Alarm bells must bring out disinformation fire fighters


The cancellation of two disinformation seminars this week amid threats and harassment should be ringing very loud alarm bells.

The seminars, organised by the Disinformation Project and communicated through the Science Media Centre, were to allow journalists to discuss disinformation with a range of experts. However, details of the media-only events in Auckland and Wellington somehow appeared on extremist social media channels. Traffic on those channels suggested the events could be gate crashed and they were cancelled as a safety precaution.

The director of The Disinformation Project, Kate Hannah, told Newsroom political reporter Marc Daalder she had received a death threat after the decision to cancel had been made but before legitimate attendees had been notified. Members of the project had been scheduled to brief journalists.

What is disturbing about this episode – the latest in a string of intimidating actions – is that the invitations were privately despatched to individuals via the Science Media Centre. Like the Disinformation Project itself, the SMC is a highly reputable organisation (whose advisory board I had the privilege of chairing). The fact that a screenshot of the invitation then appeared on Telegram fringe channels raised the ugly possibility that one of the potential invitees shared it with someone connected to those channels, or that their email accounts have been hacked or otherwise compromised. Continue reading “Alarm bells must bring out disinformation fire fighters”

Trolls and fellow travellers in the general election

It’s a fair bet that the New Zealand general election will not cause much of a ripple inside 55 Savushkina Street.

That is the St Petersburg address of the headquarters of the Russian Internet Research Agency (pictured above), which played havoc with the Brexit vote and the US Presidential election.

It may well be gearing up for another campaign among the all-too-susceptible voters of the United States, but we can be reasonably certain that the only danger we face is a bit of mischief during a troll’s lunch break. Continue reading “Trolls and fellow travellers in the general election”