Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 4, 2017

The Kremlin/social media controversy

Filed under: Russia — louisproyect @ 10:12 pm

Frankly, I have stayed away from an articles or TV news segments dealing with the Russia/social media controversy since it seems so pointless. Russian trolls and bots are here to stay, even as the NY Times admits in video titled “How Russian Bots and Trolls Invade Our Lives — and Elections”. They do recommend, however, warning about such interference in our wonderful open society by looking for clues that would reveal its Russian origins:

  1. If the timestamp on the post is during working hours in St. Petersburg, that’s a red flag. (What if it is someone with insomnia?)
  2. Posting dozens of items a day. (That would account for 90 percent of the people on Twitter, I’m afraid.)
  3. Look for alphanumeric scrambles in a user id. (Again, that sounds like a lot of the Twitter accounts I’ve run into.)
  4. Google the profile picture. (If it is an attractive female, it is likely a photo of a German supermodel according to Ben Nimmo, an expert on these matters apparently.)
  5. Look at the language. If there are grammar mistakes, it might be a Rooskie. (The Times supplies an example: “So, let me get this right” As it happens, this was deemed grammatically correct by Grammarly so maybe they are Russian agents themselves?)

What I still don’t get is the purpose of this intervention. If it is to win a new Cold War, as Clint Watts, an ex-FBI agent and senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, it is difficult to understand why the Kremlin paid for Facebook ads that took both right and left positions. The Washington Post, which has been fixated on Russian meddling with MSNBC running a close second, tried to explain:

The batch of more than 3,000 Russian-bought ads that Facebook is preparing to turn over to Congress shows a deep understanding of social divides in American society, with some ads promoting African American rights groups, including Black Lives Matter, and others suggesting that these same groups pose a rising political threat, say people familiar with the covert influence campaign.

“Is it a goal of the Kremlin to encourage discord in American society? The answer to that is yes,” said Michael A. McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia who is now a director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. “More generally, Putin has an idea that our society is imperfect, that our democracy is not better than his, so to see us in conflict on big social issues is in the Kremlin’s interests.”

I try to imagine the high-level strategy meeting that took place between Putin and the top guys in the Foreign Intelligence Service:

Putin: So, gentlemen, why exactly are we giving equal time to fake BLM and white supremacy ads?

Colonel Badenoff: We believe this is the best way to win the new Cold War. After the USA gets bogged down in bitter divisions, the BRICS will become the new hegemon.

Putin: Okay, just make sure to make it sound real. No alphanumeric scrambling or German supermodels.

If Russia was trying to make an impact on American politics, the $100,000 it spent would have the effect of a mosquito bite on an elephant. Just compare that to the budget of the Trump and Clinton campaigns: $81 million. Not only that, Russian ads taking both sides of a divisive issue would be like knocking down an open door. Most people get their ideas from outlets like AM talk radio for the right and CNN or MSNBC for the liberal left. Once they have made up their mind about immigration or cop killers, it is doubtful that looking at a Facebook ad will intensify their feelings.

I have a somewhat different take on the question of Russian interference than others on the left, especially from those who have defended the Kremlin’s wars in Syria and Ukraine. While I don’t particularly care about some stupid Facebook ad, I do resent the role played by Russian media in covering up for Russian war crimes. In the past six years, there have been countless posts on Twitter and Facebook defending Russian intervention. Unlike trolls and bots, the authors of such material do not use German supermodels as profile photos. RT.com has made it possible for people like John Pilger, Tariq Ali, Max Blumenthal, Seymour Hersh, Robert Parry, Vanessa Beeley and Robert Parry to defend the dictatorship’s scorched-earth tactics.

There is no question that the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC are lying, warmongering, neoliberal sacks of shit but it does not help the left to go on RT.com to back Putin. Of course, when you are in it for the money like Max Blumenthal, there are incentives to twist the truth into a knot.

Finally, on the question of “social media”. I regard Twitter as inimical to the exchange of ideas and an important element in the dumbing down of American society—unless you use it for nothing except linking to an article posted somewhere else. Given its 140 character limit, it is next to useless and can lead to disastrous effects on leftwing professors who use it to ventilate. When they get in trouble at their university for some rant about Donald Trump or whatever, they always end up trying to explain what they really meant. Maybe they should have been blogging in the first place like Juan Cole or Michael Roberts if the intention was to raise the level of consciousness.

Facebook is a bit better but not by much. By and large, people write things off the top of their head and without the care you see on a mailing list or the comments section of a blog. The other day, someone challenged my interpretation of fascist economics by referring to Pinochet’s failure to privatize the copper mines. I replied that this was a very interesting point and invited him to expand on it as a guest post on my blog. He declined my invitation.

I have 2,249 friends on FB and 911 followers on Twitter while following 273. Of all these 3,000 souls (taking overlap into account), I probably know 50 or so as genuine friends, even if the friendship is based only on email exchanges. What exactly is “social” about all this? I have no idea.

Back in 2004, Mark Zuckerberg began working on the software that would become Facebook. It was intended for use by college students and hardly in line with what it eventually became:

We had books called Face Books, which included the names and pictures of everyone who lived in the student dorms. At first, he built a site and placed two pictures, or pictures of two males and two females. Visitors to the site had to choose who was “hotter” and according to the votes there would be a ranking.

Somewhere along the line, it became practically universal and a tool of activists such as during the Arab Spring. I value it today for connecting people and have found it essential for sharing ideas and information about Syria. But is that “social”?

Back in the 60s, there was no Internet. People got together in meetings and discussed strategy for the antiwar movement, the woman’s movement, etc. We are in an odd place today. Very little takes place face-to-face but people are checking their iPhones or laptops all day long for new stuff on FB, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. I sometimes go for weeks without getting a phone call and personal interaction is even less frequent. As social media explodes, society becomes ever more atomized and incapable of mobilizing against the threats to our survival.

Is it possible that this was the original intention? Just asking…

29 Comments »

  1. I’m also unable to or refuse to follow all the jibberish re ” the Russians did this or that” in both msm and social media. Right away it seemed to me to be nothing but a distraction from the real issues such as poverty, racism and empire, not to mention serving as an excuse for HC’s miserable campaign and well-deserved defeat. Subsequent events have confirmed my initial take, with “The Russians Did It massively covered, whereas empire’s wars, if at all covered, get tucked away in the back pages. Don’t know what to make, however of your lumping all the critics of US policy vis-a-vis Syria and Ukraine in a paid-for and delivered bucket along with Max Blumenthal. Would like to see you debate some of the individuals you mentioned on those two subjects. Perhaps Stephen Cohen might agree to debate you on your website?

    Comment by jacobo — November 5, 2017 @ 12:04 am

  2. jacobo,,, Try this,,, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUS8rkvn0hk Some fans might call it the MaxB show. I call it superior minds on Syria’s situation showing him to be the fool he is. Make up your own mind…

    Comment by seaspan — November 5, 2017 @ 12:23 am

  3. The tens of thousands of Russian paid trolls dont exist, It is the tens of thousands of western dupes reading pro Russia/Iran westerners, willing parrots of RT, PressTV and so on. Meanwhile these little items pass under the radar…

    “The priority (of the US) has continued to be the destruction of the caliphate and the elimination of Isis.” Patrick Cockburn’s latest article, a staggering crawl back admission…

    and

    “the State Department says, the plan is to “turn [Raqqa] over to other countries and the host country” — which probably means Russia, Iran and the Assad regime.” A devastating betrayal for those thinking they were against US Imperial designs.

    Comment by seaspan — November 5, 2017 @ 12:54 am

  4. The saddest part of it is, on more than a few domestic issues, you find RT doing better journalism than any major US network, who, e.g., wouldn’t give 3rd party political candidates the time of day.

    Comment by peteybee — November 5, 2017 @ 2:39 pm

  5. Louis you are obviously a smart man but I’m at a loss to understand your position on Syria. One day you should spell out your position on it without resorting to name-calling etc. Your essay on fascism was excellent. But when you resort to referring to everybody that disagrees with you as a Stalinist or whatever, it just sounds like the ravings of someone stuck in a petrified ideology who’s given up trying to convince anybody under the age of 40. Please spell out your position on Syria and U.S. imperialism in a future essay. I would truly enjoy knowing and it might even convince an old man like me.

    Comment by Ken — November 5, 2017 @ 3:48 pm

  6. My position on Syria has been put forward in 282 posts. Just click the category “Syria” on the right side of the page to see them in newest to oldest order.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 5, 2017 @ 4:57 pm

  7. Will do.

    Comment by Ken — November 5, 2017 @ 5:19 pm

  8. Ken, and dont forget to visit the many references he has…

    Comment by seaspan — November 5, 2017 @ 10:10 pm

  9. Twitter and YouTube are currently mass deleting evidence of Assad’s war crimes and accounts sympathetic to the Syrian rebels.

    This was a video showing footage of Assad’s forces shooting peaceful protesters in Raqqa, but the video was taken down: “This video is no longer available because the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated.”

    In fact, the whole account was terminated because it was anti-Assad.

    Any video or comment disproving misinformation about the rebels or ISIS gets taken down. For example, this video disproves the myth that a 9 year old girl was getting married to an ISIS member, but it was taken down: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STidtelO6ZQ (The article about it still exists though: http://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2014/08/136810/truth-behind-alleged-marriage-of-isis-member-with-7-year-old-girl/)

    I wanted to save the videos, but it was not possible to save them. YouTube also claims that it is illegal to download and archive the videos because it claims that it is “copyright infringement”.

    Copyright law prevents people from copying and archiving stuff. So if a website owner decides to delete some videos or comments and posts, they get permanently deleted as there are unlikely to be copies of the information. A lot of the videos and tweets I have analyzed over the years got destroyed due to this side effect of copyright. This is why I am so strongly against copyright. Valuable information that is potentially beneficial to the public gets destroyed due to copyright.

    Comment by 3D Face Analysis — November 6, 2017 @ 1:18 am

  10. “the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC are lying, warmongering, neoliberal sacks of shit but it does not help the left to go on RT.com to back Putin.”

    boom. dialectical and uncouth, lines like this are why i read this blog – thanks Louis

    Comment by MB — November 6, 2017 @ 3:58 pm

  11. > YouTube also claims that it is illegal to download and archive the videos because it claims that it is “copyright infringement”.

    It’s not because of copyright that these videos got deleted, though. It’s because of hysteria about how “fake news”, Russia trolls and extremists. The US was always screaming about foreign dictators were clamping down on social media, and now it’s doing the same thing. At least many of these foreign dictators had actual revolutions on their hands, unlike the Americans who went crazy over basically nothing. This ties in quite well with Louis’ essay, and I was honestly surprised he didn’t bring this up.

    Facebook and Google don’t really care, but Washington has been relentless in its push for far-reaching censorship, to smoke out the “enemies of democracy” out of every foxhole.

    Since there is a lot of content on the internet, the censors are forced to work with broad and patchy brush. So they delete a thousands of “Russian accounts” (leaving millions of other shit accounts intact) and then – as collateral damage – delete dozens of terabytes’ worth of actual journalism and war crimes footage that implicates an enemy regime. Much of this content has been lost *permanently*. If this is the kind of shit they’re doing _right now_, imagine what they will do if they are faced with serious domestic dissent.

    Comment by max — November 7, 2017 @ 5:33 pm

  12. > “does not help the left to go on RT.com to back Putin”

    I dunno about this, Louis. I feel RT had a certain cachet a few years ago in prominent left and even liberal circles, but that’s seems to be gone now. Russia has invaded Ukraine and Syria; Russia is a kleptocratic dictatorship; Russia aligned itself with the Trunpkins (this the truly unforgivable part for the Left). Since 2016, these narratives have been drilled into Americans’ heads so persistently, that even those inclined to “doubt the official narrative” have accepted it, to an extent.

    Some American journalists and pundits make appearances on RT, but I no longer see anyone actually endorsing the channel. You can say that people like Norton and Blumenthal are aligned with RT, but I’m guessing they would be writing the same tripe regardless even if RT didn’t give them the occasional platform (or $). In any given country, there is always going to be a domestic market for alternative media that puts a plus where the mainstream media puts a minus, and that’s the market those two are milking.

    Comment by max — November 7, 2017 @ 5:55 pm

  13. Nice analysis by Proyect with the mosquito vs elephant analogy.

    Also, by the way, Louis, greetings to you on the October Revolution holiday. The Russians’ Channel 1 made a TV series called TROTSKY for the occasion:

    https://www.1tv.ru/trotsky

    http://worldscreen.com/tvdrama/russian-drama-trotsky-being-launched-by-eccho-rights/

    Comment by Hal — November 8, 2017 @ 4:18 am

  14. Louis, why don’t you ever go after Glen Ford and the Black Agenda Report gang? They’re no different, in your book, than Norton/Blumenthal/Khalek regarding Syria, etc.. Are you afraid to be seen as taking on Black Marxists?

    Comment by David Green — November 8, 2017 @ 4:51 am

  15. If you were on Facebook, Green, you would have seen me “go after” Bruce Dixon. It should be said, however, that Black Agenda, as opposed to Norton/Blumenthal/Khalek, has redeeming features. They are 100 percent crap.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 8, 2017 @ 1:43 pm

  16. You don’t think that Blumenthal’s journalism on Israel is a “redeeming feature” (as if he needs one)? He does more journalism in 5 minutes than you could do in a lifetime. And again, why don’t you go after Glen Ford? It’s an extension of your identity politics, your hypocrisy, and your cowardice. Come on, Louis, are Black Marxists above criticism about Syria? Are you afraid he’s gonna get your mama? Why single out only white boys? And if you’re critical of Dixon, let’s have it. Don’t make us go on to Facebook, for goodness sakes.

    Comment by David Green — November 8, 2017 @ 7:17 pm

  17. Green, don’t you realize that such baiting reveals a rather low intellectual level? Don’t do this again.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 8, 2017 @ 7:37 pm

  18. Louis, your recent attack on Ben Norton was blatant. He’s been very open about his shift in perspectives on Syria over the years, not hiding anything. It’s summarized in an article for all to see on his website from earlier this year. But you’re a liar, and you’re a troll. And your selective attacks reveal a disingenuous attitude about whom you attack; you obviously don’t like taking on blacks. Oh yeah, and al-Salah is vacuous–do you ever really bother to read his stuff?

    Comment by David Green — November 8, 2017 @ 10:08 pm

  19. Green, Ben Norton deleted all his attacks on Assad. He only posted an article about his road to Damascus conversion after being attacked by many people besides me. His partner in crime Max Blumenthal didn’t even bother to account for his own conversion. I only commented on his about-face on Yassin al-Haj Saleh because the tweet supporting him was maybe the only one not flushed down his memory hole. Deleting past positions is typical of Stalinist opportunism.

    As far as al-Salah being vacuous, I think you simply don’t care for his politics. You should stick with people more in line with your own analysis of Syria like Michel “chemtrails” Chossudovsky or the Partisan Girl rather than squirting your venom at me.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 8, 2017 @ 10:19 pm

  20. It’s one thing to engage in guilt by association; it’s another thing to guiltily associate me with people I have little or no knowledge of. I care about U.S. imperialism; you implicitly rationalize it by prioritizing your attacks on Assad, Putin, Chavez, Iran, etc. over U.S./Israel/Saudi Arabia. As far as Salah, he can hardly be said to have a politics at this point–read his pseudo-philosophical articles. His life has sadly been ruined by events in Syria, but at least now he has the luxury of sitting in Turkey and fantasizing about an alternative reality. Even at that his fantasies hardly have anything to do with addressing conditions on the ground, and that’s perhaps understandable; but for him to blame his plight on the (fantasized) “left” is both sad and stupid. And the same goes for you and your obsession with a few young white journalists and bloggers, with Druze Khalek thrown in to make things interesting. But again, perhaps you should check out her actual journalism sometime; it’s pretty courageous and truthful, and she certainly puts herself at risk when she does not have to. And the same goes for Patrick Cockburn, whom you ridicule. It’s sad, because you do have serious things to say, especially about antifa. But then again, how to explain your support for Ukrainian fascism.

    Comment by David Green — November 9, 2017 @ 12:11 am

  21. But again, perhaps you should check out her actual journalism sometime.

    Actually, I make a point of reading all the Assadist propaganda that has been put out on Alternet’s Grayzone since the day it started, including Khalek’s. You have the nerve to lecture me about being uninformed when you have never read a single book on Syria. So funny.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 9, 2017 @ 12:16 am

  22. Apparently reading too many books on Syria has turned you into an imperialist. And the big tell on that is, of course, Libya.

    Comment by David Green — November 9, 2017 @ 2:20 pm

  23. Yes, I am an imperialist but Ben Norton had the balls to delete everything he ever wrote against Assad and you had even the bigger balls to troll this blog on the weasel’s behalf.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 9, 2017 @ 2:40 pm

  24. Yes Louis, it’s about bigger balls and more books read. How mature of you. Everyone should defer to your books read and smaller balls, not to mention your obsession with Ben Norton and what he may have deleted, as if that is an argument about US intervention in Syria. And you troll around with your sarcastic and denigrating comments, but of course not against Glen Ford, because he’s a black radical and you’ll make an exception to your “principles” when it comes to them, because you’ve become a creature of identity politics in your own way. Louis, you should try moving beyond cliquishness. Life after high school is not so bad.

    Comment by David Green — November 9, 2017 @ 5:56 pm

  25. “a creature of identity politics in your own way”.

    In fact, this is true, not that you have the brains to understand any of this:

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/02/deepening-contradictions-identity-politics-and-steelworkers/

    Comment by louisproyect — November 9, 2017 @ 6:10 pm

  26. Your attacks on the late Prof. Stein were ill-advised, and I told you that at the time; straw man, lame, unsupported. Try reading Gregory Myerson’s critique of Cedric Johnson, or Theodore Allen’s critique of David Roediger etc., if you haven’t. Or really, just fold your blog into that of Michael Eric Dyson or Al Sharpton.

    “A socialist movement that disavows particular Black demands and those of other sectors of the population acting on their own interests on the basis of gender, sexual preference, etc. will inevitably lack the universality it needs to triumph over a unified capitalist class. To state it in dialectical terms, denying the existence of contradictions and a refusing to resolve them will only lead to deeper contradictions.” (from LP’s CP article)

    Louis, here you offer and “unrepentant” version of the ridiculous trend of intersectionality, beloved by the antifa. Socialism certainly deserves better than that. But now that we have an intersectional imperialist, what could possibly be next?

    Louis, I thought with your recent writing you were getting back on track. But you’ve truly lost it. You’re an embarrassment even to intersectionality and IP.

    Comment by David Green — November 9, 2017 @ 11:35 pm

  27. For Cedric Johnson above, replace with Robinson.

    Comment by David Green — November 9, 2017 @ 11:36 pm

  28. But you’ve truly lost it. You’re an embarrassment even to intersectionality and IP.

    —-

    What is IP? Like an IP address or something?

    Comment by louisproyect — November 9, 2017 @ 11:48 pm

  29. I read some of Glen Ford’s pieces on Syria,,, Not too many and sort of dated: ranting about Hilary’s and McCain’s no go zones and the US being uninvited invaders of the legitimate govt etc… Not much to chew on, and whose points have been thoroughly discussed. Can you IP us more?

    Comment by seaspan — November 10, 2017 @ 10:30 am


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