Tag Archives: media manipulation

Media manipulation – the tail wags the dog

The Integrity Initiative logo. Don’t be fooled by the words”democracy”: and “disinformation” – they often come out of the mouths of scoundrels these days.

Recent exposure of a shady organisation, the Integrity Initiative, has exposed how media, “think tanks” and politicians are mobilised in campaigns to manipulate public opinion and achieve political objectives. leaked documents show how this is funded by states (in this case the UK) as well as private interests.

Set up in 2015 by The Institute for Statecraft, the Integrity Initiative Describes itself as:

“a network of people and organizations from across Europe dedicated to revealing and combating propaganda and disinformation.”

And it describes its purpose as:

“To counter Russian disinformation and malign influence, and associated weapons of “Hybrid warfare”, in Europe and North America by: expanding the knowledge base; harnessing existing expertise, and; establishing a network of networks of experts, opinion formers and policy makers, to educate national audiences in the threat and to help build national capacities to counter it.”

Don’t be fooled by the term “Russian disinformation.” This really means any information the NATO states want to keep hidden or information with a different spin to that preferred by the NATO establishment.

The documents show the mechanism the Integrity Initiative uses to influence public and political opinions. This uses “clusters” of journalists, politicians, the staff of “think tanks” and state bodies like the Ministry of Defence. And no doubt intelligence agents will be in there somewhere.

They say:

“Members of Integrity Initiative clusters actively engage with policy-makers, and the wider public in their own countries to show them the damage which can be done to their societies by disinformation.”

The most public part of this “engagement” will be media campaigns.

An example of how these “clusters” work

Leaked documents from this groups give an example of one of their successful campaigns – the reversal of the planned appointment of Pedro Baños as Director of National Security in Spain.

First – this from the Wikipedia entry for Pedro Baños (machine translation from Spanish):

“[He] started working as an analyst at the General Secretariat of the Army Staff in 1999 and in 2001, for three years, he was Head of Counterintelligence and Security of the European Army in Strasbourg . 3 From 2004 to 2010 he served as Professor of Strategy and International Relations at the Higher School of the Armed Forces. From 2010 to 2012 he was assigned to the Strategic Affairs and Security Division of the General Secretariat for Defense Policy, as head of the Geopolitical Analysis Area, and in 2012 he moved to stand-by working later as an analyst and autonomous lecturer.

He has worked at the European Parliament’s headquarters in Brussels as a military adviser and has participated in three missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina ( UNPROFOR , SFOR and EUFOR ).

In 2017 he published the book Así se domina el mundo. Unveiling the keys to world power , a dissemination work on geopolitics, denouncing the “hypocrisy” of international politics in which it considers that “there are no good or bad” and that each country “seeks its interests”. 4

On June 7, 2018 it was announced that it would assume the National Security Directorate of Spain with responsibility for the secrecy of the Government’s communications, the coordination of the National Security, Maritime Security and Cybersecurity councils, as well as the management of migratory crises and energetics 6 days later he transpired that finally the President of Government Pedro Sanchez opted by the General Miguel Angel Ballesteros for the position.”

The news report Sanchez dismisses Pedro Baños as director of National Security and finally opts for General Ballesterosdescribes the event in the last sentence above.

Apparently, the decision reversal arose from a “barren polemic for his media profile and his opinions on international politics.” This polemic accused him of “having sympathy for the Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

See the problem? Because Pedro Baños recognised that in international relations “each country seeks its interests” he gets labeled as a supporter of Vladimir Putin and hence guilty of promoting Russian Disinformation.”

This documents from the Integrity Initiative reveals how this “barren polemic” was carried out:

Funding for the Integrity Initiative campaigns

This outfit claims private funding for the early years but is now funded by the UK government to the tune of over 2 million pounds per year. This is acknowledged by the outfit itself – a bit hard to deny as the leaked documents come largely from their funding applications.

The network revealed by cluster members

The leaked documents contain information for cluster groups in a number of European countries. I will just list one example here – the members of the UK cluster in its subgroups. The cluster is led by Keith Sargent – a member of The Institute for Statecraft according to his email address. (The leaked documents contain email address but I have not included them in the post as I hesitate to show personal information. However, readers can access the leaked document with these addresses here –392195849-UK-Cluster).

Office Core Team

This contains 15 staff and 3 fellows so gives some idea of the financial backing and size of the UK cluster.

I have provided names for members of the other clusters as readers will no doubt recognise some of these people.

UK General – Inner Core – Russia

William Browder
Mungo Melvin
Ben Nimmo
Ed Lucas
Anne Applebaum
Charles Dick
Euan Grant
Bobo Lo
John Lough
Vadim Kleiner
Drew Foxall
Vladimir Ashurkov
James Nixey
Craig Oliphant
James Sherr
Keir Giles
Kadri Liik
Igor Sutyagin
Andrew Wood
Peter Pomerantsev
Ian Bond
Nina Jancowicz

How many names do you recognise? William Bowder is a very active campaigner for Russian sanctions and promoter of the Magnitsky Act. Anne Applebaum can be relied on for frequent and rather naive anti-Russian media articles and books. Ben Nimmo works for the Atlantic Council in its Digital Forensic Research Lab and is well know for outing real live humans as automatic “Russian Bots.” The Digital Forensic Research Lab is contracted to work with Facebook to censor accounts and “fake news.”

UK General – Inner Core – Military & Defence

John Ardis
Rob Dover
Robert Hall
Dr David Ryall
Neil Logan Brown
Ahmed Dassu
Anonymous
Duncan Allen
Catherine Crozier
David Fields
Alex Finnen
Giles Harris
Charlie Hornick
Paul Kitching
Alan Parfitt
Andy Pryce
Arron Rahaman
Rob Sandford
Richard Slack
Nick Smith
Joanna Szostek
Nick Washer
Joe Green
Adrian Bradshaw
Jeremy Blackham
Andrew

The email addresses show a number of members of the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence in this sub-cluster.

UK General – Outer Core – Russia

Roderick Collins
Julian Moore
Alexander Hoare
Graham Geale
James Wilson
Sir Adam Thompson
Alastair Aitken
Chris Bell
Robin Ashcroft
Alistair Wood
Orsyia Lutsevych
Ben Bradshaw
Baiba Braze
Nick Childs
Alzbeta Chmelarova
Zach Harkenrider
David Nicholas
Maya Parmar
Ellie Scarnell
Asta Skaigiryte
Gintaras Stonys
Ian Williams
Carl Miller
Clement Daudy
Gabriel Daudy
Lucy Stafford
Diane Allen
Alexandros Papaioannou
Paddy Nicoll

This list contains several members of parliament and staff of government departments. Baiba Braze’s email address is for the UK embassy in Latvia.

UK General – Outer Core – Military & Defence

Patrick Mileham
Agnes Josa
Steve Jermy
Steve Tatham
Primavera Quantrill
Lorna Fitzsimons

Agnes Josa’s email address is for the Government of Catalonia.

UK Journalists

Deborah Haynes
David Aaronovitch
Dominic Kennedy
Natalie Nougayrede
Bruce Jones
Neil Buckley
Jonathan Marcus

These journalists work for The Times, The BBC and the Financial Times.

Conclusion

It is naive to think that the frequent political campaigns we see arise spontaneously. These leaked documents provide one illustration of how such campaigns can be launched and coordinated. How they are facilitated by links between think tanks, military, and state departments, politicians and journalists. It is logical that these networks will also contain intelligence agents.

Although this organisation and similar ones promote themselves as fighting “disinformation” readers would be naive to taker them at their word. They often promote disinformation or fake news themselves, or at least provide a spin on events and news promoting a state and ideologically approved narrative.

The mainstream media is clearly integrated into such networks – which should make readers think twice about the news this media presents. My advice is to always approach the media, all media, critically and intelligently. And to include alternative sources of information in one’s day-to-day reading.

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“Internet and social media misinform thousands daily”

A recent analysis of the internet and social media illustrates the up-hill battle science and health professionals, and pro-science lay people, often face with misinformation and outright distortion of science. The authors show the problem for the case of community water fluoridation and concluded:

“The Internet and social media are misinforming thousands of people daily about the safety, health, and economic benefits of community water fluoridation. The leading anti-fluoridation website had 5 to 60 times more traffic than the two leading profluoridation health organizations. All Groups and Pages analyzed on Facebook were against fluoridation, while 99 percent of the videos searched on YouTube and the majority (70 percent) of fluoridation tweets on Twitter were anti-CWF fluoridation.”

This study drew important lessons for science and health professions:

Pro-fluoridation organizations need to have a better presence on the Internet and utilize social media to educate the American people about the facts on fluoridation. Individual dental and health practitioners need to educate their patients about fluoridation, so their patients will not be easily misguided by misinformation on the Internet and social media.

And, of course, these lessons are just as applicable to New Zealand.

The study is reported in the paper:

Mertz & Allukian (2014). Community Water Fluoridation on the Internet and Social Media. Journal of the Massachusetts Dental Society, 63(2), 32–36. (You can download a pdf here.)

They monitored website traffic for major fluoridation websites from June 2011 – May 2012 and fluoridation information on Facebook on April 3, 2012. In addition they collected search data for the term “fluoridation” on Twitter for 2 periods (March 1 – 14 and April 1 – 14, 2012) and on YouTube for April 3, 2012.

The data

I illustrate some examples of the data presented in the figures and tables below.

This figure shows that the most important anti-fluoridation website, Paul Connett’s Fluoride Action Network, had far more traffic than the Wikipedia fluoridation section and the institutional web sites (which are pro-fluoridation) on fluoridation.

web-sites

The situation for Facebook groups and pages was even more dire with 193 search results being “anti” while none were “pro.”

Table-1

The Twitter search also showed far more anti- than pro-fluoridation tweets, although the data shows  the numbers are influenced by important articles.

Table-2

Some observations

Of course this is a limited study and much more could be said about this situation, the business interests driving it and possible solutions. I list a few observations below:

1: This study is a snapshot in time. For example, Table 1 would look a little different at this time (January 2015) than it did in April 2012. There are now a number of specifically pro-fluoridation, or at least uncommitted Facebook pages and groups.

My brief search for Facebook “pages” and “groups” using the words fluoride or fluoridation showed about 8 pro-fluoridation, or neutral, pages in the first 50 results for “fluoride” and 2 for “fluoridation.” There were about 4 “pro” Facebook groups in the first 50 for either of these two search terms.

Things are improving. In New Zealand we have seen an increased activity of pro-science groups since the undemocratic decision (now reversed) of the Hamilton City Council to stop fluoridation. This was under pressure from anti-fluoride activists (nationally and internationally) and against the expressed wishes of the citizens. Similar fight-backs are happening overseas – in USA, Canada, Ireland and the UK. The progress is welcome  but more is required. Although I should note there is a tendency for anti-fluoridation activists to set up Facebook pages for many locations where there may have been suggestions of campaigns but the pages become inactive in a short while.

2: Who is financing these anti-fluoridation websites and social media activity? There is a clear connection between the “natural” health industry and anti-fluoridation organisations and activity. Paul Connett’s Fluoride Action Network is organisationally connected with Mercola’s “natural” health business (and anti-vaccination groups) through the “Health Liberty” organisation  and financial flows from Mercolla to FAN are well known. Similarly in  New Zealand the “natural” health industry, through the NZ Health trust, has financed legal action of anti-fluoridation groups (see Who is funding anti-fluoridation High Court action? and Corporate backers of anti-fluoride movement lose in NZ High Court).

3: Is there an underlying purposeful strategy behind then internet and social media anti-fluoridation activity? Definitely. I gave an example illustrating this in Anti-fluoridationist astro-turfing and media manipulation. Activist groups will create press releases pretending to be scientifically authoritative. These are picked up by the “natural” health web sites and magazines (and sometimes, if they are lucky) by the main media. They get coverage on Facebook pages and are tweeted – often automatically by internet bots and the web sites themselves. They can easily create “Twitter storms” this way and widely spread their misinformation.

Here are some typical examples that get repeated ad nauseum:

And, the misinformation cycle gets repeated. Information on Twitter gets reproduced in blog comments and included in web sites and press releases.

4: Institutional web sites are not really suitable for this sort of debate on the internet and in social media. This is partly the problem of a serious, rational or logical web presence challenging an often emotional web presence. A calm explanation of the science challenging claims appealing to preconceived prejudices and emotional needs.

Also, institutions traditionally have felt such debates are somewhat “below” them, preferring not to get into what they see as “street-fighting.” Recently I heard of a case where an anti-pseudoscience group had asked permission to use material from a professional dental site for use in a booklet. They were turned down because the association could not see why this was necessary!

This suggests that pro-science activists should consider taking the initiative, launching their own web sites, etc., and participating in these sorts of struggles, rather than relying on existing institutions. Similarly such activists should see they can play a far more active role on Facebook and Twitter than institutions can, or a willing to.

Conclusion

This study shows that people are in general being misinformed by social media and the internet about community water fluoridation. I suggest this is not accidental – political and business interests are actively encouraging this misinformation. In particular, the “natural” health industry plays a key role in promoting misinformation on fluoridation.

Recently things are improving a little with a fight back from pro-science groups and individuals. I suggest their activity is essential as institutional groups and media outlets are not suited for  internet and social media debates.

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Anti-fluoridationist astro-turfing and media manipulation

Update: The National Fluoridation Information Service today responded to the NZFIS press release to make clear that it did not originate from them (see 27.08.13MediaReleaseFinal).


The recent attempt by anti-fluoridation activists in Hamilton to limit the ability of academic scientists to comment on the fluoridation issue seems pretty dishonest (see Anti-fluoride activists attempt to silence science). Especially with the upcoming referendum. But that isn’t the only dishonest tactics these anti-fluoridation activists get up to. They are also involved in very cynical manipulation of press releases, the media and the establishment of front organisations – astro turfing.

NZ Fluoride Information Service

A recent press release for the NZ Fluoride Information Service (NZFIS) surprised some people – including even very senior members of the Fluoride Free organisations (see screen capture below). It even fooled at least one give away newspaper, The Hamilton News, into reporting their press release as a “story” (see Fluoride group praises council).

The press release was simply a congratulatory message to the Hamilton City Council for their fluoride “tribunal” and decision to stop fluoridation. It asserted that the decision “was a perfect example of science winning over bias.” It claimed “that opponents of fluoridation put up all the science, and the pro-fluoridation side put up nothing but ill-informed, misguided comment and misinformation.”

Bloody hell, any objective observer of the submissions made to that “tribunal” couldn’t possibly agree. Who the hell are the NZ Fluoridation Information Service? Surely they aren’t the body set up by the Ministry of Health tasked with providing updates on current fluoride research – the National Fluoride Information Service? (An organisation well worth following for updates on the science behind fluoridation issues).

Well, no, but the names are similar enough to confuse the less informed observer (and some senior members of the Fluoridation Free groups). The National Fluoride Information Service (NFIS) is an information and advisory service supporting District Health Boards and Territorial Local Authorities by providing robust and independent scientific and technical information, advice and critical commentary around water fluoridation.

In contrast the NZFIS is,  in fact, a front organisation for the Fluoride Action Network of NZ (FANNZ) – the anti-fluoridation activists. They claim to be an independent body providing objective advice and also claim to have “been created by independent experts in this subject. The Service includes scientists, doctors, dentists, and lawyers. It has direct access to many international fluoride researchers.” But this is just typical of they way anti-fluoridations claim their spokepersons are experts.

The “founder and science and legal advisor” for the NZFIS is Mark Atkins. He is also the “Science and Legal Advisor for  FANNZ management committee – so much for independence.

Bryne atkin

They are in it together – FANNZ and its front organisation the NZ Fluoride Information Service. Anti-fluoride campaigners Mark Atkin and Mary Byrne offer free bottles of artesian water at Wainuiomata Mall. Photo / Jamie Adams. Credit: NZ Herald

Mary Bryne, who is the National Co-ordinator and media contact for FANNZ is works closely with Mark Atkins in FANNZ, and probably also the  NZ Fluoride Information Service.

So the  NZ Fluoride Information Service is not an “independent” organisation – it is just a blatant example of astro-turfing. So poorly done that they mix their spokespeople and use the same postal address.

Contact for FANNZ

Contact for NZFIS

Postal: PO Box 9804
Marion Square
Wellington
Postal: PO Box 9804
Marion Square,
Wellington 6141

And then the local Fluoride Free groups circulate and publicise press releases from the NZ Fluoride Information Service as if they have originated from independent sources – sometimes media organisations even reprint them. Pure media manipulation.

Hamilton FF

Fluoride Free Hamilton posts the NZFIS press release on its Facebook page as if it is independent – and fools some of its members.

Frankly I think that sort of behaviour is unethical.

See also:

Similar articles on fluoridation
Making sense of fluoride Facebook page
New Zealanders for fluoridation Facebook page