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Report refutes Spanish claims of Catalan ‘fake news’

Accusations based on "inaccurate data" according to internet expert who sent document to UK parliament

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20 April 2018 02:22 PM

by

Alex Rolandi | Barcelona

A report carried out by a hacking and public interest information expert puts to question accusations by Spain of the supposed influence of Russian bots in Catalonia. The document, published by the UK Parliament’s ‘fake news’ committee, states that these claims are based on “inaccurate data,” and instead points out that “there is clear evidence of anti-Catalan independence messages being spread by bots on Twitter.”

According to the report, carried out by M.C. McGrath, who founded the organization Transparency Toolkit, a 15,000 strong botnet spread an anti-Catalan narrative on the worldwide web. In McGrath’s words, the Transparency Toolkit is a “a non-profit organization based in the United States that helps journalists and human rights groups collect, analyze, and understand data online, including social media data.”

In the report, McGrath states that he “discovered numerous instances of misinterpretation of data sources, use of inaccurate information, lack of attention to detail, and poor research methodology,” with regard to these accusations of fake news geared towards favouring the independence movement. He called it a “one-sided analysis that ignores botnets disseminating anti-Catalan independence messages,” criticizing “dubious research methodology,” and highlighting an “exaggeration of the influence of bots and trolls.” He also said that the influence of Julian Assange, who was outspoken in his criticism of Spain’s measures against Catalonia, as well as Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik, were “overstated.”

Concluding his report, McGrath asserted that “claims about fake news, especially those published in the media and brought before legislative bodies, need to be more thoroughly scrutinized.”

M.C. McGrath, in his twenties, currently resides in Berlin. A Boston University graduate, he also undertook research at the MIT Media Lab where he was a membre of his college ‘hackerspace’, a community wherein computer programming tools and knowledge was shared. He founded the Transparency Toolkit as a “free software to help journalists, activists, and human rights groups collect and analyze data to better understand social issues.”

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  • Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of binary code (courtesy of Reuters)

  • Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of binary code (courtesy of Reuters)