Conservative websites are in the crosshairs of Google, and it appears the push is based on foreign “collaboration.” A hasty NBC report stated that “Two far-right sites, ZeroHedge and The Federalist, will no longer be able to generate revenue from any advertisements served by Google Ads.” While this initial tweet turned out to contain factual errors, an associated article explains that Google is indeed looking to defund publications it deems “dangerous or derogatory.”
But the impetus comes not from coding wonks in the bowels of Google parent company Alphabet, but from a left-leaning activist group in the United Kingdom called the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). The CEO of this nonprofit, Imran Ahmed, is a senior adviser to the British Labour Party and has a long track record of getting individuals and groups deplatformed. Working as a part of CCDH is a campaign called Stop Funding Fake News (SFFakeNews), which has created a blacklist of websites containing content it deems racist. “Fake News and racist narratives can cause real-world harms: dehumanising black people and whipping up fear. Stop Funding Fake News is fighting back: we’re calling on advertisers to blacklist these 10, U.S-based, racist Fake News sites,” its website declares.
NBC’s Adele-Momoko Fraser tweeted her thanks for SFFakeNews and CCDH’s “hard work and collaboration!” Wasn’t foreign interference supposed to be a bad thing?
The Backtracking Begins
In a series of explanations, the NBC family first cleared up the errors. Zero Hedge has lost its use of Google Ads due not to content it published but rather for things said in the website’s comments section, while The Federalist is in negotiation with Google regarding the same matter.
Fraser, after receiving backlash for her “collaboration” comment, backtracked, saying, “To clarify this earlier tweet, we obtained this research exclusively from @SFFakeNews but we did not collaborate on the research itself.” In a snappy satirization of the backpedaling, The Federalist’s Molly Hemingway wrote:
“[W]hen I explicitly thanked these shady foreign groups for their ‘hard work and collaboration!’ in a conspiracy I led to silence and punish media organizations I personally oppose, I didn’t realize how poorly it would go for me and so now I’m trying and failing to walk it back.”
All About Power
At the heart of this issue is not merely that conservative news outlets are being targeted, but that Google itself is essentially acting as a publisher despite denying that it curates content. This issue came to the fore during President Trump’s recent “censorship” spat with Twitter, leading to talk over whether Big Tech should continue to enjoy immunity from liability over the content it hosts. This is a protection the industry enjoys by functioning as a bulletin board rather than a publisher of information; if tech companies seek to interfere in the content they host, the argument goes, they should be liable for it. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) wrote of Google’s ban:
“Wait, wait – you want to treat the @FDRLST comment section, which they don’t curate, as THEIR speech but simultaneously say the content you directly host and modify IS NOT your speech under Section 230? Wow, this is getting really interesting.”
Section 230 refers to a provision of the Communications Decency Act that states, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” It was the crux of President Trump’s recent executive order against internet censorship.
But perhaps this is more about overall control rather than individual acts of censorship. Tucker Carlson, speaking on his Fox show, excoriated the internet giant for its monopoly on information, saying:
“Most media companies are dependent on Google, who will control 70 percent of all online advertising… So if you’re in the news business, you obey Google. When Google tells you to do something, you do it. You have no choice.
They can bankrupt you in a minute, and they will. In all of human history, no single entity is ever had more control over information than Google does right now. So if you’re worried about the concentration of power in the hands of a few unaccountable actors, and you very much should be, nobody has more unchecked power than Google does.”
No Safe Space for Conservatives
When a foreign nonprofit heavily linked to a left-wing political party can have such sway in how Americans receive their news, one has to wonder if this is not part of a coordinated effort to sway the next election. If the CCDH had been a Russian actor and the targets were Democrat-friendly outlets, not only would we see a media campaign denouncing the interference, but almost certainly a congressional investigation.
But this was targeted at sites that support a conservative viewpoint and are apparently, therefore, fair game. This is not an effort to silence journalists per se, but to isolate Trump supporters from sharing views and opinions. In this Orwellian landscape, it seems some views are more equal than others.
Read more from Mark Angelides.