Comment UK has been playing Russian roulette
Mr Byrne highlighted a speech in 2013 in which Mr Putin set out his beliefs. It was an attack on the liberal views that largely dominate western societies, or at least their institutions such as mainstream political parties, the media and universities.
“He attacked what he called the ‘post-Christian’ west of ‘genderless and infertile liberalism’, he attacked the Europeans who he said embraced an ‘equality of good and evil’, and he attacked what he said was a west trapped in moral relativism, lost in a vague sense of identity.
“Europeans, argued President Putin, had begun ‘renouncing their roots, including Christian values, which underlie Western civilization’.”
According to Mr Byrne, Mr Putin’s view of the world is similar to that of the far-right groups gaining influence in America, known as the alt-right.
Russia wants to spread its beliefs across the globe. And that doesn’t mean invading other countries – it means spreading confusion and division.
“These new tactics are characterised by opportunism and involve an unregulated network of propagandists whose material is distributed online. They point out that Russia is now operating in a post-truth environment, and there is no attempt to win people over to a Russian view of the world. There is simply an attempt to confuse and confound.” And Mr Byrne argued that new political parties – including UKIP in the UK – had links to Russia. “If we look at the 45 new parties that have been created in Europe over the past 10 to 20 years, we see a clear majority that have some sympathy with Russia. They include Germany’s AFD, Austria’s FPO, the Golden Dawn in Greece, Jobbik in Hungary, the Front National in France, the Northern League in Italy and, indeed, the United Kingdom Independence party. “All those parties have taken a pro-Russia position on matters of huge international interest.”
And Russia used social media to create havoc – amplifying the views of extremists on both the right and the left, said Mr Byrne.
“We now have a well-established playbook involving a method of creating rows on Twitter and sucking their content into Facebook using dark money. The ads are not going to everybody. Firms such as Cambridge Analytica or Aggregate IQ are very effectively targeting the ads at a particular demographic.”
Mr Byrne discovered more when he visited NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, at its base in Latvian capital Riga.
He was told that Russian “bots” – social media accounts controlled automatically by computer software – are spewing out messages of racial hatred, designed to encourage far-right groups in Europe. At the time time, other bots promote Islmaic extremism.
The aim is to encourage hatred and conflict.
But there’s little we can do because our laws are “hopelessly out of date”, according to Mr Byrne.
In particular, we treat firms like Facebooks as mere “platforms” rather than publishers. In other words, we don’t hold them responsible for the material they distribute. Instead, only the authors – often anonymous or using a false identity, and hard to trace – can be held to account.
Mr Byrne argues this needs to change (though this would prove difficult unless the US agreed to change its own laws, as many of the tech giants are based in America).
But something has to be done, according to the MP. He told the House of Commons: “We cannot let a new cyber-curtain disguise what our opponents are up to. It is time that this Government opened their eyes and started acting.”
It is time that this Government opened their eyes and started acting Liam Byrne MP, right
> Putin and Russia have already begun “to intervene in our democracy” here in the UK