As government, State and Labour Party officials come under pressure to condemn and dissociate themselves from Labour hate groups on Facebook exposed by The Shift News on Monday, officials are falsely claiming ignorance of their membership of the hate groups and many remain active members.
Planning Consultant in the Office of the Prime Minister Robert Musumeci reacted to the hate group investigations by tweeting “[t]he holier than thou are making a fuss out of the @facebook groups where users are roped in without prior knowledge. Very rich coming from the same ppl who used to post anonymous online venom for while [sic] 10 years!”.
The Shift News showed Musumeci tripled his ODZ success rate since being appointed by the Prime Minister in May 2013.
Musumeci, who is Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera’s partner (and she is the sister of Environment Minister Jose Herrera), is tagged repeatedly by various group members, which would send notifications to his personal Facebook account, and also shares his own posts from his personal account directly to the hate groups.
Musumeci’s tweet is ‘liked’ by another consultant in the Prime Minister’s Office, Neville Gafa, who was reported to the Malta Police Force for stalking Daphne Caruana Galizia a few hours before her 16 October assassination. Gafa is an intensive user of the hate groups, continuously sharing his own posts from his personal account directly into the hate groups.
Responding to questions from The Times of Malta on Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s membership of the online hate groups, a spokesman repeated Musumeci’s defence, saying that Facebook profiles could be added to groups without the user being made aware. The Prime Minister avoided the question by the press of whether he was still a member – a question then answered by The Shift News.
The OPM line of defence is false; particularly with secret or closed groups like the ones in question, the user needs to be invited by someone who is both a member of the group and friends with the user and, in addition, an administrator needs to approve the invitation.
Once accepted, the user would be notified that their invitation has been accepted and added to the group. As many of the people involved actively engage including sharing posts into these groups and are repeatedly tagged in posts this “defence” becomes moot.
The Prime Minister and his chief of staff Keith Schembri were still members of the hate groups on Monday, a week after The Shift News published its six-month investigation that revealed secret and closed groups totalling some 60,000 members that are a breeding ground for hate speech and the targeting of citizens, journalists, political opponents and the family of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. The Shift News gained access to the secret groups with the help of whistleblowers.
While the President left the hate groups two days after The Shift News published its investigation, claiming she was “surprised” to discover her membership of these groups, her hate group membership has been publicly known for eight years. Caruana Galizia had written two posts on the President’s membership – one in March 2010 and another in May 2017.
Senior government officials, including finance minister Edward Scicluna, are still actively using the hate groups to promote themselves. Scicluna, who reacted to Pilatus Bank Chairman and CEO Ali Sadr Hasheminejad’s US arrest by saying “U ejja, come on. You’re going to ask these questions so early in the morning?”, has a long history of posting self-promotional material across the hate groups in what can be described as spamming.
Labour Party MP and communications coordinator in the Prime Minister’s Office Rosianne Cutajar reacted to The Shift News’ investigation in parliament last week in a lengthy speech that defended the groups while laying the blame for hate speech in these groups with Caruana Galizia.
Cutajar’s speech was shared in the hate group Laburisit sal-Mewt (Labour until Death), receiving comments of praise and of thanks from Cutajar herself.
Hate group administrator Angele Camilleri, who hate-baits group members with photographs of anti-corruption activists and who was just put on the Labour Party ticket for the local council elections, thanked Cutajar “for supporting us.in the name of my group members” and again “for supporting [our groups] in parliament”.
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 are in effect publicly funded, being run by staff at the Justice and Education ministries.
One of the largest groups is also co-administered by the Labour official page, Generazzjoni li jmiss (next generation), providing evidence of Party and State melding into one. 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.