In the three months since Internet monopoly Google announced plans to keep users from accessing “fake news,” the global traffic rankings of a broad range of left-wing, progressive, anti-war and democratic rights organizations have fallen significantly.
On April 25, 2017, Google announced that it had implemented changes to its search service to make it harder for users to access what it called “low-quality” information such as “conspiracy theories” and “fake news.”
The company said in a blog post that the central purpose of the change to its search algorithm was to give the search giant greater control in identifying content deemed objectionable by its guidelines. It declared that it had “improved our evaluation methods and made algorithmic updates” in order “to surface more authoritative content.”
Google continued, “Last month, we updated our Search Quality Rater Guidelines to provide more detailed examples of low-quality webpages for raters to appropriately flag.” These moderators are instructed to flag “upsetting user experiences,” including pages that present “conspiracy theories,” unless “the query clearly indicates the user is seeking an alternative viewpoint.”
So which ‘conspiracy’ are we talking about?
Google does not explain precisely what it means by the term “conspiracy theory.” Using the broad and amorphous category of fake news, the aim of the change to Google’s search system is to restrict access to alternative web sites, whose coverage and interpretation of events conflict with those of such establishment media outlets as the New York Times and the Washington Post.
In the three months since Google implemented the changes to its search engine, fewer people have accessed left-wing and anti-war news sites. … Even prominent democratic rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International appear to have been hit.
By flagging content in such a way that it does not appear in the first one or two pages of a search result, Google is able to effectively block users’ access to it. Given the fact that vast amounts of web traffic are influenced by search results, Google is able to effectively conceal or bury content to which it objects through the manipulation of search rankings.
Just last month, the European Commission fined the company $2.7 billion for manipulating search results to inappropriately direct users to its own comparison shopping service, Google Shopping. Now, it appears that Google is using these criminal methods to block users from accessing political viewpoints the company deems objectionable.
Freezing out socialist sites has begun
The World Socialist Web Site has been targeted by Google’s new “evaluation methods.” While in April 2017, 422,460 visits to the WSWS originated from Google searches, the figure has dropped to an estimated 120,000 this month, a fall of more than 70 percent.
Even when using search terms such as “socialist” and “socialism,” readers have informed us that they find it increasingly difficult to locate the World Socialist Web Site in Google searches.
According to Google’s webmaster tools service, the number of searches resulting in users seeing content from the World Socialist Web Site (that is, a WSWS article appeared in a Google search) fell from 467,890 a day to 138,275 over the past three months. The average position of articles in searches, meanwhile, fell from 15.9 to 37.2 over the same period.
David North, chairperson of the International Editorial Board of the WSWS, stated that Google is engaged in political censorship.
“The World Socialist Web Site has been in existence for nearly 20 years,” he said, “and it has developed a large international audience. During this past spring, the number of individual visits to the WSWS each month exceeded 900,000.
“While a significant percentage of our readers enter the WSWS directly, many web users access the site through search engines, of which Google is the most widely used. There is no innocent explanation for the extraordinarily sharp fall in readers, virtually overnight, coming from Google searches.
Freezing out the left
“Google’s claim that it is protecting readers from ‘fake news’ is a politically motivated lie. Google, a massive monopoly, with the closest ties to the state and intelligence agencies, is blocking access to the WSWS and other left and progressive web sites through a system of rigged searches.”
In the three months since Google implemented the changes to its search engine, fewer people have accessed left-wing and anti-war news sites. Based on information available on Alexa analytics, other sites that have experienced sharp drops in ranking include WikiLeaks, Alternet, Counterpunch, Global Research, Consortium News and Truthout. Even prominent democratic rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International appear to have been hit.
According to Google Trends, the term “fake news” roughly quadrupled in popularity in early November, around the time of the US election, as Democrats, establishment media outlets and intelligence agencies sought to blame “false information” for the electoral victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.
On November 14, the New York Times proclaimed that Google and Facebook “faced mounting criticism over how fake news on their sites may have influenced the presidential election’s outcome,” and they would be taking measures to combat “fake news.”
Ten days later, the Washington Post published an article, “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” which cited an anonymous group known as PropOrNot that compiled a list of “fake news” sites spreading “Russian propaganda.”
The list included several sites categorized by the group as “left-wing.” Significantly, it targeted globalresearch.ca, which often reposts articles from the World Socialist Web Site.
After widespread criticism of what was little more than a blacklist of anti-war and anti-establishment sites, the Washington Post was forced to publish a retraction, declaring, “The Post, which did not name any of the sites, does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings.”
Official propaganda only
On April 7, Bloomberg News reported that Google was working directly with the Washington Post and the New York Times to “fact-check” articles and eliminate “fake news.” This was followed by Google’s new search methodology.
Three months later, out of the 17 sites declared to be “fake news” by the Washington Post ’s discredited blacklist, 14 had their global ranking fall. The average decline of the global reach of all of these sites is 25 percent, and some sites saw their global reach fall by as much as 60 percent.
“The actions of Google constitute political censorship and are a blatant attack on free speech,” North stated. “At a time when public distrust of establishment media is widespread, this corporate giant is exploiting its monopolistic position to restrict public access to a broad spectrum of news and critical analysis.”
(Commoner Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2017. Open source and free to use with link to www.thecommonercall.org )
Google’s Chief Search Engineer Legitimizes New Censorship Algorithm
By Andre Damon
World Socialist Web Site (7/31/17)
Between April and June, Google completed a major revision of its search engine that sharply curtails public access to Internet web sites that operate independently of the corporate and state-controlled media. Since the implementation of the changes, many left wing, anti-war and progressive web sites have experienced a sharp fall in traffic generated by Google searches. The World Socialist Web Site has seen, within just one month, a 70 percent drop in traffic from Google.
In a blog post published on April 25, Ben Gomes, Google’s chief search engineer, rolled out the new censorship program in a statement bearing the Orwellian title, “Our latest quality improvements for search.” This statement has been virtually buried by the corporate media. Neither the New York Timesnor the Wall Street Journal has reported the statement. The Washington Post limited its coverage of the statement to a single blog post.
The company does not want people to access anything besides the official narrative, worked out by the government, intelligence agencies, the main capitalist political parties, and transmitted to the population by the corporate-controlled media.
Framed as a mere change to technical procedures, Gomes’s statement legitimizes Internet censorship as a necessary response to “the phenomenon of ‘fake news,’ where content on the web has contributed to the spread of blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information.”
The “phenomenon of ‘fake news’” is, itself, the principal “fake news” story of 2017. In its origins and propagation, it has all the well-known characteristics of what used to be called CIA “misinformation” campaigns, aimed at discrediting left-wing opponents of state and corporate interests.
Significantly, Gomes does not provide any clear definition, let alone concrete examples, of any of these loaded terms (“fake news,” “blatantly misleading,” “low quality, “offensive,” and “down right false information.”)
The focus of Google’s new censorship algorithm is political news and opinion sites that challenge official government and corporate narratives. …
The Company We Keep: Russia Follows China In Tightening Internet Restrictions, Raising Fresh Censorship Concerns
By Ryan Browne
Russia has passed a law banning software that allows users to view internet sites barred in the country anonymously.
President Vladimir Putin signed the bill prohibiting virtual private networks (VPNs) and other technologies that anonymize users, according to the government’s website on Sunday.
The law, which was approved by the Duma (Russian parliament) earlier this month, will come into effect on November 1.
“Laws that criminalize the use of privacy-enhancing technologies like VPNs are incredibly dangerous and will restrict rights to privacy, free expression and access to information.”
Leonid Levin, the head of the Duma’s information policy committee, said that the law signed by President Putin was meant to prevent access to “unlawful content” rather than restrict it from law-abiding citizens, according to Russian state news agency RIA.
He told RIA that the law did not “introduce any new restrictions and especially no censorship.”
“My colleagues only included the restriction of access to information that is already forbidden by law or a court decision,” he said earlier this month.
Human rights group accuse Russia of censorship
Various websites are banned under Russia’s internet restriction and child protection rules. A Federal blacklist introduced in 2012 to block sites that contained materials advocating drug abuse, suicide and child pornography. It has since been relaxed to include material that advocates “extremist” content. …
- Making Nice With Tyranny: Apple Head Tim Cook Justifies Removing VPN Apps In China – During today’s [8/1] quarter three earnings call, Apple CEO Tim Cook clarified that the removal of Virtual Private Network (VPN) apps in China late last week was due to a stronger enforcement of the law by the local Chinese government. Cook states that in 2015, China tightened its policy around VPNs which required operators to obtain a license from the government. “Earlier this year, [China] began a renewed effort to enforce that policy,” Cook says. As many of the apps did not comply with the regulations, Apple was required to purge them from the App Store. “We would rather not remove apps, but like we do in other countries we follow the law wherever do we business.” [Except, of course, when it comes to paying taxes. – Editor] … Read the Rest
A Question To Consider Now: When The Internet Is Choked Off How Will We Organize & Protest?
By Mark L. Taylor
The Commoner Call (8/3/17)
The clampdown on the internet is well underway. The free flow of diverse information and the ready access to alternative opinion and stories that question – much less challenge – the international corporate powers is now being whittled down. While the clampdown is more obvious and onerous in places like Russia, China, Turkey and smaller despotic countries, it is – make no mistake about it – happening in the United States as well.
Don’t for a moment assume we are immune. Trump and his flying monkeys in congress will probably succeed at undoing net neutrality which will quickly devolve to different tracks of service and accessibility and usability of certain sites. It will begin the unraveling of the net as we know it. Once it begins it will quickly accelerate. Information is power and those in power are determined to choke off the flow of information … to us.
Think creatively and experiment with different forms of communication, connection, civil education and creative means of protest and resistance. Truly, time is short.
We on the left need to begin looking now for alternative routes to slip around the growing internet blockade and to magnify the digital access we do have. We will also need to reacquaint ourselves with pre-digital age means of mass communication and organizing ranging from street bills, underground publications grafitti to street theater and stencil art. Remember short wave radio? Let us hope the hackers and program designers on the side of freedom and humanity find ways to undermine and even destroy the digital roadblocks now being assembled.
Pray for the safety of patriotic whistleblowers and the liberation of documents the public has a right to see. Speak up and out for internet neutrality and freedom whenever possible. If we can’t stop the inevitable we need to delay it and buy as much time as possible.
I urge every reader to go to the home page of The Commoner Call and scroll down the righthand column to the “When The Shit Hits The Fan” feature and print out the PDF of Gene Sharp’s handbook on civil protest, “From Dictatorship to Democracy”. Make a copy – or two – and tuck away some place safe. Believe me, will need it sooner than any of us would like to admit.
In the meantime begin to think creatively and experiment with different forms of communication, connection, civil education and creative means of protest and resistance.
Truly, time is short.
(Commoner Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2017. Open source and free to use with link to www.thecommonercall.org )