Google: fighters for equality, advocates of the downtrodden, guardians of freedom in an age where information has become the primary currency. That’s how many people see them. That’s how I saw them, but not anymore. Recently, for reasons that seem both financial and ideological, Google has decided to take off that mask. Statements made by Eric Schmidt describe the use of algorithms to deprioritise opinions, world views, and even facts. Thousands of YouTubers have reported their content demonetised, labelled, removed from YouTube’s front page and hidden behind virtual walls erected for the “protection” of the public. Google well knows, as does every content creator, that if your website, video, article, or podcast ranks low in a search, it effectively disappears from the public discourse. It doesn’t matter how useful, relevant, or supportive an individual or group might find the content. Google, with its corporate biases programmed into search results, artificial learning, YouTube’s trending lists, the Android app store and throughout its monolithic internet and social media ecosystem, ceases to be a disseminator of information, facilitator of knowledge, and builder of communities. Instead, they’ve become effective censors. What people cannot find is not discussed. Dialogue between differing factions dies. Opinions are not changed. Viewpoints not allowed to reach new audiences become marginalised.
Those who are “deprioritised” feel, quite rationally, angry and frustrated, judged. The first wave of corporate interference with free-market creativity on YouTube is just another salvo in an ideological war. Conservatives, men’s rights activists, anti-feminists, libertarians, and anyone else who stood for something other than Democrat, progressive, Left-identitarian ideologies and values were the first to feel the effects of “Adpocolypse 1.0” as it came to be known. Validating what could otherwise be dismissed as a tin-hat conspiracy theory was software engineer James Damore’s dismissal from Google for simply circulating a memo which stated that inherent group, biological sex differences may play a part in the lower numbers of women employed in the tech industry, and by Google specifically. He never said that was how it should be, or that he wanted it that way. He said he thought biology played its part in how it is, now. He also said that biological theories of sex difference may also help increase the number of women who wanted to work for tech companies. He suggested changes that Google could make to enable women in the workplace. For this he was smacked between the eyes with Google’s corporate “diversity” policy, a policy which obviously only applies to surface characteristics like sex and skin colour. Diversity of thought in Google’s monoculture is not to be tolerated, for employees’ “protection” — as if women who have survived years of study and a rigorous interview process are too fragile to cope with a little science. But I digress. The point is, to shelter all women from discrimination (whether they want it or not), Google has made conservatives and libertarians, including women, feel unwelcome and unsafe contributing to the ongoing dialogue which directly impacts them and their future within the company. Instead, it’s shut them down.
You need more evidence of Google’s heavy-handedness? On 17th August, free speech app, Gab, was removed from the Googleplay and Apple App stores on the grounds it promotes “hate speech”, despite comparable content being easily discoverable on Google+, Facebook or Twitter. As a flag-waver for West Coast US tech culture, Google’s version of “progressive” means all dissent must be stamped out. Both to shore up their own ideology and assuage the internet’s shame-wielding rage-aholics, Left-authoritarian, rather than Left-liberal, is now the default and only allowed political outlook in many Californian tech firms.
So, is Google only set against libertarians and conservatives? Even Left-wing websites are accusing the company of targeting their search page rankings and sites’ SEO effectiveness. Page hits were dropping, and there was no doubt in the site owners’ minds: Google was pulling the strings. On YouTube, the same: non-canon, left-leaning content creators, ethnic minorities and religious groups saw their views, comments and like-numbers sliding, then plummeting. Google wasn’t only wiping their PR efforts but flushing their incomes, too. But why is Google becoming progressively more bigoted? In two words, politics and corporatism.
If the above video does not display, YouTube has probably taken it down.
The Democrats lost to Trump. Barring Fox, US TV networks were unapologetic in their condemnation of the new president, the Republican victory in both houses, and the middle American electorate who put them there. After eight years living the progressive dream: a black Christian-but-sympathetic-to-Islam president who lip-ticked almost every feminist talking point during his terms; near-complete domination of social and political discourse in American universities and increasingly in schools; hegemony in mainstream media and Hollywood; and Republican politicians and supporters who had been castrated with the brick of political correctness, the libtards and moonbats were howling for blood. President Trump and his supporters did not care. The gulf between the American Left and Right is the widest it has been in decades. With its power base threatened, the Progressive Left hunkered down in their bunkers: US coastal city councils and West Coast tech company headquarters. While New York was passing laws preventing men sitting comfortably on its subways, Google and others were “consulting”. The Democrats have a provable and long-running record of corporate cronyism. (To be fair, so do the Republicans). Several of Google’s uppermost management have met with the Democrats and publicly expressed support for their policies and given money. But as a gatekeeper of information and conversation, Google was in an ideal position to help further.
Open debate is a necessary part of a health democracy. Censorship… makes the other side look better.
Amongst the issues of recent times, and in the American election, were “fake news” and “hate speech”. The governmental overreach into the melting pot of Western, democratic, public opinion stretches worldwide. Politicians in the European Union have met with the giants: Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others. Under new German laws, social media companies can face heavy fines for not detecting and removing “hate speech” within twenty-four hours. Google and Facebook both made public statements that they will combat “fake news”. Is it because “fake news” originates from unreliable or unproven sources and vibrates across the web before truth has even got out of bed? Or is it because of the influence non-orthodox opinions had on those voting for Trump and against Hillary, for Brexit and against the EU? Some fake news is misleading hearsay. Some “fake news” is dissenting opinion, alternate interpretations, and inconvenient facts. Who is the arbiter of truth? In this new millennium, it is those with the most control over the dissemination of information and dialogue.
That Google has such strong political leanings and a corporate near-monopoly over the Internet and is now throwing its weight around is, quite frankly, terrifying. Since its inception as an inter-university network and becoming the World Wide Web, the Internet has enshrined a free-speech compatible ideal: net neutrality. No content provider will have priority over another for bandwidth. Mega-corporations’ multimedia extravaganzas are on a level playing field with single-page websites built in inner-city apartments and trailer park caravans. No one needs, or is able, to pay for an advantage. (Edit: Until now.) Start-up companies can gain traction against overwhelming odds. In countries that still believe in free expression, the Internet throws together their citizens’ views. Unlike local, slower paced, exchanges in bars, pubs, and cafes sparked by the latest television documentary or newspaper story, on the web opinion is increasingly a-geographic and changes much faster. People are grouping by similarity and familiarity. Easier international trade and travel led to new social class divides. The new elite associated with their colleagues at work and socialised with university friends. They moved to expensive neighbourhoods and flew to exclusive holiday destinations. The rest, less blessed financially, socially, or intellectually, became less upwardly mobile. More lived, worked, and studied locally. Whether grafting in the North of England, lamenting opportunities in the valleys of Wales, gentrified to city margins or abandoned in middle-American states, millions felt forgotten by the establishment and financial political elite. Their views were often not reflected in the media or represented in their democracies. But they were connected, through the Internet.
The Internet has been the greatest democracy and free-market the world has ever seen. The voiceless could now speak out via blogs, podcasts, social media and video. YouTube was set up by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim in 2004-5. Its mission was in the name. After rapid growth, the site was purchased by Google in 2006. Corporatism had arrived. But in 2006 Google’s motto was still, “Don’t be evil.” For next decade, Google pumped billions into growing the service. But hosting videos at ever-higher resolutions and in gargantuan numbers is expensive. By 2014, with a turnover that had grown to nearly $4 billion, YouTube was still not making a profit. But Google’s problems weren’t only with cash, but content.
For several years small-scale skirmishes had been occurring between anti-feminist / anti-identitarian “sceptics” on one side, and Left-leaning “progressive” websites such as Salon and the Huffington Post, and intersectional, identitarian feminist YouTubers. The decades-long, Left-Right culture war was nothing new – on the web, the virtual trenches were just closer together. In 2016 and 2017 several US media outlets launched character attacks on prominent YouTubers including PewDiePie. Most of the public saw through the crap but didn’t want to get involved. Life is too short. Skeptics, the YouTube community and fans protested, but otherwise the vacuum of silence was filled by baying, salivating “social justice warriors”. These “Liberal” and “progressive” Left-activist keyboard-heroes rallied: YouTube was infested with racist, misogynist, and supremacist content. An off-colour joke involving Nazi symbolism and anti-Semitic wording must not be tolerated on a “free-speech” platform. Irate Tweets, indignant posts and outraged articles were fired at any advertiser whose product was unlucky enough to be randomly selected for viewing prior to a controversial video. Of course, everything said in jest is meant absolutely literally, or at least betrays beyond doubt the utterer’s abhorent belief system. And any advertiser on YouTube, of course, endorses absolutely the views expressed by the content creator in the clip that follows. Is Coca-Cola racist? Does Nike agree with persecuting Jews, Hispanics, or black Americans? Advertisers run businesses in markets where rival products are often differentiated only by their image. Many, understandably, caved. Google reportedly lost $750 million in withdrawn advertising revenue. Coupled with the ongoing unprofitability of YouTube, a reaction from Google was inevitable. Pushing Google Red and wooing film studios, television companies, and mainstream media, Google is looking to refocus, rebrand, and monetise YouTube. But many media corporations aren’t comfortable sharing a platform with the controversial output of some YouTubers. It’s not family friendly. Mudslinging and banter on YouTube is part the culture and most corporations like life squeaky clean. Making money for the corporations and Google means demonetising and marginalising the awkward little guys/girls/non-binaries – unless they make funny cat videos. Never mind the platform was built on their hard work.
From 2005-16(ish) YouTube played a huge part in democratising the Internet. It gave a platform to numerous voices from the Left and Right: intersectional feminists, men’s rights activists, right-wing Christian groups, atheists, Jews, Holocaust deniers, Muslims, apostates, black racists, white racists; Democrats, Trump supporters; all these and many others at one time or other have managed to upload content. Content was weighted according to the number of people interested in it and interacting with its creators. People with a voice feel engaged, empowered, purposed to expand their reach and promote their worldviews. Meeting with like-minds, they felt legitimised as part of a community within broader society. But exchanging ideas inevitably means facing those who disagree. Some relished the challenge. Others (by now, you know who) complained, vocally, not just about genuine threats and harassment, but: that criticism was also harassment; differing opinions somehow silenced their own, even on an open platform; opposing words were “violence” and “oppression”. Google listened, to one side.
In its heyday, YouTube was the video forum for free debate. Google was the impartial research tool behind it. Opposing views could occupy the same space. It was a frantic free for all, but everyone was in the same room. As Google pushes content creators away and people of all persuasions wanting unobstructed access to information move to other services, Google is segregating the Web. Words aired are society’s release. Suppression, in whatever form, increases anger, resentment, identification with an increasingly polarised in-group, and hatred and intolerance to those in any opposing out-groups. Tribalism is basic human psychology. Our society is becoming increasingly polarised. Fewer productive conversations occur. Novel ideas are met with walls of ideology. Google and YouTube aided in the fall. YouTube and Google’s other services are becoming virtual safe-spaces: progressives and Minecraft characters welcome. Seen from outside, another arm of The Establishment now pins down free expression. Google has torn more threads from the fabric of society, increasing the tangles at the fraying edges.
YouTube also achieved something else: it fought privilege and elitism. When videos can be made and edited on a cheap mobile phone, the financial baseline for participation falls. Regardless of ethnic background, sex, gender, sexuality, religiosity or lack of, money or lack of, or even intelligence or lack of, almost anyone could make and broadcast content. If you were funny, incisive, different or lucky enough, you found an audience. With an audience came advertising revenue. With a big enough audience, you were self-employed. You had a job and self-respect that wasn’t reliant on overcoming the potential prejudices of an employer. You spoke to your audience. They spoke to you. You got paid. Google got paid. Free-market equality. But Google/YouTube — a corporate monopoly — wants a fatter return on its investment. It wants to reduce the costs of policing an impossible amount of content (a burden placed upon it by governments and the authoritarian Left and Right). It wants an easier life: corporate partners that share its purpose (to make more cash) and its values (Left is best, politically correct is “right”: keep it lean, non-mean, and clean). No longer advocate and friend to the little guy/girl/non-binary, Google is now Big Business personified. Another win for the elite.
Still not convinced? Then answer me this: why does YouTube inform demonetised content creators that their videos are unsuitable for “all advertisers” or “some advertisers”? Do the advertisers get to decide? No, Google does. Why not have a category filter, where creators label their content according to age rating, profanity, nudity, political content (even specifically, which ideology it favours), criticism of religion (specific) or promotion of same, and any other relevant category labels Google can think of? Advertisers then tick their preferred boxes for their promotions. Bingo! YouTube is off the hook: they are simply hosting content and advertisers are responsible for their own corporate image. The wider the category-net advertisers are willing to cast, the more people they reach. The narrower, the more protection they gain from social media attacks by ideologues. The advertisers choose. This also gets around one of the age-old conundrums of selling stuff: how to reach those traditionally tricky demographics. Now, you specifically target the creators who are interested in the things your target demographic is interested in. And the creators do the work. Use strong penalties for miss-categorisation and instigate a complaints procedure for incorrect cataloguing. Have content creators’ comment sections “policed” by proven fans of their choosing, if they so wish, or allow in only approved fans. Google has the technical capacity to implement these, or any other ideas, to match advertisers with content and sanitise “toxic” comment threads. Those creators who want to stay “edgy” can, but may see less advertising. Did Google bother — or even want to — implement an effective, flexible, targeted advertising system? (As long as advertisers made the right branding decisions.) No. By now they could have been sitting back and raking in the profits, but ideology is more important.
And that’s our story. Google has united Leftism and Corporatism. “Don’t be evil” has become “do the right thing”. Morally “right” is defined by its Leftist outlook and agenda and, whenever inconvenient, compromised by corporate considerations. Google and YouTube once epitomised free-speech, equality, diversity, egalitarianism, and even provided an actual, practical and attainable way that individuals could realise their ambitions and raise themselves up economically. Now Google is about appearances. It says it supports free-speech and diversity. It says that everyone is equal. It said everyone has a right to speak and be heard. It said it would search the internet faster, and tell us what we wanted to know. Now it “protects” people, even from themselves. Now it “filters” information, even if it’s what we want to know. Apparently, we should feel ashamed for wanting to see what Google deems sinful / haram / Kashrut. For it is ordained: as mere mortals we must kneel and pay homage — we’re already inside the Ministry of Truth.