This week three media goliaths — Facebook, Google, and Twitter, who collectively act as information gatekeepers for the Internet — announced they would begin implementing censorship practices against news sites they deem misleading.
Websites that publish “fake,” misleading, or even satirical news will now be subject to a sliding scale of infractions that will target ad revenue and social media algorithms. Without ad revenue from monetization platforms like Google Adsense, many of these sites would not be able to continue publishing, and without Facebook’s distribution platform, even sites with good organic reach could find their traffic severely crippled.
“Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose of the web property,” Google stated, following the lead of Mark Zuckerberg.
On a proprietary note, do these companies have the right to restrict users of their services who they deem to be in breach of contract? Yes. Is it understandable to want to exert some control over hacks who manipulate search engine and social media algorithms at the expense of a misinformed public? Yes. Does this exonerate the intellectual and cultural crime of using the specter of online ‘yellow journalism’ to deliver a crippling blow to the revenue streams of independent media…?
The move comes after Facebook and Google found themselves taking a lot of heat after the election. (Liberal) detractors went so far as to blame Facebook and Google for Trump’s win, claiming the constant online echo chamber of sensationalist news, unsubstantiated claims, and apocryphal headlines paved the way for Clinton’s electoral collapse.
The new restrictions will target a wide variety of websites: sites whose editorial content is deemed (by, Google, Facebook and Twitter’s board of directors, presumably?) false or misleading; sites that intend to invoke outrage with clickbait-y titles; and even sites that are purposely fake (such as the Onion’s sister site, Clickhole) for satirical purposes.
The websites on the new blacklist include Zero Hedge, The Free Thought Project, Collective Evolution, Disclose.TV, and dozens of others. The selections run the gamut from partisan propagandistic sites to alternative philosophy and healing resources. Unsurprisingly, alt-right darlings Infowars and Breitbart, both of which will soon wield vast power in the Trump administration, are targeted. In the case of Infowars, one might surmise the conservative Trumpland publication’s insistence that Hillary Clinton’s inner-circle practices satanic rituals had something to do with their inclusion on the list.
Some of the other sites on the list are surprising. Collective Evolution, as an example, may be considered by some to have New Age influences, but many of their articles practice sound journalistic ethics.
Why such a draconian response? Some analysts believe “fake news” had a role in flipping the results of the election away from what the mainstream media had predicted — away from their carefully groomed candidate. Their conscription of Google, Facebook, and Twitter (which may institute something called ‘mute’ filters) in order to exact revenge may cripple, if not destroy, an alternative media infrastructure that has grown into a formidable challenge to the traditional media establishment.
Because of how blatantly fascistic this move is, I struggle to respond to those who say, ‘Well, some of these sites are bad.’
Yes, some of them are, but that’s not the point. The point is that this is a Pandora’s Box scenario. Once we give the Corporate State the ability to curate online content via punitive measures, we’ve bestowed upon them the power to act as gatekeeper for a stunning amount of public knowledge. This is crony capitalism integrated into the very ethos of the fourth estate, using groupthink and the free market to drown out sites that don’t make the cut of acceptable.
They will now be able to go through all news stories and delegate carte blanche which ones are “false” and must therefore be algorithmically and punitively castrated. They already used Russia as an excuse to not acknowledge Wikileaks impeccably researched leaks. What won’t they stoop to in order to conceal their future transgressions?