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Twitter's Labelling Spree Against Russia & China Will Have an Opposite Effect, Observers Foresee

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On 6 August, Twitter announced that it would label accounts belonging to "state-affiliated" media, their editors-in-chief as well as key government officials and entities "who are the official voice of the state abroad". International observers have thrown the tech giant's rationale into question and discussed its apparent motives.

"Labels will only be applied to accounts from the countries represented in the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States", the social media platform specified, adding that it will expand the policy to a wider range of countries in the future.

However, Twitter has fallen short of providing a viable explanation as to why it subjected to labelling the media belonging to only two of the five security council members – Russia and China – while making an exception for the British, American and French state-financed outlets under the assumption that they enjoy "editorial independence". Earlier, a strikingly similar labelling policy was adopted by Facebook, which kicked off tagging of what it called "state-controlled" media in June 2020.

'Let's Make a Label for All Gov't-Funded Media With No Exceptions'

It begs the question as to why Twitter shies away from slapping a label on Britain's BBC or other European state-owned media sources, wonders Andy Vermaut, a Belgian human rights activist.

"Many countries have an official state channel, Belgium has one as well", he notes. "Every channel that receives funding from the government is actually controlled by the state, especially when there are direct delegations of politicians on the boards of directors. Let's therefore make a label for all media that receive funding from the state, without discrimination. In Europe, for example, there are a lot of media that are financed by public finances and in almost all countries the media are licensed by the government. Where do you draw the line?"

Twitter's rationale looks illogical and one-sided, according to Vermaut. If labelling is "unavoidable" then it is better to label all media that receive public funding, because it will help one get a more correct picture, he says, adding, however, that in general he's not in favour of the measure.

​Western Establishment Tolerates No Alternative Narrative

It appears that the labelling is spree is about thwarting competing narratives, deems Adriel Kasonta, a London-based political consultant. According to him, the Western political establishment is pushing the owners of Twitter or Facebook to discredit the alternative media.

"I think the Twitter, by following in the footsteps of Facebook, and labelling the state media outlets and affiliated employees, is simply going against non-Western alternative media outlets like Russia Today and China Global Television Network (CGTN) because of the fact that these very platforms have broadened the horizon of its users by providing us with an alternative opinions alternative to [those] imposed on us by the mainstream media", Kasonta suggests.

The political consultant draws parallels between the Jewish badges implemented by the Nazi and the discriminative labels slapped by the social media giants on Russian and Chinese media outlets.

"We are witnessing the limitation of free speech that some other people will decide for us: which information should be disseminated and provided to us and visible by the users of these platforms and which information should be limited and let", he stresses.

​Previously Twitter, Facebook, Google and YouTube were thought to be platforms with few filters and no editorial policy but now they have turned into "zealous guardians of the Western establishment narrative", echoes author and hedge fund manager Alex Krainer.

"[However], their censorship helped unmask the untruths of that narrative - most obviously the untruth about free speech in the West", he emphasises.

On the other hand, "by characterizing a media source up front, Facebook and Twitter is trying to maximize their ownership of their main asset, which is an information distribution outlet, and its power", opines Don Debar, a US political analyst.

When consumers go to Facebook or Twitter to view Sputnik material, it is then viewed through the eye of Facebook or Twitter, he explains, dubbing this approach "almost a judo move in information warfare".

Dems Still Spinning the 'Russian Election Interference' Yarn

For his part, George Szamuely, senior research fellow at the Global Policy Institute, draws attention to the timing of Facebook and Twitter's initiative which was unveiled a few months ahead of the US 2020 presidential election . "It's clear that the social media intend to play a very active part in this election", he stresses.

Citing the social media giants' supposed leftist bias, Szamuely highlights that apart from attacking "state-controlled" media from Russia or China, Facebook and Twitter are explicitly censoring Donald Trump's campaign postings and tweets and "are determined to see him lose".

"The social media have convinced themselves that the Russians went all-in for Trump in 2016", the researcher suggests. "The last thing the social media CEOs want is to go to Washington and face a grilling from vengeful Democrats demanding to know why they didn't do more to thwart the Russians".

This time the Dems and their social media allies want to thwart the alternative narrative which could anyhow facilitate Trump's election chances and therefore they are "preemptively lashing out at the Russians", according to Szamuely.

"In a way, Russian media are collateral damage of the internal debate or internal war, that is happening within the United States", echoes Dr Stevan Gajic of the Institute of European Studies in Belgrade.

"It goes without saying that Twitter, which is clearly in the same camp as the Democrats, tries in every way possible to prolong the 'Russian election interference' fairytale", admits journalist and political commentator Ollie Richardson.

In addition, amid the coronavirus crisis and nationwide violent Black Lives Matter protests "the segment of the US elite represented by the Democratic Party does not want people in the US reading 'Russian-state media', because then they will perhaps start to open their eyes to what is actually going on in the US today", the political commentator underscores.

"After all, are toddlers as young as 3-years-old being gunned down in the streets of Moscow? No, this is happening in Chicago in 2020", he adds bitterly.

Why Censorship Will Prove Futile

Whatever goals Twitter and Facebook are seeking to reach, the labelling policy may eventually backfire upon the social media giants and their backers in the US establishment, according to the observers.

"With time, censorship will prove futile", Alex Krainer foresees. "The awakening that's gradually unfolding across the West cannot be reversed".

Krainer recollects the last years of the Socialist government in former Yugoslavia which had complete control of the media, educational system, the courts, the military and the police. However, despite intensified censorship "the genie of the population's awakening could not be forced back into the bottle and the regime ultimately lost its grip".

"I expect the same will continue to unfold in the West", the author presumes. "Those in power will do everything they can to stop and reverse the denouement. But just like king Canute commanding the tides to be still and ordering his troops to flog the waves when they would not, their efforts will prove futile. The tides have turned and the process is irreversible".

Besides this, it appears that Twitter's new account labelling policy will have the opposite effect to what the liberals are hoping for, remarks Ollie Richardson.

"The more they point the finger at Russian-state media, the more they increase interest in it", he says. "Such is the catch-22 situation the Democrats find themselves in".
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