It all began with a Twitter discussion about the British bombing of Dresden. The ethics of the attack are now much discussed. I knew it wasn’t going to be an informed debate as one participant had expressed his views with emoji showing several flames; he disapproved of the attack and hated the British.
I said it was a good thing that the fire storm allowed the diarist Victor Klemperer and his wife to remove their yellow stars and escape deportation to Auschwitz. After the attack they managed to reach American lines where they were safe. (I could also have mentioned the University where the Gestapo occupied a whole wing, hanging people like there was no tomorrow; which as it turned out there wasn’t.)
In response I was hit by a load of ‘facts,’ about the evils of the raid, others joined in with graphics showing Tokyo flattened by American planes. I could see a theme emerging; hatred of the West.
I mentioned the Nazi destruction of Warsaw, calmly observed by the Soviet army from the banks of the Vistula. That received a description of how the Soviets ‘wisely’ refused to assist the Poles in their ‘reckless’ plan to liberate themselves, and how the Russians were later able to do it for them in a proper planned manner, with very little loss of life.
When I disagreed again, a pleasant person called Elena Plotnikova accused me of being a ‘victim of the BBC and CNN,’ with a monkey brain. A babushka called, ‘Mainrushun’ a ‘linguist and Russian patriot,’ told me to kill myself with Novichok.
I complained to Twitter as I feel inducement to suicide must break one of their many rules under which they recently banned me for criticising a transgendered man. ‘Mainrushun’ is still there. Social media is now a place for absurd and often wicked ideas.
This week Claire Graham, a special education needs teacher objected to the LGBTQ group at Goldsmith’s College threatening to target feminist academics who they claimed were prejudiced against transgendered individuals.
They call feminists who don’t want men who randomly identify as female to enter women’s safe places such as changing rooms, TERFS, a word which not by accident sounds like turds. They claim absurdly that TERFS are guilty of hate crimes because their views ‘create the climate’ where trans-gendered people might be hurt.
In its Tweets, Goldsmith LGBTQ said: ‘The ideas of TERFS and anti-trans bigots literally *kill* and must be eradicated through re-education.’
Graham had complained about lists complied by the LGBTQ group, containing names of women academics who they wanted purged, to shut down debate about trans people and the law. The students responded with abusive tweets including: ‘Nah, we’ll just arrange to send you to the Gulag.’
‘Here’s a mini thread to clarify what a ‘gulag’ is’ the Goldsmith’s tweeter kindly explained.
‘And why sending a bigot to one is actually a compassionate, non- violent course of action.’
The highly educated Goldsmith LGBTQ students then tried to justify the threat by stating that ‘The penal system was rehabilitatory, self-supporting, a far cry from western capitalist notion of prison. The aim was to correct and change the ways of criminals.’
The Left, which calls all its detractors’ fascists,’ still believes that the Soviet camps, where according to a 1993 study of archival Soviet data, 1,053,829 people died between 1934 -1953 (there is no data for 1919–1934) were just a kind of Centre-Parcs for people burdened by incorrect ideas.
There now seems to be a toxic miasma pervading the land from Twitter and Facebook. Children are bullied to death by it. Previously ordinary people threaten to kill others they don’t know, some cyclists wanted to run me over, while liars and rogues from all over the planet have a public platform.
This sea of hatred is spilling over into the streets. TV news recently showed a man, looking like Alf Garnett’s cousin, shouting at Jacob Reece Mogg’s children that people hate their father. We once worried about the declining deference to people in public life; now we’ve got an onslaught of public savagery.
Young people may slay themselves because their school friends spend their spare time bullying them on line, but when the Russian would be assassin approached me on Twitter I just felt a weary disgust, and puzzlement about what these haters did before they had this mass outlet? I can’t believe that they wrote angry letters to The Times.
‘Hate’ itself is now a discredited word along with ‘bigot.’ I was recently accused on Twitter of being ‘just another hater’ because I disapproved of the National Portrait Gallery holding a blockbuster show about Michael Jackson.
In digital Pandemonium it’s dangerous to criticise anything others hold as sacred, from paedophile pop singers to Lycra cycling pants. It is even dangerous not to join in with US style hyperbole. Anyone who dared to disagree that Aretha Franklin was ‘the greatest singer who ever lived,’ which I heard twice on BBC Radio 4, would have been in for a very little respect at all.
You can divide adult social media users into filth, absolute filth (on the dark web) and masochistic show offs like me and other mainstream journalists. But I am now asking whether it is worth the game; entering a world of putrid thinking where you are pitted against people whose arguments have no logic.
Their English is also often very odd and lacking in definite articles. I recently received this:
‘Russia doesn’t look at this the way your country does. To Russia what matters most not to hurt her feelings but clear the freaking damn mass the USA created in Syria & save your ass in particular from risks being killed by a terrorist bomb at your own home. So STFU & disappear.’
I am getting tired of the on-line ordure and perhaps that is exactly what I am meant to feel.
Russia-watcher Catherine Fitzpatrick, who documents Kremlin disinformation or ‘Deza’ in Russian slang, for InterpreterMag.com, says Russian trolls deliberately use crude dialogue to inhibit informed debate and distort discussion.
‘If you look at an article critical of Russia and you see that there are 200 comments that sound like they were written by 12-year-olds, then you just don’t bother to comment,’ she says. ‘It’s a way of just driving discussion away completely.’
Those tactics are meant to stop democratic debate, and they work. As many of us in the West fall silent there is a moving Russian army of comment out there heading this way. Every city and village in Russia now has its own municipal website, according to Atlantic Magazine, the online version of Radio Free Europe. Russians of every class and type are encouraged to write something on the forum, but then Putin paid trolls comment on what they have written. One, Mr Nasty, criticises the authorities to create a feeling of authenticity. The other two enter into a debate with him, one, who supports Putin, provides a link or image to back their argument.
Atlantic recently quoted, Tatiana, an Internet troll who works twelve hour shifts in a 2,500-square-meter warehouse in Savushkina Street, St. Petersburg. She earns 40,000 roubles a month, twice the amount most journalists make. Sometimes posing as a normal house-wife who bakes dumplings, she is part of ‘Internet Research,’ a round-the-clock army of 400 trolls clogging the forums on Russia’s municipal websites with pro-Kremlin comments and disseminating anti-Western propaganda and graphics. Their job is to spread ‘deza‘, throughout the world.
IR is funded with millions of dollars by a company headed by Evgeny Prigozhin, nicknamed ‘Putin’s chef,’ as he owns so many of the restaurants favoured by Putin and his friends. A former hot-dog salesman, who spent nine years in prison for robbery, he now boasts a private jet and luxury yacht. His fortune is estimated to be worth more than one billion roubles, $14,650,000.00
From hot-dog stand run with his father to mighty oligarch might seem rather comic but there is nothing funny about Russia’s new rich; Prigozhin has been linked to a private military unit known as the Wagner Group. In February, Wagner attacked US backed Kurdish forces in Syria in an attempt to take an oil field. The Washington Post reported that Prigozhin was in close contact with Russian and Syrian military officials. Wagner has also been reported fighting in eastern Ukraine with pro-Russia forces.
Three of his companies stand accused of interference in the last US election. He faces criminal charges in the US, including identity theft. On January 28, 2018 the US Treasury imposed sanctions on Evro Polis Ltd. The company has contracted with the Government of Syria to protect Syrian oil fields in exchange for a 25 percent share in oil and gas production from the fields. It’s owned or controlled by Prigozhin.
For Putin’s government, social media is an instrument of war against opposition at home and abroad. The West is only just beginning to catch up with this. To stand up against it all we can do is increase our education in computer science which is currently at disastrously low levels in state schools.
But we also need to be able to engage in a battle of ideas with higher levels of historical study, and more training in intellectual objectivity and precision in all academic subjects.
If we fail to do this we will be stuck with students who flounder among half- truths and silly political fads which have no basis in science or truth. Looking at the impoverished intellectual attitudes and crude behaviour of students at Goldsmiths we are soon going to be defenceless, and may even deserve all the lies and delusions we will be fed.