Back to Black Joanne Black
As the US chases trolls, less democratic states adopt more direct methods of control.
People keep telling kids that the jobs some of them will do when they become adults have not yet been invented. This is announced as though it is radically new when it has probably been true of most modern generations. It certainly is of mine.
I was prompted to think about it after reading about the first foreigner charged with trying to interfere in the US midterm elections. She is Elena Khusyaynova, of St Petersburg, who is chief accountant of a company, reportedly backed by the Kremlin, which runs troll farms. She is charged with conspiracy to defraud in relation to the company she works for which, it is alleged, created thousands of social-media profiles purporting to be from Americans and aiming to “sow division and discord in the US political system”, including by targeting the topics of race and guns.
President Donald Trump is every day accused by commentators here of sowing division and discord. The complaint against Khusyaynova notes that Russians have become more sophisticated in their online messages, and their spelling has improved. So, too, has Trump’s; it’s been a long time since “covfefe”.
Once, a troll farm would have been the stuff only of Nordic legend. Now, it is a job that doubtless involves shift work but, handily, can be done from bed anywhere from Vladivostok to Moscow. Also from Los Angeles to New York but, if you are American, you probably need another day job in order to make a living.
It is rare for the world to be united but, with the exception of some Middle Eastern countries, it seems to be so in condemnation of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
According to a Turkish report, a recording of Khashoggi’s demise includes the consul himself asking the visiting hit squad not to dismember Khashoggi on the consul’s desk, but to do it outside instead. Well, you would ask that, wouldn’t you? There you have your desk tidy, your diary open, photos propped up of all your wives and, damn it, a hit squad drags in a body – possibly dead but possibly not – and starts chopping it up on your desk. Hit squads never have had a reputation for respecting other people’s work environments.
In the wake of Saudi Arabia’s admission – because there were no options left – that Khashoggi died in the consulate, a number of countries say there are still unanswered questions.
Of these, the gory details are the least important consideration. Khashoggi is simply the latest victim of a regime that is used to silencing its critics with brutality and impunity. It is probably perplexed by the fuss on this occasion. Saudi Arabia is not the only country to do this.
The Chinese Vice-Minister of Public Security – a title to make any citizen quiver – Meng Hongwei, has not been seen for a month, apparently since being arrested in China. His wife thinks he may have been killed. Meng was president of Interpol at the time he disappeared. His Interpol role may have caused conflicts or given him knowledge that some in China would prefer him not to have. If being the president of Interpol cannot save you, then God help every other Chinese citizen.
I do not presume even a rudimentary knowledge of Chinese or Saudi politics or society. But media reports, dissidents, humanrights groups and exiles paint a consistent and bleak picture of the fates of citizens who criticise these regimes.
I read about them on behalf of those who cannot, and write about them on behalf of those who dare not.
Jamal Khashoggi is the latest victim of a regime that is used to silencing its critics with brutality and impunity.
“’3’ is genius. We need to buy ‘3.’”