A Twitter executive with editorial responsibility for the Middle East and North Africa is also a reservist officer of the British Army’s psychological warfare and propaganda unit, a new report has revealed.
Gordon MacMillan, who joined Twitter in 2013 and is listed as the company’s Head of Editorial for EMEA, also serves with the 77th Brigade — an outfit formed in 2015 to conduct “information warfare” and develop “non-lethal” ways of conducting war.
The report, published in Britain’s Middle East Eye, revealed how MacMillan served with the unit for several years.
Twitter has downplayed MacMillian’s links to the army and said it supports its staff in their external volunteer commitments.
“Twitter is an open, neutral, and independent service,” a spokesperson for Twitter said to Newsweek.
“We do not allow our data services to be used for surveillance purposes or in any other manner inconsistent with people’s expectation of privacy. Employees who pursue external volunteer opportunities are encouraged to do so in line with company policy.”
The spokesperson added:
“We proactively publish all tweets and accounts relating to state-backed foreign information operations on the service — regardless of the source. We built this industry-leading archive to promote better public understanding of these threats.”
The British Army has also distanced itself from Twitter in a statement.
“There is no relationship or agreement between 77th Brigade and Twitter, other than using Twitter as one of many social media platforms for engagement and communication,” a spokesperson said.
“The Army does not comment on the specific activities of reservists working within the division.”
Despite the assertions of Twitter and the British military, academics and researchers have said the division between the two is not so clear.
David Miller — a professor of political sociology in the School for Policy Studies at England’s University of Bristol, who studies propaganda and public relations efforts concerning the British government — is one such academic.
He told Newsweek he believes a link is there, adding that it was a “threat to our democracy.”
“I would say I know a good amount about army propaganda and ‘psyops’ operations as they’re called, but what is interesting is how little information we have 77th Brigade,” he said.
I suppose it means that all their work is covert, but what I would like to know is what they exactly are they doing?
“Are they just tracking accounts or are they trying to influence people’s views? What we do know is that the Brigade has locked its own Twitter account so it cannot be seen so we assume they are trying to influence people under the operatives’ own names. And because we know so little about exactly what they’re doing, we have to look elsewhere for clues for example.
“If we look at the documents leaked by Edward Snowden about the NSA and its JTRIG [Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group] program, we can see that governments are clearly lying and deceiving people by creating troll farms and fake accounts that try to influence the way people think.
“What the governments will say is that they are trying to prevent radicalization and acts of terrorism, but I think it’s deceptive and is a threat to our democracy.
“Twitter is also deceiving us because it is not acting as transparently as it could. If they are working with army personnel in this way, it is extremely damaging to our democracy.
“Given Twitter’s closure of accounts alleged to be used by foreign governments, it’s a very hypocritical stance of Twitter to take.”