Com­ment UK has been play­ing Rus­sian roulette

Birmingham Post - - NEWS -

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

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