Free Speech and Tech Giant Censorship

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How The New NAFTA Trade Deal Lets Big Tech Squelch Conservative Speech

By   13, 2018

Less than two weeks ago, President Trump signed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement intended to be the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump has attacked for decades. The White House says the agreement will “better serve the interests of American workers and businesses” and “includes the strongest digital trade … provisions of any United States trade agreement.”

Unfortunately, an obscure article in one provision of the agreement only serves the interests of the largest tech monopolies by granting them special privilege to censor conservatives. Congress should demand the removal or amendment of this article before giving consent to confirm section 230.

How did this happen? Big Tech lobbyists orchestrated the quiet insertion of a seemingly innocuous provision (Article 19.17) into the deal that is based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230, much beloved by big tech, and an essential building block of their monopolistic dominance, holds that platforms like Facebook cannot be held liable as a “publisher or speaker” of their users’ content.

Under the right circumstances, there’s good reason for tech companies to have this type of immunity. If Facebook were legally responsible for everything its more than 2 billion users post, then it would enforce overly restrictive rules and restrictions and block lawful posts. Because Congress explicitly acknowledged that these platforms served as a “forum for a true diversity of political discourse,” it granted this important privilege.

Read More: http://thefederalist.com/2018/12/13/the-new-nafta-trade-deal-lets-big-tech-squelch-conservative-speech/

Congress Should Reconsider Big Tech’s Special Legal Privileges That Foster Censorship

   14, 2019

On Jan. 9 we sent letters to the chairs and ranking members of the House Judiciary, House Energy and Commerce, Senate Judiciary, and Senate Commerce committees requesting hearings on this matter in order to seek an appropriate governmental remedy to online censorship.

This request comes after we have carefully tracked and documented viewpoint censorship for years. Repeatedly, we have urged Big Tech leaders to adopt a free speech charter to ensure their platforms are an even playing field for debate. In December 2017, we launched Internet Freedom Watch to draw greater attention to this problem. For many years we have amassed evidence of viewpoint censorship on the internet, illustrating it with a timeline with more than 40 high-profile examples.

In addition to Graham, the timeline is a veritable who’s who of Christian and conservative leaders and causes, including cases involving Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Susan B. Anthony List, PragerU, Rep. Matt Gaetz, Alliance Defending Freedom, NRBTV, Erick Erickson, Dr. Michael Brown, Live Action, D. James Kennedy Ministries, Dr. Carol Swain, Ray Comfort, Phil Robertson, Todd Starnes, Chuck Colson’s Manhattan Declaration, and other Christian leaders and ministries, as well as conservative leaders and organizations.

The common denominator is espousing viewpoints progressives oppose and increasingly seek to squelch in the public marketplace of ideas. Although some of these cases of censorship were later corrected, that the problem persists and is growing indicates it is systemic.

Read More: http://thefederalist.com/2019/01/14/congress-reconsider-big-techs-special-legal-privileges-foster-censorship/

‘The goal is to automate us’: welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism

John Naughton
Sun 20 Jan 2019

…The headline story is that it’s not so much about the nature of digital technology as about a new mutant form of capitalism that has found a way to use tech for its purposes. The name Zuboff has given to the new variant is “surveillance capitalism”. It works by providing free services that billions of people cheerfully use, enabling the providers of those services to monitor the behaviour of those users in astonishing detail – often without their explicit consent.

“Surveillance capitalism,” she writes, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour.”

While the general modus operandi of Google, Facebook et al has been known and understood (at least by some people) for a while, what has been missing – and what Zuboff provides – is the insight and scholarship to situate them in a wider context. She points out that while most of us think that we are dealing merely with algorithmic inscrutability, in fact what confronts us is the latest phase in capitalism’s long evolution – from the making of products, to mass production, to managerial capitalism, to services, to financial capitalism, and now to the exploitation of behavioural predictions covertly derived from the surveillance of users. In that sense, her vast (660-page) book is a continuation of a tradition that includes Adam Smith, Max Weber, Karl Polanyi and – dare I say it – Karl Marx.

Read More: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/jan/20/shoshana-zuboff-age-of-surveillance-capitalism-google-facebook

Google Staff Tell Bosses China Censorship Is “Moral and Ethical”

CrisisRyan Gallagher
August 16 2018

Google employees are demanding answers from the company’s leadership amid growing internal protests over plans to launch a censored search engine in China.

Staff inside the internet giant’s offices have agreed that the censorship project raises “urgent moral and ethical issues” and have circulated a letter saying so, calling on bosses to disclose more about the company’s work in China, which they say is shrouded in too much secrecy, according to three sources with knowledge of the matter.

The internal furor began after The Intercept earlier this month revealed details about the censored search engine, which would remove content that China’s authoritarian government views as sensitive, such as information about political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest. It would “blacklist sensitive queries” so that “no results will be shown” at all when people enter certain words or phrases, leaked Google documents disclosed. The search platform is to be launched via an Android app, pending approval from Chinese officials.

The censorship plan – code-named Dragonfly – was not widely known within Google. Prior to its public exposure, only a few hundred of Google’s 88,000 employees had been briefed about the project – around 0.35 percent of the total workforce. When the news spread through the company’s offices across the world, many employees expressed anger and confusion.

Read More: https://theintercept.com/2018/08/16/google-china-crisis-staff-dragonfly/

The truth will not be Googled – Renegade Inc

eric-schmidt-and-charlie-rose

The truth will not be Googled – Renegade In

While web-hosting services have been criticised for cancelling the registration of neo-Nazi website, Daily Stormer, progressive left-leaning sites are losing Google ranking and traffic because of a deliberate move to censor “fake” news by the internet search giant.

New data released by World Socialist Websites (WSWS) revealed that sites such as Wikileaks, The Intercept, Electronic Frontiers Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Organisation, CounterPunch and many other organisations with the audacity to provide context about the activities of federal governments not reported in mainstream publications have experienced a significant drop in traffic after Google altered its algorithm.

Earlier this week, internet hosting provider, GoDaddy, announced it had cancelled US neo-Nazi website, Daily Stormer, for posting an attack on Heather Heyer, the protester who was murdered at the Klan rally in Charlottesville last week. Google and CloudFlare likewise cancelled its registration after the site tried to move its hosting over to their respective services.

But while these hosting services are being congratulated by some – and condemned by others on free-speech grounds – for ensuring that those looking to commit violence have to work slightly harder to get access to their like-minded Nazi communities, those who own the means of transmission – namely Google, Facebook and Twitter – are still preventing the rest of us from accessing information that allows people to make sense of the world around us.

Earlier this month, Google altered its algorithm – allegedly in an attempt to address the ‘fake news’ problem – and in doing so, a broad array of anti-establishment news organisations, whistleblower, civil-rights and anti-war websites were censored from its search listings. But most people were too distracted by the opinions of some low-level engineer on Google’s diversity hiring policies and its intolerance of conservative views in the workplace to take notice.

The data released by WSWS shows that since Google altered its algorithm, Wikileaks experienced a 30% decline in traffic from Google searches. Democracy Now fell by 36%. Truthout dropped by 25%. Its own traffic dropped by 67% percent over the same period. Alternet saw a 63% decline in traffic. Media Matters saw a 36% drop in traffic. Counterpunch.org fell by 21%. The Intercept fell by 19%.

In May, WSWS was ranked 5th in Google searches for the keyword ‘socialism’. Today the WSWS is nowhere to be found in the top 200 searches for the same keyword. In addition, Google blocked every one of WSW’s top 45 search terms.

Aaron Kaufman, director of development at progressive news outlet, Common Dreams said that Google Search as a percentage of total traffic to the Common Dreams website has decreased nearly 50 percent since May.

When human bias mistakes truth for bullshit

In a blog post published on April 25th, Google’s chief search engineer, Ben Gomez framed the issue as a change to the tech giant’s technical procedures in response to “the phenomenon of fake news”.

“The most high profile of these issues is the phenomenon of ‘fake news,’ where content on the web has contributed to the spread of blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information,” Gomez wrote. “While this problem is different from issues in the past, our goal remains the same—to provide people with access to relevant information from the most reliable sources available. And while we may not always get it right, we’re making good progress in tackling the problem. But in order to have long-term and impactful changes, more structural changes in Search are needed.”

Gomez revealed that Google had recruited more than 10,000 “evaluators” hired to judge the quality of various websites, “real people who assess the quality of Google’s search results—give us feedback on our experiments,” though the chief search engineer did not identify the “evaluators” or explain the criteria against which websites are judged.

The ultimate irony: Google has seemingly allowed its evaluators to exercise their own biases when assessing the truth, accuracy and validity of these websites, and in doing so, are censoring essential information inconvenient to the narrative of the Washington establishment.

Corporate regulation and shadow-blocking

Google is not the only player in this censorship game. Earlier last year, anti-establishment information services – Renegade Inc included – experienced a 20% drop in traffic to its Facebook pages, after the social-network altered its algorithm, again, allegedly in an attempt to crack down on ‘fake news’.

And as some excellent reporting by Reveal News’ Aaron Sankin has demonstrated, Facebook’s moderator army is likewise using the social network’s reporting system to shut down dissenting voices, particularly activists, particularly activists of colour.

Likewise, Twitter is allegedly shadow-blocking those of the left and right who it perceives to be tweeting content that sits outside of the mainstream. Renegade Inc has not been immune from this sidelining.

While Twitter has formal mechanisms for trolls and those who post abusive content – in which case it will notify users they have been suspended and provide explanations as to why – shadow-blocking is a whole different ball game. ‘Shadow-blocking’ – or ‘shadow-banning’ – are terms used to describe a more informal mode of censorship whereby particular users will simply not show up when you search for their username. Certain tweets may disappear into the ether, and your content may only be visible to people who follow you but will not show up on any Twitter feed, even if after it is re-tweeted.

Russell Bentley, a former American soldier fighting fascism in the Ukraine under the Donetsk People’s Republic – a self-declared, Russian backed separatist state – had his Twitter account shut down two days ago after a sustained campaign of targeted harassment and death threats (prohibited by Twitter’s terms of service) by pro-nazi propagandists.

Most notably, Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic, recently fell victim to a shadow-ban by Twitter, allegedly for his views on Trump.

So too was Nicholas Sarwark, chair of the Libertarian National Committee who told Renegade Inc that for weeks his own Twitter username does not show up when he searched for it from other accounts. Likewise his tweets disappeared, and were not visible to those outside of his network.

Meanwhile, those on the right claim their web traffic is also being restricted. Alt-right website Breitbart claimed both Google and Facebook had attempted to defund its site and those like it by altering Google Adsense and Facebook Audience Network.

 

Read More: renegadeinc.com/truth-will-not-be-googled/