Think that Silicon Valley’s plan for censorship of conservative media sprang fully formed, like Athena, from the Zeus-like heads of Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey? It makes for a nice tale, as all Greek myths do, and it certainly fits our preconceptions of Silicon Valley liberalism.
Alas, it’s simply untrue. This has been a long time in coming, sadly. If it sprang from anyone’s head, it was from the cranium of one of the left’s most bizarre, unserious anti-free speech voices. And he gets a goodly portion of his money from none other than George Soros, because of course he does.
Let’s connect some dots here. In January, The Washington Free Beacon obtained a “confidential” 49-page report from Media Matters for America that was presented to donors at a retreat in January 2017, just after Trump’s inauguration. In it, the group lays out a plan to basically get social media giants to silence conservative voices.
So, here’s a bit of education about Media Matters for America. The group was founded in 2004 by former right-wing journalist turned rabid Clintonista David Brock, whose original target for takedown, according to New York magazine, was Fox News — a campaign he said he would wage by “guerrilla warfare and sabotage,” according to LifeSite News.
Brock is a curious character. A 2012 investigation by The Daily Caller alleged Brock was a paranoiac who “feared he was in imminent danger from right-wing assassins and needed a security team to keep him safe,” was an enthusiastic user of certain Schedule I controlled substances that might, ahem, be responsible for that paranoia, and had that aforementioned security team carrying firearms even though he (and his most prominent patrons) are fervent gun-control advocates.
“George Soros and a lot of groups connected to gun control are funding this group, and they wouldn’t be too happy that an employee of Media Matters was carrying a gun, especially when it was illegal in D.C.,” one source told The Daily Caller. While Brock is no longer the president of the organization per se, he remains such a presence with it and its related groups that he could still be considered the group’s de facto leader by any standard.
Two things here. First, in the interests of disclosure, Media Matters has written fact-challenged hit pieces on The Western Journal in the past. I don’t think this can really be seen as a motivation for us pointing out Media Matters’ war on social media speech, however. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the only thing in conservative media worse than having Media Matters running a hit piece on you is not having Media Matters running a hit piece on you.
Also, trust us — if being attacked by Media Matters precluded you from talking about how much of a parasite on free speech and American democracy the organization is, anything to the right of The Nation would be silenced on the matter. Which, I think, is pretty much the point as far as Media Matters is concerned.
Second, I’d also like to note I’m not pointing these things out to relentlessly ad hominem Mr. Brock, who — if this is all true — I actually feel some measure of personal (if not professional) sympathy for. The point is that this is not somebody whose organization would ordinarily be taken seriously. He’s attacking conservative media but allegedly believes right-wing death squads are out to get him.
Yet, according to the aforementioned confidential memo, this is the guy whose organization met with Facebook to talk about how to handle what they call “fake news.”
How? Here’s just some snippets from the memo:
First, this is an organization that genuinely believes the “Democrats got clobbered in the digital space.” I leave that one out there for summary judgment. It also admits that its “digital efforts were largely focused on changing the narrative with the traditional media versus voters. This worked to a point but wasn’t enough in the face of a news media incentivized by profit and access and fearful of intimidation and bullying by the Trump forces.”
I could write a book on those two sentences, but here are the two most salient points: a) a left-wing activist organization is openly admitting (or at least claiming) to have a particular access to the “traditional media,” and b) its leaders think that media was the target of “intimidation and bullying by the Trump forces” instead of the other way around. I again append no comment.
So, how do they plan to pull this off?
That’s pretty straightforward, and clearly not the words of an organization any major social media outlet ought to be trusting. Yet the memo says that it provided “a detailed map of the constellation of right-wing Facebook pages that had been the biggest purveyors of fake news” to Facebook and provided Google “the information necessary to identify 40 of the worst fake news sites” to ban from receiving Google ad revenue.
And so who was funding all of this? Well, George Soros certainly seems to have a large part in bankrolling the effort. The ultra-liberal financier donated $1 million publicly to the organization back in 2010, which, according to a contemporary New York Times report, was going to be used to attack conservative commentator Glenn Beck, who was then on Fox News. That seemed to have worked.
However, that doesn’t seem like an awful lot of funding for a major media/political operation. The problem is that while Soros hasn’t given much directly to Media Matters, his multifarious tendrils — MoveOn.org, the Center for American Progress, and individuals who have served as Soros surrogates — have helped keep Brock’s hyper-partisan hit squad afloat, as documented by the conservative website Discover the Networks.
As numerous conservative outlets have shown, this has worked wonders. As we documented, for instance, Facebook’s early 2018 algorithm shift punished conservative-leaning media outlets far more than liberal ones.
There are also analyses we did of what happened involving interactions on congressional webpages — a bit harder to judge statistically when it came to intent, but still something that hit Republicans harder, numbers-wise — and a whole rash of shadow-banning on Twitter. And let’s not forget instances like when conservative commentator Candace Owens was banned for retweeting the same things that soon-to-be New York Times editorial board member Sarah Jeong tweeted about white people with different ethnicities substituted. Jeong has never received a ban.
And then there was the sudden decision to ban Alex Jones and Infowars on almost every social media platform. No matter how you feel about Uncle Alex’s Tinfoil Haberdashery and Nutraceutical Depot, it seems rather odd that nearly every social media platform simultaneously reached the conclusion, after years of Jones doing and saying literally the exact same things, that he was suddenly violating their terms of service agreements.
So, faced with this evidence, Media Matters did what they always do: They decided to “chang(e) the narrative with traditional media” by getting an Op-Ed written by Media Matter President Angelo Carusone published by CNN in late June claiming that Facebook “caves in to pressure from conservatives.”
Now, first of all, let me provide a spoiler alert: The column didn’t actually refute any of the numbers The Western Journal or any other organization had compiled. Carusone cited two studies. The first was from Newswhip, which claimed that “every measurable indicator reveals that there simply is no anti-conservative bias against publishers in Facebook’s algorithm.”
Wow, pretty damning. Serious problem though: Newswhip’s analysis was from 2017, well before the algorithm shifted in early 2018. I reiterate, this study took place in the year before any algorithm shift happened. Carusone further claimed that “a review of Media Matters’ internal data, which looked at engagement on Facebook enjoyed by major progressive and conservative Facebook pages since those changes, yields similar findings to Newswhip’s 2017 analysis.”
This is so blatantly misleading that it should discredit pretty much everything else in the piece, especially since Media Matters preposterously cites itself using numbers it doesn’t divulge to back up Newswhip’s 2017 pre-shift analysis. Either CNN left this in there because the network wanted to give Media Matters enough rope or it was absolutely simpatico with the obviously deceptive intent of the reference.
The other study — based on separate Newswhip numbers — comes from Nieman Lab, which recently promoted an Intercept article questioning Facebook’s suspension of Telesur, the propaganda voice of the Venezuelan government. Apparently, in the study cited by Media Matters, Nieman had a bigger problem with Western Journal Managing Editor George Upper because the organization he used to rank bias in the media for our study was “a site that is not associated with any larger organization” but instead an unaffiliated journalist. I think that might call into question exactly what Nieman Lab’s priorities are, but I digress.
Let’s look at the particulars of Nieman Lab report, again assembled with data from Newswhip — and this time not from 2017, thank God. (Media Matters did mention this data had been updated in their Op-Ed, although they managed to spell Nieman Lab’s name wrong in doing so.) When Nieman looked at a post-algorithm aggregate of engagement for right-wing and left-wing sources, it claimed traffic was mostly the same.
There are numerous problems with this analysis of the data, however, only several of which I’ll mention. The first is that it only goes up to late February, which was the beginning of the algorithm shift. Considering we’re still seeing the effects shaking out, this is a pretty big miss. Nieman Lab, for instance, published its analysis of the data in late March and Media Matters was citing it in late June. (I suppose that’s good for them, though — considering their use of a 2017 survey and then vouchsafing from their own secret stash of data it was still perfectly legit.)
The second is that it measures “engagements,” not traffic. While engagements are theoretically supposed to drive traffic in the new Facebook algorithm, they could also be seen as what’s commonly called “ratioing” on Twitter. Essentially, if a tweet is especially controversial, it will have way more comments than “loves” or retweets — meaning the ratio of comments (most of which are probably negative or don’t drive traffic) to “loves” and retweets indicates how controversial the content is.
The same thing can happen on Facebook, yet it would all be counted as engagement. For instance, Newswhip’s data shows relatively significant spikes in engagement for Breitbart and The Daily Wire. Our data shows both down in readership, Breitbart slightly and The Daily Wire significantly. Breitbart’s content has always been contentious and Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro has been getting significantly more famous (as well as controversial) over the past few months. In the latter case, it demonstrates the problem perfectly — engagements are rising for The Daily Wire but traffic is down even as Shapiro’s star is on the ascent.
Oh, and Newswhip’s study was decidedly cherry-pick-tastic. A number of the biggest conservative losers in the Facebook shakeout, at least in our data, weren’t even included — the Independent Journal Review and the Washington Free Beacon were absent, for instance. Meanwhile, on the left, Newswhip conspicuously decided to include left-leaning “hyperpartisan” sites with engagement lower than 2 million interactions, far lower than the over 5 million interactions some of the conservative “hyperpartisan” sites received.
Audience gainers in our analysis of traffic — the Huffington Post, Salon, Slate and The Daily Beast, all clearly “hyperpartisan” outlets that consist of mostly commentary — weren’t included. Daily Kos, which hasn’t been relevant in ages, was somehow one of the sites analyzed on the left; it experienced a significant drop in our data. So were Raw Story and Talking Points Memo, two commentary sites that saw conspicuous drops in traffic and were mostly outliers in our study. (The writer of the piece also noted that, “For the record, I don’t think Talking Points Memo really belongs in this category.” This alone should probably tell you a great deal about where this analysis is coming from.)
Their analysis of news sites, as opposed to commentary sites, was almost entirely comprised of left-leaning outlets. In one telling exception, they noted that NBC and CNN were both able to surpass Fox News in engagements after the algorithm shift, even though all three grew their engagements.
This flawed data, in other words, is what Media Matters was using to claim that Facebook was capitulating to conservative users and that their campaign to destroy them (which totally doesn’t exist, by the way, and don’t read that silly secret memo) wasn’t working. And they were indeed very proud of this analysis.
“If a modest, nonprofit organization like Media Matters has this data and the ability to analyze it, then Facebook definitely has it,” the Op-Ed reads.
“Accordingly, Facebook’s continued capitulation to the unfounded claims of conservatives means that either it is willfully ignoring its own data out of fear of right-wing critics or it just hasn’t even bothered to look and is taking actions totally disconnected from facts and data. This last seems unlikely.”
Yes, I would agree Facebook isn’t reading the data. Neither is Media Matters, unless it’s “willfully ignoring” facts this modest opinion journalist was able to analyze. Nowhere in the piece, mind you, did Media Matters actually refute our numbers, or any other numbers. I’d just like to point that out.
It didn’t get much better from there. In one of the more ridiculous parts of the piece, Media Matters’ Rusone claimed that a 2016 Gizmodo article that claimed that Facebook’s news curators “conspired to suppress conservative news from the platform’s Trending Topics section” was fake news because, and I quote, “Facebook’s own internal investigation that same month had analyzed the data and found ‘no evidence of systematic political bias’ in the trending topics.”
Apparently, Media Matters believes Facebook should be a reliable source on Facebook’s internal bias the same way Media Matters believes Media Matters’ own undisclosed numbers ought to be used as a reliable source to prove that conservative sites aren’t being harmed by the Facebook algorithm shift. The fact that Media Matters admits in its own memo that it’s been working with Facebook also remains curiously unmentioned in Carusone’s piece.
I’m examining this article extensively because it’s the perfect distillation of Media Matters’ war on conservative commentary and other news outlets that don’t lean sufficiently left for the tastes of George Soros or David Brock.
This same “modest, nonprofit organization” funded extensively by the liberal financier has openly claimed it will be “disarming right-wing information” and will make sure that “(i)nternet and social media platforms, like Google and Facebook, will no longer uncritically and without consequence host and enrich fake news sites and propagandists.” And when conservatives dare to complain about this state of affairs and being branded as “fake news sites and propagandists,” Media Matters goes on CNN’s website and complains that Facebook is caving in to the right.
Oh, and by the way, I didn’t even need to go through all of this to prove my point.
Consider the numerous instances where it was alleged that the Democrats have access to raw social media data, the kind that the Cambridge Analytica leak exposed. In a series of tweets, Carol Davidsen, the former director of integration and media analytics for Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign organization, said that Facebook employees “came to office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side” after they figured out how to “suck out” data.
But no, Facebook is capitulating to conservatives — and Media Matters and George Soros are just trying to stop it from happening. Trust them.
This is nothing less than a war on information and opinion. More insidiously, however, it’s being waged by an enemy combatant that swears it’s doing nothing more than telling the truth.
When liberals put forth a public face, like they did in the CNN Op-Ed, they claim they’re little more than a modern-day Walter Cronkite, puffing away at their pipes and telling it like it is. When they think no one’s looking, however, they’re proudly censorious attack dogs pushing for a Pravda-lite media that would be, in essence, an unofficial organ of the Democrats and their agenda. And now that social media is of vital importance, they’re demanding the same level of fealty.
The sad thing is, they’re a lot closer to that reality on both accounts than most Americans realize.
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