Democracy vs Cambridge Analytica and Facebook

An interview with Dr. Alex Lambert of Monash University for an academic research project “combining interviews with alternative social media developers with the managers of alternative urban creative spaces, bringing their perspectives on challenging entrenched power – be it in the form of business-focused urban planning or web platforms such as Facebook – into dialogue. In doing this, the study hopes to create practical new knowledge that will assist in the key challenges faced by both communities.” 

Alex Lambert: Talk about what motivated you to develop your concepts of stigmergic action and decentralisation? Feel free to explore the ideologies / values that drive your work.

Heather Marsh: I wrote Binding Chaos and subsequent work in order to articulate what was not working and where I saw potential in various regional and global horizontal movements I was involved in over the last decade. Wikileaks had quickly become a personality focused, hierarchical organization and was both limited and ultimately derailed as a movement by that structure. The horizontal movements such as 15M and Occupy proved all of the problems with direct democracy and group affiliation outlined in the book. Many of these attempts at horizontal movements were easily derailed and dissolved; the rest became smaller, co-operative working groups and have enjoyed specific local success that has not easily scaled. The movements which set specific goals had far more success, at least in the short term achievement of those goals, as they were action based instead of personality based and could use stigmergy instead of hierarchy or cooperation. I used Anonymous to further an action based, stigmergic method of collaboration which followed ideas and it was very obvious that this was by far the most resilient and scaleable method of mass collaboration I had encountered.

In order to create movements which follow ideas, it is necessary to have access to and trust in information. An uninformed vote is a coerced vote; without access to and trust in information we have no alternative in mass movements but to blindly follow demagogues or ideologies or be completely immobilized. We are increasingly seeing all three of the latter situations as our access to and trust in information is increasingly eroded. A framework for developing open, collaborative information which can be transparently audited and receive feedback from everyone is essential for us to proceed in creating participatory governance. Democracy requires informed choice. The form of democracy we are currently governed by is increasingly built with patriarchy (the Robert Filmer kind), tyranny and secrecy, which is why it is giving way to populism and fascism all over the world. If democracy is to survive, it is essential that we create open epistemic communities and knowledge bridges to regain our trust, access and participation in knowledge. The survival of democracy in the face of growing fascism is a very big motivator for me.

AL: How do you see your work interacting with established, powerful platforms such as Facebook?

HM: There is currently a push in the EU and North America to hold tech corporations accountable for the dialogue and social networks built on their architecture. The current ‘quick fix’ to increasing sectarianism and lack of trust in information is to demand that CEOs of social media platforms take on the social responsibility not only of deciding official ‘Truth’ but also for forming our societies. Societies are formed by shunning and inclusion. Using tools ranging from permanent bans to blue check marks, a very few disinterested and unqualified CEOs are now expected to form our societies, to decide who to shun, who to include and who to amplify, by algorithm instead of dialogue. This is an abdication of responsibility by governments who should be providing the framework for societies to create themselves and it is an abdication of responsibility by societies who should never have delegated that responsibility to anyone, governments or corporations.

My goal is to remove both the burden and the authority of deciding official ‘Truth’ and facilitating shunning and inclusion of ideas or people from tech platforms. The responsibility and power of creating communal knowledge and society needs to be returned to our communities. Knowledge should be created by epistemic communities in open collaboration with affected user groups. The architecture of social media platforms is itself wrong for building knowledge. It is personality centred instead of information centred. In stigmergic movements, a personality centred platform will encourage people to follow demagogues and celebrities instead of ideas. Serious discussion needs to happen in information centred platforms. Societies should also have the power and fluidity to associate freely with the groups and individuals they choose which is the only way to avoid thought bubbles and increasing sectarianism. Allowing (or forcing) tech CEOs to replace these fundamental rights with an algorithmic dictatorship violates our basic freedoms in a democracy.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 19.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

AL: I am interested in the relationship between network design and culture. In your mind, what kind of culture does your work foster?

HM: Hopefully, open and collaborative culture! I want the right to access, use and modify information to be recognized as a human right, as necessary to attain our full potential or participate in our societies. Our societies are already far too complex and require far too much information processing for individual comprehension of any big topic. We now require mass collaboration to understand any aspect of society or to be able to rationally govern ourselves. I am trying to create a framework for a societal singularity, where expertise can be transparently audited and shared so we can regain not only access but also trust in information. To be trustworthy, the ability to create a body of knowledge must not be restricted to closed groups and the entire interested group must have the ability to audit and contribute feedback. An information centred platform can break the rigidity of social media thought bubbles to allow overlaying and cross-sectioning of different societies and belief systems. Horizontal governance means we can have democratic, regional choice, but transparent epistemic communities allow all of our choices to be informed by all of the information available.

AL: You mentioned your engagement with artistic projects, can you talk more about these?

HM: During breaks in my programming career I have been an artist in a variety of mediums. Artistic projects can sometimes express ideas in a far more more powerful and immediate fashion than words ever could. As a connoisseur of information with years of experience trying to amplify seldom heard voices, I believe art is an important and necessary facet of communication. Memes, cartoons, photographs and other work are extremely important as short information bursts that trigger an emotive or logical response in people, but they can also be used to manipulate people into responding contrary to the facts or their best interests. The use of memes to manipulate our responses has been extensively researched and refined by advertising and intelligence agencies for many decades. The use of memes cannot be avoided as no one has the ability, time, access or interest to research and analyze all information they encounter, so to avoid manipulation, memes must be easily linked to a body of knowledge that can be transparently and collaboratively audited. This is something I explored in information packages for Anonymous which would include a press release summary, collections of pre-made tweets with linked source information, short videos and memes, so people could choose their level of research before sharing the topic and it could be shared in any format. The powerful messages of work such as Ai Wei Wei’s Remembering, lies in the accuracy and facts of the numbers and history it represents. Art has the ability to instantly illuminate truth and make it easily accessible but the power of art is eroded and truth becomes propaganda if the audience cannot trust the underlying facts.

AL: What great challenges have you faced? What solutions have you developed?

HM: My ongoing challenge has been to amplify the most silenced voices in our societies. Atrocities happen in silence. Structures with power and secrecy at the top and fear and silence at the bottom have filled the world with atrocities against occupied people: those at the mercy of militaries, UN peacekeepers, churches or NGOs, those silenced by prisons, care facilities and criminal organizations, and those with no media access or respect. People are coerced by information far more than they are by military and empathy follows media exposure. Equal votes are meaningless without equal voices.

Lately the media has focused on ‘whistleblowers’ which are depicted almost exclusively as members of military or intelligence agencies reporting wrongdoing in their own organizations. This is despite the scarcity of such insider whistleblowers and the vast amount of victim whistleblowers who could and do also tell of the atrocities committed by these same organizations. Millions can be killed without leaving a paper trail or inspiring an insider whistleblower. While the imprisonment of John Kirakiou for reporting torture at Guantanamo was an abomination, the solution is not to create more places for CIA agents to inform their superiors or even the world of what they are doing. It is the people in Guantanamo and all the other CIA black sites that the world should never have left in silence. If we ensure no voices are ever silenced there will be no more need for institutional whistleblowers as intermediaries.

From 2010 until 2012 I was the administrator and editor in chief of Wikileaks Central, a global news site which was requested, announced, promoted, endorsed and hosted by Wikileaks but run autonomously and separately by myself. In 2010, mainstream news audiences and outlets largely refused to cover any news that was not focused on men with guns or interpreted by western male pundits and politicians discussing men with guns. Wikileaks was very useful as a vehicle to amplify voices and human rights stories that would normally be ignored. I could cover almost any human rights or protest topic by tying the news to information in the US state cables or other Wikileaks releases. Even the most tenuous connection would encourage journalists to pick up stories they would never normally touch so they could publish them with a picture of Julian Assange at the top and a quote from a US military source. After Wikileaks lost its usefulness for me, Anonymous became my preferred vehicle. Again, editors would publish human rights stories from around the world if they could use Anonymous in the headline and photo, allowing readers to project their assumptions onto the hooded silhouette and assume it was a story with an elite western man protagonist. The advantage to Anonymous is that anyone, from any demographic, could use it directly to obtain a platform.

In the last decade, the people and topics considered news worthy have undergone a transformation. Audiences are far more willing to listen to voices and stories they ignored ten years ago. Now the challenge is to move from personality-centric news amplification of social media to an information-centric framework and to move from a transient news cycle to the creation of permanent knowledge repositories. This will hopefully remove the focus on celebrities and trends and allow collaborative knowledge that can accommodate all voices and present a complete view of any topic.

AL: You critiqued the highly personal, ego-centric nature of social media, and this resonates with your point abut building epistemic bridges. What would social relations and identity look like in a non-ego centric or social group-centric network?

HM: The terminology I use is personality-centric vs idea-centric. An idea-centric knowledge structure would be built around points of knowledge: ideas, evidence, auditing, counter-analysis, etc., and the social relations, the people contributing ideas or research or the trust networks supporting their expertise, would be attached to the ideas and evidence as subsidiary information. In the personality-centric structures we have now, this is reversed. Ideas are promoted because they come from an official person or organization or celebrity. The source of the information, or the supporting facts and research, are subsidiary to the personality or unavailable to the public. We are being governed by ideas, and our access to ideas and information is currently controlled by those with social power. This creates an oligarchy instead of a democracy, as an uninformed or misinformed vote is a coerced vote.

In an idea-centric system the ideas and information receive the focus and those producing the best information (usually experts or those most affected) are promoted along with their ideas, without having to go through celebrity intermediaries or official channels. This freedom to bypass oligarchy is necessary in a democracy.

AL: My colleague who researches teen use of social media finds that young people call platforms like Instagram a ‘second home’. Can social media be both a home and a radical democratic epistemic community? 

HM: No. An epistemic community should not in itself be a social grouping any more than any current scientific or journalist communities should be social groupings. Social groupings are personality-centric and somewhat closed; epistemic communities should be idea-centric and open. Social groupings are built around the need for social inclusion; epistemic communities must allow rejection of any work not deemed satisfactory. Ideas are not people; they have completely different requirements. One of the worst parts of platforms such as Twitter is this mixing of the two objectives so respect for a person leads to promotion of their ideas and rejection of a person results in rejection of their ideas.

From personal observation and the trend studies I have read, I don’t believe that young people currently still see social media such as Snapchat or Instagram as a second home – what year was your colleagues research? I think the current generation (Z?) is much more security conscious and bored or revolted by the Instagram-filtered, microcelebrity culture of their older peers. As advancements are made in collaborative education I believe we will see far more young people using social knowledge platforms (when we have one) for idea collaboration and secure messaging for their social interactions. Social media as a microcelebrity fame vehicle will hopefully become more specialized to the entertainment field it is suited to.

AL: You talk about the necessity of transparency. I have been thinking about this in terms of identity as well, as I feel anonymity can amplify trolling and other forms of ‘cyber-hate’ that negate democratic dialogues. Have you thought about this?

HM: Yes, of course! And I disagree, at least with the world as it currently is. As I mentioned earlier, the only way I could get editors and audiences to look at the stories I considered the most urgent in the world was by passing information through a western male avatar. Anonymity in the world today is the only way to bypass existing bigotries. A lack of anonymity in a personality-focused system will also very frequently inspire very misplaced trust based on reputation instead of work. As a woman and a career programmer, I can say with certainty that my work is judged in my field based on my reproductive organs and is far more accepted when they are assumed to be male. Or in the words of Alan Turing, “Turing believes machines think. Turing lies with men. Therefore, machines can’t think.”

The vast majority of hate in the world, from the Malleus Malleficarum forward, has been printed, published and promoted by powerful men under their own names. Anonymity is necessary to criticize the powerful, not to preach hate against those with less power. History and the fact that ’free speech’ is suddenly and for the first time since the printing press was invented taking a back seat to ‘fighting hate speech’ gives the following definitions for your terms:

cyber-hate: democratic speech

democratic dialogue: public discourse controlled by the powerful

AL: To answer your question, my colleague has actually been studying a group have been ‘growing up’ on social media for a while. Hence perhaps they are not the young generation anymore. Cultural context comes into these attitudes as well, I presume.

The cyber-hate (for lack of a better term) problem is by far the one that interests me the most. I agree that it is thoroughly gendered. These days in media and comms in Australia our classes are about 95% female.

HM: Wow!! Is that an anomaly? Where are the men? Are they not applying? How and when has this changed and why do you think? Do you feel this is temporary? How do you feel this has affected the classes, in terms of being a thought bubble, etc etc. How are your computer science classes?

AL: When #gamergate hit many students were writing about the fact that they felt silenced on platforms like Twitter.

HM: They were writing that they felt silenced … and you heard them …. and everyone heard all the other female journalists saying the same thing. I have been on twitter since it started and I have been a female journalist for many years and a woman offline all my life. Twitter is the first time I have ever been able to (if I wanted) say that I get daily messages from people who want to cut my head off and rape my neck, etc., etc. The messages aren’t new, I would get them in my desk at school even. This is just the first time there has been a platform I could say anything on or an audience who would listen. Twitter is the first predominantly female important media platform and created the audience for all those female journalism students you now have. Twitter forced Pax Dickinson, the Business Insider CTO, out of a job in 2013 for misogynist comments and many more since, including those on #ShittyMediaMen. (And that was when libertarian media men started suddenly being concerned about ‘the limits of free speech’ and paying women to write op-eds about awful bullying on Twitter. And ignoring the awful bullying of women in corporate media.) Twitter has also brought forward the #MeToo movement and many other campaigns such as #BringBackOurGirls #DelhiRape #TakeDownJulienBlanc or many I launched around 2013 such as #opRohingya, #opDeathEaters, and #opGabon. Michael Salter’s Crime, Justice and Social Media is worth a read on those campaigns.

I think using the fact that many women are saying they feel silenced on Twitter to blame Twitter is like using the fact that women are saying #MeToo on Twitter to blame Twitter. No one heard any of us say we were silenced for centuries by the printing press. Anonymity is a tool of the weak – women have used it for years online, as do any Rohingya activists giving evidence of the ongoing genocide. Monk Wirathu does not need or use anonymity to preach genocide and Putin / Trump / Kadyrov / Bannon do not need or use anonymity to preach misogyny.

AL: This seems to me to indicate democracy for men (at least in the gaming community), but not for women. Similar to your point about journalism.

HM: Of course, democracy everywhere was always for men (and includes race and class boundaries as well) but now we have platforms for talking about it.

There is another aspect to this topic though and it is a bit huge for this question, it would take books (some of which I am currently writing, will be posted on my blog eventually). Gamergate, and gaming in general, and social media, and for that matter the internet, has very strong ties with the intelligence communities of the world and the men’s rights movement which grew on the internet was probably the least organic or democratic social movement ever created. This is a huge topic but there is a bit of one aspect here and a bit of another aspect (specifically manufactured division around ‘white feminism’ and ‘trans rights activists’) alluded to in this quote from the Cambridge Analytica supergrass on Steve Bannon: “Smart. Interesting. Really interested in ideas. He’s the only straight man I’ve ever talked to about intersectional feminist theory. He saw its relevance straightaway to the oppressions that conservative, young white men feel. There was also a very large push in the intelligence communities of the west for many decades to strengthen patriarchal religions (along with associated misogyny) in an effort to subvert communism. This is still happening even though it has already been overwhelmingly successful and even China is attempting to force women back into ‘traditional’ unpaid caregiver roles. A very large majority of the most extreme hatred I have experienced online and off contains biblical or other religious references, even from street drunks when I was a child in a very secular place. I don’t see that changing with the rise of Bannon types pushing end-times religious wars and terrified of the fall of patriarchy. . (The former head of the US DIA linked in the video earlier also believes in end times prophecy with a giant religious war between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ – these are the people steering online dialogue. The ‘cyber war’ budgets are allocated for them to steer online dialogue in the directions they choose.)

The tl;dr is that the gender divide has been initiated and promoted at every step of the way by very undemocratic forces (see Malleus Malleficarum), and ‘feminism’ has been regularly co-opted, at least from the 1970s forward, to work for its enemies. What you are seeing, especially on the internet, does not necessarily have anything to do with democracy or human nature or organic social tendencies. It has much more to do with allowing secretive governance to control our online dialogue and access to information. Re gamergate trolls.

AL: Are epistemic, idea-centric, annonymous networks enough to stem this ingrained sexism (as well as other forms of bigotry)? Can these networks be coupled with progressive forms of governance? 

HM: Anonymous networks alone would never work, they would be spammed to death. Pseudonymous networks supported by a trust network would work, when necessary, and that can make it difficult for group affiliation bigotries to take precedence over information. Concentric circles of epistemic communities and knowledge bridges are a framework, they are not a solution. The solution must of course rely on the people using that framework. This framework of transparent, audited, open, permeable information is, in my opinion, essential for horizontal governance and to avoid rule by demagogues and ideology. Voting is a tool; we are governed by information and it is open, collaborative information that needs to be a human right in a democratic government.

AL: In designing such a database architecture, do you also take into account the structural struggles that must enable equitable access and skilled use of the database? For example, struggles for internet infrastructure, technical skills training, and even training in critical humanities (say, around political philosophy)? 

HM: Yes, because equitable access and benefit is the primary motivation for the project. It is essential that we not only avoid repeating the mistakes of the web but also work to correct them. There are two factors involved in equitable access, one architectural and one societal. Architecturally, it is my hope that organizing knowledge around subjects instead of organizations or people will create a more equitable and collaborative environment. Giving people the ability to create their own trust networks will hopefully result in networks of expertise beyond the institutional ones already established and allow more personal control and diversity of perspectives.

There is also a large societal shift that will need to happen before equitable access to use and create knowledge is a reality and recognized and supported as a basic human right. While I don’t believe this societal shift is possible without the architecture to support it, the architecture alone is not sufficient to change societal structure. It is my hope that collaborative, transparent, knowledge repositories will increase awareness of the need for information transparency and access, and result in an end to knowledge ownership and gatekeeping. This is a bit of a catch-22; people will hopefully realize that open, collaborative knowledge is necessary when they have it, but they will not work for it until they realize it is necessary. This is similar to internet access which had very little public interest initially but is now recognized as a basic human right for all. I think that lack of initial public interest and diverse perspectives harmed the creation of the web and is harming the creation of new internet structure as well. My plan is to create this project with a rotating board of directors, diverse both in background and geographically, and seek the input and involvement of as many people as possible throughout the early stages. That is very difficult to accomplish with no funding or institutional power. We also are in a time where the world’s governments are punishing tech behemoths for abusing control over our data by demanding that they exercise even more control over our data, a very cynical and ultimately disastrous approach. I am not sure what will convince the public how disastrous this road will be. Politically, there is no motivation for democratizing access to information since control over information is how we are governed.

The internet exacerbated existing power structures and created new ones through both access and initial interest. While outreach to prevent such power imbalances are necessary, it will never provide complete equality of access or understanding for every person on the planet and neither should it. Lack of equality in interest or ability should not cause an imbalance in power the way access to the internet has today. That is the point of the concentric circles of expertise and the layers of diverse interest and involvement in Getgee. Everyone can benefit equally from transparent, publicly audited knowledge without every person devoting the same personal resources to it in a system where knowledge is a shared commons instead of a resource to be hoarded and filtered in the sealed wells of corporate owned databases.

There is more about power structures and knowledge in the ‘Science, isolation and control’ section here and a lot more coming. Personality focused governance vs knowledge based governance here.

AL: I see something like a global workers movement, demanding education, universal income, and an end to inequality as perhaps necessary  to ensure that a kind of Platonic ‘philosopher elite’ don’t become the experts that capture the network. 

HM: Why global? Governance, in my opinion, should always be by the user group, which is usually local communities. My goal is to create epistemic communities that provide transparent, accessible, two-way knowledge for local communities to use as a resource. Epistemic communities are global but advisory only and information-centric, not closed, elite communities. With access to information, people can govern locally and collaborate globally. All information is available, but communities choose for themselves how they want to utilize that information. An example is the ebola crisis – global experts provided advice but made crucial errors, largely because the information flow was one-way. Local communities were able to assess that advice and replace the parts that were not working with their own solutions. A permeable and transparent epistemic community would have instantly incorporated the feedback of the local communities into available knowledge. Resilience against error requires diversity. The global blight of capitalism would be a lot easier to eradicate if we had a healthy selection of diverse alternative communities that already had mid-scale experience with different methods of resource allocation. A global ‘workers’ movement is communist internationalism centred around a trade economy and it requires a totalitarian state because many diverse communities will not agree on homogeneous government. Let’s not do that.

What is a worker? The traditional definition of that term is a person employed in the trade economy. That is someone fully invested in trade exploitation and willing to destroy communities and environment for ‘job creation’ and strengthening of corporations. Trade economy ‘workers’ are their own elite who act against the interests of community and land caregivers. ‘Workers’ are also people like the autonomous miners in Bolivia who recently abducted and murdered a Bolivian government minister because the government was trying to implement legislation to protect the environment and workers’ rights. The so-called ‘independent’ miners sell resources to multinationals while bypassing human rights and environmental legislation. ‘Workers’ in the eastern DRC mines are also militias that terrorize their communities and ‘workers’ in Nigeria’s Niger Delta destroy the surrounding drinking water and farmland by tapping pipelines. In a more regulated country like Uruguay, ‘workers’ garbage collection unions refuse to allow the country to recycle, cattle rancher ‘workers’ lobby to ensure that the price of seafood is sky high in a country that is mostly coastline and people are restricted from working on their own houses because that may cost jobs for the ‘workers’. In Canada, the ‘workers’ support destroying an area bigger than Greece to dig tar from an open pit mine and demand that other provinces allow their tar passage through other people’s environments. ‘Workers’ are the people who enable and fight for trade economy exploitation. I am much more interested in the needs of community and land caregivers than ‘workers’. I also want the needs of the elderly, children, those suffering health problems and any other non-’workers’ to be included.

Who would they be demanding this from? Participatory governance would mean they would be making their own decisions and creating their own solutions.

What is ‘education’? If you mean enforced state propaganda, it can be replaced by the kind of education you get from concentric circles and transparent, accessible knowledge. Knowledge bridges are educators. Open, transparent, epistemic communities would bring an end to the gatekeeping of expertise by academic institutions. As a current example, open software allows people to teach themselves to code and their code repositories and community reputations replace academic certification.

What is the income for and how does that relate to knowledge repositories? Why would we have universal basic income (which must be allocated by some centralized power and will not prevent goods from being priced out of reach) instead of free essentials (something which is only impossible now because of intellectual property claims and government regulation)? Why are education and medical care currently free in many places but not food and housing when only the last three are essential for life and health? https://georgiebc.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/a-world-without-a-financial-system/ https://georgiebc.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/society-vs-systems-of-dissociation/

Why should inequality be ended and how would that be possible? My goal is to support inequality (otherwise known as diversity) and prevent inequality from creating inequity. So-called equality is really survival of the fittest since it does not recognize diversity of ability or interest. Forcing our diverse communities to live under an egalitarian trade economy has created great inequity. https://georgiebc.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/an-economy-for-all/

Philosopher elites are what we have now, except they are bought and paid for by states and corporations. Their expertise is a commodity available only to the elite and their expertise is not fit to use the name as it is incomplete without all the perspectives locked outside the circle of approved knowledge.

In an information driven system, it is expertise that is promoted, not experts. Expertise cannot be complete without input from all knowledge sources. It is to the benefit of anyone interested in an epistemic community to ensure the expertise is as complete and diverse as possible, encouraging greater input, not gatekeeping. Prima facie, no one can capture a network that is open, transparent and available as a universal human right. In today’s lived reality, your concerns are well grounded, however, as we see even in the free software movement. The best software does not win. The software that can afford to pay the best engineers to work the most hours wins. This is, however, a fault of the trade economy, not open information. Wikipedia bias and imbalance is a fault of the structure of the web, not open information. Open information is a first step to resolving these issues.

There is more information here under the Science, isolation and control section, and as usual, more coming when I ever get time. https://georgiebc.wordpress.com/2017/01/30/autonomy-diversity-society-book/

 

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Response to EU Commission on fake news

In your opinion, which criteria should be used to define fake news for the purposes of scoping the problem?

A simpler method would be to define non-fake news. Non-fake news is that which emanates from complete, open, sourced, audited information on a topic. By this definition, almost all news is fake news, but it doesn’t have to be. If we create platform-independent knowledge repositories which link, source and verify news from all sources by topic, any news which emanates from that source is not fake news. This will allow us to share news that may be as simplistic and incomplete as a meme, but still links to a complete, verifiable source. It also allows information from epistemic communities whose knowledge is at an elite level to be distilled down to any level of interest without losing truth, context or verifiability.

Please specify which categories of fake news are more likely to cause harm to society.

All categories of intentional disinformation are harmful. You could add corporate advertising and state propaganda but intentional disinformation should stand alone without qualifiers. Knowledge is necessary for democracy and must be recognized as a human right along with free speech and free press. An uninformed vote is a coerced vote. People who have lost trust or access to knowledge will blindly follow demagogues and ideology as we are increasingly seeing.

What are the main economic, social and technology-related factors which, in the current news media landscape, contribute to the increasing spread of fake news?

The design of the web is centred around personalities and organizations (instead of information) which makes it impossible to collaborate at the data level or have platform-independent information. This allows information to be owned by technology companies and locked away from information on other platforms. This contributes greatly to self-perpetuating thought bubbles of biased information which translates to increased bigotry and misunderstanding offline.

Additionally, platform dependency means there is no way to link all perspectives on a topic together or easily source where an information snippet originated. Information filtering is left up to easily manipulated corporate algorithms instead of human trust networks which allows bot farms to flood platforms and make real news impossible to find. Celebrity is amplified over expertise.

Why are measures taken by tech companies not so effective in combating fake news?

They are far more easily manipulated by tech savvy misinformation campaigns than by the casual users who are a target of misinformation and they just decrease the public trust in information which is already at a crisis level. People do not have time to verify all the news they read so they will stop believing anything, especially since ‘debunking’ claims are now a favourite way to spread misinformation.

What precautions should readers take when reading and sharing news online?

It is unrealistic to expect all readers to invest all of the time required to fact check all of the information they ingest every day. Expecting this of them will just further erode their trust in any information and their engagement on important topics.

A study to measure the level of factual news believed by users of each platform would be very helpful in identifying the thought bubbles created on each platform and how resilient each is against fact checking.

What should be done to reduce the spread of disinformation online?

The current lack of trust in information is the single biggest crisis facing democracies. A universal database commons is needed which can help to create a platform-independent, collaborative, knowledge repository as explained in the links at end and on http://www.getgee.xyz/

Which measures could online platforms take in order to improve users’ access to reliable information and prevent the spread of disinformation online?

It isn’t the job of online platforms. Corporate monopolies over information filtering is a very bad idea. We need independent collaborative knowledge repositories which are only possible with a platform-independent universal database.

We need a platform-independent universal database commons.

Also, if dedicated bot armies are detected, they should not be just deleted. Those streams should be archived and accessible to researchers who want to compare what ideas and stories are being pushed by what networks.

In your view, which measures could news media organizations take in order to improve the reach of reliable information and prevent the spread of disinformation online?

Participate in creating online collaborative knowledge repositories. Collaborate with other news organizations and other news sources. Encourage a more educated public with more in-depth articles.

New organizations are barely keeping their heads above water and must forego valuable investigative reporting for clickbait. A universal database would give them a new business model and more collaborative journalism, but governments need to recognize access to trustworthy information as an essential right under a democracy, as important as the right to vote, and support access to reliable information. This is not something news organizations can or will do on their own.

In your view, which measures could civil society organizations take in order to support reliable information and prevent the spread of disinformation online?

Again, this is not their job. Access to reliable information is a fundamental core of democracy and it is government’s job to ensure that the public can create information that is open, permeable, audited by the public and not controlled by corporate platforms. EU governments should support the infrastructure to create a universal database. Civil society organizations would then have a reasonable place to create verified, open knowledge which they do not have presently.

What actions, if any, should be taken by public authorities to counter the spread of fake news, and at what level (global, EU, national/regional) should such actions be taken?

We need a universal database commons which will allow us platform independent collaboration on information. Democratic public authorities should support this platform independent access to information as they support access to the internet, as a universal human right.

Well, I tried. Final report. Corporations and states manipulate social media to spread disinformation and escalate division and use that as a reason that corporations and states need more control over online dialogue.

#MeToo, #TimesUp and all that … but also #opDeathEaters

sweden sweatshirt opdeThese are snippets from interviews I did with Australian criminologist Dr. Michael Salter in 2014-15 for his 2017 book ‘Crime, Justice and Social Media’ which looks broadly at the role of social media in both crime and justice. In the final chapter, he used #OpGabon and #OpDeatheaters to examine how social media can challenge national/regional boundaries around justice and provide new ways of understanding and acting on injustice. He also wrote a chapter on media coverage of organised sexual abuse for an encyclopedia from Oxford University Press, and discussed OpDeatheaters in various academic presentations. This is a very late post to share his work. My apologies for not sharing it earlier but it is still very current information. Apologies as well for the choppiness, questions are condensed and answers are pieced together from several places including tweets. The book is available here. For more information, follow #opDeathEaters, @opDeathEaters@opDeathEatersUS and @opGabon on Twitter.

MS: Can you tell me how and why “Death Eaters” was selected as a key symbol for the op?

HM: I have been in a propaganda war with PIE and similar organizations forever. Their propaganda has been so all-pervasive on the Internet and the earlier bulletin boards that all I could ever do was debate within the dialogue they created and using their words, a losing battle that always descended into hysteria about free speech, sexual freedom and every other so-called freedom presented from the perpetrators point of view. The hardest thing about OpDeathEaters has been getting past the language, all manipulated to trigger the ‘educated’:

1. No acknowledged word for Death Eaters so every attempt at conversation is reduced to Illuminati/Masons/Satanists/lizards.

2. “Conspiracy theory” used as a synonym for outlandish lies.

3. Paedosadists misdefined as a sexual orientation / child love and completely conflated with homosexuality.

4. Sadism reduced to “Sex positive!!!” and sparkly pink handcuffs.

5. Attempts to bring powerful torturers to justice labeled ‘a witch hunt’ – I’ll bet the priests laughed at that one.

Words are not facts, they are just a framework used to create social norms. We should examine them carefully and choose the framework we want to use. The first step for OpDeatheaters had to be to remove control of the dialogue from the perpetrators. For me, it was a very personal challenge to reframe the debate and to create a space for dialogue from my own viewpoint. PIE rhetoric ruled the Internet. If we replace their ‘child love’ with ‘death eaters’, we win the Internet and they will never recover from having their years of propaganda stripped away. Who controls the words controls your thoughts.

OpDeatheaters is not about an individual disorder, it is about the norms of an international society. There are people who are very much part of death eaters society who are not paedosadists or even involved in trafficking. They just live within, enable and protect the society and allow it to exist. It is this structure that I want exposed, not just individual paedosadists. Paedosadists are a created market, often mentally ill or weak and often former victims. They are not driving the industry. Initiatives like #WeProtect arrest low level paedosadists and leave those who created and run the industry untouched. As soon as anyone mentions a powerful society, their listeners demand to know who the group is and the conversation descends into ‘the Illuminati’ or ‘the Masons’ or ‘the Satanists’. We really don’t have a term to describe this network and that has been used to block this story for years.

So I had a choice, invent a completely new gobbledegook word or use one which everyone understands and is also a completely accurate term for what I mean. The alternative terms were rationalizing, normalizing and completely false terminology like ‘paedophile’, comforting to listeners and allowing them to settle back into slumber in familiar surroundings. We have seen this normalizing in the lies presenting child torture and murder around the world as ‘war’, ‘national security’, ‘policing’, etc., and the word ‘paedophile’ had already almost fully buried this story in the UK. These people do not love children, they feed off of pain and death and they do not act individually, they are a fully functioning society. I wanted to not use false rationalizing terms and I wanted people to confront the fact that we are in fact ruled by death eaters – a collaborative society of sociopaths.

Looking for logic in the indiscriminate bombing, imprisonment and starvation of people around the world is exactly like looking for logic in OpDeatheaters. People who gather socially to torture and murder children for fun, gather professionally to mass murder for fun. This shouldn’t be shocking and it’s not like the phenomenon isn’t well documented in the origins of the word sadism. Sociopaths have no motives in common with socially healthy people and sociopaths rule the world because the entire global social structure is set up to reward and promote sociopaths. The point of OpDeathEaters is to provide irrefutable proof that those at the top are sociopaths and force an examination of how they got there. OpDeatheaters is just one manifestation of the social cannibalism we have been going through. Everything wrong with the world is because it is governed by sociopaths. ‘Arrest paedosadists’ just scratches the surface of what is wrong.

It is also important to dispel the ‘one lonely man’ and ‘social outcast’ myths so carefully planted because paedosadism and trafficking are not an ‘individual sexual orientation’, they are a massive criminal industry with more in common with drugs and weapons trafficking than a sexual orientation. While every drug bust is reported in the media as being part of a global network, every paedosadist case is presented as an individual and isolated case. Reporting on high level paedosadism as a personal problem instead of part of a networked international industry is inaccurate. The battle for the Internet was hardly just about “sexual orientation”. A massive criminal industry was created, not born.

Porn and violent or risky sex addictions are well established, and known to be created, but unlike drug addictions (which typically harm only the addicted person) sex addictions are treated as personal freedoms and individual problems. In fact, the drastic growth of the paedosadism industry, and of sadism in war zones and criminal gangs, clearly show it is environmental and created and it needs to be dismantled as an industry and through social change. We have ample evidence of genocides in every time and place to prove near ‘normal’ populations can be turned largely sociopathic. Look at the US military in Bagram: was torturing prisoners and raping their children a sexual orientation? Or was it environmental? Yes many psychopaths are born, but far more sociopaths are created and neither is a sexual orientation. Paedosadism is no more ‘natural’ than children in militias killing people is ‘natural’.

I also wanted to challenge the idea of ‘paedophilia’ as a sexual orientation, a completely irrational idea that has been used for years to conflate paedosadists with homosexuals and other relationships between consenting adults. The legal term for ‘sex’ with children in most of the world is rape and attraction to rape is paraphilic coercive disorder. Can you even imagine if people discussed rape of women as a ‘sexual orientation’ as they do the rape of babies and children? Or referred to the mass rape of women as ‘historical women sex’? The idea of the rape, torture and murder of children being ‘a sexual orientation’ is possible only in a world which dehumanizes the children and focuses solely on the point of view of the rapist. No one pretends being raped, tortured or murdered is a sexual orientation. ‘Pedophilia’ has no word for the child. Consensual love does not end when one party reaches puberty. ‘Child sex’ is even worse as it pretends the children are having sex when they are being raped, tortured and murdered.

Crimes are called ‘violent extremism’ if they are directed at corporate assets or powerful men but terrorism of children is called ‘a sexual orientation’. Key to that is viewing the children as objects, not recognizing them as part of a so-called ‘sexual orientation’ which victimizes them. A potential rape victim is not a ‘crush’, they are ‘prey’. ‘Minor-attracted men’ are ‘sadism / violent porn addicted men’. Peter Righton , the founder of the UK government funded Paedophile Information Exchange, one of the most influential propaganda organizations depicting paedosadism as ‘child love’, has been accused of extremely sadistic murder of children.

These words that are entirely based on the point of view of powerful men then affect our legal systems. Killers are depicted as ‘terrorists’ or ‘paedophiles’ to create separate legal systems for the same acts committed against different groups of people. The ICC can then say the murder of adult men is ‘terrorism’ that requires UN resolutions and ICC trials but mass paedosadism by the Catholic Church is not a “serious crime of concern to the international community as a whole.” Children are not part of their international community.

Anyone who chooses to view paedosadism as ‘a sexual orientation’ and believes that ‘orientation’ ought to be a factor considered by courts and society should answer: Do you consider children consenting partners? or Do you consider all rape a sexual orientation? If all rape is a sexual orientation, what about murder? The fact that the perpetrator is sexually aroused does not make paedosadism a sexual orientation or profugaphilia would be a sexual orientation too, called ‘homeless attracted persons’. If sexual orientation should be taken into consideration legally and socially, why should not a tendency to violence?

The tone difference between the DSM and typical psychiatry papers on paedosadism and paraphilic coercive disorder is remarkable. Unless the DSM has decided that sex with children is not rape, pedophilia should not exist as a separate category or why would we stop there? What about “My sexual orientation is poisoning people with oil spills. I was born this way. I just need understanding.” Sexual arousal is a stimulus response to anything from inherent or developed hormones to parasites. Sexual arousal is, and should be judged, as simply social or anti-social, not natural or unnatural. Our extinction is perfectly natural, but let’s try to stop it anyway.

“It’s a sexual orientation, they can’t help it” is a constant in the propaganda, but the word ‘historic’ is also always used to reassure us that they all got over it at the same time, with no arrests or investigations, despite it supposedly being a sexual orientation they were born with.

PIE and their ilk have managed the media depiction of the rape, torture and murder of children, first by conflating it with homosexuality, then by creating a ‘sexual orientation’ called pedophilia, now by changing the definition and public perception of sadism. The major problem in the world is not rape culture, it is sadism culture. Sexual sadism disorder you will never hear about in the media except as cutesy co-option of the word as “Sex Positive!!” BDSM, sparkly pink handcuffs and 50 Shades Of Grey, but sexual sadism disorder is running the world. Death eaters are people who experience sexual arousal from the torture, death, dismemberment of others. Since the philosophy of the Marquis de Sade, sadism has been depicted as freedom, complete liberty for the fraternity at the top and dehumanization of those at the bottom. The governance paradigm we follow was greatly influenced by the people responsible for the Terror in France and they are also the root of the idea of conflating torture and murder with sexual freedom. From the Marquis de Sade’s “Social order at the expense of liberty is hardly a bargain” to Sir Anthony Duff’s “Risks of political embarrassment to the government is rather greater than the security danger”, liberty and equality have always been solely for the fraternity. US and French revolutionary rhetoric was pivotal in the propaganda shift into high gear away from society and into personal liberty, codified in law and reserved for powerful men. You will hear it still everywhere paedosadists are defending child abuse documentation as ‘porn’ and ‘free speech’.

The idea that a powerful caucasian man is always more credible than their victims is part of this outlook. Wealth is seen as a virtue in our societies. The reputations of powerful men are valued more. The fact that they are sociopathically unaffected by suffering is seen as strength. It is a recurring pattern in OpDeathEaters that many former victims are now in jail, destitute, or with mental health problems while the sadists have it all. It is like the world decided to follow de Sade’s ‘Justine: The Misfortunes of Virtue‘: Let’s put the worst at the top and reward the guilty. The concerns against OpDeatheaters are all about protecting the privacy of powerful men instead of about protecting the victims because the propaganda itself is almost entirely from the point of view of the perpetrators. We are told not to spread rumours but everything is ‘just a rumour’ if it is never investigated. People have forgotten how transparent justice systems work:

1. The aggrieved makes a public accusation.

2. There is a trial to decide guilt or innocence.

Right now all accusations are shrouded in secrecy, media pretends that paedosadism rumours are homosexual rumours, accusers are jailed, any accusations against the powerful are forbidden. This is the opposite of justice. This is tyranny, secrecy and a political, tiered, chokehold on justice. The top are too powerful to be accused, the middle are accused and tried, and for the powerless, no accusation is necessary, they are shot in the street for suspicion.

From the FAQ:

Q: What is the difference between a paedosadist and the sexual orientation of paedophilia?

A: There is no such thing as a sexual orientation called paedophilia. A sexual orientation, or sex, requires consenting partners. It is not sex if some of those involved are called victims, that is rape. Someone attracted to rape has sexual sadism disorder or paraphilic coercive disorder. Someone attracted to the rape of children is a paedosadist. A paedosadist who acts on their impulses is a criminal paedosadist, one who does not is a non-offending paedosadist.

MS: In your political writings, are there particular schools of thought or writers that influence you?

HM: I was raised as a girl in Canada’s far north in a First Nations community that had first European contact in 1838. Regular outside contact wasn’t until the 1900’s and the first road in was built in 1972. The schools of thought and writers that have made it to influential status influence me only as a source of extreme frustration. Reading Engel’s complete misinterpretation of Morgan’s misinterpretation of matriarchal First Nations societies was like being forced to learn the end result of a game of telephone when you were standing beside the original speaker. All officially sanctioned knowledge we have been force fed has been filtered through the lens of powerful caucasian men, so even views which are written by people who were not from that demographic are always centred around them and acceptable to them.

Professionally I am a programmer, so I see our societies as whole systems governed by algorithms or principles. Changing the people at the top of the paradigm or adding bug fixes to an algorithm that is completely wrong in the first place will obviously never bring real change. Feminism that fights for women to join a masculinist universe in the trade economy or indigenous fights for political influence within the existing political structures only serve to strengthen the existing paradigm which is why those are the fights always permitted or endorsed.

A background with direct personal experience of so much of what is not working in the world influenced me. The perspective from the very bottom does not have schools of thought or writers. The reason I have focused so much of my energy for the past many years on media, on amplification of those who need it instead of being “the voice of the voiceless”, is because we need those perspectives. We don’t need another revolutionary leader, we need strength and resistance from the bottom and a society that reaches down to help those at the bottom instead of up to the current ponzi schemes of celebrity, wealth and power. Social media has the potential to finally allow those voices to be heard directly, so that is what I have been working towards. When those voices are loud enough to influence society we will have real change because they will influence others as they influenced me.

MS: Can you tell me if there’s been progress towards establishing victim-led inquiries other than the UK? I saw a tweet from the OpDE twitter account in March indicating that the Australian branch of the op had filed a complaint with the ICC. I’ve contacted them for more info. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the challenges of establishing these tribunals/inquiries?

HM: There are many tribunals and inquiries globally in various states of inadequacy and various levels of victim input. The Truth and Reconciliation report in Canada, the Catholic Church, the UN, Pakistan and many more have inquiries.

The primary challenge for OpDeatheaters is to convince the public in each part of the world that the existing systems of justice will not work without transparency and that where the existing systems are corrupt they can be replaced. Like the words we use, none of the justice systems are set in stone and they all originated somewhere. They can all be challenged and replaced with something more effective when necessary. There is a lot of fear around the idea of challenging existing systems of justice, fed by hysteria about ‘mob rule’ and ‘witch hunts’. People who have been infantilized since birth or have had their lives shattered and are suffering from ptsd, drug addiction and more are naturally afraid of challenging existing systems of authority but most justice systems were established as co-option of social justice by the powerful, created to appoint judges, silence witnesses and control outcomes, and they need to be challenged.

MS: Although there’s been a lot of social media activity around OpDeathEaters, it seems like it’s been harder to get people onto the streets, in comparison to OpGabon where there seemed to be a lot of momentum around the rallies. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on why?

HM: The protests in Gabon are also protests against Ali Bongo and the reasons for the dissatisfaction are economically motivated as well. From the beginning of the social media influenced mass protests, the motivations for street mobilization have been economic much more frequently than direct reactions to human rights violations, Syria and several Chinese protests being exceptions. Greece obviously was reacting to their economic collapse, then Tunisia with Mohammed Bouazizi and on. Economic struggle is of course also a fight for dignity or a fight against the violence of poverty, but by proxy. When we started a global protest for September 17, 2011 it was supposed to be a continuation of the M15 self-governance mobilization in Spain with an ‘antibanks’ theme, just a step in the progression of self-governance encampments. This was co-opted almost from the beginning to become the ‘Occupy’ movement, rebranded and completely controlled by the US who used the platform for reactionary rhetoric such as calling for a debt jubilee, a great solution for reinstating the status quo and of no use whatsoever for those who have never had the privilege of acquiring debt.

The financial system is used for dissociation, money was used to replace society. If people fight for the financial system instead of each other and their society, the resistance can be easily co-opted as we saw when ‘self-governance’ for colonies resulted in imperial military control replaced by imperial financial control. People are taught a cradle to grave obsession with money instead of each other, and in the trade economy, the financial system always supports a ponzi scheme which encourages service to the powerful, never those on the bottom. When I started Wikileaks Central, people were very unaccustomed to hearing human rights news. That was a fringe topic, of interest only to human rights activists, as the environment was only discussed by environmentalists. Corporate media focused on the exceptional lives at the top of the ponzi schemes, the economy and corporations, and the protests were not much different with their focus on caucasian male hackers, whistleblowers and new media stars. Internet surveillance received vastly more attention than the stories happening to people with no Internet, money fluctuations caused far more panic than refugees in the ocean with no food or water.

Every time I tried to focus any of the 2011 movements on human rights instead of economic matters, I was shouted down by those dominating the assembleas online and off, accused of everything from promoting the UN (because they also supposedly promote human rights) to wanting to disrupt the utopian anarchy with rules. Anyone who did listen to my concerns would insist we didn’t need to think about them because once student loans in the US were cancelled the rest of the world would benefit from trickle down human rights. One of the most significant Occupy events of 2011 winter was the Sandy hurricane, which appeared in all media and Occupy type forums depicted as a disaster that only hit the US. For me, that was a perfect symbol of the reactionary nature of the protests and how most were only seeking to support or replace those at the top, not change the paradigm.  This is nothing new, almost all of our attempts at change have been reactionary or revolutionary. My goal for years has been resistance, strengthening those at the very bottom until we have a mesh network governance instead of ponzi schemes, but we are a very long way off. Every human rights cause can still only dream of the support given to celebrity activists or the economy.

This is partly because of the tools we have been given. Twitter, Bitcoin and all the rest start with the same libertarian idea of equality and even more freedom, resulting in even faster and more extreme ponzi schemes. In 2010 and earlier, everyone was begging for a retweet from the large social media accounts which became larger by retweeting each other, so of course the protests revolved around the concerns of the powerful. This is another reason I am writing a tool designed around trust networks and original sources instead of ponzi schemes and popularity.

There are also many triggers used in the propaganda surrounding paedosadism to warn people off, phrases like ‘his private life’, ‘witch hunt’, ‘mob rule’, plus the fact that so many perpetrators are the Great Men that everyone has been taught to revere and trust to govern them and make all decisions for them. An attack on the entire society at the top is an attack on the structure we live within and the paradigm from which we have pulled all the principles we use in our daily lives. Such deep social change is very, very difficult and does not happen overnight. Most stories, particularly in the US, have a Good Guy and a Bad Guy and the Bad Guy dies at the end. “Kill all the Bad Guys” will not fix this. Anyone who still thinks we can jail all paedosadists, hasn’t been looking. These are social problems but it is far easier to throw Zoloft or law enforcement at a problem than deep social change. Social change doesn’t sell because social change is very difficult and complex. If we question free will, then the death penalty, wars, crime and punishment all must be questioned. It also means convincing the most heavily coerced and manipulated population on earth that they do not have absolute free will, something they are absolutely convinced they have. In fact, humans are the most programmable systems on earth. We were all programmed and can be reprogrammed. We were also programmed to recoil in horror from the idea that we were programmed, so that fight must be won before we can change how we were programmed.

MS: I’ve been trying to get some info on the database.

HM: The database is an old project I tried to do in 2011 called Global Square. I don’t want this only for opDeathEaters but many long term projects. As one example besides OpDeatheaters, OpFrackOff was a conflict in New Brunswick with a resource corporation which had it’s offices in Houston. Instead of trying to get people in Houston to protest those offices, I looked at all the other ties and found the Houston company was leasing from New Brunswick’s Irving family who own vast and varied corporations. I chose McCain fries as a product of one of their corporations and OpFrackOff boycotted Wendy’s restaurants as they are a major client of McCain (explained in the video). It may seem strange to boycott Wendy’s restaurants for fracking, but the exact same people are behind both, so it is a new way of being heard when perpetrators are protected by layers of corporations.

This year and next I will restart #OpCanary to map connections and encourage international class action lawsuits against resource corporations and also start to track militias, state and otherwise, weapons dealers etc (how many police forces are currently being trained by IDF?) and rename or relaunch #opGtmo to include prisons globally. This will give us far more power than we have ever had before to unmask and combat corruption and counter the use of borders to corral those at the bottom and protect those at the top, but there is no tool available that can help me do this (I’ve tried them all) so I have to write it from scratch (which is better anyway since it needs to be free software).

One method I used to think about for privacy and social shunning online (like against criminal activity using the Tor network) was proxies that would be available only with community support, which is interestingly the same way powerful paedosadist rings work. Lose support of your powerful friends and your cloak is lifted. That’s why the cover ups and obstruction of justice are far more interesting than the actual paedosadist crimes, it’s the obstruction of justice and influence peddling that will bring them all down. Allowing the network to decide who is revealed is currently used for mafia wars or to threaten victims and witnesses, not justice. It is the victims who are currently sentenced for ‘obstructing the course of justice’ by accusing the powerful. Instructions to sentence Epstein by ‘pursuing justice without making a political mess’ for Trump, Clintons, Prince Andrew et al meant no justice. And the only way to counteract that on an entire network is to remove all proxies for them. No more secrecy in powerful networks.

MS: My sense is that you were the driving force behind OpGabon too. Is that right?

Me: Gabon has had activists, journalists and parents trying to expose ritual killings for a very long time at great personal risk (the same can be said for opDeathEaters topics in any country). Gabonese activists who knew I worked around those topics and was reporting on their cases asked for some help around the time I was doing #opRohingya so we created #opGabon. At the time, Ali Bongo was on the UNSC and chairing the UNHCR and attending personal meetings with Obama in the US and there was almost no coverage of ritual killings in English media, partly because English media is very lazy about translating stories from other languages and partly because the story (like the Rohingya genocide, Buddhists monks killing babies and promoting genocide, or opDeathEaters itself) was really incredible and difficult to convince people of in one msm article.

I did a lot of initial research with the Gabonese activists, put it together in a package with reliable sources for everything, helped them set up a campaign in English, French, Spanish, and more and brought it to a more global audience. I also helped get them mainstream media interviews and Anonymous attention because it is incredibly difficult to get global media to cover African stories from Africans, they were more willing if they could run them with a picture of a hacker in a mask and hoodie rather than the Gabonese activists themselves.

OpGabon was in that sense a joint effort but the campaign and account has always been run by Gabonese activists, the risk is theirs and the story is theirs. The megaphone I helped with a bit.

With Anonymous and other global activists, I just linked the Gabonese activists to my global trust network. Those that trust my research and sources trusted the campaign and supported it. Global Anonymous was a great help, they made their presence and support known very clearly to the Gabonese government and the changes in policy were instant. The scheduled protest by Gabonese activists had been outlawed and the existence of ritual killings was completely denied by the government. Within days, the protest was co-opted by the President’s wife, complete with t-shirts and a speech by the president announcing a new law against ritual killings. The Gabonese president was scheduled to have a personal meeting with Obama that suddenly disappeared from all the official websites and did not happen. But ritual killings still exist, none of the powerful have been arrested and the daily slog and risk of activism in the years since opGabon started has been all by Gabonese activists.

MS: It’s clear that the intervention in Gabon was important – there was already a network of activists mobilised around these issues and Anonymous was able to amplify their efforts, provide support etc.

It seems to me like it’s been harder with OpDeatheaters, because, unlike the Gabon ritual killings, there aren’t a lot of existing groups/networks that have politicised the ‘deatheaters’ and are working against them. So part of the challenge with OpDeatheaters has been trying to create or trigger networks of support to form around this issue. That’s my sense of things at least – does that correspond with your experience?

Me: Hmm. I may have overstated the Gabon campaign prior to opGabon. The initial march we were supporting was small and in fact had decided it would be futile to continue with the march until they saw the backing from Anonymous. Being an activist against ritual killings in a country which jails you for suggesting they exist has never attracted a lot of people. Even now _______ is in exile for it, after fleeing for his life. I believe he lost a child that way, that is usually the motivation for the activists there, they are parents. I think opGabon helped a lot by making it an accepted mainstream topic of conversation though, as I think opDeathEaters has as well.

In every place I think the existence of a dedicated group of activists, or even one activist, is essential. This cannot start by appealing to the mainstream or it will be derailed. There has to be an initial dedicated core. Gabon has that, a very few people who are willing to risk their lives by continuing to speak out. In taking on all of the most powerful organizations and states in the world at once, opDeathEaters has far more work cut out to find and support those people in every place. It takes time to grow a cross-cultural network that size and a lot of energy to keep it moving and prevent it from being derailed.

Yes, I agree, Gabon also has a political opposition which can leverage ritual killings as evidence of the corruption of the existing power and present an alternative. Part of the added challenge I see for opDeathEaters in countries like the UK and US, or organizations like the UN or Catholic Church, is there is no higher power for people to turn to, they have to create one. That of course requires far more widespread mobilization and initiative than what Gabon is doing, which is political lobbying, supporting the opposition, and appealing for outside intervention in the form of the ICC or boycotts. It also requires mobilization of the weakest members of society, the survivors, since no political party or institution exists which can be trusted to fight on their behalf. Also, while mainstream media (which is just as influential in Africa as elsewhere) is very willing to accept that ritual killings exist in Africa, they are far more opposed to campaigns exposing corruption in their own circles.

MS: I wonder if OpDeatheaters was ahead of its time in a way. In the UK, people are getting the sense that there is a political context to organised/sadistic abuse, but they don’t have a fully developed political consciousness around this. Most NGOs in the ‘child abuse’ space know about organised abuse but stay quiet about it to avoid backlash and ridicule. The few groups that are outspoken about ritual abuse aren’t very effective at gaining mainstream support.

Are there some key ‘wins’ that OpDeathEaters has achieved that I should make sure I include? What do you think it’s major accomplishments have been to date?

For me opDeathEaters is one step of an evolution on many fronts:

1. Getting people to read about human rights news at all. Five years ago they wouldn’t and I could only publish these stories under the banner of Wikileaks, Occupy or Anonymous. I guess people felt safer listening to these stories under the banners of someone seen as coming to save the underdog instead of asking them to do something themselves. The news has been a passive spectacle for so long, the idea of news, analysis, and then do something about it still hasn’t really caught on.

2. Getting people to care about a story where the protagonist is not a famous/powerful caucasian man from the US or UK and the villains are not confined to a group the readers hate or love, ethnically, politically, religiously or other. I am quite certain if opDeatheaters had targeted only one group we would have powerful support from their enemies, but attacking all powerful groups at once is tricky.

3. Providing a shield for people discussing this topic against those that call them crazy, conspiracy theorists, a witch hunt, etc., etc. and undermining the wall of PIE propaganda that derails discussion of it.

As far as the above points go, I think we were ready for opDeathEaters, and I think it has been accepted far beyond what I could have achieved in prior years. As far as the next steps, actually getting concrete action to result, I think we will. MSF have recently called for independent investigations into war crimes, and many other groups seem to be starting to think that way as well, it is not seen as eccentric as most people thought it was last year. These are the long term goals. It is obviously #4 holding us up which is my own personal bottleneck: When we can get past that, the researchers will be able to move much more quickly and convince people of the need for inquiries much more easily.

I think the most important (and the most difficult) achievements have been in countering deeply entrenched propaganda. Mainstream acceptance of stories of politicians blackmailed for paedosadism, of the vast extent of the industry, the rebuttal of ‘pedophilia’ as a sexual orientation and the backlash against the media framing with words like ‘sex scandals’ and ‘rent boys’ has I think come a very long way in a year. That was the most difficult part, getting people to believe the story and giving them a framework to place it in. Now that is largely done, there is nothing stopping the movement from becoming as big as it needs to (except waiting on me >_<). People investigating or trying to set up inquiries are now just proceeding in a fairly straightforward work with widespread acceptance and an international support network which is slowly growing. (‘Straightforward’ in no way meant to diminish the still very real danger to investigators and activists everywhere.)

That is at least my perspective, ymmv. I am finally hearing very mainstream news watchers talking about the networks and even about opDeathEaters by name, I have seen opDeathEaters graffitti on walls in Argentina and the slogan on a sweatshirt in Sweden, and I saw allegations against a Canadian politician this year accepted with no surprise as a possible part of this wider network. Compared to last year when most of the people I know still considered pedophilia to be a rare ‘sexual orientation’ and talk of powerful paedosadists would destroy anyone’s credibility, I think that is a big step. And we are progressing and I see no loss of interest, the campaign has gone from just me and a huge pushback of disbelief and every form of discrediting to a consistently active and widely respected op which doesn’t really require my involvement any more.