Conservative media outlets are mad about censorship again. This time it’s Google that has earned their ire. On Tuesday, NBC reported that Google had banned right-wing conspiracy theory site ZeroHedge from its ad platform and issued a warning to far-right site The Federalist. The two sites had apparently hosted content that violated the terms of Google’s ad network, meaning that Google wouldn’t be able to send ads to their sites, potentially costing both entities some revenue.
Also on Tuesday, President Donald Trump filed a lawsuit against former national security adviser John Bolton to prevent the release of Bolton’s White House memoir The Room Where It Happened. The basis for this lawsuit is Trump’s belief that “every conversation” Bolton had with Trump should be considered “highly classified” and thus illegal to release.
It wasn’t the administration’s first dalliance with the idea of using legal efforts to block books. In 2018, then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that the administration hadn’t ruled out suing reporter Bob Woodward to prevent the release of his book Fear: Trump in the White House. Trump made similar threats to sue to stop Michael Wolff’s 2018 book Fire and Fury. And just this week, it was reported that Trump was considering filing a lawsuit against his niece Mary Trump, who has her own tell-all book due out next month.
While the administration has continued threatening the First Amendment rights of others, conservative media have been busy play-acting the latest episode involving the Federalist in the unending soap opera that is their relationships with tech companies.
It’s not censorship for Google to decide not to run ads on certain websites, but for right-wing media, that’s not actually what this is even about.
It makes sense that Google would have some guidelines in place for websites to qualify for ad revenue. Companies that advertise on the platform may be leery of having their brand show up alongside such Federalist articles like “Trans Claims Of Medical Discrimination Are Really About Refusals To Mutilate And Sterilize People” or “How Medical ‘Chickenpox Parties’ Could Turn The Tide Of The Wuhan Virus.”
A Google spokesperson told NBC that the company has “strict publisher policies that govern the content ads can run on and explicitly prohibit derogatory content that promotes hatred, intolerance, violence or discrimination based on race from monetizing.”
This rule did not affect how these sites showed up in Google’s search results, and it didn’t interfere with anyone’s ability to access these sites; this decision was only about the sites’ ability to make money from Google’s ads displaying on their pages.
On Tuesday night, Fox’s Tucker Carlson raged against Google -- and against Republican members of Congress for not taking what he argues are necessary steps to stop Google’s “direct effort to stifle free speech.” Federalist co-founder Sean Davis accused NBC of an “attempted assassination” of the Federalist, and he later appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight to discuss the issue.
Davis’ line of thinking was that because Google became aware of the Federalist’s rule violations only because NBC reached out to the platform for comment, NBC was trying to have the Federalist “canceled.” The following day, Davis, along with plagiarist and fellow Federalist co-founder Ben Domenech, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal titled “NBC Tries to Cancel a Conservative Website.” Meghan McCain, Domenech’s wife and co-host of ABC’s The View, tweeted, “Google is now trafficking in digital fascism. How soon until all conservative speech and publications are completely banned?”
Fox News covered this story extensively on Tuesday. The National Review, New York Post, Breitbart, The Daily Wire, Daily Caller, and Daily Mail all published pieces on the story. Even Federalist-hater and dumbest man on the internet Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit wrote a piece about it, even if only to get in a few jabs at the Federalist for apparently not having his back in the past. On Twitter, Google clarified that the Federalist hadn’t been demonetized, as an early version of NBC’s report had claimed, and added that the two companies had resolved the issue.
This controversy comes as conservatives continue to aggressively push for action against tech companies for supposed anti-conservative bias, without evidence.
In a remarkable coincidence, the dust-up between the Federalist and Google’s ad platform came just a day after Politico reported that Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) was “readying broadside against big tech’s ad business.”
On Wednesday, Hawley introduced legislation to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields tech platforms from liability for what others post to their sites. Under Hawley’s bill, people would be able to sue tech companies for $5,000 if companies were caught selectively censoring political speech. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Tom Cotton (R-AR) signed onto it as co-sponsors. The Department of Justice also weighed in with its own recommendation for changing Section 230.
Conservatives were ecstatic about these developments.
There is absolutely zero evidence that tech platforms target conservatives.
When conservative media companies, commentators, or journalists have their posts flagged for running afoul of a platform’s rules, it creates a day’s worth of content to run on right-wing blogs and Fox News. But when people elsewhere on the political spectrum have their posts removed, it doesn’t generate much news. If a viewer sees a dozen stories about posts being pulled down from social media and every story is about a conservative person or outlet, that creates the false impression that conservatives are the only ones facing moderation on social platforms. This simply is not true.
For example, Dr. Jennifer Gunter, an author and OB-GYN who certainly wouldn’t be categorized as conservative, shared screenshots on Twitter documenting that Facebook had determined that her post containing the words “men are trash” violated the site’s policies against hate speech, while former baseball player and right-wing trash fire Aubrey Huff’s Facebook post calling antifa “a terrorist organization” with “a giant target on your back,” whose “days are numbered,” remained live on the site. But if you don’t follow Gunter on social media, you almost certainly did not hear about this.
Techdirt’s Mike Masnick wrote a blog post explaining why what happened to the Federalist and ZeroHedge wasn’t an example of anti-conservative bias. Masnick wrote that Google had done to Techdirt exactly what it had done to the Federalist, adding that while he thinks it’s a “dumb policy,” “it’s not got anything to do with ‘anti-conservative bias.’”
Tech companies have continually caved to conservative demands for preferential treatment. It’s time they learned that no matter what they do, it will never be enough.
Facebook has loaded up on longtime Republican operatives to help it with policy, Twitter has crafted rules giving Trump more leeway to break rules than everyone else, and Google has regularly looked the other way when it comes to policing extremist right-wing content on YouTube. No matter what these companies do, right-wing media will never stop accusing them of harboring an anti-conservative bias.
In the meantime, conservative content flourishes on social media platforms while right-wingers spend their days ginning up fresh controversies and phony claims of oppression. Conservative media push their arguments as a defense of free speech while ignoring legitimate threats to the First Amendment. It’s worked out pretty well for them so far; why would they stop now?