As the technological realm becomes more pervasive, whom can we trust? Each week, Liberty Nation brings new insight into the fraudulent use of personal data, breaches of privacy, and attempts to filter our perception.
This week, LN’s Jeff Charles wrote about websites that take it upon themselves to select what content is acceptable in the online public square, while Mark Angelides discussed the rise of fact-checking authorities that serve as the gatekeepers for supposedly credible news. The last week of June also saw major accusations against Google, as well as serious movement toward online censorship in France.
Veritas Writes to Congress over Google Bias
Undercover investigative group Project Veritas, led by James O’Keefe, released videos illustrating political bias at Google and efforts to influence elections. O’Keefe, not content to simply publish the material, has now written to lawmakers in an attempt to have the matter addressed.
An anonymous insider, whom O’Keefe claims is a longtime Google employee, calls the company a “highly biased political machine” and claims on video that the tech giant’s agenda changed after the 2016 election of Donald Trump from one aimed at promoting free expression to one of censorship. The source also says that the company is engineering artificial intelligence, called Machine Learning Fairness, aimed at manipulating thought online.
Google’s Head of Responsible Innovation, Jen Gennai, was captured on tape saying:
“Elizabeth Warren is saying we should break up Google. And like, I love her but she’s very misguided, like that will not make it better it will make it worse, because all these smaller companies who don’t have the same resources that we do will be charged with preventing the next Trump situation, it’s like a small company cannot do that … We all got screwed over in 2016, again it wasn’t just us, it was, the people got screwed over, the news media got screwed over, like, everybody got screwed over so we’re rapidly been like, what happened there and how do we prevent it from happening again.”
The insider also accused the company of “playing narrative control” by labeling social commentators Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, and PragerU as “Nazis” in Youtube algorithms. “They are going through and effectively deleting conversations from the national narrative. It reminds me of a book called 1984,” he said, admitting that he fears for his life as a result of coming forward as a whistleblower.
Since the video’s release, Google executives have been grilled by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) at committee hearings. Project Veritas lawyer Benjamin Barr has also sent letters to a host of legislators in Congress, accusing Google of violating the Federal Election Campaign Act by using its resources to influence elections against certain candidates.
While Congress may seek to pressure Google, Gennai is not worried – or at least she wasn’t before this exposé – commenting in the video that, “We got called in front of Congress a few times, and we’ve not shown up because we know that they’re just going to attack us … We’re not going to change our mind. There’s no point in just sitting there being attacked over something we know we’re not going to change. Like they can pressure us but we’re not changing.”
Project Veritas also obtained documents showing that YouTube attempted to interfere in the recent Irish abortion referendum by manipulating content to promote a pro-abortion outcome, something that website Pinterest was also recently accused of doing. Another leaked document from YouTube shows instructions for employees on how to conduct political protests, in contradiction to the company’s claims of political neutrality.
France and Facebook Alliance
France is on the cutting edge of internet regulation, and it was revealed on June 25 that Facebook has agreed to supply French courts with the identification data of people suspected of using the social media platform to spread hate speech. While Facebook was already complying with judges’ demands to supply France with information – such as IP addresses – to identify terrorists, the Macron government has successfully pushed CEO Mark Zuckerberg to reveal the identities of people disseminating “hate speech.”
Cedric O, Parliamentary Undersecretary for the Digital Economy, told Reuters that the collaboration was the first of its kind: “This is huge news, it means that the judicial process will be able to run normally. It’s really very important, they’re only doing it for France.”
A report issued by O in May accused tech companies of allowing “abuses” online, and urged “Public intervention to ensure that the major players adopt a more responsible attitude protecting the cohesion of our societies is therefore legitimate.” The document encouraged the further development of algorithms capable of automatically banning content deemed offensive, and said the “lawfulness” of material should be determined in the court system – which will now have access to users’ identities.
After meeting with Macron on the matter, Zuckerberg reacted positively, telling reporters in Paris, “If more countries can follow the lead of what your government has done here, that will likely end up being a more positive outcome for the world in my view than some of the alternatives.”
Euro Hate Speech Laws
One French politician is now trying to prevent “cyber hatred” on social media. Laetitia Avia, a French-born former business lawyer of West African heritage, joined Parliament as part of President Emmanuel Macron’s government. She says she was prompted to introduce a new law after facing daily racial abuse online.
According to the proposal, social media networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube would be forced to remove any content within 24 hours that attacks a person’s “dignity” with “manifestly illicit” content based on their race, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation, or religion. Failure to comply would result in fines of up to 4% of a company’s global revenue.
“We cannot tolerate on the internet what we won’t tolerate in the street,” Avia told The Guardian. “If you’re on a bus and someone gets up and shouts ‘Dirty black!’, everyone would ask the bus driver to remove that person from the bus. This law will mean that blatantly hateful content must be taken down from a social network site within 24 hours.”
Avia’s bill has not appeared in a vacuum – French President Macron recently went out of his way to support and sign the Christchurch Call. This bill also echoes the 2018 “NetzDG” German law, which threatens social media providers with hefty fines if they don’t remove “obviously illegal” hate speech within 24 hours of notification, or “illegal” content within seven days. The German law has, however, been criticized for its sweeping nature and implications for free speech – tech companies are all too keen to remove potentially offensive content to avoid penalties, without bothering to investigating the legality of the statements.
Several members of the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland party have already been targeted as a result, but their unwillingness to lie down and admit defeat has lent fire to their cause – one writer in the Bild newspaper said its member were becoming “opinion martyrs.” As has been a running theme over the past few weeks here, censorship doesn’t always have the intended effect and is apt to ricochet in unexpected and unwanted ways.
That’s all for this week from You’re Not Alone. Check back in next Monday to find out what’s happening in the digital realm and how it impacts you.
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