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Google and NBC Face Backlash Over Censorship Story

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  • NBC reported Tuesday morning that two conservative outlets were being banned from participating in Google Ads.
  • Google later backtracked and said that wasn’t accurate, and that one was given a warning.
  • Both face criticisms over censorship claims, as well as claims this was a targeted attack on conservative outlets by NBC.

Conflicting Stories from Google and NBC

Google found itself in the middle of a censorship controversy after it banned ZeroHedge and The Federalist— two notable conservative publications— from participating in its Google Ads program. NBC, which first reported on the story, has also found itself facing criticisms over using information to silence another outlet.

On Monday night, NBC reached out to Google regarding some research done by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a British nonprofit that combats online hate and misinformation.

That research claimed ZeroHedge and The Federalist were running articles about Black Lives Matter that were racist, included false narratives, and called for advertisers to stop funding the sites. Google replied to NBC and allegedly said they’ve already banned ZeroHedge and The Federalist from the Google Ads program, explaining that:

“We have 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. When a page or site violates our policies, we take action. In this case, we’ve removed both sites’ ability to monetize with Google.”

On Tuesday morning, NBC published their article and ran Google’s statement; ZeroHedge had already been banned by Google and The Federalist was also demonetized for promoting hatred, intolerance, violence, or other discrimanation after learning about research from the CCDH. 

What was the infringing content? Well, if the decision was based on CCDH’s report, “The Federalist has:​ Claimed CNN/New York Times reports were “lying” about white supremacist violence,” and “used ‘black crime; as a tag for its articles.”

While “ZeroHedge has: Claimed that Black Lives Matter is ‘practically a revolutionary operative of the CIA via Soros,’” and “Suggested Black Lives Matter is a George Soros ‘Astroturf’ campaign for “leftists and their agenda to reshape the fabric of American society.”

This isn’t the first time either publication has come into trouble with a tech company. In March, The Federalist published an article where they told people to voluntarily get infected with COVID-19 to help with herd immunity. Twitter responded by temporarily locking the site’s account until a tweet promoting the article was deleted. Zero Hedge was recently unbanned by Twitter after being suspended in January for promoting a conspiracy theory about a Chinese scientist. Twitter eventually decided the decision was “an error.”

Following news that Google banned the two conservative outlets, other outlets began reaching out to Google for a statement and received information that conflicted with NBC’s article. When responding to The Verge, Google said that The Federalist wasn’t demonetized; only warned that they were going to be demonetized. Google later clarified their stance on Twitter, writing:

“The Federalist was never demonetized. We worked with them to address issues on their site related to the comments section.”

They also linked to a 2017 statement that instructs publications to police comments sections to be advertiser friendly, and continued on Twitter:

“Our policies do not allow ads to run against dangerous or derogatory content, which includes comments on sites, and we offer guidance and best practices to publishers on how to comply. As the comment section has now been removed, we consider this matter resolved and no action will be taken.”

Fallout

Following this, NBC found themselves embroiled in controversy. Currently their article reads:

“Google’s ban comes after the company was notified of research from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a British nonprofit that combats online hate and misinformation.”

But that’s not what they originally wrote. In their original article, NBC stated that they brought CCHD’s research to Google’s attention, writing:

“Google blocked The Federalist from its advertising platform after the NBC News Verification Unit brought the project to its attention.”

That action and phrasing led to major backlash for the publication. Sean Davos, the co-founder of The Federalist, told Tucker Carlson:

“It looks like NBC… had partnered with a foreign left-wing group in Europe to go after us and to use Google to go after us… This is a pretty powerful example of the unholy union of corrupt media and monopolistic tech oligarchs.”

Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro also went after NBC for seemingly putting the CCDH’s report in front of Google and implying they demanded action.

The writer of the story, Adele-Momoko Fraser, has since gone on to clarify NBC’s connection with the CCDH’s research. Not only did the article imply that they found the research, but her original tweet about it looked like NBC was involved with the research, and later added:

“To clarify this earlier tweet, we obtained this research exclusively from @SSFakeNews but we did not collaborate on the research itself.”

Beyond that, plenty of people gave their opinion about the situation as a whole. Before Google issued its clarification, right-wing pundit Stephen Miller tweeted out, “the fact Google and NBC News are now defunding websites over commentary is going to have disastrous side effects and backlash.”

Following everything that happened on June 16th,  Senator Ted Cruz released a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and demanded answers for why The Federalist was being reprimanded for its comment section.

“The recent actions of Google to “demonetize” a conservative media publisher, The Federalist, raise serious concerns that Google is abusing its monopoly power in an effort to censor political speech with which it disagrees.”

“…Google appears to have backtracked, saying that the decision to “demonetize” The Federalist is not due to the article itself, but instead due to offensive comments that allegedly violated Google advertising policies.”

“Numerous “progressive” media outlets allow comments, including, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, Wonkette, Slate, Jezebel, The Root, salon, The Intercept, The Young Turks, and many others… 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.”

“But one need not look that far. On any given day there are thousand of profane, racist, and indefensible comments posted on YouTube, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Google.” 

Cruz then drew a parallel between how Google is defended by Section 230 from the speech posted by their users while not extending those same protections to companies using Google Ads. Cruz ended by requesting that Google turn over communications between it, The Federalist, and The Center for Countering Digital hate within seven days.

Cruz also asked the company if they’ve examined the comments of progressive platforms and if they’ve applied the same standard The Federalist was reviewed under to them. He also asked if Google applied the same standard to YouTube comments, or if the company gave preferential treatment to its subsidiary.

Google has yet to respond to Cruz’s request.

See What Others Are Saying: (The Verge) (NBC) (Tech Crunch)

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Tesla Suspends Bitcoin Purchases Over Environmental Impact, Causing Coin’s Value To Crash 20%

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  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday that his electric vehicle company would be ceasing all Bitcoin sales effective immediately, even though it just started using the cryptocurrency in March.
  • The announcement prompted a massive sell-off of Bitcoin, which plunged almost 20% on Wednesday.
  • In his statement, Musk said, “We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel.”
  • Many have since accused Musk of manipulating the crypto market since Bitcoin’s environmental impact has long been one of its most controversial facets. 

Tesla Suspends Bitcoin Purchases

Volatility is essentially a prerequisite for Bitcoin, but Wednesday proved to be an especially bad day for the cryptocurrency after Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that the electric vehicle company would no longer be accepting the coin as a form of payment.

At the beginning of the day, Bitcoin was trading for around $57,000. Following Musk’s announcement, it had fallen to a 24-hour low of just over $46,000 — amounting to a nearly 20% drop in value. 

“We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel,” Musk said via Twitter. “Cryptocurrency is a good idea on many levels and we believe it has a promising future, but this cannot come at great cost to the environment.”

This policy update comes after only months after Tesla disclosed in February that it had bought $1.5 billion in Bitcoin. It also comes after the company began accepting Bitcoin as payment for vehicles in March. 

Still, with this sudden about-face, Musk said, “Tesla will not be selling any Bitcoin and we intend to use it for transactions as soon as mining transitions to more sustainable energy. We are also looking at other cryptocurrencies that use <1% of Bitcoin’s energy/transaction.”

Bitcoin’s Environmental Impact

Musk tweeted a graph Thursday morning from Cambridge’s Centre for Alternative Finance that shows Bitcoin’s increasing energy use since 2016.

In March, researchers with the Centre reported that Bitcoin’s energy consumption has jumped 80% since the beginning of 2020. 

Bitcoin’s impact on the environment has long been a subject of debate since mining it takes excessive amounts of electrical energy, but that problem has only gotten worse with the coin’s continued growth. 

On Monday, Ars Technica reported that a defunct coal power plant in upstate New York has been restarted to mine Bitcoin. In January, Iranian officials partly blamed Bitcoin for mass blackouts in the country. Researchers have even found that Bitcoin mining uses more energy than places like Argentina, a country with 45 million people.

Is Musk Manipulating the Market?

The overall reaction to Musk’s announcement was less than favorable, with many accusing the billionaire of manipulating the crypto market. 

“[This is] the same guy who’s been pulling the levers on crypto and has everyone following his every move,” Dave Portnoy, the controversial owner of Barstool Sports, said. “He’s sending Dogecoin up. He’s sending Bitcoin down. This is bullshit.

“Elon, you have responsibility when one second you say to buy something and the next second you don’t,” Portnoy added. “That’s playing with people’s futures, their fortunes.” 

Others made similar statements accusing Musk of essentially controlling Bitcoin prices, with MMA fighter Keith Berry saying, “Elon is a smart cookie, do you really think he didn’t know about energy usages on #Bitcoin after he bought 1.5B in BTC in December 2020” 

Still, some argued that recent disappointment in Musk is good for Bitcoin in the long term.

“This is great for #Bitcoin,” one person tweeted. “It should never depend on the thoughts and opinions of a single entity. The Elon Musk effect is being priced out and that’s positive for the cryptocurrency industry in the long run.” 

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (CNBC) (The New York Times)

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U.S. Gas Prices Hit $3 Per Gallon, a 7-year High, as Buyers Panicked During the Colonial Pipeline Shutdown

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  • The national average gas price has climbed above $3 for the first time in seven years.
  • The increase comes as the country’s largest fuel pipeline remains largely shuttered for the sixth day in a row following a ransomware attack, leading to panic buying and massive gas shortages in some cities. 
  • Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the company behind the pipeline should be able to make a decision on a full restart of the system by the end of Wednesday.
  • Still, she cautioned that it will take several days for fuel supplies to go back to normal. 

Update: Colonial Pipeline restarted operations at 5 p.m. EST Wednesday. “Following this restart it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal,” Colonial said in a statement. “Some markets served by Colonial Pipeline may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions during the start-up period.”

Panic Buying Drives Fuel Shortages

The national average gas price reached $3.008 Wednesday, its highest value in seven years. 

The jump is largely being driven by two factors. The first is that the country’s largest fuel pipeline was forced to shut down last Friday following a ransomware attack by the criminal gang Darkside. That pipeline, owned by the Colonial Pipeline Company, stretches from Texas to New York and supplies 45% of the East Coast’s fuel.

The second is that panic buying related to the shutdown and fears of fuel scarcity have exacerbated the problem. In fact, Tuesday evening, over 1,000 gas stations in the Southeast ran dry. 

By Wednesday, the situation was even worse. Nearly a quarter of all stations in North Carolina were out of gas, and in urban areas like Charlotte, 71% of stations were empty.  Meanwhile, around 15% percent of stations in both Georgia and Virginia were out of gas, and in the Atlanta metro area, 60% of stations had been depleted. 

Photos and video from affected states show hours-long lines. Some people have reported waiting more than five hours to get to the pump. Others have shared images of “out of fuel” signs. Stretching pumps even thinner are reports that many drivers are simply trying to top off mostly-full tanks or gas cans. 

In one tense situation captured at a gas station near Raleigh, North Carolina, a woman can be seen spitting on a man and hitting a car after she reportedly tried to cut the line. The man fires back a spit of his own, leading to a fight between the two.

When Will the Pipeline Be Back?

On Monday, some (but not most) of the pipeline was brought back manually. Colonial Pipeline officials have also said they hope to restart most operations by the end of the week.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm also told reporters Tuesday that Colonial should be in a position to make a decision on a full restart by the end of Wednesday; however, it’s likely going to take several days for fuel supplies to return to normal even after operations recover.

“Much as there was no cause for, say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, there should be no cause for hoarding gasoline,” Granholm said. 

Many analysts have echoed that warning, telling people to fuel up only if they need to and asking them to try to conserve as much gas as possible until the pipeline becomes largely operational again. 

The governors of Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia have all declared states of emergency to try to stave off shortages and keep gas prices down. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (USA Today) (MarketWatch)

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GLAAD Report Finds All Top Social Media Platforms “Effectively Unsafe” for LGBTQ+ Users

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  • The LGBTQ+ media monitoring organization GLAAD said in a Sunday report that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok are all “effectively unsafe for LGBTQ users.” 
  • Of the 64% of respondents who told GLAAD they’ve faced anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech or harassment online, 75% said at least some came from Facebook, which performed the most poorly of all five platforms.
  • The report highlights more than just hate speech, as GLAAD notes that “inadequate content moderation, polarizing algorithms, and discriminatory AI” also negatively affect LGBTQ+ users.
  • “This is about less watchdogging, more partnering with these platforms to get it right,” GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said while calling the report a starting point for how platforms can change.

Anti-LGBTQ+ Hate Speech Rampant on Social Media Sites

The LGBTQ+ media monitoring organization GLAAD has published a report that classifies every top social media platform as “effectively unsafe for LGBTQ users.” 

That includes Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok.

“Of special concern, the prevalence and intensity of hate speech and harassment stands out as the most significant problem in urgent need of improvement,” GLAAD said in the report released Sunday.

The organization noted 64% of LGBTQ+ social media users have experienced harassment and hate speech online, which it said is higher than all other identity groups. 

Of the five platforms, Facebook was far and above the worst offender. In fact, GLAAD reported that 75% of the LGBTQ+ respondents who’ve experienced online harassment said at least some of that harassment happened on Facebook.

Meanwhile, 24% percent of respondents said they have faced similar harassment on Twitter and Instagram each. YouTube came in just below those figures at 21%, and TikTok saw the lowest harassment level of the five at 9%.

GLAAD’s president and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis said that while the organization was originally going to give each platform a grade, “What we ended up realizing is that if we started grading, they’d all fail, quite frankly.” 

Content Moderation and AI

It’s not just hate speech. “Inadequate content moderation, polarizing algorithms, and discriminatory AI” were also listed among the specific problems that GLAAD hopes these social media platforms will address. 

The organization even listed several “urgent recommendations,” which read:

  • “Stop allowing algorithms to fuel extremism and hate. Similarly, confront the problem of bias in AI.”
  • “Make it easier for users to report problematic content, be transparent in content moderation, and use more human moderators.”
  • “Employ a dedicated LGBTQ policy lead.”
  • “Respect data privacy, especially where LGBTQ people are vulnerable to serious harms and violence.”

It also called for platforms to more strongly enforce misinformation labels and restrict hashtags/shares of anti-LGBTQ content.

“This is about less watchdogging, more partnering with these platforms to get it right,” Ellis said, summing up the purpose of the report as a “roadmap” for platforms to begin implementing change.

See what others are saying: (Axios) (NPR) (The Hill)

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