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Hello and welcome to the Intelligence and Economist Radio, I'm your host, Jason Palmer. Every weekday, we provide a fresh perspective on the events shaping your world. For decades, a debate has raged about returning cultural artifacts to the lands they were plundered from a generation steeped in that debate has risen through the ranks of museums and now its curators themselves leading the push for restitution. And President Donald Trump often claims that social media platforms suppress conservative voices, so our data team probed Twitter's algorithm by cloning Mr.
Trump's account for him anyway. Far from quieting the right, Twitter makes it louder.
First up, though. Even Mexico's president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, commonly known as Amla, swept to power in 2018, promising not just to reduce but to wipe out corruption or simply could not keep your party costs.
Normanby. No, no, not at all.
The left wing populist had surfed a wave of anger against the government of his predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto, commonly accused of being the most corrupt administration in the country's history. But Emilio Lozoya, one of the targets of the subsequent graft investigation, was extradited from Spain in July. Last week, he flip the script, making his own allegations of corruption. His testimony in a leaked deposition has rocked Mexico, accusing dozens of politicians, including former President Pena, of bribery involving millions of dollars.
The kinds of allegations that Mr. Pena has denied in the past.
In terms of the people accused here, we are talking about the biggest corruption scandal in Mexican history. And the man who has set this scandal in motion is Emilio Lozoya.
Richard Enzler is our Mexico City bureau chief.
Emilio Lozoya was on the team of Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico's previous president, during his 2012 election campaign. He then went on to become the boss of Pemex, Mexico's state owned oil company. And rumors of long swirled that Mr. Lozoya was involved in acts of bribery during the campaign and a warrant for his arrest was issued last year.
And instead, they go to the telecom committee. Emilio Aleksi, later they've been let go company.
But it was only in July of this year that he returned to Mexico from Spain to face Mexican authorities. And when he did so, he did something extremely dramatic rather than just pleading guilty or not guilty to what he was accused of. He turned around and asked for whistleblower protection in exchange for implicating dozens of members of Mexico's political class. So what exactly is he alleging now? So he claims to have received four million dollars in bribery money from Odebrecht, which is a Brazilian construction firm accused of bribing pretty much every single government in Latin America in recent years.
He also claims to have been involved in the bribing of Mexican senators to ensure the passage of energy reforms that Mr. Pena was proposing. And he claims that the architects of all of this bribery was the Mexican president, Mr. Pena, as well as Luis V. Decry the finance minister at the time. According to Mr. Latoya's version of events, his reward for this was promotion to a job in charge of Pemex, where he there saw and conducted even more corruption.
Still, of course, virtually all of those accused by Mr. Lozoya, including Mr. Victor. I vehemently deny these accusations and indeed, many are threatening to sue Mr. Lesya.
And so what's been the reaction when he's come back and made these extraordinary claims? These claims really have stunned Mexican society. They are extremely salacious and they would be extremely embarrassing for the two main opposition parties in Mexico if they are proven to be true. And it set off an entire round of wrangling over which parts of the of the deposition of Mr. Lozoya are credible, which ones look like they might be fabricated. And of course, the fact that this deposition was leaked from the attorney general's office has led to accusations that this trial, which needs to be very serious, is in the process of being politicized.
So you say that there are questions around the credibility. Here are the reasons to doubt what he's saying?
Well, Mr. Latoya's critics say that he is saying what he needs to say in order to escape jail time and in order to spare his family jail time. He has spent years denying these accusations and accusing other people of leveling allegations against him in exchange for reduced sentences. So the critics see him doing what he criticized others for doing. And, of course, there are many who say that it's all a little bit too neat. We are talking about pretty much a laundry list of Mr.
Lopez Obrador fiercest political opponents over the years in Mexico. Some people have already concluded that Mr. Lozoya is writing a kind of corruption fanfiction to satisfy the president.
And so under all of these shadows of doubt, then how is the investigation going to proceed? Well, Jason, this is the part where we really don't know what happens next. We can all agree that Mexicans deserve a very thorough probe into these allegations to get to the bottom of whether or not they are true. The problem is that the attorney general's office does not have an excellent track record of delivering these kinds of investigations. And therefore, there's a very big chance that.
What is potentially the biggest corruption scandal in Mexican history is not met with a commensurately serious investigation, of course, some people take the very fact that this deposition was leaked to the press as a sign that we are already in a place where the law has ended and politics and theater has begun. But but Amila campaigned on an anti-corruption message. Surely this is his moment to to to to take the reins and make sure that the justices seem to be done.
Well, you would think so. But this is sometimes a lot harder to do than it looks, because prosecuting corruption in Mexico is fraught with danger, because in a society where corruption is so pervasive, you can never be sure what's going to happen when you start following the guilty and seeing what they have to tell you. And the idea that your side will emerge from this unscathed is a fallacy very often. And as if this past week hasn't been dramatic enough, we received a taste of what that unpredictability looked like the day after these allegations came to surface.
But one local media outlet published a series of videos of Mr. Lopez Obrador, his brother, taking money from a political operative in Chiapas, hundreds of thousands of pesos, each time seemingly for use in the 2015 congressional campaigns by Mr. Lopez Obrador more than a party.
So the video seems to suggest the illegal use of campaign funds not being declared, not being transferred and transported in a recorded way, and tarnishing the anti-corruption bona fides of this populist movement that currently is in charge of Mexico. Now, the president came out and said this money is different because it's from the people.
So I'm not protectionist, but fatalities and monumental and momentous. Engin like in the capital of.
Yeah, that claim may be difficult to verify. It may be impossible to verify. But one thing that it certainly is, is an example of how fraught the dangers can be when you start going really deep into corruption allegations in a country like Mexico. In some sense, you're suggesting that getting to the bottom of this might not actually be in America's interest.
Well, Almelo, who was a mastermind political tactician, has already received much of what he wants through the airing of these allegations. He has discredited and delegitimized his political opponents in the run up to congressional election campaigns for next year. He has reinforced his populist narrative that his opponents are engaged in illegitimate scheming against him. And he achieves most of this without actually securing any kind of justice or deterrence against corruption in the future or a system to uphold the rule of law.
So you can see why there are so many pessimists in Mexico right now saying that at a time when we should be getting to the truth of a very important and possibly very corrupt moment in Mexico's history, instead we are all going to be served up a dose of political theater.
Richard, thank you very much for joining us. Thanks, Jason. In June, the activist Mazola Dearborn's joined four friends for a visit to Paris's music hall, but they were not there to see the museum's stash of more than 70000 African artifacts, but rather to restitute them of grabbing a funerary statue, Mr. Dearborn's said he'd come to recover the goods that were stolen from Africa as a souvenir.
The activists were arrested and charged with theft. They're awaiting trial. And though restitution has been debated for decades, people are taking increasingly direct action to get objects back to where they were made. Some of those people are museum curators who are leading the charge to get items out of their collections.
Ever since the 1970s, museums have come under increasing pressure to return objects that were seized illegally or seized violently or just simply taken without permission for the matter.
Rocco, as the economist culture correspondent, the museum's reaction has been very slow.
They're very conservative organizations. They are, after all, in the business of conservation. Calls for this have always come from the countries where these objects were made, Australia, Greece, Africa. What we're seeing now is a new generation of curators who are advocates, activists, and the calls for restitution are coming from the inside, from this small group of curators who are coming towards the top of their institutions. What is it that's driving that change then?
Why are curators having this evident change of heart?
So the real game changer was a report that President Emmanuel Macron of France commissioned at the end of 2017. For the first time, you had academics and curators calling for real change. They described it as a change in relational ethics by which they meant there should be a much, much more egalitarian discussion between the countries that objects came from and the countries where these objects have ended up.
And so where do these activist curators fit into the story?
So this is a generation of curators who really started working in the early 2000s when the trend of world museums was at its height. These were the places where you could compare cultures from all over the world where you could see objects that have universal connections. But within the argument in favor of world museums was a selfish attitude. What one museum director described to me as what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine. This new generation of of curators who are now in their late 40s and early 50s and are coming to the top of their institutions, have also been driven by what they've seen over the last five years.
The Rhodes must fall movement in South Africa and in Oxford, and of course, Black Lives Matter.
And so what kinds of things are these curators actually doing?
Well, one of the people is Dan Hicks, the professor of world archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. And there are about 500000 objects in the rivers. And he has been looking in great detail about where they come from. There's a big collection of Benin bronzes that sculptures that were made over five or six hundred years in West Africa by the late the king of Benin, who's known as the ŌBA, oversaw an empire that sold slaves and ivory and ebony in exchange for metal coinage, blades, guns, weaponry.
Britain really wanted to seize control of this trade. And in 1897, a small party approaching the Benin capital was attacked and seven British delegates were killed. Now the story is that the military skirmish that followed was done in response to this. But Hick's shows it happened so quickly. And what is done is that he's used his archaeological tools to dig down through the primary sources and give us a sense of what really happened. It could only have been planned in advance.
They raised the palace and the city, but not before they had packed up 5000 objects. And they're now spread over more than 160 institutions, including the British Museum in London, which has the largest collection with about 900 pieces.
And as for activist curators like Dr. Hicks and the unhappy histories that they're there pinpointing. Are they finding much resistance within the museums, these traditionally conservative institutions? So the response varies from institution to institution. Petrobas is quite far advanced and they've been very important in pushing Oxford University to formulate a whole series of responses to what might happen if they get calls for restitution. The British Museum is taking quite a different tack. Their collections are inalienable, which means that they can't be given back.
They can't be restituted. So the B.M. has taken the view that they would like to have a much broader, much warmer sort of relationship with the authorities in Benin City that centres around making long term loans.
But they are not going to restitute and given that kind of mixed bag of responses, how do you see this this activism push progressing?
Well, I think there's going to be progress on two fronts. I think in Europe and in America, we're going to see hearts and minds changing as a whole generation of young people for whom colonial violence is simply unacceptable. And they cannot see any reason why objects that were taken violently or illegally can be kept in Western museums. They're going to be a number of programs to help push this forward. George Soros Open Society Foundations, for example, has pledged 15 million dollars to help African organisations reclaim artifacts.
Dr. Hicks is getting a million dollars to establish a museum network called Action for Restitution to Africa. He's working with curators in Egypt, in Ghana and in South Africa. And I think we're going to be seeing more of that kind of thing. The other place where there's definitely going to be change is on the ground in Africa. If you take Nigeria, for example, in Benin City, where the bronze is originally was seized, there are plans for a new museum, hasn't started yet, but it will be built at some point in the next five to 10 years.
And that kind of centre is going to be the sort of place where the Benin bronzes can be sent back to the relationship between the people who look after African heritage there in Western museums or in Africa. Museums has to change. There has to be much closer dialogue with the attitude that what's mine is mine and I'm going to keep it. What's yours is mine, and I'm also going to keep it. That's not going to work anymore. Peter, thank you very much for joining us.
Thank you, Jason. It was a pleasure. For more analysis like this, from arts and culture to virus science to the forces shaping global politics, subscribe to The Economist. Find the best introductory offer wherever you are at economist dotcom slash intelligence offer. President Donald Trump has long accused social media platforms of trying to silence conservative voices. But is that really happening at this point?
Every social media network uses an algorithm to feed content to users. And if an algorithm that serves all these users content has certain biases, that could be very powerful. Sanders that is a data journalist at The Economist. Now, there is this claim that Twitter silences conservative voices, that these algorithms favor left content. Now, I wanted to figure out if that was true. So what I did was I made a clone of Donald Trump's Twitter account and then I had that clone just tweet, whatever he tweeted.
And then I saw what the algorithm served, the clone.
So tell me more about the clone. How exactly did this clone, Trump's Twitter account work?
So what I did was to create a new account. I then uploaded Donald Trump's Twitter profile picture, had the same bio, and then followed all the people that he follows. What I then did was that I just sent out a bunch of his old tweets in order. That was a way for me to make the algorithm learn what kind of user this was. And then from September to December last year, every 10 minutes, a program that I created that the following, it first checked if Donald Trump had tweeted something and then if it did, three things happened.
First, the clone tweeted the same thing. Second, I checked the Clones Twitter feed and recorded the first twenty four tweets that was there. So those would be the tweets served by the algorithm to this Trump clone. I also recorded the twenty four most recent tweets by the people that Trump follows. So this would be the content that he would have seen if there was no algorithm.
The idea here is essentially to see what Donald Trump would see has presumably seen, thanks to the algorithm and what he would have gotten had he only been given what came in in order in time based on the people that he follows. Yes, that is correct. And so what differences did you see between the sort of straight chronological and the algorithmically delivered?
Well, so first I found that the content was very different. About half of the tweets that the Trump clone was served were actually from people that Trump doesn't even follow. So this was content that the algorithm somehow had tracked down and thought that this Trump clone would find relevant. Secondly, I found, contrary to what many have claimed over the past few years, that it did not look like conservative views or you could say views on the right were being suppressed.
On the contrary, I found a ton of right wing content. Another thing that I found was that the current the tweets were way more emotive terms associated with anger or with fear or surprise. They were all present at much higher rates in these tweets. So it seems like the algorithm has figured out that we humans respond to emotional content and that is what it decides to show at a greater rate than what you would get without an algorithm.
And what in turn does that tell you about Twitter's claims to be suppressing extreme content to to limit misinformation and so on?
It might have smart ways to filter out extreme content or fake news, but in reality, the net effect. So the comparison between a chronological feed where there's no algorithm and the algorithmic feed shows that the algorithmic feed has way more fake news and extreme content. So just to give one example, there are these researchers who have classified websites as being fake news, and we found links to these websites to be present at twice the rate and the curated feed compared to just a straight up chronological feed.
So it seems like Twitter might be trying to limit fake news in smart ways, but it is also boosting these fake news through the algorithm and the boosting way outweighs whatever they do is to try to limit the spread of misinformation. Thanks very much for your time, Sandra. Thank you for having me. Jason. That's all for this episode of the intelligence, if you like us, give us a rating on our podcast and see you back here tomorrow.