We are all familiar with the concept of the ‘Ivory Tower’ where academics posit theories ‘from a state of privileged seclusion, divorced from the facts and practicalities of the real world.’
Te Punaha Matatini’s ‘The Disinformation Project’ (‘TDP’) has taken that to a whole new level. These guys posit from an Ivory Metaverse.
Let’s step inside this Ivory Metaverse for a moment.
Here livestreaming real events is deemed spreading ‘mis-dis information’; it’s a place where decent European folk are defamed as ‘white supremacists’; it’s where the Kremlin has stuffed up our country – but the Beehive hasn’t; it’s where those who insist on the fundamental right to informed consent to medical treatment, without coercion, are ‘trojan horses’ for the ‘Far Right’ (even if they’re actually far left, Maori or Islanders); and it’s where you are now labelled ‘Far Right’ if you hold middle-of-the road Islamic or judeo-christian values.
Yes folks, this is the looney, conspiratorial world we live in according to TPD in it’s state-funded report entitled ‘The Murmuration of Information Disorders’, released on 18 May (‘the report’).
In answering this question, TPD focus exclusively on the spread of ‘mis dis information’ by ‘super-spreaders on social media. This exclusivity of focus renders the report of marginal value if we are trying to understand ‘how we got here’.
To answer the question researchers need to step away from their computer screens and get in the real world. To be fair, offline factors may have been out of TPD’s purview, but there is no acknowledgement of this and the report is presented in a way which puts the blame for events squarely on alleged super-spreaders of mis dis information on social media and the internet.
The protest did not exist in a vaccum. A belief that government action did not contribute to the chaos is fanciful. The government is as much to blame as anyone, in particular:
- The fact that Jacinda Ardern lied to New Zealanders when she said that there would be no consequences for those who declined the COVID vaccine. The sense of betrayal and anger felt by many as a result of this deception should not be under-estimated, especially given around 40% of protest attendees voted for Labour at the last election.
- Trevor Mallard’s highly inflammatory actions.
- The refusal of the Prime Minister (or indeed any MP) to meet with protest leaders, despite numerous requests.
Additionally, by focusing exclusively on the digital world the report is based on unreliable data.
I would agree with TPD on one point. The online world is a murky one.
It’s full of malicious and misleading actors, fake accounts, anonymous accounts, professional and amateur trolls, bot armies, bot individuals, algorhithms, artificial intelligence, viruses, trojan horses, spam accounts, spyware – and much more. Here, dark corners of the digital landscape are easy to manipulate by actors big or small, good or evil, by states, corporates and individuals.
Which is precisely the reason why any analysis of the digital social media world to explain real world events like the Parliament Protest has little value. They are not relying on pure data, but material which is infested with impurities and fake accounts.
The protest started on 6 February and ended on 2 March.
TPD had a window of 25 days to go to Wellington and engage with the protesters – interviewing them, canvassing their views, asking them to complete questionnaires – the basic research techniques of the social scientist. The vast majority of protesters, who were peaceful, I am sure, would have been happy to oblige. Highly accurate, valuable demographical data would have been obtained – ages, genders, ethnicities, income and education levels, political persuasions and motivations for attending – the kind of information that would really help the government, and the nation, understand the protesters.
That this opportunity was not taken is a shame. Was this failure due to incompetence or was it a deliberate ploy?
RT and Ukraine
The legacy media misinformation about the Ukraine conflict is worthy of its own article(s).
Incredibly, TPD have linked ‘Russian Disinformation’ as a cause of the end of protest chaos.
DTNZ has syndicated RT News since our inception, so I am well-placed to respond to TPD’s claims about the news agency, claims which typically follow the western mainstream narrative that Vladimir Putin and Russian media are to blame for all of western society’s current social and economic ills.
TPD claimed RT had ‘repeatedly featured’ the Parliament Protest. Well, why wouldn’t they? They are an international news agency, and by it’s own admission, TPD said the protest drew a lot of international media attention – somehow this is ok, as long as it’s not attention from Russian media. Secondly, my records indicate RT ran just five stories, which is about one story for every five days of the protest – hardly ‘repeated’. Here are those stories, which you can read for yourself and judge if they are ‘disinformation’, or just stock-standard news reporting of this important event: Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Article 4, Article 5.
TPD also claimed that RT is responsible for ‘significant COVID misinformation’, citing an article from legacy media publication New York Times (NYT) in support. This claim is completely false. The vaccine narrative RT has pushed is exactly the same as that of legacy media here and around the western world – advocating mass vaccination and denigrating ‘anti-vaxxers’ and ‘anti-mandate’ protesters. Putin, just like Ardern, has pushed mass vaccination and implemented mandates. In fact, RT’s treatment of ‘anti-vaxxers’ is far more scathing and derogatory in tone than we see here in the New Zealand media.
My concern is that the government will use the report exclusively as the basis for further erosion of human rights, in particular to crack down on freedom of speech and expression, and freedom of the press. In this they will be ably assisted by the bought-off legacy media who will no doubt abrograte their duty to hold power to account and simply amplify the report’s findings without addressing the numerous holes in it.
If we are really serious about investigating the protest an independent commission should be convened to examine all aspects of the event, including government actions, online and offline, of which the report would form part of a much larger body of evidence.