Back to Black Joanne Black

As the US chases trolls, less demo­cratic states adopt more di­rect meth­ods of con­trol.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - JOANNE BLACK

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.’”

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