Category Archives: Social Media

Covid HAS harmed online politics – but so have social media platforms that suppress alternatives

The Covid-19 pandemic and its lockdowns that forced so many of us online for our social interactions has polarised and poisoned political debate, according to some arguments.

But is it really the people reading and responding who are fouling the well, or the organisations dictating what they see and influencing how they respond?

This Writer’s experience is that people turned away from politics – hugely – during the lockdowns, and are now only slowly returning.

Vox Political had its highest-ever readership in March 2020 – nearly one million hits, and I think that was because I was reporting the failures of Boris Johnson’s leadership on Covid in an unbiased way.

Readership remained high during April and May, but then it suddenly and sharply dropped off during June.

It is certainly possible that some of this decline was due to the debate about Covid-19. In his article on the BBC News website, Richard Morris puts forward views that Dominic Cummings’s visit to Barnard Castle polarised the public, as did the debate on mask-wearing and the lockdowns themselves. I would add the debate on vaccination, also.

But who fuelled those debates? Suddenly the social media were full of “experts” we’d never heard of before, all screaming that their view was right and we were fools if we didn’t accept it.

Who promoted those views? Who gave them the space? Wasn’t it right-wing media outlets with an agenda to get people back out of their homes, never minding that they were in danger of death from the disease, and into work making money for rich industrialists again?

How many Tory MPs spent the whole of the crisis ranting about the economy when they should have been concerned with their constituents’ health?

And how many right-wing social media organisations minimised rational debate by using algorithms that push links to sites like mine down users’ notifications in order to starve us of followers and views?

I’m thinking of Facebook under Nick Clegg, and of Twitter, because those are main outlets of mine. Vox Political‘s following on FB has been static at 42,500 for years because of this mistreatment.

It’s a recordable phenomenon. I have lost count of the number of old readers who have contacted me to say they were amazed Vox Political was still going because they had not seen a link for (insert long time period here), despite having asked to be alerted when notifications are posted.

And sites like mine lose out on shares because people are afraid they will be criticised for supporting points of view that don’t conform with those of their more loudly-opinionated right-wing acquaintances who have only gained a platform because they have received preferential treatment.

None of this is properly addressed in the Morris article.

Instead we see information that five per cent of UK internet users are in a “left-wing echo chamber” and two per cent of them are in a similar position on the right.

We see an opinion that “it’s ‘only human’ for journalists, politicians and those in media to see extreme negative reactions to their posts online and for this to ‘colour your perception of the whole world the same way’, with no discussion of who is posting those reactions and why.

Do you remember the government’s Nudge Unit, which is now at least partly in private hands? It was a shady organisation David Cameron used to push the public into supporting his policies by subtly guiding us into decisions we would not have taken otherwise.

So, for example, people may have found themselves supporting the benefit policies that have killed thousands of good people for no reason, because they were “nudged” into believing that benefit claimants were all scroungers who were perfectly capable of work but were defrauding the system (tell that to the diabetes sufferer who could not keep his insulin at the right temperature because he could not afford to power his fridge – oh, but you can’t: he’s dead).

The article concludes by saying it may “take years to find out the lasting impact on society of what took place in the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021” – but I think it’s worse than that.

I think after those years have passed, we’ll be presented with a conclusion about what happened that suits the people in power now – because they will have used all the levers at their disposal, including manipulation of the social media by “nudging”, to make you believe them.

Call me paranoid if you like, but what did you think of mask-wearing and social distancing, of the lockdowns, of vaccinations before somebody told you they were wrong? How did that affect you? And how many people do you know who were swayed by these dangerous whispers?

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Law on records of government comms is badly out-of-date, WhatsApp court ruling shows

Social media junkie: Boris Johnson is probably deleting WhatsApp messages in this shot.

The Tory government has been crowing after High Court judges said there is nothing in the law to stop ministers from using services like WhatsApp and personal email accounts to make decisions and authorise action.

But this doesn’t mean ministers are justified in carrying out their business away from the official records.

It means the law on what should be counted as a public or official record is badly out of date and must be amended at once.

In fact, let’s face it, there should have been a constant policy of updating as soon as the Internet emerged as the communications revolution it has become.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has used WhatsApp to make decisions on the procurement of ventilators and on Covid-19 testing in care homes. We only know this because his ex-aide, now enemy, Dominic Cummings took screenshots of the now-deleted messages.

The procurement decisions are important because we know the Tory government paid huge amounts to fellow Tories who were not able to fulfil the contracts, while ignoring experienced firms that could have honoured any deals easily, and lives are certain to have been lost as a result.

And we know that government failures on Covid-19 in care homes certainly led to more than 20,000 deaths there.

Lord Brownlow discussed his funding of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat refurbishment with Johnson on WhatsApp, and it has been suggested that he only put up the money because Johnson had made a vague undertaking to consider his “Great Exhibition” idea.

Then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock diverted £40 million to Alex Bourne for vials to be used in Covid-19 tests, despite his having no previous experience of providing medical supplies, after the former landlord of a pub close to Hancock’s constituency home sent him a WhatsApp message.

Lord Bethell claimed that he never used his private email or telephone accounts for official business – but then replaced his mobile phone before it could be searched for information relevant to £85m of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) deals.

None of the information in the messages mentioned above is covered by the 1958 Public Records Act, so judges at the High Court said it was not illegal to have used WhatsApp, or to have used auto-delete software to remove evidence of the decision-making carried out there:

In their ruling, Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Johnson said the 1958 act “says nothing about such matters as whether a person can use a personal device to communicate with others about government business”.

They added: “Nor… does it require the production of a record of something in the first place.”

The widespread use of instant messaging services such as WhatsApp meant it was often a forum for workplace conversations “that would previously have been undertaken face-to-face” and not recorded, the judges said.

And the act’s wording meant there would “in practice be a large measure of discretion [within government] involved as to precisely what ‘arrangements’ there should be”, according to the ruling.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said the ruling “vindicates our long-standing position that we have acted in a proper and appropriate manner” – but it doesn’t do anything of the sort. It merely states that a 64-year-old, out-of-date law did not foresee changes in the way we communicate.

Gemma Abbott, legal director of the Good Law Project, one of the groups that took the case to the High Court, had it right when she said, “The use of private email accounts by ministers creates information black holes, thwarting Freedom of Information requests and critically undermining public inquiries.”

For that reason, the law needs to be updated to bring new methods of communication under its authority.

But, having got away with a killing (or, indeed, tens of thousands of them), can you see your corrupt Tory government lifting a finger?

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Grade confirmed as Ofcom chair despite MPs’ warning about lack of knowledge

Not ideal: Lord Michael Grade’s understanding of the social media comes from his own children – he doesn’t use it himself. And remember, this is a man who failed to realise Jimmy Savile was committing many terrible crimes, while an executive at the BBC.

Former BBC chair and Channel 4 boss Lord Michael Grade has been confirmed as the new chair of Ofcom, despite apparent glaring gaps in his knowledge of the social media and online safety.

This is important because Ofcom will be responsible for policing online safety after the new Bill on that subject becomes law.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said Grade had been appointed by the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, to the £142,500-a-year role for four years from 1 May.

This was despite concerns raised by the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that it was concerned by Lord Grade’s admission this week that he does not use social media but is aware of how it works thanks to his children:

“His clear lack of depth when talking about social media and online safety gives us concerns,” said the committee in a report published on Friday, hours before the government confirmed his appointment.

“He appears to understand the importance of Ofcom’s new role in regulating the online space. It would be difficult to find a candidate with deep experience across the whole of Ofcom’s remit, and we hope that he will be well supported with the necessary advice to fulfil his role as chair.”

The committee, which did not have the power to block Grade’s appointment, was scathing about the DCMS hiring process… Conservative chair Julian Knight said: “This shambles of a process gives us great concern about the department’s ability to run effective and impartial public appointment competitions.”

In a statement issued after Grade’s confirmation, Knight said the rapid appointment of Grade and that of Orlando Fraser as chair of the Charity Commission on Friday showed the appointments process was “broken”. “The fact that the DCMS department has taken only a matter of hours to put aside our concerns highlights once again that there are serious underlying issues at play here,” he said.

The concerns about Grade’s ability to tackle online safety may be well-founded.

Bear in mind this comment on his appointment, from a reader on Facebook:

“What, the guy who let [Jimmy] Savile run riot when running [the] BBC? *That* Michael Grade?

Source: Michael Grade confirmed as Ofcom chair despite MPs’ warning | Ofcom | The Guardian

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Now you can put Boris Johnson in any situation – even a party if you like

He’s so lonely: Boris Johnson was snubbed by world leaders at Nato and now he’s a greenscreen scream.

Kudos to the genius who took footage of Boris Johnson looking uncomfortable as he stood, ignored by other guests at a Nato summit, waiting to be officially greeted.

The original material went viral last week, although it was pointed out that the images were out-of-context as an extended version did show other attendees meeting him.

But now YOU can help Boris Johnson meet… well, anybody you like, courtesy of comedian Matthew Highton:

Some folks have already had a go:

But these are just a few of the masterpieces we’ve seen so far.

If you’ve got the capability, why not try making one yourself?

 

Source: The ‘lonely Boris Johnson’ greenscreen meme might be the funniest thing you’ll see today

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Tory graphic about fuel duty cut is ruthlessly ridiculed online

You may not think it looks too bad.

But the Tory advert doesn’t explain the mechanics of the 5p per litre fuel duty cut, which may not be noticed at the pumps because it will take a while for retailers to finish selling what they bought at the old prices – and by the time the new stuff come on, the wholesale price is likely to have risen again.

Worse, for some, is the apparent amateurishness of the design:

It seems this is one case in which the medium really is the message.

Source: The Tories made a graphic to explain fuel duty cuts and it’s being mercilessly mocked

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Here’s why campaigners are right to seek end of ‘government by WhatsApp’

Social media junkie: for all we know, Boris Johnson is probably deleting WhatsApp messages in this shot.

Government ministers led by Boris Johnson are conducting business via insecure social media services because it is easier than doing the work properly – and because they can hide what they are doing.

That’s the only explanation This Writer can see for Boris Johnson receiving a summary of the material from his ministerial red box via WhatsApp – he’s simply too damned lazy to go through the paperwork himself.

It means some poor civil servant has to do his work for him, in order to present him with a summary that he just about manages to keep in his tiny mind long enough to get it entirely mixed up – as seems to have happened, infamously, in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in 2018. If not that, what was the real reason for his shocking faux pas?

As for hiding what they are doing – we have seen secret WhatsApp messages from Boris Johnson because his former aide Dominic Cummings took screenshots of them – and they include decision-making on the procurement of ventilators, testing in care homes, and Mr Johnson’s description of then health secretary Matt Hancock as “hopeless”.

But there is no official record of these messages. That is unacceptable.

Worse, it has emerged that Johnson and other senior ministers, along with at least one of the six Cabinet Office senior civil servants, downloaded Signal – an app that can instantly delete messages. The only reason for them to do that is to communicate decisions outside of official government channels; government in secret.

That’s why campaigning lawyers from the Good Law Project and Foxglove are challenging the government’s use of these social media platforms in the High Court.

The Good Law Project and Foxglove say records of vital decision-making have been lost to the public, and this could undermine investigations such as next year’s inquiry into the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

They say the government is potentially in breach of its own data security guidelines and the Public Records Act of 1958, which requires legal checks to be made on messages in case they need to be kept for the public interest:

Cori Crider, director of Foxglove, said: “Our democracy can only work if the decisions of those who represent us are open to scrutiny.

“That can’t happen if officials govern by secret WhatsApp chats that vanish into thin air.”

The government says it has secure channels for exchanging sensitive information, and ministers are obliged to record important decision-making discussions with officials.

It argues that a record is kept of all substantive discussions and only ephemeral messages are deleted.

With proof that Johnson used WhatsApp to communicate decisions – and then deleted them – freely available courtesy of Cummings, it will be interesting to see if any right-thinking judge can uphold that argument.

Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.

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Inside the Facebook groups where desperate Ukrainians are searching for spare rooms | JOE.co.uk

I told you this was happening and here’s the proof:

New Facebook groups have emerged that serve as platforms for Ukrainian refugees and British hosts to make their ‘match’. In emotional posts, Ukrainians share the horror they have endured over the last three weeks.

As well as sharing details of traumas they have already suffered, Ukrainians are pointing out the qualities that make them good house guests. Examples include being “sociable”, “tidy”, “hardworking” or even “clean” and maintaining a “healthy lifestyle”.  Hobbies like cooking and baking are highlighted, with some offering to do housework, washing, gardening and nannying “just for joy”.

UK residents who are found to be fit to host will be given £350 each month to do so, and will be required to keep refugees for a minimum of six months. Many are offering their home for as long as is needed.

Social media groups do appear to be matching people quickly.

There are concerns that this is demeaning.

But there are also concerns that vulnerable people would otherwise struggle to access the Tory government’s Homes For Ukraine scheme because it demands that UK sponsors know their names.

And even with the help of these Facebook pages, there are worries that those who might not speak English, who have significant mental health issues, who are physically unwell, or who might not have any access to social media won’t be helped.

Does anyone have any idea how to help them?

Source: Inside the Facebook groups where desperate Ukrainians are searching for spare rooms | JOE.co.uk

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Kawczynski refugee claim ‘illiterate, immoral and offensive’. Was he drunk again?

Daniel Kawczynski: Is this is excuse this time? It was when he was found guilty of bullying but with reference to refugees, is it a case of “in vino veritas”?

Bullying drinker Daniel Kawczynski, Tory MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, has been causing trouble again.

Displaying what we probably guessed was the real Conservative attitude towards Ukrainian refugees, he has tweeted: “British Left wing parties demand Britain takes in more Ukrainian refugees. This is illiterate and immoral.

“When war is over Ukrainians will need to return home to rebuild their country. We should be supporting Ukrainian refugees in frontline states like Poland & Romania.”

But this was too much, even for his fellow Tories. Simon Hoare, Chair of the Commons Northern Ireland committee, responded with a harsh verbal slapping: “What utterly risible, illiterate, immoral and offensive bile. Haven’t you heard what @BorisJohnson has been saying?

“You do not speak for the Tory party. I’m not sure you speak for humanity #whitehotfury.”

Kawczynski has now deleted his tweet, which is why This Site can only quote it, rather than actually show it.

This is far from dirty Dan’s first offence.

I detailed some of them in this previous article:

He drunkenly bullied civil servants … after IT issues made it impossible for him to take part in discussions of a Parliamentary committee. He got drunk, bullied one of the civil servants who had tried to help him, and lied about both of them to his colleagues.

This is the bully who, in 2018, threatened legal action against an editor of the BBC’s Newsnight, Ian Katz, who had suggested that his defence of Saudi Arabia’s war of annihilation in Yemen might be linked to the size of his expenses budget whenever he took trips to that country.

In March 2020, tweeted support for his fellow Tory bully, Home Secretary Priti Patel, who was later found guilty of bullying civil servants by a Cabinet Office inquiry but went unpunished because Boris Johnson refused to accept the decision.

In December of 2020, he refused to make another Newsnight appearance for fear of “bullying” behaviour by presenter Emily Maitlis.

He is the entitled Tory bully who wanted to override the will of the Welsh people – and abolish the Welsh Assembly and its government – so he could visit the beach. Wales has different Covid-19-related restrictions and at the time – May 2020 – these included a ban on people crossing the border from England. The incident marked Kawczynski out as a fool because his nearest beach isn’t in Wales – it’s in the Wirral.

In February 2020, he received a formal warning and reprimand from the Conservative Party – but did not have the whip withdrawn – after he shared a platform with right-wing populist politicians such as Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and the former deputy prime minister of Italy Matteo Salvini.

He’s a serial offender.

And it seems he hasn’t learned his lesson yet.

Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.

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‘Jew-hate’ scammers send police to harass man over Twitter message

We’ve seen this tactic time and time again from the fakes who pretend there’s a huge rise of anti-Semitism in the UK – particularly focused on the Labour Party.

They take a line from an article or message, out of context, and present it as proof of a campaign of hatred.

So here’s Simon Maginn’s Twitter message: “Attention Jew-hate scammers: you try it on here, you will be confronted and you will lose, publicly. There are more and more of us all the time, we are informed, we are organised, and we are coming for you. Things have changed.”

Perhaps it’s not the most diplomatic message. But then, Mr Maginn has been accused, threatened and otherwise abused by these hate-filled manipulators for a long time, now. After a while, it tends to wear away one’s willingness to use neutral language.

But people who considered themselves to be addressed by his message – in other words, people who deliberately lie that anti-Semitism is more widespread in the UK’s left-wing politics than is actually the case – cut the message down and reported it to the police.

The words they reported?

“We are coming for you.”

Out of context. Misrepresentative. Misleading.

Mr Maginn duly received a call from a member of Sussex Police, labouring under the belief that he was dealing with an offence under the Malicious Communications Act, and was subjected to a “words of advice” sermon.

He has complained to Chief Constable Jo Shiner – and has publicised his complaint on – where else? – Twitter’

In an article, he elaborated:

All any Sussex Police officer had to do was read the tweet and understand what it meant. They could then explain to the complainants that, they might not like it, it might make them angry, but it was perfectly lawful, was not abusive or insulting or threatening, did not mention ‘Jews’ at any point, and was obviously a reference to a long-running political campaign on Twitter, #ItWasAScam, and not a ‘threat’ of an angry mob attacking Jews.

We see ‘evidence’ that is plainly wrenched out of context and wholly misleading, we see a histrionic over-reaction to a perfectly innocent event, we see a fraudulent accusation of antisemitism, we see an immediate and furious demand for action, and we see that action take place.

The scam, in miniature, over just a few hours.

They screamed loud enough, and they got heard. That’s how the scam has operated from the outset, and that’s how it’s continuing to operate.

Personally, I’d like to know what Sussex Police are doing about the people who contacted them to misdirect their attention to an innocent man with a lie.

No innocent people were threatened by Mr Maginn’s tweet, and those guilty of spreading vile lies about innocent people were only under threat of having their lies exposed.

For that, these liars called the police and wasted officers’ valuable time.

Has any action been taken to reprimand them?

Source: So The Police Rang Me Up. About A Tweet…

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#LabourFake – propaganda op falls flat as existence of new members is questioned

Keir Starmer: yes… yet another own goal.

Well, it has been truly said that the secret of good comedy is timing.

Only on Saturday night (February 19-20) I found myself watching an episode of Dave Gorman’s Modern Life is Goodish in which the star of the show discusses the shady practice of buying Twitter followers, and how you can tell them apart from real people.

Then on Sunday (February 20 – today, as I type this), I discover that suddenly the Labour Party has sprouted a throng of new members who don’t appear ever to have existed before – many of whom have very few followers of their own, which is a dead giveaway, really.

And all this after “Kiethy” was accused of having bought Twitter followers of his own. Around a third of his followers aren’t real people, it seems – possibly more by now, because people who have followed him in good faith may have turned away in disgust.

Amid the scepticism, there’s been plenty of opportunity for humour – of the gallows variety, admittedly. Some of us have been taking great joy in mocking the possibility that Keir Starmer’s new (and horrifying!) Labour policies would attract people with genuine (read: traditional) Labour values:

Once again, Starmer and his right-wing halfwitted cabal have made themselves – and the Labour Party they infest like parasites – look daft.

In their case it is an apt description. But the vast majority of Labour Party members deserve much, much better than this. Sadly, Starmer has changed party rules to ensure that they cannot demand it. The best they can do is leave (and there are far better organisations to join).

Was anybody actually stupid enough to believe this silly propaganda fail?

Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.

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