The Russian Troll Factory is Recruiting English-Speaking Journalists to Fight “Political Censorship” After Facebook Ban

— The “Wake up, America!” campaign will “focus on promoting information and problems that are hushed up by major American publications controlled by the US political elite”

It’s been a rough couple of months for the Internet Research Agency (IRA).

In February, 13 members of the so-called “Russian troll factory” were indicted for allegedly interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. Since then, the company has been banned from various social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram.

But now the IRA is fighting back with the launch of its “Wake up, America!” campaign, which promises to challenge “the hegemony of the US authorities” by “promoting information and problems that are hushed up by major American publications controlled by the US political elite.”

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The campaign was announced last week via the Federal News Agency (FAN), a pro-Kremlin website that has been traced back to the IRA by open-source researcher Lawrence Alexander.

Russian news websites including RBK Group and The Moscow Times have also published stories linking FAN to the IRA.

“Due to the growing political censorship imposed by the United States, there remains less and less of information sources that are not under control of the US authorities,” reads an announcement on the FAN website. “In this regard, US citizens cannot receive objective and independent information about events occurring on the territory of America and throughout the world.”

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The website is currently recruiting English-speaking journalists to work on the campaign, inviting applicants to “send your CVs to america@riafan.ru with the subject ‘Wake up, America.’”

When I enquired about the position using a fake name, I got this message from FAN’s director Evgeny Zubarev (the message was in Russian, translated here using Google Translate):

Good afternoon.
We received your resume. It will be considered in a reasonable time and we will notify you of the results.
Yours faithfully,
Director General of FAN LLC Evgeny Zubarev.

Meanwhile, IRA trolls, apparently unhappy with being banned from Facebook and Instagram, are busy promoting the campaign on LiveJournal.

One post, published under the pseudonym “Vandro,” said that “Facebook had launched a war against Russian newsmen,” and accused the social network of conspiring with the U.S. government.

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Another post, published under the pseudonym “kyxapka,” speculated about the mental health of Mark Zuckerberg, accusing the Facebook founder of following “the will of his political rulers.”

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A third post, published under the pseudonym “qkempek,” accused the U.S. government of “trying to deprive the audience of many thousands of opportunities to receive relevant and resonant news from the Russian Federation and the world from the media, which speak about it honestly and openly.”

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A database of the IRA’s LiveJournal accounts was obtained by Russian newspaper My Area (MR7.ru) in 2015.

Click here to read more stories from inside the Russian troll factory.

Hates Speech

Former BBC Wales Head of Public Affairs Leighton Andrews calls for European regulation of Facebook and Google

Leighton Andrews, the former Head of Public Affairs for BBC Wales, has called for European law makers to regulate U.S. Internet giants Facebook and Google.

Former Head of Public Affairs for BBC Wales, Leighton Andrews (source)

In two similarly worded articles on Open Democracy UK and Medium, Andrews argued that Facebook and Google are media companies, and should therefore be subject to stringent rules regarding antitrust issues, content, branding and “hate speech.”

Via “Europe should regulate Facebook and Google” by Leighton Andrews, Medium, December 9, 2016.

As well as their dominance of advertising, the two ‘titans’…have become the dominant news distributors as well. 44% of US adults get their news via Facebook according to the Pew Research Centre having taken over as the top news referrer from Google in 2015 according to the traffic analytics site parse.ly. At least originating news organisations get to keep their branding in the Google News app: in the Facebook News Feed, as Alex Hern pointed out in the Guardian, there’s no branding difference between fake news sites and established and respected news outlets…meaning that fake news can vie with real news for top spots.

Via “We need European regulation of Facebook and Google” by Leighton Andrews, Open Democracy UK, December 12, 2016.

What is needed is the necessary strategic alliance between other media companies, civil society organisations and academic specialists to drive an agenda forward to address the powers of internet intermediaries, in terms of content rules, competition issues and their dominance of the advertising markets which as we have seen has had the effect of undermining the newspaper industry in particular…

…Moving forward, there needs to be a coordinated and sustainable lobby at a European level, involving media organisations, advertisers, civic society organisations, and academic specialists interested in media policy to create the space for legislative action

– In defence of facts on digital advertising metrics
– In defence of facts in news reporting and/or attribution
– In defence of the rule of law (for example German hate speech laws)

Assuming Brexit goes ahead, and the UK does want a relationship akin to the EEA, then it’s likely it will have to adhere in practice to EU Media laws. EU legislation may be our last, best hope for effective action. There’s a thing.

I’ll leave it to the experts to debate the merits of antitrust regulation, but I can’t sit still for Andrews’ arguments in favour of controlling content, branding and “hate speech.”

Unlike the U.S., the EU famously doesn’t have a strong constitutional guarantee regarding freedom of speech or of the press. Consequently, countries within Europe have implemented a number of vague laws targeting political speech under the pretext of national security, racial and religious tolerance, and even women’s rights.

“Hate speech” is an especially meaningless term which has nevertheless been adopted by many European countries to punish unpopular speech. Just this month, Dutch politician and prominent Eurosceptic Geert Wilders was found guilty of hate speech by a Dutch court after he called for “fewer Moroccans” in the country.

Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders (source)

While you might not agree with Wilders’ comments or sympathise with his worldview, the point is that the legal concept of “hate speech” is sufficiently vague to encompass all kinds of political speech, not just unpopular words and ideas.

The arbitrary nature of hate speech laws and other, equally vague speech laws have proven controversial in some EU member states.

There was outrage earlier this year when – at the whim of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – Germany agreed to prosecute prominent German satirist Jan Böhmermann, who had ridiculed the Turkish despot on national televisionAfter all, what kind of democracy prosecutes its satirists?

Yet the decision should not have come as a surprise. Germany has long placed limits on “insulting” speech, in agreement with the various rulings handed down by the European Court of Human Rights.

As Hamburg international media law expert Dr. Ralph Oliver Graef told The Intercept in April: “If you agree that hate speech at a certain level is punishable, then you have to be open to the idea that some things are not allowed to be said, even about a dictator.”

German satirist Jan Böhmermann on the cover of Der Spiegel (source)

Not wishing to succumb to the logical fallacy of the slippery slope, it’s easy to see where regulation of the media – and of speech in general – might lead. Just look to Turkey, where journalists are routinely prosecuted for reporting unfavourably about the government, and satirists are no longer free to openly ridicule those in power.

Is this what we want for our media or for our own hard-won freedoms? Personally, I’m with Welsh YouTuber Bill Hilton, who tweeted this response to Andrews’ Medium article:

leighton-andrews-bill-hilton-exchange