Lawmakers Target Google Over Demonetization Efforts Against Conservative Website

June 17, 2020 Updated: June 17, 2020

Lawmakers are looking for answers after Google attempted to demonetize The Federalist, a conservative website that publishes news stories and opinion pieces.

The actions against the website “raise serious concerns that Google is abusing its monopoly power in an effort to censor political speech with which it disagrees,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in a letter (pdf) on Tuesday, referencing how Google in the past has made a number of moves against conservatives.

The push to ban The Federalist from Google ads came from a collaboration between a group called the Center for Countering Digital Hate and a unit inside NBC News that focuses on open source research.

NBC sent a report created by the center to Google, aiming to hurt certain websites. The organization claims these sites were profiting from articles making unsubstantiated claims about Black Lives Matter protests and riots.

In response, Google told NBC that The Federalist and ZeroHedge, another news website, were demonetized, or blocked from making money from Google Ads, a service that places advertisements on websites.

NBC’s article falsely described the news websites as far-right.

Shortly after the article was published late Tuesday, Google said in a statement that “The Federalist was never demonetized.” The issue wasn’t any of the articles The Federalist published, according to Google, but issues related to comments made on the articles.

Epoch Times Photo
The logo of Google is seen in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 20, 2020. (Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)

“As the comment section has now been removed, we consider this matter resolved and no action will be taken,” Google stated. The Federalist confirmed it removed its comment section so it could keep Google Ads.

Cruz said in his letter that Google “seems more than happy” to play a censorship role “by trying to break the financial back of a media publication with which it disagrees.”

Google’s decision to target The Federalist “is transparently politically motivated,” Cruz asserted, noting that a number of websites known as left-leaning allow comments.

“I don’t know what the objectionable comments were that individual users might have posted on The Federalist, but any objective review would no doubt demonstrate at least as many profane, racist, or indefensible user comments on these other sites that would equally violate Google’s alleged standards,” he wrote. YouTube, which is a subsidiary of Google, also includes thousands of profane, racist, and indefensible comments, he added.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said on Twitter in a message to Google that it appears the tech giant is being inconsistent.

Google wants to treat The Federalist’s comment section as the outlet’s speech but simultaneously say the content the tech company hosts is not its speech under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the lawmaker alleged. Section 230 bestows special protections on some companies, including social media companies, shielding them from liability.

During an appearance on “News News @ Night,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said what happened today “may be a turning point.”

“What Google did to The Federalist, I think this is a turning point today,” he said.

josh hawley
Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) attends the confirmation hearing of Attorney General nominee William Barr at the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 15, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

NBC Reporter Shows Animus Against Trump

Adele-Momoko Fraser, the London-based reporter who wrote the article, has in the past shown open animus toward U.S. President Donald Trump.

“this may look like yet another crazy Trump move,” she wrote in one social media post in 2018. In another, she said that Trump withdrawing from a nuclear deal with Iran was “inching us closer and closer to nuclear annihilation.”

She also called people supporting Brexit, or the movement in the UK to leave the European Union, “idiots.” The director of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which is also based in the UK, has in the past called Trump a bigot.

NBC didn’t respond to a list of 16 questions from The Epoch Times, including whether Fraser’s actions were being reviewed and whether it has ever in the past collaborated with groups against its competitors.

Fraser in a missive Tuesday thanked the center and another group “for their hard work and collaboration!” while promoting the article about what Google did.

She later added that NBC obtained the research it presented to Google “but we did not collaborate on the research itself.”

Fraser and another NBC employee involved in the story said on Twitter that Google “backtracked” on what it originally said.

Both employees deleted tweets that included the hashtag “#blacklivesmatter.” Ruaridh Arrow, the other employee, said he included the hashtag “because the story concerned that movement – this was not an indication of support for it and has now deleted for clarity.”

NBC quietly edited its article about what happened multiple times, with no editor’s note or correction notice. The original tweet promoting the article is still live. It falsely says that The Federalist won’t be able to generate revenue from Google Ads any longer.

Sean Davis, co-founder of The Federalist, in an appearance on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” later Tuesday said: “NBC, the network that coddled Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauern, by the way, had partnered with a foreign left-wing group in Europe to go after us and to use Google.”

“If this were a just world there would be accountability for that. There would be accountability for fake journalists who go around trying to destroy their competition for the crime of criticizing them,” he added later.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber