Category: Civil Liberties

British Medical Association proposals deemed passive ‘euthanasia by stealth’ for disabled people with degenerative illnesses

Image result for euthanasia 

The British Medical Association have put forward proposals in response to legal test cases in which judges ruled that qualified NHS staff and officials no longer required a court’s permission to withdraw artificial nutrition and hydration from those patients who are incapacitated and unable to communicate or feed themselves.

The Supreme Court justices’ decision in July supported the right of doctors to withdraw life-sustaining nutrition on their own authority, provided they had the explicit permission of the patient’s family or, where no family existed, medical proxy. If there is a disagreement and the decision is finely balanced, an application should still be made to the Court Of Protection. 

The Court of Protection is the specialist court for all issues relating to people who lack capacity to make specific decisions. The court can make decisions and appoint deputies to make decisions about someone’s property and financial affairs or their healthcare and personal welfare.

Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (which is also currently being re-written by the government), the court has the power to:

• make decisions about the personal welfare or property and financial affairs of people who lack the capacity to make such decisions themselves;
• make declarations about a person’s capacity to make a decision;
• make decisions in relation to serious medical treatment cases, which relate to providing, withdrawing or withholding treatment to a person who lacks capacity;
• authorise deprivation of liberty in relation to a person’s care and residence arrangements;
• appoint a deputy to make ongoing decisions on behalf of a person who lacks capacity, in relation to either the person’s personal welfare or property and financial affairs; and
• make decisions about a Lasting Power of Attorney or Enduring Power of Attorney, including whether the power is valid, objections to registration, the scope of the  attorney’s powers and the removal of attorney’s powers

According to the draft proposals currently being circulated by the British Medical Association (BMA), doctors should be granted the authority to end the lives not only of those patients who are near death or in vegetative or minimally conscious states but also “the much larger group of patients who have multiple co-morbidities, frailty or degenerative neurological conditions.”  

This also includes stroke patients and those with “rapidly progressing brain injury.”   

However, on the NHS site, it says: “In most cases, a minimally conscious state isn’t usually considered to be permanent until it’s lasted several years. 

“It’s impossible to predict the chances of someone in a state of impaired consciousness improving.” 

“Supportive treatment is used to give the best chance of natural improvement. 

“This can involve:

  • providing nutrition through a feeding tube 
  • making sure the person is moved regularly so they don’t develop pressure ulcers
  • gently exercising their joints to prevent them becoming tight
  • keeping their skin clean
  • managing their bowel and bladder (for example, using a tube known as a catheter to drain the bladder)
  • keeping their teeth and mouth clean
  • offering opportunities for periods of meaningful activity – such as listening to music or watching television, being shown pictures or hearing family members talking.” 

And importantly: “It’s impossible to predict the chances of someone in a state of impaired consciousness improving.”

The authors of the BMA document say: “Due to the degenerative nature of their condition, these patients are on an expected downward trajectory and will inevitably die, usually as a result of their underlying condition, although perhaps not imminently and could, potentially, go on living for many years.”

In the Executive Summary of the BMA document, it says that no second opinion need be obtained unless there is ‘reasonable doubt about the diagnosis or prognosis, or where the healthcare team has limited experience of the condition in question’ [ …] ‘it is not necessary to wait until (investigations) have been completed’ if there is not ‘sufficient evidence’ that they will ‘affect the outcome of the best interests assessment’ 

Nutrition and hydration delivered by tubes is currently legally defined as ‘medical treatment’ and not ‘basic ‘care’.  

There have been a number of legal developments that change the way such decisions about life-prolonging treatments are made, in addition to the recent court judgments and the government’s radical withdrawal of the Court of Protection’s Practice Direction 9E which addresses protections concerning serious medical treatment.

The direction was effectively abolished by the Ministry of Justice  and the changes came into effect last December. The Court of Protection in English law is a superior court of record created under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. It has jurisdiction over the property, financial affairs and personal welfare of people who lack mental capacity to make decisions for themselves. 

As the changes to protections were introduced via secondary legislation – a negative resolution statutory instrument – there was very little parliamentary scrutiny. Furthermore, as the instrument is subject to negative resolution procedure no statement regarding implications in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights was required from government ministers, nor was public consultation deemed necessary. An Impact Assessment has not been prepared for this instrument. 

The fact that the UK government had already made amendments to safeguarding laws to accommodate these proposals, which took effect last December, and now plan to make it easier to remove people’s liberty under the Mental Health Act without public consultation, has caused deep unease. In the latest proposed changes to the Mental Health Act, the government seems to think it is appropriate to consider restrictions of people’s liberties as part of their overall ‘care package.’

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The Law Society has issued a rather damning briefing on the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill 2018 that moved to a Lords committee stage, early last month.

In their briefing, the society say: “While agreeing that simplification is needed and acknowledging that there are resource constraints, these constraints are “insufficient justification for not implementing fully the safeguards recommended by the Law Commission.” 

It is in light of the most recent change in legislation that the British Medical Association (BMA) put forward  proposals that mean doctors may be permitted to end the lives of patients who may otherwise have survived for years, by the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration, without the need to go to court. While this reduces substantial cost to the NHS in terms of legal fees and in the prolonged treatment for some patients, not everyone is comfortable with these developments.

Writing critically about the legislation changes last year, Mohamed Y Rady and Joseph L. Verheijde say:

“(1) starvation and dehydration is certain to cause death without the presence of concurrent life-limiting disease or life-threatening illness and (2) the dying process by starvation and dehydration can last two to three weeks and can be distressful to both patients and their families. We disagree with the legal and clinical stipulation (post-Bland [a legal case]) that assisted nutrition and hydration (ANH) is medical treatment. Instead, as adopted in many other jurisdictions, we hold that ANH constitutes ‘a basic compassionate care service rendered to disabled persons’. 

“We think that court oversight is of practical importance for the safety of the general public and the protection of vulnerable disabled persons in society.

“We outline our rationale for advocating that court oversight should not be limited to Vegative State/Minimal Conscious State but should include any person.”

The authors added:  “The clinical guidelines have distinguished only three levels of disorders of consciousness (DOC) (coma, Vegative State (VG), and Minimal Conscious State (MCS) based on clinical assessment for the presence or absence of awareness and wakefulness. However, the diagnostic accuracy of the guidelines’ criteria and definitions of the three levels of DOC has not been validated scientifically. Cohort studies suggest that the rate of clinical misdiagnosis in VS is at least 41% and this error rate has not declined over the past 15 years.

“Incorrect diagnosis can result in a fatal outcome because of premature withdrawal of medical care and ANH. The clinical guidelines have not yet acknowledged the relevance of contemporary neuroscience advances to increase the diagnostic accuracy and expand on the available therapeutic options in DOC. Incorrect diagnosis and/or withholding of therapy in DOC violates the trust of families in the transparency and truthfulness of clinicians who are making life and death decisions on behalf of their loved ones.

“The clinical guidelines have recommended that a neurological diagnosis and prognosis should be made at least within four weeks after the onset of prolonged DOC to determine futility of continued medical care and ANH (Royal College of Physicians of London. Under these circumstances, we propose that court oversight can provide an additional safeguard by including independent neuroscience experts to confirm the clinical diagnosis and prognosis of DOC and to ensure that the decision-making processes are well-informed and as rigorous as possible. Life and death decisions in DOC should be supported by contemporary neuroscience, among other considerations, and not be based on outdated clinical guidelines.”

In summary, the authors propose that until such time as we have greater clarity and understanding about the disorders of consciousness, and about the legal and ethical principles to be applied, there remains a need for independent oversight and that applications to the court should continue to be obligatory in all cases where the withdrawal of ANH is proposed, at least for the time being.

Their paper can be read in full here.

The BMA proposals to withdraw nutrition and hydration tubes have also been condemned as ‘euthanasia by stealth’.

Dr Peter Saunders, from the group Care Not Killing, said: “This is a recipe for euthanasia by stealth, but all in the name of autonomy and best interests – the very worst kind of doctor paternalism justified on the grounds that the patient would have wanted it.

“There are conceivably tens of thousands of patients in England and Wales who are vulnerable to the use and abuse of this guidance.

“It will be almost impossible to work out what has happened in a given case and there are no legal mechanisms in place for bringing abusers to justice.”

The landmark Bland ruling set down that artificial nutrition and hydration by tube are not normal feeding but ‘medical treatment’. It also said that it might not be in a patient’s best interests to be treated, and if medical treatment is not in the best interests of a patient who cannot speak for themselves, it can be stopped. Tony Bland, a Liverpool football supporter was just twenty-two when he suffered severe brain damage in the crush at Hillsborough football stadium in April 1989. The court ruled that he should be allowed to die.

The BMA document was circulated, however, in June. This follows after a court ruling in 2017, which concluded that there was no requirement for court approval before removing patients’ nutrition and hydration tubes.

More recently in July, the country’s highest appeal court, the Supreme Court, ruled in the test case of a patient known only as ‘Y’ that doctors can decide a patient should die without reference to a court.

A spokesman for the BMA said that decisions surrounding the withdrawal of clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH) presented “clinical, ethical and legal challenges.” 

He added: “Following a number of legal developments, the BMA has been working with the Royal College of Physicians and the General Medical Council to produce guidance on best practice for health professionals when facing decisions about CANH.

“CANH is a form of medical treatment. The aim of medical treatment is not simply to prolong life at all costs, and the courts have been clear that in some circumstances it will not be in the best interests of the individual patients to receive it.

“Those making these decisions must do so in full dialogue with families to determine what is right for the individual patient, and of course, when there is any disagreement the court still has an important role to play.”

These proposals come at a time when health care has been subjected to increasing rationing. 

The BMA document says that the decisions on removing nutrition and hydration tubes should be taken by consultants for hospital patients, or GPs for those in nursing or residential homes or living in their own homes. It was suggested that families or friends should be consulted, usually through ‘best interests meetings’ set up to decide whether it would be better for a patient to live or die. However, the BMA suggested that family and friends should not have the final say on the matter.

In the Executive Summary, the BMA say that no second opinion need be obtained unless there is ‘reasonable doubt about the diagnosis or prognosis, or where the healthcare team has limited experience of the condition in question’ [ …] ‘it is not necessary to wait until (investigations) have been completed’ if there is not ‘sufficient evidence’ that they will ‘affect the outcome of the best interests assessment’ 

Shockingly, the BMA also propose that when patients die after the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration tubes, this should not be mentioned on death certificates. Instead only the underlying original condition should be given.

Professor Patrick Pullicino, from East Kent Hospitals University NHS Trust, said that this directs doctors to falsify death certificates. It tells doctors to put down the pre-existing condition and not that they died of dehydration. It will totally conceal the statistics of patients who are being dehydrated to death.”

Understandably, doctors and campaigners who are opposed to euthanasia and the deliberate termination of life by medical staff have condemned the proposals.

Pullicino, who is the consultant that helped expose the controversial hospital deaths under the discredited Liverpool Care Pathway, said the BMA plan was ‘terrible’. 

He added: “It codifies current practices of withdrawing food and fluid at the end of life and thereby encourages it.

“It facilitates the extension of end-of-life pathways to people with neurological diseases who are not dying, which is a very negative thing because there are a lot of disabled neurological patients.

“It perpetuates the myth of ‘best interests’, which has been shown to be erroneous and reflective of members’ views and not of the real best interests of the patients.”

I agree. My inital thoughts are that we need to guarantee people with disabilities have access to high quality palliative care. We need to have a process which reviews every incidence of proposed euthanasia, and that panel needs to include people with disabilities. We need to ensure that family members and service providers or anyone else who will benefit financially cannot abuse any application for end of life withdrawal of clinically assisted nutrition and hydration.

We also need to ensure the absolute transparency and accountability of decision-makers, which must include an accurate and honest record of cause of death on death certificates. Coroners have a duty to prevent future deaths, where medical mistakes have been made.

There is no clear definition of ‘degenerative diseases’ in the BMA document. Some illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus and other autoimmune mediated diseases, for example, may be progressive. Several of these illnesses may affect the neurological system. Most of the treatments for this group of disorders are experimental. People can improve over time, with or without some treatments, following periods of being critical ill. Many of the treatments are only prescribed as a last resort, as they are prohibitively expensive (biologics in particular) especially at a time of heavy NHS funding cuts. The outcomes of these diseases are widely variable from one person to the next. People may have indefinite remissions after years of being seriously ill. 

Even if these types of disease are not currently included in the BMA guidelines, complications or co-morbidities and frailty arising over the course of an illness may be.  

What guarantee do we have that the categories won’t expand over time?

The legislative changes have been couched in terms of ‘saving money’. The purpose of the NHS is to save lives. Everyone has the basic right to life, that must not be contingent on the ideological preferences of a ‘small state’ neoliberal government. ‘Best interests’ are not an political category, nor are they open to ideological interpretation. 

The UK government’s brand of ideological paternalism towards poor people claiming welfare support, for example, involves the removal of the means of meeting basic survival needs as a punishment in the form of sanctions, also considered to be in people’s ‘best interests’.

Unemployment itself has been redefined as a psychological or character disorder over the last few years, and the welfare state has become a political environment for administering discipline, which has shifted it away from the original purpose of providing basic support and alleviating poverty. Behavioural economics has contributed to bolstering this perspective by pathologising people who need support from publicly funded public services via claims of ‘cognitive deficits’ of poor people, rather than acknowledging the structural explanations of poverty.  Perish the thought that a socioeconomic system founded on competition would foster inequality. 

In healthcare there has been a shift towards ‘behavioural medicine’ too, apparent in the controversial PACE trial and a general emphasis on people’s ‘lifestyle choices,’ and personal responsibility. However these are extremely overly simplistic ideolological narratives that have not emerged because of robust empirical evidence. Public services were not originally designed to punish poor people who need them. Yet the withdrawal of the means of citizens meeting their basic survival needs seems to have become normalised. Pathologising and punishing people who need the support of public services has somehow become acceptable. 

The increasing rationing of treatments within the NHS and the neoliberal logic underpinning this is also a cause for concern. People who need support from any public service are subjected to increasing conditionality and rationing in an era of neoliberal austerity.

A spokesman for the BMA said that decisions surrounding the withdrawal of clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH) presented “clinical, ethical and legal challenges.” 

He added: “Following a number of legal developments, the BMA has been working with the Royal College of Physicians and the General Medical Council to produce guidance on best practice for health professionals when facing decisions about CANH.

“CANH is a form of medical treatment. The aim of medical treatment is not simply to prolong life at all costs, and the courts have been clear that in some circumstances it will not be in the best interests of the individual patients to receive it.

Those making these decisions must do so in full dialogue with families to determine what is right for the individual patient, and of course, when there is any disagreement the court still has an important role to play.

“We shared the draft guidance in confidence with legal and health professionals and organisations and patient support groups to seek their views. The final version will reflect last month’s Supreme Court judgment when it is published this year.” 

The guidance says it is based on the current legal position which it defines as follows:

  • Clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH) – essentially food and fluids by a fine tube through the nose or through the skin into the stomach – is a form of medical treatment
  • Treatment should only be provided when it is in a patient’s ‘best interests’
  • Decision makers should start from the presumption that it is in a patient’s best interests to receive life-sustaining treatment but that presumption may be overturned in individual cases
  • All decisions should be made in accordance with the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (which the government is proposing to amend).

The 77-page ‘confidential’ document, which is currently out for ‘consultation’ (although only to a few selected individuals), has been prepared by the BMA in conjunction with the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the doctors’ regulatory authority, the General Medical Council (GMC). It will not be open for public consultation at any point before publication later in the autumn.

The draft guidance, which builds on case and statute law and on previous practice guidelines, has huge implications for the care of some of the most vulnerable people in England and Wales.

However, it does not permit assisted dying – which is when a patient wants to end their life. British parliaments have consistently refused to legalise active euthanasia or assisted suicide for people with a quality of life they would not find ‘acceptable’ or would not ‘have wanted’. The BMA is proposing that doctors, not patients should make the choice to end a life, and that to end lives by starvation and dehydration, rather than with a lethal injection, is somehow perfectly acceptable.

So acceptable in fact that the BMA propose starvation and dehydration or withdrawal of care (or treatment if you wish) should be left off the death certificate, suggesting instead that the ‘underlying medical condition’ should be recorded as the cause of death. This suggestion does not inspire confidence in transparency and accountability concerning such fundamentally irreversible medical decisions, since the record of death hides errors in judgment and diagnoses, prevents scrutiny and prevents coroners from fulfilling the mandatory obligation to ‘prevent future deaths’ in the case of medical incompetence, negligence, abuse, deceit and error.

 


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More allegations of Tory election fraud, now we need to talk about democracy

The Conservative Party are facing another investigation from the Electoral Commission following evidenced allegations that they operated a secret call centre during the general election campaign, breaching electoral law, an undercover investigation by Channel 4 News has revealed. 

An undercover reporter working for Channel 4 News secured work at Blue Telecoms, a company in Neath, South Wales. In an area plagued by unemployment and low wages, the call centre hired up to a hundred people on zero-hours contracts. For weeks, they contacted thousands of potential voters in marginal seats across the UK. 

The hired callers were told to say they were working for a market research company called “Axe Research”. No such company is registered in England and Wales. Furthermore, callers were instructed to say that the call centre was situated in Cardiff, rather than Neath.

The investigation has uncovered underhand and potentially unlawful practices at the centre, in calls made on behalf of the Conservative Party. These allegations include:

Paid canvassing on behalf of Conservative election candidates – illegal under election law.

● Political cold calling to prohibited numbers

● Misleading calls claiming to be from an “independent market research company” which does not appear to exist

The Conservative Party have admitted it had commissioned Blue Telecoms to carry out “market research and direct marketing calls” during the campaign, and insisted the calls were legal.

A Conservative spokesman said: “Political parties of all colours pay for market research and direct marketing calls. All the scripts supplied by the party for these calls are compliant with data protection and information law.”

Under the Representation of the People Act, it is illegal to employ someone “for payment or promise of payment as a canvasser for the purpose of promoting or procuring a candidate’s election”.

Call centre employees working on behalf of the party used a script that certainly appeared to canvass for support on film, rather than conduct market research. On the day of the election, call centre employees contacted voters to promote individual candidates.

Anya Proops, a QC specialising in information law, told Channel 4 that political parties had to ensure that third parties working on their behalf followed the law.

“It’s an illegal practice, it’s prohibited under the legislation and in so far as it’s something which has tainted the overall result in favour of a political candidate, then it can void that result.” 

Blue Telecoms is run by Sascha Lopez. He told The Guardian: “In relation to the Conservative party project, I am unable to comment on the content of the scripts or calls to TPS [Telephone Preference Service] numbers, as the scripts and lists of who to call and when to call were given to us by Conservative campaign HQ in London and were not influenced by my team.”

However, a whistleblower at the call centre told Channel 4 News that they had been making potentially unlawful phone calls to voters. 

Undecided voters were fed key Conservative campaign messages, including references to the Brexit negotiations and warnings about a hung parliament.

On the day that voters went to the polls, undecided voters were told that: “the election result in your marginal constituency is going to be very close between Theresa May’s Conservatives and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. Callers were also recorded quoting media articles that were pro-Conservative. Operating from a script, the staff claimed they were carrying out calls for “market research” and “polling”. 

One caller is recorded saying: “It was reported in the Daily Mirror in September last year that Jeremy Corbyn is not concerned about the numbers of people coming to live in the UK and it was reported on Sky News this year that Theresa May has restated her pledge to reduce net Migration.”

People were then asked: “Just thinking about these reports in the media and the reports that you live in a marginal constituency that may determine who is prime minister. So does knowing that you live in a marginal constituency that will determine who is prime minister for the Brexit negotiations, does that make you a lot more likely to vote for Theresa May’s Conservative candidate or a little more likely to vote for Theresa May’s Conservative candidate, or are you still unsure, or does it not make a difference?”

The broadcaster’s evidence suggests that on the day of the election, staff called voters in 10 marginal seats, including Bridgend, Gower, Clwyd South and Wrexham.

As the election campaign started, the information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, wrote to all the major political parties reminding them of the law around telephone calls and data protection. She said that calling voters to promote a political party was “direct marketing” and was regulated by law.

A week before the election, the same call centre staff started saying they were calling on behalf of Theresa May’s Conservatives.

The Conservative party said the call centre was conducting “market research” on its behalf, and was not canvassing for votes. The call centre confirmed it was employed by the party, but has so far denied canvassing on its behalf. 

The Channel 4 undercover reporter has captured evidence that certainly seems to refute that claim. 

The use of ‘big data’ and psychographic targeting

Teams of statisticians and behavioural psychologists who subscribe to the burgeoning practice of “psycho­graphic targeting” have designed their own version of a Myers-Briggs personality test. The original test explores “the basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgement.”

The test data is supplemented by recent issue surveys, and information from online surveilance, together they are used to categorise political supporters, who then receive psychologically tailored canvassing messages, social media targeting, phone calls and doorstep visits. The micro-targeting of voters has been around for a while, but the Conservative operation has deepened the intensity of the effort and the use of vast resources of psychological data.

This is the campaign approach from a government that claims to advocate a “small state” and “minimal interventions”. However the methods being used which entail the manipulation and management of public perceptions and voting behaviours resemble those of authoritarian regimes, not a healthy liberal democracy. 

Authoritarian propagandists attempt to convey power by defining reality. The reality they portray is usually very simple. The account of reality is offered with the primary goal of switching voters’ value systems to align with the authoritarian value system.

This whole approach is the logical conclusion of the libertarian paternalists‘ “behavioural change” agenda that has been embedded in policies designed by the nudge unit since 2010 in the UK. The political misuse of psychology has been disguised as some kind of technocratic “fix” for a failing neoliberal paradigm, and paraded as neutral “science”. However, its role as an authoritarian prop for an ideological imposition on the population has always been apparent to some of us, especially given the more visible evidence of political narratives and the stage management of our democracy via an extremely manipulative mainstream media over recent years.

The Conservatives’ behaviour change agenda is designed to align citizen’s perceptions and behaviours with neoliberal ideology and the interests of the state. However, in democratic societies, governments are traditionally elected to reflect and meet public needs. The use of “behaviour change” policy involves the state acting upon individuals, and instructing them how they must be. This is profoundly undemocratic. In fact it turns democracy completely on its head. 

A dark message for democracy

Political “dark” advertising that is only seen by its intended recipients is a much greater cause for concern than “fake news” in the spread of misinformation, because it is invisible to everyone but the person being targeted. This means that the individually tailored messages are not open to public scrutiny, nor are they fact checked.

A further problem is that no-one is monitoring the impact of the tailored messages and the potential to cause harm to individuals. The dark adverts are designed to exploit people’s psychological vulnerabilities, using personality profiling, which is controversial in itself. Intentionally generating and manipulating fear and anxiety to influence political outcomes isn’t a new thing. Despots have been using fear and slightly less subtle types of citizen “behaviour change” programmes for a long time. 

The right wing media’s blatant propaganda approach to election campaigning on behalf of the Tories had already contributed significantly to a serious erosion of democratic norms in the UK, the undermining of public trust, to such an extent that profoundly anti-democratic alternatives suddenly seem perfectly acceptable here.

The reality is that often, authoritarians construct an incongruent, flimsy and meaningless language of democracy in order to erect a fact proof screen around an undemocratic reality.  They offer a lot of glittering generalities to the public. However, those apparently incoherent, meaningless slogans are especially designed to signal intents to groups from which the government wants to gain approval. Dog whistling and wedge issues are used extensively by the right.  

Dog whistling is closely associated with a broader wedge strategy, whereby the political party introduces a divisive or controversial social issue into a campaign, aligning its own stance with the dissenting faction of its opponent party, with the goal of causing vitriolic debate inside the opposing party, defection of its supporters, and the legitimising of sentiment which had previously been considered inappropriate. Political campaigns use wedge issues to exploit tension within a targeted population, and undermine unity. 

In light of this, it’s hardly a shocking revelation that an authoritarian government is also using highly tailored and underhanded “dark adverts” to target individuals online, on the basis of information gathered about them and then applied to a process of extensive psychological profiling in order to influence voting behaviours, and the election outcome.

UK voters are being targeted with highly specific and manipulative messages in an attempt to influence their vote.

The shadowy world of online political advertising has until recently gone largely unmonitored, despite the huge power and reach of Facebook and despite social media messaging now thought to have contributed to the election of Donald Trump and the Vote Leave victory.

The new forms of psychological electioneering are invisible to all but the individual people they are designed to reach and influence. 

During the EU referendum, Vote Leave spent a whopping 98 per cent of its £6.8m budget on digital advertising, mostly via Facebook. In the 2015 election, the Conservatives spent £1.2m on digital campaigning, compared with Labour’s £160,000. This meant that the Conservatives reached 17 million people per week, while Labour reached only 16 million in their best month. Facebook claimed that the Conservatives had been able to serve adverts to 80 cent of the site’s users in key marginals. It also boasted that the company “played a part on a highly targeted campaign, helping the Conservatives to speak to the right people over and over again.”

The private companies and individuals who are stage managing our democracy

Dr Simon Moores, visiting lecturer in the applied sciences and computing department at Canterbury Christ Church University and a technology ambassador under the Blair government, said the Information Commisioners Office’s recent decision to shine a light on the use of big data in politics was timely. He said:

“A rapid convergence in the data mining, algorithmic and granular analytics capabilities of companies like Cambridge Analytica and Facebook is creating powerful, unregulated and opaque ‘intelligence platforms’. In turn, these can have enormous influence to affect what we learn, how we feel, and how we vote. The algorithms they may produce are frequently hidden from scrutiny and we see only the results of any insights they might choose to publish.”

He goes on to say: ”They were using 40-50,000 different variants of an ad every day that were continuously measuring responses and then adapting and evolving based on that response.”

Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) is a British behavioural science company. The SCL Group, that once advised Nato on so-called “psy-ops”, is a private British behavioural research and strategic communication company. The company describes itself as “global election management agency”.  SCL’s approach to propaganda is based upon a methodology developed by the associated Behavioural Dynamics Institute (BDI). Nigel Oakes founded the latter and also set up Strategic Communication Laboratories and using the new methodology from BDI, ran election campaigns and national communication campaigns for a broad variety of international governments. BDI say: “The goal of the BDI is to establish Behavioural Dynamics as a discipline for the study of group behaviour change.”

There isn’t much information around about BDI‘s connection with military operations, though links with NATO are well-established – see Countering propaganda: NATO spearheads use of behavioural change science, for example. From the article: “Target Audience Analysis, a scientific application developed by the UK based Behavioural Dynamics Institute, that involves a comprehensive study of audience groups and forms the basis for interventions aimed at reinforcing or changing attitudes and behaviour.”

SCL on the other hand, has a clearly defined defence and military division who: “Target Audience Analysis, a scientific application developed by the UK based Behavioural Dynamics Institute, that involves a comprehensive study of audience groups and forms the basis for interventions aimed at reinforcing or changing attitudes and behaviour.”

SCL has different “verticals” in politics, military and commercial operations. All of those operations are based on the same methodology (Target Audience Analysis) and, as far as can be discerned from the outside, SCL and affiliates have very obscure corporate structures with confusing ownership.

In the United States, SCL has gained public recognition mainly though its affiliated corporation Cambridge Analytica (CA). It was created in 2013 as an offshoot of its British parent company (the SCL Group,) to participate in US politics. In 2014, CA was involved in 44 US political races. Their site says: Cambridge Analytica uses data to change audience behavior.” 

And:

PERSUASION

“More effectively engage and persuade voters using specially tailored language and visual ad combinations crafted with insights gleaned from behavioral understandings of your electorate.”

And: “Leveraging CA’s massive team of data scientists and academics, CA is able to provide optimal audience segments based on big data and psychographic modeling. Then, using a sophisticated electronic data delivery system, CA is able to provide TV advertising campaign data that may be used to inform media buyers about shows that have the highest concentrations of target audiences and the least amount of waste; all of which leading to higher media ROI [return on investment] and more voter conversions.”

The company is heavily funded by the family of Robert Mercer, an American hedge-fund billionaire. I’ve mentioned Mercer in a previous article about the right’s undue influence on the media and on voting behaviour. Mercer made his money as a pioneer in the field of Computational Linguistics.

Mercer later became joint CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets. 

One of its funds, Medallion, which manages only its employees’ money, is the most successful in the world – generating $55bn so far. And since 2010, Mercer has donated $45m to different political campaigns – all Republican – and another $50m to non-profits – all right wing, ultra-conservative. This is a billionaire who is trying to reshape the world according to his personal interests, beliefs, wishes and wont. He is an advocate of the neoliberal right, who seek to combine a market economy and economic deregulation with the traditional right wing beliefs in patriotism, élitism, and law and order, delivered within an authoritarian framework. Mercer is known for his anti-welfare and right libertarian views.

To give you a flavour of Mercer’s interests, you only need to follow the money trail: he funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute, and he likes to disrupt the mainstream media. In this aim, he is helped by his close associate Steve Bannon, self-declared “economic nationalist”, Trump’s campaign manager and now chief strategist. The money he gives to the Media Research Center, with its paranoid, anti-progressive mission of correcting “liberal bias” is just one of his pet media projects. He has also worked as vice president of Cambridge Analytica‘s board, the private data-analytics that is owned largely by the Mercer family

Mercer and his family are major donors to Conservative political causes such as Breitbart News. He is the principal benefactor of the Make America Number 1 political action committee (Super PAC). Around 2012, Mercer reportedly invested $5 million in the British data science company, the SCL Group. Most political campaigns run highly sophisticated micro-targeting efforts to locate voters. SCL promised much more, claiming to be able to manipulate voter behaviour through psychographic modeling. This was precisely the kind of work Mercer values.

SCL claimed to be able to formulate complex psychological profiles of voters. These, say the company, would be used to tailor the most persuasive possible message, acting on that voter’s personality traits, hopes or fears.

Of course Mercer was a major supporter of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for president and Brexit in the UK. Mercer donated the services of the data analytics company Cambridge Analytica to Nigel Farage and UKIP. The company was able to “advise” and influence Leave.eu through harvesting data from people’s Facebook profiles in order to target them with individualised persuasive messages to vote for Brexit. However, Leave.eu did not inform the UK electoral commission of the donation, contrary to the law which demands that all donations valued over £7,500 must be reported. 

When SCL Elections formed Cambridge Analytica in 2013, the company hired researchers from Cambridge University, hence the name. CA collects data on voters using sources such as demographics, consumer behaviour, internet activity, and other public and private sources. CA is using psychological data derived from millions of Facebook users, largely without users’ permission or knowledge. The company is also trying to change people’s perceptions and behaviours without their consent.

The company maintains offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., and London.

Cambridge Analytica claim to predict not just peoples’ voting intentions and preferences, but also their personality types. The company is proprietorial about its precise methods, but says large-scale research into personality types, based on hundreds of thousands of interviews with citizens, enables them to chart voters against five main personality types – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. With its head office in London, the company is “A global election management agency, skilled in applying behavioural modeling and microtargeting solutions to political campaigns.”

The marketisation of democracy: the highest bidder wins all, while claiming to speak for the “ordinary person”

Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s chief strategist and the intellectual force behind his nationalist agenda, said in February that the new administration is locked in an unending battle against the media and other globalist forces to “deconstruct” an “outdated system of governance”. Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post writes:

“’They’re going to continue to fight,’” Bannon said of the media, which he repeatedly described as ‘the opposition party,’ and other forces he sees as standing in the president’s way. ‘If you think they are giving you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.’

Atop Trump’s agenda, Bannon said, was the ‘deconstruction of the administrative state’ — meaning a system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that the president and his advisers believe stymie economic growth and infringe upon one’s sovereignty.

For those who doubted Trump-Bannon’s determination to destroy the liberal international order that has kept world war at bay and promoted global prosperity since the end of World War II, this will come as a rude awakening. Bannon’s simultaneous attack on the media suggests that it is not simply about trade or immigration policy.”

So data technology, surveilance, psychology and social media and manipulative messaging campaigns are being combined in a powerful new way to sway opinions and win elections without people’s knowledge. In essence, a new, dark, subliminal propaganda war is being waged against citizens by those who wield power, serving the narrow interests of those who do and who are funded by a hidden few who want to weild power also.

Lynton Crosby has been a close advisor in the Conservative election campaigns of Australia, Canada and the UK, and is well known for his racist dog whistling and wedge strategies, influential at an international level.

“In a campaign, what you try to do is either change or reinforce some perceptions that people have in order to influence their behaviour,” says Crosby. 

Crosby’s emphasis is on “below the radar” campaigning, and the targeting of marginal constituencies with highly localised campaigning, latching on to local issues and personalities. To find such divisive and potentially diversionary issues, Crosby’s business partner Mark Textor runs focus groups to find which social groups to target with what questions. Crosby is said to focus on delivering simple messages, targeting marginal constituencies and the use of lots of polls and data. 

 Lynton Crosby, second left, at the party’s annual conference in 2015 with, from left, Lord Feldman, Jim Messina (former Obama campaign chief also hired by the Tories) and then party chairman Grant Shapps. Photograph: David Hartley/Rex

“In a campaign, what you try to do is either change or reinforce some perceptions that people have in order to influence their behaviour,” Crosby says.

Their site commentary highlights whose “democratic” interests Crosby and Textor serve:

“We combine decades of experience in research, political campaigns, strategic communications, media, and corporate intelligence to deliver winning strategies at the highest levels of business and government.

Having worked on successful election campaigns across four continents, we understand the need for timely, actionable intelligence, so our clients can focus the right message and resources on their most persuadable ‘swing voters’ to get the results they want.”

Note the reference to “behaviour changing messages”.

textor

Crosby Textor also claim that: “the team are specialists in advising major companies in how to position themselves to ensure they are integral to government decision-making.”

It was Crosby that created the campaign for the Conservatives with the slogan “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?”: a series of posters, billboards, TV commercials and direct mail pieces with messages such as “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration” and “how would you feel if a bloke on early release attacked your daughter?” focused on hot-button issues like “dirty” hospitals, landgrabs by “gypsies” and restraints on police behaviour.

In April 2016, Mayor of London and Conservative, MP Boris Johnson, was accused of “dog whistle racism” by Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and Labour MP John McDonnell, when Johnson suggested US President Barack Obama held a grudge against the United Kingdom due to his “ancestral dislike of the British Empire” as a result of his “part-Kenyan” heritage after Obama expressed his support for the UK to vote to remain in the European Union ahead of the UK’s referendum on EU membership. Crosby also tried to link Sadiq Khan with terrorist organisations –  the Conservative mayoral candidate’s campaign, was run by Crosby Textor

Mark Textor, co-founder of the private company, was mentored by the late Richard Wirthlin, a pollster who was chief strategist to US President Ronald Reagan. Someone else with past connections to the Wirthlin Group is Kellyanne Conway, President Trump’s election campaign manager and now counsellor to the president, serving alongside Steve Bannon, assistant to the President and White House chief strategist.

All singing from the same crib sheet.

Since Trump’s inauguration, Conway has been embroiled in a series of controversies, including using the phrase “alternative facts, making reference to a “Bowling Green massacre” which never occurred, (Conway “cited” it as justification for a travel and immigration ban from seven Muslim-majority countries enacted by Trump), claiming Michael Flynn had the full confidence of the president hours before he was dismissed, and publicly endorsing commercial products associated with the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump. As a result, a number of media outlets have called her credibility into question, with some refusing her requests for one-on-one interviews.

When such manipulative tactics are exposed from time to time, it’s like a curtain shifting temporarily to give you a glimpse into another dimension, populated by billionaires and a handful of mercenary henchmen who drew up the machinations of a war being waged on democracies, in order to terraform political landscapes to suit the dystopic interests of one percent of the global population, at the expense of the needs of the ninety nine percent. You would be forgiven for thinking that the world and the media are being run almost exclusively by a small number of elitist, pan-nationalist aliens. It’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s a reality.

Jim Messina is a political adviser who was the White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2011 and served as the campaign manager for Obama’s highly successful 2012 re-election campaign. Messina was hired as a campaign strategy adviser to the UK Conservative Party in August 2013. Messina operated from the US during the 2015 general election campaign. He has made statements about his personal admiration for David Cameron. Theresa May has also added him to her team of strategists. 

Gone are the days when it was expected that the public decided who to vote for because of the policies on offer from each party. Now the government focuses on the use of private political masters of the dark campaign arts, who use “political-voter surveillance” techniques, along with a combative and emotional approach to messaging, rather than a rational and reasonable one, and a level of cunning that most definitely treads around the very outer edges of ethics. 

One of Messina’s key strategic methods is finding and targeting swing voters through the meticulous gathering and monitoring of voter information using private polls, and the use of social media “targeting”.  He uses social networking techniques and social media, having sought and received advice from top names in the tech world including Steve Jobs.

Messina uses micro-targeting based on online data. His approach is based on the in-depth psychometrically profiling of people, using publicly available data, including their Facebook “likes” and group memberships. This information is used to create effective and directed digital dark advertising to target millions of voters and manipulate their psychological tendencies and play to their traits.  

Messina has developed a private consulting firm –The Messina Group, which “works with organizations in the private, public, and social sectors to achieve their strategic goals.” The company has an office in London, on Old Park Lane. It says on the site says:

“Using state of the art data and analytics, The Messina Group can harness and amplify the reach of your social network. We accurately model your organization’s likely supporter, voter, or consumer, and – by overlaying that with your existing social media base – we can develop a targeted list of potential new supporters. This targeted, person-to-person sharing is the future of advertising in a fundamentally digital and social world. The Messina Group will ensure that your organization is ahead of the competition.” 

One tactic integrated in this method is aimed at generating a bandwaggon effect, which I have discussed at length elsewhere. The bandwagon effect occurs in voting: some people vote for those candidates or parties who are likely to succeed (or are proclaimed as such by the media). The bandwagon propaganda technique has been applied to situations involving majority opinion, such as political outcomes, where people alter their opinions to the majority view. 

Such a shift in opinion can occur because individuals draw inferences from the decisions of others, which shapes an informational cascade. A cascade develops when people “abandon their own information in favour of inferences based on earlier people’s actions, regardless of how irrational that may be. Bandwaggon propaganda draws on our natural tendency towards social conformity.

During the 2015 general election, the government were accused of trying to “buy the general election” by quietly raising the legal spending limit by £6.2 million to £32.7m in the face of concerns from the Electoral Commission over “undue influence”. The party has reportedly amassed a war chest of more than £70 million. The change to the law on candidates’ election spending, passed without parliamentary debate.

A new project called Who Targets Me, has been attempting to address the lack of transparency of targeted election messaging, by recruiting social media users to share information on what political adverts they are seeing.

It says on their site: “Analysing the aggregated data will allow us to draw out insights about exactly which demographics are being targeted and the exact media and language that campaigners are using to influence your vote.”

In an effort to do something about the lack of transparency, Who Targets Me built a browser extension for Facebook users to download that will then report live to that individual when a political advert is being targeted at them. It also tracks that information in its database. You can sign up to be a Who Targets Me volunteer here.

Given the instability of the government, following the general election delivering a hung parliament, it’s likely that political advertising will continue. You will need to use the Chrome browser and install the Who Targets Me extension.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has already launched a wide-ranging investigation over possible breaches of UK data laws. The Conservatives have so far refused to supply examples of adverts the party is sending to individual voters on Facebook, despite the growing concern over unregulated online election activity.

One problem is money. There are no spending limits on digital advertising and, put simply, the more you spend the more people you reach. Until now, that means it is primarily the wealthier, Conservative campaigns that have benefited.

Another is that psychological influences are different from transparent attempts at rational, reasoned and material persuasion, because they operate outside of conscious awareness. Hiding in plain sight, they trigger involuntary emotive responses in the human subconscious that most people are powerless to resist – and that happens even when they know they’re being influenced. Much of the material being used to “persuade” is dishonest, and aimed at simply smearing the opposition and generating irrational and unfounded fears, rather than open discussion, about political and socioeconomic alternatives to neoliberalism and social conservatism. 

Such tactics are nothing less than a political micro-management of the public’s beliefs an behaviours and are ultimately aimed at nudging your voting decisions to maintain a profoundly unbalanced, increasingly pathological and authoritarian status quo. Such tactics deployed in manufacturing consensus are widely used, and combined, they also serve to reduce public expectation of opposition and in doing so establish diktats: it’s a way of mandating acceptance of ideology, policies or laws by presenting them as if they are the only viable alternative.

There is a much needed public debate to be had about the distinction between political “persuasion” and “manipulation”.

And another about undue political influence. In their summary of electoral offences, the electoral commission says: “A person may also be guilty of undue influence if they impede or prevent any voter from freely exercising their right to vote – even where the attempt is unsuccessful.

Also: “It is an illegal practice to make or publish a false statement of fact about the personal character or conduct of a candidate in order to affect the return of a candidate at an election.”

“Certain offences relate specifically to election campaign publicity material. Election campaign publicity material must contain an imprint, not resemble a poll card and not contain a false statement as to the personal character or conduct of another candidate.”

The Conservatives have certainly taken advantage of our basic tendency to be more motivated by the threat of something presented and subsequently perceived as “bad” than by the presented opportunity for examining positive alternatives.

This is not just a story about the political and commercial misuse of social psychology and data analytics. It has to be understood in the context of a military contractor using military strategies on a civilian population. The public.

David Miller, a professor of sociology at Bath University and an authority in psyops and propaganda, says it is “an extraordinary scandal that this should be anywhere near a democracy. It should be clear to voters where information is coming from, and if it’s not transparent or open where it’s coming from, it raises the question of whether we are actually living in a democracy or not.”

Related:

Social media is being used to stage manage our democracy using nudge-based strategies

EXPOSED: CONSERVATIVES IN HOUSE ‘SURVEY’ TEAM

The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked

Negative campaigning, emotions and political participation

Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberalism

What I don’t understand about Conservatism

‘Tory Election Fraud’ Investigation Sees Conservatives Fined £70,000 By Electoral Commission

Political polls, think tanks and propaganda: the antidemocratic writing on the wall

Strategies and motives for resistance to persuasion: an integrative framework

How To Use 10 Psychological Theories To Persuade People

CONTROVERSIAL GCHQ UNIT ENGAGED IN DOMESTIC LAW ENFORCEMENT, ONLINE PROPAGANDA, PSYCHOLOGY RESEARCH

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations – Glenn Greenwauld

Theresa May pledges to create new internet that would be controlled and regulated by government 


I don’t make any money from my work. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you. 

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Social media is being used to stage manage our democracy using nudge-based strategies

 

Image result for Online propaganda

A study from the University of Oxford, published this month, has concluded what many of us already know: bots, shills and trolls are working together to spread propaganda and disinformation, disrupt discussions, discredit individuals and are attempting to manipulate social media users’ political views.

The report warns: “Computational propaganda is one of the most powerful new tools against democracy.” 

The Oxford Internet Institute says that computational propaganda is the use of algorithms, automation, and human curation to purposefully distribute misleading information over social media networks. Social media are actively used as a tool for public opinion manipulation in diverse ways and on various topics.

Bots and trolls work to stifle authentic and reasoned debate between people in favour of a social network populated by (usually aggressive) argument and soundbites and they can simply make online measures of social support, such as the number of  “likes” (which can, of course, be bought), look larger  – crucial in creating the illusion of consensus and encouraging a bandwaggon effect.

In democracies, social media are actively used for computational propaganda, through broad efforts at opinion manipulation and by targeted experiments on particular segments of the public (which is antidemocratic in itself). This strategy isn’t so far removed from the “big data” approach, where individuals are targeted in election campaigns to receive personal messages that are highly tailored, designed to appeal to certain categories of “personality types” as discerned by the use of extensive data mining and psychological profiling techniques. 

The report also says that “In every country we found civil society groups trying, but struggling, to protect themselves and respond to active disinformation campaigns.” 

The research team involved 12 researchers across nine countries who, altogether, interviewed 65 experts, analyzed tens of millions posts on seven different social media platforms during scores of elections, political crises, and national security incidents.

They say that in democracies, individual users design and operate fake and highly automated social media accounts. Political candidates, campaigns and lobbyists rent larger networks of accounts for purpose-built campaigns while governments assign public resources to the creation, experimentation and use of such accounts.

Ultimately the presence of bots, shils and trolls on social media is a right-wing bid to stage manage our democracy, in much the same way that the biggest proportion of the rabidly right-wing corporate media has, until recently.

The report describes online propaganda as a “phenomenon that encompasses recent digital misinformation and manipulation efforts”, which “involves learning from and mimicking real people so as to manipulate public opinion across a diverse range of platforms and device networks”.

According to the report, bots “played a small but strategic role” in shaping Twitter conversations during the EU referendum last year. Bots work most effectively and powerfully when working together with trolls.

Political bots, social media bots used for political manipulation, are also effective tools for strengthening online propaganda and hate campaigns. One person, or a small group of people, can use an army of political bots on Twitter to give the illusion of large-scale consensus. Bots are increasingly being used for malicious activities associated with spamming and harassment.

According to the report authors: “The family of hashtags associated with the argument for leaving the EU dominated, while less than one percent of sampled accounts generated almost a third of all the messages.”

Political bots, built to look and act like real citizens, are being deployed in determined anti-democratic efforts to silence oppostion and to push official state messaging. Political campaigners, and their supporters, deploy political bots – and computational propaganda more broadly – during elections in attempts to sway the vote and defame critics. 

Anonymous political actors harness key elements of computational propaganda such as false news reports, coordinated disinformation campaigns, and troll mobs to attack human rights defenders civil society groups, and independent commentators and journalists.

The report warns “Computational propaganda is one of the most powerful new tools against democracy.” Facebook in particular has attracted a great deal of criticism in recent months, due to the rise and promotion of fake news.

Mark Zuckerberg initially denied that false stories spread through the social network had an effect on the US Presidential election, but changed his stance soon after.

The University of Oxford report says social media sites need to redesign themselves in order to regain trust.

The role of Intelligence Services in the deployment of psy-ops

 

In 2015, Glenn Greenwauld published a series of documents from the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG). He says that though its existence was secret until 2014, JTRIG quickly developed a distinctive profile in the public understanding, after documents from the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the unit had engaged in “dirty tricks” like deploying sexual “honey traps” designed to discredit targets, launching denial-of-service attacks to shut down internet chat rooms, pushing veiled propaganda onto social networks and generally warping discourse online. 

JTRIG’s tactics include seeding propaganda on social media, impersonating people online, and creating false blog posts to discredit targets.

A fascinating and must-read 42-page document from 2011 is particularly revealing, detailing JTRIG’s activities. It provides the most comprehensive and sweeping insight to date into the scope of this unit’s extreme methods. Entitled “Behavioral Science Support for JTRIG’s Effects and Online HUMINT [Human Intelligence] Operations,” it describes the types of targets on which the unit focuses, the psychological and behavioral research it commissions and exploits, and its future organizational aspirations.

The document is authored by a psychologist, Mandeep K. Dhami, a professor of  “Decision Psychology”. Dhami has provided advice on how JTRIG can improve its approach and attain “desired outcomes”, for example, by applying behavioural theories and research around persuasive communication, compliance, obedience, conformity, and the creation of trust and distrust.

Among other things, the document lays out tactics that the agency uses to manipulate public opinion, its scientific and psychological research into how human thinking and behaviour can be profiled and influenced, and the broad range of targets that are traditionally the province of law enforcement rather than intelligence agencies.

Since the general election in the UK, there has been a noticably massive increase in right-wing trolling presence and activity on Twitter. Most of the activity is directed towards discrediting Jeremy Corbyn. It’s very easy to spot a troll. They make outrageous claims that often read like tabloid headlines, resort quickly to personal attacks and attempts to discredit and smear when you disagree, and they never debate reasonably or evidence their comments.

In my experience, some, however, may initially engage reasonably, make a few concessions to evidenced debate, then suddenly show their true colours, by moving the goalposts of the debate constantly to include more disinformation, and by becoming aggressive, very personal and exceedingly irrational. My own management strategy is to address the claims made with a little evidence and fact, and block unhesitantly when it invariably turns ugly. 

The Oxford University research report concludes: “For democracies, we should assume that encouraging people to vote is a good thing. Promoting political news and information from reputable outlets is crucial. Ultimately, designing for democracy, in systematic ways, will help restore trust in social media systems. 

Computational propaganda is now one of the most powerful tools against democracy. Social media firms may not be creating this nasty content, but they are the platform for it. 

“They need to significantly redesign themselves if democracy is going to survive social media.”


Further reading

From the Intercept:

THE “CUBAN TWITTER” SCAM IS A DROP IN THE INTERNET PROPAGANDA BUCKET 

CONTROVERSIAL GCHQ UNIT ENGAGED IN DOMESTIC LAW ENFORCEMENT, ONLINE PROPAGANDA, PSYCHOLOGY RESEARCH

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations – Glenn Greenwauld

Theresa May pledges to create new internet that would be controlled and regulated by government 

The media need a nudge: the government using ‘behavioural science’ to manipulate the public isn’t a recent development, nudging has been happening since 2010

 

Image result for online intelligence propaganda operations


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Peaceful anti-fox hunting protester arrested for ‘breaching the peace’ at Welsh Tory manifesto launch

With thanks to B Heard Media

A protester was arrested for “breaching the peace” and dragged away by the police from a peaceful protest, as the prime minister’s car arrived in Wrexham before the launch of the Welsh Conservative manifesto

Connor was dragged to the ground by police as May’s motorcade swept past. Blowing a horn, he attempted to move towards the car with a banner before he was pounced on, tackled and dragged away, surrounded by hordes of photographers and journalists. A journalist and fellow campaigners asked if he was under arrest, an officer said: “Yes, he’s under arrest.” Pressed on what charge, he replied: “Breach of the peace.”

Connor was dragged along the floor, whilst shouting “This is the fascist state that we are living in under Theresa May’s regime.” 

He told reporters who were present that he was protesting about the “repeal of the foxhunting Act, fracking, austerity, “state therapy”,  – the lot”.

“I’ve not done nothing wrong,” he added.

Another demonstrator told police that Connor, who appeared to have a Merseyside accent, had “done nothing wrong” and described their response as a farce.

Theresa May has said she would give Conservative MPs a free vote on the ban, most likely meaning that in a planned and highly regressive move, the ban will be lifted if the party wins the number of seats it seems to expect to. 

 25-year-old Connor was later released without charge.

Superintendent Nick Evans claims: “Our policing operation today was proportionate and necessary.” 

Article 11 Right to protest and freedom of association

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. This is a right closely linked to the right to freedom of expression. The right to peaceful protest in the UK is expressly guaranteed under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

It provides a means for public expression and is one of the key foundations of a democratic society.

The right applies to protest marches and demonstrations, press conferences, public and private meetings, counter-demonstrations, “sit-ins”, motionless protests etc.

The right only applies to peaceful gatherings and does not protect intentionally violent protest.

This was not a violent protest.

There may be interference with the right to protest if the authorities prevent a demonstration from going ahead; halt a demonstration; take steps in advance of a demonstration in order to disrupt it; and store personal information on people because of their involvement in a demonstration.

The right to peaceful assembly cannot be interfered with merely because there is disagreement with the views of the protesters or because it is likely to be inconvenient and cause a nuisance or there might be tension and heated exchange between opposing groups.

There is a positive obligation on the State to take reasonable steps to facilitate the right to freedom of assembly, and to protect participants in peaceful demonstrations from disruption by others.

The rights to free speech and protest, along with the right to form and join associations or groups, are found in Articles 10 and 11 of the UK Human Rights Act 1998.

These rights can be limited by law to protect the interests of others, but only when the limitation is proportionate and necessary in a democratic society.

So, for example:

  • the right to free speech will not protect a person who tries to spread hateful lies against another but it will protect fair comment;
  • the right to protest won’t protect violent gatherings but it will protect peaceful protest.

In recent years we have seen a variety of measures introduced that undermine the right to protest and freedom of speech:

  • Laws that were explicitly intended to combat anti-social behaviour, terrorism and serious crime are routinely used against legitimate protesters;
  • Broadly drafted anti-terrorism offences of ‘encouragement’ and ‘glorification’ of terrorism threaten to make careless talk a crime;
  • Membership of certain organisations can be banned under anti-terror laws even if the organisation is non-violent and political;
  • Hate speech laws have been extended in a piecemeal way to ban ever-expanding categories of speech;
  • Broad anti-terrorism powers of stop and search have been used to harass and stifle peaceful protesters;
  • Protest around Parliament has been severely restricted by laws limiting and overly regulating the right to assemble and protest around Parliament.

Another Conservative government will undermine both the right to protest and disassemble our human rights more generally.

 


 

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Noam Chomsky endorses Jeremy Corbyn. Here’s why

Image result for Noam Chomsky

Professor Noam Chomsky has urged the British electorate to vote for Labour. In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, earlier this month, Chomsky stated: “If I were a voter in Britain, I would vote for him.”

The linguist, cognitive academic and philosophical anarchist endorsed Jeremy Corbyn, and observes that the Labour Party would be doing far better in opinion polls if it were not for the “bitter” hostility of the mainstream media.

As Chomsky is world renowned for being a major critic of neoliberalism, it comes as no surprise that he supports a candidate who would reverse the radical socioeconomic reforms that Britain has gone through since the Thatcher era.

He said there were a lot of factors involved, but insisted that Labour would not be trailing the Conservatives so heavily in the polls if the media was more open to Corbyn’s agenda.  He said: “If he had a fair treatment from the media – that would make a big difference.” 

Asked what motivation he thought newspapers had to oppose Corbyn, Chomsky said the Labour leader had, like Bernie Sanders in the US, broken out of the “elite, liberal consensus” that he claimed was “pretty conservative”.

It’s potentially a fresh and hopeful view from the Overton window, if only we would open the curtains.

The academic, who was in Britain to deliver a lecture at the University of Reading on what he believes is the deteriorating state of western democracy, says that voters had turned to the Conservatives in recent years because of “an absence of anything else”.

He said: “The shift in the Labour party under [Tony] Blair made it a pale image of the Conservatives which, given the nature of the policies and their very visible results, had very little appeal for good reasons.”

He added that Labour had needed to “reconstruct itself” in the interests of working people, with concerns about human and civil rights at its core, arguing that such a programme could appeal to the majority of people. As a human rights activist, I have to agree.

Chomsky said that the future must lie with the left of the party. “The constituency of the Labour party, the new participants, the Momentum group and so on … if there is to be a serious future for the Labour party that is where it is in my opinion,” he said.

The comments came as Chomsky prepared to deliver a university lecture entitled Racing for the precipice: is the human experiment doomed?

He told the Guardian that he believed people had created a “perfect storm” in which the key defence against the existential threats of climate change and the nuclear age were being radically weakened.

“Each of those is a major threat to survival, a threat that the human species has never faced before, and the third element of this pincer is that the socio-economic programmes, particularly in the last generation, but the political culture generally has undermined the one potential defence against these threats,” he said.

Chomsky described the defence as a “functioning democratic society with engaged, informed citizens deliberating and reaching measures to deal with and overcome the threats”. 

He said that neoliberal policies are the reason for the breakdown in democracy, they had transferred power from public institutions to markets and deregulated financial institutions while failing to benefit ordinary people. 

It’s certainly true that neoliberalism is incompatible with democracy and human rights frameworks.

He said: “In 2007 right before the great crash, when there was euphoria about what was called the ‘great moderation’, the wonderful economy, at that point the real wages of working people were lower – literally lower – than they had been in 1979 when the neoliberal programmes began. You had a similar phenomenon in England.”

Chomsky said that the disillusionment that followed gave rise to the surge of anti-establishment movements – including Donald Trump and Brexit, but also Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France and the rise of Corbyn and Sanders. 

He said: The Sanders achievement was maybe the most surprising and significant aspect of the November election. Sanders broke from a century of history of pretty much bought elections. That is a reflection of the decline of how political institutions are perceived.”

But he said the positions that the US senator, who challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, had taken would not have surprised Dwight Eisenhower, who was US president in the 1950s.

“[Eisenhower] said no one belongs in a political system who questions the right of workers to organise freely, to form powerful unions. Sanders called it a political revolution but it was to a large extent an effort to return to the new deal policies that were the basis for the great growth period of the 1950s and 1960s.”

Chomsky believes that Corbyn stands in the same tradition.

The media is the massage

Chomsky has written extensively about the role of the free market media in reinforcing dominant ideology and maintaining the unequal distribution and balance of power. 

In Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky and Herman explore the pro-establishment media’s role in establishing the apparence of a political and economic orthodoxy (neoliberalism) and extending a seemingly normative compliance with state policies, while also marginalising antithetical or alternative perspectives, dismissing them as heresy. In the US and UK, most left wing commentors have a very diminished media platform from which to present their perspectives and policy proposals.

This “free-market” version of censorship is more subtle and difficult to identify, challenge and undermine than the equivalent propaganda system which was present in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. 

As Chomsky argues, the mainstream press is corporate owned and so reflects corporate priorities and interests. While acknowledging that some journalists are dedicated and well-intentioned, he says that the choice of topics and issues featured in the mass media, the unquestioned premises on which that “coverage” rests, and the range of opinions that are expressed are all constrained to reinforce the state’s dominant ideology.

Last year, research by YouGov found that the British media is the most right wing in Europe. Readers also ranked the British press as the most biased in all of the seven countries surveyed.

Noam Chomsky: I would vote for Jeremy Corbyn (extended interview) – BBC Newsnight

Noam Chomsky’s 8-Point Rationale for Voting for the “Lesser Evil” Candidate

Although this was written about the American political system, it applies equally well to the UK one.

Chomsky says: “Critics of “lesser evil voting” (LEV) should consider that their footing on the high ground may not be as secure as they often take for granted. 

Generally associated with the religious left, secular leftists implicitly invoke it when they reject LEV on the grounds that “a lesser of two evils is still evil.” Leaving aside the obvious rejoinder that this is exactly the point of lesser evil voting – i.e. to do less evil, what needs to be challenged is the assumption that voting should be seen a form of individual self-expression rather than as an act to be judged on its likely consequences. 

The basic moral principle at stake is simple: not only must we take responsibility for our actions, but the consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves.

Leaving aside the obvious rejoinder that this is exactly the point of lesser evil voting-i.e. to do less evil, what needs to be challenged is the assumption that voting should be seen a form of individual self-expression rather than as an act to be judged on its likely consequences, specifically those outlined in 4). The basic moral principle at stake is simple: not only must we take responsibility for our actions, but the consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves.

While some would suggest extending the critique by noting that the politics of moral witness can become indistinguishable from narcissistic self-agrandizement, this is substantially more harsh than what was intended and harsher than what is merited. That said, those reflexively denouncing advocates of LEV on a supposed “moral” basis should consider that their footing on the high ground may not be as secure as they often take for granted to be the case.

A third criticism of LEV equates it with a passive acquiescence to the bipartisan status quo under the guise of pragmatism, usually deriving from those who have lost the appetite for radical change. It is surely the case that some of those endorsing LEV are doing so in bad faith-cynical functionaries whose objective is to promote capitulation to a system which they are invested in protecting. Others supporting LEV, however, can hardly be reasonably accused of having made their peace with the establishment.

Their concern, as alluded to in 6) and 7) inheres in the awareness that frivolous and poorly considered electoral decisions impose a cost, their memories extending to the ultra-left faction of the peace movement having minimized the comparative dangers of the Nixon presidency during the 1968 elections. The result was six years of senseless death and destruction in Southeast Asia and also a predictable fracture of the left setting it up for its ultimate collapse during the backlash decades to follow.

The broader lesson to be drawn is not to shy away from confronting the dominance of the political system under the management of the two major parties. Rather, challenges to it need to be issued with a full awareness of their possible consequences.

This includes the recognition that far right victories not only impose terrible suffering on the most vulnerable segments of society but also function as a powerful weapon in the hands of the establishment center, which, now in opposition can posture as the “reasonable” alternative. A Trump presidency, should it materialize, will undermine the burgeoning movement centered around the Sanders campaign, particularly if it is perceived as having minimized the dangers posed by the far right.

A more general conclusion to be derived from this recognition is that this sort of cost/benefit strategic accounting is fundamental to any politics which is serious about radical change. Those on the left who ignore it, or dismiss it as irrelevant are engaging in political fantasy and are an obstacle to, rather than ally of, the movement which now seems to be materializing.

Finally, it should be understood that the reigning doctrinal system recognizes the role presidential elections perform in diverting the left from actions which have the potential to be effective in advancing its agenda. These include developing organizations committed to extra-political means, most notably street protest, but also competing for office in potentially winnable races. The left should devote the minimum of time necessary to exercise the LEV choice then immediately return to pursuing goals which are not timed to the national electoral cycle.

*****

1) Voting should not be viewed as a form of personal self-expression or moral judgement directed in retaliation towards major party candidates who fail to reflect our values, or of a corrupt system designed to limit choices to those acceptable to corporate elites.

2) The exclusive consequence of the act of voting in 2016 will be (if in a contested “swing state”) to marginally increase or decrease the chance of one of the major party candidates winning.

3) One of these candidates, Trump, denies the existence of global warming, calls for increasing use of fossil fuels, dismantling of environmental regulations and refuses assistance to India and other developing nations as called for in the Paris agreement, the combination of which could, in four years, take us to a catastrophic tipping point. Trump has also pledged to deport 11 million Mexican immigrants, offered to provide for the defense of supporters who have assaulted African American protestors at his rallies, stated his “openness to using nuclear weapons”, supports a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and regards “the police in this country as absolutely mistreated and misunderstood” while having “done an unbelievable job of keeping law and order.” Trump has also pledged to increase military spending while cutting taxes on the rich, hence shredding what remains of the social welfare “safety net” despite pretenses.

4) The suffering which these and other similarly extremist policies and attitudes will impose on marginalized and already oppressed populations has a high probability of being significantly greater than that which will result from a Clinton presidency.

5) 4) should constitute sufficient basis to voting for Clinton where a vote is potentially consequential-namely, in a contested, “swing” state.

6) However, the left should also recognize that, should Trump win based on its failure to support Clinton, it will repeatedly face the accusation (based in fact), that it lacks concern for those sure to be most victimized by a Trump administration.

7) Often this charge will emanate from establishment operatives who will use it as a bad faith justification for defeating challenges to corporate hegemony either in the Democratic Party or outside of it. They will ensure that it will be widely circulated in mainstream media channels with the result that many of those who would otherwise be sympathetic to a left challenge will find it a convincing reason to maintain their ties with the political establishment rather than breaking with it, as they must.

8) Conclusion: by dismissing a “lesser evil” electoral logic and thereby increasing the potential for Clinton’s defeat the left will undermine what should be at the core of what it claims to be attempting to achieve.”

 
 —
 

Noam Chomsky is institute professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His most recent books are Who Rules the World? (Metropolitan Books, 2016) and Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power (Seven Stories Press, 2017). His website is www.chomsky.info.

Theresa May pledges to create new internet that would be controlled and regulated by government

Image result for theresa May Internet regulations

A plurality of views and perspectives is a fundamental ingredient of a flourishing democracy. Freedom of speech is a prerequisite of an inclusive, genuine democracy. When a government tries to stifle some perspectives, and control which views may be expressed or permitted online, it’s an indication that we have left democracy behind, and strayed into the realms of authoritarianism.

If Theresa May gets to form a new government next month, then it would appear that the Conservatives will be attempting a regulatory land grab of the Internet. But, if the Conservatives’ digital record is anything to go by, its pledge to negotiate an “international settlement” and be a “global leader” for an incredibly complex area of Internet and data law looks, frankly, like the stuff of dystopian movies about totalitarian regimes. I suspect the phrase “digital crime” is set to take on a whole new meaning. 

May is planning to introduce far-reaching regulations on the way the internet works, allowing the government to decide what is said online. Much of the internet is currently controlled by private businesses like Google and Facebook, Theresa May intends to allow government to decide what is and isn’t published, the manifesto strongly suggests.

I’m all for an internet environment that is safe and free from harassment and bullying. However, we already have legislation in place to ensure that it is.

The proposed laws would also force technology companies to delete anything that a person posted when they were under 18.

 The companies would be forced to help controversial government schemes like its Prevent strategy, by promoting “counter-extremist narratives”.

It seems that this is a Conservative reaction to the EU Digital Single Market Project.
It’s aim is “to create a true digital single market, where the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured — and where citizens and businesses can seamlessly and fairly access online goods and services: whatever their nationality, and wherever they live.” (Commission Press Release May 2015).

The new EU digital single market legislative package seeking to improve cross-border access to digital services and create a level playing field for companies will be launched in 2015. The Commission will also seek to complement the regulatory telecommunications environment, modernise EU legislation on copyright and audio-visual media services, simplify the rules for consumers making online purchases, and enhance cyber-security. This ambitious agenda includes concluding the long-running negotiations over data protection reform.

As my friend Hubert Huzzah has pointed out, the European Single Digital Market will make it difficult to defraud people, and importantly,  it will the Election manipulation in the form of  “we are just advertising on Facebook” strategies worthless.

The Conservative plans are in keeping with the Conservatives’ commitment that the online world must be regulated and controlled as strongly as the offline one, and that the same rules should apply in both.

“Our starting point is that online rules should reflect those that govern our lives offline,” the Conservatives’ manifesto says, in justification for the new level of regulation. 

In laying out its plan for increased regulation, the so-called “small state” Tories anticipate and reject potential criticism that such rules could put people at risk.

“While we cannot create this framework alone, it is for government, not private companies, to protect the security of people and ensure the fairness of the rules by which people and businesses abide,” the document reads. “Nor do we agree that the risks of such an approach outweigh the potential benefits.”

Tucked away at the end of the Conservative’s manifesto, it’s clear that May wants to introduce huge changes to the way the internet works:

“We will take up leadership in a new arena, where concern is shared around the world: we will be the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the Internet.”

Among the new self -appointed powers proposed, the government intends to force internet companies to remove “explicit” or “extremist material”, backed by legal power to impose fines.

This is a government that has labeled disability campaigners  “extremists” and fully endorsed the media labeling of those in standing in democratic opposition to Conservative policies as “saboteurs”.

The Conservatives say “Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet.  We disagree.”

The Conservatives are claiming this proposal is part of an ambitious attempt by the party to impose some sort of “decorum” on the internet and social media.

Senior Conservatives have also confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the phrasing indicates that the government intends to introduce huge restrictions on what people can post, share and publish online.

The plans will allow Britain to become “the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet”, the manifesto claims.

Internet imperialism, how very Conservative.

There are many proposed measures in the manifesto that are designed to make it easier to do business online, of course, but the Conservatives are proposing a rather more oppressive approach when it comes to social networks.

One particular issue that caught my eye was the Conservative’s voiced “concerns about online news”, warning the government is willing to “take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy”, while pledging to “ensure content creators are appropriately rewarded for the content they make available online”.  

One Tory source clarified that this comment relates to Google and Facebook’s growing dominance of the advertising market, which the newspaper industry believes is crushing its business model. The source suggested that if the web giants failed to act voluntarily then they could be forced by legislation to find ways to financially compensate traditional news producers.

Implications for social media

So, the Conservatives will also seek to regulate the kind of news that is posted online and how companies are paid for it.

This may have some potentially serious implications for the growing number of online independent media platforms that have developed precisely because of an undemocratic crisis of representation in our mainstream media, which has increasingly become an unreliable source of objective news, generally. 

Independent media includes any form of autonomous media project that is free from institutional dependencies, and in particular, from the influence of government and corporate interests.

We are not constrained by the interests of society’s major power-brokers. So far. 

I haven’t forgotten Iain Duncan Smith’s pledge to “monitor” the BBC’s news coverage for “left wing bias”, or the jackbooted government officials visiting the Guardian offices to smash the hard drives containing the Snowden leaks. This doesn’t signal a coming improvement if it is to be based on Tory standards of “objective and reliable”. 

The manifesto also says that the government will work even harder to ensure there is no “safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online”. That is apparently a reference in part to its work to encourage technology companies to build backdoors into their encrypted messaging services – which gives the government the ability to read terrorists’ messages, but also weakens the security of everyone else’s messages, technology companies have warned.

The proposals follow on from the Investigatory Powers Act being passed into law. That legislation allowed the government to force internet companies to keep records on their customers’ browsing histories, as well as giving ministers the power to break apps like WhatsApp so that messages can be read.

Imagine a future when the only online reflection of reality is a Conservative one. Antisocial media.

“In every really great world-shaking movement, propaganda will first have to spread the idea of this movement. Thus, it will indefatigably attempt to make the new thought processes clear to the others, and therefore to draw them over to their own ground, or to make them uncertain of their previous conviction.

Now, since the dissemination of an idea, that is, propaganda, must have a firm backbone, the doctrine will have to give itself a solid organization. The organization obtains its members from the general body of supporters won by propaganda. The latter will grow the more rapidly, the more intensively the propaganda is carried on, and the latter in turn can work better, the stronger and more powerful the organization is that stands behind it.” Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf.

Hitler’s promise of “strong government and stability” was widely supported particularly by industrialists and businesses, who were terrified of the left wing unions, socialism and communism.

A lot of people describe Theresa May as a New Right Conservative, some have been misled by her semantic shifts and claimed she is a “red Tory”. However, it seems she is more of an old right wing authoritarian, after all.

The stuff of nightmares.

 


 

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The erosion of democracy and the repression of mainstream media in the UK

Daily Mail crush the saboteurs
In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith invents the heroic historical figure Comrade Ogilvy, who had “no aim in life except the defeat of the Eurasian enemy and the hunting-down of spies, saboteurs, thought-criminals, and traitors generally”. Theresa May’s world, too, seems to have shrunk to one in which the greatest enemies are the enemies within and democracy must be democratically eliminated for the good of the people.” Steven Poole.

The Daily Mail headline calling those who oppose the government “saboteurs” is the kind of oppressive tactic and despotic language that is commonly used in totalitarian regimes and by dictators. It’s not the kind of media headline expected in liberal democracies, where opposition to the status quo is necessary for the best interests of the country and essential for any meaningful democratic exchange.

Dr. Lawrence Britt examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to overlook some of the parallels with the increasingly authoritarian characteristics of our own right wing government here in the UK. Fascism is an authoritarian and nationalistic right wing system of government and social organisation, though not all authoritarian governments are fascist. However, the two terms are quite often used interchangeably. 

Controlled mass media is one example of a key defining feature of authoritarianism, with “news” being directly controlled and manipulated by the government, by regulation, or via sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship is very common. There is often an identifiable obsession with “National Security” – along with fear being used as a “motivational tool” by the government on the public, and also, as a justification for greater degrees of censorship.

The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”. However, unlike the United States, Britain has no constitutional guarantee of press freedom

The right to freedom of expression is fundamental to a functioning democracy – information and ideas help to inform political debate and are essential to public accountability and transparency in government.

Just to clarify, I don’t, however, condone any incitements of hatred. This is not the same thing as free speech. In fact hate speech is designed to close discussion down by intimidating and silencing targeted social groups. In the Uk, several statutes criminalize hate speech against several categories of persons. The statutes forbid communication which is hateful, threatening, or abusive, and which targets a person on account of disability, ethnic or national origin, nationality (including citizenship), race, religion, sexual orientation, or skin colour. 

Yet just last year, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) criticised the  right wing Daily Mail and the Sun for “offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology”.

The ECRI report said hate speech was a serious problem, including against Roma, gypsies and travellers, as well as “unscrupulous press reporting” targeting the LGBT community. 

The report also concluded that some reporting on immigration, terrorism and the refugee crisis was “contributing to creating an atmosphere of hostility and rejection”.

It cited Katie Hopkins’ infamous column in The Sun, where she likened refugees to “cockroaches” and sparked a blistering response from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the same newspaper’s debunked claim over “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”. It seems that the tabloids have confused their frequent incitements to hatred, their many contributions to growing social prejudice and hate speech with free speech.

We have witnessed the political right and the tabloids using rhetoric that has increasingly transformed a global economic crisis into an apparently ethno-political one, and this also extends to include the general scapegoating and vilification of other groups and communities that have historically been the victims of prejudice and social exclusion: the poorest citizens, unemployed and disabled people. These far-right rhetorical flourishes define and portray the putative “outsider” as an economic threat. This is then used to justify active political discrimination and exclusion of the constitutive Other. 

Only some people have the right to freely express themselves, apparently.

Freedom of expression is a universal human right. It is not the prerogative of the politician. Nor is it the privilege of the journalist. In their day-to-day work, journalists are simply exercising every citizen’s right to free speech.

This includes the right to communicate and to express oneself in any medium, including through words, pictures, images and actions (including through public protest and demonstrations).

However, the UK government is more generally failing to live up to its human rights obligations. Social groups with protected characteristics, such as disabled people and asylum seekers, have fared very badly over the past few years. The tabloids have preempted draconian Conservative policies which target those social groups with extensive stigmatising and scapegoating campaigns. This is another indication of the Conservative’s radical authoritarian turn. 

The News Media Association (NMA) say: “Threats to press freedom include attempts to strip back journalistic exemptions under the EU and UK data protection legislation, efforts to water down Freedom of Information legislation which the NMA is campaigning against, new court reporting restrictions, a review of the D-Notice Committee, strengthening police powers to obtain journalistic material, the use of RIPA powers to uncover journalists’ sources, and the continuing campaign to introduce jail sentences for breaches of the Data Protection Act.

Journalists in the UK are also subject to a wide range of legal restrictions which inhibit freedom of expression. These include the libel laws, official secrets and anti-terrorism legislation, the law of contempt and other legal restrictions on court reporting, the law of confidence and development of privacy actions, intellectual property laws, legislation regulating public order, trespass, harassment, anti-discrimination and obscenity.

There is some special provision for journalism and other literary and artistic activities, chiefly intended as protection against prior restraint, in the data protection and human rights legislation. There are some additional, judicial safeguards requiring court orders or judicial consent before the police can gain access to journalistic material or instigate surveillance in certain circumstances, but, in practice, the law provides limited protection to journalistic material and sources.”

The new proposed Espionage Act and a data disclosure law.

The UK government are proposing to change the four Official Secrets Acts, which date back to 1911. They want them scrapped and replaced with a “modernised” Espionage Act and a data disclosure law.

However, the Conservatives have been accused of “criminalising public interest journalism” as it plans to increase the number of years for the “leaking of state secrets” from 2 years to 14, in the first “overhaul” of the Official Secrets Act for over 100 years.

Under the proposals, which were published in February, officials who leak “sensitive information” about the British economy that damages national security could also be jailed. Currently, official secrets legislation is limited to breaches which jeopardise security, intelligence defence, confidential information and international relations.

The government released the proposals citing the “new reality” of the 21st-century internet and national security dangers as justification for a more “robust” system of prosecution.

The recommendations centre around the Official Secrets Act (1989) which governs how public servants in government and the military must keep government information secret and out of publication.

Journalists and civil liberties groups have warned that the threshold for the increased sentence has been lowered and that journalists and whistleblowers acting in the public interest will be effectively gagged. 

In the new government recommendations, the threshold for being prosecuted for revealing state secrets will be changed from “having caused definite damage” to the likelihood of causing damage to national interests. The Law Commission also stated that a defendant should be prevented from making a defence that they believed they were working in the public interest. 

Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said: “The ramifications of these recommendations are huge for journalists and freedom of the press. Journalists face being criminalised for simply doing their job and the public’s right to know will be severely curtailed by these proposals. The union will respond robustly to the Law Commission’s consultation on changes to the Official Secrets Act.

“The National Union of Journalists is also concerned that the Digital Economy Bill, now in Parliament, threatens to undermine journalists sharing information in the public interest.” 

“This union is deeply concerned at yet another attempt by the UK government to curtail the media. The Investigatory Powers Act has put journalists’ sources at risk now that a large number of authorities have the power to intercept reporter’s’ emails, mobile phone and computer records.

“We have plenty of evidence that some police forces routinely used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to get their hands on journalists’ records without their knowledge. The NUJ is also concerned that the Digital Economy Bill, now in Parliament, threatens to undermine journalists sharing information in the public interest.”

The consultation on the UK Government’s new proposals closed earlier this month. Organisations such as Amnesty have submitted their statements and expressed their opposition. 

Campaigners say the bill would make any investigation of government culpability harder and lower the amount of accountability in the civil service, military and government.

From the consultation document: “Chapter 6 – Freedom of Expression Enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, freedom of expression is a fundamental right. We consider whether compliance with Article 10 requires the introduction of a statutory public interest defence for those who make unauthorised disclosure. Our conclusion is that Article 10 does not require the introduction of a statutory public interest defence. Our view accords with that the House of Lord in R v Shayler.” 

Once you hear the jackboots…

Three years ago, I wrote an article  – Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late – which discussed the unannounced visit by government national security agents to smash computer hard drives at the Guardian newspaper offices, though it hit the news unsurprisingly quietly, when Edward Snowden exposed a gross abuse of power and revealed mass surveillance programmes by American and British secret policing agencies (NSA and GCHQ) last year. (More detailed information here).

David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald, Guardian interviewer of the whistleblower Edward Snowden, was held for nine hours at Heathrow Airport and questioned under the Terrorism Act. Officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. This was a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process, and as Greenwald said: “To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation.”

My article also outlined another extraordinary and vicious attack on The Guardian, instigated by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) communications chief and senior government spin doctor, Richard Caseby, who called for the newspaper to be “blackballed” and prevented from joining the new press regulatory body, because “day after day it gets its facts wrong.” Remarkably, “ineptitude or ideology” were to blame for what he deemed “mistakes” in the paper’s coverage of the DWP’s cuts to benefits. He called for the broadsheet to be kept out of the new Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), set up after the Leveson Inquiry into media standards. 

As a former journalist at the establishment-directed Sun and The Sunday Times, Caseby certainly has an axe to grind against the paper that revealed how those right wing papers’ stablemate, the News Of The World, had hacked the voicemail of murdered teenager Millie Dowler, sparking the phone hacking scandal that forced Rupert Murdoch to close the tabloid down.

In connection with Murdoch’s testimony to the Leveson Inquiry “into the ethics of the British press,” editor of Newsweek International, Tunku Varadarajan, referred to him as “the man whose name is synonymous with unethical newspapers.”

Not a shred of concern was raised about any of this or Murdoch’s nasty and corrupt myth production industry, and right wing scapegoating empire, coming from our government, a point worth reflecting on for a moment. Miliband said the phone-hacking was not just a media scandal, but it was a symbol of what was wrong with British politics.

He called for cross-party agreement on new media ownership laws that would cut Murdoch’s current market share, arguing that he has “too much power over British public life.He said: “If you want to minimise the abuses of power, then that kind of concentration of power is frankly quite dangerous.”  I completely agree.

Those that criticise the unscrupulous right wing status quo, on the other hand, are being increasingly filtered out from the media, or censored. Yet journalists are regarded as “democracy’s watchdogs” and the protection of their sources is the “cornerstone of freedom of the press.” And freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy. Although enshrined in such terms by the European Court of Human Rights, these democratic safeguarding principles are being attacked in an increasingly open manner all over the world, including in the democratic countries that first proclaimed them.

The erosion of democracy and the Press Freedom Index

Related image

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are a collective of journalists who study freedom of the press at a comparative and international level. RSF publish an annual Press Freedom Index (PFI), which provides a ranking for every country, calculated to indicate how much governments restrict the media. The UK has been consistently in low position (the higher the score, the lower the ranking) for the last five years, this year it dropped lower still, highlighting an increasing intrusion of the government on and restriction of the freedom of the press.

This won’t surprise many, especially given the numerous public announcements in the press by the likes of Iain Duncan Smith over the last few years regarding the government’s “monitoring” of the BBC and other media for “left wing bias”. We have a media with a very heavy weighted right wing bias, yet any criticism of government policy reduces our government to shrieking hysterically that the communists have been infiltrating the establishment. It’s a curious fact that authoritarians project their rigidity, insecurities and micro-controlling tendencies onto everyone else.

I’m sure Chris Patten, Rhona Fairhead and Sir David Cecil Clementi, successive government appointed chairpersons of the BBC Trustto act as the ultimate decision makers regarding the BBC’s strategic direction, are just the kind of people who are not tied to political ideologies and corporate interests. After all, everyone knows what a veritable hotbed of communism Chris Patten secretly nurtured. (Sorry, my tongue appears to be momentarily stuck to my cheek).

That the UK government felt the need to announce even more surveillance of the BBC indicates a creeping and considerable degree of authoritarianism, and worryingly, it demonstrates how supremely unconcerned and utterly without shame they are in building a public bonfire to burn what remains of media impartiality in the UK. 

The current RSF report says that the decline in respect for media freedom in democracies is not new. It was already noticeable in previous Indexes. But what is striking in this year’s Index is the growing scale and the nature of the violations seen.

The erosion of democracy and subsequent muting of the media isn’t a problem peculiar to the UK, it’s happening on a global scale. The RSF report says:

“Most of the movement in the World Press Freedom Index unveiled today by Reporters Without Borders is indicative of a climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private-sector interests.”

“Journalism worthy of the name must be defended against the increase in propaganda and media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests.”

The Index is based on an evaluation of media freedom that measures pluralism, media independence, the quality of the legal framework and the safety of journalists in 180 countries. It is compiled by means of a survey questionnaire in 20 languages that is completed by experts all over the world. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated.

The report says: “The election of the 45th president of the United States set off a witchhunt against journalists. Donald Trump’s repeated diatribes against the Fourth Estate and its representatives – accusing them of being “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” and of deliberately spreading “fake news” – compromise a long US tradition of defending freedom of expression. The hate speech used by the new boss in the White House and his accusations of lying also helped to disinhibit attacks on the media almost everywhere in the world, including in democratic countries.”

Framing and tilting the media: asking the million dollar questions

Robert Mercier is the plutocrat and right wing US computer scientist and media “strategist” at the heart of a US-based multimillion-dollar propaganda network, who expresses an “unwavering commitment to neutralising left wing bias in the news, media and popular culture”. He funded the setting up of Breitbart and has close links to Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. See: Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media.

It is a very troubling development, give the US had a global reputation for promoting a strong free press, protected by the First Amendment. This said, it’s certainly not a recent development that political leaders of western so-called democratic countries have intervened directly in an attempt to modify and direct media reporting. The US is ranked at 43 in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index. 

RSF now ranks the UK 40th in the index; a fall from 38th place in 2016. The Nordic countries have the most favourable PFI ranking, with Norway being at the top, followed by Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. It’s an indictment of both UK and US claims to democracy and freedom of the media that three former Soviet countries: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania rank more highly. The British press were also outranked by Uruguay, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Namibia, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago.

RSF’s report says: “Media freedom has never been so threatened and RSF’s “global indicator” has never been so high (3872). This measure of the overall level of media freedom constraints and violations worldwide has risen 14% in the span of five years. In the past year, nearly two thirds (62.2%) of the countries measured have registered a deterioration in their situation, while the number of countries where the media freedom situation was “good” or “fairly good” fell by 2.3%.”

“It was also in late 2016 that the United Kingdom (down 2 places at 40th) adopted a new law extending the surveillance powers of the British intelligence agencies. Dubbed the “Snoopers’ Charter,” the Investigatory Powers Act put the UK in the unenviable position of having adopted “the most extreme surveillance legislation in UK history”, with a law that lacks sufficient protection mechanisms for journalists and their sources. Even more alarming, in early 2017, the Law Commission put forward a proposal for a new ‘Espionage Act’ that would allow the courts to imprison journalists and others for up to 14 years for obtaining leaked information.”

It goes on to say: “The past year also saw a continuation in the trend for media ownership to become concentrated in ever fewer hands, which is exacerbating the media’s dependence on political and economic power holders.”

“A heavy-handed approach towards the press – often in the name of national security – has resulted in the UK slipping down the [PFI]. Parliament adopted the most extreme surveillance legislation in UK history, the Investigatory Powers Act… posing a serious threat to investigative journalism. Even more alarming, the Law Commission’s proposal for a new ‘Espionage Act’ would make it easy to classify journalists as ‘spies’ and jail them for up to 14 years for simply obtaining leaked information.”

The extensive report also warns that:

“Journalism worthy of the name must be defended against the increase in propaganda and media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests.”

“It is unfortunately clear that many of the world’s leaders are developing a form of paranoia about legitimate journalism.” (RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire).

“The climate of fear results in a growing aversion to debate and pluralism, a clampdown on the media by ever more authoritarian and oppressive governments, and reporting in the privately owned media that is increasingly shaped by personal interests. Journalism worthy of the name must be defended against the increase in propaganda and media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests. Guaranteeing the public’s right to independent and reliable news and information is essential if humankind’s problems, both local and global, are to be solved.”

The press freedom map below is a visual overview of the situation in each country in the Index. The darker the colour, the worse the PFI ranking. 

The mass media are often referred to as the fourth branch of government because of the power they wield and the oversight function they exercise. However, democracy requires the active participation of citizens. Ideally, the media should encourage citizens to engage in the business of governance by informing, educating and mobilising the public.

The notion of the media as a watchdog, as a guardian of public interest, and as a conduit between governors and the governed was once deeply ingrained. The reality, however, is that the media in democracies are failing to live up to this ideal. They are hobbled by stringent and often repressive laws, monopolistic ownership, and too often, the threat of brute force. State controls are not the only constraints. Balanced and impartial reporting is difficult to sustain in a context of neoliberalism because of competitive media markets that put a premium on the superficial and sensational.

Moreover, the media are manipulated and used as proxies in the battle between political groups, in the process sowing divisiveness rather than consensus, hate speech instead of sober debate, and suspicion rather than social trust. The media significantly contribute to public cynicism and democratic decay.

Noam Chomsky has written extensively about the role of the free market media in reinforcing dominant ideology and maintaining the unequal distribution and balance of power. In Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky and Herman explore the media’s role in establishing the apparence of a political and economic orthodoxy (neoliberalism) and extending a seemingly normative compliance with state policies, while also marginalising antithetical or alternative perspectives, dismissing them as heresy. In the US and UK, most left wing commentors have a very diminished media platform from which to present their perspectives and policy proposals.

This “free-market” version of censorship is more subtle and difficult to identify, challenge and undermine than the equivalent propaganda system which was present in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. 

As Chomsky argues, the mainstream press is corporate owned and so reflects corporate priorities and interests. While acknowledging that some journalists are dedicated and well-intentioned, he says that the choice of topics and issues featured in the mass media, the unquestioned premises on which that “coverage” rests, and the range of opinions that are expressed are all constrained to reinforce the state’s dominant ideology.

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Last year, research by YouGov found that the British media is the most right wing in Europe. Readers also ranked the British press as the most biased in all of the seven countries surveyed.

On average British people are more likely than any other country to see the media as skewed towards the right (26% compared to 23% for Finland and 19% for France). Britain’s media is viewed as having a right wing bias, most of all on the subject of economics (net 15 points to the right).

The media have recently portrayed Jeremy Corbyn as both a pacifist and as someone with a paradoxical tendency to “love terrorists”, but then logic and accuracy have never been apparent in most media attacks of the left. (See the Zinoviev letter, for a historic example). 

You know the world is in big trouble when diplomacy and negotiation skills are considered a “threat” to security. It seems that the establishment prefer bombing civilians to get other governments to comply with their wishes. I know which is probably going to contribute to keeping peace the most, and it isn’t “humanitarian” bombing. 

The “poor relations” between nuclear powers has contributed to an atmosphere that “lends itself to the onset of crisis,” according to a very worrying report by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research. The report goes on to say: “The rise in cyber warfare and hacking has left the technical vulnerabilities of nuclear weapons systems exposed to risk from states and terrorist groups.

Nuclear deterrence works—up until the time it will prove not to work. The risk is inherent and, when luck runs out, the results will be catastrophic.

The report went on to say: “The more arms produced, particularly in countries with unstable societies, the more potential exists for terrorist acquisition and use of nuclear weapons.”

The UN report comes as Donald Trump of the US and Vladmir Putin of Russia have both indicated support for expanding their country’s nuclear weapon arsenals. 

Deterrence is at the “greatest risk of breaking down” in North Korea and between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

The report also stated an expressed concern over tensions between the West and Russia, which have grown since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. President Putin has maintained Russia would use nuclear weapons if it felt sufficiently threatened.

You know, I think diplomatic skill is a far better quality to look for in a leader, speaking from the perspective of a civilian, in these troubled times. 

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In most newspapers, including even The Daily Mirror and The Independent, Labour voices that are unreasonably anti-Corbyn outweigh those that are pro-Corbyn. Corbyn’s voice is often absent in the narratives and reporting on him, and when it is present it is often presented in a highly distorted way. 

We all want and need a strong and a critical media, a watchdog of the powers that be, but maybe we do not need an “attack dog” who kills off anyone who dares challenge the status quo and dares to suggest we need a different kind of politics.

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Ed Miliband eating a bacon butty on Channel four’s The Last Leg

The coming of epistemological totalitarianism in the UK

Epistemology relates to the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion. In the UK, our “knowledge” is being framed by the right wing media. The media doesn’t exactly tell us how to think, but it does tell us what to think about, by a selective agenda of topics and the framing of public debate.

The UK establishment news media are highly centralised and dominated by elites who serve and maintain the status quo and who detest democracy.

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In 2015, I wroteOne particularly successful way of neutralising opposition to an ideology is to ensure that only those ideas that are consistent with that ideology saturate the media and are presented as orthodoxy, to “naturalise” them. The Conservative election campaigns are a thoroughly dispiriting and ruthless masterclass in media control.

Communication in the media is geared towards establishing a dominant paradigm and maintaining an illusion of a consensus. This ultimately serves to reduce democratic choices. Such tactics are nothing less than a political micro-management of your beliefs and are ultimately aimed at nudging your voting decisions and maintaining a profoundly unbalanced, pathological status quo.

Presenting an alternative narrative is difficult because the Tories have not only framed all of the issues to be given public priority – they set and stage-manage the media agenda – they have also almost completely dominated the narrative; they construct and manage the political lexicon and now treat words associated with the left, such as welfare, trade unionism, collective bargaining, like semantic landmines, generating explosions of right wing scorn, derision and ridicule. This form of linguistic totalitarianism discredits any opposition before it even arises.

Words like cooperation, inclusion, mutual aid, reciprocity, equality, nationalisation, redistribution – collective values – are simply dismissed as mere anachronisms that need to be stricken from public conversation and exiled from our collective consciousness, whilst all the time enforcing their own bland language of an anti-democratic political doxa. The political manufacturing of a culture of anti-intellectualism extends this aim, too.”

The London School of Economics (LSE) media and communications department undertook a research project, aiming at contributing to the ongoing public debate regarding the role of mainstream media and of journalists in a media-saturated democracy. In Journalistic Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press: From “Watchdog” to “Attackdog”, the research team say:

“We set out to recognise and acknowledge the legitimate role of the press to critique and challenge the powers that be, which is often encapsulated by the metaphor of the watchdog. Our systematic content analysis of a representative sample of newspaper articles published in 8 national newspapers between 1 September and 1 November 2015, however, shows that the press reacted in a highly transgressive manner to the new leader of the opposition, hence our reference to the attackdog metaphor.

Our analysis shows that Corbyn was thoroughly delegitimised as a political actor from the moment he became a prominent candidate and even more so after he was elected as party leader, with a strong mandate. This process of delegitimisation occurred in several ways: 1) through lack of or distortion of voice; 2) through ridicule, scorn and personal attacks; and 3) through association, mainly with terrorism.

All this raises, in our view, a number of pressing ethical questions regarding the role of the media in a democracy. Certainly, democracies need their media to challenge power and offer robust debate, but when this transgresses into an antagonism that undermines legitimate political voices that dare to contest the current status quo, then it is not democracy that is served.”

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See Cameron ridiculed for hypocrisy and quoting Corbyn out of context.

According to the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), newspapers are obliged to “make a clear distinction between comment, conjecture and fact and this has not been applied to media discussion of Jeremy Corbyn, by and large.

You can download the full LSE report here.

Also worth a read: How many of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies do you actually disagree with?

More recently, I explored the role of intentionally deceitful political language and rhetoric in another article  which highlights the role that the media play in shaping our public life. Media manipulation involves a series of related techniques in which partisans create images or arguments that favour their own particular interests. Such tactics may include the use of logical fallacies, psychological manipulations, deception, linguistic, rhetorical and propaganda techniques, and often involve the suppression of information or alternative perspectives by simply crowding them out. 

Discrediting and minimisation are often used in persuading other people or social groups to stop listening to certain perspectives and arguments, or by simply diverting public attention elsewhere. An example of diversion is the recent widespread scapegoating of refugees and people who need social security, such as disabled people or those who have lost their jobs, in a bid to maintain the hegemony of neoliberalism and its values at a time when its failings were brought into sharp focus during and following the global crisis – also exposing failings in the behaviours and practices of the government and the vulture capitalist financier class.

Neoliberalism always gravitates towards increasing inequality, extending and deepening poverty. Fear mongering is sometimes used with a diversion or misdirection propaganda technique to mask this, and may be pervasive. Sometimes politicians and media commentators suddenly take a debate in a weird and irrational but predictable direction to avoid democratic accountability.

The process often begins with a marginalised group being singled out and held to blame for the socioeconomic problems created by the system of socioeconomic organisation itself. Using the construction of folk devils (welfare “skivers” , “workshy” “something for nothing culture”, “culture of entitlement” or “dependency” for example), the political class and media generate moral panic and outrage, which serves to de-empathise the public and to justify the dehumanisation of politically created outgroups, and draconian policies.

Campaigners against social injustice are labeled “extremist” and politicians on the left who stand up against prejudice and discrimination are labeled “saboteurs”, “weak”, “anti-British” and extensively ridiculed and smeared. Every single Labour leader, with the exception of Blair, has had this treatment from the mainstream media.

During the coalition and Conservative governments, the tabloids have chosen and framed most of the debates that have dominated domestic politics in the UK, ensuring that immigration, welfare, law and order, the role of the state, and Britain’s relationship with Europe have all been discussed in increasingly right wing terms, while almost ironically, the government have colonised progressive rhetoric to cover their intentions. It also serves to further discredit the narrative of the left.

However, there is therefore a growing chasm between Conservative discourse, and policy intentions and outcomes. There isn’t a bridge between rhetoric and reality.

The Conservatives commonly use a nudge technique called “social norming” – a Behavioural Insights Team variant of the bandwaggon propaganda technique – particularly for General Election campaigning. It’s about manipulating a false sense of consensus, and normalising Conservative ideology. It’s also about prompting behavioural change, and as such, this method is a blatant attempt to influence the voting behaviours of the public, by suggesting that many others have already “joined” the Conservative “cause” and are happier or better off for doing so. The technique uses societal pressures to play on several basic emotional elements of human nature.

Oh, and then there is the basic technique of telling lies, of course.

Social norming is an appeal to emotional needs to fit in and belong, and also, to be on the side that wins. It has a kind of self fulfilling prophecy element to it, too. It’s used in advertising – words like “everyone” and “most people” or “many” are used a lot to sell brands and imply a popularity of certain products that usually isn’t real.

Political slogans like “a country that works for everyone” and the previous “all in it together” are examples of poor attempts at social norming. It’s aimed at shifting our normative framework to accommodate the status quo, too, regardless of how the accounts don’t tally with reality. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

With this in mind, we need to think about how the conventional political polls are run, who runs them and for what and whose purpose.

I wouldn’t dream of telling you who to vote for in the coming General Election. However, I will ask that you please very carefully consider what you vote for. 

Independent media organisations like Novara Media, Evolve Politics, Media Diversified, Media Lens, CommonSpace, The Canary, Bella Caledonia, Real Media, The Dorset Eye, Welfare Weekly, Scisco Media, Ekklesia, STRIKE! magazine, The Bristol Cable, Now Then, the Manchester Mule, and many others are taking the fight to the establishment. The new independent media have freedom from institutional dependencies, and in particular, from the influence of government and corporate interests.

Independent media includes any form of autonomous media project that is free from institutional dependencies.

We are not constrained by the interests of society’s major power-brokers.

The independent media collectively reflect a model that is democratic, prefigurative, often collaborative and that has a mutually supportive approach to public interest and conscience-based, as opposed to market-based, media.

We are a collection of diligent witnesses writing a collective, qualitative social testimony, marking and evidencing an era of especially historic political upheavals on a global scale.

The Canary says that independent media “have been ably assisted by an array of skilled and committed bloggers like Vox Political, Another Angry Voice, Pride’s Purge and Politics and Insights (Kitty S Jones) to name but a few.” (Takes a small bow). I would add THE SKWAWKBOX to the list, too.

Related

Don’t buy the lie. To oppose the government is not sabotage –  video by Paul Mason

The bias in our mainstream media makes a lot more sense when you see who owns and runs it – Kerry-Anne Mendoza

We need to talk about the mainstream media and the election. Because a disaster is looming – Steve Topple

BBC’s Stephen Sackur accuses Tories of spreading propaganda about Jeremy Corbyn, and of being unaccountable and undemocratic

Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberism 

Dishonest ways of being dishonest: an exploration of Conservative euphemisms

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

Through the looking glass darkly: the Conservatives are colonising progressive rhetoric

Hypernormalisation – Adam Curtis

Politics and Insights condemns George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard in joint independent media statement


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