The Citizens Troll Army
The pandemic has unleashed a global onslaught of disinformation. Trolls, bots and cyborgs are flooding social media in co-ordinated attacks on journalists, scientists and many more. Accurate, evidence-based information has never been more important or more difficult to find. The platforms — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram — refuse to act. So our team of tech experts and citizen volunteers have formed their own troll hunting counter disinformation unit. We will be hosting a weekly webinar to workshop ideas with a panel of experts from around the world with a view to raising awareness of the issue and the scale of this abuse — as well as examining potential responses to the trolling, whether it’s through exposing and mass reporting the worst accounts or counter-trolling the trolls.
The Russia Report
Why did the British government suppress publication of a report into Russian interference into British politics in December 2019? Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report into Russian state interference in UK elections was submitted to Downing Street on 17 October 2019. It remains — today — unavailable to the public.We mobilised a community of journalists, artists, technologists and citizen volunteers to address this issue. How much influence does the Russian state have? Where does its soft power reach? And which politicians are implicated? Watch this space.
A few days before the release of The Russia Report, The Citizens chaired a panel show of experts in the field, including Anne Applebaum, Catherine Belton, Bill Browder, Luke Harding and Tamsin Shaw, who discussed the likely content of the report, and what the consequences of its publication might be.
Jim Mellon – a correction In the live panel discussion of the Russia Report (initially streamed live on 19 July 2020), one of the panellists (Catherine Belton) refers to the involvement of Rock Holdings in the £8m loan provided to Vote Leave and suggests Rock Holdings was co-owned with Jim Mellon. Mr Mellon has asked us to clarify that he was not, and never has been, involved in Rock Holdings nor with Mr Banks’ loan to Vote Leave and we are happy to make that clear. Likewise, although he and Mr Banks were at the time of the loan the two main –investors in the public company, Manx Financial Group plc, owning16.4% and 29% respectively, Mr Banks has not been a director of the company since June 2012. Mr Banks is no longer a shareholder and Mr Mellon says he has never had any other business or other relationship with Mr Banks. The panellist also refers to Mr Mellon’s investments in Russian interests up to 2017. We can also clarify Mr Mellon’s position that although he was previously an investor in Charlemagne Capital which had funds with investments in Russia, he did not know about and had no role in the acquisition of Alrosa investments as referred to by Ms Belton.
The Covid Accountability Project
The UK government suspended legislation governing public contracting at the start of the COVID-19 crisis. Since that time more than 400 contracts have been issued to multiple private firms worth at least £1.7bn, without competitive tender and without any scrutiny or review. At least 100 contracts were won by companies that have not previously carried out work for the government with seven of them worth more than £100m.
The Citizens are seeking to shine a light on this process by tracking & documenting these contracts, establishing how they were awarded to whom, and exploring if there are possible legal challenges to take.
Data is critical to the UK government’s response to COVID-19. It is a vital resource to track the spread the virus and enable the country to go back to work. But we, the Citizens, have concerns about whether this data will be used legally, ethically and with our consent. From ‘Test & Trace’ — the contact tracing system being set up and run by SERCO, to the new Joint Biosecurity Centre to be based inside the Cabinet Office and overseen by a senior counter-terrorism official, to the creation of an NHS datastore run by private companies that include Peter Thiel’s Palantir and Vote Leave’s data firm, Faculty, data is at the heart of the UK government’s response.
We will be launching an ongoing investigation into the use of data which will include looking at potential legal challenges.
Who are The Citizens?
We’re a group of journalists, filmmakers, advertising creatives, data scientists, artists, students, lawyers and many more.