Archive for April, 2016


The French conspiracy theory to end all conspiracy theories

From left to right: Spicee co-founders Jean Bernard Schmidt and Antoine Robin, editor-in-chief Matthieu Firmin and documentary-maker Thomas Huchon. Photograph: Spicee

Thomas Huchon and Antoine Robin’s bogus film about Aids and the CIA is being
shown in French schools in an effort to educate students about disinformation

by Paul Hill

The CIA invented the virus that causes Aids in the 1960s to wage war against Castro’s Cuba, according to a French documentary that started to spread online six months ago.

The 42-minute online film alleged that the United States was now lifting its 50-year embargo in a cynical move to give the American pharmaceutical industry access to a vaccine developed by Cuban scientists.

But none of it was true.

Even Lionel Perrottin, the mysterious figure behind the footage, was a fabrication.

The bogus film was the brainchild of documentary-maker Thomas Huchon and Antoine Robin, co-founder of the Paris-based video journalism site Spicee.

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Troubled by the emergence of conspiracy theories in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, their “Conspi-Hunter” project was intended to show how quickly and easily disinformation can spread.

Huchon posed as his alter-ego Perrottin on social media, building a following of more than 500 people before publishing the bogus documentary.

The film clocked up 10,000 views on YouTube and thousands of shares across Facebook and Twitter in three weeks before the truth was revealed on Spicee.

The bogus film was also featured by a number of French blogs – and can still be found on one site which has more than one million unique visitors per month.

The story of the Conspi-Hunter investigation appeared on November 12: the day before the terror attacks in Paris.

Even if bizarre plots against Cuba attributed to the CIA have been the subject of genuine research among both historians and journalists, the “Conspi-Hunter” project has since become a media talking point and is being taken into French high schools to encourage students to think critically about what they are reading online.

“Today, if you are 15 or 16 years old, you’re going to ask questions – but the problem is never the question, it’s who gives the answer,” Huchon said. “Today – and for the last 10 years – the people who answer questions like ‘Was Charlie Hebdo a conspiracy?’ are conspiracy theory believers. That’s the problem. As journalists we produce content that can answer these questions. But how can you fight people who do not respect any kind of journalistic rules?”
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Huchon added: “We’ve lost the fight for the algorithm. For 10 years, the conspiracy theorists have been writing on the web and they are over-represented. It’s because they are more eager to share their views than others, they publish more, they go up in the algorithm. It’s a fight for quality of information. And the fight right now, well, we’re losing it for good and bad reasons.”

The Conspi-Hunter project was featured during France’s “national study day on responding to conspiracy theories” on 9 February.

Led by education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the study day saw 300 academics, educationalists and teachers debate how best to counter disinformation online.

It came amid growing concern in France about dealing with radicalisation in schools in the wake of the terror attacks.

Debate in the UK centres on the Counter-terrorism and Security Act 2015 which put a duty on schools to help prevent students being “drawn into terrorism”.

The Department for Education said its Educate against Hate website was intended to help both teachers and parents encourage “young people to challenge conspiracy theories and build a stronger understanding of the risk of extremism”.

“We want young people to be able to take advantage of the vast potential that the internet and social media offers to their lives and education,” a Department for Education spokesperson said.

“But we also want to make sure they are aware of the risks and dangers. That’s why we are strengthening statutory guidance, so that schools are required to ensure that they teach their pupils about safeguarding, including online safety, and have appropriate filters and monitoring systems in place.”

Successful conspiracy theories had four ingredients: a villain, a victim, an underlying theory and a twist or revelation

Google told MPs earlier this year that it would pilot a programme to show anti-radicalisation material to users searching for extremist material.

Huchon said successful conspiracy theories had four essential ingredients: a plausible villain, a victim, an underlying theory and a twist or revelation.

“We decided at the beginning not to choose an ethnic or religious conspiracy, or anti-Islam or anti-Semitism – all of these subjects are nitro-glycerine,” he added.

“We didn’t want the project to escape from us. Perhaps the biggest point was to stay the master of the experiment. If a crazy story about Aids and Cuba could be spread on the internet, imagine what could happen with a crazy story about anti-Semitism or anti-Islam? We wanted a topic that would keep us a little apart from the major trends. We wanted to be able to explain how something totally fake would be repeated and never fact-checked by anyone. We looked at the ‘complot-sphere’ and decided the best way to understand it was to infiltrate it.”
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In shaping the Conspi-Hunter project, Huchon and the Spicee team drew on advice from Rudy Reichstadt, founder of France’s Conspiracy Watch, anthropologist Dounia Bouzar, sociologist Gérard Bronner, and high school teacher Sophie Mazet, author of the Manual of Intellectual Self-Defence.

Today, Huchon and Spicee’s battle against conspiracy theorists is set to continue.

They plan to follow Conspi-Hunter by mapping “real-time revisionism” and plot how conspiracy theories emerge from breaking news stories.

“We don’t have the choice, we have to answer the questions in front of us – even if we think the questions are ridiculous,” he said.

“We have to answer with intelligence and to the highest standard possible – we need fact-checking and we need to be thinking critically all the time.”

Via The Guardian


Is It Time For The Australian Government and The Jewish Community to Overthrow Chabad Religious Cult Leadership?

Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson looks left

Above: The late rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
“…I believe the time has come where serious consideration needs to be given by the broader Jewish community and government as to whether it is appropriate for [Chabad] Yeshivah to continue under its current administration and in its current form. It is easy to forget amid all this chaos that victims are still hurting and seeking justice by way of holding to account those trustees who remain in power, and that the safety of children within the school is paramount. I concur with another [Chabad] Yeshivah victim who recently said publicly that he does not believe that safety can be guaranteed in the environment that currently exists. I would urge the community to give serious consideration to forcing the trustees to hand the [Chabad] Yeshivah Centre over to capable and independent trustees who can administer the Centre professionally until such time as the community has developed the appropriate structures to have it back. Ultimately it’s the safety and wellbeing of our children – past and present – that we are dealing with. And this must always come first.”

Manny Waks, who was the lead victim in the Melbourne Chabad child sex abuse scandal, writes about the new letter (and the 1973 letter it is based on) from Chabad’s international leadership.

That letter essentially bans transparency and democracy. It also treats the massive Chabad child sex abuse scandal as a bother and inconvenience for Melbourne Chabad’s trustees while offering no support at all for the victims of those trustees’ mismanagement and neglect.

More than all that, the letters make clear that while Chabad-Lubavitch’s Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was alive, he took a special interest in and even controlled what happened in Melbourne. That means many of the child sex abuse coverups took place under Schneerson’s active and engaged watch.

The letters also show that the idea that Chabad worldwide is made up of independent franchises with no hierarchical control based in Chabad’s Brooklyn headquarters is false – something Chabad child sex abuse victims who are thinking of suing should take note of.

Manny Waks’ response to these letters:

I have deliberately stayed silent on the proposed governance ‘reforms’ that have been recently disseminated by the Melbourne Yeshivah Centre in response to last year’s Royal Commission. Some of the proposed ‘changes’ are concerning and appear no more than an attempt by the existing trustees to entrench their power when the only proper course of action is for them to resign. But rather than criticise, I wanted to afford the Yeshivah Centre the opportunity to properly consider its position and, to the extent that they’re prepared to speak up, to hear what the rest of the Yeshivah/Chabad community had to say.

However, it now seems that the Yeshivah Centre has been vetoed by the organisation that apparently has always had ultimate power, authority and responsibility: Chabad Headquarters, which is based in Brooklyn New York. It is important to note that since this scandal became public in 2011, Chabad Headquarters have remained silent for the most part, other than a solitary statement issued following the Royal Commission.

The intervention by Chabad Headquarters raises a number of questions about their responsibility for the child sexual abuse cover-ups within Yeshivah and their failure to speak out against the leadership and communal bullying and harassment of child sexual abuse victims, their families and supporters. At the same time, it again exposes the incompetence of the Yeshivah leadership who can’t even seem to clean up their own mess properly. I have briefly addressed each of these issues below, and reproduced the letter from Chabad Headquarters and the 1973 Merkos Guidelines they reference in their letter.

The Role of Chabad Headquarters

As is clear from the Chabad Headquarters letter, in their view at least, the Yeshivah Centre has at all times functioned under the ‘overarching authority’ of ‘the Rebbe zy”a and his representatives at Lubavitch World Headquarters in New York and in Melbourne’. The questions that need to be asked are: What did they know about the sexual abuse of so many children at Yeshivah? What did they know about the cover-ups? What did they know about the ongoing intimidation of victims, their families and supporters? Why have they waited until now to intervene? Were they comfortable with the way Yeshivah responded to victims of child sexual abuse or did they simply not view child sexual abuse as an issue worthy of their intervention?

As far as I’m concerned, they have had plenty of opportunity to have a positive impact on the Yeshivah Centre and community. Instead, they seemingly chose to stand idly by and allow the ‘Chabad ethos’ to be trampled. And now that their power risks being taken from them, they have intervened at the last minute. From my perspective, and that of the victims I’ve spoken to, it is too little too late.

During the Royal Commission, the global Chabad leadership were apparently too busy to speak to journalists. Perhaps now they can start answering questions about the responsibility of Chabad Headquarters for the sexual abuse of children seemingly within their institutions, the subsequent cover-ups of these crimes, followed up by the campaign of intimidation of victims, their families and supporters.

The Role of the Melbourne Yeshivah Centre Leadership

There has been much talk about changes occurring in the Yeshivah leadership since the Royal Commission. While there has been some positive change, including the installation by the trustees of an alternative Committee of Management and the resignation of some trustees, the reality is this: Every trustee who is running Yeshivah today was also running Yeshivah at the time of the abuse, cover-ups and intimidation. They are the same people who led Yeshivah to a Royal Commission and then promised to resign by the end of 2015. They are the same people who, rather than acknowledge their failures and move on, have seemingly proposed to entrench their power for an extended period. And a year after the Royal Commission, Yeshivah is still far from having good governance in place. The position in which they now find themselves is entirely of their own doing – rather than addressing the conflicts, acting transparently, honouring their past commitments and listening to some within their own community (and beyond) – they have carried on as they always have, as if a law unto themselves. After this latest debacle, hot on the heels of their broken promise to implement new governance by the end of 2015, they must all resign without delay.

That is not to say that the answer is for Yeshivah to again be accountable to a select group of Chabad Rabbis, as would seem to be the position of Chabad Headquarters. That model has been tried and has failed spectacularly. But it is to say (indeed to repeat) that those trustees who, by virtue of their leadership role there, have been responsible for what has transpired at Yeshivah cannot be part of the solution.

I believe the time has come where serious consideration needs to be given by the broader Jewish community and government as to whether it is appropriate for Yeshivah to continue under its current administration and in its current form. It is easy to forget amid all this chaos that victims are still hurting and seeking justice by way of holding to account those trustees who remain in power, and that the safety of children within the school is paramount. I concur with another Yeshivah victim who recently said publicly that he does not believe that safety can be guaranteed in the environment that currently exists. I would urge the community to give serious consideration to forcing the trustees to hand the Yeshivah Centre over to capable and independent trustees who can administer the Centre professionally until such time as the community has developed the appropriate structures to have it back. Ultimately it’s the safety and wellbeing of our children – past and present – that we are dealing with. And this must always come first.