The New York Times reports World Socialist Web Site charge of Google censorship and blacklisting

HELP ENLIGHTEN YOUR FELLOWS. BE SURE TO PASS THIS ON. SURVIVAL DEPENDS ON IT.

By Andre Damon, wsws.org


Dateline: 2 October 2017
David North, editorial chief of the wsws.org. His charges were well founded.

Google’s censorship and blacklisting of the World Socialist Web Site and other left-wing and anti-war web sites was the subject of a lengthy article published by the New York Times on September 27. Titled “Google as Traffic Cop,” it was placed prominently on the front page of the printed edition of its Business section and posted on the newspaper’s web site.

Written by Times reporter Daisuke Wakabayashi, who specializes in issues related to technology, the article begins: “When David North, the editorial chairman of the World Socialist Web Site, noticed a drop in the site’s traffic in April, he initially chalked it up to news fatigue over President Trump or a shift in political consciousness.

“But when he dug into the numbers, Mr. North said, he found a clearer explanation: Google had stopped redirecting search queries to the site. He discovered that the top search terms that once brought people to the World Socialist Web Site were now coming up empty.

“‘This is not an accident,’ Mr. North said. ‘This is some form of deliberate intervention.”


The front page of the New York Times report. (Click the image)

Mr. Wakabayashi initially contacted the WSWS several days after the publication on August 25 of North’s Open Letter to Google’s CEO and other leading company executives. The letter, which included extensive data proving that Google was seeking to exclude the WSWS and other left-wing sites from search results, demanded an end to censorship and blacklisting.

While the Times has carried reports that Google had restricted access to extreme right-wing sites, Mr. Wakabayashi’s article is the first substantial report within the US establishment press of corporate censorship of left-wing sites.

Research by the WSWS has found that search traffic to 13 left-wing, anti-war, and progressive sites has fallen by 55 percent since Google announced changes last April to its search algorithm. [Editor’s note: This includes The Greanville Post.]

Following North’s initial discussion with Wakabayashi, the WSWS provided the Times reporter with extensive data backing its claim that the dramatic fall in search traffic coming from Google was attributable to a decline in the position of articles by the WSWS in search results.

In late September, shortly before the article’s publication, Wakabayashi conducted a second interview with North.

The article accurately reported the findings of the WSWS.

“In mid-April, a Google search for ‘socialism vs. capitalism’ brought back one of the site’s links on the first results page but, by August, that same search didn’t feature any of its links. The site said 145 of the top 150 search terms that had redirected people to the site in April are now devoid of its links.”

In his interview with Wakabayashi, North urged the Times reporter to ask Google to present a fact-grounded response to the analysis of the WSWS:

“They should be asked to explain how they’re doing it,” the Times quotes North as saying. “If they say we’re [Google] not doing anything, that’s simply not credible.”

The Times reporter attempted to obtain a response from Google but received no reply. “Google declined to comment on the World Socialist Web Site,” the article reports.

Google’s total silence is tantamount to an admission of guilt.

Wakabayashi’s article also referenced the Open Letter’s charge that Google searches favor establishment sites.

“Mr. North argued the drop-off in traffic is the result of Google directing users toward mainstream news organizations, including The New York Times. The World Socialist Web Site claimed that search referral traffic had fallen since April at a variety of other left-wing, progressive, socialist or antiwar publications like AlterNet and Consortiumnews.” [Editor’s Note: Alternet is actually not so much a true left site as a liberal one.]

During the month he was researching the article, Mr. Wakabayashi apparently uncovered no evidence disproving the claims of Google censorship. Rather, his own research provided support for the findings of the WSWS.

For example, the New York Times found that while search engine traffic to the WSWS was down, non-search traffic was up.

“I’m against censorship in any form,” North told the Times. “It’s up to people what they want to read. It’s not going to stop with the World Socialist Web Site. It’s going to expand and spread.”

The Times’ publication of this report on Google’s effort to censor and blacklist the World Socialist Web Site and other left-wing sites is a politically significant development.

In response to the Times article, David North issued the following statement:

“The WSWS’ exposure of Google’s attack on democratic rights is being widely followed and is having a substantial impact. The article that appeared in the Times was in preparation for a month. Its own research confirmed that traffic to the WSWS has fallen dramatically. When asked by the Times to answer our allegations, Google chose to stonewall its reporter. If Google had been able to refute the WSWS, it would have provided the evidence to Mr. Wakabayashi. It failed to do so because our charges are true. Google is engaged in a conspiracy to censor the Internet.

“Google’s effort will fail. Awareness is growing rapidly that core democratic rights are under attack. Google is discrediting itself as its name becomes synonymous with manipulating searches and suppressing freedom of speech and critical thought.

“The World Socialist Web Site will not retreat or back down from this fight. We are confident that our fight against government and corporate-sponsored censorship will continue to gain support.” 


About the Author
The author is a senior editorial commentator with the wsws.org, a socialist publication.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

APPENDIX

The New York Times (surprisingly) reports on Google’s censorship. Click bar below

NEW YORK TIMES REPORT ON GOOGLE'S CENSORSHIP OF LEFTIST WEBSITES

“They’re really skating on thin ice,” said Michael Bertini, a search strategist at iQuanti, a digital marketing agency. “They’re controlling what users see. If Google is controlling what they deem to be fake news, I think that’s bias.”

Despite Google’s insistence that its search algorithm undergoes a rigorous testing process to ensure that its results do not reflect political, gender, racial or ethnic bias, there is growing political support for regulating Google and other tech giants like public utilities and forcing it to disclose how exactly its arrives at search results.

Most people have little understanding of how Google’s search engine ranks different sites, what it chooses to include or exclude, and how it picks the top results among hundreds of billions of pages. And Google tightly guards the mathematical equations behind it all — the rest of the world has to take their word that it is done in an unbiased manner.

“The complexity of ranking and rating is always going to lead to some lack of understanding for people outside of the company,” said Frank Pasquale, an information law professor at the University of Maryland. “The problem is that a lot of people aren’t willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.” In his book, “The Black Box Society,” Mr. Pasquale warned about the potential risks from an overreliance on secret algorithms that control what information we see and how critical decisions are made.

As the dominant search engine, with an estimated 90 percent global market share, Google was criticized by both the right and the left of the political world during the 2016 election.

In June 2016, a video from the pop culture site SourceFed accused Google of manipulating automatically completed search suggestions to favor Hillary Clinton. Google denied the claim, but right-wing media seized on the video as an example that the company was tipping the scales in her favor.

In the days after the election, the top Google search results for “final election vote count 2016” was a link to a story that wrongly stated that Mr. Trump, who won the Electoral College, had also defeated Mrs. Clinton in the popular vote.

In the research that led to the creation of Project Owl, Google found that a small fraction of its search results — about 0.25 percent of daily traffic — were linking to intentionally misleading, false or offensive information. For a company that aims to deliver the most relevant information for all queries, that constituted a crisis.


David North, editorial chairman of the World Socialist Web Site, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.CreditLaura McDermott for The New York Times

Google said it had added more detailed examples of problematic pages into the guidelines used by human raters to determine what is a good search result and what is a bad one. Google said its global staff of more than 10,000 raters do not determine search rankings, but their judgments help inform how the algorithm performs in the future.

Google has often said that it cannot reveal too much or people would use that information to try to game the rankings. The opacity around Google’s algorithm has given birth to a cottage industry of search engine optimization experts who dissect the company’s comments.

To assuage criticism about that lack of transparency, Google made public its guidelines for search quality in 2013. Pandu Nayak, a Google fellow who focuses on search quality, said disclosing the guidelines is more meaningful.

“The actual algorithm is not as important as what the algorithm is trying to do,” said Mr. Nayak. “Being completely transparent of what you’re trying to achieve is the central goal because how you accomplish that can change.”

Google said hundreds of factors go into its search algorithm and the formula is also constantly evolving. The company said it conducted 150,000 search experiments and implemented 1,600 changes last year.

This is why it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why search traffic plummets for a site like the World Socialist Web Site, which calls itself the “online newspaper of the international Trotskyist movement.” Mr. North, the site’s chairman, said traffic coming in from search is down 70 percent since April, citing data from Alexa, a web traffic analytics firm owned by Amazon.com.

In an open letter to Google last month, Mr. North traced his site’s traffic decline to Project Owl. Mr. North said he believed that Google was blacklisting the site, using concerns over fake news as a cover to suppress opinions from socialist, antiwar or left-wing websites and block news that Google doesn’t want covered.

In mid-April, a Google search for “socialism vs. capitalism” brought back one of the site’s links on the first results page but, by August, that same search didn’t feature any of its links. The site said 145 of the top 150 search terms that had redirected people to the site in April are now devoid of its links.

“They should be asked to explain how they’re doing it,” Mr. North said. “If they say we’re not doing anything, that’s simply not credible.”

Mr. North said that Google has not responded to his claims. Google declined to comment on the World Socialist Web Site.

Mr. North argued the drop-off in traffic is the result of Google directing users toward mainstream media organizations, including The New York Times. The World Socialist Web Site claimed that search referral traffic had fallen since April at a variety of other left-wing, progressive, socialist or antiwar publications like AlterNet and Consortiumnews.

The New York Times could not find the same level of traffic declines at all of those publications, based on data from SimilarWeb, a web analytics firm. Traffic coming from search engines for the World Socialist Web Site was down 34 percent during the months of May to July, compared with the preceding three months, according to SimilarWeb. Traffic that did not come from search was up 1 percent during the same period.

Mr. North said his site provides critical analysis for current events and it has nothing in common with sites peddling blatantly untrue stories. But he said he is opposed to any actions taken by Google under the pretext of stopping fake news.

“I’m against censorship in any form,” he said. “It’s up to people what they want to read. It’s not going to stop with the World Socialist Web Site. It’s going to expand and spread.” 

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/26/technology/google-search-bias-claims.html?_r=0


horiz-long grey
ANDRE DAMON—“In mid-April, a Google search for ‘socialism vs. capitalism’ brought back one of the site’s links on the first results page but, by August, that same search didn’t feature any of its links. The site said 145 of the top 150 search terms that had redirected people to the site in April are now devoid of its links.”


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