Thursday, October 18, 2018

Twitter, the Atlantic Council and its elusive Iranian "troll farms"

The Persians are coming!
The former free speech wing of the free speech party and now serial social media censor, Twitter, has dumped some large chunk of data on us, as part of its supposed campaign to
"...improve public understanding of alleged foreign influence campaigns... making publicly available archives of Tweets and media that we believe resulted from potentially state-backed information operations on our service..."
What’s worse, the Atlantic Council, a NATO-related think-tank, sponsored by the UAE and Saudi billionaires, among others, hand-picked by fb to run their g̶l̶o̶b̶a̶l̶ ̶c̶e̶n̶s̶o̶r̶s̶h̶i̶p̶ ̶c̶a̶m̶p̶a̶i̶g̶n̶ monitoring for misinformation and foreign interference... Its board members include notorious war criminal Henry Kissinger, former CIA chiefs Michael Hayden and Mike Morell, and Bush-era head of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff.
These folks through their Digital Forensic Research Lab analyzed the Twitter data and came to conclusions regarding Russian and Iranian digital efforts at subversion in the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the world at large. In four parts:
  1. Part One — Seven key take aways from a comprehensive archive of known Russian and Iranian troll operations
  2. Part Two — How the Internet Research Agency regenerated on Twitter after its accounts were suspended
  3. Part Three — Assessing an covert Iranian social media influence campaign
  4. Part Four — Expanding on key conclusions from the Russian and Iranian troll farms
I have skipped the Russian parts for the moment, because this is already part and parcel of the liberal American mythology and the new “blame Russia for everything” systemic narrative strategy. Thus I assume it would need even less evidence for extravagant claims.But I'll check.
I read part 3, though, the Iranian summary. And this is what I’d say about it:
It would be funny if it weren't so breathtakingly bereft of significance.
  • First of all any "troll farm" that attacks the barbarian Saudi regime is in my book on the side of the angels. I mean, do they really think that "Posts on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia... were routinely hostile and accused the kingdom of terrorism, atrocities, and war crimes" is a false accusation and a bad thing?
  • A second point is that I wouldn't trust a NATO and UAE (not to mention Hariri) funded Council, with criminals against humanity on its board of directors, to tell me the time of day, much less what a "healthy public conversation" is. To make these sort of institutions arbiters of what is allowed on social media, is what is truly frightening to me.
  • Thirdly they are accused of retweeting mostly true information, such as "U.S. has wiped Raqqah off the face of earth", "Trump Is Insane" etc. So they are banned for making (and reproducing) valid statements and (in my book again) largely benign, opinions. This should be contrasted with POTUS being allowed to lie and maliciously slander people through the same platform.

Evil Russian or Iranian, (who knows!), propaganda stating a true fact

  • Fourth. and most importantly, the report actually goes out of its way to not identify this activity as government-run. Which raises the question of "why ban them?", unless they plan to go after all of marketing / political / government accounts [in which case see last point]:
The campaign has not been fully attributed. FireEye tracked it to email addresses and phone numbers in Tehran, but did not identify the organization controlling it. @DFRLab’s own research showed that it consistently shared regime messaging, notably from Ayatollah Khamenei. We refer to it as “Iranian” on the basis of its geography and content; this should not be taken to mean “government run.”
While these posts clearly amplified Iranian positions, it is questionable whether they should be viewed as a trolling campaign, in the sense of using social media to engage personally with other users. The overwhelming bulk of these posts served as advertising, aimed at drawing users towards articles on websites associated with the broader messaging campaign. While they targeted individual users, the posts did not seek to engage with them in meaningful discussion. The purpose appears to have been to draw those users’ attention to pro-Iranian websites.
and most damningly:
One issue on which the Iranian accounts might have been expected to go into overdrive was Trump’s decision to decertify, and then abandon, the Iran nuclear agreement, known as JCPOA. Surprisingly, the Iranian accounts were relatively quiet.
This is, of course, surprising only if one pre-assumes this "troll network" is indeed some purely state-backed spy / troll network, and not (as seems more likely) mostly Iranian English language publications' marketing campaigns, along with genuine pro-government (remember, the "reformer" - meaning in Westernese: the most pro-western electable candidate - and not the "hardliner" won in the last Iranian elections) local and diaspora views of citizens and citizen- or media- sponsored patriotic propaganda.
  • Fifth. It seems that the "Iranian trolls" were actively campaigning against Trump at the same time that the alleged Sinister Tentacled Russian Bot Thing was campaigning against Clinton. Indeed it apparently called them on it in clearly clintonite terms...

...which is strange given that Russia is Iran's best bet to avoid some US-induced Iraqi-style apocalypse. Those damn trolls can't even coordinate properly. Although Iranian "trolls" do seem to be consistently progressive and anti-Trump (a fact that the Idiot in Chief will no doubt use at some point, perhaps as a pretext to invade Iran).

Finally: the 400 pound gorilla in the Middle East government-run bots, trolls and government coordinated social media accounts is Israel (extending beyond the Middle East). Which somehow is never part of any study on coordinated influence campaigns, which are now universally part of western government propaganda. The 10 tonne Elephant, and all time champion in the sport, remains the US, but I'm not holding my breath on a similar "analysis" by the Atlantic Council on the US influence networks on Twitter and FB, anytime soon.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

JEFTA vs Trumpism: Between two evils

This is completely depressing. 1. So the answer to Trumpism apparently according to the Guardian (of all media) is the sort of business as usual that made Trumpism a thing in the first place. In order to stave off protectionism and "populism" it is now apparently some sort of common media wisdom that the sort of mega-regional trade deals that have consistently and forcefully in the neoliberal era, aimed and succeeded to remove democratic control and accountability as obstacles to free trade, are the "enlightened answer" to Trump. This is the sort of deal that initiated the backlash against the neoliberal order, and the anti-globalisation movement starting in Seattle in 1999. Until recently these were criticized by a broad spectrum of political and social forces and this criticism of the WTO, TTIP, NAFTA, CETA, CAFTA etc was ubiquitous and visible even in mainstream media. Now a cursory search of mainstream media articles even mildly critical of the deal turned up no results. Democracy today around the world is apparently being squashed to extermination, between a delirious Trumpist American supremacy and the technocratic / corporate negation of democracy that these sort of deals represent. 2. According to the article, "Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and the EU leaders Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker sought to establish themselves as the flag-bearers of the free world". There is however no metric of authoritarianism today that wouldn't place (imperial nostalgist, media censor, extreme traditionalist) Abe to the right of Trump or Orban. And if the free-world's flag is being carried by the same Eurocrats that imposed neverending austerity and turned Greece into a protectorate, this is really a very, ehm, tainted concept of freedom... 3. Tusk has stated that this deal shows that the EU and Japan are coming "to the defence of a world order based on rules, freedom and transparency and common sense". Yet, these mega deal processes are among the most unaccountable and untransparent imaginable. This is also not a bug from the point of view of the Corporate - Eurocrat lobby and the 1% in both areas whose interests are served by the sort of trade deal that is JEFTA. This is a feature. 4. "Asked how he would respond to concerns that free trade could threaten jobs, Tusk responded: “Political uncertainty, tariff wars, excessive rhetoric, unpredictability, irresponsibility; they are a real risks for our businesses, not trade agreements.”" He is asked about jobs. He answers about businesses. Enough said. 5. Here is criticism of the deal from the European parliament's United Left group (GUE/NGL) group, which seems to be a mong the few still be paying attention to all this:
"“I doubt Council is taking a long-term perspective with their decision tomorrow when they sneak through the free trade agreement with Japan. If you were concerned about CETA, you should be worried about JEFTA. The Commission considers it a CETA+ agreement. It transfers decisions on regulatory reform from parliament to working groups of civil servants that take advice from businesses, industry and financial stakeholders.”
“The agreement exposes Japanese farmers to the competition of highly-subsidised products from Europe. It is not an exaggeration to say that centuries-old traditions in Japanese rural areas will be endangered.”...
“Furthermore, the agreement exposes European car workers to competition from the exploitative Japanese labour market, where unpaid over-time hours is the norm, where death by exhaustion (Karoshi) is commonplace. The labour rights chapter of the agreement is weak and lacks any enforcement. Our demand for a binding dispute settlement tool in the Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapter has been ignored.
Scholz also questioned the undemocratic way in which the agreement came about:
“How many national parliaments have been consulted before taking this decision? Has there been a transparent public debate in the national or even regional parliaments? Without debate and democratic accountability in member states, citizens will become alienated from the EU´s trade policy. This will lead to further weakening of trust in the EU.”
"In JEFTA, the so-called compromises are at the expense of consumers, small producers, and companies," Scholz criticized. "Much is clear from the fine print". However, JEFTA's main problem remains that the agreement "deprives parliaments in both Europe and Japan of regulatory control, and establishes an economic partnership that goes far beyond trade". The now-negotiated adequacy decision on data protection and data trade, for example, could bring lower data protection for European consumers. "People are increasingly losing control over what companies do with their personal information. I would like to remind the Commission and Council that data protection is a fundamental right in the EU. You have no right to make our data a commodity!"
For Japanese small farmers, the complete lifting of tariffs threatens their very existence "if they are fully exposed to the competition of cheap food from Europe," says Scholz. “Two-thirds of Japanese farmers are over 60 years old and farm very small plots. Their traditions will now end."
"The contractual provisions make it possible for JEFTA, under the pretext of reducing trade and investment barriers, to level down consumer and environmental protection standards as well. Japan has already had to abolish two long lists of provisions, as a precondition for our EU to accept to sit down at the negotiating table. This also applies to key aspects of today's social and economic development, such as environmental and social sustainability and labour standards."
Completely inadequate responses were made to concerns, particularly from development organizations, that JEFTA promoted the trafficking of illegally-harvested timber. Hardly controlled in Japan so far, the tropical wood could now reach the European market through this back door.
"With the vote in the European Parliament still scheduled for the coming months and before ratification in Council, MEPs must show the red card to the governments and reject the agreement. Everything else would mean ignoring the concerns of people in Europe and Japan once again."
6. See also this article from Marija Bartl and a consistent Social Democratic angle, on these regional mega trade deals generally:
"If it continues on this course, EU trade policy will further alienate EU citizens. Not only do the mega-regional trade agreements now pursued leave aside many important issues on which they have substantial impact – such as climate, migration or tax – but they also internally project an alienating picture.
These agreements seem to endorse a particular imaginary of the future – the EU as a high tech, cosmopolitan, transnational society, full of mobile actors, with excellent language skills, flexible worldviews and good education. And this image certainly fits the self-understanding of the elites participating in the negotiation of these agreements.
Yet, such a vision of globalization does not leave enough space for the population that has great trouble in imagining itself as part of these promised futures. Trump on the one hand, and Brexit on the other, along with the rise of far right all across Europe, attest to an important sense of exclusion that the current political economy produces."

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Iran's public opinion on JCPOA deal and other matters

Given the orange idiot's anouncement yesterday of USA's exit from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with Iran, and because in his speech he referred to the "Iranian regime" and to "dictators, while implying that the people of Iran do not back their government's stance on the issue, let's see what the actual polls of actual;iranians opinions tell us: Opinion poll in Iran, January 2018 / Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) & IranPoll. Some selected stats:
- Iran’s political system needs to undergo fundamental change. 16,4 strongly/somwhat agree, 76,7% strongly/somewhat disagree
- Iran’s current level of involvement in Iraq and Syria is not in Iran’s national interests: S/s agree: 32,6% S/s Disagree: 61,2%
- In your opinion, how important is it for our country to develop its nuclear program? Very/somewhat: 85,8%, Not important: 9,6%
- In July 2015, Iran and the P5+1 countries reached a comprehensive agreement in regard to Iran’s nuclear program, which is also known as the JCPOA. In general
and based on what you know about the JCPOA, to what degree do you approve or disapprove of this agreement?

S/S Approve: 55,1% S/S disapprove: 33,8%
- How confident are you that the United States will live up to its obligations toward the nuclear agreement? V/S confident 11,6%, Not confident 86,4%
- How would you rate American President Donald Trump’s policies toward Iran on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means completely hostile, 5 means nether hostile nor friendly, and 10 means completely friendly? 0-3: 82,9%, 4-6 13,8% 7-10: 1,2%
- If the United States takes measures against Iran that are in violation of the JCPOA agreement, do you think:
  • Iran should retaliate by restarting the aspects of its nuclear program that it has agreed to suspend under the JCPOA: 58.7%
  • Iran should continue to live by the JCPOA agreement and should seek to resolve the issue by taking its complaints to the UN: 37,7%
- If the United States decides to withdraw from the JCPOA agreement and reimpose sanctions on Iran, but other P5+1 countries remain committed to the agreement and do not reimpose sanctions, what do you think Iran should do?
  • Iran should withdraw from the JCPOA 52.8%  
  • Iran should remain committed to the JCPOA 39.0%  
 - What do you think should be Iran’s response if Trump threatens to re-impose U.S. sanctions lifted under the JCPOA unless Iran agrees to increase the duration of the nuclear limits it has accepted under the JCPOA?
  • Iran should accept Donald Trump’s demand 1,4%
  • Iran should agree to renegotiate the JCPOA but only accept increasing the duration of the nuclear limits it has accepted under the JCPOA as part of a deal that includes the US lifting more sanctions on Iran 27,2%
  • Iran should not agree to increase the duration of the limits it has accepted under the JCPOA under any circumstances. 64,4% 
- Thinking about how the JCPOA has worked out so far, which view is closer to yours? 
  • The JCPOA experience shows that it is worthwhile for Iran to make concessions because through compromise Iran can negotiate mutually beneficial agreements with world powers. 21.9% 
  • The JCPOA experience shows that it is not worthwhile for Iran to make concessions, because Iran cannot have confidence that if it makes a concession world powers will honor their side of an agreement. 67.4 
- In your opinion, how important is it for our country to develop missiles?
v/s important: 94,9%, not important: 4%

-  As a general rule, what do you think is the better approach for Iran to pursue in trying to solve the problems it is facing in the region:
  • Seeking to become the most powerful country in the region 46.2%
  • Seeking to find mutually acceptable solutions with other countries through negotiations 49.4% 
- In your opinion should Iran increase its support of groups fighting terrorist groups like ISIS, decrease it, or maintain it at the current level?

  • Increase 54,8%
  • Decrease: 10,2%
  • Maintain it at the current level 31,7%

Some people say that going forward, Bashar Assad should not be allowed to remain President of Syria because he is an incompetent leader who used excessive force against Syrian civilians and let ISIS gain control of territory. Others say that Bashar Assad did what was necessary to keep Syria together and whether he remains the president of Syria should be decided by the Syrian people. Which view is closer to your perspective?

  • Bashar Assad should not be allowed to remain President of Syria 9.2%
  • Syrian people should decide whether Bashar Assad remains as President of Syria 84.0   
-  Which of these is closer to your view about the situation in Yemen?
  • Iran should help the Houthis defeat their opponents 46.7%  
  • Iran should not get involved in Yemen’s domestic conflict 41.2 %
Which position is closer to yours? 1. Islamic and Western religious and social traditions are incompatible with each other and conflict between the two is inevitable; or 2. Most people in the West and the Islamic world have similar needs and wants, so it is possible to find common ground for peaceful coexistence?
  • Conflict is inevitable 35,2%
  • Common ground possible 58,1%
-  In your opinion, to what degree should our country's policymakers take religious teachings into account when they make decisions?
  • A lot/somewhat: 77%
  • Not a lot / Not at all: 20,8%
Thinking about how much political freedom people in Iran have, do you think they have too much, too little, or just about the right amount of political freedom?
  • Too much 9.2%
  • Too little 30.4 
  • Just about the right amount 56.2 
- Do you think the government tries to exercise too much control over people’s personal lives, not enough control, or about the right amount of control?     
  • Too much 17.6%
  • Too little 17.9 
  • Just about the right amount 57.7     
In your view, is global climate change a very serious problem, somewhat serious, not too serious or not a problem?
v/s serious 94,3%
not serious / not a problem: 3,8%

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Society of Social Media

Literary Experiment: Take the first 9 theses of Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle (1967), and replace the word "spectacle" with "social media". Fix the syntax. The result is, well, interesting:

1. The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of social media. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.
2. Images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream, and the former unity of life is lost forever. Apprehended in a partial way, reality unfolds in a new generality as a pseudo-world apart, solely as an object of contemplation. The tendency toward the specialization of images-of-the-world finds its highest expression in the world of the autonomous image, where deceit deceives itself. Social media in their generality are a concrete inversion of life, and, as such, the autonomous movement of non-life.
3. Social media appears at once as society itself, as a part of society and as a means of unification. As a part of society, it is that sector where all attention, all consciousness, converges. Being isolated - and precisely for that reason -this sector is the locus of illusion and false consciousness; the unity it imposes is merely the official language of generalized separation.
4. Social media are not a collection of images; rather, they are a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.
5. Social media cannot be understood either as a deliberate distortion of the visual world or as a product of the technology of the mass dissemination of images. It is far better viewed as a weltanschauung that has been actualized, translated into the material realm - a world view transformed into an objective force.
6. Understood in their totality, social media are both the outcome and the goal of the dominant mode of production. It is not something added to the real world - not a decorative element, so to speak. On the contrary, it is the very heart of society's real unreality. In all their specific manifestations - news or propaganda, advertising or the actual consumption of entertainment - social media epitomize the prevailing model of social life. They are the omnipresent celebration of a choice already made in the sphere of production, and the consummate result of that choice. In form as in content social media serve as total justification for the conditions and aims of the existing system. They further ensure the permanent presence of that justification, for they govern almost all time spent outside the production process itself.
7. The phenomenon of separation is part and parcel of the unity of the world, of a global social praxis that has split up into reality on the one hand and image on the other. Social practice, which social media's autonomy challenges, is also the real totality to which the social media is subordinate. So deep is the rift in this totality, however, that social media are able to emerge as its apparent goal. The language of the social media is composed of signs of the dominant organization of production - signs which are at the same time the ultimate end-products of that organization.
8. Social media cannot be set in abstract opposition to concrete social activity, for the dichotomy between reality and image will survive on either side of any such distinction. Thus social media, though they turn reality on its head, are themselves a product of real activity. Likewise, lived reality suffers the material assaults of social media's mechanisms of contemplation, incorporating the socialmediatic order and lending that order positive support. Each side therefore has its share of objective reality. And every concept, as it takes its place on one side or the other, has no foundation apart from its transformation into its opposite: reality erupts within the social media, and the social media is real. This reciprocal alienation is the essence and underpinning of society as it exists.
9. In a world that really has been turned on its head, truth is a moment of falsehood.