This week three media goliaths — Facebook, Google, and Twitter, who collectively act as information gatekeepers for the Internet — announced they would begin implementing censorship practices against news sites they deem misleading.
Websites that publish “fake,” misleading, or even satirical news will now be subject to a sliding scale of infractions that will target ad revenue and social media algorithms. Without ad revenue from monetization platforms like Google Adsense, many of these sites would not be able to continue publishing, and without Facebook’s distribution platform, even sites with good organic reach could find their traffic severely crippled.
“Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose of the web property,” Google stated, following the lead of Mark Zuckerberg.
On a proprietary note, do these companies have the right to restrict users of their services who they deem to be in breach of contract? Yes. Is it understandable to want to exert some control over hacks who manipulate search engine and social media algorithms at the expense of a misinformed public? Yes. Does this exonerate the intellectual and cultural crime of using the specter of online ‘yellow journalism’ to deliver a crippling blow to the revenue streams of independent media…?
The move comes after Facebook and Google found themselves taking a lot of heat after the election. (Liberal) detractors went so far as to blame Facebook and Google for Trump’s win, claiming the constant online echo chamber of sensationalist news, unsubstantiated claims, and apocryphal headlines paved the way for Clinton’s electoral collapse.
The new restrictions will target a wide variety of websites: sites whose editorial content is deemed (by, Google, Facebook and Twitter’s board of directors, presumably?) false or misleading; sites that intend to invoke outrage with clickbait-y titles; and even sites that are purposely fake (such as the Onion’s sister site, Clickhole) for satirical purposes.
The websites on the new blacklist include Zero Hedge, The Free Thought Project, Collective Evolution, Disclose.TV, and dozens of others. The selections run the gamut from partisan propagandistic sites to alternative philosophy and healing resources. Unsurprisingly, alt-right darlings Infowars and Breitbart, both of which will soon wield vast power in the Trump administration, are targeted. In the case of Infowars, one might surmise the conservative Trumpland publication’s insistence that Hillary Clinton’s inner-circle practices satanic rituals had something to do with their inclusion on the list.
Some of the other sites on the list are surprising. Collective Evolution, as an example, may be considered by some to have New Age influences, but many of their articles practice sound journalistic ethics.
Why such a draconian response? Some analysts believe “fake news” had a role in flipping the results of the election away from what the mainstream media had predicted — away from their carefully groomed candidate. Their conscription of Google, Facebook, and Twitter (which may institute something called ‘mute’ filters) in order to exact revenge may cripple, if not destroy, an alternative media infrastructure that has grown into a formidable challenge to the traditional media establishment.
Because of how blatantly fascistic this move is, I struggle to respond to those who say, ‘Well, some of these sites are bad.’
Yes, some of them are, but that’s not the point. The point is that this is a Pandora’s Box scenario. Once we give the Corporate State the ability to curate online content via punitive measures, we’ve bestowed upon them the power to act as gatekeeper for a stunning amount of public knowledge. This is crony capitalism integrated into the very ethos of the fourth estate, using groupthink and the free market to drown out sites that don’t make the cut of acceptable. They will now be able to go through all news stories and delegate carte blanche which ones are “false” and must therefore be algorithmically and punitively castrated. They already used Russia as an excuse to not acknowledge Wikileaks impeccably researched leaks. What won’t they stoop to in order to conceal their future transgressions?
It will actually likely end up resembling aspects of the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). In that (hopefully dead) trade agreement, corporate tribunals would have been given the power to overrule national laws that hurt their profits. Similarly, with the “fake news” control mechanism, the political-media-industrial complex will be able to determine which stories are damaging to their geopolitical and domestic narratives and then use Google, Facebook, and Twitter to suffocate any news articles that challenge these narratives. Half-truths and controversial op-eds will be cited as reasons for bans. Hacked information from Wikileaks cables could be cited as specious and without corroboration, or, more likely, Russian espionage (well, if Clinton were still around, at least).
There is another parallel, and it’s nothing less than 9/11 itself. After the terrorist attacks that tragically took the lives of over three thousand Americans, the government used the nation’s fear and collective trauma to ram through the Patriot Act, which created a matrix of laws that has been stripping us of our civil liberties for over 15 years. It appears the political establishment wants to use Clinton’s loss in a similar way: to bottle public anger over the election into the deliverable censorship of grassroots media. I’ve been claiming for months that the government’s next war would be on hackers and publishers of hacked material. It appears I may have been wrong (oops, I guess Google and Facebook ought to break our site over their knee). The next war could be on independent media, who the establishment rightfully believes is one of their biggest enemies at the moment. Who else can expose to everyday Americans that the government and their corporate goon-slaves are full of the worst kind of shit?
Let’s be clear: there are certainly sites on the list that publish bad journalism, sloppy journalism, or straight up lies. And sometimes it’s easy to find them. After all, Professor Melissa Zimdars (who contributed to the list) made the following astute point:
“Odd domain names generally equal odd and rarely truthful news.”
But whether or not some sites practice questionable editorial standards is completely beside the point. By attacking the finances of alternative media sites who publish controversial but well-researched journalism, the government is blacklisting an entire movement. The precedent Google and Facebook will establish with this move will have incalculable ramifications on the future of alternative media and the Corporate State’s ability to censor any story they deem dangerous. This is nothing short of a two-step with fascism.
If they don’t want “misleading” news, they better kill the networks.
Let’s unpack this for a moment and pretend that truthful journalism is really what Google and Facebook are after. If that were the case, they would need to cut off the revenue streams of CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC, Fox, CBS, and all of the other mainstream news channels — you know, the same ones that collectively manipulated us into accepting the Iraq War and the subsequent regime change policies that have killed millions in the Middle East. And, see, that’s precisely the reason the mainstream media would never be held to these kinds of standards: they are a division of the State Department; they help manufacture consensus. You see, their “fake” news is important; the government’s fake news is real news.
Beyond just propagating blatantly misleading and fraudulent news (I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the link I just used, which catalogs instances of mainstream media perpetuating false news, is on the new official list of “fake” news), the networks have long been guilty of commission by omission — curating the news cycles so that stories on critical issues like Standing Rock, TPP and others get a fraction of the air time of, say, an airplane crash or Trump’s latest gaffe.
This is Trojan horse for the government
In the Deep State (which you won’t hear even a mention of on network news), the government operates as a series of revolving doors between private defense contractors, media conglomerates, the surveillance apparatus, and giant financial institutions. After the revelations of Snowden (source is another from the list of fake news – be wary!), it became clear that the government was spying on and data mining American citizens with impunity in ways far worse than even 1984 had imagined.
Caught with their pants down, the government stopped, right? No. In fact, they doubled down, except they did something smart: they farmed it out to corporations and created a new synergistic surveillance state. Without Silicon Valley, many of the NSA’s transgressions could have never come to pass. Similarly, the government will now outsource its censorship game to corporations. Ironically, it will be Google and Facebook, two companies that represent the 21st century Information Age, who will be holding the cuffs.
This is another example corporations pitch hitting for the government, and it sets a horrifying precedent.
What can you do?
1. Don’t listen to them. Trust independent media (while being extremely discerning) over corporate media.
2. Help in the effort to create alternative and underground internet and social media infrastructure. A huge part of this is holding independent media accountable to accurate reporting, confirming sources, and obtaining original documents. Alt. media doesn’t have the same financial resources available to them, but with the ubiquity of the Internet, there’s no excuse for sloppy reporting.
3. Support alternative media with donations and content sharing.
5. Tell Google and Facebook you disagree with censorship.
6. Encrypt (always encrypt). This isn’t necessary for some journalists — but if you are breaking a big story you should be using anonymous web tools like Tor, a VPN, as well as using encryption to transmit and unlock messages. Take a look at the Twitter account of information activist Cory Doctorow. He lists a long string of numbers and letters. That is his public key, otherwise known as asymmetric cryptography, which allows him to communicate information privately and anonymously. In the future, it will be unthinkable for journalists to not protect themselves, their data, and their sources in this way.
Jake Anderson’s Op-Ed first appeared at The Anti-Media