Damn the torpedoes!

British democracy is in peril. Russian Twitter bots, Facebook advertisements, and ‘fake news’ on RT have contributed to Brexit, boosted opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, and undermined Britons’ faith in their system of government. If you don’t believe me, here are just a few headlines which have appeared in the British media in the past couple of years:

  •  ‘Clear evidence Russia interfered in 2015 UK election, says former Labour minister,’ The Independent, 21 February 2017.
  • ‘Here’s the first evidence Russia used Twitter to influence Brexit,’ Wired.co.uk, 10 November 2017.
  • ‘Theresa May accuses Vladimir Putin of election meddling,’ BBC, 14 November 2017.
  • ‘Russian bid to influence Brexit vote detailed in new US Senate report,’ The Guardian, 10 January 2018.
  • ‘Exposed: Russian Twitter bots tried to swing general election for Jeremy Corbyn,’ Sunday Times, 29 April 2018.
  • ‘Why isn’t there greater outrage about Russia’s involvement in Brexit?’ The Guardian, 17 June 2018.
  • ‘Russia is waging a blatant disinformation war using Kremlin-funded RT,’ Daily Mail, 18 September 2018.
  • ‘Russian interference goes beyond spying to the very heart of Britain’ The Guardian, 7 October 2018.

As regular readers of this blog will recall, the British House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee decided to investigate these matters. In an interim report issued in July, it declared that:

We are faced with a crisis concerning the use of data, the manipulation of our data, and the targeting of pernicious views. In particular, we heard evidence of Russian state-sponsored attempts to influence elections in the US and the UK through social media. … In this rapidly changing digital world, our existing legal framework is no longer fit for purpose. … Our democracy is at risk.

The British government has now given its official response to this report, which you can read here. In this, the government says:

As noted by the Committee, the Prime Minister stated that Russia is seeking to weaponise information, … We want to reiterate, however, that the Government has not seen evidence of successful use of disinformation by foreign actors, including Russia.

The government is not saying that the Russian state has not tried to influence people in Britain. But it is saying that it has no evidence to suggest that any efforts to do so have been successful. In other words, it’s telling the committee that its claims about Russian electoral interference amount to a big fuss about nothing. Our democracy is not at risk, after all. Still, the government declares that it ‘has committed over £100m over five years to tackling the threat of Russian State disinformation internationally.’ Clearly it wants to cover its backside by not appearing complacent, but one has to wonder why it thinks that if Russian propaganda is so unsuccessful, British propaganda (for that is what in effect is being discussed) is either needed or is likely to have any effect.

The Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Damian Collins, was not happy with the government’s response. He declared:

The government’s response to our interim report on disinformation and ‘fake news’ is disappointing and a missed opportunity. It uses other ongoing investigations to further delay desperately needed announcements on the ongoing issues of harmful and misleading content being spread through social media. We need to see a more coordinated approach across government to combat campaigns of disinformation being organised by Russian agencies seeking to disrupt and undermine our democracy.

In other news, I note that the British police declared this month that they ‘will not investigate allegations of Russian state interference in the 2016 EU referendum.’ The police commented that, ‘International bodies and states cannot commit criminal offences’ under electoral legislation, and that ‘truthfulness during the campaign “is not a criminal offence per se and therefore not a police matter”.’ Clearly, the British police have better things to do than waste their time chasing chimeras. Mr Collins and his committee, by contrast, seem to be determined to press on regardless. To misquote Admiral Farragut, ‘Damn the evidence, full speed ahead!’

8 thoughts on “Damn the torpedoes!”

  1. I have only 1 (one) question, if I may:

    “‘Russian interference goes beyond spying to the very heart of Britain’ The Guardian, 7 October 2018.” .

    Where is “the heart of Britain”? Personally, I’ve always assumed it was in Great Bromley . Or is it Salisbury now?

    “The police commented that… ‘‘truthfulness during the campaign “is not a criminal offence per se and therefore not a police matter”.’”

    By Jove! How dare them? Surely, Putin paid them to say them. Massive lustration all across the Isles when?


  2. No one with any sense in the UK believes the Russian nonsense.

    The media and the politicians are trying to do here what the Americans media and Democrats are doing- Raise the Russian scare

    Politics here is really driven on economic issues, jobs, health care, schools – it’s hard for mosey people to see how Russian can be involved in any of that.

    We get our own ideas of how well or how poor services are; by our personal experiences- Russian don’t affect the Health/schools/or how much my £pounds can buy in the supermarket

    We go to vote and mark our vote with a pencil and put it in a box. Votes are counted in public by hand – no hacking of voter database.

    Britain is in a mess Brexit has created chaos amongst the elite – they use the Russian scare to try and distract the population from the mess.

    I believe the Skripals saga was part of this tactic.

    P.S. I am reading again on twitter that Sweden has spotted submarines and think it’s the Russians.
    After the embarrassing way this ended last time – they raise the Russian scare again.
    I ask myself what are Sweden trying to cover up


  3. The alleged Russian interference in politics wether on Brexit or trump is a projected delusion, by people who could not accept the results of these votes

    In terms of Brexit, the remain side was backed by most political figures, most of business, trade unions and the government in the form of they’re vote leaflet mailed to every home. Yet a majority of people voted against and the political class cannot cope with this. Their arguments based on fear, were crudely put and did not resonate. Their arrogance and condescension put many people off

    In America, Hilary was an appalling candidate with a grandiose sense of entitlement and no positive message. Drowning on about feminism tends to be a bit off putting to male voters. The deplorables voted for trump and the black and Latino voters stayed at home, finding Hilary very off putting. But again it is far easier to blame a foreign power rather than look in the mirror and try to understand why your message did not work.

    So far there has been no indisputable evidence of effective Russian interference in America, there has however been significant Anglo American interference in Russian politics. Unfortunately for the Anglos any Russian candidate blessed by them tends to be seen negatively by Russian voters.


  4. There’s money in them thar accusations!

    i) Make groundless accusation
    ii) Lobby for money to ‘fight’ those accusations
    iii) Profit!


    1. Yes this is the process exactly!

      4) repeat the process when you need to squeeze more money out of the public or get them agree to a policy against their interests


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