A few cards on the table about 89up. It’s a PR company, the kind which is not exactly without an agenda of its own. It does for example describe itself as the “sole communications agency for Best for Britain.” You may recognize the name ‘Best for Britain,’ because it’s the anti-Brexit group that’s been in the headlines recently due to the fact it’s part funded by arch-meddler, billionaire George Soros.
— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) February 12, 2018
In simple terms, this report into alleged Russian meddling around Brexit comes from a group which has links to a foreign billionaire who is publicly meddling in Brexit.
Speaking of which, here’s a tweet from a communications worker at Soros’ Open Society Foundation, who is apparently shocked and aghast at these findings.
Wow. Anti-EU articles and tweets by #Russian outlets had 4 times more impact than official Leave #Brexit campaigns, according to new report by @89_up. 261 articles said to be viewed 134 million times. Remember, the Kremlin's objective is a weakened UK. https://t.co/JcEKGZVK4X
— Maxim Tucker (@MaxRTucker) February 12, 2018
The CEO of 89up, Mike Harris, has left quite an online trail behind him attacking Russia, or passionately defending Soros. There’s nothing wrong with that – a person is free to have his views – but there is a clear hypocrisy on show with his willingness to accuse others of having questionable motivations.
89up boasts that its report into RT and Sputnik is self-funded, but who that’s supposed to reassure is hard to say. The firm claims it’s worried about the role of “autocratic regimes in shaping public opinion.” But not the role of foreign billionaires with questionable motives, it seems.
The report promises to “lay bare the extent of Russian media interference” into Brexit. Actually, all it really does is point out that RT and Sputnik covered the EU vote, wrote some stories and then tweeted them out. 89up’s clients should be concerned that this is regarded as such a sinister and advanced concept to a company specializing in social media.
— 89up (@89_up) February 12, 2018
So let’s get to the evidence, such as it is.
This paragraph illustrates the quality of the conclusions: “Social media activity by the two channels spiked on the day of the referendum, with both platforms increasing their Twitter activity significantly which matched the surge in Russian bot activity on the day.”
The revelation there is that the social media accounts of news organizations were busy on one of the biggest news days in recent decades. I’d guess it matched a surge in general journalistic activity as well.
The inference being that RT should ignore stories about Brexit buses and UKIP immigration posters when every other media outlet is reporting on them. If there was any misleading information, that’s because the politicians campaigning were being misleading, and RT was reporting it.
It’s claimed the evidence of meddling was “in plain view” during the referendum. It’s absolutely true to say that RT’s website and social media accounts are openly available to anyone who’s interested – that’s the very nature of them.
“Our researchers analysed the most shared of these articles, and identified 261 articles with a clear anti-EU bias to the reporting.” It’s not made clear who decided which were biased, why an anti-EU bias is particularly bad given it turns out Britain itself appears to have that very same bias, and why only the most shared articles were examined.
“RT’s coverage was biased …. towards the Leave campaign.” Have the researchers read or watched any other media in Britain? And what about this: “Many of the articles by the platforms during the referendum were highly misleading, with RT and Sputnik publishing grossly exaggerated or false stories on European refugee flows, immigration to the UK, the role of MI5 during the referendum and the CIA role in creating the EU.” And what about this: “Many of the articles by the platforms during the referendum were highly misleading, with RT and Sputnik publishing grossly exaggerated or false stories on European refugee flows, immigration to the UK, the role of MI5 during the referendum and the CIA role in creating the EU.” “The report shows the social reach of these anti-EU articles published by the Kremlin-owned channels was 134 million potential impressions.” Where were those impressions? If they were in America, for example, they’re going to struggle to influence Brexit.
“No other state controlled media outlet came close to social exposure of Russian media.” If anything, this is congratulations to RT’s social media department, because that is kind of their job, to get stories read. It’s not more sinister just because it’s linked to the word Russia, and perhaps there should be some examination about whether there is a widespread demonization happening here.
The claims include that RT and Sputnik are different from other media outlets because, among other things, they’re “state-funded” and appear to be about “soft power” and “influence.” Does that remind you of anyone else? (Y’know, the BBC, the corporation which faces constant accusations of anti-Brexit bias.)
Optimistically, 89up says it has handed its report to the British Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee and called on “parliament to investigate role of UK-based Russian propaganda outlets.” The group of MPs looking into alleged Brexit meddling has continuously failed to find evidence that it actually happened, so it will probably gratefully accept the report.
More revelations are promised in the coming days, but based on the opening accusations, no one should expect to see a smoking gun.
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