ASPI’s social media strategic blunder

A new report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has blown up in the face of the weapons maker-funded think tank after it tried to muzzle public comments on Twitter

27 July 2021 | Marcus Reubenstein (Image: APAC News Digital)

In 2020 Twitter gave ASPI $147,000 to do who knows what? The Australian Strategic Policy Institute didn’t disclose exactly where that money was going—nor for that matter was there an explanation of how, and where, the $100,000 it picked up from Facebook was spent.

Apropos of nothing, that same year ASPI wrote a number of reports highly critical of Twitter and Facebook’s commercial rivals.  

ASPI may have been better served by taking some advice on Tweeting strategy rather than simply taking Twitter’s cash.

With military precision, yesterday at 15:36hrs ASPI fired off a Tweet promoting a report written by former Defence Department spy, Paul Dibb.

ASPI mouthpiece, The Strategist claimed China is poised to launch a missile strike on Australia. And the basis of this “threat” was an opinion piece written by the loudmouth editor of a Chinese tabloid newspaper.

ASPI—which is perfectly accurate in constantly pointing out the Chinese government engages in wholesale censorship—decided its Tweeting of the impending “China Missile Attack” was also worthy of censorship.

In this case ASPI engaged in a pre-emptive censorship strike by blocking all user comments on its Tweet; people could read it but they couldn’t talk about it.

Don’t (re)quote ASPI

Enter the Quote Tweet, a function within Twitter that allows users to create their own Tweet by simply republishing the original Tweet and then they are free to add comments.

As at 9:00am today, 188 people had Quote Tweeted ASPI’s “China Missile Attack” with nary a nice thing to say about ASPI, its opinions or sponsors.

To give this perspective, ASPI’s current Pinned Tweet—which is essentially the headline report in a user’s Twitter story—has amassed a paltry 8 Likes and 4 Retweets.

In military terms this ASPI Tweet is best described by two words, the first one being “cluster”.

Incoming fire

In fairness to ASPI, among its 38,700 followers 59 plucked up enough courage to hit the “Like” button.

Among its detractors, who piled in on the hapless and ill thought original Tweet, nearly 4,000 users endorsed comments lambasting, mocking and dismissing ASPI as a mouthpiece for its weapons-making benefactors.

The 4,000 engagements with ASPI’s Tweet is a very substantial survey group, for context the sample size for Australia’s leading political opinion poll is only around 1,500.

If these numbers of Likes were translated into an opinion poll, 99.75% of respondents think ASPI is a joke—not even Prime Minister Scott Morrison would attempt to spin that number.

Does ASPI really want to operate in a society of majority rule?

Twitter strikes back

One of those keen to engage with ASPI was, Shenzhen-based Canadian, Daniel Dumbrill. He is among a group of foreigners in China who operate YouTube channels critical of western media and US-funded think tanks like ASPI. Dumbrill and American Cyrus Janssen are among two of the more popular so-called “China-supporters” on social media. Janssen (a former golf club professional) and Dumbrill (who owns a boutique micro-brewery) have made names for themselves by offering to debate any China-critic at any time, on any China-related topic. ASPI’s response to the challenge is it simply blocked Dumbrill on Twitter.

Among the other unflattering comments:

“ASPI making sales pitch for its weapon manufacturing donors. Btw why close the comment section? What are you afraid of?”

“US threatens Australia to buy more missiles or else.”

“cowards blocked the comment section, why ASPI? afraid people will call out that you’re funded by the amerikkkan milutary industrial complex?”

“We’re TOTALLY not trying to con you into buying our missiles.”

“Stop giving [US missile maker/ASPI sponsor] Raytheon a blowjob!”

“Why did you block the reply function??… Guilty? Oh, forgot you are in cahoots with twitter”

“Car crash in the comments area last time.  No car crash today because ASPI has turned off comments.  You don’t have much confidence on free speech?”

From Michael West, who is still under a defamation threat from a former ASPI analyst:

The author of this opinion-piece is also under the same threat as West (as are a school teacher, an 86 year-old retired public servant and a university professor). I’ve launched a separate case in the Federal Court of Australia against the aforementioned former ASPI analyst and, his current employer, the Commonwealth Government. My response:

ASPI has 25x more followers than the @ReubensteinApac account, yet this author managed to get 900% more endorsements than ASPI on this Tweet.    

The Gold Quote Tweet

Of all the highly amusing and, for ASPI, humiliating comments one stood out from the crowd because it contained proper strategic analysis.  

Twitter user @Cinqscories, who lives in Paris, pointed out:

Military industry complexes funded ASPI what to sell more weapons. And they used wrong missile.. [D]F26 is a missile mainly against aircraft carriers, and it can reach Guam but not Australia. Try again ASPI, please be more professional.

That’s right, the alarmist pro-US military propagandists at ASPI claimed China is positioning itself to launch a long-range missile strike (potentially with nuclear warheads) on Australia.

However, the world leading military think tank illustrated its long-range warning with an intermediate range missile which would run out of fuel shortly after reaching Indonesian airspace.*

For Australians planning a post-pandemic holiday in Bali, don’t say you haven’t been warned!    

*Note: Following publication it was pointed out that if DF-26 missiles were launched from Hainan Island, the southern most point of China, they could potentially reach northern Australia but could not, in any event, threaten any major population centres. For reference, Hainan is an island province whose main industries are fishing, tourism and golf.

ASPI propaganda knows no shame

Last night, ASPI analyst Fergus Ryan participated in an ABC 4Corners program slamming Chinese app TikTok for collecting user data based on likes and for running algorithms which direct users towards other accounts based on those likes.

It is a well-established fact that, ASPI sponsors, Twitter and Facebook do not have algorithms that steer users in the direction of content, advertising and other accounts.

Also, it has never occurred to Twitter or Facebook to collect user metadata… it’s undemocratic, it’s anti-free speech and would never happen.

As the team at ASPI Central Command in Canberra says, with shaking heads and ‘tut tuts’ all around, “frankly that kind of behavior is un-American.”

Between them, in 2019-20 Google and Amazon tipped another $200,000 into ASPI’s coffers. According to research from Michael West Media that amount is exactly $200,000 more than Google paid the ATO in income tax last year. That’s zero tax for Google on $5.2 billion in revenue.

Incidentally, because of its special status, ASPI has accrued more than $110 million in revenue and, like some giant multinationals, has never paid one cent of tax in Australia.

Its spectacular Twitter blunders aside, these are hardly taxing times for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.