By Catherine Crump
Censorship is defined by Merriam Webster as “the institution, system or practice of censoring”. What is it to censor? Censor is a verb defined as “to examine (a book, movie, etc) officially and suppress unacceptable parts of it.” Some might believe that the recent movement of Google to eliminate “fake” news falls under the umbrella of censorship. On its face, that might seem like a stretch, but as more and more websites fall into the category of “fake” news (even though they do not subscribe to the practices Google has touted as parameters for identifying “fake” news) one must question their intentions and actions.
Several of the websites, companies, blogs, vlogs and vendors this blogger has listened to or read for years now are currently included in Google’s “fake” news initiative as proprietors of “fake” news. Seeing this made research on the whole movement necessary for peace of mind. It was surprising to find all the different methods utilized in silencing these sites and the ramifications for a company or website that has fallen out of Google’s good graces. It was very difficult to understand how some sites have ended up on the list given that they don’t use the practices cited by Google as the excuse for excommunication.
There are nine different methods of censorship used by Google. They are- Autocomplete Blacklist (a list of words and phrases that are excluded from the autocomplete feature in Google’s search bar), Google Maps Blacklist (a list of properties it either blacks out or blurs out in its images), Google Account Blacklist (list of people shut out of google accounts), Google News Blacklist (basically a book burning of alternative news and alternate opinions), Google AdWords Blacklist (Businesses worldwide bid on the right to use certain keywords in short text ads that link to their websites, but blacklisted companies cannot), Google AdSense Blacklist (If your website has been approved by AdWords, you are eligible to sign up for Google AdSense, a system in which Google places ads for various products and services on the websites of not blacklisted companies), Search Engine Blacklist (can either limit a company or site from appearing as a result or just eliminate it from the front page of results regardless of regular semantic search algorithms) and the Quarantine List (scarier because it not only quarantines websites viewed through google, but sells this list to other search engines – Bing, Yahoo, etc ).
After unsuccessfully searching extensively for an official statement from Google about its “fake” news policies, I looked through their terms of service. The reasons listed for excluding a company from using AdWords/AdSense are as follows:
“…we terminate the accounts of hundreds of thousands of publishers and advertisers that violate our policies each year – including ads containing malware, ads for counterfeit goods or ads that attempt to misuse your personal information.”
The beauty of internet research and news is in the access to a high volume of differing opinions and stories alternative to those presented on television network news programs and mainstream news sites. Google is a corporation and has a personal stake in tailoring content to benefit their shareholders. There is obviously a conflict of interests in their assessment of “fake” news and the consequences to users are monumental if Google uses that reach to limit the amount of information available to the user.
What can be done about this problem, when research on the problem would typically be done using a google search and alternatives to Google are insufficient and/or rely on Google to share their blacklists? There are a couple of things to be done now to circumvent their attempts at restricting access to news. There are a limited (and mostly unknown) amount of sites that index alternative media on which independent searches can be done. Unless a website has been quarantined, you can access that website directly using their web address. In the future, perhaps we will be given an option to opt out of Google blacklisting on our behalf, just as we are able to opt out of sales emails, texts and phone calls now. Maybe in the future Google will have to list all of the websites on their blacklists and give an explanation as to why they have been blacklisted – allowing users to make their own determinations about whether they want to view the site or not (similar to the way pharmaceutical companies must list anything used in their medication or food packages must legally state ingredients). This blogger will be sitting with fingers crossed that some viable method of gathering news from any and all sources will truly be possible at some point in the future.
AdRoll Cuts Ties with Infowars, but Google’s Youtube Still Driving Revenue for Alex Jones. (Article). (March 27, 2017). Retrieved March 27, 2017 from https://www.mediamatters.org/research/2017/03/27/adroll-cuts-ties-infowars-google-s-youtube-still-driving-revenue-alex-jones/215817
“Censor” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam Webster (n.d.) April 2, 2017.
“Censorship” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam Webster (n.d.) April 2, 2017.
Google Blacklists NaturalNews (Article). (April 1, 2017). Retrieved April 1, 2017 from http://www.naturalnews.com/2017-02-22-google-blacklists-natural-news-removes-140000-pages-from-its-index-memory-holes-natural-news-investigative-articles.html
The New Censorship (Article). (June 22, 2016). Retrieved April 2, 2017, from https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2016-06-22/google-is-the-worlds-biggest-censor-and-its-power-must-be-regulated