Russian ‘information warfare’ aims to create chaos, distrust, and division.
In the US 2016 presidential election, not only was their interference designed to support Donald Trump’s campaign – voters were also encouraged to back Bernie Sanders and The Green Party’s Jill Stein. After the election, Russian bots quickly turned on Trump. The goal is to divide and weaken western democracies.
Russia is active on British social media channels too. The Times yesterday highlighted accounts rubbishing Russian involvement in Salisbury, which appear to be operated from Russia. The Kremlin-backed RT (formerly Russia Today) attracts 400,000 viewers a month in the U.K. But they needn’t bother.
Following the attack in Salisbury of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, Alt-left media sites The Canary, Evolve Politics, and Skwawkbox, have been promoting conspiracy theories which blame the British government, Israel, the United States and Uzbekistan.
We wrote yesterday that Evolve Politics published an article on an interview with a former MI5 agent, who denied that the Russians would have any motive for the attack and hinted that it could have been the actions of the UK instead. The former officer in question left the agency in 1996 and has since claimed that 9/11 was an inside job by the US military and that the British secret service paid to have Princess Diana killed.
The Canary, the largest of the Alt-left sites, published a similar article last night titled ‘Ex UK ambassador makes an observation that unravels the Russian spy story.’ The ‘observation’ in question was taken from a blog in which suggested that Israel had been responsible for the Salisbury attack, because:
“Israel has the nerve agents. Israel has Mossad which is extremely skilled at foreign assassinations. Theresa May claimed Russian propensity to assassinate abroad as a specific reason to believe Russia did it. Well Mossad has an even greater propensity to assassinate abroad”
Craig Murray, the author of the blog, is a favourite source of The Canary’s. He was recently involved in a libel case with Mail Online journalist, Jake Wallis Simons, after Murray denied ever having written that Israel “claims tribal superiority over the entire rest of the world” in a Sky News interview on antisemitism. The quotes had indeed appeared on his blog.
Skwawkbox, the site run by Steve Walker who sells private services to the NHS, has repeated the Russian government’s argument that the Novichok nerve agent used in the attack could have come from sites across Europe, including Porton Down in Wiltshire. The defence laboratory, where the chemical was tested after the attack, has become the source of a conspiracy theory that the UK government carried out the attack, based on the site’s proximity to where it was carried out. Skwawkbox has also tweeted support for an alternative theory, that the US carried out the attack having obtained the chemical weapon from Uzbekistan.
Conspiracy theories such as these are hilarious for their absurdity, but they are equally dangerous. The distrust they help build in politicians and the media damages democracy, as people give up trying to work out what sources of information they can and can’t take at face value and stop engaging all together. They help develop the conditions that authoritarian figures like Putin and Donald Trump thrive under. And they create scapegoats (often Muslims or Jews) who are then targeted for abuse and violence.
But sites like The Canary make their money on a per-click basis, and when blaming Israel is better for business than printing the truth, they put profits first.