Anyone who works in digital publishing will tell you how important Google ad revenue is.
The tech giant controls roughly one-third of all the money spent on digital advertising in the world. If they blacklist you, you’re essentially finished.
That’s what happened to one controversial conservative website this week. Another major conservative website was warned they were going to be blacklisted. In both cases, according to NBC News, the issue was over comments made about Black Lives Matter that were deemed to be policy violations.
Google had initially said they’d demonetized both websites, Zero Hedge and The Federalist.
“We have strict publisher policies that govern the content ads can run on and explicitly prohibit derogatory content that promotes hatred, intolerance, violence or discrimination based on race from monetizing,” a spokesperson for Google wrote. “When a page or site violates our policies, we take action. In this case, we’ve removed both sites’ ability to monetize with Google.”
Google would later clarify that The Federalist had been given time to address issues. Zero Hedge was still verboten, however.
This won’t be a defense of the relative merits of the websites in question; Zero Hedge has been singled out in the past for its willingness to embrace conspiracy theories. This will, however, be an examination of how big tech uses its very visible hand to act as a censor.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson has been one of big tech’s biggest critics. In his Tuesday monologue, he pushed back on Google’s power — and Congress’ unwillingness to do anything about it.
The host began by pointing to the fact that his previous night’s show — which contained a controversial criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement — was the most watched hour of prime-time television that night.
“We never talk about ratings, and we’re definitely not telling you this to brag about it. There’s already more than enough bragging in television, that’s for sure,” Carlson said.
“The point of telling you this is to remind you that you are not alone. You may feel like you are. Suddenly your opinions qualify as crimes. Dare to say what you think at work and you will be fired in the middle of a recession. Write what you think online and you will be silenced by the big tech companies.
“So, you keep your views to yourself. You have no choice. A lot of Americans are doing that right now. They’re staying quiet. And of course, that’s the point of censorship — to keep people isolated and alone, to prevent a consensus from forming that challenges those in charge. If you’re forced to shut up, they can do what they want to you and your country. That’s why they do it.”
And the biggest censorship entity, according to Carlson, isn’t a government bureau somewhere. Instead, it’s big tech.
“In all of human history, no single entity has ever had more control over information than Google does right now. So, if you’re worried about the concentration of power in the hands of a few unaccountable actors, and you very much should be, nobody has more unchecked power than Google does,” Carlson said.
“This afternoon, NBC News decided to use some of Google’s power to shut down a couple of its competitors. Power is useful for that. An NBC employee called Adele-Momoko Fraser forwarded Google executives a screen [shot] from a left-wing activist group in England denouncing two sites, Zero Hedge and The Federalist as ‘racist.'”
That’s when the situation involving the demonetization and the backtracking played out.
“Adele-Momoko Fraser was thrilled by this. She immediately fired off a victory tweet boasting about the censorship she had inspired. She called the two sites ‘far-right.’ That’s a term that has no meaning but does suggest some kind of immoral behavior that Adele-Momoko Fraser disapproves of,” Carlson said.
“At the end of her tweet, she thanked the activists who helped her to silence competing views ‘for their hard work and collaboration!’ — #BlackLivesMatter with three raised fists at the end. Adele-Momoko Fraser seemed very satisfied with herself. She had done her part for the revolution today.”
Google told Fox News that the two sites had unmoderated comments sections, which was the reason for the demonetization threats. The Federalist deleted theirs, while Zero Hedge kept its comments section. Hence, it was blacklisted.
This seems like a strange coincidence given the fact that it coincided nicely with NBC News echoing the report from the left-wing activist group, but OK.
Our policies do not allow ads to run against dangerous or derogatory content, which includes comments on sites, and we offer guidance and best practices to publishers on how to comply. https://t.co/zPO669Yd0p
— Google Communications (@Google_Comms) June 16, 2020
There was a great irony here about big tech, and it’s an irony that conservatives have been pointing out for quite some time now.
“All of this raises an interesting question, though. Google says it now holds conservative websites responsible for the comments of their readers. And yet, irony of ironies, thanks to a special carve-out Google has received from the United States Congress — something called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, remember that — Google itself is not responsible for content on its platform because the Congress says it doesn’t have to be,” Carlson said.
“So, if you’re slandered by someone, for example, and that slander passes through Google servers, you cannot sue Google over it. Google is immune from the consequences. Immunity is a very nice thing to have if you’re a big company. Fox News doesn’t have it.
“But again, thanks to Congress, Google does have immunity, and that’s one of the main reasons that Google’s founders are some of the richest and most powerful people in the world. Because Congress allowed them to be.”
The logic Google uses is that under Section 230, it is a platform and not a publisher that curates its content. And yet, Google has shown the propensity to curate its content … like a publisher does.
Even ignoring that, however, these two websites were basically threatened with being demonetized out of existence because of their comments section — which is content on their platform they’re not responsible for. While Google enjoys Section 230 protections, it seems, they’re not willing to pass those same protections on to others.
There have been voices who’ve called for re-examining Section 230 of the CDA, particularly GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri. As Carlson pointed out, however, Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, who chairs the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, has been loath to examine it.
“Google should have faced these consequences a long time ago,” Carlson said. “Congress should have done this years ago. It’s been clear for a very long time that the big tech monopolies have now surpassed the federal government as the chief threat to our liberties.”
It’s not just Google, mind you, although they’ll be in the crosshairs for the next few days over this decision. When Facebook employees stage a “virtual walkout” because their company didn’t censor posts by President Donald Trump earlier this month, it’s clear the pressure is on big tech from inside when it doesn’t come from the top.
This, again, isn’t a defense of everything on Zero Hedge or The Federalist, although calling The Federalist “far-right” and demonetizing them seems far out of line with what they really are. However, it shows the massive power that Google has — and who gets silenced by it. This, mind you, is just the beginning. Small victories for activists working through big tech become bigger ones.
If Congress doesn’t examine Section 230 now, the opportunity might not come again. In this case, Carlson gets it right: “Time is up. Seriously, it is too much. The stakes are too high. We need better leadership. We need someone to protect us. Nobody is.”
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