Caputo Rattles His Saber

Ex-Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo threatens legal action against ThinkProgress for reporting that he helped improve Vladimir Putin’s image in the United States

Earlier today, the progressive news website reported that Donald Trump’s campaign is to create a legal defence fund for all staffers involved in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into allegations of possible collusion between the campaign and the Russian government.

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The report by ThinkProgress associate editor Melanie Schmitz stated that “Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo – who was previously responsible for improving Russian President Vladimir Putin’s image in the United States, and who is currently facing his own set of legal woes in relation to the Mueller investigation – believes that it’s the RNC’s duty to cover legal fees for the president.”

Caputo subsequently messaged Schmitz publicly on Twitter threatening to take legal action against ThinkProgress, Schmitz, and her senior editor Emily Hazzard unless Schmitz changed her article to say that he “never worked for Putin,” and that he’d “never been contacted by Mueller’s team.”

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While it’s true Caputo never actually worked for Putin, his former PR firm Rainmaker Interactive once represented Alfred Kokh, chief executive of Russian state-owned media company Gazprom Media, and helped burnish the company’s reputation with U.S. media and policymakers.

Via “Ex-Trump Aide Scrambles to Scrub Russia From Bio” by Lachlan Markay, The Daily Beast, November 6, 2017:

At the time, Gazprom had just acquired NTV, one of Russia’s few major opposition media outlets, sparking an internal revolt among staff. Gazprom dispatched security services to seize NTV’s headquarters in a move that was widely condemned as an assault on independent Russian media. According to Kokh, Putin personally sanctioned the crackdown.

In an interview last year, The Buffalo News characterized Caputo’s subsequent PR work for Gazprom Media as “help[ing] President Vladimir Putin weather U.S. government criticism for taking over an independent TV station.” Caputo says that characterization is inaccurate, though he told the paper at the time, as Petkanas noted, that he is “not proud of the work today,” adding the caveat that at “at the time, Putin wasn’t such a bad guy.”

As the title of that article suggests, Caputo recently paid an employee at his current PR firm, Zeppelin Communications, to scrub Wikipedia of all language linking him to Putin.

Caputo Gets Streisanded

The Washington Post covers Shooting the Messenger scoop re: Efforts by ex-Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo to scrub Russia from his Wikipedia bio

On Monday, The Daily Beast reported my scoop that Caputo paid his PR firm to purge Wikipedia of evidence that he helped promote Russian President Vladimir Putin in the United States.

Yesterday, The Washington Post covered the story as part of its daily round-up. Via “The Daily 202” by James Hohmann, The Washington Post, November 8, 2017:

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— An employee of former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo was blocked from Wikipedia in August after the site’s editors said he was caught using multiple pseudonymous accounts to scrub the page of Caputo’s ties to Vladimir PutinThe Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay reports: “After the accounts were exposed as what Wikipedia calls ‘sock puppets’ — multiple accounts run by the same person as part of a coordinated editing campaign —[the employee, Sean Dwyer], admitted he had financial ties to the subjects of his edits. It’s just the latest front in Caputo’s battles to save his reputation from, what he sees as, Russian smears. He also says he has filed an ethics complaint against Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) over comments at a congressional hearing in March, where the California Democrat accused Caputo of having been Russian president Vladimir Putin’s ‘image consultant[.’]”

Wikipedia Offers Assistance to Ex-Trump “Wiki-Sneak”

Wikipedia invites ex-Trump advisor Michael Caputo “to one of our DC editing events to learn how to use Wikipedia properly” after he gets busted trying to scrub his online bio

Last week, I blogged about Caputo’s attempts to purge Wikipedia of evidence that he helped promote Russian President Vladimir Putin in the United States.

Michael Caputo (source)

Via “Ex-Trump Aide Frantically Scrambles to Scrub Russia From Bio” by Lachlan Markay, The Daily Beast, November 6, 2017:

[Zeppelin Communications executive Sean Dwyer’s] editing campaign, which was first reported by independent blogger Dean Sterling Jones, shows that…he repeatedly attempted to remove language from the page that tied [former Trump adviser Michael Caputo’s] work for Gazprom to any efforts to burnish Putin’s reputation abroad.

[…]

Caputo denied that Dwyer had run afoul of any Wikipedia guidelines. “Sean has done nothing wrong except engage with Wikipedia according to their rules, which apparently put him in the sights of a wanker trolling me from his mommy’s basement,” he said.

Today, Wikipedia invited Caputo “or anyone in politics” to “come to one of our DC editing events to learn how to use Wikipedia properly.”

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From this tweet, it appears that Caputo has accepted the invite:

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The Daily Beast Busts Ex-Trump “Wiki-Sneak”

Former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo takes swipe at me in The Daily Beast for blogging about his campaign to scrub Russia from his Wikipedia bio

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Via “Ex-Trump Aide Frantically Scrambles to Scrub Russia From Bio” by Lachlan Markay, The Daily Beast, November 6, 2017:

Former Donald Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo is determined to prove that he did not work for Vladimir Putin, and he’s using every tool at his disposal to do so—from a congressional ethics complaint, to a defamation lawsuit, to a surreptitious Wikipedia edit campaign.

Sean Dwyer, an employee of Caputo’s PR firm, Zeppelin Communications, was blocked from Wikipedia in August after he was caught using multiple pseudonymous accounts to purge Caputo’s page of alleged Putin ties, according to an investigation by the site’s editors. After the accounts were exposed as what Wikipedia calls “sock puppets”—multiple accounts run by the same person as part of a coordinated editing campaign—Dwyer admitted he had financial ties to the subjects of his edits.

[…]

Given what Caputo characterizes as widespread—and even malicious—misrepresentations of his work in Russia, “Wikipedia inaccuracies barely even make it on my radar,” he said.

And yet, Dwyer’s editing campaign, which was first reported by independent blogger Dean Sterling Jones, shows that Caputo was at least aware of the claims and determined to purge them. Dwyer did so through four different “sock puppet” accounts, according to Wikipedia’s investigation, and edit logs show he repeatedly attempted to remove language from the page that tied Caputo’s work for Gazprom to any efforts to burnish Putin’s reputation abroad.

Though it’s fairly common, “sock-puppetry is one of the cardinal sins of Wikipedia,” according to William Beutler, the president of digital marketing firm Beutler Ink and a longtime personal and professional Wikipedia editor. “We do this legitimately every day. But our approach is different from what they do here,” Beutler said in an interview. Unlike Dwyer, “we disclose who our clients are at the starting point.”

Caputo denied that Dwyer had run afoul of any Wikipedia guidelines. “Sean has done nothing wrong except engage with Wikipedia according to their rules, which apparently put him in the sights of a wanker trolling me from his mommy’s basement,” he said.

I deny all accusations that I live in my mother’s basement.

Update, 7/11/2017: The story was subsequently covered by Raw Story here, Wonkette here, and Just Security here.

Error 451

WordPress censors critical blog post about Armenian Olympic Committee President and rumoured Sochi crime lord Ruben “Robson” Tatulyan following complaint from Russian state media watchdog Roskomnadzor

In October, Russia’s state media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, sent a complaint to WordPress demanding that it censor a critical blog post about Ruben “Robson” Tatulyan, President of the National Olympic Committee of Armenia and rumoured Sochi crime lord.

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Roskomnadzor’s October 31, 2016 complaint to WordPress (source)

The offending blog post, which Roskomnadzor claims violates Tatulyan’s privacy “rights and freedoms,” describes an incident at Sochi International Airport earlier this year, when Tatulyan and his entourage – driving vehicles carrying Armenian embassy number plates – brazenly violated numerous traffic regulations.

According to Russian news reports, Tatulyan boasted to security staff about supposedly having acquired ambassadorship in Armenia, before speeding away in the wrong lane through the airport’s car park and ramming an automatic barrier.

A video of the incident, as captured on CCTV:

Tatulyan is not listed as holding office at the Armenian embassy in Russia, although several Russian news reports – including the targeted WordPress post – have alluded to his possible involvement in Russia’s criminal underworld.

One popular online publication, Crime Russia (itself the target of multiple takedown requests from Roskomnadzor), even alleges that Tatulyan is “shadow ruler” of all crime syndicates in Sochi, succeeding the notorious Russian mafia boss Aslan Usoyan aka Grandpa Hassan, who was assassinated in 2013.

Roskomnadzor’s complaint to WordPress does not try to refute these claims, instead citing a dubious Russian law restricting the publication of “personal data” in an effort to censor the offending blog post.

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According to the Lumen Database, WordPress has partially enforced Roskomnadzor’s complaint (source)

Via my blog last month, WordPress recently changed its policy about how it responds to takedown requests.

Although the blogging platform has built a strong reputation on its principled support for free speech, it now says it complies with censorship demands in order to ensure access to the bulk of WordPress.com for users within authoritarian countries, who would otherwise face more severe punishment from their Internet Service Provider (ISP).

The change in policy goes back to March of last year, when a ban on a single blog post led Turkish ISPs to censor all of WordPress in Turkey.

Via this March 20, 2015 tweet, WordPress initially seemed intent on fighting the block…

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…reaffirming its free speech bonafides via this January 28, 2016 Automattic entry, in which a spokesperson for WordPress stated that, without a U.S. court order, the company “refused to take action in response to the takedown demands from Turkey.”

Under our legal guidelines, we require a U.S. court order before proceeding with the removal of content from WordPress.com. To this point, we have refused to take action in response to the takedown demands from Turkey. After we receive notice of an order, Turkish ISPs, who are bound to obey the court orders, move to block the sites named in an order, making it unavailable to all visitors from Turkey without any further explanation.

However, last month WordPress admitted to having censored a Turkish political blog after receiving a complaint from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Per this undated Automattic entry, WordPress also recently started implementing blocks on request of Russian authorities, with the stated aim of “protecting all of the other 79 million WordPress.com sites.”

Today, when we receive a takedown demand from RSOC [Roskomnadzor], we review it and will often end up suspending the site in question because of a violation of our Terms of Service (for selling drugs or containing pornography, for example). In cases where the site does not violate our terms, we try to take the most limited and transparent actions available: blocking content so that it is unavailable only in Russia, and blocking only the content specified in the takedown demand (rather than the entire site). We take this action with the goal of protecting all of the other 79 million WordPress.com sites.

It’s possible to find out if WordPress has geo-blocked content in Russia by entering certain URLs – such as the one mentioned in the Roskomnadzor complaint – into a Russian proxy.

If WordPress has blocked the URL in question, you’ll see the following message, a nod to Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451:

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A list of WordPress blogs currently geo-blocked in Russia is available by clicking here.

See also: “Erdoğan Strikes Again,” my November 27, 2016 item re: WordPress censorship of Turkish political blog following court order by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

And: “WordPress Yields to Putin,” my December 3, 2016 item re: WordPress censorship of “Putin-Hitler” mock photo on request of Russian state media watchdog Roskomnadzor.

WordPress Yields to Putin

WordPress censors Putin-Hitler mock photo on request of Russian state media watchdog Roskomnadzor

A couple of months ago, Russia’s state media regulator Roskomnadzor sent a complaint to WordPress demanding that it remove a doctored photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin dressed as Hitler, claiming the image is “prohibited for public distribution in the Russian Federation.”

The offending image, via https://belgarathblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/vladimir_putin-als-hitler.jpg:

vladimir_putin-als-hitlerAccording to the Lumen Database, a website that collects takedown requests of online content, WordPress has taken action against the German blog that hosts the image.

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Roskomnadzor’s September 27, 2016 complaint, via the Lumen Database

When you enter the offending URL into a Russian proxy, you get this message

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…an HTTP error code approved late last year by the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG), and which has been endorsed by WordPress.

WordPress has developed a good reputation for its principled support of freedom of speech.

In 2008, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg stated that his company “supports free speech and doesn’t shut people down for ‘uncomfortable thoughts and ideas,’ in fact, we’re blocked in several countries because of that.”

However, WordPress recently changed its policy on geo-blocking. Via my blog last week, the blogging service said that it now complies with censorship demands in order to ensure access to the bulk of WordPress.com for users within authoritarian countries, who would otherwise face more drastic punishment from their Internet service provider.

A list of WordPress blogs currently geo-blocked in Russia is available by clicking here.


See also: “Erdoğan Strikes Again,” my November 27, 2016 item re: WordPress censorship of Turkish political blog following court order by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.