indian Prime Minister


While public calls for genocide against religious minorities from religious extremists allied to the Indian Government have attracted widespread attention, albeit limited global condemnation, the way in which Hindu nationalists are putting in the groundwork for genocide by spreading hatred and disinformation online has gone largely unnoticed.

At the heart of the Hindu nationalist digital ecosystem is DisInfo Lab, a fake news generating website that mimics EU DisInfo Lab, an independent non-profit organisation focused on tackling sophisticated disinformation campaigns targeting the European Union, which recently became aware of its Indian impersonator, stating on Twitter on Monday,  “To set the record straight, EU DisInfo Lab has no connection with the account @DisInfoLab”.

I first became aware of the bogus site last year, when it published a 100-page report titled “Kashmir Inc: a Conflict Industry,” which falsely and absurdly accused me, along with other journalists, human rights organizations and critics of the Indian Government, of working for Pakistan’s secret intelligence agencies.

The report’s “findings” were hyped across India’s right-wing media ecosystem as “evidence” the Pakistani Government is “fuelling anti-India narrative on Kashmir,” but I can assure readers I have never once had a single communication with anybody associated with the Pakistani Government or its spy agencies, at least not knowingly.

So, what or who is DisInfo Lab?

According to its website, Dininfo Lab “unveils fake news and propaganda that intend to create turmoil among people, while also claiming to perform “unbiased research and conclusion on all sorts of crooked activities taking place all around,” a claim transparently deceptive, given its anonymously written reports either express support for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Indian Government or opposition to BJP critics and the Hindu nationalist ideology.

But soon after launching in 2020, it gained legitimacy in the Indian mainstream media by first publishing several neutral reports, including one on the pervasiveness of toxic masculinity on social media platforms, along with one critical of right-wing trolls and sympathetic to the farmer’s protest movement.

Smokescreen forTragedyThe Human Cost of Populism
Hardeep Matharu

After gaining acceptance as a bona fide resource for online disinformation among journalists, academics, and human rights activists, however, DisInfo Lab showed its cards in publishing an uninterrupted sequence of reports targeted against Pakistan, Kashmiri activists, human rights defenders, and critics of the Hindu nationalist movement.

The title of the reports speaks for themselves, including, “The Un-Ending War: From Proxy War to Info-War Against India,” “Anatomy of Pakistan’s 5Th Generation Warfare,” “Muslim Brotherhood: New Start Up in Kashmir,” “Muslim Brotherhood Arrives in India,” and “USCIRF: an Organisation of Particular Concern”.

Recently, Disinfo Lab had its verified Twitter status removed for impersonating the genuine EU Disinformation Lab.

(Some of the disinformation has been targeted at me. In its most recent report, “Muslim Brotherhood’s New Start Up in Kashmir,” published last week, I am accused of being one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s “key players” for “building a fascist narrative” and “creating a villain Hindutva [Hindu nationalist ideology]”. I have never knowingly communicated with a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.)

More serious still is the accusation it makes against UK-based international law firm Stoke White Lawyers (SWI), claiming that it too is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood because it had published reports into alleged war crimes committed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and France in Libya and Mali, respectively. 

Both the UAE and France are enemies of the Muslim Brotherhood, so ipso facto SWI is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to the logic employed by DisInfo Lab.

It would appear that DisInfo Lab is carrying out retaliation against SWI on behalf of the Indian Government for submitting extensive evidence to the UK authorities and application for the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian Government official over their alleged roles in potential war crimes in Indian administered Kashmir.

Others targeted in this new report include Qatar based news outlet Al Jazeera, American university professor Audrey Truschke, human rights activist Pieter Friedrich, and the Indian Muslim American Council (IAMC), among others.

Coincidentally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi cabinet appointee Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who oversees the Ministry of Minority Affairs, falsely accused the Indian American Muslim Council of spreading anti-India propaganda and being part of a conspiracy that led to violence in the Indian state of Tripura, a charge that Hindu nationalist government usually makes against its critics.

His baseless accusation was made just days before DisInfo Lab published its most recent report, and a day after IAMC hosted a US congressional briefing in which four American lawmakers criticized the Modi Government for “curbing religious freedom in India and undermining the country’s secular tradition”.

“IAMC categorically denies all these allegations and challenges Minister Naqvi and Prime Minister Modi’s government to furnish evidence to prove even one of these baseless and fraudulent claims,” the group said in a press release. “IAMC does not have ties to Pakistan, ISI or SIMI. IAMC has zero history of spreading communal violence in India.”

IMAC is being targeted for no other reason than its advocacy for human rights and religious freedoms for all religious minorities in India.

The New Strategies ofHindu Supremacistsin Britain
Amrit Wilson

Aveek Sen, a prominent Delhi-based computational journalist who focuses on online disinformation, has investigated evidence of what’s looks like a deep state nexus between Hindu nationalist IT cells and retired Indian army and intelligence officers, not long after being employed by DisInfo Lab. According to him, DisInfo Lab has been set up by the Joint Secretary of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), otherwise known as India’s top spy agency. 

An investigation by EU DisInfo Lab, not the bogus Indian copy, revealed a coordinated influence operation by pro-Indian Government allies to malign Pakistan’s reputation among European Union member states and institutions, one carried out over 15 years by more than 750 fake media outlets and 550 domain names in 119 countries.

Ultimately, these sophisticated and well-coordinated efforts to smear and intimidate critics of India’s right-wing, Hindu nationalist Government come at a time when hate crimes against religious minorities continue to surpass previously held records, while scholars of conflict and violence are warning the “preparation for genocide is well underway in India and Kashmir”.




Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.




Conversion Therapy: Co-opting the Language of Liberation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 03/02/2022 - 11:50pm in

Conversion TherapyCo-opting the Language of Liberation

With the UK Government consultation into ending conversion therapy closest tomorrow, Byline Times investigates the tactics of those seeking to frustrate a ban


Carolyn Mercer knew her gender presentation didn’t match her gender identity when she was a young child in the 1950s. “At the time there was no internet, it wasn’t on TV, I had no idea that anyone else in the world felt the same way I did,” she told Byline Times.

As a teenager, she confided in her vicar. He sympathised and wanted to help her. But at that time, the type of help available was what we would now call ‘conversion therapy.’

“I was strapped into a chair,” she explained. “And I was shown pictures of women. Then I would receive an electric shock. My hands shot in the air, but my arms were strapped down. It went on like that. More pictures and more pain.”

Mercer told Byline Times that she prefers the term “conversion practice” to “therapy, as it’s not therapy. What that practice involved was an aversion type of conversion practice. What it can do is change behaviour. But it can’t change you. It didn’t change my innermost feelings and how I saw myself,” she said. 

Around 20 years later, Mercer sought support again. “As many difficulties as possible were put in my way,” she explained. After months of delays, she “took the decision to continue in the male role”. It would be another six years before Mercer finally got the support she needed “to be me.” 

This week marks the start of LGBT History Month and the end of the Government’s consultation on a ban on conversion therapy – a practice it calls “coercive and abhorrent”. It has signalled that it plans to balance a ban with “people’s personal freedoms” and its policy approach “will not impact everyday religious practice”. This has led to concern that “spiritual counselling” will be exempt from the ban – a term LGBTIQ-rights campaigner Matthew Hyndman has called “Evangelical speech for conversion therapy.”

Part of the balance with personal freedoms is the decision to allow adults to consent to this type of counselling, something which concerns Mercer. “You’re not allowed to agree to torture,” she said. Conversion therapy is recognised as a form of torture by the United Nations.“I agreed to what was done with me, but at that time I was mentally confused, I would have accepted anything.”

“Any Bill must outlaw all forms of conversion therapies in every setting without loopholes which permit LGBTQIA+ people to consent to conversion therapy, because no one can consent to abuse,” Sasha Misra, Associate Director of Communications and Campaigns at Stonewall, told Byline Times. “It’s been over three years since the UK Government committed to banning conversion therapy, it must act now to protect our communities and outlaw this abhorrent practice once and for all.”

The focus on freedoms and consent demonstrates how those opposing the ban have co-opted the language of LGBTIQ rights in order to push their agenda. 

This strategy has led to social media companies are struggling to remove conversion therapy content from their platforms, as the so-called “ex-gay” movement uses human rights, consent and liberation rhetoric to circumvent restrictions on their videos and posts, a new report has found. 

A new report published by The Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE), found that, as a result, harmful conversion therapy disinformation is “thriving online.”

“They are absolutely co-opting the language of those that pursue LGBTIQ rights,” report co-author Wendy Via told Byline Times



Help to expose the big scandals of our era.

Getting Around the Hate Speech Ban

The research by GPAHE found that the ban on ads for, and promotion of, conversion therapy put in place by Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are largely inadequate. Instead, conversion therapy is “thriving on these networks”. This is, in part, because those promoting the practice have found new terms to describe their offering.

Byline Times conducted its own research on YouTube, using euphemistic terms to generate results on conversion therapy. Those terms included “unwanted same sex attraction”; “SAFE-T and same sex attraction”; and “re-integrative therapy”. SAFE-T is an acronym that stands for “Sexual Attraction Fluidity Exploration in Therapy” and is pronounced “safety.” 

This term shows how the conversion therapy movement is co-opting the language of gay liberation. The notion of sexual fluidity first came to prominence in the work of Alfred Kinsey, himself bisexual, who said that sexuality existed on a sliding scale. While there is debate around Kinsey’s conclusions, his work was a landmark moment in the fight for LGBTIQ rights. 

Now, those ideas have been adopted by a movement that wants to suggest people who wish to explore their “sexual fluidity” by “rejecting the gay lifestyle” are being discriminated against.

“They say that banning conversion therapy is a form of torture itself,” said Via. “That people who don’t want to be gay will have nowhere to turn to. We dismiss this entirely.”

Reintegrative therapy is the main term used to circumvent social media bans and claims that “same-sex attraction” is the result of childhood traumas often rooted in issues of attachment. Devised by the late Joseph Nicolosi, it claims to offer “corrective emotional experiences to resolve the shame that resulted from attachment trauma and emotional neglect”.

“The claim that same-sex sexual orientation is the result of ‘attachment trauma and emotional neglect’ is not scientifically supported nor widely accepted,” explained Dr Adam Jowett, Chair of the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Sexualities Section and lead author of the research on conversion therapy commissioned by the Government Equalities Office. 

Byline Times discovered that disinformation about reintegrative therapy were alarmingly easy to find on YouTube, including in videos published by the IFTCC, an international organisation that “supports people who want to take a different path.”

Similar messages claiming that being LGBTIQ is “caused” by trauma could be found on the X-Outloud YouTube channel, which shares personnel with IFTCC.

This is the youthful face of the so-called “ex-LGBT” movement with brightly coloured videos from self-identified “ex-homosexuals”. The videos share testimony about how “sexual abuse can trigger homosexuality”, for example. Such a statement links back to the disinformation shared by those pushing reintegrative therapy, that claims childhood trauma can cause someone to become LGBTIQ. Other videos shared “the dark side of homosexuality” and “how events can set you up for homosexuality.” 

“The exact causes of sexual orientation have not been fully established and claims that addressing trauma can change a person’s sexual orientation is misleading,” Jowett added. “Psychologists widely understand diversity in sexual orientation to be part of normal human variation and same-sex sexual orientation is not indicative of psychological disturbance.”

One video featuring “ex-gay” testimony is sub-titled “Leaving LGBT, Challenging Censorship & Discrimination | X-Out-Loud” – a clear example of how activists are using the language of freedom and liberation to position themselves as under attack.

Undercover in the Anti-LGBTIQ MovementConspiracy, Conversion Therapy and Links to a Westminster MP
Sian Norris

Natural Law

Proponents of reintegrative therapy use the term “natural law” to describe heterosexuality, where women and men “complement” one another. Nicolosi himself referred to LGBTIQ people as thinking they could “go against nature.”

These are key concepts for the religious-right in Europe and the US. In the 2010s, the Agenda Europe network published a manifesto titled Restoring the Natural Order which attacked “homosexualism” for “going against nature”. Its concept of “natural law” dictates that heterosexual, married family model “is the only option that is morally acceptable”. Its stated aim is to “repeal of all existing laws on same-sex partnerships.”

The manifesto provided a strategy for rolling back progress on LGBTIQ rights. The strategy included using “the weapons of our opponents and turn[ing] them against them”.

These tactics are employed by groups like X-Out-Loud and the IFTCC, as they use the language of freedom of choice, sexual fluidity and discrimination to promote their cause and present themselves as the next frontier in sexual liberation movements. At this year’s IFTCC conference, representatives from Christian Concern used the framing of human rights law to protest the Government’s proposed ban.

“They’re hiding behind religion,” said Via. “That gives them a lot of leeway in a lot of places, especially the United States. In the UK, these groups and these lobbyists have got in there, and now there’s this consultation and they want to bring in the religion exemption. But in Germany, Canada and France where it’s banned, there’s no religious exemption. And that’s critical.”

Now in her 70s, Mercer’s gender presentation now matches her gender identity. “I demand respect as a human and I request respect as a woman,” she told Byline Times. “This is a natural part of me.”

She was once asked how her life would have been different if she had transitioned earlier on in life. “I replied: I could have been happy.”

“Conversion therapy is a repulsive practice which devastates lives,” said Misra. “The UK Government’s own National LGBT Survey shows that 7& of LGBTQIA+ respondents have been offered or undergone conversion therapy – a figure that represents thousands of LGBTQIA+ people whose lives have been torn apart by this barbaric practice. We urgently need comprehensive legislation.”




Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.




Enabling Acts: Citizenship of Quarter of Britons at Risk as Conservatives Construct an Authoritarian Legal Infrastructure

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 24/01/2022 - 11:54pm in

Enabling ActsCitizenship of Quarter of Britons at Risk as Conservatives Construct an Authoritarian Legal Infrastructure

Nafeez Ahmed analyses eight bills which, taken as a whole, reveal an unprecedented and undemocratic ethno-nationalist power grab


The focus on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s lockdown party antics has allowed the Conservative Party to accelerate its pursuit of unprecedented legal powers across a system of eight new bills – one of which has already been passed into law. The new regime could put up to 15 million Britons – a quarter of the population – at risk.

Home Office plans under the Nationality and Borders Bill would put the citizenship of up to a quarter of the UK population at risk – including Jewish and Irish citizens – according to a British data-led diaspora research consultancy that works for the United Nations among other agencies.

The revelations come as the Conservative Party seeks to push through a series of seven key bills and associated reforms. Although many of the bills have been widely discussed in the press, they are being viewed largely as separate pieces of legislation. 

Even in isolation, the assault on democracy they represent is obvious. But taking a holistic perspective – viewing them as an interlocking set of legal instruments – they represent not merely an attack on the most fundamental checks and balances of British democracy, but an overturning of the foundations of democracy itself. 

In particular, they promise to provide the British state extraordinary powers to control the lives of all its citizens – especially along ethnic and racial lines – while centralising the dominion of a state-corporate executive operating unaccountably beyond the rule of law. 

In total, the eight pieces of legislation will comprise a new autocratic governing regime in Britain that will be extremely difficult to dislodge or reform through democratic processes, and which will undermine the integrity of the popular vote.

  1. Nationality and Borders Bill: Up to 15 Million at Risk

As has been widely recognised in the British press, the Nationality and Borders Bill would provide the Home Secretary unprecedented powers to deprive British citizens of their citizenship without telling them. 

The bill extends the Government’s already existing power to strip dual nationals and naturalised British citizens if the Government believes that doing so is “conducive to the public good”. As long as the Government can also claim to have “reasonable grounds to believe” that the individual in question is eligible for foreign citizenship (so that, at least ‘in theory’ the Government could claim they would not be made stateless), their status as British citizens can be unilaterally eliminated.

The problem with this law is that it removes democratic checks and balances on how this extraordinary power is exercised. 

Late last year, Ben van der Merwe showed in the New Statesman that as many as two in five people in England from an ethnic minority background – some six million people – could in principle have their British citizenship removed by the state under the proposed law, without being notified. 

But the New Statesman’s figures are likely an underestimate of the real risk. According to an analysis by Shabaka – a data-led UK-based diaspora research consultancy that has worked with the United Nations, Africa Union, European Union, British Red Cross, among many other agencies – the real number of people whose British citizenship could be jeopardised under Home Office plans is as high as 15 million: nearly a quarter of the British population.

In an article published in late December last year, Shabaka noted that the Shamima Begum case shows how the Government can render British citizens stateless, in breach of international law, simply on the basis that they hold a theoretical right to another nationality. 

This has dangerous implications for a wide number of minorities, disproportionately diaspora and communities of colour, but also including Irish and Jewish people in Britain.

‘A Deeply Dangerous Power Grab by the Home Secretary’Conservative Peer Calls for Plans to Strip Citizenship Without Warning to be Scrapped
Hardeep Matharu

“This provision, therefore, threatens the rights of many more British citizens: in addition to dual nationals and naturalised citizens, it could also be applied to most diaspora communities in the UK; almost all Muslims, every single Jewish person in the UK (as Israel accords citizenship rights to all Jewish diaspora), and all those who have a parent or a grandparent who is a foreign citizen,” concluded Shakaba. 

“The Irish government estimates that over 6m British people are eligible for Irish citizenship 

alone through having an Irish parent or grandparent born on the island of Ireland, nearly 10% of the UK population.”

In total, Shabaka estimates that up to 12-15 million British citizens – which is between 18 and 24% of the UK population – could “theoretically at least, be stripped of their citizenship in secret, should the Home Secretary so decide. This effectively makes them second class citizens, whose place in the country is increasingly contingent on the favour of the Home Office”.

The Government’s defence of this extraordinary power is that it will only be exercised in exceptional circumstances as “a last resort against the most dangerous people to protect our national security and public safety”. But the language of the legislation itself doesn’t stipulate how such a danger is to be determined, leaving it entirely at the Government’s discretion as to who might undermine “the public good”.

As Colin Yeo, a top immigration barrister at leading human rights firm Garden Court Chambers has said: “Exercise of citizenship stripping powers was virtually unknown in the UK before 2010. It was something associated with the Soviet and Nazi regimes… But it has been used against hundreds on national security grounds since then and has started to be used against very serious criminals now as well.” If implemented, he added, the Nationality and Borders Bill will create “a massive pool of second class citizens who are mainly ethnic minority and whose status is contingent on good behaviour.”

The legislation would thus enshrine a racialised system of two-tier citizenship in which ethnic minorities find themselves at perpetual risk of deportation if deemed a thorn in the side of what the Government defines as ‘the public good’.

This legislation, then, is a potential threat to all ethnic minorities in Britain – and for the first time since the Second World War it would empower a Western democracy to target minority communities from Black, Asian, Jewish and many other ethnic minority backgrounds with impunity: the foundation for an ethno-nationalist state.

  1. Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill: Criminalising Dissent

The implications of the Nationality and Borders Bill, however, cannot be fully recognised without understanding it in context with a wide range of other new legal powers the Government is seeking.

The Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is supposed to help the police and courts take “more effective action” against crime leading to a “fair justice system”, in practice will do the opposite. Among the bill’s most egregious innovations is the introduction of a new public nuisance offence with a maximum sentence of 10 years, which would make it a crime to “intentionally or recklessly” cause “serious annoyance, serious inconvenience or serious loss of amenity” to the public.

Under such new powers, the Government and police would have wide largess to arrest anybody for doing anything that might conceivably be defined by them as falling within this category. Apart from undermining freedom of speech, the bill would allow the Government to criminalise a wide range of unspecified public behaviour. In effect, the Home Secretary would have unprecedented authority to unilaterally shut down any protest it wants.

As Guardian columnist George Monbiot observed last year, the Government also intends to criminalise any protest – including pickets or any kind of action – that might be deemed as interfering with any existing infrastructure, or the construction of new infrastructure. The bill refers to places “such as” roads, railways, ports, airports, oil refineries and printing presses, but is so vague it could therefore be applied to corporate or government buildings or general public spaces. 

While the Nationality Bill thus formally defines citizenship as a two-tier system in which most ethnic minorities in effect hold conditional citizenship, unlike the majority white population, the Police Bill provides the Government with the ability to quash public displays of dissent against Government policy at the whim of the Home Secretary.

  1. Judicial Review and Courts Bill: Executive Diktat

Perhaps the most insidious development comes from the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, which if passed would prevent citizens from using the rule of law to challenge how the Government implements and interprets the law in the first place. This means that the Government will be able to execute its own interpretation of the new raft of deliberately vague legal categories under these bills while dramatically reducing the scope for legal challenge.

A letter from environmental law advocacy group Fish Legal to Justice Secretary Dominic Raab sent in December highlights how the bill could be abused. Currently, when anti-pollution groups win cases against the Government or public bodies for unlawful decisions, judges usually quash those decisions resulting in them being overturned. However, the new bill will in effect take away the judge’s discretion to do this by forcing them to consider alternative legal remedies before considering a “full” quashing order.

The new powers under the bill mean that while a judge could decide that the Government’s actions were unlawful, this could be done without invalidating any prior actions – which would mean that even if a legal challenge against the Government were successful, there be no meaningful benefit. 

The bill also has a specific implication connecting it with the Nationality and Borders Bill. In normal practice, claimants in immigration and asylum cases who are refused permission to appeal by first-tier and upper tribunals, still have the right to bring a judicial review case in the high court. However, the bill proposes to eliminate this right. 

Many legal experts have warned that the bill would provide unprecedented power to the state executive, over and above judicial accountability and parliament. A legal analysis published by The Constitution Society and the London School of Economics’ LSE Law Review warns that under the bill, “an erroneous decision could be corrected by proposing to Parliament a piece of primary legislation which would… render a decision clearly labelled by the court as unlawful, lawful.” 

The effect of the bill would in real terms move Britain into the kind of ‘authoritarian democracy’ favoured by fascists: 

“This kind of exercise of executive power could damage the state of the rule of law in the UK – calling on Parliament to legislate to make something that was previously unlawful, lawful, solely because it fulfils the executive’s wishes, brings a constitutional democracy dangerously close to an elective dictatorship’, to use Lord Hailsham’s well-known phrase… The scenario where Parliament passes an Act in order to render a previously unlawful decision of the executive lawful would radically change the optics of the balance of power. It would unambiguously transfer legislative sovereignty to the executive and would, contrary to the constitutional principle of parliamentary supremacy, effectively place Parliament in a subservient position to the executive.”

The LSE analysis points out that the bill doesn’t mean that the state will “necessarily exercise” its newfound powers “in a dictatorial fashion”. But the biggest problem is that the bill implies there will no longer be any legal guarantee against the dictatorial abuse of executive power.

The bill, then, will have further dangerous implications for the already precarious legal rights of British individuals deprived of their citizenship, and criminalised for acts of public dissent, to appeal against the Government’s decisions – dramatically eroding the scope for legal and democratic checks and balances.

“The proposed bill purports to be an innocent technical modification of the judicial review system,” concludes the Constitution Society analysis. “However, the prospect of its enactment is alarming… Not only will the legislation affect individual challenges, it will limit the system of checks and balances, and through this alter the British constitutional regime.”

Trust in Government Worryingly Low As Lords Vote for ‘Assault on Democracy’ Elections Bill
Sian Norris

  1. The Elections Bill: Eroding the Vote

The Elections Bill provides further insight into the Government’s direction of travel. Among its most significant reforms is the introduction of compulsory photo ID for voters at polling booths. 

Of course, according to the Government’s own figures, approximately 2.1 million people in Britain – mostly from black and ethnic minority backgrounds as well as working-class and older people – do not have a recognisable photo ID and therefore could end up being unable to cast their ballot. 

Last summer, the Electoral Reform Society described the bill as “an unprecedented risk to democratic access and equality” that “could leave millions of voters unable to cast their ballot.”

But the prospect of racialised voter suppression is just one element of the bill. 

Another is its implications for the Electoral Commission, the independent public body that regulates party and election finance and sets standards for how elections should be run. Under the new bill, the Government can define the Electoral Commission’s priorities through a strategy and policy statement that would be approved by MPs. The bill thus fundamentally imperils the independence of the Electoral Commission.

The bill also contains clauses which for the first time, according to Rae Burdon of the Reform Political Advertising Coalition, in effect “permits political lies” by allowing inaccuracies in electoral advertising.

The bill introduces a new “digital imprints regime” that requires the identification of a candidate, the candidate’s “promoter”, but not the candidate’s party: “The absence of this condition allows candidates, whose political affiliation is often unknown to the voter, to run misleading claims about opposition policies under a different guise.” 

This has already happened – for instance, with Shaun Bailey’s mayoral campaign distributing leaflets purporting to be from ‘City Hall’, but not mentioning his Conservative Party affiliation. 

  1. Higher Education Bill: ‘Free Speech’ Thought Police

The Government is also seeking the power to control research and teaching at universities in the name of ‘free speech’. 

The Higher Education (Free Speech) Bill seeks to appoint a “free speech and academic freedom champion” to investigate alleged infringements of free speech at universities. 

Universities found to be in breach can face fines, and individuals will be able to make claims on alleged losses suffered due to a breach. 

Despite the bill’s apparent concerns with protecting free speech, the appointment of a state bureaucrat at the Government’s Office for Students whose job it is to determine the parameters of legitimate public debate in higher education institutions contradicts the very idea of free speech in the first place. It creates a new avenue for direct state interference in higher education bodies, one which could easily be abused along either left or right wing ideological lines depending on who is in power.

This is especially obvious given the Government’s professed priorities – in 2020, then education secretary Gavin Williamson had rejected calls for more teaching about Britain’s colonial history including the slave trade. He was explicitly disinterested in a diversity of views and robust debate, but instead urged the following one-sided approach: “… we should be incredibly proud of our history because time and time and time again, this country has made a difference and changed things for the better, right around the world. We should, as a nation, be proud of that history and teach our children about it.”

That year, the Government also sought to defund historical research exploring links to empire and slavery at National Trust properties. The action prompted the heads of some of Britain’s most prestigious heritage institutions including the Royal Historical Society, the Historical Association and the Economic History Society to condemn what they described as Government interference stifling “historical research and freedom of speech.”

Previous Byline Times investigations have revealed that pressure to create the bill came partly from a network of academics operating under the influence of American billionaire and Trump donor Peter Thiel. Several alt-right figures including white nationalist extremist Charles Murray and race science sympathiser Jordan Peterson have been hosted at Cambridge University by members of this network. This is despite the fact that the bulk of Murray’s discredited claims about race and IQ come from research funded by a Nazi eugenics foundation with direct ties to individuals involved in genocidal actions against German Jews. 

Although the main academic – James Orr – involved in hosting Murray and Peterson is a Government advisor, the Government declined to comment when asked about how the free speech mandate was being exploited to promote racist pseudoscience.

Peter Thiel’s Free Speech for Race Science Crusade at Cambridge University Revealed
Nafeez Ahmed

  1. Online Safety Bill:  State-backed Censorship 

The Government is also attempting to push through new legislation to regulate online content and social media. 

The Online Safety Bill will introduce “state-backed censorship and monitoring on a scale never seen before in a liberal democracy” according to Big Brother Watch’s legal and policy officer Mark Johnson.

The bill empowers the Ofcom regulator and tech platforms with a “duty of care” to censor any material online that the regulator deems “harmful”, rather than simply illegal – broadly defined as any content which risks having “a significant adverse physical or psychological impact” on someone with “ordinary sensibilities”. Platforms are also expected to protect posts “of democratic importance”. 

As the definition of these terms is inherently ambiguous, the final arbiter will be the state regulator. And as platforms could face large fines for failure to comply, they will be incentivised to remove potentially “harmful” content before cases reach the regulator. 

The legislation also calls on platforms to apply this “duty of care” to content sent via private messages, without offering clear guidance on how this can be done without compromising end-to-end encryption. However, the prospect endangers individual privacy and in particular secure channels of communication for journalism. 

This could have a chilling effect on free speech largely at the expense of minorities. As LGBTQ+ campaigners have pointed out, perceptions of “harm” against “ordinary sensibilities” could be exploited by hate groups to pressurise platforms to remove LGBTQ+ content – a practice that could be extended to silence a wide range of minority perspectives. 

Although ostensibly aimed at protecting children and young people, and stopping racial hatred online, the draft Online Safety Bill does not even mention the words ‘race’, ‘racism’ or ‘hate crime’ at all.

According to the Carnegie UK Trust, the bill fails to provide any meaningful elaboration on how it will practically address “huge volumes of racism, misogyny, antisemitism, etc”, which largely fall under the category of unlawful content. As racism, homophobia, transphobia and incitements to violence are already illegal, the real challenge is not inventing novel categories of “harm” but simply more robust enforcement against unlawful content in online spaces.

“There are legitimate fears that the Online Harms Bill could end up protecting racists, sexists, homophobes and transphobes while removing the voice of the groups targeted by such abuse,” according to Solent University sociologist Dr Garfield Benjamin. “If the government bans anyone from criticising it, or from discussing important issues and systemic injustices like racism and colonial history, then existing problems will only get worse.”

  1. Health and Social Care Bill: Genetic Data Grab

While the Online Safety Bill is consolidating state control over digital content, the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill threatens to place the national health service (NHS) increasingly in the hands of private interests while steadily dismantling it. But perhaps the biggest implication of the bill is its implications for Government control over the genetic records of the British population.

Like the Government’s other legislative offenses, the bill grants extraordinary powers to the executive – in particular allowing the health secretary to do everything from reorganising a local A&E department to vetoing senior NHS appointees. 

Replacing Care Commissioning Groups with integrated care boards (ICBs) that will commission most health services and decide how to distribute a limited budget, the bill allows giant private multinational companies and health insurance firms to sit on the ICBs. It also allows them to delegate ICB functions to these companies and to award and extend contracts without advertising. This opens the door for health services to be privatised at every level, while also allowing private firms to have a say in which medical conditions are funded.

It also reduces the NHS’ duty of care to local populations, for instance by removing the requirement for emergency services to be provided for everyone in a given commissioning area, and eliminating the statutory duty to arrange provision of secondary services, such as hospital services.

The Health and Social Care Bill is not just a power grab, but a private data grab under the guise of ‘data sharing’ – allowing the Government to have access to “anonymised” data from all registered adult social care providers, including private hospitals. This includes personal information, which can also be shared by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) across Government with other departments. 

“The Bill as drafted would in effect hand NHS England full powers to determine what data it takes, who that data can be sold to and what rules apply, without any external oversight,” concluded an analysis by non-profit health privacy campaign group, medConfidential. 

But there is a deeper and more sinister dimension to this data grab: its role in the Government’s vision of embedding “genomic medicine” into “routine care” across the NHS by 2025, as previously revealed by Byline Times. The Government is aiming to harness data across the national health system, including “genomic data generated by gene sequencing.” 

This year, DHSC’s Genomics England has just declared its new goal of sequencing half a million whole human genomes over the next five years to create a “lasting legacy for patients by introducing genomic sequencing into the wider healthcare system”. 

Although there is scant evidence that the UK Government’s ambitions are remotely viable (more than 95% of diseases or disease risks – including Alzheimer’s, autism, asthma, juvenile diabetes, psoriasis, and so on – cannot be predicted accurately from the DNA sequence), the Government’s unwavering belief in the genomics preventive medicine agenda appears to be rooted in longstanding sympathies with eugenics. 


Nafeez Ahmed explores the troubling implications and assumptions of the Government’s AI-driven gene programme

In February 2019, as Byline Times reported, Boris Johnson’s former chief advisor Dominic Cummings blogged about his hopes that a new NHS genomics prediction programme would ultimately allow the UK to not just prevent diseases, but to do so before birth apparently by selective breeding. Cummings also confirmed that he had arranged for eugenicist Steven Hsu to address UK policymakers in London. Hsu had previously given presentations promoting eugenic breeding schemes using embryo selection to improve the overall IQ of the population.

Among the ideas Hsu presented to Cummings’ colleagues in Government was that “the UK could become the world leader in genomic research by combining population-level genotyping with NHS health records”. This approach holds the promise of “revolutionising healthcare in ways that give Britain some natural advantages over Europe and America”, Cummings enthused at the time.

Although Cummings is no longer in Government, his support for eugenics appears to have been highly influential on several key figures in Government, particularly Michael Gove, Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson himself. 

With these seven bills, then, the Government is on track to fundamentally reconfigure British politics along deeply authoritarian lines – centralising state power over media, education, health, the judiciary, citizenship itself and even our genetic records in an unprecedented fashion. The icing on the cake comes in the form of an eighth bill which passed into law last year with little fanfare.

  1. Covert Human Intelligence Sources Act: Empowering Political Violence against Opposition

The Covert Human Intelligence Sources Act came into effect in March 2021. The extraordinary law would read well in any dictatorship’s playbook, and perhaps more than any other legal innovation discussed here exposes the underlying anti-democratic import of this Government’s agenda

In short, the Act allows Government departments, police forces, intelligence agencies and the armed forces to authorise anyone (including children and other vulnerable people) to commit crimes “in the course of, or otherwise in connection with” any covert operations. That includes the ability to commit murder, rape, torture, theft, and any other crime

Anyone targeted in such covert operations is excluded from standard criminal injuries compensation. 

While domestic surveillance is targeted at many nefarious groups such as neo-Nazis and Islamist terrorists, there is a long history of peaceful civil society groups also being targeted – including trade unions, civil rights organisations, anti-war groups, environment activists, and student organisations such as the National Union of Students. 

But the new law now adds a sinister dimension to the scope of Government powers in such covert operations. 

In theory, this Act grants the Government the ability to secretly commit crimes against its own citizens – essentially to do anything it wants to anyone – with total impunity, all in the name of ‘national security’. 

Summary: The Architecture of Crypto-Fascism

Whether or not senior Government officials involved in the development of these bills identify as fascist or oppose fascism is irrelevant.  Their cumulative effect is the unprecedented centralisation of state executive and corporate power over and above the rule of law on the basis of an ideology grounded in nationalist populism, which is rapidly radicalising in the direction of a racialised two-tier system of citizenship in which ethnic minorities are at risk. 

In effect, they function together to create a new legislative architecture that could be exploited to enable a ‘crypto-fascist’ regime. (Crypto-fascism is the concealed support or admiration for fascism, which is often an early warning of more widespread fascism.)

Rather than seeking some specific end-goal of overturning democracy entirely, this new legislative architecture would culminate in a form of elective dictatorship or authoritarian democracy that would not only allow a racialised state-corporate executive to operate without accountability to voters or the rule of law, but make theoretically possible the execution of political violence against minorities and dissidents on an unprecedented scale.

Not only will minority citizenship be conditional on behaviour deemed by the state to be ‘good’; the state and the private interests with which it is entwined will have newfound powers to limit and control politics, education, media, culture, and health – while being capable of deploying covert political violence to silence dissent.

If these bills come to pass – and one of them already has – they will fundamentally undermine the most crucial foundations of a free society, even if their full implications may not become visible immediately, or even under this Government.

However, the point of democracy is that checks and balances work to protect the rights of all. The Conservative Party is trying to create an ethno-nationalist system of governance in which the rights of minorities, opposition and dissidents are systematically diminished. This is the real danger of Boris Johnson’s rule – but it is a dark legacy that will outlast him, and that the current political crisis serves, conveniently, to distract from. 

This article was amended on 25 January 2022 to correct the number of genomes Genomics England aims to sequence.




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The post Enabling Acts: Citizenship of Quarter of Britons at Risk as Conservatives Construct an Authoritarian Legal Infrastructure appeared first on Byline Times.

ASPI – The Gov’t-Funded Conspiracist Think Tank Now Controlling Your Social Media Feed

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/01/2022 - 3:05am in

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA – Social media giant Twitter raised many eyebrows recently when it announced that it had partnered with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in its fight against disinformation and fake news. ASPI, Twitter revealed in a blog post, had helped identify thousands of accounts that “amplified Chinese Communist Party narratives” around China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. These accounts have now been permanently deleted.

This is of concern because the ultra-hawkish Australian think tank is actually the source for many of the most incendiary claims about China and its foreign policy, and, as Australian journalist and filmmaker John Pilger told MintPress, has been a driving force in the ramping up of tensions between China and the West, something he explored in his 2016 documentary, “The Coming War on China.” Pilger stated that,

ASPI has played a leading role – some would say, the leading role – in driving Australia’s mendacious and self-destructive and often absurd China-bashing campaign. The current Coalition government, perhaps the most right-wing and incompetent in Australia’s recent history, has relied upon the ASPI to disseminate Washington’s desperate strategic policies, into which much of the Australian political class, along with its intelligence and military structures, has been integrated.”

Importantly, neither ASPI nor Twitter claimed that the deleted accounts were fake or operated by the Chinese state, strongly implying that merely agreeing with Beijing or questioning bellicose Western narratives was reason enough to be banned.

This is not the first time that Twitter has joined forces with ASPI. In 2020, it announced that, on the think tank’s recommendations, it had shut down more than 170,000 accounts that praised China’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, generally “antagoniz[ed]” the U.S., or amplified “deceptive narratives” about the Hong Kong protests (i.e., ones that did not agree with the State Department or the 44% of Hong Kongers who supported the movement). In the same cull, Twitter also deleted thousands of Russian and Turkish accounts.

That a global social media platform is now in open partnership with ASPI should trouble anyone who is concerned with free speech or peace, as the think tank is funded by the U.S. government and the world’s largest weapons manufacturers, and has consistently agitated for global conflict.

Hawkish, Gov’t Funded Think Tank Behind Twitter Decision to Delete Thousands of Chinese Accounts


Faux independence

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute describes itself as an “independent, non-partisan think tank” whose mission is to “nourish public debate and understanding” and “better inform” the public, as well as to “produce expert and timely advice for Australian and global leaders.” It insists that it is not identified with any particular ideology and that it is committed to “publishing a range of views on contentious topics.”

Despite claiming to be independent, it also notes that it was established in 2001 by the Australian government, the sole owner of the organization. This represents a PR problem for the think tank, which warns that “the perception as well as the reality of that independence…need to be carefully maintained.” Its annual financial reports reveal that most of its funding comes straight from Canberra, although it also receives hefty donations from other governments including the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands.

While the lion’s share of its funding comes from various sources within the Australian government, the vast majority of its overseas funding comes from Washington and, more specifically, the Department of Defense (over $700,000 in fiscal year 2020-21) and the State Department (around $430,000 over the same period). In addition, ASPI takes money from American tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, Oracle and Facebook.

For many, including veteran Australian diplomat Bruce Haigh, this foreign cash has fundamentally sullied the organization. Haigh told MintPress:

ASPI is the propaganda arm of the CIA and the U.S. government. It is a mouthpiece for the Americans. It is funded by the American government and American arms manufacturers. Why it is allowed to sit at the center of the Australian government when it has so much foreign funding, I don’t know. If it were funded by anybody else, it would not be where it is at.”

As Haigh noted, ASPI is also funded by a cavalcade of the world’s largest weapons companies, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, QinetiQ and Thales. Perhaps even more worryingly, many of ASPI’s key personnel moonlight as defense contractor executives. Indeed, almost half of its senior council are on the boards of weapons or cybersecurity firms.

Robert Hill is a case in point. As Minister of Defense between 2001 and 2006, he was one of the key figures driving Australia towards war in Iraq. Hill consistently lied to the public, claiming that it was “not in dispute” that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and that the occupation, in fact, saved many Iraqi lives. One former senior defense advisor, Jane Errey, claims she was even forced out of her job after she refused to lie to the media on Hill’s behalf about Iraqi WMDs. Today, he is on the board of Rheinmetall Defense Australia, a company that supplies fighting vehicles and ammunition to the Australian military.

Hill’s successor as defense minister, Brendan Nelson, is also on ASPI’s senior council. Nelson continued Australia’s collaboration in the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, although his loose tongue got him in trouble in 2007, when he casually stated that the reason Australia was in Iraq was not WMDs, as Hill had insisted, but in order to secure a slice of the country’s oil reserves for itself. “Energy security is extremely important to all nations throughout the world and, of course, in protecting and securing Australia’s interests,” he said, in response to a direct question about whether this was a war for oil.

While director of the Australian War Memorial – a monument to those who died in Australia’s wars, Nelson controversially allowed weapons companies Boeing, Thales, Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems to sponsor the institution, a decision critics allege turned it from a sober memorial into a glorification of war. Just weeks after stepping down from that position, he accepted a job as president of Boeing Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific, a title he still holds.

Michelle Fahy, an investigative journalist specializing in the Australian arms industry, was particularly concerned by Nelson’s position at ASPI, telling MintPress:

Along with the funding, it is hard to see how this board appointment fits with a claim to being an ‘independent’ organization when Boeing is a multi-billion-dollar, top-five contractor to the Australian Defense Department, the third largest arms manufacturer in the world, and Nelson was formerly Defense Minister in an earlier government of the same political party now in power.”

Thus, a group headed by the individuals who championed the biggest political deception of the 21st century – one that led to the deaths of 2.4 million people – is now in charge of deciding what is real and what is fake news online for the entire planet. This raises a question: if ASPI had similar control over the means of communication in the early 2000s, would voices questioning the legitimacy of the Iraq invasion have been silenced for promoting false narratives?

Lt. Gen. Ken Gillespie was Vice Chief of the Defense Force from 2005-2008 and then Chief of the Army – the highest military position in Australia – between 2008 and 2011. As such, Gillespie was central to Australia’s efforts in both Afghanistan and Iraq. As his own LinkedIn biography boasts, “I led the initial Australian Defense Force contribution into the Middle-East and Afghanistan in the aftermath of the September 11 strikes on the U.S.A. I was a key planner for Australia’s contribution to the Iraq war, and I commanded all Australian Defense Force operations for a lengthy period.” Both Gillespie and fellow ASPI council member Jane Halton are on the board of Naval Group Australia, producer of warships and other combat systems. They both also work for cybersecurity companies; Gillespie is director of the Senetas Corporation, a cybersecurity firm that regularly partners with weapons manufacturers, such as Thales, that have heartily endorsed Senetas’ work. Meanwhile, Halton is chair of the board of directors at Vault Cloud, a defense-minded cybersecurity firm.

Another ASPI council member is former politician Gai Brodtmann. Brodtmann serves on the advisory board of cybersecurity firm Sapien Cyber, a firm that has secured a number of large military contracts and is chaired by former Minister of Defense Stephen Smith. In addition to this, she holds a senior position at Defense Housing Australia, a company that provides a range of services aimed at military personnel.

One of the newest members of ASPI’s council is James Brown, an ex-army officer and son-in-law of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Brown is chief executive officer of the Space Industry Association of Australia (SIAA), an organization that represents the interests of a number of prominent weapons corporations, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman Australia and Saab Australia.

As Fahy noted in an article in Declassified Australia, many former ASPI council members had similarly questionable connections to the arms industry. Jim McDowell was chief executive of BAE Systems Australia. Fellow politicians Stephen Loosley and Allan Hawke were on the boards of Thales Australia and Lockheed Martin Australia respectively, at the same time as serving on ASPI’s council. Meanwhile, retired Vice-Marshal Margaret Staib was on British aerospace giant QinetiQ’s board.


ASPI’s pro-war teenage growth spurt

ASPI began life 20 years ago as a relatively small think tank with a mandate to produce timely and independent research. However, in recent years, the organization has ballooned in size and now employs dozens of full-time staffers (contrary to its original vision). Its aggressive targeting of funding from a wide range of sources has undermined its credibility in Fahy’s eyes. As she told MintPress:

ASPI’s charter requires it to work to maintain the perception as well as the actuality of its independence. Given the widespread criticism directed at ASPI in recent years due to the perceived excessive influence of the U.S. government and U.S. arms and cybersecurity multinationals on its output, there is little doubt that the perception of its independence has been lost.”

Nevertheless, its ascendancy has led to it carrying inordinate influence within Australian politics and beyond, the organization’s reports being frequently cited in major outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post and Fox News. Diplomat Haigh said:

ASPI has supplanted the Department of Foreign Affairs in advice to the government. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, [Marise] Payne, is really very weak, and has been bypassed. So ASPI is feeding straight into the prime minister’s office on matters of foreign policy, particularly as it relates to China…This is part of the militarization of Australia and the Australian public service.”

Unsurprisingly for an organization taking money from weapons contractors, ASPI publishes some of the most crude and relentlessly pro-war propaganda anywhere, and has been a leader in the rush to declare a new Cold War on China and Russia.

This militaristic attitude is exemplified by ASPI’s executive director, Peter Jennings. Last year, Jennings bitterly denounced President Joe Biden and his decision to pull out of Afghanistan, describing it as his “first big blunder” in office. Jennings confidently predicted that Biden’s assessment that the U.S. “could not create or sustain a durable Afghan government” would be proven wrong. “In fact, that is precisely what American, Australian and other forces delivered to Afghanistan: a flawed but functioning democracy, keeping the Taliban at bay and preventing groups such as al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a training base from which to attack the West,” he wrote. Later that year, the Afghan government would fall to the Taliban, only days after American troops finally withdrew.

In the same article, Jennings went on to state that Biden’s decision was “an abandonment as complete as the U.S. failure to back South Vietnam…in the face of North Vietnam’s advancing conventional forces in 1974 and 1975,” thereby signaling that he supported the Vietnam conflict as well.

Indeed, it is hard to find a war Jennings has not advocated for. He vociferously backed the Iraq War, even demanding in 2015 that Australia increase its troop numbers. A committed cold-warrior who has argued that “the West is setting the bar for military response too high” and that the world must stop the “Leninist autocracies” of ​​Russia, Iran and Syria, last week he came close to calling for war against nuclear-armed Russia. “America’s credibility is on the line” in Ukraine, he thundered, demanding that Biden back up his talk with “believable military options.”


An arms producers’ Yellow Pages

For a think tank that was supposed to produce nonpartisan, expert advice, it is remarkable how far ASPI strays from this goal, going so far as to run advertisements for weapons manufacturers masquerading as serious analysis. One example of this is a 2020 study, titled “Australia needs to ensure it has the advanced missiles it needs.” Comparing death machines to crucial lifesaving equipment, it states:

Missiles are like a combination of a medical ventilator and the masks health workers need during a pandemic…You need many thousands of them and they can’t be reused. Ordering or holding a few hundred just doesn’t cut any mustard outside peacetime training routines. So, production is key.

“Without such weapons,” the author continues, “Islamic State might still control major chunks of territory in Iraq and Syria.” This claim, of course, ignores the fact that it was largely Iranian forces under Qassem Soleimani that were responsible for destroying ISIS, and that the United States assassinated him in 2020. ASPI chief Peter Jennings appeared to support Trump’s decision, writing that “it’s surely a positive that, after Soleimani’s death, bad actors in the region might pause to wonder if a Hellfire missile on a circling drone has their name and address programmed in.”

Hammering the point home, ASPI claims that “Australia is fortunate in having close relationships with…companies like Raytheon, Rafael, Lockheed Martin and Kongsberg” that can close the country’s supposed “missile supply gap.” “Getting agreement to and support for high-end U.S. missiles, like the long-range anti-ship missile made by Lockheed Martin, to be manufactured in Australia as well as the continental U.S. through co-production, will only happen if the senior leadership of our nations drive it,” it concludes.

If it were not clear that this was a “buy more missiles, says group funded by missile manufacturers” advertisement, ASPI included both Thales’ and Lockheed Martin’s logos on the page. Indeed, every page on ASPI’s website includes a sidebar advertisement for those two companies, complete with links to their websites.

These sorts of practices would be problematic enough if ASPI were a think tank trying to promote orange juice drinking in Australia while being filled with executives from Tropicana and Minute Maid. But it is not fruit ASPI is selling: it is war. It is literally a life-and-death affair.


Red flags, Yellow Peril

Saber-rattling at Russia or running unofficial advertorials for weapons companies are sidelines to ASPI’s main business of hyping up the threat that China poses to Australia and the world. Earlier this month, Jennings took to the pages of The Australian to demand a more formal military alliance with Japan in order to take China head-on. The Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper failed to disclose the fact that Jennings’ organization – and therefore his hefty salary (around $332,000 last year) – is being directly paid in part by the Japanese government. He has also recently called for a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics.

ASPI was the source behind the infamous 2019 documentary “Red Flags,” which aired on state broadcaster ABC. In McCarthyist fashion, “Red Flags” claimed that Australian universities were “infiltrated” with thousands of agents of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), learning Australian secrets and bringing them back to their homeland. ASPI’s report, “Picking Flowers, Making Honey,” insisted that universities were in active “collaboration” with the CCP.

The Canberra-based think tank was also behind the scaremongering that led to the Australian government canceling Huawei’s contract to upgrade the country’s notoriously poor telecommunications infrastructure. Adding to the hype, one ASPI employee even took to the pages of a national newspaper to claim that if the small city of Bendigo went forward with its plans to attach Huawei sensors to their garbage trucks, it would constitute a national security threat.

Jennings hailed the government’s subsequent decision to cancel the nation’s 5G plans as “absolutely the right call,” categorizing those opposing it as simply “the inevitable whining from China’s red brigade of useful idiots.” At no point did he acknowledge that telecom giants who fund ASPI, and on whose boards many of its key members sit, would likely benefit from the decision.

Last summer, ASPI also published a report with the title “China threatens Australia with missile attack.” The basis of the “threat,” was not China, however, but a two-paragraph statement from Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of a Chinese newspaper, The Global Times. Hu wrote that if Australia declared war on China, sent troops to Taiwan, and started killing Chinese soldiers, then China should have the capability to fire back on Australia. The author of the piece, Paul Dibb, the former head of Australia’s equivalent of the Defense Intelligence Agency, surely knew the difference but did not let that get in the way of a good story.

Dibb himself has openly ramped up tensions between the two nations. In 2020, he wrote an article for ASPI entitled “How Australia can deter China.” The article was illustrated simply with a picture of a Lockheed Martin missile. Pilger told MintPress:

ASPI is one of the world’s most blatant propaganda ciphers. If we were back in the old Cold War, it would be the equivalent of Pravda – though my memory of Pravda is that it was honest in its role as a voice of the state whereas ASPI pretends to be independent.”

Lab-Leak, Gain-Of-Function, and the Media Myths Swirling Around the Wuhan Institute of Virology

For a think tank that claims to be a guardian against fake news and disinformation online, ASPI has been at the forefront of mainstreaming conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and China, particularly that of the Wuhan lab leak. In a report called “The Great Covid Cover-up,” ASPI insisted that there has been massive, worldwide collusion on the part of the scientific, academic and medical communities, and even from parts of the U.S. government, all to hide Covid’s true origins and to run interference for China.

Perhaps most importantly, however, ASPI is a worldwide driving force behind bringing the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang to global attention. Their many reports, particularly the ongoing Xinjiang Data Project, have been the basis of hundreds of articles and news segments across the planet. Unfortunately, much of their research is as sloppy as it has been with other projects. As soon as it released an interactive map of the locations of what it claimed were hundreds of Uyghur detention centers, local Chinese people and even just individuals using tools like Google were able to show conclusively that many of these “prisons” were actually schools, government offices, or other more mundane edifices.

Of course, this is not to say that no detention facilities exist, or that a great number of Uyghurs have not been oppressed or imprisoned. Even the Chinese government accepts that it has put large numbers of people through what it describes as deradicalization programs. What it does highlight, though, is the sloppy nature of the scholarship that is being used to justify a worldwide boycott of Xinjiang-linked companies on the grounds of forced labor, something ASPI has helped lead. Thus, ASPI is far from a neutral arbiter in Twitter’s decision to close thousands of accounts on the grounds of stopping misinformation about Xinjiang spreading; in fact, it is serving as the prosecutor, the judge and the executioner all at once.

Ironically, at least 11 of the think tank’s largest financial backers are themselves heavily implicated in using forced labor to produce their weapons, or in human trafficking. Boeing, Raytheon, BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin all make use of forced American prison labor to make their products, while certain national sponsors, including the United States and the UAE, engage in forced labor.

The organization that constantly attacks China was also among the driving forces behind the yearslong RussiaGate conspiracy in the United States. ASPI agents were flown across the world to provide supposedly expert testimony to the U.S. Senate hearings about alleged Russian interference online and in the 2016 election. Remarkably, ASPI’s report, “Hacking Democracies,” claims that only Russia and China interfere in other nations’ elections, blithely ignoring the long history of the American government doing just that.

Facing mounting criticism at home, ASPI has inexpertly attempted to launder its own image online. The organization was caught scrubbing negative information off its Wikipedia page while using an ASPI-registered I.P. address. A number of users editing the page to add positive content and remove negative information were identified as sock puppets (fake accounts controlled by another user to give the impression of a group consensus) and banned by Wikipedia. Journalist Marcus Reubenstein also discovered that another pro-ASPI Wikipedia editor named “Wyvern2604” was originally called “ASPI ORG” before changing their name. This sort of crude online propaganda is exactly what ASPI accuses its enemies of engaging in. Yet, far from being discredited and having its accounts removed, ASPI is now a leader, supposedly, in the fight against disinformation – whether the public likes it or not.


Signing on to Bellum Americanum

Australia’s stance on China has taken a dramatic turn in recent years. Once, it had enjoyed a cordial relationship with Beijing and developed deep economic ties to it. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in and out of office between 2007 and 2013, even impressed his Chinese counterparts with his fluent Mandarin.

Yet as the United States has turned its eye upon Beijing, Australia has followed suit, joining the U.S.-dominated military organizations like The Quad (U.S., Australia, Japan, India) and AUKUS (Australia, U.K., U.S.), both of which are squarely aimed at preventing China’s further economic rise. To that end, there is a concerted U.S. effort to develop what senior generals have called an “Asian NATO,” sooner rather than later.

Media have worked with ASPI to hype the China threat, while politicians not going along with this dangerous jingoism are labeled “panda huggers.” To that extent, it has had a profound impact on public opinion. As recently as 2018, 82% of Australians saw China as an “economic partner” rather than a “security threat” (12%). However, by 2021, those numbers had radically shifted; 63% considering China a threat, and only 34% describing it as an economic partner. Even Rudd himself has become something of a China hawk, describing the country as “a 1,000-pound gorilla in the front living room.”

Historically, Australia has consistently followed the United States into whatever military endeavor it begins. There were nearly 8,000 Australian soldiers in Vietnam at the war’s peak, the country suffering some 3,500 casualties. It also accompanied the U.S. during the First Gulf War and the two largest post-9/11 campaigns.

This continues to the present day. Late last year, Australia committed to purchasing eight enormous nuclear submarines at a cost of around $64 billion. The announcement was understood on all sides to be a gesture to Washington, showing that Australia will stand by it, come what may. Yet as China is by far and away Australia’s largest economic partner (almost one-third of all Australian exports go to the P.R.C.), any conflict would be devastating. Thus, the enthusiasm with which the government in Canberra has chosen the U.S. over China speaks wonders about what it sees its true role as being. As Pilger put it:

In the words of a senior CIA officer once based in Australia, Australian prime ministers are ‘forever obsequious to us.’ Up until 2015, the relationship with China was pragmatic and businesslike. China is Australia’s biggest, most important trader. The relationship is now a spectacle akin to aiming a pistol at one’s own feet.”

“Australia now has become very much a part of the American confrontation with China,” Haigh said. “The Americans are dead set keen to take on China. It is not a matter of ‘if,’ it is a matter of ‘when,’ because that is what they want to do. They have made their minds up… It’s gunboat diplomacy with aircraft carriers,” he added.


The think tank-social media axis

Twitter’s collaboration with ASPI is part of a growing trend for the biggest social media platforms partnering with hawkish, state-sponsored think tanks. In 2018, Facebook announced it was collaborating with NATO think tank the Atlantic Council, whereby it gave an undisclosed amount of control over users’ news feeds to the group, allowing it to help Facebook decide what posts users saw and which ones were suppressed.

If anything, the Atlantic Council’s connections to state power are even deeper than ASPI’s. The council’s board of directors is a who’s who of powerful state figures – including senior statespersons like Condoleezza Rice and Henry Kissinger; a host of top U.S. generals, including Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis, Wesley Clark, and David Petraeus; as well as no fewer than seven former directors or acting directors of the CIA. Like ASPI, the Atlantic Council receives its funding from Western governments, weapons manufacturers, and big tech companies. As such, it represents the collective consciousness of the American state.

The Atlantic Council, like ASPI, has also been central to the rush towards potential war with Russia or China, the organization constantly putting out highly questionable reports of Russian or Chinese interference in domestic politics. Last February, the Atlantic Council published an anonymous, 26,000-word report outlining its vision for a future China. “The United States and its major allies continue to dominate the regional and global balance of power across all the major indices of power;” it wrote, hoping as well that head of state Xi Jinping will be “replaced by a more moderate party leadership; and that the Chinese people themselves have come to question and challenge the Communist Party’s century-long proposition that China’s ancient civilization is forever destined to an authoritarian future.” In other words, that China has been broken and that some sort of regime change has occurred.

A week later, Facebook hired former NATO press officer and current senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, Ben Nimmo, to “lead global threat intelligence strategy against influence operations” and “emerging threats.” Nimmo specifically named Iran and Russia as potential dangers to the platform.

Another former Atlantic Council hawk turned social media boss is Reddit’s Jessica Ashooh. Ashooh left her job as deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Strategy Force to become Reddit’s director of policy – a position for which she was completely unqualified on paper.

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

A second, highly significant example of Twitter collaboration with state intelligence is the case of Gordon MacMillan. MacMillan is an active-duty officer in the British Army’s 77th Brigade, a unit dedicated to online operations and psychological warfare, yet was somehow appointed to become Twitter’s Head of Editorial. Despite his outing being covered extensively in alternative media (including in MintPress News), only one mainstream U.S. publication – Newsweek – even mentioned the revelations at all. The Newsweek journalist who wrote the story was forced out of the industry only a few weeks later. Yet to this day, MacMillan remains in his important post at Twitter, strongly suggesting the social media company knew of his role before he was hired.

Ultimately, what these incidents hint at is a fusion between social media and the national security state, something that the Twitter/ASPI union underlines. This has long been foreseen, even championed by both entities. At NATO’s 70th anniversary gala in 2019, Admiral James Stavridis, former NATO supreme commander for Europe, declared that his organization would very soon be “far more engaged” with tech and cybersecurity issues. But long before then, executives at Google were pitching their company as a new weapon for the U.S. empire. “What Lockheed Martin was to the twentieth century, technology and cyber-security companies [like Google] will be to the twenty-first,” wrote Eric Schmidt and Larry Cohen in their book, The New Digital Age, a book that came replete with a ringing endorsement from Henry Kissinger on the back cover.

Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are far more widely used and influential than any newspaper or TV network. Whoever controls their algorithms and has the power to promote or delete accounts at will has significant influence over global public opinion; hence the desire to control them. When an organization like ASPI or the Atlantic Council has even some amount of editorial control over social media, that is tantamount to state censorship, but on a worldwide scale.

This power is already being used in a flagrantly anti-democratic manner. Just days before the Nicaraguan presidential election in November, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram worked, seemingly in unison, to essentially wipe the left-wing FSLN Party (a longtime bête noire of the U.S.) from the internet, purging thousands of accounts, channels and pages at the most politically sensitive time. Activists who had been suspended by Facebook for “inauthentic behavior” (i.e., being bots) poured on to Twitter, recording messages stating they were real people who supported President Daniel Ortega. Incredibly, Twitter took the decision to delete virtually all these accounts, too.

That Twitter intends more of these types of operations in the future is made clear by the fact that they announced partnerships with two other organizations at the same time as with ASPI. One is Venezuelan outlet, Cazadores de Fake News, a group that presents itself as a fact-checking organization but appears to be inordinately dedicated to attacking the left-wing government of Nicolas Maduro (another American target). Cazadores de Fake News tacitly endorsed the self-declared president, Juan Guaidó, a favorite of Washington. It was also supportive of the U.S.-backed military coup that briefly brought Bolivia’s Jeanine Añez to power in 2019. The other organization partnering with Twitter is the Stanford Internet Observatory, a group that boasts about training a new generation of (anti-Russian) leaders in Ukraine and whose director, Alex Stamos, is also on the advisory board of NATO’s Collective Cybersecurity Center of Excellence.

Meet the Nicaraguans Facebook Falsely Branded Bots and Censored Days Before Elections

While the Australian Strategic Policy Institute might have started out and even operated for years with the best of intentions, it is increasingly clear that its primary role is to create crises – fake or otherwise – to serve their backers’ agendas. Once weapons were manufactured to fight wars; today, wars are often manufactured to sell weapons.

The interests of the U.S. government and of arms companies are not those of either the Australian public or of social media users. Where once the online space was a place where critical information could circulate freely, we increasingly live in an upside down world where a giant government influence operation is being carried out under the guise of protecting us from a similarly large (foreign) government operation.

ASPI has become not only a prime vehicle driving the West to war, but it now also holds considerable power to suppress dissenting opinions, meaning it can simply invent reality. That this organization is now partially in charge of Twitter’s moderation, influencing what hundreds of millions of people see daily, is a grave threat to the free flow of information, as well as to the chances for a peaceful 21st century.

Feature photo | Graphic by Antonio Cabrera

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

The post ASPI – The Gov’t-Funded Conspiracist Think Tank Now Controlling Your Social Media Feed appeared first on MintPress News.

The Online Arms Race Benefits the Conservatives at the Expense of Democracy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/01/2022 - 11:11pm in

The Online Arms Race Benefits the Conservatives at the Expense of Democracy

Former Labour MP Ian Lucas explores how politics is being warped by online surveillance, data harvesting and ruthless social media campaigning – and why opposition parties need to take action to tackle this


The Labour Party appears to be waking up to online campaigning.

When the Paymaster General, Michael Ellis, drew the short straw and was forced to defend Boris Johnson in the House of Commons over the “bring your own booze!” lockdown party in Downing Street, Labour dispatched a Facebook advert targeted at Ellis’s constituents – asking why he was spending his time defending the Prime Minister’s antics.

Labour has, according to Facebook, spent £1,435,070 on Facebook adverts since November 2018. With individual candidates itemised separately, the overall figure for spending by the party will be much higher.

This technique was used effectively by the Conservatives in the same period, not least during the 2019 General Election campaign. Johnson decided that he would forgo as many television interviews as possible – including being grilled by Andrew Neil – and instead disseminated a video via Facebook to his target audiences, showing him driving a JCB (incidentally, a firm owned by Conservative donors) through a polystyrene road block signed ‘Get Brexit Done’.

Of course, save for the party political broadcasts, no such advert could ever be shown on television during a general election campaign. But online, the same rules do not apply. Much like social events in Downing Street, online campaigns are – largely – an un-policed world.

The Populist AllianceHow Vote Leave Came toRule British Politics
Ian Lucas

Guess which individual political candidates have spent the most on Facebook advertising in the past two years? You may not have heard of Andy Street or Ben Houchen, the Conservative Mayors for the West Midlands and Teesside, but they have spent £104,248 and £69,824 respectively on Facebook promotions since November 2018, which includes their successful re-election campaign periods.

This information is published on Facebook’s transparency pages, introduced after political pressure from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, of which I was a member. Prior to the introduction of these transparency pages, it was virtually impossible to see how much had been spent by political candidates on Facebook adverts, and the messages they were disseminating.

Preserving the Status Quo

The Conservatives know the effectiveness of online campaigns. For these adverts are not just targeted geographically, they are now targeted individually, based on data about the online habits of voters – with advertisers and parties inferring which issues are most likely to influence a person’s vote from what they have gathered and observed.

Historically, the law in the UK always distinguished between political advertising and other advertising. So, in the UK, it was decided that we didn’t want political adverts on TV and the self-regulating Advertising Standards Authority also decided that it would not include political advertising in its remit.

However, online advertising has fallen between large gaps and, today, anything goes on social media.

You may therefore think that when an Elections Bill and a draft Online Safety Bill are before Parliament, MPs would be addressing this anomaly and updating electoral law for the online world. But they are not.

The Government understands how much it owes to online political advertising. I discovered this from 2018 when, as a member of the DCMS Committee, I learned of its importance in elections and referendums after 2015.

In 2018, Dominic Cummings, Vote Leave campaign director in 2016, wrote to the elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, saying:

“It is clear that the entire regulatory structure around national elections including data is really bad.

“There are so many contradictions, gaps, logical lacunae that it is wide open to abuse… There has been no proper audit by anybody of how the rules could be exploited by an internal or foreign force to swing close elections. These problems were not fixed for the 2017 election and I doubt they will be imminently.

“The system cannot cope with the fast changing technology.”

Cummings understood the importance of online campaigning to the Brexit referendum. It was so important that he risked breaking electoral law to win. Less than two weeks before the election, he wrote to a Vote Leave donor saying: “We’ve now got all the money we can spend legally. You should NOT send us your £100k… Would you be willing to send your £100k to some social media ninjas who could spend it usefully on behalf of this organisation? I am very confident it would be spent well in the final crucial five days.”

The Electoral Commission found that such collusion was unlawful.

Cummings also explained what Vote Leave did with its money: “We spent a lot of money on Facebook. We derived from our polling an idea about crucial people to target. We then used Facebook’s advertising platform to run experimental ads at targeted audiences. We measured what worked. We then put as much money as we could behind the most effective ones over the last two to three weeks.”

I wanted to cross-examine Cummings on his use of Facebook and his sources of data for Vote Leave when he was appointed as a chief advisor to Boris Johnson, when he became Prime Minister, in July 2019. But Cummings did not want to talk.

MPs Raise the Alarm Overthe Government’s DraconianElections Bill
Robert Saunders

He had been found in contempt of Parliament for refusing to give evidence in 2018. The cover-up continued and Johnson blocked the committee from questioning Cummings on his 2018 correspondence with the Electoral Commission, refusing to direct Cummings to co-operate with a parliamentary committee. Despite his prolixity on other matters, Cummings now remains conspicuously silent on election law and the use of online political advertising.

Perhaps he knows that the Conservatives benefit from the status quo. In the arms race of online advertising spending, the Tories will always win. Moreover, political campaigns are now constant, not just limited to traditional campaign periods. The cost of them is, however, unregulated at present for the period outside elections.

We have also never asked voters if they want information gleaned from surveillance of their online activities to be used for political purposes. The result is that, in a political world where online campaigns take precedence, those campaigns are, unlike television campaigns, barely regulated.

The space for open debate has shrunk and silos of opinion are created and reinforced through these adverts, which play on our emotions, leading to increased polarisation in our politics and society.

We need to discuss these issues and how they are affecting democratic debate. The longer we wait, the less likely it is that confidence in our politics can be rebuilt. This is an aim that all political parties in a liberal democracy should share.

Ian Lucas was Labour MP for Wrexham from 2001 to 2019, and a member of Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee from 2017 to 2019, during its inquiry into disinformation and fake news

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The post The Online Arms Race Benefits the Conservatives at the Expense of Democracy appeared first on Byline Times.

Want to make your research credible online? Image matters

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/01/2022 - 10:00pm in

Whether it is via videos, blogs, social media, or mainstream news outlets, research findings are communicated in many formats and media other than the traditional research article. However, especially when they are divorced from standard markers of academic quality, what makes these communications credible? Drawing on a study of the perceived creditability of scientific communications, … Continued

All Media is Social

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 24/04/2019 - 1:51pm in

With much of Australia’s ‘mainstream’ media at war with its critics on ‘social’ media, it’s worth reflecting on an observation from a journalist who was at the vanguard of breaking down the distinction between the two. In ‘Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now’, Alan Rusbridger […]

Social Media - Don’t Panic, It’s Child’s Play

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/02/2015 - 10:10am in

Creating Digital Inclusion for Indigenous Australians

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 03/12/2014 - 9:07am in