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Under The Radar – 25 February


This week we discuss:

  1. Platform preaching Trump’s Truth

  2. Democratic backsliding in Mali

  3. Genderwashing

Platform preaching Trump’s Truth

What happened? Truth Social, Donald Trump’s social media platform (that bears a curious resemblance to Twitter), is now available on Apple’s App Store. The launch of the app raises questions around free speech, political power, and big tech.

What does it mean?

The launch of Truth Social marks Trump’s return to social media after he was removed from most sites following the Capitol insurrection. The former President is aiming to attract both his personal followers and a wider audience of people who feel that their views are being suppressed by Silicon Valley.

Aside from its rocky launch – with users still unable to register – there are several other issues with the app, including the origin of its funding. Despite plans to list in New York, how Truth Social is currently funding its growth remains unclear.

More importantly, the launch of the platform will likely reignite debates surrounding free speech and the authority that tech firms have when it comes to censoring certain content. There have been other apps, such as Rumble, Gettr or Parler that have positioned themselves as censorship free – but they have frequently been removed from and reinstated to Apple’s app store due to failure to deal with dangerous hate speech.

Unlike the backers behind those apps, Trump wields significant political power. Ahead of another potential run for The White House, where he will continue to attack the credibility of America’s democratic process and its institutions, Silicon Valley should be wary of giving Trump any cheap ammo by interfering with Truth Social.

Besides, like most of Trump’s businesses, it will likely be another shoddy half-baked project that joins ‘Trump Steaks’ and ‘Trump University’ on the scrap heap.

Democratic backsliding in Mali

What happened?

The Mali parliament has approved a five-year democratic transition plan despite promises to hold an election this month. 

What does it mean?

The Mali military-dominated parliament has approved a delay to national elections, originally promised in February 2022, citing security concerns. The legislation was passed by 120 votes out of 121.

The news follows the withdrawal of French troops from the region earlier this month. Since 2013, French troops have been engaged in a counter-terrorism operation against al-Qaeda and Islamic State insurgents who control vast swathes of the country. Despite the French and UN presence, thousands of lives have been claimed by the violence and two million have been displaced.

The final straw for the French appeared to be the Mali government’s association with the Wagner group, a Russian private army with links to the Kremlin. The French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian claimed that the involvement of around 1000 members of the Wagner group in Mali was “incompatible” with a French presence. Germany has since said that they too are “sceptical” about allowing its contingent of 1500 to remain in the area.

The French withdrawal and wider European reluctance in the face of Russian aggression is poignant when set against the backdrop of escalating tensions in Europe, where Russian expansionism has been met with half-hearted sanctions from Western states.

Perhaps if Western states had been more committed to the defence of democracy and independence in Mali, then Putin may have been less willing to test these principles in Ukraine. It is imperative that Western states do not forget their responsibilities to ex-colonies and resist Russian aggression in all forms.

Genderwashing

What happened?  The Government has launched a new plan to tackle the distinct lack of women in top executive positions, hoping to see listed companies have at least one woman in a senior board position by 2025.

What does it mean?

As things currently stand, 39% of all board positions at blue-chip companies are held by women, a significant improvement from just 12.5% a decade ago. This figure, however, doesn’t necessarily show the full picture.

Despite nearly 4 in 10 of UK FTSE 100 board positions being held by women, over 45% of these roles are in non-executive positions, such as human resources. Out of the 414 women who held board roles, 385 of these were in non-executive positions, and just 29 women held executive director positions at the UK’s biggest firms last year.

There remains an unmistakable lack of women in top executive board positions; latest figures show that there are 164 companies across the FTSE 350 that do not have a woman in any top four roles – equivalent to 46.9% of all listed UK businesses.

In light of this, the government is pushing a new campaign to boost gender diversity at the top of British businesses without calling for mandatory quotas. The FTSE Women Leaders Review has set a voluntary goal for companies to have at least one woman in one of four key leadership positions: board chair, senior independent director, chief executive, and finance director, by 2025.

Whilst not an overly ambitious target, given that 72 FTSE 350 companies are still falling short of the existing target for women to fill 33% of board positions, there are questions being asked as to whether such ‘voluntary’ targets will go far enough in addressing the gaping inequality that still exists in the boardroom.

This Week’s Must Reads

  1. “Labour’s fight to capitalise on Boris Johnson’s scandals” by Jim Pickard et al for The Financial Times

  2. “Putin puts China in a bind” by Stuart Law for Politico

  3. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changes everything” by Jeremy Cliffe for The New Statesman

  4. “Sunak sets out his stall as the heir to Thatcher” by Iain Martin for The Times

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