Last week, using the hashtag #CupOfShame, Avaaz launched a campaign aimed at governments and players around the world to boycott the World Cup in Russia, unless it immediately halts its anti-terrorism campaign in Syria.
Accusing the Syrian president of the "extermination of his own people," the group's petition claims that Russian support is the "one reason why Assad's been able to continue with this destruction." Arguing that the World Cup may be the only thing Moscow cares about more than Syria, Avaaz urges users to join its pressure campaign. As of this writing, close to 790,000 people have already signed.
Commenting on the campaign, Sputnik Mundo journalist David Armas Paz wrote that it was "curious that a group calling themselves 'citizens from around the world' has its headquarters in the US, which, following its defeat in a game with Trinidad & Tobago, didn't qualify for this year's World Cup. The absence of its team and, subsequently of American fans, seems to have left them free to call on the global community to share in their absence."
But more seriously, and possible sour grapes aside, the journalist noted that it was worth investigating the kinds of manipulation used by Avaaz and whose interests the group truly represents.
Avaaz, meaning 'voice' in several languages, describes itself as a movement with a "simple democratic mission" aimed at "organiz[ing] citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want." Making use of new information technology and social media, the group's initiatives include ostensibly noble causes, including protection of the environment, the fight against poverty and the defense of human rights.
However, not all the group's efforts have proved so noble; in 2011, for example, at the start of the Libyan civil war, the group campaigned in favor of a NATO no-fly zone over the country, encouraging the citizens of Western countries to support alliance intervention. In the end, NATO intervened, overthrew Libya's government and turned the country into a collection of militia-controlled statelets serving as a source of instability and of hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants to southern Europe.
Another not-so-humane campaign included a 2016 effort to collect donations for the White Helmets, a group characterized by independent journalist Vanessa Beeley as 'al-Qaeda Civil Defense' in Syria for its documented ties with Islamist militants, and its propensity to create fake footage of government crimes.
Syria’s White Helmets pull people from the rubble and carry them to safety. Donate to help them save lives: https://t.co/o9jQgjQj7A— Avaaz (@Avaaz) December 16, 2016
Commenting on the phenomenon represented by groups like Avaaz, Paz explains that "in an era of 'post-truth' and media wars, the techniques of mass manipulation take on a level never before seen. It's no longer just about fake news or tendentious Hollywood films designed to create a specific image of the 'good guy', who can be forgiven anything, and 'the bad guy', who must be punished at every turn. Now, this game has been joined by NGOs like Avaaz, whose self-declared purpose is to 'fight for everything good against everything bad', but always in a very selective way."
The journalist noted, for example, that among Avaaz's array of projects, one will not find a campaign to condemn events like the US bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, or a campaign to stop torture at the Guantanamo Bay naval base.
Furthermore, some causes, including the latest anti-Russian/anti-Syrian #CupOfShame campaign, are simple cases of manipulation, Paz pointed out.
"In four paragraphs of text, Avaaz makes use of a stream of allegations and claims which are easy to dismantle, at least for a critical and well-informed mind." Instead, seeking to evoke human empathy, the NGO makes use of the suffering of children, which everyone universally agrees has no place in the world.
Avaaz openly accuses Russia of "dropping bombs on children," and charges the Syrian government with "surgical" crimes against its people. Meanwhile, the group remains silent about the 'peaceful armed rebels' holding these same civilians hostage and using them as human shields. Nor does it mention the Syrian and Russian-led distribution of aid to the civilian population, the provision of medical care, or the humanitarian corridors created to allow people to flee the fighting.
With these facts in mind, it becomes clear that Avaaz's primary goal is to push people into thinking through emotions, rather than using arguments and evidence. And this all leads to questions: Who is behind this campaign and, more importantly, whose interests they are promoting?
Man Behind the Curtain
According to its About Us and FAQ pages, Avaaz was launched in 2007. The site was co-founded by Res Publica, a global lobbying group based in New York, and MoveOn.org, a US-based policy advocacy group and political action committee.
MoveOn.org is open about its links to the Democratic Party, and was created in 1998 to defend then-President Bill Clinton during the effort to impeach him. That group's key figures included former Congressman Tom Perriello, who went on to become one of Avaaz's cofounders. Like openDemocracy, Perriello and MoveOn.org have also received money from Soros' foundations.
Leaked internal Open Society Foundations documents published in 2016 have shed light on the true objectives of Soros' 'investments' – including the formation of global public opinion favorable to the US and unfavorable attitudes towards its adversaries, along with interference in political processes around the globe.
With these facts in mind, Paz stressed that knowingly or unknowingly, Avaaz's supporters and contributors are just another instrument in this game — a tool for transforming genuine and honest human impulses for positive change in the world and channeling them in favor of the interests of the powers that be.