Google Undermines Its Legal Protections With Threat to Demonetize The Federalist, FCC's Carr Says

Google Undermines Its Legal Protections With Threat to Demonetize The Federalist, FCC's Carr Says
The logo of Google in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 20, 2020. (Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)
Petr Svab

Google is making an argument against its own liability protection by threatening to ban a right-leaning media outlet, The Federalist, from its advertising platform, according to Brendan Carr, a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission.

Google put The Federalist on notice over what it described as violations of its policy against “dangerous and derogatory” speech in the comment section of The Federalist’s website.

But by policing the user-created content of others, Google cut against its own argument that it can’t be liable for user-created content on its own platforms, according to Carr.

Online services are largely shielded from liability for user-generated content under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

“Google makes one of the strongest arguments yet for Section 230 reform,” Carr said in a June 16 series of tweets.

“Big Tech has long argued that it needs Section 230’s unique set of liability protections because websites simply couldn’t operate if they were held liable for comments or user-generated posts. … Not so, according to Google’s own ad policy! Google is now holding The Federalist responsible for comments and user-generated posts, and Google will be demonetizing the website as a result. …

"Google has no problem treating The Federalist as the publisher of comments and user-generated posts on that website for purposes of Google’s own ad policy. Yet, Google expends significant resources to protect its own platforms from that type of treatment under Section 230.”

Google stopped short of demonetizing The Federalist after the website completely removed its comment section.

“We have been told that the Federalist removed comments. As the comment section has now been removed, we consider this matter resolved and no action will be taken,” Google spokeswoman Christa Muldoon told The Epoch Times via email.

The Federalist didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Competitor Lobby?

Carr suggested Google was prompted to review The Federalist’s website by a media competitor.

“This also appears to be an example of established media gatekeepers attempting to regain control of the political narrative - not through persuasion but coercion,” Carr said. “A legacy media outlet lobbied Big Tech to punish a new media competitor.”

He apparently was referring to NBC News, which ran a story on June 16 claiming Google demonetized The Federalist and ZeroHedge, a libertarian blog and news site.

The article said Google took the steps after being informed by NBC News’ “Verification Unit” about a “project” by a British nonprofit that put The Federalist, ZeroHedge, Breitbart, and other right-leaning publications on a “blacklist” for supposedly being “racist Fake News.”

The nonprofit, the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), is tied to the British Labour Party and has been known to lobby tech companies to deplatform political opponents, whom it labels as “hate actors.”

Google declined to comment to The Epoch Times when asked whether the NBC News tip prompted the review of The Federalist.

The Federalist ended up on CCDH’s “blacklist” for running an op-ed that said the media was lying when blaming white supremacists for instigating violence during recent protests sparked by the death of a black man, George Floyd, during his arrest in Minneapolis.

CCDH specifically took issue with the op-ed’s criticism of CNN and The New York Times.

The op-ed said CNN “went on and on—without a shred of evidence to back it up—about how white supremacists might be infiltrating the protests and stirring up trouble.”

Attorney General William Barr has blamed extremist groups of various political persuasions for instigating violence during the protests, singling out anarcho-communist group Antifa.

The op-ed also criticized a New York Times article for going “into a long aside about how far-right ‘accelerationists’ were hoping the unrest would bring about a long-sought second civil war.”

While the New York Times piece says “far-right adherents” cheered on the protests on social media and some recorded themselves at the protests, it also quoted a Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) analyst as saying, “I have not seen any clear evidence that white supremacists or militiamen are masking up and going out to burn and loot.”

The SPLC has long been criticized by conservatives for overreaching as to whom it labels as “racist” or “hateful.”

Google Under Fire

Google controls about a third of the global online advertising market, according to eMarketer.

“For Google, the hypocrisy here is stunning,” Carr said in another tweet. “It has no problem providing a platform for Communist China propaganda, & it has censored posts the regime wouldn’t like. Yet it draws a line on the comment section of a conservative publication in America.”

Google has drawn criticism for allegedly kowtowing to the communist regime in China.

In May, Google’s video platform, YouTube, admitted to deleting from its comment section some Chinese phrases critical of the regime.

YouTube blamed an error for the deletions and said it quickly investigated the issue when made aware of it and rolled out fixes.

But, as The Verge pointed out, some users complained about the comment deletion on YouTube’s official help pages as early as October 2019. YouTube only fixed the issue more than half a year later, when it was picked up by the media.
Since 2018, Google has cooperated with a leading artificial intelligence (AI) research body at Tsinghua University, a prestigious Chinese academic institution that also conducts AI research for the Chinese military.

Google also faced criticism after it was revealed in 2018 that it was secretly developing a censored search app for the Chinese market, as part of a project dubbed “Dragonfly.”

The company has since said the project has been shelved.

Google ran a censored version of its search engine in China from 2006 to 2010, but exited after the company said a cyberattack originating from China had targeted the Google email accounts of dozens of Chinese rights activists.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the position of Brendan Carr. He is a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission.
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.