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.
Senate Committee Grills Google on “The Good Censor”
Many have posited that Google – among other things, the world’s most used search engine – has been manipulating public perception by providing biased search results – promoting certain viewpoint or sources of information while shoving others under the rug. On July 17, a company representative was questioned on these very issues, at a hearing on Google and Censorship through Search Engines, by the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution.
Google and other social media and search engine providers have thus far been protected from taking legal responsibility for the content they host, as they are considered platforms that simply provide a space for users to express themselves unselectively. However, there has been some discussion in recent months that if Big Tech wishes to exert editorial control over such content, then such companies must be legally considered publishers and therefore become responsible and liable for every single piece of content they allow on their websites. The current immunity is granted under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, but according to committee chair Ted Cruz (R-TX), “If Big Tech cannot provide us with evidence that it’s not playing Big Brother with its vast immense powers, there’s no reason Congress should give them a special subsidy with Section 230.”
Cruz’s concerns relate to a 2018 presentation, originally leaked by Breitbart, called The Good Censor, in which Google asks questions such as “Who should be responsible for censoring ‘unwanted’ conversation, anyway? Governments? Users? Google?” It also admitted that Silicon Valley can “control the majority of online conversations” and have taken a “shift towards censorship.”
Google’s VP of Government Affairs and Public Policy Karan Bhatia admitted to the committee that The Good Censor was a genuine Google document, although he attempted to dismiss it as “thinking that’s being done by a marketing team.”
Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Cruz called for an independent audit of Google’s algorithms, while Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) accused the search engine and its subsidiary YouTube of having “tons of white and blacklists that humans manually curate,” as well as manipulating search results in a way that harms competitors and promotes its own financial interests.
On the other hand, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) said that “Google will be accused of political motives for common-sense actions that are totally within their rights,” and urged the company to do more in suppressing harassment, anti-vaccine information, and political radicalization. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) demanded to know, “Why have the number of views for harmful content dropped by only one half? Why hasn’t the amount of traffic that YouTube is driving dropped to zero? You can control that!”
Project Dragonfly Cancelled
Members of the committee also asked Bhatia, a former Bush administration senior official, about Google’s work on a censored search engine for China. Bhatia admitted that the company was performing a “small” amount of research for the Asian country, but that the controversial search engine, known as Project Dragonfly, had been abandoned. The secret project, discovered by The Intercept in August 2018, would have automatically filtered content that the ruling China Community Party does not wish its population to see. Much of this is already blocked by the “Great Firewall” that China imposes on its internet, including information on political dissidents or certain news sources.
According to The Intercept’s exposé, “Google’s Chinese search app will automatically identify and filter websites blocked by the Great Firewall. When a person carries out a search, banned websites will be removed from the first page of results … The search app will also “blacklist sensitive queries” so that “no results will be shown” at all when people enter certain words or phrases, the documents state. The censorship will apply across the platform: Google’s image search, automatic spell check and suggested search features will incorporate the blacklists, meaning that they will not recommend people information or photographs the government has banned.”
“We have terminated Project Dragonfly,” said Bhatia. It is curious that only one month ago, the company rejected shareholder requests to abandon it, and to publish a report on its human rights implications. Google CEO Sundar Pichai at the time told CNN that the company had no plans to launch the search engine. According to Bhatia, Google does “very little [business in China] today, certainly compared to any other major technology company.”
Although, Project Dragonfly was only revealed to a few hundred employees before the media got its hands on it; one wonders what may have replaced it, and what else is being formulated on a need-to-know basis only.
Facebook Faces Lawsuits over Censorship
In May, Facebook banned several outspoken figures as “dangerous” individuals. Among those removed was pro-Israeli Jewish journalist Laura Loomer, who has had repeated run-ins with social media gatekeepers. Now, Loomer is suing Facebook for $3 billion – 5% of the company’s net worth, according to her legal team – in actual and punitive damages, alleging that the company defamed her by “publishing that she is a ‘dangerous individual’ and a domestic Jewish terrorist.” Loomer has been outspoken against political figures she sees as anti-Semitic, particularly Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), a Muslim who has expressed sympathy for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Loomer has teamed up with attorney Larry Klayman, who has his own beef with both Facebook and Ilhan Omar – he tried to have the latter deported in May, while he has previously sued the former for “allegedly furthering a Palestinian Intifada, which resulted in the death of Jews.” Klayman says in a statement that Facebook banned Loomer as a direct result of her activism against radical Islam and anti-Semitism, particularly aimed at Omar. He continues by harshly stating that, “Facebook and its CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg is a self-hating leftist Jew sympathetic of Islamic extremism.”
Loomer, who proclaims herself the “most banned woman in the world,” having been blacklisted by a wide range of internet-based services, sued Twitter in April after the platform banned her, apparently at the behest of the Council on American Islamic Relations.
Another of Facebook’s “dangerous” figures is also seeking legal action. British provocateur and InfoWars employee Paul Joseph Watson recently accused Facebook of calling for a “fatwa” against him. Watson alleges that a recent update to Facebook’s community standards label it acceptable to threaten him and other individuals under the “dangerous” designation with “high-severity violence.” He draws attention to a section of the new rules:
“Do not post: Threats that could lead to death (and other forms of high-severity violence) of any target(s) where threat is defined as any of the following:
Statements of intent to commit high-severity violence; or
Calls for high-severity violence (unless the target is an organization or individual covered in the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy)…”
Watson points out that it is illegal under the UK 1988 Malicious Communications Act to send threatening letters or communications. “The largest social media company in the world with over 2 billion users literally says it’s fine to incite violence against me, despite this being illegal. They are painting a target on my back,” he wrote on his website.
Watson says that after being banned from the platform in May, he sent Facebook a legal request for all information the platform has regarding him – although the company has ignored the deadline of the request, Watson says that litigation will be the next step if and when the information is handed over. “The fact that Facebook has literally said it’s OK to incite violence against me is going to be a very interesting potential addition to those proceedings,” he wrote.
Since Watson’s complaint, it has been stated by various online sources that Facebook has removed any reference to “dangerous individuals” from the rule. However, from what this author can see, the original wording is still included in Facebook’s community standards.
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.