First Draft’s “founding partners” include News Corporation’s (parent company of Fox News) Storyful and NATO think tank Atlantic Council’s “Bellingcat” blog, headed by formally unemployed social worker Eliot Higgins who now fashions himself as a weapons expert and geopolitical analyst despite no formal training, practical real-world experience or track record of honest, unbiased reporting. In fact, between News Corporation and Bellingcat alone, Google’s First Draft appears to be itself a paragon of, and nexus for “misinformation online.”
Google’s Glaring Conflicts of Interest
Google too, having for years now worked closely with the US State Department, faces its own conflicts of interest in “social newsgathering and verification.” In fact, Google has admittedly been involved in engineering intentional deceptions aimed specifically to skew public perception, including doctoring its maps and Google Earth in real-time amid conflicts in favor of US-backed militant groups and through the development of applications designed to psychologically target the Syrian government into capitulating before US-backed militant groups.
The UK Independent in its article, “Google planned to help Syrian rebels bring down Assad regime, leaked Hillary Clinton emails claim,” would report that:
An interactive tool created by Google was designed to encourage Syrian rebels and help bring down the Assad regime, Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails have reportedly revealed.
By tracking and mapping defections within the Syrian leadership, it was reportedly designed to encourage more people to defect and ‘give confidence’ to the rebel opposition.
The article would continue:
The email detailing Google’s defection tracker purportedly came from Jared Cohen, a Clinton advisor until 2010 and now-President of Jigsaw, formerly known as Google Ideas, the company’s New York-based policy think tank.
In a July 2012 email to members of Clinton’s team, which the WikiLeaks release alleges was later forwarded to the Secretary of State herself, Cohen reportedly said: “My team is planning to launch a tool on Sunday that will publicly track and map the defections in Syria and which parts of the government they are coming from.”
Cohen would conclude:
“Our logic behind this is that while many people are tracking the atrocities, nobody is visually representing and mapping the defections, which we believe are important in encouraging more to defect and giving confidence to the opposition.”
Can Google then be relied upon to sort out “misinformation online” if it itself is directly involved in manipulating public perception to achieve US foreign policy objectives? To impartial observers, the answer is clearly “no.”
First Draft would publish on its website a post titled, “Social networks unite with global newsrooms to take action against misinformation online,” adding further details behind the alleged rationale of the coalition. It would state:
Today, news breaks online. Today, the first images to emerge from a breaking news event have been captured by an eyewitness. Today, injustices that may never have been reported become global news stories because a bystander reached for their smartphone. Today, malicious hoaxes and fake news reports are published in increasingly convincing and sophisticated ways.
We live in a time when trust and truth are issues that all newsrooms, and increasingly the social platforms themselves, are facing. In July, the Guardian’s Editor-in-Chief Katharine Viner wrote about the ways technology is disrupting the truth, explaining “in the news feed on your phone, all stories look the same – whether they come from a credible source or not.” Filtering out false information can be hard. Even if news organisations only share fact-checked and verified stories, everyone is a publisher and a potential source.
The members that constitute the First Draft coalition, however, have enjoyed an uncontested monopoly for decades in determining just what the “truth” actually is, as well as a monopoly over propagating things the global public now know for a fact were “untruths.” Again, we see another case of the proverbial fox guarding the hen house.
The Liars Who Lied About WMDs in Iraq Will Protect Us from Liars Online?
Indeed, many of the organizations that constitute First Draft’s coalition played a pivotal role in perhaps the most destructive and costly lie of the 21st century (to date), that involving alleged “weapons of mass destruction” or “WMDs” in Iraq, serving as the pretext for the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
According to some estimates, up to a million perished in the initial invasion and subsequent occupation. More conservative estimates are still in the hundreds of thousands.
Undoubtedly, the invasion, justified by lies propagated across the entirety of US and European media, helped trigger a predictable chain of catastrophes that have left the Middle East to this day in conflict and ruination. These same US and European media organizations, the same ones now signing their names to First Draft, also helped justify the continued presence of US troops in Iraq for years after the invasion, up to and including today.
And the same names signed on to First Draft are also the same names who helped sell the disastrous intervention in Libya and who are now attempting to sell yet another direct Western military intervention in Syria.
And it is perhaps the lack of success these same names are having in selling this most recent potential intervention in Syria that has precipitated First Draft’s creation in the first place.
There is a burgeoning alternative media composed of individual independent journalists, analysts and commentators both biased and impartial, both professional and amateur, competing directly with and overcoming the West’s longstanding monopoly over international public perception. There is also the emergence of professional and competitive national media organizations across the developing world who are taking increasingly large shares of both the West’s media monopoly and its monopoly over the public’s trust.
It is clear that First Draft has no intention of protecting the truth as none among its membership have done so until now individually, but rather in collectively protecting what the special interests behind these organizations want the global public to believe is the truth. First Draft is a desperate measure taken by Western special interests to reassert the West’s dominance over global public perception by leveraging the widely used social media platforms it controls, including Facebook and Twitter, as well as IT giant Google and its large range of services and applications.
In the end, all that First Draft is likely to accomplish is convincing the developing world of the necessity of creating domestic alternatives to Facebook, Google and Twitter, as well as to continue expanding their own domestic media organizations to better represent their respective national interests upon the global stage and to dilute the dangerous and destructive media monopoly the West has enjoyed and abused for decades.
Until the members of First Draft can cite a lie told by their competitors that is as destructive and as costly as their own lies preceding and underpinning the invasion and occupation of Iraq or the more recent destruction of Libya, their efforts appear more as a means of further deflecting away from the truth, not defending it.
Ulson Gunnar, a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.