A senior Twitter executive has been quietly working part-time for the British Army’s psychological warfare unit known for conducting disinformation campaigns on, yes, Twitter.
The bombshell revelation was right there on his LinkedIn page.
Gordon MacMillan, a former journalist who oversees editorial operations for Twitter in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, openly admitted on his LinkedIn page that he is “a reserve officer in the British Army serving in 77th Brigade, which specialized in nonlethal engagement.” MacMillan further describes the brigade as the army’s psychological and social media unit. He's been with the unit since at least 2016.
But all references to the 77th Brigade and the British Army were deleted from his profile on Monday morning.
When the 77th Brigade was formed in 2015, the Ministry of Defense announced it would comprise around 1,500 members, including regular soldiers and reservists.
The army’s website describes the unit as “an agent of change” that aims to “challenge the difficulties of modern warfare using non-lethal engagement and legitimate non-military levers as a means to adapt behaviors of the opposing forces and adversaries.”
It uses Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, as well as podcasts, data analysis and audience research, to achieve these aims. General Nick Carter described the unit’s operations more succinctly as “information warfare” adding that it gives the British Army “the capability to compete in the war of narratives at the tactical level.”
It’s not known what MacMillan’s role was in the 77th Brigade.
“We actively encourage all our employees to pursue external interests,” a Twitter spokesperson told VICE News, but the company would not say whether it was aware of MacMillan’s role. The company also disputed the claim MacMillan was working “part-time” with the 77th Brigade, though it would not say how often he volunteered with the Army.
MacMillan and the Ministry of Defense did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The stunning revelation about MacMillan, first reported by Middle East Eye, raises serious questions about the independence of Twitter’s goal of uncovering disinformation campaigns being conducted by governments around the world.
For all the plaudits Twitter has received for identifying and taking down coordinated disinformation campaigns in countries like China, Ecuador, UAE, and Spain in recent months, journalists and researchers had raised questions about why Twitter — which claims “transparency is part of our DNA” — has never unmasked campaigns from Five Eyes countries like the U.S. and the U.K.
“Disinformation campaigns from nation-states destroy the integrity of social media sites like Twitter,” Mustafa al Bassam, a security researcher, told VICE News. “If Twitter is only tackling disinfo campaigns of enemies of the U.K. and U.S. governments, but not the U.K. and U.S. governments themselves, then their work basically serves as a tool to these governments, rather than actually improving Twitter for everyone.”
Cover: 23 April 2019, Berlin: ILLUSTRATION - The logo of the social medium Twitter can be seen on the display of a smartphone. Photo by Monika Skolimowska/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images