Cynical tabloid journalists spun hacked Kremlin documents to claim they did, after their first story about the documents fell flat.
The Scottish Daily Record’s story, telling readers that the Foreign Office were funding anti-Corbyn propaganda, via taxpayers money, went viral.
Even the Private Eye followed up with further accusations about links to John Rendon.
But the Scottish Daily Record’s story was bogus. It appears to have been an attempt to generate controversy and anger amongst Corbyn supporters and therefore plenty of outraged shares, clicks and of course, ad revenue.
Even the Private Eye got the sequence of events wrong, left out key information and context and misrepresented what happened.
An anonymous reader on Facebook forwarded this letter addressed to the Private Eye, to Brexitballs. It lays out what actually happened at the end of 2018:
I read with interest your article on the “Integrity Initiative” (Hot news, cold war) and their supposed “Infowar” against Jeremy Corbyn. You have unearthed a connection to the Iraq war PR man, John Rendon, which is interesting context. But you did not make the sequence of events in November and December clear. Consequently, you misrepresented what happened. Furthering the incorrect narrative that the government was secretly funding anti-Corbyn propaganda.
Here is what actually happened. As you noted, first the Kremlin’s agents hacked the Integrity Initiative’s systems, as they tend to do when they want to undermine their enemies and create anger or conflict. The hacked documents were then released by people claiming to be from the hacktivist group “Anonymous”. A major Anonymous Twitter account denied that this leak was really them, however.
Then, once leaked, the Russian state media, both within Russia and outside it, paraded the hacked Integrity Initiative documents and aired inflammatory pieces about the UK “meddling” in EU countries. These appeared both on reliably bonkers domestic Russian TV, as well as Internationally, on Sputnik, Russia Today, obscure blogs, supposed “Anonymous” YouTube videos and hard to attribute social media accounts. But it didn’t generate much buzz and was mostly ignored.
The original “leak” and this initial Russian state media coverage happened in November. The Russian media and the conspiracy-minded corners of the twittersphere’s attempts to generate controversy and anger mostly fell flat. Mainly because the documents are rather boring. They mostly consist of a collection of journalists’ names who have attended conferences, or who have been identified by Integrity to be part of a friendly “cluster”. Many of the journalists listed, when asked, said they had never heard of integrity initiative.
November passed, the Kremlin propagandists had still failed to get any traction. But they only had to wait until the 9th of December to get what they wanted. That’s when an enterprising tabloid journalist at the Scottish Daily Record decided to re-frame and repackage the story as a government sponsored “Infowars attack on labour and Jeremy Corbyn”. He’d initially written an article on the 2nd of December about the documents, but it was ignored, and no one seemed to care.
The “Infowars against Corbyn” angle pandered perfectly to Labour and Corbyn fans existing prejudices, preconceptions, conspiracy theories and anger. The Daily Record story went hugely viral and is still being furiously shared across social media today.
The problem is that this “infowars against Jeremy Corbyn” consisted of a total of 5 tweets. The integrity initiative had an obscure, ignored, public twitter account. It posted 5 Tweets about Jeremy Corbyn, Seamus Milne, or Labour. Some of these 5 tweets were even “retweets” and not original content, articles others had written which the Integrity Initiative reposted. That’s it. 5 tweets, utterly ignored at the time. They had a couple of likes each and a handful of views.
The Integrity Initiative did not conduct an infowar against Corbyn. They posted articles that expressed concerns about Tory Lords, the UK government and many others, too. Other tweets like “Tory peers told to come clean about Russia links” on the 22nd of October 2018. They Tweeted a Private Eye article about Rustem Magdeev with the title “Tories need to come clean about their new money man” (also 22nd October 2018). They tweeted concerns about Tory Lord Fairfax, also about Lord Barker, and the fact he is working for Deripaska’s EN+ (24th of October). The public twitter account also published comments from Matthew Caruana Galizia accusing the Conservative government of being “frightened” of intervening in corruption (18 November 2018).
The real story here is how the Kremlin managed to, yet again, dangle some boring hacked material in front of lazy Western journalists and conspiracy theorists. Who after initially ignoring the documents for 3-4 weeks, re-packaged it into a non-existent scandal, based on 5 obscure tweets, designed to pander to a particular political group’s anger.
It then blew up across the internet and has stuck in people’s minds. It is another small part of the chipping away at trust of British Institutions which the Kremlin and other bad actors want. Just like the “Romanian hacker”, or the GRU in reality, released the DNC’s hacked material In the US in 2016. Which was then spun into insane, wildly popular, conspiracy theories like Pizzagate, by an alliance of alt right provocateurs, criminally complacent social media platforms, conspiracy theorists and lazy American journalists, eager for clicks.
Who knows how many British, and other, people now believe that the UK government paid £2m of taxpayers to target Jeremy Corbyn with “infowars”? This kind of conspiracy thinking, and the resulting devaluing of our institutions, was exactly what the integrity initiative appears to have been setup to combat.
Perhaps the people running the integrity initiative are just not very good at their job or at least should have a plan to avoid becoming a target themselves. But I’d hope you would not pour oil on the conspiracy fire and further spread this wrong and manufactured: “Tory spies infowar against Corbyn” narrative.