Are you in The Engine Room?

In its most recent report on antisemitism (published July 2019) the Community Security Trust included a list of popular socialist Twitter accounts it called the ‘Engine Room.’ (Page 18 onward)

These 36 accounts are called the Engine Room in this report because of their centrality in driving online discussions around Jeremy Corbyn and antisemitism.  Some of them started the hashtags under review; all engaged with at least three, and usually all five, of the hashtags listed.”  (p. 19) (N.B. CST listed six hashtags not five)

The “hashtags under review” were #GTTO, #JC9, #BoycottRachelRiley, #ResignWatson, #TellTomWatson and #SackTomWatson.

Clearly, almost all of the tweets using all but the Rachel Riley-related hashtag were not discussing antisemitism: Criticism of Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson was a reaction to his constant undermining of Jeremy Corbyn, the JC9 hashtag referred to nine Corbyn-supporting candidates for Labour’s NEC and GTTO (get the Tories out) was used to indicate opposition to the Tories.  

Many of the tweets using #BoycottRachelRiley referenced her comments about antisemitism and Labour.  Riley indulged in an increasingly ugly political campaign against Corbyn and against socialists.  Her tactics included random libellous remarks, abuse, dogpiling and malicious legal threats and some legal action.  She made false accusations to advertisers to try to dissuade them from advertising on left-wing news sites.

To justify its focus on the six hashtags CST noted a greater percentage of certain words (related to Judaism or to Israel) used by tweets that included the hashtags than the percentage of the same words in the whole of twitter during the same period.  But, the topics of discussion were often initiated by Riley or by Watson or were responses to what either (or others) had said elsewhere.  There has been a deluge of accusations against Corbyn and his supporters and, so, logically some of those supporters responded to that criticism and then referenced what was mentioned by the accusers.  CST blamed the people responding to comments for the use of words and phrases written or implied by those to whom they were responding.  Such a tactic by CST was dishonest and anti-logical.

These influential online accounts have a disproportionate interest in topics such as antisemitism, Jews, Zionism and related issues.” (p. 19/20)

The sentence above encapsulated CST’s abuse of logic.  If someone tweeted “Mr. Corbyn is not antisemitic. #SackTomWatson” in response to Watson implying Corbyn was antisemitic then CST claimed the tweeter had “a disproportionate interest in topics such as antisemitism.”  That was the level of purposeful stupidity contained within CST’s argument.

As shown above, CST claimed the Engine Room members were central “in driving online discussions around Jeremy Corbyn and antisemitism” but its report merely showed that the accounts were central in driving discussion about many topics related to Corbyn and to socialism including criticism of Watson and of Riley and including responses to comments made by the latter two.  If CST want to investigate twitter accounts that are “driving online discussions around Jeremy Corbyn and antisemitism” they should look at those of, for example, Stephen Pollard and David Collier as well as Riley.

CST expressed its fear of the Engine Room because

their influence via hashtag networks and the high level of engagement they command when tweeting about Jeremy Corbyn, means that these 36 Twitter accounts, as a group, have a significant influence over the online conversation in broader Labour-supporting Twitter.” (p. 20)

Yes, socialists developed a strong successful methodology of using twitter as a tool of organisation, information sharing, solidarity and mutual education.  That is what all conservatives are fearful of.

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Are you in The Engine Room?

Jon Sopel enabled Steve Bannon

Yesterday (July 31st) BBC’s Jon Sopel handed far-right propagandist Steve Bannon a platform to espouse his extreme ideology.  Sopel obsequiously agreed to a physical setting for the platform next to the USA/Mexico border fence with a pseudo-military vehicle in shot with an American flag attached to it.  The concocted scene was Bannon’s intent to depict himself as part of a racist militia targeting immigrants.

The encounter was not an interview and Bannon’s rhetoric was left unchallenged and uninspected.  Sopel acted solely as an enabler.

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Jon Sopel

This awful episode in the BBC’s political coverage was not surprising.  BBC news and current affairs has no understanding of what political balance in broadcasting is.  This (wilful) ignorance is directed by director-general Tony Hall who, in BBC’s Annual Plan in March, declared that the “broadest range of views” must be broadcast.  His view was that BBC news should be a team of stenographers with no care taken to examine veracity of opinions.

Of course, BBC’s commitment to broadest range of views is within restrictions.  The restrictions are not specifically party political; they are informed by establishment bias.  This bias is so ingrained that its practitioners convinced themselves of its absence.  Sopel exhibited semi-conscious bias in response to the expulsion from Labour of Liberal Democrat voter Alastair Campbell.  He exclaimed that “I’ve known Alastair Campbell for 25 years.”  That translates as a pliable journalist being manipulated by a professional con artist for twenty-five years.

BBC’s obsession with aiding the promotion of extreme right-wing ideology has intensified.  Within recent weeks viewers and listeners were subjected to Rod Liddle (Newsnight), Tom Harwood (Question Time), Dominique Samuels (various TV/radio) and Ben Shapiro (Politics Live) alongside regulars Nigel Farage and Toby Young.  Any claim that the BBC’s guests were challenged fell flat because these characters did not care as long as they had an opportunity to spout their extremism.

An interesting quirk of BBC News’ operational methodology is its insistence on arbitrary differentiation between “interview” and “debate” and associated diametrically opposed rules of operation.  Unlike “interviews,” where challenge is either absent or ineffective, all BBC “debates” are peopled with opposites.  Thus, any knowledgeable person intending to impart facts and analysis has to contend with a disruptor talking nonsense.  The BBC applies this rule to any “debate” including issues where contrary voices should be treated with disdain and muzzling.  

From Tony Hall down the BBC’s mishandling of balance, bias and impartiality has become very problematic.  Faced with a new Tory government of libertarian technocrats intent on destruction of society, broadcasters and media need to be focused on persistent, relentless and effective challenge with repetitive demands for information and answers.  Sadly, the BBC does not appear to be up to the job.

Recommended reading
Hussein Kesvani for Huff Post

Related blogs
Tony Hall on balance
Tips for BBC news
Sopel on Campbell

Jon Sopel enabled Steve Bannon