Western politicians concerned about social networks’ growing influence on public opinion
19 November 2017. PenzaNews. The State Duma of Russia unanimously passed a legislative amendment that would allow foreign media to be classified as foreign agents. It is expected that the Ministry of Justice will address every issue on a case-by-case basis, as it was a forced measure which came as a response to the United States’ actions against the American branch of Russia Today (RT) and the Sputnik news agency.
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“The adopted framework amendments will have to note in common with the attitude toward the press freedom and foreign media operation in Russia,” stressed Leonid Levin, the head of the State Duma’s Committee on information policy.
According to him, the key and the main reason for adopting the bill were the activities of the US authorities against the Russian media.
“We would like to see in this list as few outlets as possible,” the State Duma deputy said.
Earlier it was reported that the leadership of Twitter banned advertising from RT and Sputnik under the pressure of the US intelligence community engaged in the investigation of the alleged “Russian interference” in the election of the US president. Meanwhile, Washington has not yet provided any real evidence to its allegations.
Analyzing the current situation, Kurt Opsahl, the Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, reminded that Twitter is not a state actor, and has the right to moderate its platform, but it should use this right wisely.
“Twitter was reacting to an assessment by the United States intelligence community that RT and Sputnik interfered with the U.S. election on behalf of the Russian government, as well as Twitter’s non-public internal research. Many may be tempted to celebrate Twitter’s decision as a move to protect democracy from an authoritarian state. We fear it’s just the opposite,” the expert said.
From his point of view, a ban on all advertising from a particular entity, knocking out everything from articles covering a cheese rolling festival to coverage of an election, would be an over-broad prior restraint on speech.
“What is worse, the ban is likely to lead to further pressure on anonymous speech. […] To make it really effective, Twitter may have to adopt new policies to identify and attribute anonymous accounts, undermining both speech and user privacy,” Kurt Opsahl suggested.
“By simply removing particular media outlets from the opportunities to promote themselves that other outlets enjoy, Twitter slides further down the slippery slope toward a world where the social media platforms on which we all rely abandon any pretense of neutrality. Neutral platforms with strong policies against content censorship, especially those with worldwide reach, are vital for freedom of expression, and necessary for a free and open society,” the analyst added.
Meanwhile, according to Ashraf Aboul-Yazid, President, Asia Journalist Association, Editor-in-chief, the Silk Road Literature, Western politicians are concerned about social media’s increased influence on public opinion.
“I got the chance to watch some of the aggressive investigative with Facebook. The huge influence of the giant social media made politicians question their ability to control its content. From time to time we observe Facebook Team revise its rules to obey the societal values, against what threats religions, women, children and so on, but using it commercially by putting ads raised the suspicious fingers against it. As governments were not prepared to the power of social media, they are trying now to seize it,” Ashraf Aboul-Yazid said.
At the same time, he negatively assessed the use of state control in the sphere of information.
“In a supposed to be a free country, censorship should not be used. Otherwise, no one could blame the third world dictators to do the same,” President of Asia Journalist Association stressed.
At the same time, in his opinion, all social networks pursue the goal of monetary enrichment.
“As all social media are racing for money, values are not priorities. If governments pay more than commercial ads, they will subsequently be able to modify the rules, remove the opposition contents, and so on,” the expert said.
In his opinion, the best way out of this situation is to improve the level of education of citizens.
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“We must grow awareness among readers, users, and members of social media against fake news. As Facebook and other social media resources are recycled everywhere in printed media, TV and radio channels, we must create a way to stop virtual lies from spreading. I called for criminalizing fake news, and creating a black list of those who misused media by spreading lies as one of the penalties,” the analyst explained.
In turn, Pal Steigan, Norwegian politician, publisher, writer, independent entrepreneur in the field of culture and information technology, expressed confidence that the US social networks were “founded and funded by US intelligence, namely CIA and its venture capital fund, In-Q-Tel.”
“Facebook is working hand and glove with CIA on developing psy-op techniques to manipulate public opinion. CIA uses Facebook data to chart people and human relations. Amazon is running the cloud computing service for the US war machinery. Google and its YouTube service are also wholly integrated in the military-industrial media complex,” the politician explained.
From his point of view, censorship in the US is part and parcel of a much larger intelligence system.
“Big media and government are trying to monopolize the Internet and intelligence uses it as the most massive manipulating tool in human history. Independent people will try to find havens elsewhere. And yes, US government, NATO, the EU commission already have given orders to social media companies to suppress alternative and critical views and forward only the ruling class narrative,” Pal Steigan said.
He also stressed that he stands for an open exchange of different points of view.
“What is fake news? Main Stream Media is fake news on steroids. I am for freedom of speech and the open exchange of ideas. Trying to prohibit ideas is a very wrong strategy; neither will it be successful in the long run,” the analyst said.
Democracy is not in vogue these days, he said.
“The principles of enlightenment of democracy, human rights and free speech are under severe attack. The ruling elite that run global capitalism are so few, only 0,01% of the population. The only way they can maintain their power is by different forms of dictatorship,” Pal Steigan added.
In turn, Fernand Kartheiser, Luxembourg Parliament member for the Alternative Democratic Reform Party (ADR), shared the view that Western political parties and the main media see their power largely contested.
“Those who fight today for restricting the freedom of the social media often use ‘politically correct’ arguments such as the fight against ‘hate speech’, and so on. The true reason is however that they try to take back control about the public opinion through a better steering of the publicized opinion. There is no doubt, that a censorship is established in many countries,” the politician said.
What is at stake is the credibility of the Western democratic system and its ideals of freedom and justice, he stressed.
“The ‘Russian interference debate’ could easily be done away as a peanuts discussion, if it wouldn't be used to justify a return of the Cold War and the creation of a Government, NATO and EU propaganda machinery. I often look at Russian sources and I regret deeply that, indeed, there is a lot of fake news and unfortunately stupid propaganda in their content. In my view, this is neither reasonable nor worthy of a country of great culture such as Russia. But this does of course not mean that the West isn't spreading propaganda of its own. As a matter of fact, it does so continuously and massively. Freedom loving people both in Russia and the West should encourage their media and their authorities to stick courageously to the truth and not to support those who do their utmost to restrict the freedom of expression in order to get their hands free for implementing their political agenda,” Fernand Kartheiser said.
From his point of view, the best weapons against so-called “fake news” are a good education and a pluralistic media landscape.
“Over the last years, we have entered a world of surrealistic terminology, in which a ‘populist’ is everybody who doesn't agree with you and ‘fake news’ is every piece of news that causes you some discomfort. Who would define what fake news is? Sometimes, of course, fake news is easy to identify but most of the time it is a matter of pure political judgment. Even some scientific matters today are largely politicized and difficult to discuss in an objective way, for instance the climate debate. Punishing the media or people in the social networks is the wrong way; freedom and education are the better answers,” the politician concluded.