Owen’s Evil Twin- Parodies, Propaganda and Parliamentarians

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There’s a certain Mr Owen Jones on Twitter that you might not be familiar with.  This other Owen has no blue verified badge- but otherwise is a dead ringer for his namesake, that cheeky scamp and Official Spokesperson for The Left.  

Owen’s evil twin, Bad Owen, is one of Twitter’s ostensibly ‘parody’ accounts.  Some of these are having a negative influence on political discourse, with ramifications beyond Twitter.  Labour MP Naz Shah was recently caught out by this account.

In July 2017, a right wing ‘sock-puppet’ account was posing on Twitter as an adviser to Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn MP, no less.  Despite several red flags, including its incredibly offensive tweets, the account was able to hoodwink MP Yvette Cooper into accepting its Lefty credentials- and one offensive tweet was, very helpfully, presented by Cooper as an example of the abuse coming from Labour supporters.  This account used an entirely fictional persona in order to smear the Left; Bad Owen has a different strategy.

Parody Without Comedy

Among Twitter’s politically oriented parodies, a small few appear so similar to their subject that, depending on their comments, they can and often do pass for the Real McCoy.  This obviously has the potential to be disruptive.  These parodies, largely unconcerned with humour, are stretching the definition of ‘parody’.  Owen’s evil twin, shown below right, is one such account.

 

 

Bad Owen might not actually mind being mistaken for Good Owen

This is a particularly misleading parody, if it can be called that.  In addition to having a very similar username to its subject (Good Owen: @OwenJones84; Bad Owen: @Owen_Jones84) and an identical profile picture, until recently* this account even used the same name, ‘Owen Jones’ (see above).  This ambiguity is not accidental.

Wait- Twitter has rules?

At least in theory,  Twitter requires that parody accounts do not use their subject’s exact name, without additions such as “NotTheReal…” etc.  If met, these requirements would prevent exactly the kind of f*ckery that has occurred.

*UPDATED: Bad Owen‘s name was subsequently (18 Aug 2017) modified to ‘Owen Jones, not’, and is now (22 Aug 2017) ‘Owen Joans’.  These changes were made after having played a central role in the creation of a smear directed at Labour MP Naz Shah.

He’s Not Like The Real Owen

The ‘parody’ account, displaying the name ‘Owen Jones’, posted the following comment in response to tweets condemning the Islamophobia within recent articles that appeared in The S*n.

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Naz Shah MP seemingly mistook this account for the real Owen Jones; so liked and retweeted it before ‘un-retweeting’ it less than ten minutes later, once aware of its content.

Shah could be forgiven for not having paid full attention here.  When this particular tweet was received, Shah was dealing with (and liking / retweeting) a stream of tweets from her fellow MPs and others, sent to show their support for her letter to The S*n, which itself was “supported by over 100 cross party colleagues”.  It was in this context that this one, inauthentic tweet was given the benefit of the doubt.

A genuine tweet from the real Mr Jones wouldn’t warrant the same level of scrutiny before sharing or retweeting as would, for example, something written by an anonymous right wing troll with bad intentions.

However, this was Twitter, where to be associated with such a tweet for just a few minutes is something that is not easily forgotten- especially by those with an axe to grind.  Starting immediately and still ongoing, a small but determined group of Islamophobic right wing Twitter users have cynically exploited Shah’s error; demonstrating faux outrage and attempting to stir genuine outrage in others.

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The initial tweet was deleted by  Absolute B*stard Owen shortly afterwards, whereas tweets focusing on Naz Shah’s actions remain on this account’s timeline; including as its current pinned tweet.  There has been little discussion online of the role played by this ‘parody’ account.  Most of those commenting do recognise that @#&% Owen is a fake; and are not directing their ‘outrage’ at the initial tweet but at Naz Shah MP for having liked and retweeted it; which they allege shows Shah’s agreement with it.

 

More than Trollology

Parodies on social media satirising political figures, activists, MPs etc. are a fairly recent form of propaganda arising from the Internet age.  The vast majority are very obvious parodies. We are accustomed to their presence online, occasionally irked by them, and may simply ignore what is intended for a different audience.  But by designating a wide range of online activity as simply ‘trolling’, and therefore not worthy of serious consideration, we are missing out on more than a pointless diversion into the realm of trollology.

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Many on the Left are conscious of smears that emanate from the right wing press; but those emerging at grassroots level may not be on our radar- unless they become more widely known.  By identifying these developing narratives, we are better prepared to counter them; and not simply rendered speechless upon hearing what we’d consider to be obviously false-  e.g. The S*n and Mail Online reporting that Jeremy Corbyn was “dancing a jig” on his way to the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.   Stories that are equally as damaging (and ridiculous) exist beyond what might appear in the media.

Online parody accounts contribute to certain narratives that serve to confirm the views of their audiences.  And, although Owen Jones’ sexuality was in no way central to this smear, existing homophobic views on the right were nonetheless emboldened, as the appalling comment below shows.

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Following the recent resignation of Labour MP Sarah Champion as Shadow Equalities Minister, some on the Left accurately predicted that the Islamophobic right would attempt to cast Sarah Champion MP as a martyr for their cause.  In this narrative, Champion did not resign, but rather was unfairly sacked for “defending raped, abused [white] girls”.  This has complemented the (equally false) narrative surrounding Naz Shah.

 

It remains to be seen how, or if, this story will be presented in the mainstream media.  But in the meantime, Remember, kids (including MPs):

“If that blue tick’s not showin’, it’s not the genuine Owen!”

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Cllr Stopp and his polls

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The Brent Progress and Labour councillor Sam Stopp recently (13 Aug 2017) ran a Twitter poll that asked,“Why are there so many anti-Semites on the Left?”  The available options were:  ‘poor education’, ‘weak leadership’, ‘anonymity’ and ‘another reason’.

References to ‘leadership’ and ‘anonymity’ suggest that ‘the Left’ is taken to mean the Labour Party; including its (anonymous) members on social media.

Cllr Stopp’s last poll on antisemitism in the Labour Party (4 Aug 2017), “Is Labour a safe space for Jews?”  apparently failed to deliver the desired results, as Stopp wrote a grumpy article on his blog, Labour Vision, bemoaning the fact that a “group of respondents… were seemingly hostile to the basic premise of the question, i.e. that Labour might not be a safe space for Jews”.  Stopp included screenshots of many replies to his poll in the article.  The final result of this poll showed that a majority (57%) had replied ‘yes’.

Accordingly, this time nothing was left to chance, and the existence of “so many anti-Semites on the Left” was simply presented as an established fact.  Cllr Stopp may genuinely believe this to be the case- but the vast majority of Labour members wouldn’t recognise this portrayal of their party, or the wider Left.

Stopp declined to present any corroborating statistics etc. as an introduction to the poll.  No doubt this was merely an oversight, and said evidence will be forthcoming; which will indeed be a welcome addition to the debate.

Such information was not readily available to the Commons Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry into antisemitism  (16 Oct 2017), as it concluded that,

“Despite significant press and public attention on the Labour Party, and a number of revelations regarding inappropriate social media content, there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.”

Polling or Trolling?

The actual results of this self-selecting poll may not be the sole point of the exercise.  On 20 June 2017, Stopp tweeted, “How many of our number would react correctly to the phrase, “I am a Zionist”?”  This received three responses; one (its owner now suspended by Twitter) is likely to have been offensive, to which Stopp replied, “There’s the first rabid bite.”  It was also the last, as apparently no one else took the bait.  What Stopp would consider to be the correct reaction isn’t clear, but Labour Vision articles such as Why All Labour Members Should be Zionists (3 Mar 2017) may give an indication.

What is clear is that Stopp uses any indignant responses to his ridiculous polls as further evidence of a supposed antisemitism problem on the Left, when in reality they show both an awareness and a weariness of his agenda in furthering this smear.

Results

The option ‘weak leadership’ received the most votes, at 39% (of 176 votes).  Does this mean anything?  Probably not, but judging by some of the previous articles published on Labour Vision, this result should at least please Cllr Stopp.

 

 

*UPDATED– The recent publication of Campaign Against Antisemitism’s 2017 Antisemitism Barometer contains information that was previously absent from the debate.  It states,

“The YouGov data shows, for example, “that Labour Party supporters are less likely to be antisemitic than other voters

 

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A Response to Jonathan Hoffman’s Defence of Kevin Myers

Writing in Jewish News, the former vice-president of the Zionist Federation, Jonathan Hoffman asks, ‘Is Kevin Myers really an anti-Semite?  His conclusion is… no.

 

To argue this, Hoffman first assigns a very specific meaning to Kevin Myers’ words; namely that Myers was (merely?) characterising BBC presenters Vanessa Feltz and Claudia Winkleman as “good negotiators”, on account of their being Jewish.

Further, Hoffman argues that there is evidence that Jews are good negotiators (“so how can it be anti-semitic to say so?”), and that, in fact, “Myers was paying the two presenters a compliment! (‘Good for them’)”.

Leaving aside the treatment of Jews as a monolithic group, the above reading does not accurately reflect Myers’ article.  The claim that Myers simply complimented Feltz and Winkleman (and Jews in general) for being “good negotiators” is unconvincing.

Although the negotiations involved in securing highly paid contracts are frequently mentioned in Myers’ article, not once does he refer to the negotiating skills of Feltz or Winkleman; but always to those of their agents (and the agents representing the other women).  The ethnicity of any person taking part in negotiations is never mentioned.

The article was written following news of the BBC’s gender pay gap.  Myers posed the possibility that the pay gap could be due to the presenters’ agents, who might be underperforming in terms of the salaries they were able to secure.

To explore this feeble idea, Myers instinctively reached for some sort of benchmark.  His chosen reference point relied on an assumption that, as Jews, Feltz and Winkleman would naturally have sought out and employed agents who were capable of negotiating the very highest remuneration packages for their clients.  Note that Myers admits to being unfamiliar with either presenter.   Despite this, Myers was confident in making unevidenced claims, based on their ethnicity alone.

Myers suggested that the BBC presenters’ salaries could only be fairly compared if all contracts were agreed by the same supposedly hard-nosed negotiators that he imagined to be employed by Feltz and Winkleman.

The particular trait implied by Myers’ article is not some kind of ‘knack’ for negotiating; it is dedication to the pursuit of money. It appears that Myers does genuinely admire this trait.  However, it does not follow that it should be taken as a compliment. And of course, it wasn’t!

Myers seems to view the non-Jewish BBC presenters as individuals, who may or may not secure the best possible salaries.  By contrast, he writes “Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price”.  Granted, this is more subtle than: ‘Jews are generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the highest possible price’- but the stereotype is the same; that Jews are somehow more concerned with money than others.

To be “good at negotiating” is a much broader, less problematic concept, with no associated financial motivation.  But this doesn’t fit with Myers’ article, which is clearly framed around money.

‘Good negotiators?’

By way of providing ‘evidence’ that Jews are “good negotiators”, Hoffman names Henry Kissinger, Anthony Julius, and Fiona Shackelton, “plus many [Jews] in law and accountancy firms whose bread and butter is negotiation.”

Those named above may well be excellent negotiators, and Jewish- but in all these examples, negotiation clearly forms a significant part of their work- their “bread and butter”.  To use these examples as being relevant to Vanessa Feltz and Claudia Winkleman- television and radio presenters, with completely different skills- and merely because they also happen to be Jewish, is in itself an essentialist view.  But by suggesting that a slightly less problematic stereotype is implied, Hoffman seeks to minimise the criticism of Myers.

A Wider Trend

So why would Hoffman seek to apologise for Myers?

Dr. Mark Humphrys describes himself as an Irish academic who is ‘pro-Israel’, ‘anti-jihad’, ‘anti-sharia’, ‘pro-interventionist’, and ‘neo-con’.  In defence of Myers, he writes approvingly: “For decades, Kevin Myers has been one of the main defenders of Israel in Ireland”. The previous articles by Myers on Israel/Palestine seem to substantiate this view.

Myers is opposed to The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, that seeks to use boycotts and other measures to pressure Israel into complying with international law.  An article by Myers in the Irish Independent (8 May 2012) carried the headline: “Only a deranged pathogen could boycott Israel while murder gangs roam every other state in the region“.  Myers writes that “the handful of stupid Jews who are backing the Boycott Israel campaign need to examine their consciences.”  It can be assumed that Myers’ pro-Israel position is already widely known.

It is this support for Israel (including opposition to non-violent strategies for attaining justice for Palestinians) that explains Hoffman’s and Murphys’ defence of Myers. This should be seen within the context of a wider trend, in which political Zionists are willing to excuse antisemitism, provided that the offender has the necessary pro-Israel credentials.  This has generally applied to right wing individuals or groups, who are more likely to support Israel’s current policies. 

In 2009, Antony Lerman wrote in The Guardian about Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard’s defence of Michal Kaminski- a right wing, antisemitic Polish MEP.  Lerman highlights “the dangerous naivety of taking support for Israel at face value.”  A quote from Pollard illustrates a view that is central to this issue:  “Far from being an anti-Semite, Mr Kaminski is about as pro-Israeli an MEP as exists.” There is a denial that both pro-Israel and antisemitic views can be held simultaneously. In the case of various right wingers, holding a pro-Israel position has served to negate any antisemitism.

Similarly the Israeli government, by forging relations with various right wing EU politicians, has had to drop its opposition to any inconvenient right wing sentiment.

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Hoffman’s article, the latest unedifying contribution to this wider trend, is a sad, contrived mess of apologism. Regarding Kevin Myers, there seemed to be some consensus regarding the offence caused by his article; with thankfully very few prepared to defend it.  It is incredibly cynical that some seek to make excuses for Myers and others on account of their pro-Israel positions.

Hoffman ends with this:

“Those of us who call out genuine anti-semitism have a responsibility to similarly call out wrongful accusations of it.”

Ultimately, Hoffman considers that distinguishing between genuine antisemitism and wrongful accusations of it is his call, not ours.

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John Pilger is right- What we need is a Fifth Estate

“What we need is a Fifth Estate: a journalism that monitors, deconstructs and counters propaganda and teaches the young to be agents of people, not power.” John Pilger

It seems that much of our media have abandoned any semblance of accuracy or objectivity; and are no longer concerned with producing anything that could reasonably pass for journalism.

That these very same media organisations are now up in arms over the proliferation of what they refer to as “fake news” sites is beyond parody.

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The S*n, with no sense of irony, accused others of “producing false stories to entertain and amuse”, while some it even suspected were “peddl[ing] their own agendas”.  Is this not a textbook example of projection?

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Nothing at all like the S*n, of course.

Recent “fake news” from The S*n:_20161124_074057

I wouldn’t want The Torygraph to feel left out, so here is some “fake news” from that fine newspaper:

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The S*n, The Torygraph and others should accept that their reliably low quality output is partly responsible for current trends in news consumption, with increasing numbers of people becoming less reliant on mainstream news sources and looking elsewhere.

And it is vitally important that we do look elsewhere-  let’s not forget, the media has in the past used “fake news” to manufacture consent for illegal wars that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.  As John Pilger writes in War by media and the triumph of propaganda, unless we counter the current narratives, we could be looking ahead to decades of war.

“When the truth is replaced by silence,” said the Soviet dissident Yevtushenko, “the silence is a lie.” It’s this kind of silence we journalists need to break. We need to look in the mirror. We need to call to account an unaccountable media that services power and a psychosis that threatens world war.” John Pilger

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