Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Under Musk, Twitter Continues to Promote US Propaganda Networks

But Musk’s hot take on the Ukraine war should not be taken as proof of Musk’s anti establishment bona fides.

Far from being an establishment outsider, Elon Musk himself is a major figure in the military industrial complex, and represents the long tradition of Silicon Valley giants being thoroughly enmeshed in the military and intelligence wars.

BRYCE GREENE FAIR, 6 Jan 23

Twitter’s “state-affiliated media” policy has an unwritten exemption for US government-funded and -controlled news media accounts. Twitter even boosts these accounts as “authoritative” sources for news during the Russian/Ukrainian war.

Elon Musk’s controlled release of the documents known as the “Twitter Files” has given us some insight into the inner workings of the social media platform. The batch of docs released on December 20 is arguably the most explosive, detailing Twitter’s deliberate shielding of US propaganda operations. After getting limited access to Twitter‘s internal systems, Lee Fang of the Intercept (12/20/22) detailed how Twitter staff “whitelisted” accounts run by US Central Command (CENTCOM), the unit of the US military that oversees the Middle East, as part of covert propaganda campaigns. In other words, Twitter protected accounts engaged in US psychological warfare operations, even though they clearly violated the platform’s terms of service.

But this is far from the whole story of Twitter’s assistance with US influence operations. A FAIR investigation reveals that dozens of large accounts that are part of US overt propaganda networks are given special treatment from the company, in blatant violation of Twitter’s own policies.

Through a lopsided “state-affiliated” media policy application, Twitter has actually gone against its own mission to provide “context” to users. More acutely, in Ukraine, Twitter actively promoted US funded media organizations as part of the “Topics” feature which ostensibly aggregated “authoritative” sources. The prominence of these outlets on the platform has strengthened their influence on the national media ecosystem, and has helped shape public perceptions of the entire war.

…………………………………………………………………………………………… Twitter rigorously enforces the rules for states the US considers to be hostile. Accounts for major state agencies in Russia, China and Iran are generally labeled as state entities. Media outlets from those countries are also targeted: PressTV from Iran, RT and Sputnik from Russia, and China DailyGlobal TimesCGTN and China Xinhua News from China are all labeled “state-affiliated media.”

Twitter has taken extra measures against Russia after the invasion, adding explicit warnings on any post linking to “a Russian state-affiliated media website”:

…………….. Artificial exceptions

Twitter’s policy defines “state-affiliated media” as newsrooms where the state has “control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution.” But there are several major media accounts that seem to fit this description that have no such warning labels.

None of the major public media outlets in the US, Britain and Canada have received the label. In 2017, NPR received 4% of its funding from the US government. The BBC receives a large portion of its funding from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The CBC receives $1.2 billion in funding from the Canadian government. Yet Twitter accounts for the BBCCBC and NPR are all unlabeled on the platform……………………………..

National Endowment for Democracy

A look at the US’s soft power initiatives shows far more outlets that ought to fall under the “state affiliated” label. One such conduit for funding is the National Endowment for Democracy. The NED, created during the Reagan administration, pours $170 million a year into organizations dedicated to defending or installing regimes friendly to US policies.

ProPublica (11/24/10) described the NED as being “established by Congress, in effect, to take over the CIA’s covert propaganda efforts.” David Ignatius of the Washington Post (9/22/91) reported on the organization as a vehicle for “spyless coups,” as it was “doing in public what the CIA used to do in private.” The first NED president, Carl Gershman (MintPress9/9/19), admitted that the switch was largely a PR move to shroud the organization’s intentions: “It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA.”

NED operations in Ukraine deserve especially close scrutiny, given the organization’s role in the 2014 Maidan coup and the information war surrounding the Russian invasion. In 2013, Gershman described Ukraine as the “biggest prize” in the East/West rivalry (Washington Post9/26/13). Later that year, the NED united with other Western-backed influence networks to support the protest movements that later led to the removal of the president.

The history of the board is a who’s who of regime change advocates and imperial hawks. The current board includes Anne Applebaum, a popular anti-Russian staff writer at the Atlantic and frequent cable news commentator whose work epitomizes the New Cold War mentality, and Elliott Abrams, a major player in the Iran/Contra scandal who later played a key role in the Trump administration’s campaign to overthrow the Venezuelan government. Victoria Nuland, formerly the foreign policy advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney, is a key player in US foreign policy, and was even one of the US officials who was caught meddling behind the scenes to reshape the Ukrainian government in 2014. She served on the NED board in between her time in the State Department for the Obama and Biden administrations. Other former board members include Henry Kissinger, Paul Wolfowitz, Zbigniew Brzezinski and current CIA director William Burns.

After the war started, the NED removed all of its Ukraine projects from its website, though they are still available through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. A look at 2021 projects shows extensive work funding media organizations throughout Ukraine with the ostensible goal of “promot[ing] government accountability” or “foster[ing] independent media.” Despite their overt funding from a well-documented US propaganda organ, none of these organizations’ Twitter accounts contain a “state-affiliated media” label. Even the NED’s own Twitter account does not reference its relationship to the US government.

This is highly relevant to the current war in Ukraine. CHESNOZN.UAZMiST and Ukrainian Toronto TelevisionVox Ukraine are all part of the NED’s media network in Ukraine, yet their Twitter accounts have no state-affiliated label. Furthermore, some of the newsrooms in this network boast extensive ties to other US government organizations. European Pravdathe Ukraine Crisis Media Center and Hromadske—all founded during or shortly after the US-backed Maidan coup in 2014—boast explicit partnerships with NATO. Hromadske and the UCMC also tout partnerships with the US State Department, the US Embassy in Kyiv and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

USAID plays a similar role to the NED. Under the protective cover of humanitarian aid and development projects, the agency serves as a conduit for US regime change operations and soft power influence peddling. Among other things, the organization has been a cover for “promoting democracy” in Nicaragua, and provided half a billion dollars to advance the coup attempt against Venezuela’s elected government.

Kyiv Post and Independent

The most popular recipient of NED funds has been the Kyiv Independent, a reconstitution of another NED-funded newsroom, the Kyiv Post. Though it claims to receive the majority of its funding through advertising and subscriptions, the Post website lists the NED as “donors who sponsored content produced by the Kyiv Post journalists.”

When the Post was temporarily shuttered in a staff dispute in November 2021, many of the journalists formed the Kyiv Independent. They did this with a $200,000 grant from the Canadian government, as well as an emergency grant from the European Endowment for Democracy, an organization headquartered in Brussels that is both modeled after and funded by the NED.

After the outbreak of war, the Independent gained over 2 million Twitter followers and attracted millions of dollars in donations. Staff from the Independent have flooded the US media ecosystem: Its reporters have had op-eds in top US newspapers like the New York Times (3/5/22) and the Washington Post (2/28/22). They often appear on US TV channels like CNN (3/21/22), CBS (12/21/22), Fox News (3/31/22) and MSNBC (4/10/22)…………………………………………..

Boosting US propaganda

Twitter’s policy effectively amounts to providing cover and reach for US propaganda organs. But this policy effect is far from the whole story. Through various mechanisms, Twitter actually boosts US-funded newsrooms and promotes them as trusted sources.

One such mechanism is the curated “Topics” feature. As part of its effort to “elevate reliable information,” Twitter recommends following its own curated feed for the Ukraine War. As of September 2022, Twitter said that this war feed for the Ukraine War had over 38.6 billion “impressions.” Scrolling through the feed shows many examples of the platform boosting US state-affiliated media, with few or no instances of coverage critical of the war effort. Despite their extensive ties to the US government, the Kyiv Independent and Kyiv Post are frequently offered as favored sources for information on the war.

The account has generated a list based on what they claim to be reliable sources on the conflict. The list currently has 55 members. Of these, at least 22 are either US-funded newsrooms, their affiliated journalists. Given the complexity of the funding channels, and the lack of information on some of these newsrooms’ websites, this number is likely an undercount:

New Voice of Ukraine (NED, State Department)

Euan MacDonald

Kyiv Post (NED)

Natalie Vikhrov

Kyiv Independent (NED)

Anastasiia Lapatina, Oleksiy Sorokin, Anna Myroniuk, Illia Ponomarenko

Zaborona (NED)…………………………….

Worldwide propaganda network

The US government currently funds other media organizations that function more blatantly as arms of the state, yet none have the “state-affiliated media” label on their Twitter accounts. These outlets are part of the media apparatus set up to promote the US point of view around the world during the Cold War. The New York Times (12/26/77) once described them as being part of a “worldwide propaganda network built by the CIA.”

The network, known as the “Propaganda Assets Inventory” within the agency, once encompassed around 500 individuals and organizations, ranging from operatives in major media like CBS, Associated Press and Reuters to smaller outlets under the “complete” “editorial control” of the CIA. Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty were at the vanguard of this propaganda operation. The Times reported in 1977 that the network resulted in a stream of US media stories that were “purposely misleading or downright false.”


The US government continues to directly operate several of these organizations. These outlets now fall under the auspices of the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), a federal agency that received $810 million in 2022. That number marks a 27% increase from its 2021 budget, and is more than twice the amount RT received from Russia for its global operations in 2021 (RFE/RL8/25/21)…………………………………………………………………

Twitter, like other SiliconValley behemoths, has numerous links to the national security state. An investigation by Middle East Eye (9/30/19) revealed that one of Twitter’s top executives was also a member of one of the British military’s psychological warfare units, the 77th Brigade. Gordon MacMillan, who holds the top editorial position for the Middle East and North Africa at Twitter, joined the UK’s “information warfare” unit in 2015 while he was at Twitter. One UK general told MEE that the unit specialized in developing “the capability to compete in the war of narratives at the tactical level.” The story was met with near total silence in US and UK press (FAIR.org10/24/19), and MacMillan still works for Twitter.

Twitter also partners with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a hawkish think tank funded by the military industry and the US government, for its content moderation policies. In 2020, Twitter worked closely with the ASPI to remove over 170,000 low-follower accounts they alleged to be favorable to the Communist Party of China. More recently, Twitter and ASPI have announced a partnership ostensibly aimed at fighting disinformation and misinformation.

Twitter’s Strategic Response Team, in charge of making decisions about which content should be suppressed, was headed by Jeff Carlton, who previously worked for both the CIA and FBI. In fact, MintPress News (6/21/22) reported on the dozens of former FBI agents that have joined Twitter’s ranks over the years. Elon Musk’s controlled leak of internal communications, known as the “Twitter Files,” has renewed attention to the close relationship between the agency and the platform.

Though Twitter has previously denied directly “coordinat[ing] with other entities when making content moderation decisions,” recent reporting has revealed a deep level of integration between federal intelligence agencies, and Twitter’s content moderation policies. In part 6 of the “Twitter Files,” Matt Taibbi reported that the FBI has over 80 agents dedicated to flagging content on the platform and interfacing directly with Twitter leadership. Last year, emails leaked to the Intercept (10/31/22) showed how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Twitter had an established process for content takedown requests from the agency related to election security.

The platform is clearly an important hub for pro-Ukrainian sentiment online, though not all of the activity is organic. In fact, one study (Declassified Australia11/3/22) released last year found a deluge of pro Ukrainian bots. Australian researchers studied a sample of over 5 million tweets about the war, and found that 90% of the total were pro-Ukrainian (identified using the #IStandWithUkraine hashtag or variations), and estimated that up to 80% of them were bots. Though researchers did not determine the precise origin of these accounts, it was obvious that they were sponsored by “pro-Ukrainian authorities.” The sheer volume of tweets undoubtedly helped shape online sentiment about the war.


It appears that Washington understands the importance of Twitter in shaping public sentiments. When Musk originally set his sights on buying the platform, the White House even considered opening a national security review of Musk’s business ventures, citing Musk’s “increasingly Russia-friendly stance.” These concerns were prompted by Musk’s plan to bar SpaceX’s StarLink system from being used in Ukraine, after a spat between Musk and a Ukrainian official. The concerns also came after Musk (10/3/22) tweeted out the outlines to a potential peace proposal between Russia and Ukraine. This proposal was met with scorn and shock among American elite circles, where escalation rather than peace is the dominant position (FAIR.org3/22/22).

Musk and the national security state

But Musk’s hot take on the Ukraine war should not be taken as proof of Musk’s anti establishment bona fides. Far from being an establishment outsider, Elon Musk himself is a major figure in the military industrial complex, and represents the long tradition of Silicon Valley giants being thoroughly enmeshed in the military and intelligence wars.

Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, is a major military contractor, earning billions of dollars from the US national security state. It has received contracts to launch GPS technology into orbit to assist with the US drone war. The Pentagon has also contracted the company to build missile defense satellites. SpaceX has further won contracts from the Air Force, Space Defense Agency and National Reconnaissance Organization, and has launched spy satellites to be used by the CIA, NSA and other intelligence agencies (MintPress5/31/22).

In fact, SpaceX’s existence is largely owed to military and intelligence ties. One of its earliest backers of the company was the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the same military research agency that gave us much of the technology that defines the modern internet age………………….

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Musk made headlines by offering to donate his Starlink technology to the Ukrainian government to keep the country online. Starlink, a satellite-based internet provider, was essential to Ukraine’s war effort after the Russian attack disabled much of its traditional military communications. It has enabled Ukrainians to quickly share battlefield intelligence, and connect with US support troops to perform “telemaintenance.”

Musk’s offer to “donate” the technology earned him a lot of positive press, but it was quietly revealed later that the US government had been paying SpaceX millions of dollars for the technology—despite what SpaceX officials had told the public. According to the Washington Post (4/8/22), the money was funneled through USAID, an organization that has long been a tool of US regime change efforts, and a front for covert intelligence operations………………………………………


The relationship between Musk and the security state is so strong that one official even told Bloomberg (10/20/22) that “the US government would also use Starlink in the event of telecommunications outage,” hinting at links to high-level national contingency planning.

Continuity of governance?

The conversation surrounding Twitter has centered around whether or not Elon Musk is a free-speech advocate, though little has focused on the implications of a military contractor having complete control over such an important platform. Though Musk may (or may not) be stepping down as CEO, the platform will remain his domain.

Many things have changed under Musk’s Twitter, but Twitter’s role as a megaphone for US government–funded media has not. It would take a large research study to understand precisely how much impact Twitter’s misapplication of its own policies has on the propagation. But even without this data, it is clear that the platform’s design serves to nudge users away from most media funded by Washington-unfriendly governments, and, in the case of the Ukraine War, push users toward media funded by the US government. Musk’s status as a military contractor only underscores that challenging US foreign policy objectives is unlikely to be a priority for the company. https://fair.org/home/under-musk-twitter-continues-to-promote-us-propaganda-networks/

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January 6, 2023 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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