Google Targets Conservative Sites In Latest Crackdown

250px-googleGoogle has moved against another set of conservative sites. While many have celebrated the action against ZeroHedge and The Federalist, I remain deeply concerned over the free speech implications of such actions. I have written for years about public and private censorship, including recent actions to regulate and control speech on the Internet. Democratic leaders have been calling for censorship on the Internet and in social media for years, a move that will destroy the greatest forum for free speech in the history of the world.  Writers have joined in this movement and two such academics recently declared “China was right” all along about censorship.

As will come as no surprise to many on this blog, I view this latest action as another form of private censorship that targets conservative sites while ignoring similar rhetoric from the left.  I am not very complex when it comes to such conflicts over free speech.  I am not as much concerned with the merits of these fights as the implication of targeting some sites over others.  I know very little about ZeroHedge while I am familiar with some of the writers on The Federalist. Google has said comparatively little about the reason for barring the sites and what NBC originally reported has been contradicted by the company. However, it is the explanation given for the action taken against the Federalist that I wanted to address.  It seems to follow the pattern of politically biased, content-based discrimination against conservative sites by companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google.  Despite the clear bias shown in these actions, most academics are either applauding the crackdown or remaining conspicuously silent as companies silence those with opposing or unpopular views.

NBC News reported yesterday that ZeroHedge and The Federalist were banned from generating revenue through Google Ads. This demonetization of sites is a favorite tool for critics to shutdown writers or sites with opposing views.  Google holds a virtual monopoly on such ad revenue (by some estimates over 70 percent of such revenue). Many groups recognized years ago that they could achieve a form of private censorship by getting Google, Twitter, and other companies to effectively cut off the ability of readers to see opposing views.  For those of us who are part of the dinosaur class on free speech, the solution to bad speech should be more and better speech — rather than preventing others from hearing or reading opposing views.

The NBC reporter Adele-Momoko Fraser broke the story which ncorrectly stated that both sites were demonetized.  The Federalist was not demonetized but warning that it might be demonetized unless it changed its site to meet Google’s demands. In fairness to Fraser, some have claimed that she got the story wrong. However, NBC has quoted a Google spokesperson as saying “When a page or site violates our policies, we take action. In this case, we’ve removed both sites’ ability to monetize with Google.” Google later clarified that it was forcing The Federalist to meet its demands.

In her reporting, Fraser characterized both sites a “far right.”  Again, I am not that familiar with the sites but “far right” or “alt right” has become a ubiquitous label for sites that liberals or Democrats despise.  There are virtually no comparable references to “far left” or “alt left” sites that routinely run conspiracy theories about Republicans or raw hateful statements against conservative figures like the Daily Kos and other sites.

Here is what Google noted about the Federalist action.

The Federalist published an article claiming the media had been lying about looting and violence during the protests, which were both included in the report sent to Google.

This is a common view held by both conservative politicians and writers today.  Indeed, it often seems that you have to turn to Fox to check on the rioting and turn to CNN to check on the protesting.  While one side claims that the rioting is being ignored, the other is claiming that it is being overblown.

This is a legitimate debate over the focus and bias of coverage. For example, Craig Melvin, an MSNBC host and co-anchor of “Today,” tweeted a “guide” that the images “on the ground” are not to be described as rioting but rather “protests.”  That and other reporting led too many questioning the disconnect in reporting on peaceful protests with the scenes of burning buildings in the background and the report of hundreds of officers injured during the protests.

Then however a new reason for the threat came from Google which objected to its comment section.  As we have discussed previously, many sites have eliminated their comments section because of trolls, paid or bot comments, or offensive speech.  As one of the larger sites committed to free speech issues, we have resisted this trend to be open a forum for people to express themselves.  We have tried to respond to complaints about offensive speech and in relatively few cases we have barred those who engage in such commentary.  Because I have teaching and litigation duties,  I have to rely on people raising racist or offensive content.  However, comment section allow people to express their views and, while I often disagree with comments, I have tried not to censor them. Indeed, I routinely leave comments that insult me or say things that are demonstrably untrue about my past writings or testimony.  The reason is that I feel uncomfortable with the role of censoring, particularly when I am the subject of the criticism.

Google has demanded that The Federalist remove its comment section because it offended the company’s policy against “dangerous and derogatory content.” The Federalist relented and reportedly eliminated its comment section.  The result is the loss of the forum for individuals to exchange their views.  The response of Google was an unmistakable message that sites would either comply with its demands or face ruin:

“Our policies do not allow ads to run against dangerous or derogatory content, which includes comments on sites, and we offer guidance and best practices to publishers on how to comply. As the comment section has now been removed, we consider this matter resolved and no action will be taken.”

There is also a concern over the NBC reporting. It was not only incorrect on the facts of the Goggle story but Fraser appeared to erase the line between reporting and advocacy in congratulating groups which target sites on the rights and seemingly celebrating the result.

Adele-Momoko Fraser

@AMFraserNBC

NEW — from @NBC_VC. Thanks to @SFFakeNews and @CCDHate for their hard work and collaboration! https://twitter.com/NBC_VC/status/1272962743436374016 

NBC News VC

@NBC_VC

Two far-right sites, ZeroHedge and The Federalist, will no longer be able to generate revenue from any advertisements served by Google Ads.@AMFraserNBC reports.https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/google-bans-two-websites-its-ad-platform-over-protest-articles-n1231176 

The Federalist complained that NBC did little to seek their view before running the story. Fraser relied on the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a British nonprofit that targets online hate and misinformation. Conservative sites have complained that the group is primarily seeking to shutdown conservative sites by labeling them purveyors of hate, including holding them responsible of comments.

As we discussed earlier with regard to Twitter, Google seems to be making the case for not only pushing forward with anti-trust inquiries but stripping it and other companies of immunity protections. Indeed, the Justice Department just announced that it is moving forward with proposals to strip away protections.  Google and other companies were given protections under Section 320 because it has claimed to being a neutral supplier of virtual space for people to speak with one another.  It is now effectively shutting down sites because they allow others to comment freely on their sites.  This biased targeting of sites has led to congressional objections and renewed threats to amend the federal law.  Indeed, Google is undermining the support with some of us who viewed protections are fostering free speech values.  It is now using its role to stifle and regulate speech, the very antithesis of not just free speech but the federal protections.

 

182 thoughts on “Google Targets Conservative Sites In Latest Crackdown”

  1. I read Zero Hedge everyday, and have commented there some in the past. They have a really fun comment section and a lot of the comments are hilarious. I think that is why Google is after them. I think it was H.L. Mencken who said, “Puritanism is the fear that that somebody somewhere is having a good time.” Or words to that effect.

    I think that is what that is. The Zero Hedge commenters are a rowdy bunch having a good time and not giving a hoot what the bluenoses think. And the Neo-Prudes at google can’t stand it!

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. Squeeky, Welcome back from purgatory.

      I like Zerohedge because there’s so much less so called “Civilty” in the comments section.LOL

      I think I should post there from time to time.

      Ot: If I don’t respond sometimes it could be that I don’t know how to find the way back to that spot on a thread.

      1. Thank you Oky1!!! I am glad to be back. I may start commenting over at ZH again. They hated me there last time because I am an anti-Gold Bug. I just located this poem, from those days:

        Common Cents
        An Epic Poem by
        Squeeky Fromm, Girl Reporter

        Poor Melvin was in Georgia
        Where on business he’d been sent.
        His wallet had been stolen,
        Lord, he didn’t have a cent.

        But Melvin was a Gold Bug,
        And he had a Krugerrand,
        Tucked inside his loafers
        ‘Cause he liked it close at hand.

        Off to the Piggly Wiggly
        Melvin walked without a care.
        After all, he had some gold
        He’d buy some groceries there.

        Melvin filled his grocery cart.
        It came to just about
        One hundred thirty dollars,
        Melvin whipped his gold coin out.

        He took his little pocket knife
        And then shaved off a sliver.
        Just about one tenth he thought,
        And this he tried to give her.

        But Lulubelle, the checkout girl
        Was having none of that.
        And thought perhaps he’d lingered
        In the sun without a hat.

        So Melvin gave the Gold Bug speech
        About how Gold IS money.
        But Lulu Belle, she called the cops,
        Who did not think it funny.

        “Boy, are you a Communist???”
        “Or maybe just a freak???”
        “A foreign agitator???”
        Or a Yankee con man sneak???”

        Sooo, Melvin tried to tell the cops,
        About the price of Gold,
        And how his little Krugerrand
        Would pay his debt tenfold.

        Now Melvin thought his logic
        Would secure a quick release.
        Instead they hustled him to see
        The Justice of the Peace.

        “Judge, we got this fellow here,
        We don’t know what to do.
        He’s got some kind of foreign coin,
        That he done cut in two.”

        Sooo, Poor Melvin, handcuffed, gave
        His Gold Speech one more time.
        The Judge just shook his head and said,
        “In Georgia’s it’s a crime.”

        “Now theory’s nice, young man,” he said
        “But law is not your sayso,
        If it was, the Mexicans
        Could pay here with a peso.”

        So, Melvin’s on the chain gang now
        A kudzu-chopping man.
        He gets a whole two bucks a day
        Paid in American.

        Sooo, let this be a lesson:
        There ain’t nothing wrong with dollars.
        Use a little common sense,
        Ignore those Internet Scholars!!!

        Squeeky Fromm
        Girl Reporter

    2. ZeroHedge was demonitized by Google because they chose not to address their racist comments. You sometimes post racist comments yourself, so it’s no surprise that you find them “fun.” But advertisers may not want to pay to advertise on sites with racist comments. Maybe you’d like Google to give advertisers a check-off list: “Do you want to pay to advertise on sites with racist content and/or comments (yes or no)? Do you want to pay to advertise on sites with content and/or comments advocating animal cruelty (yes or no)? Do you want to pay to advertise on sites with content and/or comments supporting terrorism (yes or no)?…”

      More about Google’s policy: https://support.google.com/adspolicy/answer/6015406?hl=en

      1. ZeroHedge was demonitized by Google because they chose not to address their racist comments.

        Were the alleged racist comments addressed within the comments section? In other words, did ZeroHedge provide a platform for the free flow of ideas?

        1. ZeroHedge knows Google’s policy is and made a choice. Nothing is preventing ZeroHedge from hosting whatever comments they want and from seeking advertisers elsewhere (say, from white nationalist groups that likely don’t advertise using Google), or from seeking subscribers and/or donations to support the site.

          1. Sec 230, FCC,FEC, Trade commission, among other Fed/State agencies.

            Goog has broken it’s deal on 230/ It’s a monopoly in areas such as search & advertising.

            And the biggest is that they are acting with foreigners in at least election meddling/sedition/espionage in the US.

            Their HQ should have already been raided & management arrested.

            1. I’m all in favor of breaking up big tech monopolies like Google and Facebook.

              If you have evidence that “they are acting with foreigners in at least election meddling/sedition/espionage in the US,” I suggest that you contact the FBI and your reps in Congress.

            1. LOL, is that what you say to yourself every time you choose not to answer a question someone asks?

              Your questions aren’t relevant to my point. That you want try to use me to make a different point doesn’t mean that I have to play into your desire to use me that way.

      2. Truthfully, I do not think most business people give a hoot what anybody says in the comment section. They are just trying to sell stuff and stay in business. No, I think this is a few woke prudes at google who want to mess up somebody else’s sandbox. I get ads for guitars, books, shoes, rugs, and cat toys at Zerohedge. The last guitar I bought was from an ad there. Nobody asks you what your politics are when you walk into their store. As long as your money is green and you aren’t trying to force them into supporting your Narrative, whatever it is, they could care less.

        Squeeky Fromm
        Girl Reporter

    3. That does not surprise me in the least, “Squeaky”. I’ve checked it out on many occasions and been aghast at the rank racist s#*t in the comments.
      That’s why google kicked them off.
      I wonder if JT thinks that Germany should allow Nazi propaganda now that it’s been “enough time” since the war…
      The “commenters” aren’t you far off of the same ilk as the same hateful folks from Germany in the mid 20th century.

      What is wrong with you people?

      (especially someone who would choose the handle of a would be presidential assassin and cult member.)

      Have any of you no shame?

      1. I’ve checked it out on many occasions and been aghast at the rank racist s#*t in the comments.

        Were you permitted to challenge what you considered racist comments on ZeroHedge?

  2. People “can say” all sorts of things, and those things might be false, true, unknown, ….
    I see you’re already backing off from “2/3rds are now proved to be true” to “a lot.”

  3. Jonathan: Since you admit you “know very little about ZeroHedge” here’s a primer. ZeroHedge is definitely not a regular “conservative” news outlet or source of opinion like FoxNews, Heritage, the Hoover Institution or even The Federalist. The founder of ZeroHedge is Daniel Ivandjiiski, a Bulgarian born former hedge fund analyst, who was found guilty of insider trading and barred from acting as a broker. After being banned Ivandjiiski started ZeroHedge, a website ostensibly devoted to financial news but frequently publishing content from right-wing conspiracy and far-right websites–including the white supremacist website VDARE.com. It also publishes articles supportive of Russian state interests. Now do I have your attention?

    No wonder Google has banned them. ZeroHedge has no resemblance to respectable “conservative” opinion or critique. In 2019 ZeroHedge published a story that falsely claimed the owner of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company (yes, that Burisma,) had been indicted for money laundering implicating Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. In fact there was no indictment but this false conspiracy theory was picked up by Donald Trump, an adherent of all things “conspiratorial”, and along with Republicans pushed this theory to try to discredit Joe Biden as a candidate. Even today right-wing Republicans in the Senate are still “investigating” this false theory. This is why ZeroHedge is so popular in Republican circles and why even conservative academic defenders of “free speech” , like yourself, have come to their defense.

    ZeroHedge often publishes articles under the fictional by-line “Tyler Durden”. When investigative reporters have queried ZeroHedge about the true identity of this guy they are rebuffed by a “spokesperson” who also refuses to give his own name. Now, Jonathan, ask yourself this question. How can you claim it is unfair to label ZeroHedge a “far-right” website when they constantly peddle false stories like their story that the protests against the murder of George Floyd were “fake”?

    Now a legitimate news organization doesn’t deliberately lie and has no writers or editors who can be held accountable for misstatements of fact–like those at the New York Times, etc. who you have roundly criticized in previous blogs. And there is, of course, your false equivalency argument that if ZeroHedge is a “far-right” purveyor of opinion what about “far-left” websites that “routinely run conspiracy theories about Republicans…? Now as you can imagine I read a lot of the “left-wing” press and I have yet to find one that doesn’t have real live writers and editors who can be identified. They don’t hide behind fictitious by-lines like “Tyler Durden”. Now if you can point to one website that employs “conspiracy theories” to attack Republicans or resorts to “hateful statements” please let me know. I am waiting to be corrected.

    1. I’ve liked Zerohedge for years.

      It reposts other “Right Wing Extremist Lunatics” such as Prof Turley and others I like. And Zerohedge just doesn’t repeat the spoon fed tripe from CIA/FBI & other totally corrupt US intel like the old dying media, NYT/Wapo/CNN/ABC/NBC/CBS/PBS does.

      Now, do you have anything else to say that’s stupid?

        1. From you Seth, a card carrying American hating commie/Fascist type that can’t see your a mental ill basket case mess…. Jesus…

          Enjoy the Riots your types are causing!!!

          1. Okay, if you don’t know the difference between Communists and fascists you’re an utterly brainless Trumper. But we knew that already.

            1. I suggest you go to an ER & ask the doc if you need put on a ventilator to increase the oxygen to your brain.

              Or you can check with Dr Fauci & the other MD idiots that google staff allow their content to be seen by the gen pop on goog.

    2. If YOU do not read ZeroHedge, then why do you care??? I don’t read The National Enquirer, and I could care less how many Alien Baby stories they run, or the Hillary Is A Lizard Woman stories. Although, she may in fact be one.

      Sooo why does google give a hoot? Because they want to tweak the readers thereof, because the readers there are having a great time being politically incorrect. Because google is fascist.

      Squeeky Fromm
      Girl Reporter

  4. OT, but Peter Baker of the NYT has a copy of Bolton’s book and is starting to share excerpts:
    https://twitter.com/peterbakernyt/status/1273320193373229059
    So does the Washington Post and the WSJ.
    I look forward to Trump’s Twitter tirade.

    Bolton should have acted like a patriot and testified before the House when he was asked to, refusing to answer individual questions when warranted, just like Fiona HIll.

      1. Committ, for weeks Trump’s main campaign strategy has been to paint Democrats as ‘soft on China’. And sure enough, the Trumpers on this blog have been making a lot of noise to that effect. What a joke!

        Bolton’s book now blows away Trump’s only ‘argument for reelection’. No wonder the DOJ is trying to get an emergency injunction against Bolton’s book.

  5. Congress must declare War on Google and its ally, communist China.

    Google, in demonstrable alliance with communist China, is at war with American freedom and, therefore, America.

    Google is attemtping to further the campaign of “…fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

    Google is the enemy.

    Google and/or its search engine must be designated a state-regulated monopoly and placed under the direction a a public utilities commission which must impose and allow any and all constitutional rights and freedoms including, but not limited to, freedom of speech, thought, press, publication, religion, belief, assembly, its inverse, disassembly/segregation, and every other conceivable, natural and God-given right, freedom, privilege and immunity per the 9th Amendment.

    1. Bless your shriveled little heart, George. It’s gotta be a lonely, paranoid, and miserable existence you lead.

      You’ve defined yourself as such.

      I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

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