Google’s secret war against net neutrality, from stealthy censorship of independent voices to Google actually embracing the alt-right
By Robin Rowe
In a huge blow to net neutrality, Google News is suppressing progressive free speech news publishers while becoming a bastion of greed-first groupthink billionaire journalism and promoting alt-right soft-hate news, even naming the human rights-bashing Washington Times an “Editor’s Pick”.
Anyone watching Google News can see that mainstream news outlets are a groupthink mono-culture, with 100 different outlets reporting essentially the same “big” story. That is, whatever is the top scandal of the day. With click-bait headlines the norm, mainstream news and fake news look indistinguishable. Readers struggle to tell a difference. It’s all negativity and shouting. Soft-hate journalism is inciting violence in our society by promoting intolerance and bigotry.
Net neutrality is the concept that every publisher, regardless of size, should have equal access to putting their message on the Internet. What the FCC has done in striking down net neutrality is say it’s ok for carriers to price independent small businesses out of the Internet, to make the Internet a haven for Fortune 500 corporations. Net neutrality protesting has focused on how this may damage small business and innovation.
The bigger net neutrality issue is the denial of a voice to independent news. That’s already been happening for some time, before the FCC ruling. Google urged us all to take action to support net neutrality, while at the same time defeating net neutrality by giving favored nations treatment to big business news organizations at Google News.
Google News is making the establishment news mono-culture worse by blocking independent news publishers seeking to join Google News. There’s an almost insurmountable headwind for new publishers trying to get into Google News. Why is that a real problem? Let’s talk about what Google did that suppressed independent news in Spain, and how it played into the Spanish government’s suppression of news during the vote for Catalan independence.
Spain’s repressive Google tax, and consequent Google News blackout, crippled independent news there. When that happened at the time, Google may have thought, it serves Spain right for passing such a stupid law. However, Google’s unwitting role in the suppression of independent news in Spain had consequences.
The Spanish news blackout by Google News played into the hands of the Spanish government seizing mainstream media later to suppress Catalan independence. Mainstream Spanish news outlets became official propaganda. Without Google News to promote them, independent news outlets were effectively silenced. By the way, Spain is the only Fascist country to not have its Fascist leader overthrown at the end of World War 2. Fascism is still vigorous in Spain.
In its early days, Google News was a tremendous democratic influence for good. Smaller news sites you wouldn’t otherwise know about could get to the top of Google News based on merit. I remember when a colleague wrote a story about a TV movie premiere starring Jennifer Love Hewitt. There was surprisingly big interest in this story. It was the only story that quoted Hewitt talking about her film. That story went to the top of the entertainment section of Google News on a Sunday morning and stayed at the top all day. It drove tremendous amounts of traffic to the news site that published it. They took a lesson from it.
Their success with that story on Google News changed their editorial mandate. The new marching orders? Find more stories that we can uniquely cover that will put us at the top of Google News. What Google had done, intentionally or not, was support news diversity and make journalism better. For years that publication ranked on the front page of Google News every week. Like many small newspapers they struggled. Yet, they survived on that traffic. Until Google News dropped them. Without Google News driving most of their traffic, that newspaper didn’t survive.
At Google News being good, new and independent is not considered worthy journalism anymore. It’s how rich you are that gets you into the Google News club today.
In fairness to Google News, some new publications are carried by them, so clearly it’s not impossible for a new publisher to gain access. However, given Google’s loud support of net neutrality, why is it that Google News has no program that nurtures net neutrality on their own platform? Why not help small publishers, rather than making it more difficult for them to launch and sustain themselves? Why is Google creating barriers to entry for small publishers?
Maybe Google simply hasn’t thought about the consequences of not helping small publishers. After all, it may be more work to deal with them. They may have more questions to answer about how to follow Google’s rules than establishment outlets. In fact, big mainstream publishers aren’t actually subject to Google’s rules.
Google News isn’t about to drop the New York Times or Washington Post if they make a website template change that moves the author byline down a line or some other superficial change that may confuse Google crawler robots. A small publisher, however, is expected to play 110% by the somewhat secret and officially unofficial Google rules.
A veteran Google News forum advisor talks about how things have changed over time at Google News:
In simple terms the Google News guidelines have tightened up over time. I joke that the NYTimes might not be accepted these days. Yes, that tight. So your goal is not to generate a marginally passable website that might get accepted into Google News, but one that is so wonderful that Google will drop all of your perceived competitors to find room for you.
Maturity. If the site doesn’t have 6 months of strong journalism history to review, don’t bother applying. Maybe 1 year in some niches. And don’t be surprise to be rejected as 99% of all sites that apply will be rejected. Think of this as a challenge and go forth and make the best possible news site in your niche.
Why is there no room at Google for independent journalism? Has the Internet run out of space? Why the bias for Fortune 500 publishers?
Based on widespread feedback on the Google News forum and what small publishers have told me personally, Google News has changed in a dark way. No longer a news democracy with room for every legitimate news publisher no matter what size, Google News has morphed into a walled garden embracing big business and promoting a mostly conservative, hard-right agenda.
Reading Google News today tells us that Google’s idea of what qualifies as good journalism has changed in a fundamental way…
The hard-right, pro-Trump National Review is now often found trending on the front page of Google News. Polls show Trump as quite unpopular, yet at the National Review, a top story today is, Trump’s Whirlwind Year President Donald Trump…In the end, his 2017 was quite a success.
Another hard-right publication, the Washington Times, is an “Editor’s Pick” on the Google News front page today (2017/12/20). That’s a boxed area to the right of trending stories, reserved to draw attention to what are in Google’s opinion, outstanding newspapers. Top stories featured today at the Washington Times include these anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, anti-feminist articles: 32 Planned Parenthood centers shut down in 2017…Pro-life activists see hope for the end, and, Homeland Security releases illegal immigrant who lied about age so she can get abortion…Move aimed at freeing government from any obligation to facilitate procedure.
Hard-right conservative newspapers have a voice on the front page of Google News. What about the independent small press of no particular leaning or the newspapers of the hard-left? Are they carried by Google News?
An unscientific sampling of what’s carried at Google News… I checked whether Google News carries the socialist Morning Star or the anti-conservative Skwawkbox. Nope. However, Google News does carry at least one independent, left-wing newspaper, the pro-Corbyn Canary. As a daily reader of Google News, I’ve never seen a Canary article featured on the front page of Google News, but hard-right, soft-hate articles are.
What happens if a newspaper is not carried? You or the publisher may try to complain to Google, but no Google employee will respond. The Google News forum is manned by volunteers who disavow speaking for Google, who say they don’t know why any particular newspaper is blocked.
To check if Google News carries your favorite independent newspaper, surf to news.google.com and enter the word “site:” followed by the URL of your favorite small independent news publication.
Google News is doing the opposite of net neutrality. Google News has an anonymous censorship board promoting the establishment groupthink and an increasingly hard-right agenda. Think that’s bad? It gets worse…
Billionaires control the mainstream press. The mainstream press and the hard-right press are both controlled by the ultra-rich.
Billionaire publishers employ their managing editors, or in the case of Rupert Murdock are the managing editor. What billionaires believe to be the truth or to be important is what the establishment news and hard-right editors have to cover. Whether it’s Jeff Bezos, owner of the Washington Post, which continues to provide outstanding journalism, or Rupert Murdock, owner and head of Fox News, which does not, it’s all a billionaire groupthink. Regional newspapers are billionaire platforms, too. Warren Buffet owns 31 news dailies and 50 weeklies.
News dominance matters. It swings elections, as vividly demonstrated in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Whatever you think of the outcome of that election, polls show that the two establishment candidates were the most disliked candidates for President ever. At the same time, Bernie Sanders was the most popular politician in America. However, his anti-establishment message was suppressed by an establishment news coverage blackout for most of his campaign, then later used by media to damage Clinton. Trump received the most news coverage. He couldn’t have won without it.
In the UK, five billionaires, Rupert Murdoch, Jonathon Harmsworth, Richard Desmond and the Barclay twins, own 80% of the newspapers, plus TV stations, press agencies, book companies, and cinemas. A handful of billionaires, many of them tax avoiders living beyond the law through offshore accounting, has become our society’s thought narrative overlords through their control of the press. None of the top UK billionaire press owners actually live in England. The end of net neutrality, including rescinding the longstanding FCC rule that the same company can’t own TV, radio and newspapers in the same market, means there’s nothing to stop the U.S. news establishment becoming like the UK. It’s only a matter of time before the takeover is complete, that a few billionaires own all the news in the U.S.
Google is helping the 0.1% control the news.
Google needs to stop being a gatekeeper enforcing a billionaire viewpoint, news mono-culture. Google News should not be a platform for an insidious anti-climate, anti-immigrant, anti-feminist, hard-right groupthink, at least, not an unchallenged one lacking independent voices. The left-wing Washington Post and the right-wing Fox News don’t balance out each other, despite their opposing views. Both are directed by billionaires, the 0.1%.
Two weeks ago the pro-Trump Koch brothers bought Time magazine. Trump has clashed with Time over whether he should be on the cover as Person of the Year. Nobody should be surprised when Trump is lauded on a Time cover in 2018. It will be surprising if he is not.
Google News is boosting financial inequality by suppressing independent journalism. Will Google reconsider, stop suppressing small independent newspapers? Will Google stop denying independents carriage on Google’s news network? Will Google practice what they preach, make net neutrality flourish on their own network?
More than net neutrality, what we need now is news net neutrality.
Robin Rowe is the managing editor of Gosh!TV and ranked in The Market. Mogul 100 of media influencers. Earlier versions of this article were published at The Market Mogul and at Medium.