SpinProfiles was an online encyclopedia of people and groups shaping the public agenda. They worked to catalogue PR firms, activist groups, and government agencies, along with criticism of those groups. Mainly, they worked to serve as a watchdog for lobbying and public relations firms engaged in dishonest practices, and to warn the public about biased scientific studies or misinformation. The site was founded by Spinwatch in collaboration with Lobbywatch, GMWatch, Red Star Research, and Corporate Watch. Relying on user submissions in the same manner as sites like Wikipedia, the bulk of the writing was done by volunteers and independent researchers who wrote and edited articles on the site.
Spinwatch is a project of Public Interest Investigations, or PII. Founded in 2005, the organization’s website states that it supports “cutting-edge research into key social, political, environmental and health issues in the UK and Europe.” Not to be confused with a similarly-named Los Angeles-based company, the group is based in the UK and publicly displays all of its sources of funding online to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest.
What Is “Spin”?
“Spin” is a term for propaganda, generally political propaganda, created by filtering news through a viewpoint as it is delivered. In the United States, this often refers to how professional spokespeople or newscasters use specific language to “spin” the meaning of events and make them sound different than they actually are. According to Spinwatch, “The PR and lobbying industry in the UK is the second biggest in the world, worth £7.5 billion.” With SpinProfiles, they hoped to recruit a network of contributors dedicated to exposing professional PR firms and lobbyists so the public would know who was providing the funding for the information they were being given about key issues. This is particularly relevant in a political climate that involves constant accusations of media bias and the spread of “Fake news” as a major talking point.
How The Site Worked
Because SpinProfiles relied on its users, a login was required to write articles, and they had strict editorial standards. The information was checked by other users, and the site ran off donations. They touched on on many hot-button issues such as the conflict between Israel and Palestine, with a clear stance against neoconservatism. A great deal of their work was also focused on genetically modified food, and efforts to legalize its importation and use in Europe. The goal was to create transparency so that voters would know the financial benefactors of lobbying groups and their ties to UK politicians.
As some of the groups who collaborated on the initial site are no longer active or have changed the focus of their activities, the content of SpinProfiles was moved to Powerbase.info, where content has been updated to include recent issues such as the Brexit vote. Though not expressly political in nature, the site did heavily focus on the “Leave” campaign and lobbying groups working for them, such as Economists For Free Trade and the Red Tape Initiative. They also collected information on farming and fishing interests, who had a lot to gain from changes in regulation, and built a master list of all lobbyists-for-hire working on the issue. The site contains videos on issues like fracking and political influence in the United States, and is updated frequently with new articles related to its issues. You can read more about their current work and even participate yourself on their website.
Other Contributing Groups
GMWatch - Also participating in Powerbase through its portal, GMWatch seeks to provide news and editorials related to the use of genetically modified food. This includes the spread of these crops not just in the UK, but also in Europe and America. The site is updated regularly and active on social media through its Twitter account.
Lobbywatch - an off-shoot of GM Watch, Lobbywatch has worked to track deceptive PR in all forms. Specifically, they’ve logged innocuous-sounding research organizations that took clear political stances outside of their original issues. Many of these groups were created and controlled by the same individuals. The site is still available, and though it is very basic, contains a large list of think tanks and other front groups.
Red Star Research - dedicated to chronicling the Labour Party’s links to business interests and presenting information with a far left perspective, the site has since closed down.
Corporate Watch - founded in 1996, Corporate Watch is a non-profit organization dedicated to examining the social and environmental impacts of corporations and capitalism through investigations and a variety of publications.