Censoring by threatening revenue.
I had a Google AdSense account for American Freedom Journal (AFJ). I received a letter from them with a very long list of reasons why Google, at their discretion, could cancel the account. I pondered that letter for quite some time finally deciding no entity was going to dictate what I write or the articles I choose to publish. I cancelled the Google ads account behind their warning the decision was irreversible. So is my freedom of speech and expression governed by the law of the land and rules of morality and integrity. I will never forfeit either for ad money. My freedom is not for sale.
I do know of a site, NewsWithViews.com, that lost their Google ad revenue because Google did not approve of their content. I looked them up on Webroot. Guess what? Google must have their own set of rules because News with Views has a trustworthy web reputation. Apparently not good enough for Google.
We see this quite often these days. Sponsors pulling ad money because they dislike someone’s expressed social or political views. It is what it is. Money drives the media’s world. Some companies and corporations who buy a lot of ads want to use money as a bludgeon forcing people into tacit agreement with their worldviews. It is a form of censorship. A fascist form. And, in the land of the free, it’s alive and well.
God gave us freedom. Neither private entity nor government can be allowed to control it. We cannot forfeit it or sell it.
Shadow banning – censoring in the dark.
I had a Twitter account for quite some time. I did not have a bazillion followers. The main reason is I never worked at increasing the numbers as some appear to make it their life’s work. I also didn’t follow everyone I encountered in hopes they’d follow me back. My mindset is simple. If someone likes what I write and wants to follow future posts, that’s cool as we used to say.
Every article I posted to the website was automatically posted to my Twitter feed. I had some faithful followers and always got a some likes and re-tweets. I started to notice I was no longer getting any of either. I checked Twitter and the posts were sitting right there. Made me think no one was interested in what I had to say. That’s when I learned about shadow banning. Shadow banning is used in forums and social media platforms (although they outright declare it isn’t) to block content. In other words, you may post something to a social media platform and be the only person that can see it. People who may like or retweet cannot see it. I canceled the Twitter account.
I still keep a Facebook account. There are certain people who shared with their friends most every AFJ post. I began to notice that stopped as well. I used FB messenger to ask a long-time friend (a personal friend as opposed to a FB acquaintance) if he was seeing my posts. His reply was, not for quite a while. Surprisingly enough, he began seeing and sharing my posts again. Makes me believe messenger is not at all private either.
I have no hard evidence AFJ was shadow banned on any social media platform. The bottom line is social media platforms can clearly decide, and evidence indicates it’s likely some major ones do it, what consumers of their sites can or cannot see. They can shut down or push any views they like. Censorship on one side, propaganda on the other.
Legacy media bias – censorship by omission.
Recently, someone asked me, “Did the media bias you talk about start when Trump was elected.” I detected snark behind the question. The person was not accepting that there was such a thing. I responded that media bias is older than me. Actually, it’s as old as the media itself. Do your own rudimentary research. If you are honest with yourself, you will find the media you prefer is the media that reinforces what you already believe. Plays on your emotions. Not because they are reliable news sources, but rather media entertainment businesses who play to their audiences. Money, numbers of viewers, and the political ideology of both media and viewers drive their coverage. Becoming objective means losing viewers which means losing ad revenue. They become and remain ideological political and social advocates. Where does that leave us? With largely one-sided media no matter where we look. Right and left media bash one another. If they all presented factual, objective news… but they don’t.
How do they censor? Simple. They subjectively report information that plays to what their viewers are conditioned to believe and leave out anything counter to it. It’s more devious than hatred fueled propaganda. They continually build on and reinforce the hatred dividing our nation. It’s as far from the principle of a free press as anyone, any entity, or any country can possibly travel. It censors freedom by keeping people misinformed and uninformed. When someone declares media is an enemy of the people, they’re not too far off target.
The most sinister censorship of freedom.
This one comes with libel and slander. On December 27, 2019 nearing the end of my Christmas vacation, I sat in the U.S. Army’s Panzer Kaserne Post Exchange (AAFES) Food Court, Stuttgart, Germany. Along with my family, Son, Daughter-in-Law, Granddaughters, and my wife Suzie-Q I was having a fast food snack. From a German kiosk, I got myself a cheese pretzel. A favorite from times long past. Sitting there chatting about what we might do for our remaining few days, I pulled out my phone, accessed the AAFES free WIFI to check AFJ to see if a contributor may have posted something. Instead of getting the familiar red, white, and blue AFJ American flag banner, I got this:
I tried again and it came up again. I was angry. But I couldn’t share that with my Granddaughters. AFJ was blocked by the free AAFES WIFI network operator for “Hate and Racism.” The site was blocked, but that was not the worst of it. The worst of it is anyone attempting to access AFJ from this Army Air Force Exchange Service (AFJ still has military subscribers) WIFI network now believes AFJ including all of the site’s content contributors are spewing hate and racism. I understand. Any private network can block access to their network for any reason or no reason. The question raised is what does a small site like AFJ do to counter the libel and slander of a hate and racism label. Blacklisting a site from a network is one thing. Libel and slander are another.
To no avail, I spent much time searching the European Command AAFES website for a point of contact to address in writing the libelous categorization of AFJ and contributors.
Ultimately, I sent an email to the Public Relations (PR) Officer, AAFES Headquarters, Dallas, Texas. I received a timely response stating:
“I have forwarded your issue to the GM [General Manager] at Panzer Kaserne. I would imagine all Exchange locations have the same firewalls installed and I am able to access that site from our HQs in Dallas. Hopefully, you should hear from the GM soon.”
Note the PR officer said he was able to access AFJ from the Dallas AAFES HQs. For the record, others from different locations in Germany were able to access the site from government systems without warning.
I waited for a reply from the GM. Finally, On January 7, 2020, I replied to the email advising the AAFES PR Officer that I had no response from the GM at Panzer Kaserne and would like a reply from AAFES before I published an article on the topic. On January 10, 2020, I received a response:
“Mr. Pendry, I apologize for the situation which you encounter [sic] while trying to access the American Freedom Journal website using the free Wi-Fi network at the Panzer Food. We elevated your concern to out[sic] subject matter experts who have provided the following response:
The Exchange does not individually categorize sites. We subscribe to global categorization services that provide website categorization to their clients. For the Exchange, we use Cisco’s Meraki product, which in turn uses BrightCloud for website categorization. In turn, Exchange IT does determine which categories are permissible and which are filtered (blocked) on our guest networks. We follow industry and government best practices to inform us as to which categories should be permitted and which should be blocked.
Specific to the site you are referencing, the best way to rectify the mis-categorization is to submit a recategorization request/complaint of mis-categorization to BrightCloud. There is a web form that you can use to submit the complaint/request. That form is located at: https://www.brightcloud.com/tools/change-request.php . Separately, the Exchange has submit [sic] the recategorization request, however, you as the site owner, should also submit a request to raise the level of attention the re-categorization request receives from BrightCloud.”
Cisco’s Meraki provides wireless local area networks. The systems widely used around the world. As far as I can determine, they do not categorize sites, evaluate content, etc. They do provide the networks and the firewall capability to block sites as is common with any private network. It’s the local network operator that determines which content/sites are blocked just as the Exchange IT stated, however, the local network does not categorize or classify sites. That is done by Webroot BrightCloud.
I went to the Webroot BrightCloud site to see what I could learn there. I browsed the site to learn that Webroot BrightCloud classifies sites and content, apparently on a global scale. According to the response I received from AAFES, the hate and racism label was a Webroot BrightCloud classification. I went to their URL look up and typed in jdpendry.com fully expecting to see the slanderous categorization. What returned was web reputation of trustworthy and web category of Philosophy and Political Advocacy. Interesting is nowhere in the site evaluation is there any mention of hate, racism or any other pejorative. So, I sent an inquiry to Webroot support curious about how AFJ was labeled hateful and racist on the AAFES Network. Here is their response:
“Thank you for escalating your case for our review. Upon review of the entire site, it has been classified to the Philosophy and Political Advocacy category. [It should have said re-classified.]
Please note that at Webroot BrightCloud, our goal is to categorize all URLs as quickly and as accurately as possible. Our classification systems use several metrics and record multiple details about websites to pick up common patterns of online content in order to set a classification. While we can’t specifically pinpoint where any Hate and Racism labelling originated from, crawling systems parse all online content, including comment sections authored by third parties.
We periodically review and make adjustments to our database in order to ensure the highest level of accuracy and a team of Web Analysts works around the clock on any reports of review requests from our customer base.
Please also note that BrightCloud does not block sites, we only classify content. The security device in use (firewall or software) has policy settings that control which URL categories are allowed or blocked.”
I could not be sure what the BrightCloud rating was before AAFES submitted a recategorization request, so I sent them another message posing that question. The response:
“There was a previous classification under the Hate and Racism category by our automated classification system.”
Then they repeated the boilerplate about, “While we can’t specifically pinpoint where any Hate and Racism labelling originated from, crawling systems parse all online content, including comment sections authored by third parties.”
From BrightCloud’s list of categories, “Hate and Racism” are, “Sites that contain content and language in support of hate crimes and racism such as Nazi, neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan, etc.” No human could find anything even remotely related to these areas at AFJ, but BrightCloud’s automated system did.
Sounds to me a lot like Facebook and Twitter blaming it on the algorithms or in this case “several metrics and record multiple details “and who exactly writes the rules? Do computers now program themselves? Webroot BrightCloud at one time classified AFJ as a Hate and Racism site. They put that classification on their automated system that “parse(s) all online content, including comment sections authored by third parties.” Even comments authored by third parties?
It is clear the AAFES WIFI network operator blocked access to a website classified by Webroot BrightCloud as a Hate and Racism site. If I was AAFES, I would have done the same thing blindly believing a tech company relying on an automated system could accurately label someone, some site, or some group as hateful and racist. Those are labels tossed around too freely and without evidence these days. Most interesting is, “Upon review of the entire site, it has been classified to the Philosophy and Political Advocacy category.” Was the entire site reviewed by the same automated system that labeled it a Hate and Racism site in the first place?
It’s scarier than that however. If you look at Webroot BrightCloud, you will see they are global. I do not know how many free WIFI spots there are in the world or how many of them rely on Webroot BrightCloud, but there are potentially people around the world who now believe AFJ is a hate and racism site. Labeled and censored by, or so I’m told, a non-human. Insidious isn’t it?
Where does free speech reside these days. On the Internet mostly controlled by a few major tech companies. Companies that can and do decide what we consume every day. Where does that leave us? Unable to judge content for ourselves based on our own morals and judgement. We are not competent to do that, so it must be done for us.
© 2020 J. D. Pendry, All Rights Reserved.