Google’s chief search engineer legitimizes new censorship algorithm

By Andre Damon
31 July 2017

Between April and June, Google completed a major revision of its search engine that sharply curtails public access to Internet web sites that operate independently of the corporate and state-controlled media. Since the implementation of the changes, many left wing, anti-war and progressive web sites have experienced a sharp fall in traffic generated by Google searches. The World Socialist Web Site has seen, within just one month, a 70 percent drop in traffic from Google.

In a blog post published on April 25, Ben Gomes, Google’s chief search engineer, rolled out the new censorship program in a statement bearing the Orwellian title, “Our latest quality improvements for search.” This statement has been virtually buried by the corporate media. Neither the New York Times nor the Wall Street Journal has reported the statement. The Washington Post limited its coverage of the statement to a single blog post.

Framed as a mere change to technical procedures, Gomes’s statement legitimizes Internet censorship as a necessary response to “the phenomenon of ‘fake news,’ where content on the web has contributed to the spread of blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information.”

The “phenomenon of ‘fake news’” is, itself, the principal “fake news” story of 2017. In its origins and propagation, it has all the well-known characteristics of what used to be called CIA “misinformation” campaigns, aimed at discrediting left-wing opponents of state and corporate interests.

Significantly, Gomes does not provide any clear definition, let alone concrete examples, of any of these loaded terms (“fake news,” “blatantly misleading,” “low quality, “offensive,” and “down right false information.”)

The focus of Google’s new censorship algorithm is political news and opinion sites that challenge official government and corporate narratives. Gomes writes: “[I]t’s become very apparent that a small set of queries in our daily traffic (around 0.25 percent), have been returning offensive or clearly misleading content, which is not what people are looking for.”

Gomes revealed that Google has recruited some 10,000 “evaluators” to judge the “quality” of various web domains. The company has “evaluators—real people who assess the quality of Google’s search results—give us feedback on our experiments.” The chief search engineer does not identify these “evaluators” nor explain the criteria that are used in their selection. However, using the latest developments in programming, Google can teach its search engines to “think” like the evaluators, i.e., translate their political preferences, prejudices, and dislikes into state and corporate sanctioned results.

Gomes asserts that these “evaluators” are to abide by the company’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines, which “provide more detailed examples of low-quality webpages for raters to appropriately flag, which can include misleading information, unexpected offensive results, hoaxes and unsupported conspiracy theories.”

Once again, Gomes employs inflammatory rhetoric without explaining the objective basis upon which negative evaluations of web sites are based.

Using the input of these “evaluators,” Gomes declares that Google has “improved our evaluation methods and made algorithmic updates to surface more authoritative content.” He again asserts, further down, “We’ve adjusted our signals to help surface more authoritative pages and demote low-quality content.”

What this means, concretely, is that Google decides not only what political views it wants censored, but also what sites are to be favored.

Gomes is clearly in love with the term “authoritative,” and a study of the word’s meaning explains the nature of his verbal infatuation. A definition given by the Oxford English Dictionary for the word “authoritative” is: “Proceeding from an official source and requiring compliance or obedience.”

The April 25 statement indicates that the censorship protocols will become increasingly restrictive. Gomes states that Google is “making good progress” in making its search results more restrictive. “But in order to have long-term and impactful changes, more structural changes in Search are needed.”

One can assume that Mr. Gomes is a competent programmer and software engineer. But one has good reason to doubt that he has any particular knowledge of, let alone concern for, freedom of speech.

Gomes’s statement is Google-speak for saying that the company does not want people to access anything besides the official narrative, worked out by the government, intelligence agencies, the main capitalist political parties, and transmitted to the population by the corporate-controlled media.

In the course of becoming a massive multi-billion dollar corporate juggernaut, Google has developed politically insidious and dangerous ties to powerful and repressive state agencies. It maintains this relationship not only with the American state, but also with governments overseas. Just a few weeks before implementing its new algorithm, in early April, Gomes met with high-ranking German officials in Berlin to discuss the new censorship protocols.

Google the search engine is now a major force for the imposition of state censorship.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/07/31/goog-j31.html

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Bernie Sanders brilliantly responds to President Trump’s threat of stripping Congress’ health insurance

The Democratic socialist says all Americans should have the same health care that members of Congress have

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders turned the table on President Donald Trump in an interview with Jake Tapper Sunday, pointing out that he ironically agreed with the commander in chief on one issue of health care.

To start the interview, Tapper asked Sanders what he thought of Trump’s threat to revoke lawmakers’ health insurance. Members of Congress receive gold-level Obamacare policies that are largely subsidized by the government.

Sanders pushed his universal health-care agenda in his response to the question.

“I would turn that around a little bit and say to the president of Unite States that, yes, every single American, in every state of this country, should be able to get the health care that members of Congress have,” the senator from Vermont said.

Sanders did not mince his words when it came to Trump’s cynical plan to defeat Obamacare by undermining the exchanges and driving insurers out of the markets.

“It’s incomprehensible that we have a president of the United States who wants to sabotage health care in America, make life more difficult for millions of people struggling now to get their health insurance that they need,” Sanders said.

“Maybe the president should stop his tweeting for a while and understand that America today is the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people and the solution is not to throw tens of millions of people off of health insurance,” he added.

Sanders suggested that Congress returns to regular order, so that they can come up with solutions to make the health care system in America better. He said that there should be a public option available for all Americans.

 

White House shakeup: A further step toward authoritarian rule

31 July 2017

Friday’s announcement by President Trump removing White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and replacing him with retired Gen. John F. Kelly marks a further stage in the emergence of the military brass as the decisive political power in the Trump administration.

With General Kelly as White House chief of staff, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, an active duty officer, as national security adviser, and retired Gen. James Mattis as secretary of defense, military men hold three of the top four appointed positions in the executive branch.

Press coverage of the White House transition has focused almost entirely on the Twitter antics by Trump and the vulgar ranting by his new communications director, former hedge fund boss Anthony Scaramucci. A sober assessment of the actual political implications of the White House reshuffle reveals, however, that the events of the past week mark a major turning point for the Trump administration and the crisis-ridden US political system as a whole.

Trump fired Priebus, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, whom he chose as chief of staff to act as a conduit to the Republican congressional leadership and the party establishment. He has replaced him with a retired Marine general with no political record and an avowed and well-publicized contempt for civilian oversight of the military—one, moreover, who, as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, has overseen the administration’s program of mass arrests and deportations of undocumented immigrants.

The president coupled the removal of Priebus with a public blast against Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, over their failure last week to enact any version of a repeal of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act.

Trump responded with a series of tweets saying Senate Republicans “look like fools” and demanding that McConnell trample on minority rights in the Senate and proceed immediately to push through White House proposals for slashing taxes on the wealthy and gutting social programs such as Medicaid.

Trump presents himself more and more as a ruler above the two capitalist political parties, while seeking to surround himself with uniformed audiences. He addressed 40,000 Boy Scouts assembled at a jamboree in West Virginia, then gave a speech Friday to police on Long Island in which he endorsed “rough” treatment for immigrants and others under arrest, touching off chants of “USA, USA” from the assembled cops.

While inciting police violence, Trump made direct appeals to ultra-right bigotry with a tweet calling for the expulsion of transgendered people from the military and new legal steps by the Justice Department directed against the democratic rights of homosexuals.

Added to this is the rancid atmosphere of palace intrigue in the White House. It is widely reported that Trump family members played a key role in the firing of Priebus, with son-in-law Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka Trump and First Lady Melania Trump all weighing in.

In all of this there is the stench of dictatorship. Trump is pursuing a definite political strategy. He is seeking to carve out for himself, as the representative of the financial oligarchy, a position of power independent of the apparatuses of the establishment political parties and the traditional institutions of bourgeois rule such as Congress, the courts and the so-called mainstream media.

Like all would-be Bonapartist autocrats, he seeks to establish a personalist regime based on the military and police. His use of Twitter is an essential component of this effort. He bypasses the establishment media and makes his appeal directly to the military and police while seeking to whip up national chauvinism and all forms of social and political backwardness. He seeks in this way to establish a base he can mobilize independently of the political parties.

But Trump is not some aberration or accident, an interloper into the otherwise pristine precincts of American democracy. He is the product of decades of uninterrupted war, reaction and decay of political culture within the ruling class and all official institutions, including academia—a process that has been presided over by both big-business parties. This has coincided with the rise of a criminal financial oligarchy and a staggering growth of social inequality to levels incompatible with democratic norms.

The Democratic Party for its part welcomes the appointment of Kelly. Its opposition to Trump continues to be centered on demands for an escalation of the confrontation with Russia. It welcomes any sign that this is being done, such as the White House’s announcement that Trump will sign the bill passed last week with virtual bipartisan unanimity imposing new sanctions on Russia, as well as Iran and North Korea.

It fears no less than the Republicans the growth of social opposition and anticapitalist sentiment in the working class and supports the domination of the military over the political system as insurance against the threat of social revolution.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi praised General Kelly during an appearance on Fox News Sunday, while expressing the hope that he would improve the functioning of the Trump White House. “I will be speaking with him today and look forward to working with him,” she said.

On another Sunday interview program, CNN’s “State of the Union,” Democratic Representative Barbara Lee was grilled for remarking that by putting General Kelly in charge, “President Trump is militarizing the White House and putting our executive branch in the hands of an extremist.” Lee backpedaled from the suggestion that she was antimilitary, declaring, “Let me first say, I have come from a military family… And so I respect and honor the military and recognize the sacrifices that all of our military men and women make as well as General Kelly and his history and his sacrifices.”

Senator Bernie Sanders appeared on the same program and did not even make reference to the White House shakeup.

The concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny financial oligarchy, personified by social criminals like Trump and Scaramucci, is completely incompatible with democratic rights. The defense of democratic rights falls to the working class, as a central element in its struggle for the abolition of the profit system and the socialist reorganization of society.

Patrick Martin

WSWS

Why the Myth of Meritocracy Hurts Kids of Color

A new study finds that believing society is fair can lead disadvantaged adolescents to act out and engage in risky behavior.

An abandoned, boarded up building in Chicago that two years before this photo was taken housed a school that was later closed
This Chicago campus was shuttered in 2013 as part of a rash of school closures that disproportionately affected poor black and Latino children.Jim Young / Reuters

MELINDA D. ANDERSON

JUL 27, 2017

Brighton Park is a predominantly Latino community on the southwest side of Chicago. It’s a neighborhood threatened by poverty, gang violenceICE raids, and isolation—in a city where income, race, and zip code can determine access to jobs, schools, healthy food, and essential services. It is against this backdrop that the Chicago teacher Xian Franzinger Barrett arrived at the neighborhood’s elementary school in 2014.

Recognizing the vast economic and racial inequalities his students faced, he chose what some might consider a radical approach for his writing and social-studies classes, weaving in concepts such as racism, classism, oppression, and prejudice. Barrett said it was vital to reject the oft-perpetuated narrative that society is fair and equal to address students’ questions and concerns about their current conditions. And Brighton Elementary’s seventh- and eighth-graders quickly put the lessons to work—confronting the school board over inequitable funding, fighting to install a playground, and creating a classroom library focused on black and Latino authors.

“Students who are told that things are fair implode pretty quickly in middle school as self-doubt hits them,” he said, “and they begin to blame themselves for problems they can’t control.”

Barrett’s personal observation is validated by a newly published study in the peer-reviewed journal Child Development that finds traditionally marginalized youth who grew up believing in the American ideal that hard work and perseverance naturally lead to success show a decline in self-esteem and an increase in risky behaviors during their middle-school years. The research is considered the first evidence linking preteens’ emotional and behavioral outcomes to their belief in meritocracy, the widely held assertion that individual merit is always rewarded.

“If you’re in an advantaged position in society, believing the system is fair and that everyone could just get ahead if they just tried hard enough doesn’t create any conflict for you … [you] can feel good about how [you] made it,” said Erin Godfrey, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of applied psychology at New York University’s Steinhardt School. But for those marginalized by the system—economically, racially, and ethnically—believing the system is fair puts them in conflict with themselves and can have negative consequences.

If the system is fair, why am I seeing that everybody who has brown skin is in this kind of job? You’re having to think about that … like you’re not as good, or your social group isn’t as good,” Godfrey said. “That’s the piece … that I was trying to really get at [by studying] these kids.”

The findings build upon a body of literature on “system justification”—a social-psychology theory that believes humans tend to defend, bolster, or rationalize the status quo and see overarching social, economic, and political systems as good, fair, and legitimate. System justification is a distinctively American notion, Godfrey said, built on myths used to justify inequities, like “If you just work hard enough you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps … it’s just a matter of motivation and talent and grit.” Yet, as she and her colleagues discovered, these beliefs can be a liability for disadvantaged adolescents once their identity as a member of a marginalized group begins to gel—and once they become keenly aware of how institutional discrimination disadvantages them and their group.

Researchers measured system-justifying beliefs among 257 students from an urban, public middle school in Arizona. All of the students’ families were identified as low-income, as defined by their eligibility for free or reduced-price lunches. The vast majority of the sample—91 percent—were also students of color: Fifty-five percent Latino, 18 percent black, 11 percent Native American, and 7 percent other nonwhite youth. Additionally, the area, populated by many immigrant families and children, was experiencing social and political unrest due to Senate Bill 1070, a controversial Arizona law that in its original form criminalized undocumented people in the state.

Godfrey asked the sixth-graders to rate their endorsement of the “American Dream” and system-justifying ideas—namely, that America is the land of opportunity where everyone who works hard has an equal chance to succeed. Youth were then asked to rate themselves on various qualities, including their self-esteem, risky behaviors (“stayed out all night without your parent’s permission,” “cheated on school tests,” etc.), and perceived discrimination (for example: “How often have others suspected you of doing something wrong because of your ethnicity?” and “How often have the police hassled you because of your ethnicity?”).

At three points over the course of middle school, the youth rated their self-esteem, behavior, and experience with discrimination. The results revealed an alarming trajectory. In sixth grade, among students who believed the system is fair, self-esteem was high and risky behavior was rare; by the end of seventh grade, these same students reported lower self-esteem and more risky behaviors—with no significant differences based on race, ethnicity, gender, or immigration generation (youth from newly arrived immigrant families and native-born counterparts).

What’s more, for youth who perceived more discrimination from an early age, system-justifying beliefs were associated with less-risky behavior in sixth grade, but with a sharp rise in such behaviors by seventh grade. Godfrey attributes this spike to a “perfect storm” in which marginalized young people are experiencing more discrimination; beginning to understand the systemic and institutionalized nature of that discrimination; and starting to strongly identify as a member of a marginalized group, seeing that group as one that’s being discriminated against. As for why this leads to more risky behavior, Godfrey points to research that suggests people who really believe the system is fair internalize stereotypes—believing and acting out false and negative claims about their group—more readily than those who disavow these views.

And while it’s easy to attribute the increase in risky behavior to  developmental changes such as puberty, the fact that the students’ outcomes started high in the sixth grade and then deteriorated suggests that psychosocial phenomena are at play.

“I do think that there’s this element of people think of me this way anyway, so this must be who I am,” Godfrey said, adding that the behaviors—things like stealing and sneaking out—reflect stereotypes perpetuated about youth of color. “If you’re [inclined] to believe that things are the way they should be, and [that] the system is fair, then you’re maybe going to accept stereotypes about you more easily.”

While the sample was relatively small, Godfrey said the findings are informative and mirror prior research. Indeed, previous analyses have found that system-justifying beliefs are associated with lower self-esteem in black adults and lower grade-point averages for Latino college students—though the same beliefs predicted better grades and less distress for “high status” youth.

“I was really interested in trying to think of [early adolescents] as active agents in their world,” Godfrey said, “and as people who can understand and interpret their social world in a way that a lot of research doesn’t recognize.”

David Stovall, professor of educational-policy studies and African American studies at University of Illinois at Chicago, said the paper is a confirmation of decades of analysis on the education of marginalized and isolated youth. It’s a “good preliminary piece” that lays the foundation for more academic study of historically disenfranchised adolescents and their motivations, he said.

“If young folks see themselves being discriminated against, they’ve been told that a system is fair, and they experience things that are unfair, they will begin to reject this particular system and engage in behaviors that will not be to their betterment,” he explained. Stovall said it’s critical to guide young people from “defiant resistance”—defying what they’ve learned to be untrue regarding a just and fair system for all—to “transformative resistance”—developing a critical understanding of the historical context of U.S. society. Educators, he said, play a crucial role in this work.

“We have to ask different questions around school,” he said. “Does [school] contribute further to our [students’] marginalization and oppression? Is it just about order, compliance, and white normative standards that marginalized young folks of color don’t measure up to because the structure never intended for them to measure up?” He also warned educators and youth of color to be prepared for pushback, highlighting the current legal battle over the ethnic-studies ban in Tucson public schools despite its proven academic benefits.

Mildred Boveda, an assistant education professor at Arizona State University, likewise said the findings hold important implications for both teachers and teacher education. “This is of great consequence to … teachers who may think they are protecting children by avoiding conversations about systems of oppressions,” she said, emphasizing that the onus is also on teacher-prep programs to ensure aspiring educators know how to address these controversial topics.

Given her recent experience teaching fifth-graders in Miami-Dade, Florida, Boveda disagrees with the researchers’ notion that sixth-graders lack a full understanding of social hierarchies. Her students on the brink of middle school, she noted, were hyper-aware of social inequalities. Still, she sees valuable insights in the data.

“Unlike the majority of the teaching workforce, I once fit the demographics of the students in this study,” she said, alluding to the fact that more than 80 percent of public-school teachers are white. “I will admit that it sometimes felt risky to tackle these difficult conversations, but this [research] underscores why we cannot equivocate when it comes to preparing our children to face injustices.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/07/internalizing-the-myth-of-meritocracy/535035/?utm_source=atlfb