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Comments 23

Google’s New Search Engine Bias is No Accident

by Jonathan Cook, October 1, 2017, via Dissident Voice

Alternet has gone public with concerns about the way Google and Facebook have limited traffic to its website and, more generally, undermined access to progressive and independent media.

Its traffic from web searches has dropped precipitously – by 40 per cent – since Google introduced new algorithms in the summer. Other big progressive sites have reported similar, or worse, falls. More anecdotally, and less significantly, I have noticed on both my own website and Facebook page a sharp drop in views and shares in recent weeks.

Alternet is appealing for financial help, justifiably afraid that the drop in traffic will impact its revenues and threaten its future.

Nonetheless, there is something deeply misguided, even dangerous, about its description of what is happening. Here is how its executive editor, Don Hazen, describes Alternet’s problems:

Little did we know that Google had decided, perhaps with bad advice or wrong-headed thinking, that media like AlterNet—dedicated to fighting white supremacy, misogyny, racism, Donald Trump, and fake news—would be clobbered by Google in its clumsy attempt to address hate speech and fake news. …

So the reality we face is that two companies, Google and Facebook—which are not media companies, do not have editors or fact-checkers, and do no investigative reporting—are deciding what people should read, based on a failure to understand how media and journalism function.

“Bad advice”, “wrong-headed”, “clumsy”, “failure to understand”.  Alternet itself is the one that has misunderstood what is going on. There is nothing accidental or clumsy about what Google and Facebook are doing. In fact, what has happened was entirely predictable as soon as western political and media elites started raising their voices against “fake news”.

That was something I and others warned about at the time.  Here is what I wrote on this blog late last year:

But the claim of “fake news” does usefully offer western security agencies, establishment politicians and the corporate media a powerful weapon to silence their critics. After all, these critics have no platform other than independent websites and social media. Shut down the sites and you shut up your opponents.

Google and Facebook have been coming under relentless and well-documented pressure from traditional media corporations and the political establishment to curb access to independent news and analysis sites, especially those offering highly critical perspectives on the policies and behaviour of western corporations and state bureaucracies. These moves are intimately tied to ongoing efforts to spread the dishonest claim that progressive sites are working in the service of Russia’s Vladimir Putin in his alleged attempts to subvert western democracies.

Shadowy groups like PropOrNot have been springing up to make such wildly unsubstantiated claims, which have then been taken up as authoritative by traditional corporate media like the Washington Post. It is noticeable that the list of sites suffering sudden downturns in traffic closely correlates with the progressive websites defamed as Putin propaganda outfits by PropOrNot.

The pressure on Google and Facebook is not going to ease. And the two new-media giants are not likely to put up any more resistance than is absolutely necessary to suggest they are still committed to some abstract notion of free speech. Given that their algorithms and distribution systems are completely secret, they can say one thing in public and do something else entirely in private.

Other comments by Hazen further suggest that Alternet does not really understand the new environment it finds itself in. He writes:

Ben Gomes, the company’s vice president for engineering, stated in April that Google’s update of its search engine would block access to ‘offensive’ sites, while working to surface more ‘authoritative content’. This seemed like a good idea. Fighting fake news, which Trump often uses to advance his interests and rally his supporters, is an important goal that AlterNet shares.

Fake news can be found across much of the media spectrum: in the New York Times, CNN, BBC, Guardian, as well in Donald Trump’s tweets. It has existed for as long as powerful interests have dominated the media and its news agenda – which is since the invention of print. Fake news cannot be defeated by giving greater powers to huge media conglomerations to decide what people should hear. It is defeated by true media pluralism – something we have barely experienced even now, in this brief heady period of relative online freedom.

Alternet is treating Google and Facebook, and the powerful corporate interests behind them, as though they can be tamed and made to see sense, and persuaded that they should support progressive media. That is not going to happen.

Like the media barons of old, who alone could afford the economies of scale necessary to distribute newspapers through delivery trucks and corner shops, Google and Facebook are the monopolistic distribution platforms for new and social media. They have enormous power to decide what you will see and read, and they will use that power in their interests – not yours.

They will continue to refine and tighten their restrictions so that access to dissident media becomes harder and harder. It will happen so subtly and incrementally that there is a real danger few will notice how they have been gradually herded back into the arms of the media corporations.


Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books).

23 Comments

  1. Alternet has always been a gatekeeper site as far as I am aware. They had moderation like the Grauniad has now way back in the Bush era.

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  2. I thought when I read the Alternet post maybe they were being ironic – but then irony and sarcasm are lost on the lot these days so maybe they weren’t after all.

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  3. Fuck Google. Use DuckDuckGo or Yandex, or any engine that doesn’t cooperate with the Man. Funny how Google’s slogan used to be “Don’t be evil”. They just dropped the “don’t”. Simple.

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  4. Alan says

    As a successful business Google is just too good to be true. It has many aspects reminiscent of an intel program [https://wikileaks.org/google-is-not-what-it-seems/], although Wikileaks is itself too good to be true. News bias is probably of lesser concern than other opaque activities. Where possible alternatives to Google should be sought.

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  5. Willem says

    Listening or reading or watching corporate news is like standing in a traffic jam where you are told by the DJ that ‘Today there are very few traffic jams as compared with normal’. Or worse, that the DJ reports traffic jams, but not the one that you are standing in.

    The reason why people turn to non-corporate news is that the news in corporate media does not represent their lives or their views of what is important or happening in their life. They hope to find this other person who, so to speak, does acknowledge that, indeed, he or she stands in a traffic jam. And therefore is not crazy. And who in addition acknowledges to the person who stands in the traffic jam that these traffic jams are much worse than normal. And that it sucks to stand in a traffic jam. People like confirmation of their own thoughts and feelings by someone else. That is a very important reason of why people read, watch or listen to non-corporate news.

    I agree with the author that Google’s search engine is getting more and more biased. I appreciate that he mentions this because it confirms my own experience with Google where, no matter what I look for, nearly always end up at some news site that is seeing the world from a corporate view. But I do not agree that this will lead to the herding back of many into the arms of the media corporations. In fact, I think it is opposite, or at least equally likely that people who cannot agree with the viewpoints in corporate media and who cannot find alternative viewpoints that confirm their feelings, thoughts and life situation, that these people will have no other choice than to start thinking for themselves. And subsequentlt try to find ways how they can ventilate their views. That may very well lead to action, which is far more dangerous for corporate media that thinks that they can manufacture consent on a population level by giving people news that does not relate with the life of people or, alternatively, give them non-corporate news that at least glues a person to a couch or bench while staring at a screen, looking for confirmation of his or her views.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I find AlterNet’s whingeing just a little disingenuous, since it still is listed in Google News https://news.google.com/news/search/section/q/alternet/alternet?hl=en-CA&ned=ca which always guarantee higher Google placement. Of course, every time Google News tinkers with its algorithm people complain THEIR site stats have gone down, LOL Here’s a complaint from 2010 http://www.asktog.com/columns/084Top10GoogleNewsSucks.html

    Maybe, just maybe, as already pointed out, many sites stats have gone down since the 2016 election. It’s so PC I rarely ever go there myself any more. Try new content and different voices?

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  7. Alternet is itself a horribly designed garish clickbait farm that runs tedious anti-Trump gossip 24/7 for mainstream liberals. I only go there to read Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton’s articles on Syria (which are usually excellent). But it is not surprising that the owners/managers of that site are going easy on Google and Facebook and downplaying their nefarious actions.

    Speaking of Google, YouTube deleted a playlist in which I had saved videos relating to the wars in the Middle East and North Africa. I do not upload videos to YouTube myself and this playlist was unlisted. Here is the e-mail I received from YouTube:

    Hi eric_blair2874,
    The YouTube community flagged one or more of your playlists as inappropriate. After reviewing the content, we’ve determined that the playlist violates our Community Guidelines. As a result, we removed the following playlist from YouTube:

    • Western Asia/N. Africa WAR III
    Please note that this removal has not resulted in a strike on your channel. We encourage you to review all playlists in your account to make sure that they are in line with our community guidelines. Additional violations could result in strikes on your account, or even lead to account termination.
    For more information, please visit the YouTube Help Centre.
    Yours sincerely,
    – The YouTube Team

    Help centre • Email options • Report spam
    ©2017 YouTube, LLC 901 Cherry Ave, San Bruno, CA 94066, USA

    Note how they say “the YouTube community” flagged my unlisted – and therefore INVISIBLE – playlist. Two other playlists with the same content were left unmolested. But I did recently watch several good documentaries about Syria on the ANNA News channel. It happens to be Russian and the perspective offered does not line up with the lies and distortions that make up the official NATO/Western version of events. Maybe that is why “the community” [sic] flagged the playlist.

    I have watched many clips and documentaries from Russian sources on YT but ANNA News recently began adding English subtitles to many of their programs about Syria and maybe that ‘s why “the community” [sic] “flagged” that particular unlisted and invisible playlist. Who knows. But it is clear where this is going. The establishment’s intelligence agencies, the MSM and big data corporations are working to prevent us from accessing any and all information that provides perspectives not in sync with the official propaganda line.

    While Ukrainian nazis and other fascistic right-wing goons are left alone, Democracy, already weakened and frail after years of abuse, is now being slowly strangled to death. The main target is anything even remotely left-wing. That shows what the establishment is most afraid of and how much power the left could have if it got its act together.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Adrian says

      “Are my comments blocked on this website?”
      Apparently not…

      But will I be able to post any links that prove that what is alleged to have happened in Las Vegas didn’t really happen?

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      • But will I be able to post any links that prove that what is alleged to have happened in Las Vegas didn’t really happen?

        I think you need to reacquaint yourself with the definition of ‘proof.’ Or try to convince an honest judge (if you can find one) that you have ‘proof’ that the latest spree killing in the US did not happen. Good luck!

        That intelligence agencies and terrorist groups run false flag attacks and powerful people engage in conspiracies is a fact that has indeed been widely proven. But seeing false flags and conspiracies behind every major media story of death and carnage, events where the truth is likely much more mundane, is a sign of lazy thinking and and intellectual weakness. It makes you a dupe and a fool and it fuels paranoia and even more lazy thinking.

        It helps to keep in mind that sometimes a cigar is, in fact, just a cigar.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Adrian says

          Eric Blair
          What “death and carnage” are you referring to?
          If you are referring to the fake deaths of “9/11″ it has already been proven, without reasonable doubt”, that all of those so called “deaths” were fake.
          And if you doubt my advice, then please do your own research and check out the official sources that should (in theory) be able to confirm all of the death certificates for all of those victism’s of 9/11 (LOL)

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          • While all the people said to have died may not have died on 9/11, a number certainly did. Some were specifically wanted dead. 9/11 had a multiplicity of agendas and murdering certain people was one of them. Watch Jeremy Rys’s eye-opening film about who was in the twin towers on the morning of 9/11, who wasn’t and where they were. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_fp5kaVYhk

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        • When a terror event is reported breathlessly around the world 24/7 you should be extremely suspicious. And there are so many false flag hoaxes it’s hard to keep up. This analyst predicted Las Vegas from a clue at the Freeman High School shooting two weeks before (the power elite give clues from one event to the next). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Nph4oueARA

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  8. Thanks for sharing this Alternet article! When it comes to censorship and danger to basic democratic principles all sane people must close the ranks and raise awareness of what is going on.

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  9. AlterNet’s naivité is typical for sites that are based on affiliation with a specific (mainstream) political party. “But we’re the good guys, they would never do such a thing to us!“.

    On a side note (somewhat), the graph in that AlterNet article shows that their traffic already started to drop significantly around the time of the 2016 elections, more than half a year before Google’s new algorithms. I suspect that’s due to the site’s off-putting combination of Hillary apologetics and obsessive bashing of Trump’s personality. I stopped reading AlterNet myself after the DNC convention.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joe Hill says

      AlterNet is perhaps the most PC of the progressive sites. I was banned for criticizing aspects of US feminism.

      It receives substantial funding from the Ford Foundation, a well known conduit for CIA funds during the cold war.

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  10. They finally got to Progressives and left leaning media and bloggers? Well, the rest of us were hit back in 2016. Maybe now we can come together as a nation and take our liberties back. One cannot be choosey about who deserves to be heard and who deserves to be silent.

    The First Amendment does not work that way. Furthermore, this is about power and who gets to be heard and who does not as designated by the global masters.

    How many have forgotten or just don’t give a damn about the words of Martin Niemöller:

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.
    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

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  11. rtj1211 says

    Try using different search engines.

    I have not made one Google search for nine months and I am no worse informed.

    Get current readers to recommend your site to 10 friends, a far better reference than a google weblink. This is going back to basics of building a business sustainably. Current readers are your best marketing resource….if your content is worth reading….

    It will start slowly, but Google can be completely cut out within 10 years if people ignore it instead of fighting it.

    Then you will have to worry about the browsers…..

    Like

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