War on “fake news” sees Google moving to stifle sites with dissenting views
THE INTERNET HAS BECOME an invaluable tool for posting pictures of our cats. Well, there are a few other uses for the technology, including the spread of all kinds of information, some of it labelled “fake news.”
Hailed as democratizing the flow of information – two-way and decentralized, just the opposite of what we’ve seen historically – the Internet has massively reshaped the way we live and do business, for instance. It’s also become a bonanza for the disseminators of propaganda and collectors of data intent on stripping away our privacy for their own gain, financial and/or political.
We’re complicit in that, flocking to sites like Facebook, where we’re laying ourselves bare to the world.
Facebook, like many Internet sites, exist to harvest information, sell it to advertisers and target you with personalized ads. Tracking is the norm, as is collecting as many details as possible of what each of us does online. There’s nothing neutral about most of it: this is not just a sociology study, though, of course, it’s that too.
The ubiquitous Google is an even larger collector of data and invader of privacy. More pernicious, it’s increasingly a censor, filtering search information for its own gain – directing web surfers to its own or affiliated sites, for which it was fined $2.7 billion by the European Commission this summer – and for political reasons.
Last spring, reacting to the Donald Trump-driven “fake news” issue, Google altered its search algorithms in a way that filters out many sites from user searches. Sites on both the right and, particularly, the left now argue they’re being blocked or pushed back pages in searches that are performed.
The screened rightleaning sites have tended to be more on the fringe, generating content deemed hate-related. On the left, even progressive sites long used to high Google rankings have been feeling the pinch.
Under its new anti-fakenews program, Google algorithms have in the past few months moved socialist, anti-war and progressive websites from previously prominent positions in Google searches to positions up to 50 search result pages from the first page, essentially removing them from the search results any searcher will see. CounterPunch, World Socialist Web Site, Democracy Now, American Civil Liberties Union, Wikileaks are just a few of the websites which have experienced severe reductions in their returns from Google searches, reports CounterPunch.
The World Socialist Web Site reports that it has been targeted by Google’s new search algorithm: In April 2017, 422,460 visits to the WSWS originated from Google searches, but the figure dropped to an estimated 120,000 by July, a 70 per cent decline.
“Now Google, at the behest of its friends in Washington, is actively censoring – essentially blocking access to – any websites which seek to warn American workers of the ongoing effort to further attack their incomes, social services, and life conditions by the U.S. central government, and which seek to warn against the impending warfare between U.S.-led NATO and other forces against countries like Iran, Russia, and China, which have in no way threatened the U.S. state or its people,” writes Eric Sommer at CounterPunch.
“Internet users doing searches on Google, since the algorithms were put in place, are diverted from sites such as Truthdig and directed to mainstream publications such as The New York Times. The news organizations and corporations that are imposing this censorship have strong links to the Democratic Party. They are cheerleaders for American imperial projects and global capitalism. Because they are struggling in the new media environment for profitability, they have an economic incentive to be part of the witch hunt,” notes author and journalist Chris Hedges of the search engine changes.
Hedges argues such censorship tactics are the work of an establishment – of which the large tech companies are certainly part – that knows it has lost all credibility with the thinking public.
“The elites face an unpleasant choice. They could impose harsh controls to protect the status quo or veer leftward toward socialism to ameliorate the mounting economic and political injustices endured by most of the population. But a move leftward, essentially reinstating and expanding the New Deal programs they have destroyed, would impede corporate power and corporate profits. So instead the elites, including the Democratic Party leadership, have decided to quash public debate.”
Attempts at manufacturing consent are nothing new, as documented by the meticulous work of Noam Chomsky and others, long marginalized by the traditional media that has become strictly corporatist. The media have become more lapdog than watchdog. Rather than taking on power, it becomes an apologist for it, a role now being adopted by the likes of Google and Facebook.
The traditional view of the media speaking truth to power, holding leaders accountable, has certainly been undermined by a variety of factors, including the concentration of corporate ownership. That’s being repeated in the electronic age.
The Internet provided something of a workaround for groups of all ideologies that felt left out of mainstream news coverage. Now, with increased filtering – aka censorship – an agenda is yet again being pressed.
Clearly, there are all kinds of unsavoury information to be found online, some of it outright criminal. There are lies and libels left, right and center. Where the search engine changes are said to target the worst of such hateful and fake “news” sources, the wider net that catches up many sites critical of established orthodoxy is not inadvertent.