Senior Twitter Executive Joined British Army Troll Brigade
Moon of Alabama
The senior Twitter executive with editorial responsibility for the Middle East is also a part-time officer in the British Army’s psychological warfare unit, Middle East Eye has established.Gordon MacMillan, who joined the social media company’s UK office six years ago, has for several years also served with the 77th Brigade, a unit formed in 2015 in order to develop “non-lethal” ways of waging war.
The 77th Brigade uses social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, as well as podcasts, data analysis and audience research to wage what the head of the UK military, General Nick Carter, describes as “information warfare”.
The 77th Brigade is a troll farm:
They call it the 77th Brigade. They are the troops fighting Britain’s information wars.
From office to office, I found a different part of the Brigade busy at work. One room was focussed on understanding audiences: the makeup, demographics and habits of the people they wanted to reach. Another was more analytical, focussing on creating “attitude and sentiment awareness” from large sets of social media data. Another was full of officers producing video and audio content. Elsewhere, teams of intelligence specialists were closely analysing how messages were being received and discussing how to make them more resonant.
What do we know about 77th Brigade? Let me quote a written MoD parliamentary answer published in March 2015. The Brigade exists “to provide support, in conjunction with other Government agencies, to efforts to build stability overseas and to wider defence diplomacy and overseas engagement”. That’s a highly political rather than military remit.The parliamentary answer goes on to say the Brigade is “leading on Special Influence Methods, including providing information on activities, key leader engagement, operations security and media engagement”. Note the phrase “special influence methods”, which is straight out of Orwell’s 1984. And notice the reference to “media engagement”. Since when has the British Army had a legitimate role in trying to influence the media?
A really interesting and dangerous aspect of the 77th Brigade is its mixed military-civilian character:
Here we come to a truly insidious aspect of 77th Brigade. It has a complement of around 440 dedicated personnel, according to the parliamentary answer. Under the Army’s new organisational doctrine, units combine both fulltime soldiers and territorial reservists. The 77th Brigade recruits its reservists from among UK journalists and professionals in advertising and public relations companies. We are not talking just computer and information technology specialists but media practitioners. The result is that the necessary boundaries between the military and the civilian media have been compromised. This represents a potential threat to democratic norms.
That a Twitter executive with editorial responsibility also works for a British military propaganda unit makes clear that ‘western’ social media are only as neutral or free as the powers that be allow them to be.
The Twitter executive Gordon MacMillan is by now a Captain of the British Army Reserve and at times working in its dark propaganda unit. On September 20 Twitter deleted a large number of accounts, including in MacMillan’s area of responsibility. How many of those were designated by the British state?
In December 2018 we wrote about another British government run media manipulation organization – the Integrity Initiative:
The British government financed Integrity Initiative is tasked with spreading anti-Russian propaganda and thereby with influencing the public, military and governments of a number of countries. What follows is an contextual analysis of the third batch of the Initiative’s internal papers which were dumped by an anonymous yesterday.
Christopher Nigel Donnelly (CND) is the co-director of The Institute for Statecraft and founder of its offshoot Integrity Initiative. The Initiative claims to “Defend Democracy Against Disinformation”.
Both, the Institute as well as the Initiative, claim to be independent Non-Government Organizations. Both are financed by the British government, NATO and other state donors.
Among the documents lifted by some anonymous person from the servers of the Institute we find several papers about Donnelly as well as some memos written by him. They show a russophobe mind with a lack of realistic strategic thought.
Donnelly’s co-director at the Institute for Statecraft is Daniel Lafayeed. One of the papers published by the anonymous account were his Speaking notes for meetings in Israel – June 2018 (pdf). They mention the 77th brigade:
Much of our work to improve the effectiveness of our armed forces for all forms of modern warfare is, of course, very sensitive as we feed it into the highest levels of MOD and the armed forces.What we seek to do is to help the Forces become more competent to fight modern war with all kinds of weapons, and to do so on the budget the state provides.
To that end we have supported the creation of special Army reserve units (e.g. 77 Bde and SGMI –Specialist Group Military Intelligence) with which we now have a close, informal relationship. These bring in, as reservists with a special status, individuals who are very senior civilian experts in some relevant area, such as Hedge Fund managers, senior bankers, Heads of PA companies, etc. I.e. people whom the Army could never afford to hire, but who donate their time and expertise as patriots.
With these colleagues, we run seminars and prepare studies to help the forces find new ways to fight today’s war.
These papers describe our understanding of modern warfare; how we need to prepare for it, and; how the Russians will fight it beyond the stages of info war into classic kinetic warfare. I also include a concept paper looking at an alternative way to structure our navies for modern war at low cost. You might find this of particular interest.
The Integrity Initiate and the Institute for Statecraft took strong anti Corbyn positions. Some of Twitter executive MacMillon’s tweets are also strongly anti Corbyn.
One should not think of the 77th Brigade as a one way street on which the state provides the messages that civilians help to spread. When hedge fund managers, senior bankers, heads of public relations companies are invited into its operations they will have a significant interest in getting their own messages spread and their own enemies defeated. The Twitter executive as a member of the propaganda brigade will also use it to spread his companies messages and wishes.
This is a marriage of the powers of large companies’ and the government for manipulating the opinion of the public. It is dangerous.
Kit Klarenberg just published his bits on the issue: Our Man on the Inside: Senior Twitter Executive Exposed as British Army Information Warrior