On Tuesday, NBC claimed that Google had made the decision to demonetize The Federalist after NBC’s own News Verification Unit presented the search engine with evidence the conservative website was spreading misinformation related to recent anti-police brutality protests.
But it turned out that the news outlet spreading misinformation was actually NBC. In a statement, Google denied that it had stripped The Federalist of the ability to generate money from ads. “The Federalist was never demonetized,” wrote Google Communications. “We worked with them to address issues on their site related to the comments section.”
This directly contradicted the NBC story, which initially suggested that Google had found fault with The Federalist‘s articles. The actual problem, according to Google, was comments on the articles, not the articles themselves. The Federalist temporarily deleted its comments section, resolving the issue. (Disclaimer: I am friends with Ben Domenech, publisher of The Federalist, and have appeared on his radio show.)
The NBC story—penned by Adele-Momoko Fraser, a producer with the ironically named News Verification Unit—is a perfect example of activist journalism getting the facts wrong and obscuring the truth in order to arrive at an agenda-driven conclusion. Fraser wrote that Google had punished The Federalist “after the company was notified of research conducted by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a British nonprofit that combats online hate and misinformation.” Fraser further noted that “Google blocked The Federalist from its advertising platform after the NBC News Verification Unit brought the project to its attention.”
The “project” was little more than a tweet thread by an activist group. The Center for Countering Digital Hate and its project, Stop Funding Fake News, are progressive workshops that engage in public advocacy campaigns to pressure companies to stop advertising on right-wing websites.
THREAD: These brands all support #BlackLivesMatter.
But their ads appear on – and therefore inadvertently fund – racist anti-BLM websites.
— Stop Funding Fake News (@SFFakeNews) June 16, 2020
Their beef with The Federalist, according to the Stop Funding Fake News website, was that the conservative publication had falsely claimed “CNN/New York Times reports were ‘lying’ about white supremacist violence.” The Federalist article in question was this one by John Daniel Davison, titled “The Media Are Lying To You About Everything, Including the Riots.” The tone is hyperbolic—no, the media aren’t lying about absolutely everything—and one could disagree with some of Davison’s examples, but the article isn’t a particularly compelling example of fake news, let alone racist fake news.
That a lefty social media campaign would target The Federalist isn’t surprising. The truly bizarre aspect of all this is NBC’s involvement. According to Fraser’s own characterization of events, it was NBC that informed Google of the social media campaign. That makes it sound like Fraser was working in concert with the Center for Countering Digital Hate. Since the chief complaint against The Federalist was that Davison’s article had criticized mainstream media groups, including NBC, it looks like a retaliatory strike.
Fraser subsequently clarified that she “obtained the research exclusively” but did not “collaborate” with Stop Funding Fake News. Her first tweet, now deleted, implies something quite different:
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act declares, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider,” and you’ve probably seen increasingly heated arguments about this law. The gist is companies do not have civil liability for something that someone else posts on their website; Facebook is not responsible for what gets posted on its site the way the publishers and editors of the New York Times are for what gets published in their pages. Without this provision in the law, companies would want to run all potential comments by lawyers before letting anything go up online — or at the very least, have someone with familiarity with libel and criminal liability laws review comments before allowing the audience to see them.
Repealing Section 230 would, if not destroy Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, chat boards, comments, and most social-media sites, drastically alter how they operate; the days of users posting whatever they want on platforms with no oversight or review would come to an end.
Keep in mind, Google owns YouTube. It’s not hard to find “Jews control the world along with the Illuminati” videos on YouTube. Is Google responsible for the content of those videos? Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri noticed that Google believes that they cannot be held responsible for what others post on sites like YouTube, but simultaneously declares they will hold other companies responsible for what others post on their sites.
As Jim Geraghty asks, “Apparently, Google has decided that the Federalist is responsible for what gets posted in its comments sections. Will any other company be subjected to this standard? Will NBCNews.com be held responsible for comments on that site?”