Facebook, Youtube, other tech giants launch joint, state-backed censorship programs


by Zac Corrigan – World Socialist WebSite (excerpts)

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/08/24/face-a24.html

The World Socialist Web Site has launched a campaign against state-corporate censorship of the Internet after a change in search algorithms announced by Google in April. In the guise of combating “fake news”, it resulted in a major drop in readership for leading progressive, anti-war and socialist websites. The WSWS itself was hardest hit, losing more than two-thirds of its traffic coming from Google search results.

Internet censorship extends far beyond Google. Recent announcements by Facebook and others indicate that virtually all the world’s largest tech firms, in close collaboration with governments around the world, are engaged in a coordinated effort to clamp down on Internet speech.

Following on the announcement by Google VP Ben Gomes (“Our latest quality improvements for Search”), Facebook VP Adam Mosseri announced an equivalent program on June 30 in the form of an update to Facebook’s News Feed algorithm.

The Orwellian language of the statements is similar. Mosseri’s memo, titled “Showing More Informative Links in News Feed”, states that “a tiny group of people on Facebook” are sharing “low quality content … sensationalism, and …misinformation.” The updated algorithm will “deprioritize” these “problematic” posts in order to “surface” better content. Gomes wrote that “a small set of queries” are returning “unsubstantiated conspiracy theories”, and that Google’s new algorithm will “demote low-quality content … fake news … and misleading content”, in order to “surface more high-quality content”.

But even these measures are apparently too little. August 1 the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) met, comprising Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, YouTube (owned by Google) and Snapchat. The companies set out to vanquish “terrorists and violent extremists.” UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd and US Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke attended the meeting.

The June 26 memo announcing its formation cites the participation of the EU, UK “and other governments,” the G7, the UN Security Council, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (a right-wingWashington think-tank connected to intelligence agencies), the Anti-Defamation League, and “counter-terrorism experts, academics and other companies.”

A major project is its Shared Industry Hash Database. Using this, content flagged by one as “terrorist” or “violent extremist,” is automatically censored on the others. YouTube has deployed artificial intelligence to flag “extremist” content on behalf of the group. YouTube boasts in a blog post that “over 75% of the videos we’ve removed for violent extremism …were taken down before receiving a single human flag,” and “in many cases our systems have proven more accurate than humans at flagging videos that need to be removed.”

The premise of this program is that terrorism spreads not because of imperialist war, or the funding and arming of groups by imperialist governments, but because people can be dazzled by mind-altering extremist propaganda on the Internet. Given that Google’s assault on “fake news” has resulted in blacklisting anti-war and socialist websites, there can be little doubt as to the real target of “extremist” censorship. The results of Youtube’s AI dragnet indicate what is to come.

Chris Woods, director of Airwars, which documents the effects of international airstrikes, told the NY Times that YouTube removed a dozen of its videos earlier this month, including drone footage of fighting in Mosul, where Airwars documented the deaths of more than 5,000 civilians as a result of US-led attacks between February and June. Middle East Eye (MEE) reports several of its YouTube videos have been removed. Alexa O’Brien, who covered the court-martial of whistleblower Chelsea Manning, told MEE that videos used as evidence in that trial have been removed. (Some of the above-listed videos have since been reinstated.)

As private entities, Facebook and Google are subject to zero public oversight. According to Opensecrets.org, Facebook has spent more than $8 million a year since 2014 lobbying the US government, and $5 million so far in 2017. The $70 billion net worth of Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg places him among the world’s richest individuals, alongside Bill Gates ($84 billion) and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos ($81 billion). Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo!, and others were implicated in the NSA spying revealed by Edward Snowden.

Facebook has taken on the character of a global public utility. The social media platform is the world’s 3rd-most-visited Internet site (after Google and YouTube), linked to by more sites than any other. As of June, it has 2 billion+ monthly users, despite being banned in China. It’s a main gateway to news and information for a large percentage of the planet.

These censorship programs take place in an intensifying crisis. Billions are searching for answers to life-and-death questions of war, inequality and dictatorship. The suppression of oppositional viewpoints is a crucial prop for a moribund social order—capitalism—which offers no progressive way forward.

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