No, Google Didn't Demonetize The Federalist & It's Not An Example Of Anti-Conservative Bias

from the another-day-another-story dept

So, earlier today, NBC reported that Google had "banned" two well known websites from its ad platform, namely The Federalist and Zero Hedge. The story was a bit confusing. To be clear, both of those sites are awful and frequently post unmitigated garbage, conspiracy theories, and propaganda. But, it turns out the story was highly misleading, though it will almost certainly be used to push the false narrative that the big internet companies are engaged in "anti-conservative bias" in moderation practices. But that's wrong. Indeed, it appears what happened is exactly what Google has done to us in the past, in saying that because of certain comments people put on our stories, they were pulling any Google ads from appearing on that page. Now we've explained why this is a dumb policy, that only encourages bad comments on sites to try to demonetize them, but it's not got anything to do with "anti-conservative bias." Also, it's just pulling ads from a single page, not across the board.

But that's not how NBC presented it. Indeed, NBC's coverage is weird in its own way. It took a report from a UK-based operation that put together a blacklist of websites it says should be "defunded" for "racist fake news." Of course, "racist" is in the eye of the beholder, and "fake news" is not a very useful term here, but whatever. NBC reporters took this report and reached out to Google to ask about these particular pages, and that set off Google's usual review processes, and the recognition that some of the comments on the page violated Google's ad policies on "dangerous and derogatory" content (the same thing we got dinged for above). Google, as it does, alerted the Federalist to this content and warned that if it wasn't corrected, ads would be removed on that page (Google claims that Zero Hedge's page had already gone through this process prior to the communication from NBC). While the fact that Google did a review after NBC's request for comment may upset some, this is the nature of content moderation: much of it happens after an inbound report is made in some form or another.

Of course, as the story got bigger and bigger and spun out of control, even Google had to come out and clarify that The Federalist was never demonetized, but rather that they called out specific comments that would lead to ads being pulled on that page:

Again, this sounds exactly like what happened to us last year. But, still, tons of people are calling the NBC story an example of anti-conservative bias. I'll bet none of those people called this "anti-tech reporter bias" when it happened to us last year.

Filed Under: advertisements, bias, comments, content moderation, content moderation at scale, dangerous and derogatory
Companies: google, the federalist, zero hedge


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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    seedeevee (profile), 16 Jun 2020 @ 3:12pm

    It's amazing that the fact that a well known wealthy and large liberal NEWS ORGANIZATION attempted to rat out a couple of small non-liberal news organization and get some of their income opportunities removed and this news/opinion page here is saying it is nothing special.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Jun 2020 @ 3:17pm

    'You sure you want to claim THAT on your side?'

    If it wouldn't increase the spread of the comments in question I'd suggest that Google nicely undercut any 'anti-conservative bias' narrative by pointing out which comments were a problem, as depending on what was in them it could be argued that not wanting to be associated with those comments is 'anti-conservative' only if someone has a very abysmal definition of 'conservative'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 16 Jun 2020 @ 3:38pm

    Re: 'You sure you want to claim THAT on your side?'

    They wouldn't even tell us what comments were the problem when it happened to us, so I imagine they won't do so publicly either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Rocky, 16 Jun 2020 @ 3:39pm

    Re:

    Name one company that want their ads run alongside for example racist, homophobic slurs or any other objectionable content in a comment section. Because that's what its all about, the company who bought the ads didn't want to be associated with that kind of filth.

    That you think it's somehow related to some nefarious agenda cooked up by "liberal news media" to punish conservative sites is hilarious, because for it to be true it would mean that conservative sites have more objectionable content from an ad-buyers perspective. Is this what you are suggesting? That conservative sites contain more "filth" ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2020 @ 3:39pm

    Reading the comments on googles twitter thread is absolutely painful. "How often does this happen to LEFT leaning sites?" and people accusing them of being speech police.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 16 Jun 2020 @ 3:46pm

    The media, never passing up a chance to take a shot at that newfangled internet thing.

    It's just a phase, people will grow out of it and return to our loving arms soon enough.

    Global Pandemic, Americans Dying, Virus Spiking Again, Black Lives Matter, QI, Police Brutality, Racist Uprising...
    What are we covering?
    OMG CONSERVATIVE BIAS ONLINE!!!!!

    The last time I saw something this tone deaf was when the leader of Oz went on vacation as his country turned into a cinder.
    Perhaps we can stop bitching about people who don't understand how civics work & focus on the people dying b/c our leaders seem to believe if we don't test for the disease it will go away.

    MUH FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS VIOLATED ONLINE!!!
    Shut the fsck up, stop giving them any airtime...
    Perhaps the bodies piling up around the country deserve to have more attention focused on them than some poor put upon white guy who can't handle the rules about wearing a mask but has no problem saying blacks should just follow the rules.

    Stop paying attention to the assholes who feel they are being attacked b/c they aren't allowed to tell people they want to rip their heads off & crap down their neck & the platform gives them a timeout.

    Or perhaps the media cares more about inconvenienced white folks than death tolls... I mean Congress does so why not?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2020 @ 4:20pm

    Re: 'You sure you want to claim THAT on your side?'

    You may not need teh goog to point out which specific comments. Take a survey of the sorts of comments which might get moderated in many places. Make "conservatives" read and assess them. Ask them if this is the "conservative" viewpoint. Make them own it, or disown it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2020 @ 4:52pm

    Re: Re:

    Westboro Babtist Church?
    United Klans of America, Inc ? (link provided in case you think I'm making that up)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Jun 2020 @ 5:18pm

    Re: Re: 'You sure you want to claim THAT on your side?'

    Unfortunately for everyone you're almost certainly correct, even as the alternative is to let those slamming them control the narrative and make up whatever stories best suit the 'conservative persecution' narrative.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2020 @ 7:51pm

    Re:

    What bodies?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2020 @ 8:31pm

    It's an election year, what did you expect? Nonpartisan journalism? Like, perhaps, something along the lines of:

    "The inveterate liars of the __ are evidently endeavoring to palm off upon a noble and chivalrous people another of their vile and brutal falsehoods with regard to that most glorious conception of the century, the . The idea that __ originated in their own fulsome brains--or rather in the settlings which they regard as brains. They had better, swallow this lie if they want to save their abandoned reptile carcasses the cowhiding they so richly deserve.

    "That ass, , of the , is down here again sponging at the _____.

    "We observe that the besotted blackguard of the _ is giving out, with his usual propensity for lying, that __ is not elected. The heaven-born mission of journalism is to disseminate truth; to eradicate error; to educate, refine, and elevate the tone of public morals and manners, and make all men more gentle, more virtuous, more charitable, and in all ways better, and holier, and happier; and yet this blackhearted scoundrel degrades his great office persistently to the dissemination of falsehood, calumny, vituperation, and vulgarity.

    "__ wants a --it wants a jail and a poorhouse more. The idea of a pavement in a __ composed of gin-mills, a shop, and that mustard-plaster of a newspaper, the __! The crawling insect, __, who edits the _____, is braying about his business with his customary imbecility, and imagining that he is talking sense."

    --Mark Twain, "The Spirit of ___ Journalism", exact date not known ... but does the date even matter?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2020 @ 10:29pm

    Re:

    Does your word salad come with fries?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    metasonix (profile), 16 Jun 2020 @ 11:07pm

    Zero Hedge is hilarious

    And completely full of shit. Proof?

    Go to zerohedge.com and put "Tesla" into their search box.

    Then compare the rantings you see to Tesla's actual stock price:
    https://finance.yahoo.com/chart/TSLA

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Rocky, 17 Jun 2020 @ 1:03am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Are you suggesting that those "examples" are willing to run ads next to any kind of objectionable content?

    I sincerely hope that you understand that objectionable content isn't just racist and homophobic slurs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Bloof (profile), 17 Jun 2020 @ 4:15am

    Shouldn't a conservative organisation cheer when a corporation decides not to give them money? The free market is never wrong!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 Jun 2020 @ 4:41am

    Re:

    "...attempted to rat out a couple of small non-liberal news organization..."

    "non-liberal" - is that what we should call neo-nazi and/or white supremacist echo chambers these days according to you? You guys used to come right out and say they were "conservative".

    "...and this news/opinion page here is saying it is nothing special."

    Because it's not. If MacDonalds decides it'd rather not hire a janitorial company whose employees tended to wear swastika armbands then that's not a major issue, even if it does remove "income opportunities" for those janitors.

    This is how it works. If you are being an open bigot people will stop cooperating with you. And when that happens it's not a major deal and definitely not a bad thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    crade (profile), 17 Jun 2020 @ 6:16am

    ""racist" is in the eye of the beholder"
    unlike beauty, "racist" is objectively defined. people might disagree on whether something is racist or not but one of them will correct. Whether it's easy or even feasible to tell who is correct or not is whole a different story, but if it were possible to get all the facts you could check the criteria objectively.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jun 2020 @ 7:32am

    Re:

    Hardly ever happens to left sites to be honest, because they got rid of their comment sections years ago. Because freedom?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jun 2020 @ 7:48am

    Really?

    You're taking Googles side in this? I don't care how much you hate your opponents, this a chilling and creepy overreaching from Big Brother Google. They have no right to police discourse on other peoples property, nor should they even be aware if they comments or not. Fucking this current state of the Web and anybody who shills for them. You're the problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    Khym Chanur (profile), 17 Jun 2020 @ 8:23am

    Re: Really?

    Techdirt/Masnick didn't say that Google's action was correct/good/smart, merely that it wasn't anti-conservative bias, since the exact same thing has happened to Techdirt in the past.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Celyxise (profile), 17 Jun 2020 @ 8:43am

    Re: Really?

    A private company decided they didn't want their content showing up next to another type of content on a specific page, and informed their partner that they would not be posting content to that page so long as the other content was still there.

    You are saying a company shouldn't be able to control how their own content is used?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Thad (profile), 17 Jun 2020 @ 12:11pm

    Re:

    unlike beauty, "racist" is objectively defined.

    Merriam-Webster to update definition of racism

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Rocky, 17 Jun 2020 @ 1:47pm

    Re: Really?

    Was the article too long or did it have words that where difficult to understand?

    Just asking, since not one thing you wrote where related to the article except the mention of Google.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    crade (profile), 17 Jun 2020 @ 4:17pm

    Re: Re:

    They are just changing it to include systemic racism, they aren't changing it to be based on people's perception. If people think something is beautiful, by definition they are correct and it is such to them. If people think something is racist, they could just be white supremacists using #alllivesmatter

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jun 2020 @ 6:44pm

    Re: Really?

    Advertisers don't want their brands associated with hateful/objectionable content
    I remember several brands pulled advertising from YouTube several years ago because of this issue

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    daryl t, 18 Jun 2020 @ 6:10am

    Re: Zero Hedge is hilarious

    Toyota produces 9 million cars per year and its market cap is $210 billion. Tesla does not produce even 1 million cars per year and its market cap is $180 billion. Do you really think that Tesla with Toyota production is multi-trillion dollar company worth more than Google, Amazon, Apple or Microsoft? Tesla is either significantly overvalued now or will not grow at all as the company expands.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2020 @ 10:04am

    Re: Really?

    I can understand why companies would not want to associate themselves with a site's content. However, in this case, Google was having a problem with the COMMENT section which is hidden until you choose to look at them. Zerohedge, like the Federalist (who caved in by removing their comments), can still receive ad money IF they get rid of their comment sections. To me, this is an effort to eliminate or suppress public discussion of important topics.

    People who comment on an article are just as likely to call out an article's bs as to support it. If Google's action goes unchallenged, will it go after more sites to force them give up their comment sections? Which sites should be censored? Should Techdirt give up their comments? Techdirt has posted some cautionary articles about Google's actions that put Google in a negative light at times. Will Techdirt be next? As it is often pointed out on this site, content moderation is hard.

    Personally, I like how Techdirt allows the community to flag the comments they think should be hidden, yet does NOT remove them. Let each reader decide for themselves whether to read the hidden ones. That seems to be a fair compromise that allows multiple opinions to be voiced while not forcing the entire community to feed the trolls. As I said, Zerohedge hides all comments by default. If someone clicks on the link to display them, I don't think it is any of the advertisers' business what might the reader might see when they do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. icon
    Thad (profile), 18 Jun 2020 @ 10:35am

    Re: Re: Re:

    They are just changing it to include systemic racism, they aren't changing it to be based on people's perception.

    They're changing it to be based on people's perception that the word "racism" doesn't just refer to overt discrimination against people based on the color of their skin, but also encompasses less overt, systemic issues.

    In the dictionary, all words are based on usage, and usage is based on people's perception.

    This is less true in law, where words have specific and clearly-defined meanings, but even there it's up to a judge to decide whether or not those meanings are applicable to a set of facts.

    I absolutely agree with your larger point, that racists dismiss accusations of racism for entirely absurd reasons -- hell, we've had some of those sorts in this comments section. (Is the guy with the Mr. Burns avatar who says it's not racist to call people "illegals" still hanging around? I blocked him ages ago.) But that doesn't mean that the definition of the word is objective. Like any word, it's based on usage, that usage changes, and in this specific example, a respected dictionary has updated its definition of the word to reflect a usage it didn't previously recognize.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    crade (profile), 19 Jun 2020 @ 12:07pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    That is just all language evolving over time. It doesn't mean racism is in the eye of the beholder like beauty is. The definition might change, but it's still defined based on objective criteria. They didn't change it to be defined subjectively like beauty is defined such that two people can disagree on whether something is beautiful or not and both be correct.

    The white guy who thinks it's racist against whites to say "black lives matter" is still wrong with the new definition just as he was before

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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