from the hello?-anyone?-hello?-bueller? dept
OH NO. GOOGLE MUST HAVE ANTI-TECHDIRT BIAS! THEY’RE THREATENING TO DEFUND US! Or not. A couple of weeks ago, we received yet another notice from Google that some of the pages on Techdirt violated its AdSense policies (AdSense is Google’s program for putting ads on 3rd party pages). We’ll get to what those pages were and what the complaints were in a moment, but the timing struck us as ironic — as it came a day after we had written about why Google sending a similar notice to The Federalist was not some conspiracy of “anti-conservative bias” to silence them. Yet, when it happened to the Federalist, a bunch of big name politicians and commentators went into overdrive attacking Google.
So my question: where are they now defending Techdirt? Hmm?
The background: a few weeks back there was a bunch of attention paid to a misleading story from NBC claiming that Google had banned the Federalist from its ad program — The Federalist, of course, being a laughable propaganda machine promoting the president’s messaging, no matter how ridiculous it makes that site look. So, immediately, a bunch of people jumped onto the claims that this was yet more evidence of “anti-conservative bias” by Google and an attack on a website that supports the president. A bunch of politicians jumped onto the grandstanding train, starting with old friend Senator Josh Hawley who sent an angry letter demanding answers from Sundar Pichai:
Google?s decision to threaten the conservative publication The Federalist with removal from the Google Ads platform?based on, apparently, the contents of its comments section?is startling, but apparently just the latest instance of Google?s long pattern of targeting any perspectives that deviate from its preferred party line.
Of course, as we explained in our article, we periodically get similar notices. In fact, we’ve talked about them since as early as 2014. We got another in 2015. Oh, and in 2016. Oh right, and in 2018 and 2019. Amusingly, those last two involved Google demonetizing our article on the impossible choices involved in content moderation!
As we noted last year, the notices to us — just as in the case of the Federalist — were sometimes (not always) about finding the content in our comments problematic. Google is often not clear in their messages on this, and in the past, we’ve often had to go back and forth with Google before they admit that the problem might be in the comments, though they refuse to ever say which comments. As we said then, and we’ll say again, this policy is stupid. But it’s not “anti-conservative bias.” Google is free to make stupid policy decisions (just as we’re free to mock them for it). It does that all the time. And, recognizing the impossible nature of content moderation, you can even understand the logic behind how this came to be, which has nothing whatsoever to do with “anti-conservative bias.” Instead, I’m sure, advertisers (or possibly just random people) have probably complained about ads appearing “next to” sketchy content. So, Google’s ad team writes up some rules that say “you can’t put our ads next to ‘derogatory’ or ‘sexual’ or ‘shocking’ content.” And then content reviewers don’t have time to go investigate — and they can’t determine the difference between if the bad content is in the comments or in the story. The policy just says “nope, not allowed” and whenever Google becomes aware (usually through reports) of such content, it says “you can’t put our ads there.” Even if the content is in the comments.
Anyway, that brings us to our latest batch of “demonetized” stories. Literally the day after we wrote about the Federalist getting a similar notice, Google said the following list of stories could not have Google ads, and gave the following reasons:
- Yes, Federal Agents Can Identify Anonymous Tor Users, Because Most People Don’t Know How To Be Anonymous Reason: Dangerous or derogatory content
- Github Nukes Repository Over Use Of The Word ‘Retard’ Reason: Dangerous or derogatory content
- YouTube Takes Down Live Stream Over Copyright Claim…Before Stream Even Starts Reason: Dangerous or derogatory content
- The DOJ’s Plan To ‘Fix’ The T-Mobile Merger Is Already A Hot Mess Reason: Dangerous or derogatory content
- Prostitutes Have Just Moved From Craigslist To Facebook Reason: Adult: Sexual content
- Cop Shoots Cuffed Teen In The Face With A Taser, Claims He ‘Feared For His Safety’ Reason: Shocking content
- Myth Busting: Yes, An Advertisement Can Be Fair Use Parody Reason: Adult: Sexual content
- The FBI’s Megaupload Domains Are Now Hosting Porn Ads Reason: Adult: Sexual content
- Let. The Motherfucker. Burn. Reason: Shocking content
Look at all that conservative content defunded! Oh man, Josh Hawley’s gonna be so mad. I’m really looking forward to his letter on our behalf. Oh… wait. I’m being told that Hawley only sends such letters when it lets him grandstand on a fake cause unsupported by actual facts… darn. Anyway, if you look at some of those links, you can probably guess why Google decided it didn’t want ads on those pages, and in other cases, it’s not clear at all, and there’s probably some weird comments in there. Google doesn’t tell us, and it’s too much of an effort to figure it out. But, when it happens to us, it doesn’t become a huge story.
“Beware the power of Big Tech to cancel conservative voices,” she says. I’m sure her tweet about Google canceling my voice is going to be on fire. “Google chokes off ad revenue to silence conservatives!” And me! And me! Come on, Marsha, speak up! What about me? Silence? Huh. How about that?
Here are Tom Cotton and Jim Jordan talking about how this means Google should lose 230 and that it’s against free speech. I’m looking forward to their statements in support of Techdirt.
How about House minority leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy. He’s asking “When will Big News and Big Tech #StopTheBias?!” And I agree. When will they stop the bias against smallish tech/law/policy focused websites that report on this stuff. When, Rep. McCarthy, when? I can’t wait for you to get to the bottom of this!
Even the president’s silliest son got into the fun, saying that the “GOP Senate needs to wake up & IMMEDIATELY subpoena and haul in the CEO of Google for questioning,” adding that “Google is an out of control monopoly, with a leftwing political agenda, engaging in a clear campaign to silence dissent. It’s election interference, full stop.” I’m excited to hear what he thinks of the [checks notes] “election interference” of Google stopping ads on our site for our story on [double checks notes again] why people should support the protesters who are burning police cars. Or, really, that story about fair use? Yes, clearly election interference. Come on, Donnie Jr., Techdirt craves your support.
Or how about Meghan McCain. Okay, this one’s a bit unfair, because she’s married to the founder of The Federalist, so maybe she’s maritally required to spew nonsense about her husband’s site, but I assume she believes in equal treatment, right? So I assume she’s going to claim that Google’s notice to us is also “digital fascism” intended to “completely” ban “all conservative speech.”
Meghan, I await your support of us on your next TV appearance.
Even FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr got in the game, claiming that Google’s decision to do what it’s been doing for years is… an argument for Section 230 reform?
I’m quite sure that Brendan will come to our defense. Right?
Or, maybe this is just yet another example of the impossibility of doing content moderation well, and because the same thing that impacts tons of other sites all the time finally hit a site like The Federalist it makes news. It’s not anti-conservative bias, but just yet another example of how difficult it is to do any form of content moderation at scale, and a recognition that this kind of thing impacts tons of sites. Do I wish Google was better at this? Yup. Do I wish they’d give us more information than what we have above? Sure thing. They don’t say which content in particular caused the complaint. They don’t have much of a functioning appeals process (there is one, but it’s limited).
But the fact that all of these political folks immediately jumped to these silly misleading grandstanding position suggests that if there’s any “bias” out there, it’s their own in leaping to false conclusions and using that to push for policy outcomes they’d like.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering what we’re doing about this notice from Google? The answer is nothing. Nothing at all. Google will remove ads from our page, and we’ve got some vague threatening language about how now we might get lower quality ads, and there’s always the threat that Google will remove ads entirely from our site. If that happens, that’ll happen and we’ll deal with it. But, that’s my job as the publisher of the site, and I certainly don’t expect any politician to come out demanding they help Techdirt. Except Josh Hawley. I’d really like to see Josh Hawley do it. Just because.