Heather Stewart, The Guardian’s
chief stenographer political editor, has copied and pasted a press release written a new article all about “Russian bots”. The trouble is she doesn’t seem to know what either of these words actually means.
The article – headlined “Russia spread fake news via Twitter bots after Salisbury poisoning – analysis” – is a direct lie from the outset, as it offers absolutely no “analysis”.
Instead she does this:
Russia used trolls and bots to unleash disinformation on to social media in the wake of the Salisbury poisoning, according to fresh Whitehall analysis. Government sources said experts had uncovered an increase of up to 4,000% in the spread of propaganda from Russia-based accounts since the attack,– many of which were identifiable as automated bots.
She simply directly quotes Whitehall via anonymous “sources”. Does she interrogate the veracity of these claims? No. Does she offer evidence to support them? Of course not. Does she question the agenda behind them? I doubt she even remembers how.
Ctrl-C, ctrl-V. It must be true the government says so.
This is modern media in a nutshell. This new take on the meaning of “journalism” has hurt the world in general and press in the specific. Refusal to abide by its rules has pushed important voices out of the mainstream – the careers of many decent people of principle – John Pilger and Seymour Hersh for example – are forced out into alternate sources.
Kowtowing to the government line has its own cost though – the unquestioning acceptance of government authority has a price – and very often it’s looking incredibly foolish.
Heather seems happy to pay this price.
She cites only two examples of “Russian bots” in her article, a revelation tainted only by the fact that neither of them are Russian and neither of them are bots.
Now, before we refute the specifics Ms Stewart’s bizarre claims, let’s take a look at the definition of a bot, from wikipedia:
An Internet Bot, also known as web robot, WWW robot or simply bot, is a software application that runs automated tasks (scripts) over the Internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone.
Simply put – bots are automated, internet-based software programs that do simple repetitive tasks faster and more efficiently than humans. It’s not a difficult concept.
Spamming ads? Bots.
Automatic likes/retweets? Bots.
Writing tweets that reflect complex political realities? NOT bots.
Heather clearly doesn’t know exactly what a “bot” is, and perhaps even worse, can’t even be bothered to do some incredibly easy research to familiarise herself with the term. The government says so, so it must be true. Copy. Paste.
So, who are these non-bots, you ask? Well…apparently there’s millions of them, but Heather only mentions two:
One bot, @Ian56789, was sending 100 posts a day during a 12-day period from 7 April, and reached 23 million users, before the account was suspended. It focused on claims that the chemical weapons attack on Douma had been falsified, using the hashtag #falseflag. Another, @Partisangirl, reached 61 million users with 2,300 posts over the same 12-day period.
Now, anybody who follows alt-news sites on twitter – or who pays attention to the Syria situation – is probably more than familiar with these two names.
Ian56789 is not a bot. Anybody who follows him can see that. Is he Russian? There’s nothing to indicate that, he claims to be a Brit living in the US, and his English is perfect. Take a look at this completely randomly chosen tweet as an example:
Fake excuse by @GuardianHeather printing pure lies about me.
Basic Journalism says you at least do basic research validating what you are about to print from at least two credible sources.
Parroting lies from KNOWN liars, War Criminals & NON credible sources is NOT Journalism. https://t.co/wmc3OJBxK2
— Ian56 (@Ian56789) April 20, 2018
There is nothing whatsoever to indicate he is “Russian”…except his opinions. Still, his account was suspended, because saying the wrong things has you branded an enemy in the land of the free. Thankfully he has since been reinstated.
However, that pales in comparison to the absurdity of listing Partisangirl as a “Russian bot”.
Partisangirl – or Maram Susli – is a real person. There can be no disagreement on that front. She gives interviews, she makes videos, there are hundreds of photographs of her. Only slightly less ridiculous than the idea she’s a “bot”, is the idea she’s “Russian”. She’s Syrian-Australian woman. She has a Syrian name, and a Syrian flag in her bio and talks – almost exclusively – about Syria.
Disregarding these established facts is bizarre, dishonest and incredibly insulting.
So why label these people “Russian” – when they’re probably not – and “bots”, when that’s patently absurd? Is it simply ignorance? Perhaps.
But in this age of focus groups and media relations and public image, words and language are carefully chosen. Is it not more likely that this is a buzz-phrase selected to make a point? It at once dehumanizes dissent and makes breaking the consensus a partisan act, rather than a rational one.
An angry citizen is awake, alert and thinking. Much, MUCH more of a threat than a “Russian bot”. A being with no humanity, no objectivity, who is aligned with our “enemy”. It’s the othering of unacceptable opinions. It’s simple, dishonest, and dangerous.
…and people like Heather do it without a second thought. Copy, paste, repeat.
It must be right, the government says so.
In that way it is the ultimate irony, people who have thrown away their individuality and sacrificed their analytical mind to the government-backed “truth”, labelling those who disagree as “bots”.
There’s only one party in this situation who “performs simple repetitive tasks” to order, there’s only one group of people who automatically believe their programming and follow it without question. There’s only one automaton here.
If anyone is a “bot”…it’s them, not us.
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