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Thursday, 18 October 2018 11:13

Facebook and Google censor sites to curry political favour

Facebook and Google censor sites to curry political favour Pixabay

Facebook and Google appear to be using the hysteria in the US over alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections — yes, its still going on — to block access to alternative, smaller media sites and videos.

The two companies are basically killing three birds with one stone by carrying out this kind of censorship: first, they are mollifying the politicians — both Republicans and Democrats — and pretending that they are taking the complaints about Russian hands in the pie seriously.

Second, they are gaining in favour with the mainstream media as both are effectively removing sites that compete, in whatever small way they can, with the big established media companies who trumpet the government view - and also the dominant view of the big tech firms.

And third, both companies are hoping that their actions put a brake on any moves to regulate them. During the eight years when Barack Obama was president, Google representatives could walk in and out of White House as they pleased. But the Trump administration is somewhat hostile to big tech and thus by pleasing the government, the two big tech firms are hoping to avoid the passage of any laws that will prevent them from doing as they please.

Neither Facebook or Google is bothered that this takedown of media sites seems to go against the doctrine of free speech – the so-called First Amendment, about which Americans can never stop bleating.

Google is looking to re-enter China and launch a censored search engine. For this, it needs the government to be on-side and hence it will do anything and everything to ensure that.

Facebook too has been scared of regulation or a split-up of the company so that Instagram and WhatsApp are required to operate as separate units. That would really hurt chief executive Mark Zuckerberg's dream of continuing to foist advertising on the public through these two apps and add a few more billions to his bank balance.

The Washington Post  said among recent sites that Facebook took down are one called Nation In Distress, which calls itself “first online publication to endorse President Donald J Trump."

Another page, Reverb Press, had about 700,000 followers and was an anti-Trump site. A third, called Reasonable People Unite, had among its content one post from a Twitter user who said, “Somewhere in America, a teenage girl is listening to her parents defend Brett Kavanaugh and she is thinking to herself, if something like that happens to me, I have nowhere to go.”

Among the YouTube sites that Google has purged are a number of Iranian sites, including the official site of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Russian sites have also been removed willy-nilly.

The search firm has used reports in various media about YouTube sites that had content that could be termed extremist, anti-Semitic and violent. Building on this, the company has taken down sites like that belonging to the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Comedian Jimmy Dore's YouTube site was demonetised.

It is unlikely that there will be an outcry about this censorship; after all, the government and the mainstream media are both served well by it. And in the US there is one golden rule: those who have the gold generally make the rules.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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