“Something has happened with Google across the board that affects left-wing media in a big way,” said Scott LaMorte, a web developer for both Truthout and The Real News.
“This is absolutely an aberration. It’s a three-year low for both Truthout and The Real News, and likely unprecedented in the life of these organizations. Neither have previously experienced three straight months of declines as they have since May.”
“It’s not like everybody on the left suddenly changed their SEO [Search engine optimization],” LaMorte said. “I don’t think it was a change in Google’s algorithm in how they value SEO practices.” […]
“This is political censorship of the worst sort; it’s just an excuse to suppress political viewpoints,” said Robert Epstein, a former editor in chief of Psychology Today and noted expert on Google.
Epstein said that at this point, the question was whether the WSWS had been flagged specifically by human evaluators employed by the search giant, or whether those evaluators had influenced the Google Search engine to demote left-wing sites. “What you don’t know is whether this was the human evaluators who are demoting you, or whether it was the new algorithm they are training,” Epstein said. 1
On July 31st, World Socialist Web Site reporter, Andre Damon, spoke with RT America’s Natasha Sweatte about how and why Google is now directly targeting progressive websites:
An open letter to Google: Stop the censorship of the Internet!
Stop the political blacklisting of the World Socialist Web Site!
August 25th 2017
Chief Executive Officer
Chief Executive Officer/Director
Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors
Google’s mission statement from the outset was “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Its official code of conduct was proclaimed in Google’s famous motto: “Don’t be evil.” In recent years, you have seriously lost your way. You are now engaged in hiding the world’s information, and, in the process, are doing a great deal of evil.
When Google officially discontinued its China-based search engine, due to censorship by the Chinese government of search engine results for political criticism, Mr. Brin publicly stated that for Google, “it has always been a discussion about how we can best fight for openness on the Internet. We believe that this is the best thing that we can do for preserving the principles of the openness and freedom of information on the Internet.”
In 2013, when Mr. Schmidt visited Burma, he spoke in favor of free and open Internet use in the country. In light of Google’s recent actions, the statements of Mr. Brin and Mr. Schmidt appear utterly hypocritical.
Google, and by implication, its parent company Alphabet, Inc., are now engaged in political censorship of the Internet. You are doing what you have previously publicly denounced.
Google is manipulating its Internet searches to restrict public awareness of and access to socialist, anti-war and left-wing websites. The World Socialist Web Site (www.wsws.org) has been massively targeted and is the most affected by your censorship protocols. Referrals to the WSWS from Google have fallen by nearly 70 percent since April of this year.
Censorship on this scale is political blacklisting. The obvious intent of Google’s censorship algorithm is to block news that your company does not want reported and to suppress opinions with which you do not agree. Political blacklisting is not a legitimate exercise of whatever may be Google’s prerogatives as a commercial enterprise. It is a gross abuse of monopolistic power. What you are doing is an attack on freedom of speech.
We therefore call upon you and Google to stop blacklisting the WSWS and renounce the censorship of all the left-wing, socialist, anti-war and progressive websites that have been affected adversely by your new discriminatory search policies. […]
Beginning in April of this year, Google began manipulating search results to channel users away from socialist, left-wing, and anti-war publications, and directing them instead towards mainstream publications that directly express the views of the government and the corporate and media establishment (i.e., the New York Times, Washington Post, etc.), and a small number of mildly left “trusted” websites whose critiques are deemed innocuous (i.e., Jacobin Magazine and the website of the Democratic Socialists of America, which functions as a faction of the Democratic Party).
As a pretext for these actions, Google announced that it was making changes to its search algorithm “to surface more authoritative content,” a term that brings to mind efforts by authoritarian regimes to censor the Internet and, specifically, political views deemed outside the consensus as defined by the establishment media.
Ben Gomes, Google’s vice president for search engineering, attempted to justify the imposition of political censorship with a blog post on April 25, claiming that the changes to the algorithm were a response to “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.”
Google, according to Gomes, has recruited some 10,000 “evaluators” to judge the “quality” of websites. These evaluators are trained to “flag” websites that are deemed to “include misleading information” and “unsupported conspiracy theories.” Gomes explained that the blacklists created by these evaluators will be used, in combination with the latest developments in technology, to develop an algorithm that will impose censorship automatically, in real time, across future search results.
Whatever the technical changes Google has made to the search algorithm, the anti-left bias of the results is undeniable. The most striking outcome of Google’s censorship procedures is that users whose search queries indicate an interest in socialism, Marxism or Trotskyism are no longer directed to the World Socialist Web Site. Google is “disappearing” the WSWS from the results of search requests. For example, Google searches for “Leon Trotsky” yielded 5,893 impressions (appearances of the WSWS in search results) in May of this year. In July, the same search yielded exactly zero impressions for the WSWS, which is the Internet publication of the international movement founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938.
Other frequently used words and phrases that no longer include the WSWS in Google search results include: socialism, class struggle, class conflict, socialist movement, social inequality in the world, poverty and social inequality, antiwar literature, and the Russian revolution. A search for socialism vs. capitalism, which, as recently as April, would have listed the World Socialist Web Site as the eighth result on the first page of search results, now no longer returns any results at all for the WSWS. Of the top 150 search queries that returned results for the WSWS in April, 145 now no longer do so.
All the search terms listed above are employed frequently by users seeking a left-wing, socialist or Marxist take on events. Far from protecting readers from “unexpected” responses to their search requests, Google is manipulating its algorithm to make sure that the left-wing and progressive segment of their users, who would be most interested in the World Socialist Web Site, will not find it. Moreover, the extent and precision of the exclusion of the WSWS from search results strongly suggests that the anti-socialist bias of the new algorithm is being supplemented by the actual physical intervention of Google personnel, enforcing authoritarian-style direct and deliberate blacklisting.
As stated above, since April, other left-wing publications that present themselves as progressive, socialist or anti-war also have suffered significant reductions in their Google search results:
* alternet.org fell by 63 percent
* globalresearch.ca fell by 62 percent
* consortiumnews.com fell by 47 percent
* mediamatters.org fell by 42 percent
* commondreams.org fell by 37 percent
* internationalviewpoint.org fell by 36 percent
* democracynow.org fell by 36 percent
* wikileaks.org fell by 30 percent
* truth-out.org fell by 25 percent
* counterpunch.org fell by 21 percent
* theintercept.com fell by 19 percent
Google justifies the imposition of political censorship by using a loaded term like “fake news.” This term, properly used, signifies the manufacturing of news based on an artificially constructed event that either never occurred or has been grossly exaggerated. The present-day furor over “fake news” is itself an example of an invented event and artificially constructed narrative. It is a “fake” term that is used to discredit factual information and well-grounded analyses that challenge and discredit government policies and corporate interests. Any invocation of the phrase “fake news,” as it pertains to the WSWS, is devoid of any substance or credibility. In fact, our efforts to combat historical falsification have been recognized, including by the scholarly journal American Historical Review.
The facts prove that Google is rigging search results to blacklist and censor the WSWS and other left-wing publications. This raises a very serious question, with far-reaching constitutional implications. Is Google coordinating its censorship program with the American government, or sections of its military and intelligence apparatus?
Google probably will dismiss the question as an example of conspiracy theorizing. However, it is legitimate given the ample evidence that Google maintains close ties with the state. In 2016, Barack Obama’s defense secretary, Ashton Carter, appointed you, Mr. Schmidt, to chair the Department of Defense Innovation Advisory Board. Earlier this month, Defense Secretary James Mattis visited Google headquarters to discuss the ongoing and close collaboration between the company and the Pentagon. More generally, according to a report in The Intercept, Google representatives attended White House meetings on average at least once a week from January 2009 through October 2015.
Google claims to be a private corporation, but it is deeply involved in the formulation and implementation of government policy. The distinction between commercial interests and state objectives is increasingly difficult to detect. By obstructing the free access to and exchange of information, Google’s censorship program is aimed at enforcing a twenty-first century version of Orwellian “Right-Think.” It is undermining the development of progressive and constitutionally protected political opposition. It is benefiting the proponents of war, inequality, injustice and reaction.
The censorship of left-wing websites, and the WSWS in particular, reflects the fear that a genuine socialist perspective, if allowed a fair hearing, will find a mass audience in the US and internationally. There is widespread popular opposition to your efforts to suppress freedom of speech and thought. That is why Google feels compelled to cloak its anti-democratic policies with misleading arguments and outright lies. An online petition circulated by the WSWS demanding a halt to Google’s censorship efforts has already attracted several thousand signatures from readers in 70 different countries on five continents. We are determined to resist Google’s efforts to censor our publication, and to continue to raise awareness internationally about Google censorship. As long as this policy continues, Google will pay a heavy price in lost public credibility.
The International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Sites demands that the anti-democratic changes to the Google search result rankings and its search algorithm since April be reversed, and that Google cease its effort to curtail search accessibility to the WSWS and other left-wing, socialist, anti-war and progressive web publications.
Chairperson, International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Site
The open letter reprinted above from WSWS is an excellent one and very little can be usefully added in terms of alerting interested parties (basically everyone with a left-leaning or else genuinely libertarian outlook) regarding Google’s part in the ongoing censorship of the internet. It should however cause us to think extremely carefully about the fragility of this new information commons we increasingly depend upon. Any library can only be as good as its indexing system. When the library is as huge as the internet then good indexing is the only way to prevent information from becoming lost forever.
A few months ago, Google, which holds a de facto monopoly position on indexing the world’s greatest library, changed its algorithms. It actually does this on a fairly regular basis and historically these changes have generally been small and rather hard to detect. On this occasion, however, the changes were just as dramatic as they are very blatantly targeted.
Just as WSWS reports, the traffic to my own website (this one) suffered a vertiginous fall during recent months. Around the start of July the number of hits was cut in half, virtually overnight. What’s more, it has been traffic from the UK (my home country) that has plummeted most. Indeed, traffic to this site from the UK has been falling steadily since April (when Google announced its algorithm changes) and I now estimate that it has dropped by something like 80%. So what is happening here is obviously a very deliberate attack on the alternative left even including such small sites this.
But we should not be so very surprised. Alphabet, the company formerly known as Google (today it also owns youtube), is one of the most profitable and powerful of all global corporations. Amazingly, having entered the Fortune 500 little more than a decade ago, it then climbed into the top 100 within four years and currently stands at #27. 2 Although maybe this isn’t half so amazing once one considers Google’s true origins; and its hand-in-glove ties to the security state:
“From inception,” writes investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed, “Google was incubated, nurtured and financed by interests that were directly affiliated or closely aligned with the US military intelligence community” […]
“The US intelligence community’s incubation of Google from inception occurred through a combination of direct sponsorship and informal networks of financial influence, themselves closely aligned with Pentagon interests.” (More in an addendum below)
Or click here to read Nafeez Ahmed’s full article entitled “How the CIA made Google”.
The everyman gloss also comes off once one considers that its billionaire Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, is a member of the Trilateral Commission and has been a Bilderberg attendee every year since 2008 (apart from his absence in 2009). In fact, Google and Bilderberg appear to have firmer ties than Eric Schmidt’s affiliation as I explained when the two organisations ran back-to-back conferences at Watford in 2013:
It is a fortnight since the story of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden first broke with revelations of a “previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats” announced to the world by Glenn Greenwald writing in the Guardian on Friday 7th:
On that very same day I was heading down the M1 motorway to Watford with a friend to protest against the Bilderberg meeting taking place at the Grove hotel: a meeting that evidently has extremely close connections to those same “internet giants” who have been enabling the NSA as well as our own GCHQ to covertly snoop into every aspect of our lives. Indeed Google were already busy having their very own “private gathering” inside the same grounds of the very same hotel on days either side of the Bilderberg confab. In spite of being so closely connected to the inner circle of the Bilderberg clique, and thus to the very people who are engaged in this rampant abuse of our civil liberties, here’s what Google officially said to the Guardian:
“In a statement, Google said: ‘Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.’”
Plausible deniability, in other words, and it gets better:
“Several senior tech executives insisted that they had no knowledge of Prism or of any similar scheme. They said they would never have been involved in such a program. ‘If they are doing this, they are doing it without our knowledge,’ one said.
“An Apple spokesman said it had ‘never heard’ of Prism.” 3
I imagine he’s probably never heard of those Foxconn factories in China with the suicide nets either.
Click here to read my earlier post.
From an article published by The Independent, we learn how such ‘Google-berg’ events take place annually:
Each year, Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, jet into London for the invitation-only annual gathering, at the Grove hotel, where 400 delegates, chosen from the “great minds of our time”, discuss topics ranging from technology and the media to politics and the arts. […]
For conspiracy theorists, the conference, staged by the search engine giant, which reported a 60 per cent surge in earnings to $2.89bn this year, is a cuddlier version of the Bilderberg Group, the supposedly shadowy network of financiers that holds a private annual assembly, recast in the image of our new tech masters. 4 [my own bold highlight added]
This is also discussed at slightly greater length in another earlier post.
Although dominated by corporations, the internet operates as a commons: a public space to which we contribute voluntarily and as individuals. Anyone can publish online just as I did right now. There’s no editorial control and relatively little censorship. Knowing how to peruse the enormous and ever-expanding repository of online publications, anyone might stumble across my words. Access which is aided thanks to the principle of net neutrality – a democratic notion that all internet traffic should be treated equally – helping online communities to flourish and maintaining a measure of equality in cyberspace. But this is rapidly changing.
Around the time of the Arab Spring there was increasing furore closer to home which surrounded disputed claims about the creation of an “internet kill switch”. In June 2010, some six months prior to the death of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi whose self-immolation sparked riots that led to the Tunisian Revolution, US Senator Joe Lieberman presented a bill entitled “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act” with provision for ‘emergency’ shutdown. Similar legislation has also been introduced in Britain as The Independent reported in March 2011:
In Britain there are two pieces of legislation which give the Government power to order the suspension of the internet and, in theory, bring about web armageddon. The Civil Contingencies Act  and the 2003 Communications Act can both be used to suspend internet services, either by ordering internet service providers (ISPs) to shut down their operations or by closing internet exchanges. Under the protocol of the Communications Act, the switch-flicking would be done by the Culture Secretary. In the eyes of the legislature, Jeremy Hunt is the man invested with the power to send us back to the dark ages.
The same piece continues:
In theory, the mechanical process of shutting down the internet should be simple. In addition to ordering the nation’s main ISPs to cease operation, officials can also close main internet exchanges such as Linx – the London Internet Exchange – which handles 80 per cent of our internet traffic.
To illustrate the case, the article then reminds us of internet shutdowns during the Arab Spring:
The ISP shutdown process was used recently by the Hosni Mubarak’s government in Egypt, ostensibly to stifle the propagation of dissent. On 27 January Egypt was effectively disconnected from the rest of the web after its ISPs were ordered to shut down their services. […]
Egypt’s other three big ISPs – Link Egypt, Telecom Egypt and Etisalat Misr – also stopped services. A few days later the final service provider, Noor, went down, taking the country’s stock exchange with it.
The pattern has since been repeated in other parts of the Middle East where popular uprisings have occurred. On 19 February Libya went completely offline. In Bahrain reduced web traffic flow was reported between 14 and 16 February.
However, shutting down the web isn’t always this simple:
The problem comes down to the very nature of the internet in developed countries. It is a mesh of networks. It transcends borders and has no definable beginning or end. As a result of this structure it is almost impossible to isolate all the connections. […]
It seems highly likely then, that as happened in Egypt, if the Jeremy Hunt Doomsday scenario were ever come to pass, an alternative network would quickly expand and provide access to the internet for all. Which is a relief. 5
Click here to read the full article.
The internet “kill switch” is mostly a red herring, because the corporatocracy has no cause to kill the internet for so long as it is maximising profits by selling the latest products – including obviously so many virtual products of our dot.com world – and in the process is hoovering up data about us.
For corporate needs the internet is little more than the free market on steroids, and for the security state it is, as Julian Assange put it so eloquently, ‘the worldwide wiretap’. As these merge, the wealth of data accumulated is filtered and packaged to fit the needs of both sectors. Knowledge becomes both power and profits. But it comes at a cost for our increasingly merged corporations and state. In the pursuit of profits and the acquisition of personal information, they sacrificed a stranglehold over public discourse. That anyone can now broadcast and publish threatens to undermine establishment control. The corporatocracy, however, still holds the key, just so long as we remain reliant on Google and the other corporate tech giants for access to this information commons.
To all intents and purposes, Google are now in the process of throwing that mythical internet “kill switch” except it’s not a switch, it’s a knob… and they are suddenly turning the amplitude right down. If this continues and we are unable to find an efficient and fully independent alternative to Google then the internet will effectively die. It will appear much the same and many of its old functions will remain unaltered – doubtless, it will provide an expanding marketplace and likewise it will continue to track our lives in ever higher resolution – but the internet as tool for progressive resistance will become ossified. For the true potential it still holds for bringing about radical political change and transforming society in truly revolutionary ways will be lost forever.
Addendum: ‘How the CIA made Google’
In an extended article entitled “How the CIA made Google” Nafeez Ahmed embarked on a trail that took him from the Pentagon, the NSA, and CIA’s venture capital investment firm, In-Q-Tel, via a group known as the Highlands Forum – a private network and “bridge between the Pentagon and powerful American elites” – back to Stanford University, and legendary PhD students Larry Page and, more especially, Sergey Brin. It also led him to the door of the Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency (DARPA), and its purportedly discontinued Total Information Awareness (TIA) programme (featured in an earlier post about the rise of the surveillance state).
It is impossible to neatly summarise all of Ahmed’s findings here so without reprinting too much of the original I have tried to capture a flavour of what he discovers with regards to how Google grew out of DARPA and TIA:
“According to DARPA official Ted Senator, who led the EELD [Evidence Extraction and Link Detection] program for the agency’s short-lived Information Awareness Office, EELD was among a range of “promising techniques” being prepared for integration “into the prototype TIA system.” TIA stood for Total Information Awareness, and was the main global electronic eavesdropping and data-mining program deployed by the Bush administration after 9/11. TIA had been set up by Iran-Contra conspirator Admiral John Poindexter, who was appointed in 2002 by Bush to lead DARPA’s new Information Awareness Office.”
“[U]nder the TIA program, President Bush had secretly authorized the NSA’s domestic surveillance of Americans without court-approved warrants, in what appears to have been an illegal modification of the ThinThread data-mining project — as later exposed by NSA whistleblowers William Binney and Thomas Drake.” […]
“Core components of TIA were being “quietly continued” under “new code names,” according to Foreign Policy’s Shane Harris, but had been concealed “behind the veil of the classified intelligence budget.” The new surveillance program had by then been fully transitioned from DARPA’s jurisdiction to the NSA.” […]
“By 2008, as Facebook received its next funding round from Greylock Venture Capital, documents and whistleblower testimony confirmed that the NSA was effectively resurrecting the TIA project with a focus on Internet data-mining via comprehensive monitoring of e-mail, text messages, and Web browsing.”
TIA was purportedly shut down in 2003 due to public opposition after the program was exposed in the media, but the following year Poindexter participated in a Pentagon Highlands Group session in Singapore, alongside defense and security officials from around the world. Meanwhile, Ted Senator continued to manage the EELD program among other data-mining and analysis projects at DARPA until 2006, when he left to become a vice president at SAIC [Science Applications International Corporation, a US defence firm and “the forum’s partner organization”] which changed its name to Leidos in 2013. He is now a SAIC/Leidos technical fellow.
According to investigative journalist Tim Shorrock, the first to disclose the vast extent of the privatization of US intelligence with his seminal book Spies for Hire, SAIC has a “symbiotic relationship with the NSA: the agency is the company’s largest single customer and SAIC is the NSA’s largest contractor.”
Long before the appearance of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Stanford University’s computer science department had a close working relationship with US military intelligence. […]
From the 1970s, Prof. Feigenbaum and his colleagues had been running Stanford’s Heuristic Programming Project under contract with DARPA, continuing through to the 1990s. Feigenbaum alone had received around over $7 million in this period for his work from DARPA, along with other funding from the NSF, NASA, and ONR.
Brin’s supervisor at Stanford, Prof. Jeffrey Ullman, was in 1996 part of a joint funding project of DARPA’s Intelligent Integration of Information program. That year, Ullman co-chaired DARPA-sponsored meetings on data exchange between multiple systems.
In September 1998, the same month that Sergey Brin briefed US intelligence representatives Steinheiser and Thuraisingham, tech entrepreneurs Andreas Bechtolsheim and David Cheriton invested $100,000 each in Google. Both investors were connected to DARPA. […]
After Google’s incorporation, the company received $25 million in equity funding in 1999 led by Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. According to Homeland Security Today, “A number of Sequoia-bankrolled start-ups have contracted with the Department of Defense, especially after 9/11 when Sequoia’s Mark Kvamme met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to discuss the application of emerging technologies to warfighting and intelligence collection.” Similarly, Kleiner Perkins had developed “a close relationship” with In-Q-Tel, the CIA venture capitalist firm that funds start-ups “to advance ‘priority’ technologies of value” to the intelligence community. […]
In 2003, Google began customizing its search engine under special contract with the CIA for its Intelink Management Office, “overseeing top-secret, secret and sensitive but unclassified intranets for CIA and other IC agencies,” according to Homeland Security Today. […]
Google’s relationship with US intelligence was further brought to light when an IT contractor told a closed Washington DC conference of intelligence professionals on a not-for-attribution basis that at least one US intelligence agency was working to “leverage Google’s [user] data monitoring” capability as part of an effort to acquire data of “national security intelligence interest.” […]
In sum, many of Google’s most senior executives are affiliated with the Pentagon Highlands Forum, which throughout the period of Google’s growth over the last decade, has surfaced repeatedly as a connecting and convening force. The US intelligence community’s incubation of Google from inception occurred through a combination of direct sponsorship and informal networks of financial influence, themselves closely aligned with Pentagon interests. 6
Click here to read Nafeez Ahmed’s full article entitled “How the CIA made Google”.
1 From an article entitled “Evidence of Google blacklisting of left and progressive sites continues to mount” written by Andre Damon, published in World Socialist Web Site on August 8, 2017. http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/08/08/goog-a08.html
3 From an article entitled “NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others” written by Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, published by the Guardian on June 7, 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants-nsa-data
4 From an article entitled “The great Google gathering: The search engine is taking its quest for knowledge offline at a secluded British hotel” written by Adam Sherwin, published in The Independent on May 22, 2012. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/online/the-great-google-gathering-7771352.html
5 From an article entitled “Could the UK Government Shut Down the Web?” published in The Independent on March 8, 2011. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/features/could-the-uk-government-shut-down-the-web-2235116.html
6 From an article entitled “How the CIA made Google” written by Nafeez Ahmed, published by Insurge Intelligence on January 22, 2015. https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/how-the-cia-made-google-e836451a959e