NBC News dropped a bombshell report last week that the network’s “Verification Unit” had successfully colluded with a foreign left-wing think tank convincing Google to ban The Federalist from profiting off ads generated by the company’s search engine. NBC reported that Google took action based on its work with the United Kingdom’s “Center for Countering Digital Hate” that alleged Federalist reporting which exposed legacy media’s deceptive coverage of recent civil unrest violated company guidelines.
Hours after NBC’s initial dispatch, however, Google released a statement contradicting NBC’s claims and claiming that the tech giant had threatened sanctions on The Federalist not for its journalism but for content in its comment sections, which the website has temporarily disabled but has promised will be back.
Updated June 30, 2020.
Federalist Staff Push Back On Corporate Censorship, Highlight Double-Standard
While Google flexed the all-mighty power of big tech to regulate free speech in the 21st-century public square, Federalist staff exposed the Silicon Valley empire’s double standards with an article in the Wall Street Journal and multiple appearances on Fox News.
Washington Takes Notice
The day after Google’s threats of censorship, top Washington lawmakers and the Department of Justice (DOJ) ramped up efforts to rein in big tech’s growing influence over public speech, specifically targeting protections granted under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which provide immunity to online platforms for third-party content.
Even Georgia Republican Rep. Doug Collins, a longtime advocate for Section 230, joined the bipartisan beltway chorus to demand changes to it, declaring his support for newly proposed regulations from the Justice Department to emerge in light of the latest censorship battle.
I’m glad to see Attorney General Barr taking action to roll back Section 230 immunity.
Google — along with every other big tech company — shouldn’t be allowed to get away with content filtering or censorship.
Section 230 must be repealed! https://t.co/EZCOk4GvRh
— Doug Collins (@RepDougCollins) June 17, 2020
Attorney General William Barr unveiled proposed rules on Wednesday that would curb government protections for companies whose censorship was found inconsistent under vague terms of service.
Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, who is big tech’s leading critic in Washington, also penned a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai condemning the California company’s threats to selectively censor The Federalist.
“Your company is well aware of the central role played by advertising in the modern online ecosystem, and has spent years amassing an enormous trove of internet users’ data through the Google ads platform,” Hawley wrote. “That, in turn, has granted your company vast powers to shape what users see, believe, and buy… Now your company is attempting to further manipulate the information marketplace by transforming advertising platform access into a cudgel wielded against dissenting voices.”
Hawley was joined by Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who blasted Google on the same day over its attack on The Federalist and demanded information related to its decision working with NBC News and a foreign entity to censor the American website.
“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,” Cruz wrote. “This is part of a bigger problem. The culture of free speech in this country is under attack, and Google is helping lead the charge.”
Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Tech Task Force, also joined the fray, along with Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton and others.
“Beware the power of Big Tech to cancel conservative voices,” Blackburn wrote on Twitter. “We can’t let Google get away with anticompetitive conduct or bully competitors and consumers into submission.”
Blackburn followed up her statement days later with a letter to the Department of Justice urging the federal law enforcement agency to examine Google’s monopoly power over search in its ongoing antitrust investigation.
We can’t let Google get away with anticompetitive conduct or bully competitors and consumers into submission.
— Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) June 17, 2020
— Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) June 17, 2020
Google threatens to demonetize The Federalist during an election year.
Three people who helped us get to the bottom of the Russia-collusion hoax.
Free speech isn’t just what you agree with.
— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) June 16, 2020
Mainstream media is threatened by any outlet that doesn't parrot their Democrat talking points. That's why activist journalists at NBC pressured Google into censoring on the @FDRLST's website.
When will Big News and Big Tech #StopTheBias?!
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) June 17, 2020
Georgia Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler also proposed the “Stopping Big Tech Censorship Act” following Google’s attacks taking aim at Section 230 protections requiring companies to clarify their terms of service related to content moderation.
Pundits Come to The Federalist’s Defense
While a majority of those in corporate media silently cheered NBC’s failed attempt to bring down the conservative website, others flocked to The Federalist’s support, understanding what the moment revealed over the fragility of free speech in the information age.
“The media have just beclowned themselves,” said Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro. “It was very clear that the journalistic objectivity that was purported to reign at a lot of these institutions was bullcrap. The mask finally fell for, I think, what is the most clear time.”
Donald Trump Jr. called on the Senate to subpoena Google’s CEO, while countless others came to the support of free speech.
The GOP Senate needs to wake up & IMMEDIATELY subpoena & haul in the CEO of @Google for questioning.
Google is an out of control monopoly, with a leftwing political agenda, engaging in a clear campaign to silence dissent. It's election interference, full stop.
TIME TO STEP UP!
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 16, 2020
The great de-platforming purge of 2020 is underway
Just in time for election season https://t.co/qRu6qOFJKh
— Buck Sexton (@BuckSexton) June 16, 2020
Google is now trafficking in digital fascism. How soon until all conservative speech and publications are completely banned? https://t.co/kcQfTn4gt1
— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) June 16, 2020
— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) June 16, 2020
People are concentrating on Google, but it NBC News — alleged journalists — who attempted to demonetize The Federalist because it was critical of the media. https://t.co/hs0QJIeu3A
— David Harsanyi (@davidharsanyi) June 16, 2020
Activist “journalists” over at NBC News got The Federalist, a mainstream conservative publication, blocked from Google ads. I’m not an outrage guy, but this is absolutely insane. This is 100% a purposeful censorship and deplatform campaign by a legacy press institution. pic.twitter.com/41ldK977IR
— Jordan Schachtel @ dossier.substack.com (@JordanSchachtel) June 16, 2020
The Federalist is a half reporting/ half commentary website. You don't have to agree with the commentary. The fact Google and NBC News are now defunding websites over commentary is going to have disastrous side effects and backlash. Hope they are ready for it.
— Stephen L. Miller (@redsteeze) June 16, 2020
I hate the word "chilling," but every bit of this is exactly that.
NBC effectively got The Federalist kicked off Google Ads by citing a British think tank that was upset that Federalist had an article that noted looting and rioting at Floyd protests. https://t.co/hZyGVH6z8k pic.twitter.com/UUFxVcR5LS
— Chuck Ross (@ChuckRossDC) June 16, 2020
While many have celebrated the action against ZeroHedge and The Federalist, I remain deeply concerned over the free speech implications. I have written for years about public and private censorship, including recent actions to regulate Internet speech… https://t.co/7YKtnXWNXh
— Jonathan Turley (@JonathanTurley) June 17, 2020
LOL – @NBCNews story about how they got Google to demonetize The Federalist and Zero Hedge after their reporters snitched on content they found offensive isn't completely accurate.
What is accurate? NBC has now outed itself as an activist organization https://t.co/BTePlRArTe
— Sara A. Carter (@SaraCarterDC) June 16, 2020
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) June 18, 2020
4. Google has no problem treating The Federalist as the publisher of comments and user-generated posts on that website for purposes of Google’s own ad policy.
Yet Google expends significant resources to protect its own platforms from that type of treatment under Section 230.
— Brendan Carr (@BrendanCarrFCC) June 16, 2020
Shameful to watch so many media outlets jump at the chance to smear the reputation of a conservative news outlet.
It’s a textbook case of how the left operates, plain and simple.
— Rob Bluey (@RobertBluey) June 17, 2020
Insane but unsurprising that NBC News colluded with Google to take out the @FDRLST and @zerohedge. Soon big tech will eliminate everyone who stands up to the mob. If you don't own your content and your ability to connect to your audience you're done.https://t.co/ftDBZ4aRsk
— Dave Rubin (@RubinReport) June 16, 2020
…does that mean Google admits the Section 230 protections it enjoys are also a farce?
230 defends Google against user content. The same thing they went after Federalist for.
— Raheem J. Kassam (@RaheemKassam) June 17, 2020
Google owns YouTube. It is not hard to find “Jews control the world along with the Illuminati” videos on YouTube. Is Google responsible for the content of those videos? If not, why do they hold The Federalist responsible for what commenters post? https://t.co/0zwRuSPTJv pic.twitter.com/n7TNjUpe3D
— Jim Geraghty (@jimgeraghty) June 17, 2020