Category Archives: Politics

Political issues

Objectivity vs. neutrality on Gaza

 

Note: This post was originally written for openDemocracy.

The Palestine-Israel conflict poses a moral dilemma for journalists. But being objective does not necessarily mean being neutral, and being fair does not mean refraining from making a judgement.

Choosing sides

As reporters swarm the besieged streets of the shrinking Gaza strip, there has been an inundation of harrowing images and reports throwing Israel and its motives into utter disrepute. Palestinian mothers crying in anguish over the death of their children, families searching through rubble for survivors, hospitals littered with blood drenched casualties of the Israeli war machine – these images swell up inside us contempt for the perpetuators of such crimes.

Yet despite the international condemnation, the motives for these actions have been a hotly debated. I have even found it to be a polarising topic within my own circle of friends, despite most of them being strongly against the killing of innocent civilians. Was it the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers? Are they looking for tunnels or for revenge? Is Hamas rocket fire to blame?

Disregarding the constantly changing narrative (and the fact most of these reasons have been largely discredited), social media has been rife with accusations of propaganda from both sides. I myself have been accused of spamming pro-Palestinian articles on /r/worldnews – an internet community that has been targeted by pro-Israel groups such as the JIDF.

So the question remains – is it morally acceptable for reporters to pick a side? Certainly as journalists we have a duty to be impartial when reporting the facts, even though this can be argued to be a futile task. Any effort to disseminate news on a contentious issue will inherently cause accusations of media bias, “because journalists are human beings and journalism is not an exact science,” said Hilary Aked, writing for OpenDemocracy in 2012. “There is a great deal of truth in the assertion that to some extent one’s critique will depend on how the conflict is viewed,” she added.

We are emotional beings at our very core, and view all issues through the lens or prism of our own emotional sensibilities. And so it is of no surprise then that many of us turn to social media to express our outrage when we feel an injusticehas occurred. Quite simply, a significant majority of those who stand by the Palestinians do so because it is difficult to watch an injustice and not speak out. This is in itself a biological response, and is universal to humanity. For over a century now academics have studied this very issue, using anthropological and historical evidence to conclude that this sense of injustice is found everywhere, spanning across all cultures and periods of human history.

The process of evolution itself has carved this sense into humans. Those who witness others being subjected to injustice often respond as though it was an act of aggression towards themselves. This can be a powerful motivational condition. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote it in 1963: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Cognitive dissonance

Despite damning evidence of disproportionate aggression and international war crimes, many Israelis argue that they are the ones who have been demonised, and claim it is they who are in fact the victims of injustice. In turn many such persons choose to discredit opposing views as unduly partisan. But can it really be the case that those all over the world who all condemn the violence – international bodies, humanitarian organisations, world leaders, and so on – are simply liars, paid shills, or anti-Semitic?

In 1956, Leon Festinger and two colleagues released a classic work of social psychology that studied this very kind of unwarranted belief. When prophecy fails follows the story of a small cult that wholly committed themselves to an apocalyptic prophesy told by a woman named Dorothy Martin. She claimed to have received a message from a fictional planet, which revealed the world would end in a great flood before dawn on December 21, 1954. What they found was that some of the group became increasingly dogmatic in their beliefs when the supposed prophesy was unfulfilled. The authors described this as a coping mechanism, and was one of the first published cases of cognitive dissonance – the discomfort one feels when confronted by information that conflicts with or significantly alters their worldview.

Fast forward half a century – in 2013, Dan Kahan, a professor at Yale Law, gave compelling evidence to the source of this diminished ability to reason. His paper, entitled Motivated numeracy and enlightened self-government”, demonstrated hard evidence of motivated reasoning, a symptom of cognitive dissonance and part of this coping mechanism. His conclusion, as described by journalist Chris Mooney, is that partisanship “can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills…. [those] who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.”

Essentially, Kahan found that even when presented with the facts, motivated reasoning leads people to confirm what they already believe by ignoring contrary data. As summarised by Marty Kaplan, writing for AlterNet:

“It turns out that in the public realm, a lack of information isn’t the real problem. The hurdle is how our minds work, no matter how smart we think we are. We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalise what our emotions already want to believe.”

This finding is very problematic, for if we are to come to any kind of truth on this matter, or any issue in fact, we must open our hearts and minds to honest and open discourse. As objective observers we must accept that there is propaganda from both sides, but quite often this fact is used to validate unreasonable beliefs.

For instance, to assume Hamas have the same capability as Israel and its allies when it comes to disseminating propaganda seems wholly illogical. From government backed Hasbara to organisations such as CAMERA, this battle of hearts and minds has not been fought on a level playing field. It is only due to the concerted efforts of activists and the public at large that world opinion is now firmly on the side of the Palestinians. This change is largely attributed to the advent of the digital age and the feeling of injustice we have touched upon.

Impartial judgements

Some argue that as reporters we have a duty to remain neutral in such conflicts, and certainly, this is reflected in the ethics of journalism, particularly when it comes to broadcast in the UK. In his paper, Delivering trust: impartiality and objectivity in a digital age, Richard Sambrook, a professor of journalism at Cardiff University and BBC journalist for three decades, outlines some of the key issues surrounding objectivity after the advent of the internet and social media. In the papers abstract he states:

“The ideas of impartiality and objectivity – at the heart of serious news journalism for most of the last century – are now under pressure and even attack in the digital a…Today, in the digital age of plenty, notions of special responsibilities being placed on those with a public voice, and different approaches for print and broadcasting, are rapidly breaking down. As the disciplines of impartiality and objectivity disintegrate, there are increased signs of propaganda, entertainment and fiction seeping into journalism. Broadcasters, regulators, politicians, and journalists are struggling to make the solutions of the last century fit the changed media characteristics and conditions in the new century.”

Through the course of the paper Sambrook proposes a number of principles to help journalism adapt to a world that increasingly demands partisan reporting. He calls for “a growing need to encourage critical awareness of the media” within the public that equips them “with the knowledge and tools to understand what they are consuming”:

“There are currently serious concerns about the quality and practices of news media and their impact on public debate. These principles, supported by greater media literacy, can help us navigate in the new digital world of information abundance and deliver journalism that is trustworthy and fulfils its public purpose.”

Yet despite our need to place an emphasis on trust and objective reporting, we as human beings have a moral obligation to, and often feel a strong impulse to, put an end to perceived injustices perpetuated on innocent victims. Martin Bell, a BBC Foreign Correspondent during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, said: “You can be fair to everybody, but you can’t stand neutrally between good and evil.”

Sambrook writes that Martin embraced “bystander reporting” while avoiding moral equivalence between the opposing sides. He says:

“Impartiality does not have to strip reporting of moral judgement (as distinct from personal opinion) as long as there is strong evidence to support it…Independence of mind, clear sourcing and evidence, accuracy, openness, and honesty are all characteristics of impartiality as well – and none of these qualities are necessarily require a report to be morally agnostic…In the circumstances of genocide, or a climate of hate speech, it might be argued that the discipline of objectivity (if not impartiality) becomes even more important … [as these] encourage free debate.”

Being objective does not necessarily mean being neutral, and being fair does not mean refraining from making a judgement. While the two may be interlinked, when the facts are laid out in front of us, free of political spin and misleading narratives, the truth does not and should not allow us to remain impassive. Ultimately if we truly believe in a practicable solution to this war of attrition, we must be objective when looking at the facts, but also brave enough to speak out against the injustices these facts reveal.

As so eloquently put by Peter Benenson in 1961, the founder of human rights charity Amnesty International:

“Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find a report from somewhere in the world of someone being imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government … The newspaper reader feels a sickening sense of impotence. Yet if these feelings of disgust could be united into common action, something effective could be done.”

 

Local Elections 2014: Ed Miliband hails party’s ‘incredible’ council election victory outside Town Hall

Note: Written by Sebastian Mann and Suhail Patel

Labour leader Ed Miliband swept into Ilford town centre today to hail his party’s “incredible” victory in yesterday’s council election.

Labour leader Ed Miliband sticks to US political website RealClearPolitics

Labour leader Ed Miliband sticks to US political website RealClearPolitics

On the steps of Redbridge Town Hall, he told a small crowd but enthusiastic crowd he wanted to thank the local party for their hard work in the campaign and claimed the win came from a “deep desire for change” in the UK.

Labour learnt it had taken control of the council for the first time in its 50 year history this morning. The party gained 14 seats, meaning 35 of the borough’s 63 councillors are now red.

“I just want to say thanks again for this incredible, brilliant victory in Redbridge,” Mr Miliband told supporters inside Redbridge Town Hall after addressing crowds outside.

“I also want to say how proud I am of you because you’ve done something that’s never been done in the history of Redbridge.”

He told the Recorder: “I think that what happened is that [Cllr] Jas [Athwal] and his team showed the voters they can make a difference to people’s lives”, adding he thought their message would “resound” nationwide”.

Cllr Wes Streeting, Labour’s General Election candidate in the Ilford North constituency, tweeted: “I promised @Ed_Miliband we’d win Redbridge at our campaign launch and he promised to visit again if we did. Great to have him back.”

Kashif Ansar, a 21-year-old student from Goodmayes who heard the Labour leader’s address, said: “I am ecstatic that Labour has won and I think there is a bright future for Labour in the upcoming general election.”

Peter Ledwidth, who works in Ilford, added: “I voted for Labour yesterday. It’s great to see Labour in power but it is important that they actually start doing something and make sure there is change.”

Oxfam condemns government for increasing income inequality

Radio package created for Vox Radio (Featured by AudioBoo)

The government need to do more to curb rising income inequality across the UK, according to a new report published by Oxfam last week.

The charity condemned the government for cutting services for the poor, calling for an increase in progressive tax rates and a clamp down on offshore tax havens used by the rich elite.

Today, the five richest families in the UK are wealthier than the bottom 20 per cent of the entire population.

“There is global recognition that inequality is undermining our ability to achieve the social and environmental goals we want to accomplish,” said Faiza Shaheen, senior researcher at the new economics foundation.

The think tank argues that we should tackle inequality at a grassroots level, and calls for more to be done at an earlier stage to ensure people are paid a fair wage.

Adam Memon, head of economic research at Central Policy Research said the solution is not taxing the rich more.

“The vast majority of people, whether you’re on the right or left wing, want to reduce income inequality – It’s clearly a bad thing.

“If we’re looking to reduce income inequality it’s far more important to reduce the tax burden on those with lower incomes,” he added.

Last month, a study by TUC showed that in the last three years the gap between the top 10% and bottom 10% of earners in London rose by almost 5%.

In the last two decades the richest 0.1% has seen their income grow by more than £24,000 a year across the UK.

In comparison, the bottom 90 per cent experienced a real terms increase of less than £150 a year.

Speaking to The Daily Mail, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This growing pay gap is bad news for our economy and bad news for living standards.

“The picture is particularly bleak in London and the South East, but in areas like the Midlands, the North West and the East of England, a significant gulf has developed between top and bottom earners.

“Unless this trend stops now and more high-skilled jobs with decent pay are created, this worrying pattern is likely to become even more entrenched.”

London: Heated debate over social housing shortfall

A heated debate took place during the Mayors Question time at City Hall over the number of affordable homes being built across London.

Responding to a question asked by London Assembly Member Tom Copley, Mayor of London Boris Johnson claimed that he was doing more than previous governments to tackle the shortfall in affordable homes.

He said: “We are finally showing the guts and determination to get homes built across London in huge numbers.”

Boris claimed that during his first term the number of affordable homes has increased by 11,000 on average, compared to a 15,000 decrease under previous Labour Mayor Ken Livingston.

He also outlined plans to increase spending on social housing by £1.25 billion, promising to deliver over 100,000 homes in the next eight years.

However, Tom criticised the mayor’s statistics, citing GLA’s monitoring figures which show Labour councils have built twice as many affordable homes than the average Tory council since the last set of local elections in 2010.

“I sometimes think you hallucinate the figures” he said.

“Why are Tory boroughs performing so badly?”

In total, there were less than 50 affordable homes built in Tory controlled Kensington & Chelsea over the past four years, nearly twenty times less than the amount built in Labour controlled Southwark.

“In the league table of social houses delivered over the last four years, 9 out of the top 10 boroughs are Labour,” he added.

Conservative Assembly Member Richard Stacey, representing Wandsworth, was quick to point out his boroughs plan to build 1000 new affordable homes.

However, according to figures from the GLA, there have been less than 500 affordable homes built by the borough during the past three years.

In comparison, Labour run boroughs in Hackney have built more than three times as many affordable homes over the same time period.

Boris said: “The figures I’ve seen show huge numbers of affordable homes being built across London by all boroughs.

“Some people need to do more and we’re on their case.”

Conservative London Assembly Member Andrew Boff was concerned with the effect of a proposed cap on the sale of council houses by Labour.

Currently, the money raised in the sale of a council home is used to invest in new housing developments.

But critics argue that the Right-to-buy leads to privatisation of homes built especially for those on the lowest incomes, which are then put on the market to rent at full price.

This can lead to the gentrification of traditionally working class areas.

Writing for The Guardian, social affairs journalist Hannah Fearn said we must recognise “the need to retain homes as a local asset rather than letting them slip from grasp.

“Right-to-buy was designed for the 1980s, for the boom years; in bust we need something new, something flexible and something designed locally.”

The next Mayor’s Question Time is set to take place on Wednesday 11 June, and is open to the public.

Questions are published a week before the meeting on the GLA’s website.

RIP Tony Benn, one of Britain’s greatest socialist

Graphic made by me. Source

Graphic made by me. Feel free to use. Original

Almost a decade ago, when I was a young and ignorant 16-year-old, my economics teacher took me along with my class on a trip to hear Tony Benn speak. It was only in hindsight that I realise what she was attempting to teach us that day. After a cheeky-touch of Dutch courage during the intermission, I plucked up the nerve to ask him a question. While I no longer remember what I asked him, or what the proceeding answer was, it was an experience that has profoundly changed my life – an important link in a chain of events that has lead me to become an activist and a writer today. I went home that evening, and being inspired by what I had heard, began my exploration of the socialist ideals that had been the basis of Benn’s political and philosophical outlook for over six decades.

So it is of no surprise then that his passing should bring me, along with many millions in this great country, a deep sense of sorrow and mourning. Tony Benn was a man like any other – his life was a journey that took him from the warm bosom of middle class England to a staunch defender of the most marginalised in our society, and indeed, the world all-over. Deeply sceptical of government, war, capable of profound insight and courage, he was often at odds with people within his own party.

Speaking last year to the BBC, he said: “I am an example of someone who moved to the left as I got older. I have known many people who were very left-wing when they were young who ended up as Conservatives. But the experience of government made me realise that Labour was not engaged, as it said it was, in changing society but to make people change to get used to the society we had.”

Indeed, Benn was a devout proponent of the rights of the working class, democracy, and the socialist ideals that many in our country have now grown to treat with contempt. He wrote and lectured extensively on the topic, ranging from publishing diaries such as “Arguments for Socialism (1979)”, or his book entitled “Free Radical: New Century Essays”, a collection of his column’s for the Daily Star. He was never afraid to speak out against injustice, voicing his concern on issues such as civil liberties, corruption and the problems with the system of governance that presides over our nation.

In 1988 he wrote in his diaries: “…the UK is only superficially governed by MPs and the voters who elect them. Parliamentary democracy is, in truth, little more than a means of securing a periodical change in the management team, which is then allowed to preside over a system that remains in essence intact.”

Tony Benn: 'It's questionable whether we have a democracy'

Benn was also very critical of the press, comparing the mainstream media to the the power of the medieval Church, which “ensures that events of the day are always presented from the point of the view of those who enjoy economic privilege.” In one video dating back to 2009, Tony Benn defied the BBC’s sickening impotence during the crisis in Gaza at the time, repeatedly giving details of the DEC appeal himself during a live interview.

Watch Tony Benn’s lecture, “The Media and the Political Process”, to find out more about the power of the media  over politics and public understanding, spanning over five centuries.

Inaugural Tony Benn Lecture Bristol 2006 – The Media and the Political Process

Coupled with the recent loss of trade unionist Bob Crow, this has truly been a devastating week for the left in Britain. In a world where the ideological divide between the two major parties appears to be only superficial at best, it seems now more than ever we need decisive figures like Benn and Crow to inspire a new generation of left wing flag bearers.

Speaking to The Guardian in 2006, Tony said: “Mrs Thatcher was asked what was her greatest achievement, and she said New Labour, and I think she’s right.  The PM said when he became leader of the labour party New Labour is a new political party. Well I’m not a member of it, I’ve never had anything to do with it.

“For the first time in my life, the public are to the left of what is called the Labour government. They don’t want war, they don’t want privatisation, they don’t want pensioners on a means test, they don’t want students saddled with debt. And so far from feeling isolated, the public are in favour of many things the left have advocated.”

In 1929, CLR James, a famous socialist in his own right, wrote that while socialism “is to be attained by the will and energy of men, it will not be attained how and when men please. It is neither pious hope nor moral aspiration, but a new form of society which will arise for one reason and one only, the unavoidable decay of the old.”

And all around us this decay is taking place – riots sparked by increasing discontent with government corruption, the impotence of the main stream media, rocketing food prices and energy bills, a growing divide between the rich elite and the global poor – we no longer live in a world run in the interests of the majority. In fact, we never truly did. As long as the rights of men and women are eroded for the benefit of a few, the world will never know peace. And I hope that does not stir up feelings of apathy in you dear reader. But just in case it does, I leave you with this quote from our fallen comrade.

“It’s the same each time with progress. First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you. I think it’s all about campaigning for justice and peace, and if you do that, you get a lot of support.”

Rest in peace Tony Benn, may your legacy live on for many years to come.

*Note: Title changed to include “one of” at reader request.

Turkey: PM threatens to block Facebook and Youtube

Turkey’s Prime Minister has threatened to ban social networking sites where recent corruption leaks have gone viral.

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Source: Wikipedia

PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Source: Wikipedia

Late last Thursday, in a private interview with ATV television, Erdogan said: “We won’t allow the people to be devoured by YouTube, Facebook or others. Whatever steps need to be taken we will take them without wavering.”

“There are new steps we will take in that sphere after March 30 … including a ban [on YouTube, Facebook],” adding to the restrictions that have already been put in place.

Over a million people listened to the recordings within 12 hours, having first been posted to Soundcloud and shared primarily via social networks, where users also voiced their discontent about the Erodgan government.

In one of the leaked conversations, it appears as if Erdogan is instructing his son to dispose of hidden funds amid a corruption investigation.  While in another recording, Erdogan discusses easing zoning laws for a construction tycoon in exchange for two villas for his family.

President Abdullah Gul, a frequent social media user, said that despite the Prime Ministers threat, social media sites would not be blocked in Turkey.

“YouTube and Facebook are recognized platforms all over the world. A ban is out of the question.”

Controversial internet censorship

After the 2013 protests, where social media played a key part due to a media blackout, Erdogan has been attempting to tighten his government’s grip on the internet, drawing international criticism.

As early as June last year, Erdoğan accused “internal traitors and external collaborators” of orchestrating the protests using social media.

He said: “Social media was prepared for this, made equipped. The strongest advertising companies of our country, certain capital groups, the interest rate lobby, organisations on the inside and outside, hubs, they were ready, equipped for this.”

On 24 January 2014, access to SoundCloud, a popular audio sharing site, was blocked indefinitely by the Turkish government, partly due to the release of secretly recorded phone calls between the PM and his family, local politicians and businessmen.

Following the leaks, on 5 February 2014, the Turkish Parliament adopted a controversial new Internet law that sparked protests across Istanbul.

Thousands marched against the new “draconian” law which allows the government to block any website within 24 hours, without needing a court ruling, and requires Internet providers to store all data on web users’ activities for two years.

However, the law must be signed by the Turkish president Gül to come into effect. Erogan is under both domestic and foreign pressure not to ratify the legislation, which he claims are to make the internet “more safe and free”.

According to Engelliweb.com, 10,000 more websites have been blocked this year in Turkey compared to last year, bringing the total to over 40,000.

Speaking to The Guardian, Özgür Uçkan, member of the Alternative Informatics Association and professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, said: “The new internet law is catastrophic for Turkey.

“It makes censorship and surveillance legal in Turkey, which is contrary to our constitution and to all international conventions that Turkey is party to.”

Corruption in Turkey

Allegations of corruption first took place late last year, when on 17 December 2013, Istanbul’s Security Directory detained 47 people, including officials from Turkeys Housing Development Administration of Turkey, the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning, and the District Municipality of Fatih.

The police confiscated $17.5 million as money used in bribery during the investigation.

During the initial phase of the investigation, prosecutors accused 14 people of bribery, corruption, fraud, money laundering and smuggling gold. In total, 91 people were detained in the investigation, with 26 of them being arrested by the court.

A second wave of arrests soon followed, with several newspapers reporting that a new investigation was expected on 26 December, involving Prime Minister Erdoğan’s sons, Bilal and Burak, as well as certain Al-Qaeda affiliates from Saudi Arabia.

However, since the beginning of the investigation, the Turkish government has attempted to purge the police force, removing hundreds of police officers from their positions, including chiefs of the units dealing with financial crimes, smuggling and organised crime.

Prime Minister Erdoğan has described the corruption investigation as a “judicial coup” backed by foreigners and those jealous of his success.

One of those accused of orchestrating this scandal is US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, leader of the Gulen movement, a “pacifist, modern-minded” transnational religious and social movement.

In emailed comments to the Wall Street Journal in January 2014, Gülen said that “Turkish people … are upset that in the last two years democratic progress is now being reversed”, but denied being part of a plot to unseat the government.

Are viral videos the new propaganda?

Originally written for and published on www.planetivy.com

I Am a Ukrainian

A video of a blue-eyed woman asking westerners to petition their governments gained seven million views. But are these videos as innocent as they seem?

In a clip posted to YouTube last week, above, a pretty Ukrainian woman asked the world to react to the increasing violence in the Ukraine. Soon after the video went viral, amassing over seven million views at the time of writing. But all is not as it seems my friends, for while efforts on social media have sparked an international uproar, a counter video soon emerged, debunking the I Am a Ukrainian clip as a western-sponsored exercise in propaganda and linking the distributors of the video to the infamous Kony 2013 viral video.

'I am a Ukrainian' Video Exposed As Kony-Style Scam

So do these allegations hold any merit? While at first the term propaganda conjures up images of an inept North Korean government, western states also use propaganda to try and engineer public opinion, but in a much more subtle manner than Kim Jong-Un and his cronies. From the Egyptian Pharaohs to Nazi Germany, information has been used to great effect to the further the causes of the ruling classes. But what has changed is the means this propaganda is disseminated. While the internet is an unregulated platform for the sharing of information, it is precisely this difficultly in controlling what is said and shared that has involuntarily made us all propagandists.

The very strength of social media, to quickly spread information and organise vast swathes of people, is being used to proliferate staged videos, fake images and unsubstantiated rumours. Disinformation is an emerging problem on the web, thanks in part due to the sheer quantity of information being generated on social media sites. Reactions tend to be instantaneous and lacking in any deep analysis, or often even basic verification.

For example, the rising tensions in Venezuela were first predominantly reported through social media, due to a partial media blackout in the country. But what was shared was at times incredibly misleading. In the following picture, an injured government supporter from a year earlier is purported to be an anti-government protester from recent clashes.

Fake-Venezuela-Protest-Photo-3

This picture was shared nearly 240 times, without a single person realising that the post was a sham. In another tweet, a picture of a religious procession is re-captioned as a large group of anti-Muduro protesters, perpetuating the image of a nation in crisis to the outside world.

Fake-Venezuela-Protest-Photo-11

Every retweet has helped ingrain these misleading photos into the official narrative. We’re much more likely to believe something if it has been shared by people we know and trust, than if the video was endorsed and released by a politician or government as traditional propaganda was, which is what makes disinformation spread this way so insidious.

In one widely publicised instance in August last year, as part of a campaign to improve its image abroad, Israeli students were in effect paid to tweet pro-Israeli propaganda. The Netanyahu government offered to provide scholarships to hundreds of students in exchange for them making pro-Israel Facebook posts and tweets to foreign audiences. The students would not have to reveal they had been paid to do so.

According to historian and researcher Dr Peter Johnson, writing on propaganda in social media: “Such accounts operate very much in the black propaganda mould that was seen throughout the First and Second World Wars, deceptive propaganda that was issued under one guise but emanated from another source. This direct parallel demonstrates just how important social media is in the ongoing information war.”

While during the riots in Egypt last year, there were so many faked images circulating the internet that Facebook pages were set up with the goal of separating fact from fiction. In the video below, members of the Muslim Brotherhood are accused performing “street theatre”, faking death and injury during staged demonstrations while taking photos to be disseminated through the media.

Muslim Brotherhood pretend death and injury to deceive the world

Some governments have long realised the power of social media. China created its own Twitter-esque social media platform, Weibo, which is heavily censored and monitored for political dissidents. Meanwhile, the Snowden leaks have revealed that US has been developing sophisticated “sockpuppetting systems”, contracting a Californian company called Ntrepid to develop an “online persona management” system. On Monday, Glenn Greenwald published an entire GCHQ presentation detailing how the GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), a “dirty tricks” group, are attempting to infiltrate online communities, spreading propaganda and influencing online discussions.

IreV9dg

But it’s not just politically motivated hoaxes that are quickly spread through social media. One rumour that spread like wildfire back in 2012, debunked in this Guardian article, claimed that Samsung paid Apple a $1bn fine by sending over 30 trucks to Apple’s headquarters loaded with nickels. And viral marketers are seemingly infiltrating every corner of the web, with whole communities dedicated to weeding out posters, otherwise known as “paid shills”. Recently, a group of universities, led by the University of Sheffield, began developing a system that could automatically identify where a rumour originates and whether it is a reliable source that can be verified.

For a democracy to flourish we must have access to free and impartial information. Bandwagoning without all the facts can help spread dangerous lies which are then ultimately acted upon, often with disastrous consequences such as the Iraq War. It is imperative that we are cautious with what we choose to share online, keeping an air of scepticism regarding what we are told or hear on social media, until we can be certain where that information has come from. As Noam Chomsky wrote: “For those who stubbornly seek freedom around the world, there can be no more urgent task than to come to understand the mechanisms and practices of indoctrination.”

Andrew Gilligan’s unabashed Islamaphobia

The infamous London editor of the Sunday Telegraph has once again used a highly controversial issue to piggyback his anti-Muslim agenda

Andrew_gilligen

Andrew Gilligen, journalist, beside the Thames outside City Hall

In a recent article Gilligan accuses Lutfur Rahman, elected-mayor of Tower Hamlets,  of using his constitutional powers to favour associates in the sale of public land and grant giving. While these are serious allegations that seem to have some merit, Gilligan loses all credibility by bringing Islamist extremism and Lutfur’s religion into the picture. The first clue as to his real motive behind this piece lies in the subheading of the article;

Muslim mayor Lutfur Rahman in line of fire over public grants in Tower Hamlets, East London

Was there really a need to need to refer to him as a Muslim mayor?

While at first it may seem to be a reasonable description of the man, but if hypothetically speaking, Lutfur was a white Christian, you almost certainly wouldn’t describe him as a “Christian mayor” in an article subheading.

Clearly this man wrote this article with an agenda in mind.

In the second paragraph, he claims that a Lutfur has “close links to Islamic extremism”, completely unsubstantiated allegations routinely made by Gilligan.

Although there are serious problems with some of the things Rahman has done, Andrew Gilligan has consistently attempted to damage Rahman’s reputation as well as Ken Livingstone’s during the mayoral elections.

In 2010, following an interview with Lutfer in the Newstateman, Gilligan lashed out at Mehdi Hasan, for daring to let the man tell his side of the story.

Medhi responded with this article, in which he outlines how the Telegraph editor used tacit deception to create controversy.

Not only that, Gilligan was caught sockpuppetting to influence online debate, and has been known to be a tireless proponent of Boris Johnson, who subsequently gave him the role of Cycling Commissioner for London.

Medhi also exposed Gilliagan’s former employment with Press TV, a controversial publication known for spouting Iranian propaganda. Medhi concludes:

Isn’t that ironic? The man who obsesses about Islamists under every British bed is himself a paid, high-profile employee of an an openly Islamist government … Hilarious. And, of course, deeply hypocritical.

Even Lutfers opponenets, such as a member of the Tower Hamlets Labour party, felt unease about the wording of the story. A commenter going by the alias ringmaster_j, said:

Having just read the article, I must say that the islamophobic nature of a lot of the attacks against Lutfur really isn’t on. The point isn’t that he’s giving money to Islamic groups, or Bangladeshi groups – he’s giving money to his mates, his supporters.

While CressCrowbits, from the City of Westminster, stated that:

Attacks like this article which have such a strong anti-islamic undertone that are designed to appeal to those on the right who feel threatened by Muslims will backfire as Rahman’s side can show this as criticism of him being motivated by islamophobia, which will undermine legitimate criticism.

So essentially Gilligan has used the story of a corrupt elected-mayor to perpetuate a negative stereotype of Muslims as unabashed, morally reprehensible leaders. Not only does this detract from the real issue at hand, it gives Lutfur sympathisers ammunition against their critics.

But the real kicker is, Lutfur is just small fry compared to the government currently in power, including Andrew’s good pal Boris, ’cause these guys are just as guilty as Lutfur, more so even, when it comes to cronyism and misuse of public funds.

‘A more rigorous approach’ is needed to tackle anti-Muslim hate crime, says TELL MAMA

Originally published on The City Scoop

A batch of freedom of information requests revealed increasing levels of hate crimes against Muslims in the UK after the beheading of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, south-east London.

Picture of the Blackburn prayer hall facility in #Muslim graveyard that was spray-painted.

Picture of the Blackburn prayer hall facility in Muslim graveyard that was spray-painted.

Broken down, the figures show that  from September 2012 to September 2013, there has been a 68% increase in anti-Muslim hate crime in Tower Hamlets, a 475% increase in the London Borough of Greenwich, a 50% increase in Hackney, and a 200% increase in Lambeth.

However, anti-Muslim hate crimes in London are reducing from its peak after the murder of soldier Lee Rigby’s murder in May.

TELL MAMA, an organisation that records anti-Muslim attacks, said that from March 2012 to March 2013, they dealt with 582 anti-Muslim cases, but expected that figure to rise by almost 50% this year.

After the brutal racist killing of Stephen Lawrence, the Mcpaherson recommenations outlined a system where people to report hate crimes to an independent organisation such as TELL MAMA, who would then pass that information to the police so that the incidents could be formally logged.

Fiyaz Mujhal, director of Faith Matters, which runs the MAMA project, said: “The far right groups, particularly the EDL use the internet and social media to promote vast amounts of online hate.

The group claims that “a more rigorous approach” is needed to documenting cases of hate crime then the ones currently in place.

However, according the Guardian, a CPS spokeswoman said that online material must be more than “simply offensive” to be breaking the law.

They said: “In order to preserve the right to free speech the threshold for prosecution must be high and only communications that are grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false are prohibited by the legislation.

Earlier this year, a YouGov poll suggested that the number of those who believe clashes, such as the infamous Rigby event, are inevitable – up by a staggering 9% from last year.

There has also been a small increase in the proportion of people who believe British Muslims pose a serious threat to democracy, up to 34% on Thursday and Friday from 30% in November 2012.

Response to findings

Andrew Gillian, London editor of the Sunday Telegraph, said in June earlier this year, that most of the crimes reported by TELL MAMA did not constitute as violence again Muslims, as some of the incidents reported consisted of posts on facebook, twitter and various blogs.

According to /u/cantered, a poster on the internet forum Reddit, “If that’s a “hate crime” then half of /worldnews is about to be summoned before The Hague. And judging by some of the posts here the other half would be enthusiastically applauding.”

In the article Andrew states that 57 per cent of the incidents only took place online.

He said: “Tell Mama has no written definition of what it classes as an anti-Muslim incident, but has in the past adopted a wide definition.”

However, the interfaith organisation responded to the attacks by the Sunday Telegraph editor, posting a transcript of the whole conversation with the reporter along with a blog post clarifying issues raised in the article.

They said: “Keep the Focus the Victims, not TELL MAMA.

“Gilligan regards on-line hate incidents as being minor or peripheral in nature and he refers to them as such within the article. He does not describe the impact they have on people, the emotional disturbance that they may cause and the distress that they clearly cause to many victims.

“This material is pervasive in the on-line world and if we attempted to trawl through such postings, we would simply be inundated.”

When should hate speech be criminalised?

This incident brings to the forefront an important issue – the delicate balancing act between differrent rights.

Criminalising on-line communications can be a breach of our freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European convention of human rights.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

However, governments tend to recognize limits on this right, particularly when freedom of speech conflicts with other values or rights.

Limitations to freedom of speech can be applied to hate speech, as they can stoke racial tensions and incite violence, ultimately causing harm to individuals.

So the question remains, when does online hate speech become a criminal offence?

After the Woolwich incident, two men were arrested and held under the Public Order Act on suspicion of inciting racial or religious hatred, after ‘racist and anti-religious’ comments about death of Lee Rigby posted on Twitter.

Shaun Tuck, 26, was jailed for 12 weeks for encouraging people to ‘bomb and gas every mosque in England’ following the murder of Lee Rigby, as well as calling for Muslim children to be beheaded in a drunken Twitter rant.

What about the following tweets – should posting these be an indictable offence?

Muslim paedophile gangs dirty islamic scum, beheadings what next at least EDL stand up and be heard!!This is England

“#muslims..It works both ways you angry idiots. Get out of our countries and we might leave yours alone #milkers #edl”

“Not necessary2say ‘radical #Islam’ as this cult is by nature already radical! Needs2b outlawed! #Muslims #sharia #taqiyya #dhimmi #MSM #tcot”

“On the tv last night, most of the news had something to do with #muslims in some way…mostly bad of course! #islamisevil #terroristscum”

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Have your say in the comments section below.

Why Boris Johnson is wrong about equality

Originally published on The City Scoop

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It must be tough to get to the top, and you sure as hell can’t be thoughtless buffoon to get there. Hence, you might of been surprised by our mayors now infamous comments at a speech on Wednesday, addressing the Centre for Policy Studies in London, a free-market neoliberal British policy think tank.

Boris mocked the 16% “of our species” with an IQ below 85 and called for more to be done to help the 2% of the population who have an IQ above 130. He declared that inequality was essential to foster “the spirit of envy” and hailed greed as a “valuable spur to economic activity”.

I must admit however, I was not entirely shocked by the Mayors latest bout of pleb bashing, the Eton bred, Oxford Graduate in Classics, following a similar outburst last week. The Mayor was lambasted after he defended the rich, claiming they have been unfairly ostracised by the British public. According to Boris, life sure is tough being in the top 1%.

His most recent remarks reflect a very troubling trend, a deeply concerning misconception when it comes to causal link between poverty and intelligence. Boris’  ‘interesting’ remarks about the poor in this country shows there is something inherently wrong with the Mayors conception of equality.

While it’s not particularly out of the ordinary for our bumbling mayor to talk utter shite, his recent slew of comments attacking the poor and rallying behind this nations elite has left a sickly taste in my mouth. And I would assume the five million people living below the Mayors ‘London Living Wage’ were none too pleased by the remarks either.

Boris, who is a person known for not mincing his words, said that economic inequality is something that is inescapable, in a world where there are ‘natural differences’ between peoples aptitudes.

Boris is wrong about equality. Economic inequalities will not cease to exist, not because of inherent differences in natural ability, but as long as people hold onto this unwarranted assumption that poor people are somehow inherently inferior. While I am not condoning deterministic bred apathy, for us to understand the issue of income inequalities as they stand, we must understand what the reasons for these differences in ability are. Once we understand the reasons, we can attempt to find the solution. Simply accepting that inequalities will always exist is lazy and ill-conceived means at tackling the problem.

But it is easy for people like Boris to feel morally and intellectually superior when they have been educated to such a high standard. The former journalist, and now heavy weight political figure, has had ample opportunities in life that only a very small fraction of us could ever hope for. His success, despite what he may think or believe, is not necessarily due to his aptitude, but a combination of circumstances that propelled him into the limelight.

And it is not necessarily wealth that has been the key ingredient in this recipe for success, and I say this as someone who has grown up in relative poverty. During my childhood, all around me my peers and I were subject to obstacles that Boris could hardly fathom in his sheltered upbringing.

Could a man like Boris, suckling from the teats of aristocracy and privilege, ever know the frustration of growing up in poverty? Has he ever felt the anxiety of hearing parents bicker over unpaid bills? Has he ever had to share a 80p bag of chips for dinner with his family? Has Boris ever experienced bailiffs coming to his home as a child and taking all his possessions? Can he appreciate the stigma and low self-esteem that comes with being the child of poor, working class immigrants? Can he comprehend the difficulty of growing up with parents who can barely speak English? Has he lost a parent and been brought up on meagre benefits? Has he had family members succumb to a criminal life just to survive?

This kind of life, while it doesn’t necessarily close doors for you, it makes it so much more difficult to succeed, and this I have experienced first-hand.  While I concede these obstacles can be overcome with hard work, with determination, and most importantly, a whole lot of luck – for a lot of people, it just doesn’t pan out like that.

I have been incredibly fortunate in my life to have the right people around me, to give me guidance and help me understand this world and my place within it. But many of my peers, my friends, and even family members, have not been so fortunate; they have not been given the same nurturing and encouragement to reach their full potential. To hear Boris say that some humans are just inferior, I find deeply insulting, and incredibly frustrating. If we don’t believe in people, if we don’t give them the means to attain success, then how can we ever expect to irradiate inequality?

Yes, the problem is a natural difference Boris, but not in intelligence, but in privilege. Because I can guarantee you, if you’d gone to my school, located in a working class constituency in East London, and not the grand halls of thorough bred Eaton, you’d not be the same person you are now. If you’d grown up in poverty, you’d most certainly not be Mayor of London. And to be quite frank, I hope you aren’t for much longer, because the last thing we need in this country is another egocentric, self-righteous prick in office.