The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) is a non-governmental organisation devoted to “Strengthening communities and democracy by disrupting identity-based hate and dangerous misinformation in digital spaces.”It’s British based (despite the spelling of its name) and, since the setting up of its website blog in May, has been largely concerned with countering mis-information on the coronavirus epidemic. Nothing wrong with that, one might think. No doubt much dangerous mis-information is out there – at fake news sites like the Lancet, for example, or the New England Journal of Medicine. It’s dirty work tracking it down, but someone’s got to do it. But what’s “identity-based hate” got to do with it?
Of the seven articles which have appeared on their blog since its opening in May 2020, four deal with the virus and three with various aspects of racism. These are important subjects of course, but again, it’s difficult to see how the Center’s aim of “disrupting identity-based hate and dangerous misinformation in digital spaces”is furthered by an article like this one – “Domestic actors trump foreign influence in polarising Black Lives Matter debate” which begins:
The sole source for this statement is an article at Wired about the activities of the Russian “Internet Research Agency” in 2016, ands the sole source for the Wired article is a report by the US Senate Intelligence Committee. Later on, the accusation that “Russia is up to its old tricks” over the George Floyd protests is supported by a link to an article at Business Insider, which quotes“a former chief information officer of the White House?” If all the CCDH can come up with as support for its position is a Senate report and a quote from an ex-White House official, then what’s the “Non-” in “Non-Governmental Organisation” for?
The article goes on to argue that, though Russia is spreading “online misinformation that stokes political and racial divisions,”most of the harm is done by local influencers. It notes, for instance, that:
Video footage of a protester scaling the Cenotaph and attempting to burn the British flag was watched 26,000 times when posted by RT, the UK television channel owned by the Russian state. But the same footage tweeted by Katie Hopkins received ten times that number of views.
– a wholly unsurprising finding. But where’s the “identity-based hate?” Where’s the “dangerous misinformation?” RT is a state-financed television channel, just like the BBC. They didn’t lie, they didn’t break any laws, yet somehow their absolutely normal news reporting is being assimilated to the shady actions of Russian bot factories allegedly spreading hate.
In fact, there’s very little evidence at their site that the CCDH is doing much to counter digital hate at all. They were founded in December 2017, but their blog only goes back to May 2020. So what are they up to? Let them speak for themselves:
The Center for Countering Digital Hate is an international not-for-profit NGO that seeks to disrupt the architecture of online hate and misinformation […] The Center’s solutions have proven effective against a number of different types of hate and misinformation, like identity-based hate, climate change denial and health misinformation.
They also run this site set up in 2019, whose “Briefing” page has a list of media outlets which CCDH wants to defund, and, if possible, eliminate. Among them is Breitbart, which CCDH accuses of having “promoted debunked climate denialism.” The source for this accusation is a tweet by SFFakeNews which says “Breitbart publishes racist, sexist, Islamophobic, homophobic Fake News and climate denialism..”
Another of their targets is TR News, set up by racist agitator Tommy Robinson. One of four accusations against this site is that:
They used misinformation to try to suggest the Australian bushfires were not caused by climate change.
In support of which CCDH again cite their own tweets, saying:
The article and video in question argues that arsonists, not the climate crisis, is causing the extreme fires. It claims that 200 people are facing charges in New South Wales alone. This is false […] Victoria Police rejects social media campaign claiming arson caused fires…
That New South Wales is not Victoria seems to have escaped the notice of the CCDH fake news sleuth, but let’s not dive headfirst down that wallaby hole. Let’s just note how odd it is that one of the main charges against the unpleasant and insignificant Tommy Robinson is that his opinion on the cause of Australian bush fires doesn’t accord with that of the Guardian.
We know that health-related misinformation and conspiracy theories are very popular on social media… We also know that belief in conspiracy theories is associated with reduced engagement in health-protective behaviours, from safer sex and vaccination to hand-washing and lockdown compliance. Now new research, carried out by myself and colleagues at King’s College London, shows that relying on social media for information about COVID-19 is in itself associated with failure to follow public health guidance intended to limit the spread of COVID-19… We found that people who rely more heavily on social media for information about COVID-19 are more likely to believe in COVID-19 conspiracy theories, and that people who believe in COVID-19 conspiracy theories are less likely to be washing their hands more often and socially distancing. Beyond that, we also found that people who rely more heavily on social media for information about COVID-19 are less likely to be washing their hands more often and socially distancing, while people who rely more heavily on television and radio for information are more likely to be doing so… Let that sink in. Getting health information from social media is bad for you.
In other words, conspiracists read blogs, and they don’t wash their hands after.
By Dr Allington’s own argument, the fact that he’s publicising his crap research on social media is evidence that it’s tainted by conspiracy theorising, and therefore bollocks. Which it is, but not for that reason. Dr Allington believes that the theories that the virus came from a lab, or that the symptoms are caused by the 5G network, are conspiracy theories. Like, you know, the Chinese deliberately let the virus leak out, and the 5G network was deliberately set up to kill the elderly.
Dr Allington is obviously steeped in this kind of fake news only available on Russian-bot-infested blogs. And he’s probably not washing his hands as often as he should either. How dare he!
Please note that that’s his conclusion, not mine. I judge an argument on its merits, not on where it appears. In this I’m not like Dr Allington, or his readers at CCDH, if he has any. And nor are most of the readers of this blog, I‘d guess. But I’ll wager we wash our hands just as often as he does. Why not do a survey among us to check it out?
There’s more to say about the Allington article, but this post is already too long. Do I hate The Center for Countering Digital Hate? Not really. At least, not digitally. Despite my occasional outbursts of blind fury against the numerous fascistic pseudo-leftist Orwellian sites that want to corral us with the Tony Robinsons of the world, I’m basically a live-and-let-live kind of person. But are they? And the weirdoes who finance them? And Cambridge University Press which publishes Dr Allington’s mindless burblings? Who are these people? And what do they want us climate sceptics to do exactly, in order not to be the target of their anti-hate campaign?