Is There A Conspiracy Among Legacy Media Companies To Push A False Narrative About Big Tech?

from the well,-there's-some-smoke... dept

Over the last few months we’ve witnessed a veritable flood of misleading to simply false articles about internet companies showing up in mainstream sources. There were misleading articles in Vox and the Washington Post. And then, just recently, we saw not one but two NY Times pieces that went out of their way to misrepresent the law. And, then of course, there’s the Wall Street Journal that has been misrepresenting Section 230 for ages. To date, the only one of these publications to run a serious correction (and to continue to help debunking misrepresentations) is the smallest of those listed above: Vox, who did some research and published a big mea culpa.

This has gotten many in the tech industry to begin to wonder. It’s one thing for (cross aisle) grandstanding politicians like Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Nancy Pelosi, and Richard Blumenthal to totally misrepresent the law. But when the mainstream media is doing so on a regular basis — it’s causing a lot of talk behind the scenes about whether this is a coordinated hit. Some, like the excellent reporter Anna Wiener, recently more or less dismissed this theory as being “mostly… a facile argument,” though I think she mixes up two separate issues. First, it is absolutely true that many startup founders don’t know how to deal with the press well, and get personally offended by bad press coverage. And, for those entrepreneurs: fuck ’em. They should grow up and learn what the press actually does, when done right — which includes researching and debunking nonsense (and there’s a ton of nonsense in Silicon Valley).

But, that’s a separate issue from whether or not there’s a coordinated campaign to undermine the foundations of the internet by a few larger, legacy industries who have failed to adapt to a changing time. Indeed, we saw significant evidence of Hollywood’s top lobbyists working behind the scenes (though, it occasionally slipped out publicly) to push for FOSTA, the first bill that significantly undermined Section 230.

And there’s plenty more evidence of legacy industries — mainly legacy media and entertainment companies — plotting to take down internet companies by making use of the news. Remember, during the Sony Pictures hack, that MPAA emails were leaked, revealing “Project Goliath,” which was specifically a plan to damage Google through any means necessary — and that included using a smear campaign placed in the Wall Street Journal and on the Today Show. In an email sent to an official in Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s office by then MPAA “director of external state government affairs” official (and former ICE official) Brian Cohen, Cohen admits the “proposed plan” is to place an anti-Google smear campaign:


If that image is not showing up, the text comes from a larger strategic plan between the MPAA and various state Attorneys’ General, and includes this:

Media: We want to make sure that the media is at the NAAG meeting. We propose working with MPAA (Vans), Comcast, and NewsCorp (Bill Guidera) to see about working with a PR firm to create an attack on Google (and others who are resisting AG efforts to address online piracy). This PR firm can be funded through a nonprofit dedicated to IP issues. The “live buys” should be available for the media to see, followed by a segment the next day on the Today Show (David green can help with this). After the Today Show segment, you want to have a large investor of Google (George can help us determine that) come forward and say that Google needs to change its behavior/demand reform. Next, you want NewsCorp to develop and place an editorial in the WSJ emphasizing that Google’s stock will lose value in the face of a sustained attack by AGs and noting some of the possible causes of action we have developed.

So, sure, while it may seem “facile” for some to argue that legacy media firms are out to get big internet companies with trumped up claims in their own media properties, there’s very real evidence of a conspiracy to do literally that. Not so facile.

And there’s more where that comes from. In Wired’s giant profile last year of the “troubles” inside Facebook, it is made clear that Rupert Murdoch used his ability to damage the company via the editorial pages of the WSJ as part of a negotiating strategy:

Zuckerberg traveled to Sun Valley, Idaho, for an annual conference hosted by billionaire Herb Allen, where moguls in short sleeves and sunglasses cavort and make plans to buy each other?s companies. But Rupert Murdoch broke the mood in a meeting that took place inside his villa. According to numerous accounts of the conversation, Murdoch and Robert Thomson, the CEO of News Corp, explained to Zuckerberg that they had long been unhappy with Facebook and Google. The two tech giants had taken nearly the entire digital ad market and become an existential threat to serious journalism. According to people familiar with the conversation, the two News Corp leaders accused Facebook of making dramatic changes to its core algorithm without adequately consulting its media partners, wreaking havoc according to Zuckerberg?s whims. If Facebook didn?t start offering a better deal to the publishing industry, Thomson and Murdoch conveyed in stark terms, Zuckerberg could expect News Corp executives to become much more public in their denunciations and much more open in their lobbying. They had helped to make things very hard for Google in Europe. And they could do the same for Facebook in the US.

…. Inside Facebook, executives believed Murdoch might use his papers and TV stations to amplify critiques of the company. News Corp says that was not at all the case; the company threatened to deploy executives, but not its journalists.

Zuckerberg had reason to take the meeting especially seriously, according to a former Facebook executive, because he had firsthand knowledge of Murdoch?s skill in the dark arts. Back in 2007, Facebook had come under criticism from 49 state attorneys general for failing to protect young Facebook users from sexual predators and inappropriate content. Concerned parents had written to Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal, who opened an investigation, and to The New York Times, which published a story. But according to a former Facebook executive in a position to know, the company believed that many of the Facebook accounts and the predatory behavior the letters referenced were fakes, traceable to News Corp lawyers or others working for Murdoch, who owned Facebook?s biggest competitor, MySpace. ?We traced the creation of the Facebook accounts to IP addresses at the Apple store a block away from the MySpace offices in Santa Monica,? the executive says. ?Facebook then traced interactions with those accounts to News Corp lawyers. When it comes to Facebook, Murdoch has been playing every angle he can for a long time.? (Both News Corp and its spinoff 21st Century Fox declined to comment.)

Got that? Facebook actually traced fake accounts, that were handed to long-grandstanding anti-internet crusader Richard Blumenthal (then a state AG, now a Senator) back to News Corp. And Murdoch strongly implied to Facebook execs that he needed to get a better deal from them or his publications, such as the WSJ, would put out hit pieces.

So, yes, there are legitimate points of concern to raise about big internet companies. I’m not one to normally believe in cynical conspiracy theories, but it’s not at all crazy to think that the recent onslaught in major media properties may not be coming from the most ethically sound place. After all, if Hollywood has plotted in the past to do exactly that, why would anyone expect them to have given up those underhanded games?

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Companies: comcast, mpaa, news corp

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Comments on “Is There A Conspiracy Among Legacy Media Companies To Push A False Narrative About Big Tech?”

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23 Comments
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Seriously now

Legacy media attacking social media isn’t going to fix their problems. If they think that somehow getting rid of Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. is going to transfer whatever sources of income they have (advertising, paywalls?) over to themselves is just ridiculous. I don’t use social media, but then my use of legacy media is very limited, and mostly through RSS feeds (which don’t have advertising). Now I know not everybody is me, nor should we expect large groups to be as circumspect.

The fact is that what is being called ‘Big Tech’ serves a very different purpose than legacy media, and while one may support the other, they are not in any way interchangeable. Nor are their income sources.

Anonymous Coward says:

Is There A Conspiracy Among Legacy Media Companies To Push A False Narrative About Big Tech?

If they can get section 230 repealed, and make platforms liable for what is published on them, they will have killed the competition to their business model, and that is self publishing. They are businesses set up for curated publishing, which the self publishing and social media platform are not, .and which would be destroyed if forced to curate and pre-approve what they allow to be published on their platform.

Anonymous Coward says:

Here's what I don't understand

Don’t the legacy media also enjoy the same protections from section 230.
IE: they publish a story online and have a comments section available for the story. They are protected the from liability the same as google, faceboot, et al… They are free to moderate the comments as the wish… after all, the comments are just User Generated content

If Section 230 get thrown out / trashed, won’t the legacy companies also lose this protection?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I love karma

“They will shut down the comment sections”

Hahahahaha.

Like you need a comment section to sue someone on the internet.

That’s the thing about people who use bad faith like the Mpaa or people who try to get rid of 230 protections. they eventually find someone willing to do the same thing. And thy think it won’t ever happen. Just like Katy perry. that was not supposed to happen either.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Here's what I don't understand

"Don’t the legacy media also enjoy the same protections from section 230."

Yes…but bear in mind the "legacy industries" are composed of people like that Sony CEO who couldn’t see one good thing coming from the internet. An internet turned completely noninteractive only hurts them if they have the idea to expand and renew their 18th century business model.

renato (profile) says:

Was social media that killed the traditional news?

It looks like the news companies are just pointing to have the power now but are not considering who really took their potential money.
Removing social media will not make people start reading more news from them, and the other ads that they had and were lost to craiglist are now poisoned by FOSTA.

Even if they succeed in repealing section 230, it will not make people start accessing them with the time that would have been spent on other platforms.
Without section 230, youtube, facebook, and twitter will cease exist as they are, but it will only spawn a new model where each user own its page (and it is liable by its content) while the old platforms became more like CDNs and keep monetizing them as it has been doing.

Anonymous Coward says:

The new laws in the eu ,article 13 are an attack on facebook,google ,tech start ups
user generated content ,by old legacy media companys ,
So we cant beat you in the market, we,ll tie you up in a maze of red tape.
license every image, music clip ,video or we,ll sue you .
quote 2 or 3 word s or half a sentence and we,ll sue you.
And each eu country will have its own version of the laws .
this is not counting weird laws like all websites must remove
content that might be disturbing or harmful to a minor .
So All websites that can be acessed in the uk must be suitable for a 12 year old child .
Dont show any news clips about mass shooting,s ,
or police brutality ,
you might upset a minor .

bobob says:

The US media is the best reason to get news about the US and the world from elsewhere, like the BBC or Al Jazeera. They don’t dumb down articles for simpletons so much. In the US, one news outlet writes a story and a few hours later, the people at the other US news outlets have read it and rewritten what they’ve read and repeated the same misinformation with their own spin. The Intercept would be an alternative, but their website is unbearable to use.

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