Civil war among ‘Russia disinformation’ crowd: How RT watchers fell out over not hating RT enough
You may remember a report last month from British academics revealing how “claims by the EU's diplomatic service that RT is spreading fake news about the coronavirus pandemic were misleading and based on bad methodology.” It came after many mainstream US/UK media outlets uncritically parroted allegations from East StratCom – and its ‘EUvsDisinfo’ information war wing – that “Russian pro-Kremlin media” was conducting a “significant disinformation campaign” to stoke “confusion, panic and fear” in the West and “aggravate the coronavirus pandemic crisis.”
“The extent of EUvsDisinfo’s misrepresentation of Russian Covid-19 media coverage is troubling,” wrote the report’s authors, Stephen Hutchings and Vera Tolz, professors of Russian Studies at the University of Manchester. They noted how “there is little evidence of systematic disinformation in RT's Covid-19 reporting. Despite some deficient practices much of the output was factual, consisting of aggregated Western news agencies reports.”
First, @StephenHutchin6 and Vera Tolz challenge EU-sponsored analyses of Russian media #COVID19 reporting. Careless ‘counter-disinformation’ research can become a source for disinformation itself, skewing policy decisions in the EU and the UK /2— Reframing Russia (@ReframingRussia) April 6, 2020
They also warned that “careless ‘counter-disinformation’ research can become a source for disinformation itself, skewing policy decisions in the EU and the UK,” before noting that, in terms of Covid-19 coverage, RT’s reporting practices “are undoubtedly superior to East StratCom’s own methods.”
East StratCom is part of the EEAS (the EU's diplomatic corps) and is designed to spread Brussels’ message/propaganda in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – countries Eurocrats have long wanted to pull into their orbit – as well as in Russia itself. Its EUvsDisinfo project is an absurd ‘information wars’ racket, where a large amount of its 3,000 contributors clearly hold strongly negative views of Russia. “Such volunteers, moreover, are operating in a post-Soviet space saturated (for very understandable reasons) by anti-Russian sentiments from which they are unlikely to be completely free,” Hutchings and Tolz noted. “By outsourcing vital research to volunteers working in ideologically fraught environments, EUvsDisinfo will inevitably struggle to present reliable, robust findings.”
Its output is mostly ridiculous, essentially attempting to label huge chunks of Russian-language comment or reportage which could be classed as even remotely incorrect as the views of the Russian state.
It's as ludicrous as some media monitor in Moscow watching the BBC, ITV and Sky, or listening to LBC and various local radio stations, and jotting down every guest's opinion as representative of London’s official outlook. EUvsDisinfo is awful trash, and I can't emphasise it enough. However, the sad thing is that bureaucrats and politicians who don't have expertise on Russia take it at face value. Which, of course, leads to distrust and helps strain relations. A couple of years ago, the Dutch government wanted it shut down, but sadly it still staggers on.
The honesty of Tolz and Hutchings – who are in no way pro-Russian – upset a lot of the usual suspects. After all, a lot of people are doing very well out of the ‘disinformation’ industry, and it has brought new vigour, and funding, to the think-tank racket. Predictably, many of them circled like vultures on social media, tearing into the authors.
This week Keir Giles, a lobbyist at Chatham House, landed on Reframing Russia’s own site with a blog post (of over 3,300 words) which smacked of something clearly intended to bring them down a peg or two. In 2018/19, Chatham House took six-figure sterling sums from George Soros and oil giants Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell, in addition to well over £1.5 million from the British government. And there were also payments from the ubiquitous US National Endowment for Democracy, plus arms makers BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin. In other words, organisations that require hostility with Moscow in order to survive and prosper. None of this is mentioned.
A term often wrongly used – and over-used – is ‘Orwellian’. However, just this once, let me lean on it, because it fits the bill. Titled ‘Defence Against Disinformation is a Team Sport’, Giles' analysis begins by saying that “despite the fact that both groups are notionally on the same side, the incident highlighted a polarisation of opinion on methods to counter disinformation.” But, despite his attempt to play neutral, it's clear which jersey he is wearing. After all, he said on Twitter that Reframing Russia's report was a “deeply flawed hit piece on EUvsDisinfo – so packed with straw men, misconceptions and implicit bias that it completely devalues any genuine findings it contains.”
Profoundly disappointing, but no longer surprising, to see @RUSI_org endorsing this deeply flawed hit piece on @EUvsDisinfo - so packed with straw men, misconceptions and implicit bias that it completely devalues any genuine findings it contains.1/ https://t.co/qPnqCuVWiA— Keir Giles (@KeirGiles) April 9, 2020
The intellectual dishonesty of Giles' argument is exposed right from the start when he mentions “activist group GorseFires Collectif,” who he claims are involved in “counter-disinformation activity.” Let's be clear: 'Gorsefires Collectif' is an anonymous Ukraine-focussed Twitter page which stalks, smears and harasses journalists it deems to be insufficiently supportive of Kiev. The nutter(s) running the account launched a bizarre attack on respected Canadian academic Paul Robinson last month that also alleged I was an FSB agent. The same crazy Twitter thread alleged the FSB had changed the spelling of my name in the mid-1990s, when I was at school in Ireland – around 15 years before I first set foot in Russia. That's how preposterous this outfit is, but Giles, who represents a wealthy British state-funded think tank, is citing it as a credible source in an attack on another institution.
I'll spare you a long assessment of the piece, which discredits itself right from the start, but I will draw your attention to the conclusion. “Mutual support is overdue: by seeking a cooperative, rather than adversarial, approach between players on the same side, defenders against malign influence can help mitigate the effects of propaganda outlets rather than providing them with material,” Giles writes.
In other words, the lobbyist is telling Hutchings and Tolz not to break ranks in the future and to remember which side they are supposed to be representing. Even if that side is clearly shooting itself in the foot by spreading ‘disinformation' in the name of fighting against it. He's also upset that RT reported on Reframing Russia's analysis of EUvsDisinfo. Thus, he basically takes more than 3,300 words to say what it's clear he wanted to state from the start: Objectivity in evaluation of Russian media could derail a gravy train which is keeping a lot of people in well-paid employment.Also on rt.com Censorship detected? Russian Embassy says NYT ‘refused’ to publish comparative Covid-19 death statistics in official’s letter
After all, once decision-makers realise that the ‘Russian disinformation’ racket is an almighty con, the cash spigot will quickly disappear, and its practitioners will be left with a redundant set of ‘skills’. They won't exactly be inundated with offers of work.
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