Conspiracy theorist ordered to pay $875,000 for online posts about Nationals MP Anne Webster

Federal MP Anne Webster, her husband, and the not-for-profit organisation they founded to support young mothers, have been awarded a total of $875,000 in defamation payouts over a series of “vile” and “unjustifiable” online posts made to Facebook earlier this year.

Dr Webster, the Nationals member for the regional Victorian seat of Mallee, sued online conspiracy theorist Karen Brewer in the Federal Court over a series of posts and videos published on the social media site across a two-week period in April and May.

In her judgement today, Justice Jacqueline Gleeson found the posts claiming that the Websters and Zoe Support were “participants in a secretive criminal network involved in child sexual abuse” were false and untrue.

She said the defamatory publications “spread along the grapevine into the Mildura community” — where Dr Webster’s husband, Phillip, is a GP — via her Facebook page and its several thousand followers.

While the judge found reasonable people would dismiss Ms Brewer’s rants as “deranged and lacking in credibility”, she accepted that “suggestible members of the Mildura community may have considered them credible”.

Justice Gleeson, who said the Websters had “suffered intensely”, awarded Dr Webster aggravated damages of $350,000, her husband damages of $225,000 and Zoe Support damages of $300,000.

Taking a stand

Speaking after today’s judgment was handed down, Dr Webster said she was interested in exploring legislative changes that could lead to publishers, such as Facebook, being made more accountable for material published online.

“I wasn’t so aware of the whole conspiracy theory at the time — for me, it was an issue of justice and it was to make a stand.”

Dr Webster, a former social worker with a PhD in sociology, said she hoped that people who used social media to falsely attack others would realise that their actions were not only harmful but could have costly ramifications.

Claims ‘wholly indefensible’

Ms Brewer, who the court previously heard was based in New Zealand, did not file any defence to the defamation claim, made no attempt to justify her posts in court, and had not retracted her statements.

“It should have been obvious to Ms Brewer, at all relevant times and if she were capable of rational consideration on the subject, that her defamatory statements were wholly indefensible,” Justice Gleeson said.

She said Ms Brewer’s conduct — including posting another video targeting the Websters in late August — justified awarding aggravated damages against her.

Deterrent to young mothers ‘most harmful’

The court heard some of the posts were shared hundreds of times, including by one Mildura business, and that monthly referrals to Zoe Support had dropped since one of the posts in late April.

Zoe Support helps more than 150 mothers aged from 13 to 25 and their children to access education and medical appointments each week, and Justice Gleeson said any effect the untrue posts had in deterring young women from seeking support was “perhaps the most harmful aspect” of Ms Brewer’s offences.

Several witnesses, including Mildura state MP Ali Cupper, former federal Liberal MP Chris Crewther and Mildura Mayor Simon Clemence, gave evidence attesting to the Websters’ integrity.

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Navalny Posts Photo Of Him Walking, Describes Recovery

Russia’s leading opposition politician Alexei Navalny announced Saturday that he could now walk with a “tremble”, and gave the first detailed account of his recovery nearly a month after being poisoned.

The 44-year-old Kremlin critic posted a photo of himself walking downstairs on Instagram and described how earlier symptoms had included the inability to form words.

“Now I am a guy whose legs tremble when he takes the stairs,” he wrote, detailing moments of “despair” as doctors help him overcome the effects of the nerve agent Novichok.

This latest update on his progress came after posted to Instagram on Tuesday that he had spent a first day breathing unassisted.

The anti-corruption campaigner fell ill on a plane from Siberia to Moscow on August 20 and spent two days in a Russian hospital before being airlifted to Berlin’s Charite hospital.

Navalny said in his update that during the initial days of his recovery, he had needed therapy to help him recover his speech as he struggled to form words.

He was still unable to use a phone, he added, meaning friends or family probably posted the messages for him.

“Not long ago, I didn’t recognise people and couldn’t understand how to speak,” he said.

‘Now I am a guy whose legs tremble when he takes the stairs,’ wrote Navalny
 Instagram account @navalny / Handout

“How to find a word and how to make it mean something? This was all totally incomprehensible.

“I didn’t know how to express my despair either and so I was just silent.”

The nerve agent Novichok disrupts communication between the brain, the main organs and muscles, while doctors say it gradually clears from the body.

Navalny, who said that he did not remember the early stage of his recovery, thanked the “fantastic doctors” treating him at Charite hospital.

He now saw a “clear path, although not a short one” to recovery, he said.

An avid user of social media, Navalny said that he hoped soon to be “able to scroll through Instagram and add likes without thinking about it”.

Navalny’s supporters and some European leaders have said that poisoning with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, points to a state-ordered crime.

The revelations of nerve agent use have prompted calls for new sanctions against Russia and for Germany to abandon a near-completed project to carry Russian gas to Europe, Nord Stream 2.

Russia insists its medical tests did not detect any poison in Navalny’s body. It says it lacks grounds for a criminal investigation, despite international calls for a transparent probe.

Navalny’s aides said that German experts found traces of Novichok on a water bottle in his hotel room in the Siberian city of Tomsk.

Germany announced September 3 that medical tests from a military chemical weapons laboratory had found “unequivocal evidence” of the nerve agent.

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Matt Canavan’s anti-solar posts rely on his version of the truth

Former Resources Minister Matt Canavan has been spreading misinformation on social media to steer people away from solar energy, writes Giles Parkinson.

THERE MUST BE an election in the air. And it must be in the Sunshine State. Queensland LNP Senator and former Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan is on the warpath against renewables again, this time with his focus on solar. And he’s getting his facts terribly wrong.

The state of Queensland does, indeed, go to the polls at the end of next month, so it’s no coincidence that Canavan should be taking aim at solar “dole bludgers” and is banging the drum in favour of a new coal-fired generator in the north of the state.

A series of social media posts this week by the self-described “Mr Coal” reveals a loose grip on facts. On Facebook, he reposted an “important” video claiming that the Clermont Solar Farm had not been connected to the grid.

In his post, he said:

‘Renewable energy are the dole bludgers of our power system, they only turn up to work when they want to.’

Actually, solar turns up when the sun shines as designed and Clermont was actually connected to the grid in July last year. According to Green Energy Markets, it has produced more than 142,734MWh in the last 12 months, about the average annual consumption of 26,000 Queensland households. And according to the state generators and the market operator, it has helped bring the state’s power prices down.

Why did Canavan think Clermont was not connected? Case of mistaken identity perhaps? Hardly. The only other two solar farms within 50 kilometres of Clermont are the Emerald and Lilyvale solar farms and they are both connected and working fine, too.

In a separate post, Canavan was also singing the praise of the refurbished Isogo coal-fired power plant in Yokohama, Japan, which he was lucky enough to visit in March 2017.

He was one of a number of Coalition ministers and MPs taken to Isogo that year — including then Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg and backbenchers Tim Wilson and George Christensen.

In fact, several dozen parliamentarians – mostly Coalition – appear to have been taken to Isogo in recent years, with some visits kindly arranged by the Minerals Council of Australia, the coal lobby whose former CEO and deputy CEO are now advisors to the coal-waving Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Anyway, according to Canavan, Isogo burns “high quality” Australian coal and he made two claims about it that bear further investigation.

Coalition changes stance on renewable energy and is now relying on 50% target

The first was that it produced in one year more than all the solar in Australia. Nice line, but not true.

If the 1,200MW Isogo coal plant ran at full capacity for 24 hours a day and every day of the year – and no coal plant does that; many don’t even come close – then it would produce around 10,000 gigawatt hours. But all the solar installed at the end of 2019 in Australia produced more than 17,000 gigawatt hours and another four gigawatts will be added by the end of 2020.

And then there was emissions.

Canavan enthused:

The Isogo plant generates about 800 grams of carbon dioxide emissions per kilowatt hour of electricity. That is about 17% lower carbon emissions than the 1960s era plants it replaced.


The plant is so clean you can’t believe it is not renewable. How good would it be to have one of these in our backyard using Australian coal!

How good? Well, actually not that good. A 17% reduction in emissions over 50 years doesn’t sound like a major achievement. Australia has cut around that much from its electricity emissions just in the past decade by replacing crappy old coal generators with wind and solar.

And the Australian Energy market operator says that if wind and solar continue to replace Australia’s ageing coal fleet, then the emissions intensity will be reduced by 95% over the next 20 years. How good would that be?

Political change is the first step to stopping the climate crisis

You see, if you compare Isogo’s emissions intensity to the average emissions intensity of Australia’s main grid, it is no better. And that means it is actually quite possible to believe that a coal-fired generator is not renewable. You don’t even have to shut your eyes.

But there’s not much Canavan doesn’t like about coal.

In an earlier post, he took a photo from a plane and gushed:

‘Great to be back in Queensland with a beautiful view of the Gladstone coal-fired power station. Coal keeps the lights on!’

(Gladstone is Queensland’s dirtiest generator with an emissions intensity of 950 grams of Co2-e).

There’s no doubt that beauty does lie in the eye of the beholder. But not facts. Remember, this is a former cabinet minister responsible for resources and northern Australia and yet he can’t get his basic facts straight about an energy source (solar) which is a major competitive advantage for northern Australia.

But it might explain his attachment to the idea of a big coal generator in north Queensland. Beautiful one day, polluting the next.

This article by Giles Parkinson was originally published in RenewEconomy and has been republished with permission.

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Fifi Box posts heartbreaking tribute to Jaimi Kenny following her death

Broadcaster Fifi Box has shared a sweet tribute to Jaimi Kenny, saying her daughter Trixie has had her “little heart broken” by the tragedy.

“The loss of such a beautiful loving sister and friend is suffocating,” Box wrote on Instagram. “We laughed, we cried, we shared so many wonderful memories that I will keep alive for Trixie who loved her big sister so much, her little heart is broken.

“You loved Trixie with all your heart and she felt every inch of your love. With every tight squeezy cuddle your love poured into her. We were so blessed to have you in our lives. You were such a true and loyal friend, we love you so much and can’t bear the pain of you not being here.”

RELATED: Inside the ‘guarded’ lives of Curry-Kenny clan

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In a joint statement on Monday, Ms Curry and Mr Kenny revealed their beloved oldest daughter Jaimi had died in hospital that morning.

Jaimi, 33, had “lost her battle with a long-term illness and passed away peacefully in hospital this morning in the company of loving family”.

The daughter of Lisa Curry and Grant Kenny was also a half-sister to Trixie, after Grant Kenny had a brief relationship with Box and Trixie was born in April 2013.

Box confirmed Trixie’s paternity in April 2016 when she posted photos of Mr Kenny in a jumping castle with the three-year-old to celebrate her birthday.

Fifi Box took a break from her popular radio show this week after the heartbreaking news.

Speaking on their hit breakfast radio show Fifi, Fev and Byron on The Fox 101.9 Melbourne, Box’s fellow hosts Brendan Fevola and Byron Cooke briefly addressed her absence.

“Well Fi is away today but the show must go on,” Cooke said.

“We’re a team, we’re one and one, we’re going to mould into one and just nail it,” Fevola joked.

“If we’re in the Titanic, I’ve got my arms around you, I’ll carry you bro.”

RELATED: Box goes off air in wake of tragedy

Hundreds of friends and family continue to pay tribute to Jaimi following her death on Monday.

In a deeply personal tribute, brother Jett said “I may not have been the best brother to you all the time, I know you thought you weren’t being the big sister I needed all the time, but I do know we loved one another unconditionally all the time”.

And sister Morgan admitted “it still doesn’t feel real that you are not here”.

“I am grateful for you. There is no one like you. I love you so much and will forever miss you. Rest now beautiful sister. You will never be forgotten,” she added.

If you or anyone you know need help or support for an eating disorder or concerns about body image, please call Butterfly Foundation National Helpline on 1800 334 673 (ED HOPE)

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Navalny posts hospital photo of himself, plans Russia return

BERLIN — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Tuesday posted a picture of himself from his hospital bed in Germany where he’s recuperating from being poisoned with a nerve agent, wryly joking about being able to breathe on his own.

“Hi, this is Navalny,” he wrote in the Russian-language post on Instagram in the first image of the 44-year-old since he was taken to Berlin’s Charite hospital. The photo shows him being given a hug by his wife Yulia and flanked by his two children as he sits upright in his bed in a hospital gown.

“I have been missing you. I still can’t do almost anything on my own, but yesterday I managed to breathe on my own for the entire day,” he added in the post, which got over 1.1 million likes in several hours.

Separately, Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh tweeted that once he has recovered, Navalny plans to return to Russia, where he has supported opposition candidates and waged anti-corruption battles. “No other option has ever been considered,” she wrote.

Navalny fell ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20 and treated at a hospital in the city of Omsk. Two days later, he was flown to the German hospital, where he was kept in an induced coma for more than two weeks as he was treated with an antidote. On Sept. 7, doctors said his condition had improved enough for him to be brought out of the coma.

On Monday, the hospital said he had been removed from a ventilator and was able to leave his bed for “short periods of time.”

In his Instagram statement, Navalny displayed his well-known sarcastic humor when he talked about being able to breathe without a ventilator.

“Just on my own, no extra help, I didn’t even use the simplest valve in my throat,” he said. “I liked it very much. It’s a remarkable process that is underestimated by many. Strongly recommended.”

Despite his recovery, doctors have said they cannot rule out long-term health issues associated with the poisoning.

Leonid Volkov, a top associate of Navalny, refused to give any details on his condition or his possible return when reached by The Associated Press.

A German military lab has determined that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, the same class of Soviet-era agent that Britain said was used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, in 2018. On Monday, the German government said independent tests by labs in France and Sweden backed up its findings.

The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons also is taking steps to have samples from Navalny tested at its designated labs, Germany has said.

The Kremlin has bristled at calls from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders to answer questions about the poisoning, denying any official involvement.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said he had expressed “deep concern over the criminal act” that targeted Navalny directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. The Kremlin said Putin in the call “underlined the impropriety of unfounded accusations against the Russian side” and emphasized Russia’s demand for Germany to hand over analyses and samples.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Tuesday that Russia is puzzled by Germany’s refusal to share Navalny’s analyses and other medical data, or compare notes with the Russian doctors who said they found no trace of poison in his system while he was at a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk.

“Russia has been absolutely open for cooperation in determining what happened,” Peskov said. “Russia needs cooperation with the German side in getting the patient’s biological samples to be able to advance.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who canceled a scheduled trip Tuesday to Berlin, said Russian authorities have conducted a preliminary inquiry and documented the meetings Navalny had before falling ill, but he emphasized they need to see the evidence of his poisoning to launch a full criminal investigation.

Lavrov said Navalny’s life was saved by the pilots of the plane who quickly landed in Omsk after he collapsed on board and by the rapid action of doctors there. He accused the West of trying to smear Russia and use the incident as a pretext for new sanctions against Moscow.

In a phone call Tuesday with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Lavrov warned him against politicizing the situation with Navalny, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. Lavrov said Moscow would view Germany’s continued stonewalling of Russia’s request for analyses and samples as a “lack of desire to help determine the truth as part of an objective and thorough investigation.”

Berlin has rejected suggestions from Moscow that it is dragging its heels on sharing evidence. Asked why no samples from Navalny have been given to Russia, a German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Monday that “Mr. Navalny was in Russian treatment in a hospital for 48 hours.”

Sergei Naryshkin, the director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, said that studies by Russian labs found no indication Navalny was poisoned while still in Russia.

“It’s a fact that at the moment when Navalny was leaving Russia, there were no toxic agents in his body,” Naryshkin said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies. “In that context, we have many questions to ask the German side.”

He emphasized that Russia has fully met its obligations under the international chemical weapons ban and completely destroyed its chemical weapons stockpiles.

“It’s disinformation to say that Russia has production assets or old stockpiles of military nerve agents,” he said.

Most of Germany’s political parties have joined Merkel in calling for an investigation, but leaders in the far-right Alternative for Germany, known for its pro-Moscow sympathies, have said Berlin should not be involved. On Tuesday, it invited media to a discussion with a Russian lawmaker on “the Russian view of the Navalny case.”


Isachenkov reported from Moscow.

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Putin critic Alexei Navalny posts photo from his hospital bed after suspected poisoning

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has said he was able to breathe unaided in his first public comments after his alleged poisoning in Siberia last month.

“Hello, this is Navalny. I miss you all,” he said in a post on Instagram on Tuesday, appearing with his family in the Berlin hospital where he was flown for treatment after falling ill.

“I can still hardly do anything, but yesterday I could breathe all day on my own. Actually on my own.”

It was his first social media post since he was allegedly poisoned with what Germany says was a Novichok nerve agent.

Mr Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner and one of President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, fell ill on a domestic flight in August and was treated in a Siberian hospital before being evacuated to Berlin.

The alleged attack marked the latest in a long line of assassination attempts against Mr Putin’s critics.

The United Nations human rights chief has called on Russia to conduct or cooperate with a “thorough, transparent, independent and impartial investigation” into the alleged nerve agent attack.

Michelle Bachelet stressed the need to get to the bottom of the alleged poisoning, after German specialists said they had “unequivocal proof” that the weapons-grade nerve agent Novichok was used in the attack.

“It is incumbent on the Russian authorities to fully investigate who was responsible for this crime, a very serious crime that was committed on Russian soil,” she said in a statement.

The UN has called on Russia to conduct or cooperate with a “thorough, transparent, independent and impartial investigation” into the alleged attack.


Ms Bachelet stressed last week that “the number of cases of poisoning, or other forms of targeted assassination, of current or former Russian citizens, either within Russia itself or on foreign soil, over the past two decades is profoundly disturbing”.

“And the failure in many cases to hold perpetrators accountable and provide justice for the victims or their families, is also deeply regrettable and hard to explain or justify,” she said.

‘Numerous questions’

Germany said last week that toxicology tests conducted by its armed forces found “unequivocal evidence” that Mr Navalny had been poisoned with the weapons-grade nerve agent Novichok, the substance used in the 2018 attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury.

The 44-year-old’s associates say the use of Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, shows that only the Russian state could be responsible, but the Kremlin fiercely denies any involvement.

Russia had likewise rejected any link to the Skripal case, as well as the death of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with highly radioactive polonium-210 at a hotel in the British capital.

While the UN rights office said that they were not in a position to make direct accusations against Russia in the case, Ms Bachelet noted that nerve agents and radioactive isotopes such as Novichok and Polonium-210 were sophisticated substances that are very hard to get hold of.

“This raises numerous questions,” she said.

“Why use substances like these? Who is using them? How did they acquire them?”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also pointed out that prior to Mr Navalny’s alleged poisoning, he had repeatedly been harassed, arrested and assaulted either by authorities or by unknown assailants.

“Navalny was clearly someone who needed state protection, even if he was a political thorn in the side of the government,” she said.

“It is not good enough to simply deny he was poisoned, and deny the need for a thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigation into this assassination attempt.”

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Kim Kardashian posts video to prove how many toes she has amid ‘wild’ theories | Ents & Arts News

Kim Kardashian West has posted a video to prove she only has five toes on each foot.

The Keeping Up With The Kardashians star has apparently been the subject of much speculation over her supposedly mysterious “sixth toes”.

However, she resorted to releasing footage of her seemingly normal feet in an effort to dispel the rumours.

The star showed off her foot in an Instagram video. Pic: @kimkardashian

“Okay, so everyone thinks that I have six toes and it’s really wild,” the 39-year-old said in a clip on Instagram Stories, while wiggling her toes.

Counting out each of the digits – presumably in an effort to provide further clarification – Kardashian West says the sides of her feet sometimes look like extra toes in photos when she is wearing certain shoes.

“One, two, three, four, five – but it’s this part of my foot that when I wear a shoe just like this it like, smashes down right here and in a picture, I don’t know why, that looks like a sixth toe,” she said.

“I hope that answered my sixth-toe question because I only have five toes on each foot.”

It comes after the Kardashians announced earlier this week that their hit show would come to an end following its 20th season, which will air in early 2021.

Keeping Up With The Kardashians has followed the family for 14 years, making household names of its stars – sisters Kourtney, Khloe, Kylie and Kendall, as well as Kim, and their “momager” Kris Jenner and her now-ex-husband Caitlyn Jenner.

“It is with heavy hearts that we’ve made the difficult decision as a family to say goodbye to Keeping Up With The Kardashians,” Kardashian West said in a statement.

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“After what will be 14 years, 20 seasons, hundreds of episodes and numerous spin-off shows, we are beyond grateful to all of you who’ve watched us for all of these years – through the good times, the bad times, the happiness, the tears, and the many relationships and children.

“We’ll forever cherish the wonderful memories and countless people we’ve met along the way.”

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Want to avoid ‘Dictator Dan’ jibes? Don’t arrest people for Facebook posts

When police arrest a pregnant woman in her own home for a Facebook post suggesting a protest, we should be deeply worried about the erosion of our rights. Except, we’re not.

Zoe Buhler is arrested in her home (Image: Facebook)

For months now, any criticism of Daniel Andrews’ government over the Victorian outbreak and subsequent lockdown has been portrayed by progressive and Labor partisans as a kind of right-wing plot aimed at undermining a popular premier and restarting the economy at any cost.

Jibes about “Dictator Dan” and “Chairman Dan” from Victorian Liberals — who claimed Andrews was too tough before the outbreak, then attacked him as too soft after it, before reverting back to the “too tough” case now — have certainly reinforced that view.

But the #IstandwithDan crowd on social media has been strangely silent over the absurd, and scary, arrest of Ballarat mother Zoe Buhler over a Facebook post she made proposing a protest against Victoria’s lockdown.

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Expenditure rationalisation: Govt puts a pause on new govt posts and experts hiring

NEW DELHI: The government has banned creation of any new posts under all ministries and departments while restricting hiring of consultants on higher wages as part of its fresh expenditure rationalisation measures.

“In the context of the present fiscal situation and the consequent pressure on government resources there is a need for further rationalisation of non-priority expenditure, while protecting… priority expenditure,” the finance ministry said in a memorandum to ministries and departments on Friday.

As per the latest directive, creation of new posts will remain banned, except with the approval of the department of expenditure.

“This ban will cover creation of all posts under powers which have been delegated to any organisation regardless of the source of such authority or power,” it said, adding that any posts created after July 2020 and not filled yet shall not be filled unless deemed absolutely essential.

Besides, it has asked all ministries to undertake a review of individual consultants appointed and reduce their number to the minimum. The department of expenditure has also asked the ministries to ensure that the fee paid to consultants is not disproportionate to their quality and quantity of work.

It has also banned printing and publishing of books and other documents on imported paper, except where printing is done abroad by Indian Missions. It has asked ministries to discourage expenditure on functions such as Foundation Day.

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Amazon Deletes Job Posts Seeking Analysts to Track ‘Labor Organizing Threats’

Amazon removed a pair of job listings that gained considerable attention on social media on Tuesday, for descriptions the company now says were a mistake. Initially, Amazon said it was looking to hire an analyst and senior analyst to join its “Global Intelligence Program” based in Phoenix, Arizona. The hires would be responsible for, among other things, collecting information about “labor organizing threats against the company.” Amazon is not currently unionized in the US.

Screen grabs of these descriptions went viral on Twitter, where some people claimed the tech giant was “saying the quiet part out loud.” Amazon’s listings also said the intelligence assessments could be used in “court filings, up to and including restraining orders against activist groups.” The roles would include briefing higher-ups about “dynamic situations,” such as protests, that might be “sensitive” to Amazon’s human resources and employee relations teams.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Amazon said the “job post was not an accurate description of the role—it was made in error and has since been corrected.” The spokesperson didn’t specify which of the listings they were referring to, but both were later deleted. Amazon declined to answer on the record a follow-up question about which portions of the postings were incorrect.

Amazon has spent the last six months battling labor groups over the treatment of employees working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. The company also has a long history of opposing unionization efforts. In both listings, Amazon mentioned organized labor in the same sentence as hate groups, terrorism, and law enforcement. “It sends a real message to employees what [Amazon’s] positions are,” says Hugh Baran, a staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit workers’ rights group. “It’s kind of a warning shot: If you engage with this activity, we will come after you.”

Is there something you think we should know about Amazon? Email the writer at Phone: 347-966-3806. WIRED protects the confidentiality of its sources, but if you wish to conceal your identity, here are the instructions for using SecureDrop.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, private sector employees in the US have the right to form a union, and the law also provides legal protections for certain organizing activities. Were Amazon to spy on pro-union workers, that could be considered a violation, says Baran. “The NLRA is clear that employers are prohibited from interfering with workers’ labor-organizing rights,” he says. Still, there exists an entire industry of consultants and law firms that advertise services for fending off union drives. Google hired one such firm last year.

Amazon has reportedly engaged in its own anti-union tactics. In 2018, Gizmodo obtained a training video reportedly sent to leaders at the company’s Whole Foods stores that, in the video’s own words, was “specifically designed to give you the tools that you need for success when it comes to labor organizing.” In April, Business Insider reported that Amazon had created an “interactive heat map” to track Whole Foods stores that may be at risk of unionizing, based on factors like the store’s geographic proximity to a union office and the percentage of families in the area living below the poverty line. On Monday, the Open Markets Institute, an anti-monopoly think tank, released a report accusing Amazon of using worker surveillance “to create a harsh and dehumanizing working environment that produces a constant state of fear, as well as physical and mental anguish.”

Amazon has long been criticized for its treatment of warehouse workers and delivery drivers—who often work long hours for low pay—but the pandemic put the company’s practices under a brighter spotlight. As Covid-19 spread to dozens of Amazon facilities in the spring, employees in places like Detroit, New York, Minnesota, and Chicago staged small demonstrations protesting what they said was the company’s failure to protect their health. Amazon later fired several workers involved in the actions, including Christian Smalls, a former employee at a warehouse in Staten Island.

In a leaked memo, David Zapolsky, a top lawyer at Amazon, called Smalls “not very smart or articulate” and detailed how the company should undermine the labor movement by making him the center of attention. (Zapolsky later said that he let “my emotions draft my words.”) New York attorney general Letitia James called Smalls’ firing “disgraceful” and urged the National Labor Review Board to open an investigation.

“Workers, especially Black workers, have been telling us all for months that Amazon is targeting them for speaking out,” Dania Rajendra, the director of Athena, a coalition of local and national organizations critical of Amazon, said in a statement. “This job description is proof that Amazon intends to continue on this course. The public deserves to know whether Amazon will continue to fill these positions, even if they’re no longer publicly posted.”

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