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Behind the scenes: How Labour online groups reacted to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination

Sebastian Tanti Burlo

On Wednesday, Daphne Caruana Galizia’s work was recognised at the European Leadership awards in Brussels. Her son’s acceptance speech addressed the contrast between the international recognition of her work and ongoing attempts in Malta to discredit her. Here is an inside look at how secret online Labour groups celebrated her death on 16 October, 2017.

News of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination on 16 October was met with disbelief and horror around the world, but not in Labour’s online hate groups, as The Shift News reveals.

As Caruana Galizia’s assassination in a car bomb attack outside her home made international headlines, members of Facebook hate groups administered by and home to senior government and Labour Party officials met the news with calls for ‘celebration’.

Hate group member Charlene Chetcuti Garrett said, “Let’s celebrate”. User Chri Chri Zammit said, “fox id dem taha haluwa tinharaq isa [sic]” (fuck her blood [?] now let her burn).

Other Labour Party loyalists described Caruana Galizia’s assassination as an act of “karma,” a belief in redistributive justice in which a person’s life is determined by their past deeds.

Carmel Spiteri wrote, “ma tistax rip ghax saret bicciet lanqas tista titqaleb ahseb u ara carma is a bich [sic]’ (she can’t rest in peace because she’s in pieces, she can’t even be buried, karma is a bitch).

Other hate group members wrote comments to the effect of “she got what she deserved” and “what goes around comes around”.

Hate group member ‘Dia Sliema’ wrote, “[f]uck freedom of speech!…And if it’s freedom of speech we want well this is my freedom of speech!! Haqqa! [she deserved it!]”.

As the outpouring of grief elsewhere in Malta and abroad swiftly turned to anger, protest and calls for resignation, the members of the online hate groups started to get edgy.

Member ‘Silvio Seisun’ was the first to post “Niltaqu quddiem kastilja b solidarjeta mal prim ministru x tahsbu [sic]?” (shall we meet in front of Castille as a show of solidarity with the Prime Minister?).

Again, later, the same member posted: “Ghada quddiem il parlament qed jejdu wara id diskors tal prim [sic]” (They’re saying we should gather tomorrow in front of Parliament after the Prime Minister’s speech). Others joined in with ready calls for an “anti-protest” mass meeting.

In an attempt to avoid what would have been a PR disaster (and risk violent conflict), administrators and members started sharing the official message to stay home: “Messagg importanti: Rajt f’xi gruppi l-messaġġ biex illejla persuni jkunu l-Belt għad-diskors tal-Prim Ministru. Din mhix ix-xewqa tal-Partit Laburista. Għalhekk, id-diskors tal-Prim Ministru għandu jkun segwit fuq ONE, fejn wara l-Prim Ministru se jieħu sehem ukoll f’intervista. Ejja nibqghu maqghudin u nimxu fuq l-istruzzjonijiet tal-Prim Ministru”.

The message instructs members to “unite behind the Prime Minister and follow his instructions”.

Hate group administrator Mario Grech also noted that people should only comment and press ‘like’ in support of Muscat, adding that people “should not worry, our loved one [Joseph Muscat] will see them”.

Joseph Muscat

Other episodes, including the BBC Newsnight interview of the Prime Minister by John Sweeney, similarly resulted in calls for a mass meeting as a show of force. Each call was met by panicked messages from administrators to stay home, calm and just send messages of solidarity.

Muscat has been a member of various online hate groups for at least the past seven years through his personal Facebook account. Despite recent calls for him to leave and condemn the online hate groups, Muscat has failed to do so.

The President left the groups two days after The Shift News published its investigation into the hate groups’ activity. “The President has consistently and unreservedly condemned any type of bullying or threats of violence irrespective of their source and vociferously advocates that such abhorrent sentiments have no place in Maltese society,” she said in a statement.

A government spokesman refused to confirm Muscat’s membership when asked about it by The Times of Malta last week, and falsely claimed that users are added without their consent or knowledge, a claim that The Shift News has shown to be false.

Labour Party MP and communications coordinator at the Prime Minister’s Office Rosianne Cutajar has publicly defended the hate groups over the past week. Cutajar remains an active user of the groups, where self-promotional material of hers is shared and where Cutajar thanks fellow members for their ‘support’.

rosianne cutajar

The network of pro-Muscat hate groups has a long history of inciting violence against Caruana Galizia. Before her assassination, hate group members frequently shared a popular meme depicting Caruana Galizia with satanic horns on her own funeral memorial care (santi) with the text: “With great happiness we welcome the death of Daphnie [sic] Caruana Galizia, known as the witch of Bidnija…who leaves to mourn her loss no one. Oh Lord, give her that which she gave to others”.

Hate group members, whose various comments appear to breach Malta’s Data Protection Act and Article 82A of the Criminal Code, include the president of the Police Officers Union of the General Workers Union, Sandro Camilleri.

The law demands that police remain impartial, but there has been no reaction from the police commissioner on Camilleri’s membership and participation in ‘Laburisti sal-Mewt’ (Labour until Death).

Camilleri played a critical role in the news cycle that that sought to lay the blame for PC Schembri’s alleged attempted murder, not with the troubled 17-year old Liam Debono, but with anti-corruption activists critical of the government and the police commissioner who have failed to act on evidence of corruption.

Group members’ hate speech against Caruana Galizia and her surviving family continued unabated after her assassination, with members calling for a “street party” on the day of her funeral, calling her family ‘familja ta animali [sic]’ (a family of animals), loud music and celebratory drinks, calls to wear red, the Labour Party’s colour, comments like “dich d Bitch”, and more memes of witches burning at the stake and witches in caves.

The pro-Muscat hate group network is used to generate and drive hate cycles, where Labour Party and government officials share with groups photographs and personal details of government critics in a process called ‘hate baiting,’ and with incendiary language inciting group members to harass and abuse the subject of their posts.

Andrew Caruana Galizia, accepting the award on behalf of his mother in Brussels on Wednesday, told a packed room at the European Leadership awards:

“Some of the people who were responsible for my mother’s protection, and who are now responsible for securing justice for her death, are pleased that she can no longer report on their ethical breaches, condemn their corrupt practices or mock their incompetence. We know this because they are not embarrassed to say so”.

celebrating Daphne Caruana Galizia's assassination

The Shift News has also been critical of Facebook posts in PN online groups used to push support for the PN Leader and silence criticism. Yet, the Labour groups are closely linked to the government and run by staff paid by taxpayers working at the Justice and Education Ministries.

The scale and coordination of pro-Labour groups involving government officials poses a real danger to freedom of expression and the rule of law in Malta.

Image by Seb Tanti Burlo.

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