- 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.”
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.
Employees at Activision Blizzard’s Raven Software Form First Union at a Major Gaming Company
Organizers say the decision has the potential to upend labor practices in the gaming industry.
Raven Software QA Testers Win Union Bid
A group of 28 workers at Activision Blizzard subsidiary Raven Software voted to form the first-ever union at a major U.S. gaming company.
While the Game Workers Alliance is a small union, organizers in the space say its formation represents a major shift for the gaming industry and will encourage others in the sector to follow suit.
The newly unionized workers are quality insurance (QA) testers working at the Wisconsin-based studio to develop “Call of Duty.” QA testers work to sort out any glitches in games, and the jobs are notoriously known for extreme crunch periods where staffers work long stretches of hours before a game’s release.
During crunch periods, employees are regularly given 12- to 14-hour shifts with just a few days off each month in order to meet release deadlines.
Many QA testers have said they are treated as second-class to others in the industry. They are paid much lower — often minimum wage or close to it — work on contract cycles and, as a result, feel disposable.
That particular sentiment was underscored for workers at Raven Software in December when the company ended the contracts of about a dozen QA testers. The decision prompted the remaining QA testers to hold a walkout and, shortly after that, they began organizing to form a union, which they dubbed the Game Workers Alliance.
Activision’s Battle Against Unionization Effort
Activision did not support the push for unionization and actively fought against it. The company refused to voluntarily recognize the union, and just days after the group filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, it moved QA testers to different departments across its properties.
Activision also announced it would convert over 1,000 temporary QA workers to full-time employees, give them a pay raise to $20 an hour, and provide more benefits. However, management said the move would not apply to the unionizing workers because, under federal law, they could not try to encourage workers from voting against unionization by offering pay hikes or benefits. Union leaders repudiated that argument.
Additionally, Activision fought against the union petition, arguing that any union would need to include all of the studio’s employees, but the Labor Board rejected the claim and let the effort proceed.
According to multiple reports, Activision management continued to push against the union in the weeks leading up to the vote. Some Raven employees told The Washington Post company leaders had suggested at a town hall meeting that unionization could hurt game development and impact promotions and benefits. The following day, the managers allegedly sent an email urging workers to “vote no.”
On Monday, Labor Board prosecutors announced they had determined that Activision illegally threatened workers and enforced a social media policy that violated bargaining rights. Activision denied the new allegations.
The two parties will have until the end of the month to file an objection, and if none are filed, the union becomes official. It is currently unclear how Activision and Raven will respond, but they have signaled that they might not make the transition period easy for the union.
According to internal documents seen by Bloomberg, the company has repeatedly mentioned that it can take a while for a union to negotiate its first contract.
In a statement following the vote, an Activision spokesperson told The Post that the company respects the right of its employees to vote for or against a union, but added: “We believe that an important decision that will impact the entire Raven Software studio of roughly 350 people should not be made by 19 of Raven employees. We’re committed to doing what’s best for the studio and our employees.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)
Uber Forks Over $19 Million in Fine for Misleading Australian Riders
The penalty is just the latest in a string of lawsuits going back years.
Uber Gets Fined
Uber has agreed to pay a $19 million fine after being sued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for making false or misleading statements in its app.
The first offense stems from a company policy that allows users to cancel their ride at no cost up to five minutes after the driver has accepted the trip. Despite the terms, between at least December 2017 and September 2021, over two million Australians who wanted to cancel their ride were nevertheless warned that they may be charged a small fee for doing so.
Uber said in a statement that almost all of those users decided to cancel their trips despite the warnings.
The cancellation message has since been changed to: “You won’t be charged a cancellation fee.”
The second offense, occurring between June 2018 and August 2020, involved the company showing customers in Sydney inflated estimates of taxi fares on the app.
The commission said that Uber did not ensure the algorithm used to calculate the prices was accurate, leading to actual fares almost always being higher than estimated ones.
The taxi fare feature was removed in August 2020.
A Troubled Legal History
Uber has been sued for misleading its users or unfairly charging customers in the past.
In 2016, the company paid California-based prosecutors up to $25 million for misleading riders about the safety of its service.
An investigation at the time found that at least 25 of Uber’s approved drivers had serious criminal convictions including identity theft, burglary, child sex offenses and even one murder charge, despite background checks.
In 2017, the company also settled a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for $20 million after it misled drivers about how much money they could earn.
In November 2021, the Justice Department sued the company for allegedly charging disabled customers a wait-time fee even though they needed more time to get in the car, then refused to refund them.
Later the same month, a class-action lawsuit in New York alleged that Uber charged riders a final price higher than the upfront price listed when they ordered the ride.
See what others are saying: (ABC) (NASDAQ) (Los Angeles Times)
Report Finds That Instagram Promotes Pro-Eating Disorder Content to 20 Million Users, Including Children
According to the study, even users hoping to recover were given eating disorder content because they were “still in Instagram’s algorithmically curated bubble.”
Instagram Promotes Eating Disorder Content
Instagram promotes pro-eating disorder content to millions of its users, including children as young as nine-years-old, according to a Thursday report from the child advocacy non-profit group Fairplay.
The report, titled “Designing for Disorder: Instagram’s Pro-eating Disorder Bubble,” studied what it called an eating disorder “bubble,” which consisted of nearly 90,000 accounts that reached 20 million unique users. The average age of the bubble was 19, but researchers found users aged nine- and 10-years-old that followed three or more of these accounts. Roughly one-third of those in the bubble were underage.
According to Fairplay, Instagram’s parent company Meta derives $2 million in revenue a year from the bubble and another $228 million from those who follow it.
“In addition to being profitable, this bubble is also undeniably harmful,” the report said. “Algorithms are profiling children and teens to serve them images, memes and videos encouraging restrictive diets and extreme weight loss.”
“Meta’s pro-eating disorder bubble is not an isolated incident nor an awful accident,” it continued. “Rather it is an example of how, without appropriate checks and balances, Meta systematically puts profit ahead of young people’s safety and wellbeing.”
Researchers identified the bubble by first looking at 153 seed accounts with over 1,000 followers that posted content celebrating eating disorders. Some used phrases like “thinspiration” or other slang terms like “ana” and “mia” to refer to specific eating disorders. Others included an underweight body mass index in their bios.
Those seed accounts alone had roughly 2.3 million collective followers, 1.6 million of which were unique. Of those unique users, researchers looked at how many seed accounts each followed to determine that nearly 90,000 accounts were part of the eating disorder bubble. Those accounts totaled over 28 million followers, 20 million of which were unique.
These pages posted content ranging from memes and photos of extreme thinness to screenshots of progress on calorie counting apps. One user said they were on their third day of eating just 300 calories.
Others, including children under the age of 13, put their current weights and goal weights in their account bios. Some wrote that they “hate food” or were “starving for perfection.”
Content’s Impact on Children
Fairplay claimed that many of those in the bubble wanted to recover but were essentially trapped in Instagram’s algorithm.
“Many of the biographies of users in the bubble talk about wanting to or being in recovery, wanting to get ‘better’, to ‘heal’ or being aware of how unwell they were,” the report said. “However, these users are still in Instagram’s algorithmically curated bubble. They will still be feeding content from other accounts in the bubble, including the seed accounts, that normalizes, glamorizes or promotes eating disorders.”
The report also showcased the firsthand account of a 17-year-old eating disorder survivor and activist identified as Kelsey. Kelsey wrote that it was impossible to “imagine a time when the app didn’t have the sort of content that promotes disordered eating behavior.”
“I felt like my feed was always pushed towards this sort of content from the moment I opened my account,” Kelsey continued.
“That type of content at one point even got so normalized that prominent figures such as the Kardashians and other female and male influencers were openly promoting weight loss supplements and diet suppressors in order to help lose weight.”
Kelsey said Instagram delivered that content without any relevant searches, but posts about body positivity needed to be actively sought out.
The report concluded by arguing that there needs to be legislation that regulates platforms like Instagram by requiring them to prioritize user safety, particularly for children.
Meta and Instagram have long been accused of disregarding child safety. Last year, a whistleblower unveiled documents that revealed the company knew of the harm it posed to young people, specifically regarding body image. A Meta spokesperson told The Hill that they were unable to address the most recent allegations in Fairplay’s report.
“We’re not able to fully address this report because the authors declined to share it with us, but reports like this often misunderstand that completely removing content related to peoples’ journeys with or recovery from eating disorders can exacerbate difficult moments and cut people off from community,” the spokesperson said.