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The Australian is well-known for attacking its opponents with malicious smear campaigns

The Australian newspaper has written several articles wrongly accusing a respected ad executive of being behind a campaign aimed at News Corp advertisers. Rosie Williams reports.

IF, LIKE ME and many of my Twitter network you don’t read The Australian, you can be forgiven for missing the frontpage article (pictured right) doxing Denise Shrivell on Friday 14 September.

In the article, U.S.-owned News Corp's The Australian claims both that Shrivell clearly stated she plays no official role in the campaigns run by the anonymous Twitter account Sleeping Giants Oz and also that she is also its sole organiser. That Shrivell claims publicly to have no official role in the campaigns is a concern. Especially given The Australian has effectively doxed a private citizen for no reason other than her retweets of an anti-racism campaign which affects News Corp advertising receipts.

But the doxing didn't stop with the front-page article.

This week has seen no less than three follow-up articles, all targeting Ms Shrivell with spurious claims while attempting to undermine the Sleeping Giants anti-racism campaigns. News Corp did so with accusations Sleeping Giants are "astroturfing", due to such a low number of accounts having made so many companies cancel their advertising on News Corp's cable network station, Sky News.

Not content with potentially defaming Ms Shrivell across several articles, the campaign against her and the anti-racism campaigners ramped up on Thursday 20 September, when Liberal MPs used parliamentary privilege to unleash against the grassroots campaign. Following exactly the same line of attack used in The Australian, Senator Concetta Fierraventi-Wells claimed on Thursday that Sleeping Giants needed the account holder to be anonymous to hide its underlying interests.

... the anonymity of Sleeping Giants' campaigns destroys their credibility. Often, anonymous campaigns like Sleeping Giants have ulterior commercial motives. In the U.S. and Australia, these campaigns appear at first glance to be propagated by advertising industry types with political motivations. In the US, Sleeping Giants began after the 2016 election by targeting the influential Breitbart News, operating entirely anonymously until July 2018, when advertising industry copywriter and registered Democrat Matt Rivitz was outed as the group's founder.

The reason such campaigns crave anonymity is they don't want to be exposed as being politically inspired and, more importantly, they rely on deceiving people—in this case, advertisers—about their real level of support. Here, it's been revealed that a key figure in Sleeping Giants Oz is advertising industry consultant Denise Shrivell, though she describes her involvement as advocacy while the group itself claims she is only 'a dearest friend'. Clearly Ms Shrivell, who regularly posts to Sleeping Giants Oz, is a prime mover in this group.

According to Senator Fierravanti-Wells, the fact few followers and tweets were required by Sleeping Giants Oz to make change was not evidence of its effectiveness – or perhaps that the advertisers didn't want to be associated with alleged racism – but of some kind of deception:

Like me, you may have retweeted the Sleeping Giants tweets and are now worried that such an innocent and ethical action could lead to you being lambasted in Parliament by our political representatives, or splashed across the national broadsheet. Like Denise Shrivell, I have no official connection with Sleeping Giants, but began following them relatively early due to my interest in online safety and abuse while a member of the Electronic Frontiers Australia Policy Team.

While I didn’t know who was behind the account, I could see they knew what they doing. They advocated for people not to abuse advertisers or supporters of racist messaging, and to always act with ethics and grace, within the letter of the law. Given the conservative belief in the "right to be a bigot", which encourage people’s worst failings and incite hatred, it is difficult to come up with a reason not to support the Sleeping Giants — hence the need for conservative media to drum up conspiracy theories about the campaigns and publicly attack campaign supporters.

Of course, News Corp also has a major financial incentive to undermine those who may be scaring away their advertisers, irrespective of their reasons. That members of the Liberal Party appear to be acting in concert with News Corp would appear to cast grave doubt on the independence of both organisations.

Moreover, since conservative media hate campaigns have been shown to directly influence hate-based attacks on members of the public, effective campaigns that serve to reduce racism in the media can only be a positive thing, uniting Australians rather than breeding division and discrimination.

ARE USERS AT A GIANT RISK?

While the Sleeping Giants Oz account itself is anonymous, there will be many people who have shared their tweets who are not anonymous. Are we all to be publicly "shamed" for protesting against racism, bigotry and Nazi-fandom, merely to protect the News Corp bottom-line?

I have no idea who is behind the Sleeping Giants Oz account, but supporting their anti-racism objective is a no-brainer. That this makes me a potential target for both conservative media and politicians should be of great concern to all social media users.

Where are the pundits on this? Josh Taylor, senior reporter at Buzzfeed News weighed in on Friday, explaining Fierraventi-Wells has form when it comes to smearing anti-discrimination campaigns, which she exercised during the same sex marriage survey.

In an article introducing the Sleeping Giants Oz to Independent Australia readers, political editor Dr Martin Hirst linked to a Sleeping Giants FAQ for their campaign supporters.

There is no mention made in this documentation about whether supporters may need to consider their level of anonymity, what risks they might face if they are publicly linked to campaigns (such as defamation, reprisals, trolling), or how to go about evaluating or mitigating those risks. While the Sleeping Giants account itself is anonymous as a protective measure, many Twitter users who participate in their campaigns are clearly not.

While I support anti-hate/anti-racism campaigns, I am concerned that some help may be needed in terms of protecting the activists involved, both in terms of legal resources, and physical and communications security.

Individual Twitter users do not have the resources to challenge amoral multinational media behemoths and their vindictive conservative political allies, as plucky Denise Shivell is now discovering.

 

Rosie Williams is a citizen journalist who runs privacy workshops at rosiewilliams.com.au. You can follow Rosie on Twitter @Info_Aus.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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