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UN deadlock on Ukraine peacekeepers

Ukraine rejects Putin proposal for UN peacekeepers to protect OSCE observers on conflict contact line

Alexander Mercouris

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This article was first published by RussiaFeed

On 5th September 2017, during his press conference at the latest BRICS summit in China, President Putin of Russia unexpectedly announced a proposal for the UN Security Council to organise a lightly armed force of peacekeepers to provide protection to observers from the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) who are patrolling the contact line between the militia in the Donbass and the Ukrainian army.

Putin’s words at the press conference were as follow

Vladimir Putin: This is impossible to do via the General Assembly, because UN peacekeepers cannot function other than pursuant to Security Council resolutions. But that is not the point.

You are saying that someone wants to push something through. In fact, I do not see anything wrong with that. I have already said many times that I support the idea of arming the OSCE mission, but the OSCE itself refuses to arm its field personnel, since it has neither the relevant people nor the experience of such work.

In this context, I believe that the presence of UN peacekeepers, not even peacekeepers, but those who provide security for the OSCE mission, is quite appropriate and I do not see anything wrong with that; on the contrary, I believe that this would help resolve the situation in southeastern Ukraine. Of course, we can talk only about ensuring the security of the OSCE staff. This is my first point.

The second point is that, in this regard, these forces should be located on the demarcation line only and on no other territories.

Thirdly, this issue should be resolved only after disengaging the parties and removing the heavy equipment. This cannot be resolved without direct contact with representatives of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic.

I believe that if all this is done, it would definitely benefit resolving the situation in southeastern Ukraine. We will consider this as instructions to the Foreign Ministry to submit a relevant resolution to the Security Council.

This proposal has not been fully analysed, but what Putin proposed here was not a truly a “peacekeeping force” but rather a small lightly armed contingent whose task would have been to carry out bodyguard protection duties for the unarmed OSCE observers in the conflict zone.

Here it is worth pointing out that the presence of the OSCE observers in the Donbass conflict zone goes back to the spring of 2014, when it was actually proposed by Putin.  Putin’s latest proposal therefore represented an attempt by the Russians to strengthen an OSCE mission which is present in the Donbass conflict zone at their original instigation.

Behind Putin’s proposal is Russian frustration that the OSCE mission has proved ineffective in ramping down the conflict, with many though by no means all its field reports more favourable to the Ukrainian side in a way that the Russians undoubtedly feel is biased.  Introducing a small number of lightly armed UN peacekeepers drawn from a variety of countries – including non-Western countries – to the conflict zone might not merely make the OSCE mission more effective but might also correct this imbalance.

Putin’s proposal has received strong support from elements within the German government, who are becoming increasingly concerned that as a result of the indefinite perpetuation of EU sanctions EU-Russian relations – and therefore German-Russian relations – are becoming deadlocked.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, currently the most popular politician in Germany and a former leader of the SPD, has spoken of Putin’s proposal in enthusiastic terms

What we need to do now is to carry out negotiations aimed at the implementation of such a ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weaponry. Thanks to the Russian proposal we are able to do this now……

I advise all participants not to say that we won’t do this because not all of our demands are met, but to openly discuss with the Russian Federation the conditions of a UN mission,” Gabriel said.

The deployment, if successful in bringing about a lasting ceasefire, would pave the way for political settlement, Gabriel said, adding that “then, we will be able to begin lifting sanctions imposed on Russia.”

German Chancellor Merkel has been much more cautious.  However she has also signalled that Putin’s proposal has her backing, subject to Putin’s agreement – which she secured in a telephone conversation with Putin on 11th September 2017 – that the proposed UN peacekeepers should be able to go anywhere within the conflict zone that the OSCE observers go, and not just the contact line.  Here is how the Kremlin’s website describes this part of the conversation

Vladimir Putin spoke in detail on the Russian initiative to establish a UN mission to aid the protection of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (OSCE SMM). Taking into account the views communicated by Angela Merkel, the Russian leader expressed readiness to add to the functions of the above-mentioned UN mission proposed in the Russian draft resolution of the Security Council.

The protection of OSCE observers by the UN is envisioned not only on the contact line after the disengagement of the forces and equipment of both sides, but also in other places where the OSCE SMM conducts its inspection visits in accordance with the Minsk Package of Measures.

However for the same reasons that Putin made the proposal Ukraine opposes it.  Just as the Russians want to secure a ceasefire in the Donbass, so Ukraine adamantly opposes a ceasefire since that might increase pressure on Ukraine to fulfil the political provisions of the February 2015 Minsk Agreement, which are totally unacceptable to Ukraine.

Beyond this there are two points about Putin’s proposal which the Ukrainians must find especially infuriating.

The first is the demand in Putin’s proposal that the remit of the UN peacekeepers be agreed through direct negotiations between the Ukrainian government and the authorities of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

Direct talks between the Ukrainian government and the authorities of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics were in fact envisaged by the February 2015 Minsk Agreement, which Ukraine has signed.  Such direct talks have however never happened.  The Ukrainian government adamantly opposes them since it correctly sees such talks as conferring legal recognition on the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics as parties to the conflict, thereby admitting that it is an internal Ukrainian conflict (as the Russians say) and not a case of aggression against Ukraine by Russia (as the Ukrainians say).

The Ukrainian stance has been well explained by Oleg Nemenensky, a senior researcher at Russia’s Institute of Strategic Studies.  In an interview with the Russian newspaper Izvestia partly republished by TASS he explained the reasons for Ukraine’s negative reaction to Putin’s proposal in this way

This means that the conflict in Ukraine is recognized as internal, which is inadmissible for the Kiev authorities, since it destroys the whole ideological of its policy. In addition, to introduce peacekeepers to the line of demarcation, it is necessary to recognize the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic as parties to the conflict. That contradicts the entire propaganda system built on the fact that the war is being waged with Russia,

The second reason for Ukrainian anger is that Putin’s proposal, by referring to “UN peacekeepers”, sought to preempt Western opposition to the proposal by using language previously proposed by Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government has been lobbying for years for a “UN peacekeeping force” to be deployed along the border between Russia and the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.  Russia has consistently rejected this proposal, pointing out correctly that it is the contrary to the provisions of the 2015 Minsk Agreement.

Behind Russian opposition to this Ukrainian proposal is the belief in Moscow – which is almost certainly correct – that its purpose is to ‘seal’ the border between Russia and the two People’s Republics, cutting off the militia’s supply lines to Russia so as to enable the Ukrainian army to carry out an operation similar to Operation Storm: the military offensive in 1995 by the Croatian army, which led to the destruction of the Serb republic of Krajina.

Recently the Ukrainians have been re floating their longstanding proposal, leading possibly to calculations in Moscow that if some of the language of the Ukrainian proposal were used it would defuse Western opposition to Putin’s proposal, which is in reality a completely different one.

With the Germans this appears to have worked up to a point.  However, perhaps contrary to Russian hopes, the Trump administration – or perhaps more accurately the hardliners currently in the ascendant within it – has sided with Ukraine.

The result is that the negotiations in the UN Security Council on Putin’s proposal appear to be deadlocked, with the Ukrainians making a counter-proposal that refers to Russia as the “aggressor”.  As Dmitry Peskov, President Putin’s spokesman, has pointed out, such language cannot be accepted by Russia, and is clearly intended to wreck the proposal

While commenting on the wording suggested by Kiev, he said it was unacceptable. “If they take such a position and claim that Russia is an aggressor, then it leaves little room to manoeuvre,” Peskov said. According to him, such position “disregards the actual situation” as Russia is not a party to the conflict but one of the guarantors of the Minsk Agreements, “which are the basis of the settlement process.”

The Kremlin spokesman pointed out that “Russia and President Putin have more than once expressed readiness to do everything possible to achieve a compromise, but any compromise has its degree of reasonableness and acceptability.” When asked if the Kremlin had studied the Kiev-drafted resolution, Peskov said that diplomats were working on that.

Given the stance Ukraine is taking, Putin’s proposal is now all but dead.  Its only prospect for implementation is if the two other states involved in the Minsk Agreement – Germany and France – put pressure on Ukraine to accept it.  As to that, though the Germans and the French have frequently expressed exasperation at Ukraine’s intransigence – especially in private – they have in practice always drawn back from putting on Ukraine the sort of pressure that might force it to compromise.  Unfortunately that looks unlikely to change.

If deadlock was always the likeliest outcome to the Russian proposal, why did Putin make it?

The Russians have been receiving conflicting signals from the Trump administration about the Ukrainian conflict, and it may be that the proposal was in part floated in order to flush the Trump administration out: to see whether or not it is genuinely interested in a negotiated settlement of the Ukrainian conflict.  If so then the Russians have their answer: for the moment the hardliners within the Trump administration are in the ascendant, with US support for Ukraine’s Maidan government as strong as ever.

However the likeliest reason is that the Russians made their proposal with an eye to the German elections, which are due on Sunday.

The Russians have undoubtedly noticed the growing weariness in Germany with Merkel even if she is still likely to win the election on Sunday, and they have undoubtedly noticed the anger in Germany over the latest sanction law passed by the US Congress.

Putin’s proposal seems to have been pitched to underline the point – widely known in Germany, though publicly resisted by Merkel – that it is Ukraine’s intransigence not Russia’s ‘aggression’ which is prolonging the conflict.  With AfD, FDP and SDP politicians in the run up to the elections all making publicly known their deep skepticism about Merkel’s policy, and with doubts about the policy known to exist deep within Merkel’s CDU and – rather more openly – in the CDU’s Bavarian sister party the CSU, the Russians presumably felt that there was no harm in floating a proposal which would again show where the real obstacle to peace in Ukraine lies.

In other words the Russians are now starting to look beyond Merkel, assessing – almost certainly correctly – that even if she wins the election on Sunday as everyone expects, her time as Germany’s Chancellor is ending.

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K Pomeroy
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K Pomeroy

This article is wrong in many details. I believe Putin was not the first to suggest an OSCE mission in Ukraine. That suggestion came from the OSCE itself, when it composed the original Minsk agreements. Also, the OSCE do not need to be armed. Only one OSCE observer has ever died on the job: George Bishop, an American who was killed when his vehicle hit a landmine on the LPR side of the contact line in April 2017. There is much evidence that landmine was planted by Ukrainian saboteurs. Arming the OSCE, or “protecting” them with “lightly armed” UN “peacekeepsers”,… Read more »

Terry Ross
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Terry Ross

The OSCE did NOT compose the Minsk agreements. This was a hard fought negotiation over several days involving Ukraine and DPR/LPR, Russia and OSCE. As Forbes (from a US perspective) put it: The text of the agreement raises as many questions as it answers and sidesteps the thorniest issues. First, it calls for the “pullout of all foreign armed formations, military equipment, and also mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under OSCE supervision (and) the disarmament of all illegal groups.” Sounds good, but all other provisions are subject to strict timelines. This one is not. No deadline is given—I doubt… Read more »

GeorgeG
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GeorgeG

Both of the suggesed motivations — flush out the Trump Admin and a nod (shhh!, not “interference in the German election campaign!), are viable, and together. First, Putin made a move. The entire German “establishment” welcomed the move behind the scenes. They all want to get off the American coat-tails. Merkel even made her own move: she would be willing to mediate in the Korean crisis, and Putin welcomed that move. The Germans don’t like Trump’s bluster on Korea, and they don’t want US “lethal weapon aid” to Kiev. It is German-all-too-German, and therefore rather illusory, but the German view… Read more »

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May survives ‘no confidence’ vote as UK moves towards March 29 deadline or Article 50 extension (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 168.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the ‘no confidence’ vote that UK Prime Minister May won with the a slim margin…meaning that though few MPs have confidence in her ‘Brexit withdrawal’ negotiating skills, they appear to have no problem allowing May to lead the country towards its Brexit deadline in March, which coincidently may be delayed and eventually scrapped altogether.

Meanwhile Tony Blair is cozying up to Brussels’ oligarchs, working his evil magic to derail the will of the British people, and keep the integrationist ambitions for the UK and Europe on track.

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Via RT


The UK government led by Theresa May, has survived to fight another day, after winning a no-confidence vote, tabled by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, following parliament rejecting the PM’s Brexit deal, earlier on Tuesday evening.

The no-confidence vote was defeated by 19 votes – the government winning by 325 to 306. It’s a rare positive note for May’s Tory cabinet after the humiliating Brexit defeat.

Speaking immediately after the vote, a victorious May said she was “pleased” that the House expressed its confidence in her government. May said she will “continue to work” to deliver on the result of the Brexit referendum and leave the EU.

May invited the leaders of parliamentary parties to meet with her individually, beginning on Wednesday evening.

“I stand ready to work with any member of this House to deliver on Brexit,” she said.

Responding to the vote, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that the House had “emphatically” rejected May’s deal on Tuesday. The government, he said, must now remove “clearly once and for all the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit from the EU and all the chaos that would result from that.”

Labour will now have to consider what move to make next. Their official Brexit policy, decided by members at conference in September, states that if a general election cannot be forced, then all options should be left on the table, including calling for a second referendum.

Liberal Democrats MP Ed Davey also called on May to rule out a no deal Brexit.

The way forward for Brexit is not yet clear and May’s options are now limited, given that the Brexit deal she was offering was voted down so dramatically on Tuesday.

Gavin Barrett, a professor at the UCD Sutherland School of Law in Dublin, told RT that May will now have to decide if her second preference is a no-deal Brexit or a second referendum. Her preference will likely be a no-deal Brexit, Barrett said, adding that “since no other option commands a majority in the House” a no-deal exit is now “the default option.”

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Final Steps in Syria’s Successful Struggle for Peace and Sovereignty

The war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The situation in Syria evolves daily and sees two situations very closely linked to each other, with the US withdrawal from Syria and the consequent expansionist ambitions of Erdogan in Syria and the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) takeover in Idlib that frees the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Russian aviation to liberate the de-escalation zone.

Trump has promised to destroy Turkey economically if he attacks the Kurds, reinforcing his claim that Erdogan will not target the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) once the US withdraws from the area. One of the strongest accusations made against Trump’s withdrawal by his opponents is that no Middle Eastern force will ever trust the US again if they abandon the SDF to its fate, that is, to its annihilation at the hands of the Turkish army and its FSA proxies. This, however, is not possible; not so much because of Trump’s economic threats, but because of Damascus and Moscow being strongly opposed to any Turkish military action in the northeast of Syria.

This is a red line drawn by Putin and Assad, and the Turkish president likely understands the consequences of any wrong moves. It is no coincidence that he stated several times that he had no problems with the “Syrians or Syrian-Kurdish brothers”, and repeated that if the area under the SDF were to come under the control of Damascus, Turkey would have no need to intervene in Syria. Trump’s request that Ankara have a buffer zone of 20 kilometers separating the Kurdish and Turkish forces seems to complement the desire of Damascus and Moscow to avoid a clash between the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the SDF.

The only party that seems to be secretly encouraging a clash between the SDF and Turkish forces is Israel, criticizing Ankara and singing the praises of the SDF, in order to try and accentuate the tensions between the two sides, though naturally without success. Israel’s continued raids in Syria, though almost constantly failing due to Syrian air defense, and the divide-and-rule policy used against Turkey and the SDF, show that Tel Aviv is now weakened and mostly irrelevant in the Syrian conflict.

In Idlib, the situation seems to be becoming less complicated and difficult to decipher. Russia, Iran and Syria had asked Erdogan to take control of the province through its “moderate jihadists”, sit down at the negotiating table, and resolve the matter through a diplomatic solution. Exactly the opposite happened. The HTS (formerly al-Nusra/al-Qaeda in Syria) has in recent weeks conquered practically the whole province of Idlib, with numerous forces linked to Turkey (Ahrar al-Sham and Nour al-Din al-Zenki) dissolving and merging into HTS. This development puts even more pressure on Erdogan, who is likely to see his influence in Idlib fade away permanently. Moreover, this evolution represents a unique opportunity for Damascus and Moscow to start operations in Idlib with the genuine justification of combating terrorism. It is a repeat of what happened in other de-escalation areas. Moscow and Damascus have repeatedly requested the moderates be separated from the terrorists, so as to approach the situation with a diplomatic negotiation.

In the absence of an effective division of combatants, all are considered terrorists, with the military option replacing the diplomatic. This remains the only feasible option to free the area from terrorists who are not willing to give back territory to the legitimate government in Damascus and are keeping civilians hostages. The Idlib province seems to have experienced the same playbook applied in other de-escalation zones, this time with a clear contrast between Turkey and Saudi Arabia that shows how the struggle between the two countries is much deeper than it appears. The reasons behind the Khashoggi case and the diplomatic confrontation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia were laid bare in the actions of the HTS in Idlib, which has taken control of all the areas previously held by Ankara’s proxies.

It remains to be seen whether Moscow and Damascus would like to encourage Erdogan to recover Idlib through its proxies, trying to encourage jihadists to fight each other as much as possible in order to lighten the task of the SAA, or whether they would prefer to press the advantage themselves and attack while the terrorist front is experiencing internal confusion.

In terms of occupied territory and accounts to be settled, two areas of great importance for the future of Syria remain unresolved, namely al-Tanf, occupied by US forces on the Syrian-Jordanian border, and the area in the north of Syria occupied by Turkish forces and their FSA proxies. It is too early to approach a solution militarily, it being easier for Damascus and Moscow to complete the work to free Syria from the remaining terrorists. Once this has been done, the presence of US or Turkish forces in Syria, whether directly or indirectly, would become all the more difficult to justify. Driving away the US and, above all, Turkey from Syrian territory will be the natural next step in the Syrian conflict.

This is an unequivocal sign that the war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus. Several countries — including Italy in the near future — will reopen their embassies in Syria to demonstrate that the war, even if not completely over, is effectively won by Damascus and her allies.

For this reason, several countries that were previously opposed to Damascus, like the United Arab Emirates, are understood to have some kind of contact with the government of Damascus. If they intend to become involved in the reconstruction process and any future investment, they will quite naturally need to re-establish diplomatic relations with Damascus. The Arab League is also looking to welcome Syria back into the fold.

Such are signs that Syria is returning to normality, without forgetting which and how many countries have conspired and acted directly against the Syrians for over seven years. An invitation to the Arab League or some embassy being reopened will not be enough to compensate for the damage done over years, but Assad does not preclude any option, and is in the meantime demonstrating to the Israelis, Saudis and the US Deep State that their war has failed and that even their most loyal allies are resuming diplomatic relations with Damascus, a double whammy against the neocons, Wahhabis and Zionists.

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Google Manipulated YouTube Search Results for Abortion, Maxine Waters, David Hogg

The existence of the blacklist was revealed in an internal Google discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News.

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Via Breitbart


In sworn testimony, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told Congress last month that his company does not “manually intervene” on any particular search result. Yet an internal discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News reveals Google regularly intervenes in search results on its YouTube video platform – including a recent intervention that pushed pro-life videos out of the top ten search results for “abortion.”

The term “abortion” was added to a “blacklist” file for “controversial YouTube queries,” which contains a list of search terms that the company considers sensitive. According to the leak, these include some of these search terms related to: abortion, abortions, the Irish abortion referendum, Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and anti-gun activist David Hogg.

The existence of the blacklist was revealed in an internal Google discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News by a source inside the company who wishes to remain anonymous. A partial list of blacklisted terms was also leaked to Breitbart by another Google source.

In the leaked discussion thread, a Google site reliability engineer hinted at the existence of more search blacklists, according to the source.

“We have tons of white- and blacklists that humans manually curate,” said the employee. “Hopefully this isn’t surprising or particularly controversial.”

Others were more concerned about the presence of the blacklist. According to the source, the software engineer who started the discussion called the manipulation of search results related to abortion a “smoking gun.”

The software engineer noted that the change had occurred following an inquiry from a left-wing Slate journalist about the prominence of pro-life videos on YouTube, and that pro-life videos were replaced with pro-abortion videos in the top ten results for the search terms following Google’s manual intervention.

“The Slate writer said she had complained last Friday and then saw different search results before YouTube responded to her on Monday,” wrote the employee. “And lo and behold, the [changelog] was submitted on Friday, December 14 at 3:17 PM.”

The manually downranked items included several videos from Dr. Antony Levatino, a former abortion doctor who is now a pro-life activist. Another video in the top ten featured a woman’s personal story of being pressured to have an abortion, while another featured pro-life conservative Ben Shapiro. The Slate journalist who complained to Google reported that these videos previously featured in the top ten, describing them in her story as “dangerous misinformation.”

Since the Slate journalist’s inquiry and Google’s subsequent intervention, the top search results now feature pro-abortion content from left-wing sources like BuzzFeed, Vice, CNN, and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. In her report, the Slate journalist acknowledged that the search results changed shortly after she contacted Google.

The manual adjustment of search results by a Google-owned platform contradicts a key claim made under oath by Google CEO Sundar Pichai in his congressional testimony earlier this month: that his company does not “manually intervene on any search result.”

A Google employee in the discussion thread drew attention to Pichai’s claim, noting that it “seems like we are pretty eager to cater our search results to the social and political agenda of left-wing journalists.”

One of the posts in the discussion also noted that the blacklist had previously been edited to include the search term “Maxine Waters” after a single Google employee complained the top YouTube search result for Maxine Waters was “very low quality.”

Google’s alleged intervention on behalf of a Democratic congresswoman would be further evidence of the tech giant using its resources to prop up the left. Breitbart News previously reported on leaked emails revealing the company targeted pro-Democrat demographics in its get-out-the-vote efforts in 2016.

According to the source, a software engineer in the thread also noted that “a bunch of terms related to the abortion referendum in Ireland” had been added to the blacklist – another change with potentially dramatic consequences on the national policies of a western democracy.

youtube_controversial_query_blacklist

At least one post in the discussion thread revealed the existence of a file called “youtube_controversial_query_blacklist,” which contains a list of YouTube search terms that Google manually curates. In addition to the terms “abortion,” “abortions,” “Maxine Waters,” and search terms related to the Irish abortion referendum, a Google software engineer noted that the blacklist includes search terms related to terrorist attacks. (the posts specifically mentions that the “Strasbourg terrorist attack” as being on the list).

“If you look at the other entries recently added to the youtube_controversial_query_blacklist(e.g., entries related to the Strasbourg terrorist attack), the addition of abortion seems…out-of-place,” wrote the software engineer, according to the source.

After learning of the existence of the blacklist, Breitbart News obtained a partial screenshot of the full blacklist file from a source within Google. It reveals that the blacklist includes search terms related to both mass shootings and the progressive anti-second amendment activist David Hogg.

This suggests Google has followed the lead of Democrat politicians, who have repeatedly pushed tech companies to censor content related to the Parkland school shooting and the Parkland anti-gun activists. It’s part of a popular new line of thought in the political-media establishment, which views the public as too stupid to question conspiracy theories for themselves.

Here is the partial blacklist leaked to Breitbart:

2117 plane crash Russian

2118 plane crash

2119 an-148

2120 florida shooting conspiracy

2121 florida shooting crisis actors

2122 florida conspiracy

2123 florida false flag shooting

2124 florida false flag

2125 fake florida school shooting

2126 david hogg hoax

2127 david hogg fake

2128 david hogg crisis actor

2129 david hogg forgets lines

2130 david hogg forgets his lines

2131 david hogg cant remember his lines

2132 david hogg actor

2133 david hogg cant remember

2134 david hogg conspiracy

2135 david hogg exposed

2136 david hogg lines

2137 david hogg rehearsing

2120 florida shooting conspiracy

The full internal filepath of the blacklist, according to another source, is:

//depot/google3/googledata/superroot/youtube/youtube_controversial_query_blacklist

Contradictions

Responding to a request for comment, a YouTube spokeswoman said the company wants to promote “authoritative” sources in its search results, but maintained that YouTube is a “platform for free speech” that “allow[s]” both pro-life and pro-abortion content.

YouTube’s full comment:

YouTube is a platform for free speech where anyone can choose to post videos, as long as they follow our Community Guidelines, which prohibit things like inciting violence and pornography. We apply these policies impartially and we allow both pro-life and pro-choice opinions. Over the last year we’ve described how we are working to better surface news sources across our site for news-related searches and topical information. We’ve improved our search and discovery algorithms, built new features that clearly label and prominently surface news sources on our homepage and search pages, and introduced information panels to help give users more authoritative sources where they can fact check information for themselves.

In the case of the “abortion” search results, YouTube’s intervention to insert “authoritative” content resulted in the downranking of pro-life videos and the elevation of pro-abortion ones.

A Google spokesperson took a tougher line than its YouTube subsidiary, stating that “Google has never manipulated or modified the search results or content in any of its products to promote a particular political ideology.”

However, in the leaked discussion thread, a member of Google’s “trust & safety” team, Daniel Aaronson, admitted that the company maintains “huge teams” that work to adjust search results for subjects that are “prone to hyperbolic content, misleading information, and offensive content” – all subjective terms that are frequently used to suppress right-leaning sources.

He also admitted that the interventions weren’t confined to YouTube – they included search results delivered via Google Assistant, Google Home, and in rare cases Google ’s organic search results.

In the thread, Aaronson attempted to explain how search blacklisting worked. He claimed that highly specific searches would generate non-blacklisted results, even controversial ones. But the inclusion of highly specific terms in the YouTube blacklist, like “David Hogg cant remember his lines” – the name of an actual viral video – seems to contradict this.

Aaronson’s full post is copied below:

I work in Trust and Safety and while I have no particular input as to exactly what’s happening for YT I can try to explain why you’d have this kind of list and why people are finding lists like these on Code Search.

When dealing with abuse/controversial content on various mediums you have several levers to deal with problems. Two prominent levers are “Proactive” and “Reactive”:

  • Proactive: Usually refers to some type of algorithm/scalable solution to a general problem
    • E.g.: We don’t allow straight up porn on YouTube so we create a classifier that detects porn and automatically remove or flag for review the videos the porn classifier is most certain of
  • Reactive: Usually refers to a manual fix to something that has been brought to our attention that our proactive solutions don’t/didn’t work on and something that is clearly in the realm of bad enough to warrant a quick targeted solution (determined by pages and pages of policies worked on over many years and many teams to be fair and cover necessary scope)
    • E,g.: A website that used to be a good blog had it’s domain expire and was purchased/repurposed to spam Search results with autogenerated pages full of gibberish text, scraped images, and links to boost traffic to other spammy sites. It is manually actioned for violating policy

These Organic Search policies and the consequences to violating them are public

Manually reacting to things is not very scalable, and is not an ideal solution to most problems, so the proactive lever is really the one we all like to lean on. Ideally, our classifiers/algorithm are good at providing useful and rich results to our users while ignoring things at are not useful or not relevant. But we all know, this isn’t exactly the case all the time (especially on YouTube).

From a user perspective, there are subjects that are prone to hyperbolic content, misleading information, and offensive content. Now, these words are highly subjective and no one denies that. But we can all agree generally, lines exist in many cultures about what is clearly okay vs. what is not okay. E.g. a video of a puppy playing with a toy is probably okay in almost every culture or context, even if it’s not relevant to the query. But a video of someone committing suicide and begging others to follow in his/her footsteps is probably on the other side of the line for many folks.

While my second example is technically relevant to the generic query of “suicide”, that doesn’t mean that this is a very useful or good video to promote on the top of results for that query. So imagine a classifier that says, for any queries on a particular text file, let’s pull videos using signals that we historically understand to be strong indicators of quality (I won’t go into specifics here, but those signals do exist). We’re not manually curating these results, we’re just saying “hey, be extra careful with results for this query because many times really bad stuff can appear and lead to a bad experience for most users”. Ideally the proactive lever did this for us, but in extreme cases where we need to act quickly on something that is so obviously not okay, the reactive/manual approach is sometimes necessary. And also keep in mind, that this is different for every product. The bar for changing classifiers or manual actions on span in organic search is extremely high. However, the bar for things we let our Google Assistant say out loud might be a lot lower. If I search for “Jews run the banks” – I’ll likely find anti-semitic stuff in organic search. As a Jew, I might find some of these results offensive, but they are there for people to research and view, and I understand that this is not a reflection of Google feels about this issue. But if I ask Google assistant “Why do Jews run the banks” we wouldn’t be similarly accepting if it repeated and promoted conspiracy theories that likely pop up in organic search in her smoothing voice.

Whether we agree or not, user perception of our responses, results, and answers of different products and mediums can change. And I think many people are used to the fact that organic search is a place where content should be accessible no matter how offensive it might be, however, the expectation is very different on a Google Home, a Knowledge Panel, or even YouTube.

These lines are very difficult and can be very blurry, we are all well aware of this. So we’ve got huge teams that stay cognizant of these facts when we’re crafting policies considering classifier changes, or reacting with manual actions – these decisions are not made in a vacuum, but admittedly are also not made in a highly public forum like TGIF or IndustryInfo (as you can imagine, decisions/agreement would be hard to get in such a wide list – image if all your CL’s were reviewed by every engineer across Google all the time). I hope that answers some questions and gives a better layer of transparency without going into details about our “Pepsi formula”.

Best,

Daniel

The fact that Google manually curates politically contentious search results fits in with a wider pattern of political activity on the part of the tech giant.

In 2018, Breitbart News exclusively published a leaked video from the company that showed senior management in dismay at Trump’s election victory, and pledging to use the company’s power to make his populist movement a “hiccup” in history.

Breitbart also leaked “The Good Censor,” an internal research document from Google that admits the tech giant is engaged in the censorship of its own products, partly in response to political events.

Another leak revealed that employees within the company, including Google’s current director of Trust and Safety, tried to kick Breitbart News off Google’s market-dominating online ad platforms.

Yet another showed Google engaged in targeted turnout operations aimed to boost voter participation in pro-Democrat demographics in “key states” ahead of the 2016 election. The effort was dubbed a “silent donation” by a top Google employee.

Evidence for Google’s partisan activities is now overwhelming. President Trump has previously warned Google, as well as other Silicon Valley giants, not to engage in censorship or partisan activities. Google continues to defy him.

Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. You can follow him on TwitterGab.ai and add him on Facebook. Email tips and suggestions to [email protected].

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