Home/Rod Dreher/Google Blacklists Conservative Websites

Google Blacklists Conservative Websites

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Today I have discovered that Google’s search engine has somehow suppressed not only this blog, but a number of conservative blogs and websites. I don’t know why. Is it deliberate? Was it a hack? I’ll let you know when I find out. Whatever the answer, this reveals the incredible power Google has over access to information. Get on the wrong side of that particular Big Brother, and you can be more or less cancelled.

More:

I hope Google will reconsider what it has done here. Let this be a warning to us all about the soft-totalitarian power that Google and others like it have. As I write in Live Not By Lies:

The rising generation of corporate leaders take pride in their progressive awareness and activism. Twenty-first century capitalism is not only all in for surveillance, it is also very woke.

Nor is it hard to foresee these powerful corporate interests using that data to manipulate individuals into thinking and acting in certain ways. Zuboff quotes an unnamed Silicon Valley bigwig saying, “Conditioning at scale is essential to the new science of massively engineered human behavior.” He believes that by close analysis of the behavior of app users, his company will eventually be able to “change how lots of people are making their day-to-day decisions.”

Maybe they will just try to steer users into buying certain products and not others. But what happens when the products are politicians or ideologies? And how will people know when they are being manipulated?

If a corporation with access to private data decides that progress requires suppressing dissenting opinions, it will be easy to identify the dissidents, even if they have said not one word publicly.

In fact, they may have their public voices muted. British writer Douglas Murray documented how Google quietly weights its search results to return more “diverse” findings. Though Google presents its search results as disinterested, Murray shows that “what is revealed is not a ‘fair’ view of things, but a view which severely skews history and presents it with a bias from the present.”

Result: for the search engine preferred by 90 percent of the global internet users, “progress”—as defined by left-wing Westerners living in Silicon Valley—is presented as normative.

In another all-too-common example, the populist Vox party in Spain had its Twitter access temporarily suspended when, in January 2020, a politician in the Socialist Party accused the Vox party of “hate speech,” for opposing the Socialist-led government’s plan to force schoolchildren to study gender ideology, even if parents did not consent.

To be sure, Twitter, a San Francisco-based company with 330 million global users, especially among media and political elites, is not a publicly regulated utility; it is under no legal obligation to offer free speech to its users. But consider how it would affect everyday communications if social media and other online channels that most people have come to depend on—Twitter, Gmail, Facebook, and others—were to decide to cut off users whose religious or political views qualified them as bigots in the eyes of the digital commissars?

Well, here we are today. Nine out of ten people on the planet who use Internet search use Google — and today, these people can’t find this blog or other conservative blogs and websites using Google. This is a foreshadowing of the cancelling to come. If you are on the Left, but take a position contrary to the kind of techno-progressivism and globalism favored by Google and others in Silicon Valley, you’re going to be next. We on the Right — especially religious people — have to prepare ourselves for life as dissidents under soft totalitarianism. That’s what Live Not By Lies is about.

I have just changed my search engine to DuckDuckGo, and I suggest that you do the same, or use Bing. And I suggest that we all support political efforts to limit Google’s power. Sen. Josh Hawley got on Google’s case a month ago, sending a warning letter to its CEO, Sundar Pichai:

Dear Mr. Pichai:

Google’s decision to threaten the conservative publication The Federalist with removal from the Google Ads platform—based on, apparently, the contents of its comments section—is startling, but apparently just the latest instance of Google’s long pattern of targeting any perspectives that deviate from its preferred party line.

Your company is well aware of the central role played by advertising in the modern online ecosystem, and has spent years amassing an enormous trove of internet users’ data through the Google Ads platform. That, in turn, has granted your company vast powers to shape what users see, believe, and buy. Given the breadth of Google’s data collection practices, the power of Google’s behavioral advertising toolkit, and Google’s sheer market dominance, publishers are forced to do whatever your company demands in order to effectively serve their audiences. Now, your company is attempting to further manipulate the information marketplace by transforming advertising platform access into a cudgel wielded against dissenting voices.

An NBC News report lays the responsibility for this move at the feet of the “Center for Countering Digital Hate,” a UK-based think tank devoted to squelching speech it disagrees with. The Center’s mission statement is to “encourage antisocial online behaviour to be met with opprobrium and consequence both on- and offline,” and the Center seeks to ensure that speech not meeting its standards will “lead to serious offline consequences.”2 In particular, the Center runs the “Stop Funding Fake News” website,3 which includes websites like Breitbart and American Greatness among its media targets. The Center demands that outlets be blacklisted by advertisers for such spurious “offenses” as criticizing dominant narratives surrounding climate change.

Foreign dark-money groups like the Center have no place in adjudicating American political discourse. And making matters worse, NBC proudly claims responsibility for bringing the Center’s faulty work to Google’s attention.

Moreover, it is profoundly disingenuous for Google to insist on applying a standard to other companies that it disclaims for itself. Google and other technology companies routinely rely on the protections afforded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to evade responsibility for any third-party content posted on the platforms they offer. Now, Google apparently declines to extend a similar protection to those companies that rely on its own services. And the hypocrisy does not stop there: if the contents of a website’s comments sections are sufficient to declare that site offensive and banish it from Google’s platform, one wonders what to make of the cesspit that is the comments section of YouTube. In short, Google demands minimum oversight for itself, but maximum power over those who use its platform.

None of this, apparently, matters to Google. Instead, what’s driving Google’s policy appears to be little more than the politically-motivated opinion commentary of a foreign think tank, as filtered through a legacy media organization bent on muzzling its rivals. If conservative outlets are not welcome on the Google Ads platform, your company should have the courage to say so.

This long pattern of discriminatory treatment must stop. It is well past time for Congress to act. And I assure you that Congress will.

I hope Sen. Hawley can find at least one Democratic senator who favors freedom of expression to sign on to his efforts. Google has a near-monopoly on the gateway to the Internet. This is an extraordinary power — and not one that is in the interest of the common good.

UPDATE: Just over a year ago, TAC’s J. Arthur Bloom, at the time with the Daily Caller, reported on how Google manipulates its search results. From his first story:

Google does manipulate its search results manually, contrary to the company’s official denials, documents obtained exclusively by The Daily Caller indicate.

Two official policies dubbed the “misrepresentation policy” and the “good neighbor policy” inform the company’s “XPA news blacklist,” which is maintained by Google’s Trust & Safety team. “T&S will be in charge of updating the blacklist as when there is a demand,” reads one of the documents shared with The Daily Caller.

“The deceptive_news domain blacklist is going to be used by many search features to filter problematic sites that violate the good neighbor and misrepresentation policies,” the policy document says.

That document reads that it was, “approved by [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] as of 8/13/2018.” Ben Gomes is Google’s head of search, who reports directly to CEO Sundar Pichai. Pandu Nayak is a Google Fellow, and Paul Haahr is a software engineer, whose bio on Google’s internal network Moma indicates that he is also involved in, “fringe ranking: not showing fake news, hate speech, conspiracy theories, or science/medical/history denial unless we’re sure that’s what the user wants.”

“The purpose of the blacklist will be to bar the sites from surfacing in any Search feature or news product. It will not cause a demotion in the organic search results or de-index them altogether,” reads the policy document obtained by the Caller. What that means is that targeted sites will not be removed from the “ten blue links” portion of search results, but the blacklist applies to most of the other search features, like “top news,” “videos” or the various sidebars that are returned as search results.

Read it all. 

And here is his follow-up report. 

One can understand that Google would want to keep crazy conspiracy sites suppressed. But they’re also going after mainstream conservative sites, like TAC.

Does the Left have any problem with this?

UPDATE.2: As of 12:56 pm Central time, Google’s search results seem to have gone back to normal. That’s good — but again, this shows you how easy it is to effectively unperson an entire category of news and commentary sources.

UPDATE.3: A good example of what Google did:

UPDATE.4: Well, well, well, Google admits it happened — and Mediaite says what it might mean. Excerpts:

A Tuesday incident in which certain websites briefly vanished from Google search results may have inadvertently exposed an internal list aimed at suppressing certain news outlets, a former engineer for the company said.

“It appears to have revealed the existence of another blacklist that disproportionately targets conservatives,” Mike Wacker theorized in a message to Mediaite. “The glitch is that sites on this blacklist disappeared from Google search results, but the existence of the list is very much by design. And that raises a major question: Why was this blacklist created in the first place, and what else is it used for?”

More:

Dr. Robert Epstein, a researcher who has argued Google has the power to sway up to 10 percent of American voters in the 2020 election, concurred with Wacker. “It’s likely that a person or algorithm at Google added ‘breitbart.com’ and other URLs to one or more of the company’s blacklists,” Epstein said. “Then, perhaps after some pushback, someone pulled those URLs off the blacklists.”

Any manual manipulation would conflict with testimony Google CEO Sundar Pichai delivered to Congress in December 2018, when he told a House committee the company did not “manually intervene on any search result.”

In a jargon-filled statement, Google said it was looking into the issue, but failed to offer any explanation. “We are aware of an issue with the site: command that may fail to show some or any indexed pages from a website,” the company said in a post published on Twitter Tuesday afternoon. “We are investigating this and any potentially related issues.”

And:

“There are two problems here,” Epstein said. “One is the unfettered, unregulated power to suppress content around the world. The second is the complete lack of transparency. The problem with content suppression is that you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Read it all. 

Google has too much power. Google has waytoo much power.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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