Thursday, November 1, 2012
Human rights advocate Thor Halvorssen chronicled for the Huffington Post last year the types of activitiesQorvis engages in on behalf of governments in the Middle East. Much of it involves social media such as Facebook, blogs, and Twitter. According to Halvorssen, Qorvis uses phony social media accounts to conduct smear campaigns against critics of repressive regimes. “Most of the U.S.-based fake tweeting, fake blogging (flogging), and online manipulation is carried out from inside Qorvis Communication’s ‘Geo-Political Solutions’ division,” noted Halvorssen. “The effort is mechanical and centrally organized.”
More so than intimidation, violence, and disappearances, the most important tool for dictatorships across the world is the discrediting of critics. . . . Oppressive governments are threatened by public exposure, and this means that it’s not just human rights defenders but also bloggers, opinion journalists, and civil society activists who are regularly and viciously maligned
The American Independent detailed some of Qorvis’ efforts in promoting Fiji, noting that it is “deeply involved in managing the online and social media activities” of the government. Its cyberpromotion includes websites, blogs, and Twitter feeds, according to disclosures required to be made by Qorvis under the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).
“WHOIS” lookups of domain name registration information reveal that “ecofiji.org,” “empowerfiji.org,” “travelfijitoday.org,” “investfiji.org,” and “fijigrowth.org” were registered by Qorvis employees, although the sites offer no disclosure of Qorvis’ involvement. The FARA filing also listed three Twitter accounts — @FijiPM, @FijiAG and @FijiRepublic — under “activities conducted by registrant.”
The latest targets of such social media messages have been in the U.S. as a result of recent hearings held to decide on revoking Fiji’s free trade status after protests by trade union groups. Fiji’s Qorvis-linked Twitter accounts, according to the American Independent, have “played an active role in promoting pro-government news articles, often published by the government owned Fiji Broadcasting Corporation.”
The tweets, like many of those issued by accounts linked to Qorvis, frequently target their messages to Twitter accounts affiliated with the U.S. State Department and the United Nations, both institutions which have been critical of Fiji’s military coup government. . . . Qorvis’ management of such accounts, without disclosing their involvement on the Twitter accounts or websites, would fit with the consultancy’s history of being less than transparent in the work done on behalf of foreign clients.
The FARA disclosure shows that Qorvis has provided “fact sheets” to various parties, including Australian blogger Grubby Davis. It has also been successful in getting pro-Fiji news stories published by the overseas press. It arranged a visit to Fiji by reporter Ginanne Brownell of fDi Magazine, which is owned by The Financial Times Ltd and edited in London. That resulted in such stories as “Promise of democracy opens up investment opportunities in Fiji,” and “Fiji PM looks to forge a central role within south Pacific.”
Project PM, which describes itself as “an autonomous online entity” that uses the internet to promote positive change, keeps close tabs on black ops spin doctors such as Qorvis. Its cyber sleuthing has found that Qorvis regularly edits Wikipedia pagesto make its clients look better. “QORVIS has its own long history of edits at the site,” notes Project PM. “There is a lengthy page of Wikipedia edits for an unnamed user with the IP 126.96.36.199.”
The IP [address] belongs to gw20.qorvisnet.com. User 188.8.131.52 was not alone. Another 3 named accounts made their way around the same pages all of which appear to have a connection to QORVIS as clients or staff. As this appears to have a degree of co-ordination behind it, it backs up accounts of online manipulation or ‘black arts’ from the Geo-Political Solutions division of QORVIS.
One of the Wikipedia pagesthat Qorvis has doctored, according to Project PM, is that of Fiji’s Interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, which its editing history shows to have been altered by a particularly busy person who goes by the handle of “Ratfinx.”