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US bill passed to crackdown on ‘Russian propaganda fake news’

One week after the Washington Post launched its witch hunt against "Russian propaganda fake news", a bill was passed in the US House of Congress with a sweeping majority.

Published: December 3, 2016, 9:13 am

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    But if and when the bill will arrives in the Senate, it is unclear if it will be used to shut down websites anonymously characterized as “useful idiots” or subversive elements used in disseminating supposed “Russian propaganda”.

    The full “H.R. 6393: Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017”, was sponsored by California Republican Devin Nunes to deal with a series of intelligence-related issues, including “Russian propaganda”, or in any case what the Obama administration calls “propaganda”, and hints at a potential crackdown on “offenders.”

    Nunes’ third largest donor in 2016 was the Google parent Alphabet, Inc.

    A quick perusal of the bill reveals “Title V—Matters relating to foreign countries”, whose Section 501 calls for the government to “counter active measures by Russia to exert covert influence … carried out in coordination with, or at the behest of, political leaders or the security services of the Russian Federation and the role of the Russian Federation has been hidden or not acknowledged publicly.”

    The section lists the following definitions of media manipulation:

    Establishment or funding of a front group.
    Covert broadcasting.
    Media manipulation.
    Disinformation and forgeries.
    Funding agents of influence.
    Incitement and offensive counterintelligence.
    Assassinations.
    Terrorist acts.

    As ActivistPost aptly notes, it is easy to see how this law, if passed by the Senate and signed by the current president, could be used to target, threaten, or eliminate so-called “fake news” websites, arbitrarily defined as any website, or blog, that does not share the mainstream media’s proclivity to serve as the Public Relations team of those in power.

    As Zero Hedge reports, curiously, the bill which was passed on November 30, was introduced on November 22, two days before the Washington Post published its November 24 article citing “experts” who claim Russian propaganda helped Donald Trump get elected.

    The Washington Post cited PropOrNot, an anonymous website that posted a hit list of alternative media websites, including Zero Hedge, Drudge Report, Activist Post, Blacklisted News, the Ron Paul Report, and many others, in pushing a conspiracy theory – without any actual proof – that the listed websites have been either used directly or covertly by the Russians to spread propaganda.

    In casting the group behind this website as “experts,” the Post described PropOrNot simply as “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds,” but not one group member is named. The executive director is quoted, but only on the condition of anonymity.

    WaPo wrote that “two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack US democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment, as an insurgent candidate harnessed a wide range of grievances to claim the White House. The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news,” as they have vowed to do after widespread complaints about the problem.”

    The most striking fault of PropOrNot, is the overly broad criteria used to identify which outlets spread propaganda. According to PropOrNot’s recounting of its methodology, the third step it uses is to check if a site has a history of “generally echoing the Russian propaganda ‘line’,” which includes praise for Putin, Trump, Bashar al-Assad, Syria, Iran, China, and “radical political parties in the US and Europe.”

    When not praising, Russian propaganda includes criticism of the United States, Barack Obama, Clinton, the European Union, Angela Merkel, NATO, Ukraine, “Jewish people,” US allies, the mainstream media, Democrats, and “the center-right or center-left, and moderates of all stripes”.

    These criteria, of course, could include not only Russian state-controlled media organizations, such as Russia Today, but nearly every news outlet in the world, including the Post itself. Yet PropOrNot claims to be uninterested in differentiating between organizations that are explicit tools of the Russian state and so-called “useful idiots,” which echo Russian propaganda out of sincerely held beliefs. “We focus on behavior, not motivation,” they maintain.

    So to PropOrNot, simply having beliefs outside the political mainstream is enough to risk being labelled a “Russian propagandist”.

    Yet, when pressed by a journalist from the New Yorker on the technical patterns that led PropOrNot to label the Drudge Report a Russian propaganda outlet, the anonymous spokesperson could point only to a general “perception” of bias in its content. Drudge is a popular conservative, pro-Trump aggregated news website.

    Some have suggested that PropOrNot is an Ukrainian effort to wage a disinformation campaign against Russia. PropOrNot has admitted publicly that the group includes Ukrainian-Americans.

    Meanwhile, a website on the Darknet is collecting donations to allegedly help organize the assassination of both President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

    Launched earlier this week, the website warns of the “political, environmental and social consequences” of a Trump presidency and urges readers to fund their cause.

    “As you are all well aware, the consequences of having Donald Trump and Mike Prence as the leaders of the free world is extremely dangerous,” the webpage states. “The political, environmental and social consequences will change the United States for the worst.”

    karin@praag.org

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