|© Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg|
Ever since "fake news" found its place among the various explanations used by the Clinton campaign and supporters to account for their candidate's loss, there has been a quiet but concerted effort on the part of establishment media, technology, and telecommunications companies to thwart the surging popularity of independent media.
The rise of the independent media has been hugely detrimental to the once privileged position of the mainstream media, who have now lost the trust of the vast majority of Americans and - along with that trust - their ability to control political and social narratives.
Chief among the groups seeking to clamp down on independent media has been Google, the massive technology company with deep connections to the U.S. intelligence community, as well as to U.S. government and business elites.
Since 2015, Google has worked to become the Internet's "Ministry of Truth," first through its creation of the First Draft Coalition and more recently via major changes made to its search engine that curtail public access to new sites independent of the corporate media.
Google has now stepped up its war on free speech and the freedom of the press through its popular subsidiary, YouTube. On Tuesday, YouTube announced online that it is set to begin censoring content deemed "controversial," even if that content does not break any laws or violate YouTube's user agreement.
Misleadingly dubbed as an effort "to fight terror content online," the new program will flag content for review through a mix of machine algorithms and "human review," guided by standards set up by "expert NGOs and institutions" that are part of YouTube's "Trusted Flagger" program. YouTube stated that such organizations "bring expert knowledge of complex issues like hate speech, radicalization, and terrorism."
One of the leading institutions directing the course of the Trusted Flagger program is the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The ADL was initially founded to "stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all" but has gained a reputation over the years for labeling any critic of Israel's government as an "anti-Semite."
For instance, characterizing Israeli policies towards the Palestinians as "racist" or "apartheid-like" is considered "hate speech" by the ADL, as is accusing Israel of war crimes or attempted ethnic cleansing. The ADL has even described explicitly Jewish organizations who are critical of Israel's government as being "anti-Semitic."
In addition to its labeling of Palestinian rights activists as "extremists," the ADL has also given numerous U.S. conservatives the same label, including Mike Cernovich and Gavin McInnes. Cernovich and McInnes, though controversial, are extremely popular figures among conservatives and Trump supporters on YouTube and social media. Cernovich's website, Danger & Play, gets nearly 150 million views every month. McInnes, co-founder of Vice Media, also enjoys a wide viewership, with many of his videos boasting millions of views.
The ADL is also known for being quite selective in identifying what it terms "extremism."
While it consistently labels pro-Palestinian groups and those critical of the Israeli government as "extremists," it has avoided that label with respect to the right-wing Israeli groups and figures that openly call for the murder or even genocide of Palestinians.
In addition, although it has flagged figures of the so-called "alt-right," the ADL has not done the same for similar left-wing groups - such as Antifa, a group some states have listed as a "domestic terror" organization. With the ADL at the helm, YouTube's new censorship policy is likely to selectively target those critical of Israel's government, as well as conservative voices.
Even more unsettling, YouTube's new policy doesn't stop with merely censoring content.
According to the announcement, any user who searches for keywords or terms deemed "controversial" by YouTube's chosen authorities will be redirected to a playlist of "curated" videos intended to "directly confront and debunk" the content sought by the user.
Critics have warned that the mix of censorship and redirection to "curated" propaganda videos would create a "PC, extreme-left, propagandizing echo chamber" with consequences that would go far beyond combatting "online terrorism." Indeed, given that Google's Jigsaw once created tools intended to bolster the ranks of al-Qaeda in Syria, Google and YouTube's desire to fight the spread of actual terrorism is dubious, making it all the more likely that this latest move is instead targeting free speech and expression.