Twitter Files: Who Are The People Claiming RFK Jr. Is 'Spewing Disinformation'?

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by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, Jul 18, 2023 - 05:25 PM

The following is the latest installment of the 'Twitter Files' - once again brought to us by journalist Paul Thacker, former lead investigator for Sen. Chuck Grassley, via The DisInformation Chronicle (emphasis ours),

During several trips earlier this year to Twitter’s San Francisco HQ, I ran across internal emails claiming that Robert Kennedy Jr. spews disinformation. Instead of trying to adjudicate these claims—which would likely be impossible—I decided to ask few obvious questions:

Who are these people?

Who funds them?

How did they become “disinformation experts”?

In one example, Twitter employees took action on several accounts after a shady, dark money group called the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) released a report alleging that just 12 accounts produced the majority of anti-vaccine disinformation on social media. “There isn’t any evidence to support this claim,” Facebook responded in a statement dismissing CCDH’s report.

Nonetheless, the report’s simplistic findings proved catnip to the White House and most media outlets.

“Researchers have found just 12 people are responsible for the bulk of the misleading claims and outright lies about COVID-19 vaccines that proliferate on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter,” reported NPR, regurgitating back CCDH’s allegations. Quoting the group’s CEO, Imran Ahmed, NPR added, “The 'Disinformation Dozen' produce 65% of the shares of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms.”

Like other outlets, NPR ignored Facebook’s later statement rejecting the findings of Ahmed’s group, and the reporter never bothered to ask Ahmed who funds his organization and how he acquired his expertise in disinformation. A few years before rebranding himself as a vaccine and disinformation expert, Ahmed was a British Labour Party political operative best known for writing the book New Serfdom which argued against free market ideology.

In a second incident, Twitter received an email from Indiana University’s Filippo Menczer, a professor of computer science and informatics, who has also made a name for himself as an expert in the disinformation space. Menczer sent the email in late 2021, to alert his fellow misinformation activists that the Associated Press had quoted a website he had created to rank COVID vaccine disinformation accounts.

Menczer’s work to both define and track disinformation comes seven years after he denied doing this very same thing. In a 2014 Washington Post essay, a member of the Federal Communications Commission first complained that Menczer’s research could be used to define and monitor “misinformation” on Twitter and potentially suppress free speech.

At that time, Menczer denied on the university’s website that his research was being used as a political watchdog, or to define misinformation. He also said his research was not being used “to develop standards of online political speech.”

But that was then, this is now.

In an essay he published last January, Menczer explained how his scientific studies could be used to guide government officials regulating social media companies like Twitter. “Science could help policymakers understand which regulations work and what their unintended consequences can be, whether they are internal platform policies or rules imposed by legislation.”

Center for disinformation dark money

Started by Imran Ahmed, the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) sprang out of nowhere in late 2017 or early 2018. At the time, Ahmed was leaving a job as a political advisor to members of the British Labour Party and had just written a book.

As we chronicle in our just published book The New Serfdom, the dominance of market fundamentalism has been a disastrous experiment that has ripped up social cohesion and solidarity while the gap between the 1 per cent and the 99 per cent has soared to levels not seen since the beginning of the last century. Home ownership, secure employment and fair wages seem like relics of a bygone era. Meanwhile exploitative workplace practices have created a new serfdom leaving many people trapped in insecure, unfulfilling and underpaid work with no escape route.

How this background as a political operative prepared Ahmed to brand himself as an expert in disinformation is unclear. His LinkedIn account makes no mention of his work as a political operative in England, although his biography at CCDH states that he is an “authority on social and psychological malignancies on social media, such as identity-based hate, extremism, disinformation, and conspiracy theories.”

Ahmed now lives in Washington DC and his organization does not provide a list of funders.

In early 2021, CCDH posted a report titled “The Disinformation Dozen” that alleged the majority of COVID vaccine disinformation came from just 12 accounts, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Ahmed released the report just as the Biden administration began their COVID vaccine rollout and shortly before the House held hearings on disinformation at social media companies.

Twitter officials began sharing Ahmed’s findings, soon after CCDH released them that March. “COVID-19 misinfo enforcement team is planning on taking action on a handful of accounts surfaced by the CCDH report,” reads a March 31 email, noting that Ahmded’s report was released right before the House held a hearing on disinformation where Facebook’s Mark Zuckeberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsy both testified, along with Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Noting that Twitter had done a deep dive on all the accounts CCDH cited, the official continued, “While none of the 12 accounts are eligible for permanent suspension under COVID-19 misinformation policy, we did find several violations.”

The email then lists several tweets identified for misinformation.

For example, in a tweet that same March, Robert Kennedy Jr. wrote that he had sent a letter to President Biden stating “transparency, robust science and a functional surveillance system are the only ways to build public trust for the COVID vaccine.”

Twitter placed a “Vaccine Safety” label on this tweet (When Elon Musk took over Twitter, these labels were removed).

Another Tweet by an apparent physician advised people to avoid a free Krispy Kreme donut for getting vaccinated and get a free gym membership instead, also got a violation and a “Vaccine Safety” label.

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki later cited the CCDH report during a July 2021 press briefing to bring greater pressure onto Facebook to censor accounts. Facebook then dismissed Ahmed’s report in a public statement:

The report upon which the faulty narrative is based analyzed only a narrow set of 483 pieces of content over six weeks from only 30 groups, some of which are as small as 2,500 users. They are in no way representative of the hundreds of millions of posts that people have shared about COVID-19 vaccines in the past months on Facebook. Further, there is no explanation for how the organization behind the report identified the content they describe as “anti-vax” or how they chose the 30 groups they included in their analysis. There is no justification for their claim that their data constitute a “representative sample” of the content shared across our apps.

In a bumbling campaign they ran the year prior, CCDH targeted 10 websites for allegedly posting racist narratives. CCDH claimed in one example that Zero Hedge had run a racist article that stated Black Lives Matter is "practically a revolutionary operative of the CIA via Soros" and another article that suggested Black Lives Matter is a George Soros “Astroturf” campaign for “leftists and their agenda to reshape the fabric of American society.”

Fact checkers with the NBC News “verify unit” fell for CCDH’s fake report, writing, “Google has banned two far-right websites from its advertising platform after research revealed the tech giant was profiting from articles pushing unsubstantiated claims about the Black Lives Matter protests.”

In fact, the passages CCDH cited did not appear in Zero Hedge articles, but beneath the articles in the hundreds of readers comments posted without moderation. The following day, NBC stealth edited their article to remove CCDH’s misinformation, instead of running a correction.

Zero Hedge responded by working with Google to moderate their comments section.

I emailed CCDH a few questions to try and understand who they are and who funds them.

1) Who funds you? I don't understand why you don't list your donors. Can you explain that to readers?

2) Are you funded by the pharmaceutical industry? 

3) Have you ever done a fact check or report on misinformation by one of the pharmaceutical companies?

CCDH did not respond to requests for comment.

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Read the rest at the Disinformation Chronicle...