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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)

Business

Google Is Banning “Sugar Dating” Apps as Part of New Sexual Content Restrictions

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The change essentially targets apps like Elite Millionaire Singles, SeekingArrangements, Spoil, and tons of other sugar dating platforms.


Sugar Dating Crackdown

Google has announced a series of policy changes to its Android Play Store that include a ban on sugar dating apps starting September 1.

The company’s Play Store policies already prohibit apps that promote “services that may be interpreted as providing sexual acts in exchange for compensation.”

Now, it has updated its wording to specifically include “compensated dating or sexual arrangements where one participant is expected or implied to provide money, gifts or financial support to another participant (‘sugar dating’).”

The change essentially targets apps like Elite Millionaire Singles, SeekingArrangements, Spoil, and tons of other sugar dating platforms currently available for download.

Search results for “Sugar Daddy” on Google’s Play Store

What Prompted the Change?

The company didn’t explain why it’s going after sugar dating apps, but some reports have noted that the move comes amid crackdowns of online sex work following the introduction of the FOSTA-SESTA legislation in 2018, which was meant to curb sex trafficking.

That’s because FOSTA-SESTA created an exception to Section 230 that means website publishers can be held liable if third parties are found to be promoting prostitution, including consensual sex work, on their platforms.

It’s worth noting that just because the apps will no longer be available on the Play Store doesn’t mean the sugar dating platforms themselves are going anywhere. Sugar daters will still be able to access them through their web browsers, or they can just sideload their apps from other places.

Still, the change is likely going to make the use of these sites a little less convenient.

See what others are saying: (The Verge)(Engadget)(Tech Times)

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Activision Blizzard CEO Apologizes for “Tone Deaf” Response to Harassment Suit, Unsatisfied Employees Stage Walkout

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Organizers of a Wednesday walkout say they “will not return to silence” and “will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point.”


CEO Apologizes

After a week of growing criticism against its workplace culture, the CEO of Activision Blizzard has finally apologized for how the company first responded to allegations of sexual harassment and assault in its offices.

“Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf,” CEO Bobby Kotick said Tuesday in a letter to employees. “It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.” 

In its initial response, Activision Blizzard denounced the disturbing allegations brought forth in a lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) as “irresponsible.” The company added that it came from “unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.”

But many current and former employees soon disputed that claim. In fact, at the time, more than 2,500 had signed their name to an open letter condemning the company for its response, which they described as “abhorrent and insulting” to survivors. 

In his letter, Kotick promised employees that Blizzard will take “swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for.”

As part of a series of new policies, he said the company will now offer additional employee support and listening sessions, as well as potential personnel changes to leadership.

“Anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated,” he added.

Kotick also said Blizzard will add “compliance resources” to ensure that leadership is adhering to diverse hiring directives.

Lastly, he promised that the company will remove “inappropriate” in-game content. In a similar statement on Tuesday, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft team said it’s actively working to remove “references that are not appropriate for our world,” though it didn’t specify what those references were. 

It now appears that many of the references being removed are of the game’s former Senior Creative Director, Alex Afrasiabi, who is cited in the lawsuit as someone who hit on and made unwanted advances at female employees. Moreover, the suit also directly accuses him of groping one woman.

“Afrasiabi was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite” during company events “was nicknamed the “[Cosby] Suite” after alleged rapist Bill [Cosby],” the suit claims. 

Blizzard Walkout

Organizers of a company-wide employee walkout, which was announced Tuesday and occurred Wednesday, still argue that Kotick’s latest message doesn’t address their larger concerns.

Among those are “the end of forced arbitration for all employees,” “worker participation in oversight of hiring and promotion policies,” “the need for greater pay transparency to ensure equality,” and “employee selection of a third party to audit HR and other company processes.”

“We will not return to silence; we will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point.”

Ahead of the walkout, Blizzard reportedly encouraged its own employees to attend, saying those workers would face no repercussions and “can have paid time off” during the demonstration, according to The Verge. 

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Polygon) (CNBC)

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Frito-Lay Workers End Nearly Three-Week Strike After Securing Higher Wages and a Guaranteed Day Off

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Employees also negotiated an end to “suicide shifts,” which are two 12-hour shifts that are only eight hours apart. 


Strike Ends

Hundreds of Frito-Lay workers in Kansas have put an end to their nearly three-week strike over alleged mandatory overtime assignments that resulted in extremely long work weeks and so-called “suicide shifts.”

The term “suicide shift” refers to working two 12-hour shifts with only eight hours of rest in between. That can be especially hard on employees who claim to have worked up to 84 hours in a single week. For context, that’s 12 hours a day without a single day off. 

One of the reasons workers have found themselves taking on more hours and days at plants is because consumer snacking has increased during the pandemic — so much so that Frito Lay’s recent net growth has exceeded every single one of its targets. That’s why at one point, the striking workers asked consumers to boycott Frito-Lay products in a show of solidarity.

The strikes began July 5 and concluded on July 23 following an agreement reached by union leaders and PepsiCo., Frito-Lay’s parent company. Under that deal, all employees will see a 4% wage increase over the next two years. They’ll also be guaranteed at least one day off a week, and the company will no longer schedule workers with only eight hours off between shifts. 

Following the agreement, Anthony Shelton, the president of the union representing the workers, said that they’ve “shown the world that union working people can stand up against the largest food companies in the world and claim victory for themselves, their families and their communities.”

“We believe our approach to resolving this strike demonstrates how we listen to our employees, and when concerns are raised, they are taken seriously and addressed,” Frito-Lay said in a statement. “Looking ahead, we look forward to continuing to build on what we have accomplished together based on mutual trust and respect.”

The Long, Bitter Road to an Agreement

When the workers went on strike, they lobbed several very disturbing accusations against Frito-Lay. 

In fact, the workers were pushed so hard that according to one employee who wrote in the Topeka Capital-Journal, “When a co-worker collapsed and died, you had us move the body and put in another co-worker to keep the line going.”

While Frito-Lay dismissed this account as “entirely false,” other employees continued to protest conditions in the plants. Many even argued the 90-degree temperatures they had to stand in to protest outside were preferable to the 100-degree-plus temperatures and smokey conditions in the factories. 

During the strikes, PepsiCo. actively disputed that its employees are overworked, describing their claims as “grossly exaggerated” and saying, “Our records indicate 19 employees worked 84 hours in a given work week in 2021, with 16 of those as a result of employees volunteering for overtime and only 3 being required to work.” 

It also said an initial concession more than met the striking employees’ terms, but the union backing those workers disagreed, and further negotiations were held until the final deal was reached. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Business Insider)

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