New Google algorithm restricts access to left-wing, progressive web sites

By Andre Damon and Niles Niemuth
27 July 2017

In the three months since Internet monopoly Google announced plans to keep users from accessing “fake news,” the global traffic rankings of a broad range of left-wing, progressive, anti-war and democratic rights organizations have fallen significantly.

On April 25, 2017, Google announced that it had implemented changes to its search service to make it harder for users to access what it called “low-quality” information such as “conspiracy theories” and “fake news.”

The company said in a blog post that the central purpose of the change to its search algorithm was to give the search giant greater control in identifying content deemed objectionable by its guidelines. It declared that it had “improved our evaluation methods and made algorithmic updates” in order “to surface more authoritative content.”

Google continued, “Last month, we updated our Search Quality Rater Guidelines to provide more detailed examples of low-quality webpages for raters to appropriately flag.” These moderators are instructed to flag “upsetting user experiences,” including pages that present “conspiracy theories,” unless “the query clearly indicates the user is seeking an alternative viewpoint.”

Google does not explain precisely what it means by the term “conspiracy theory.” Using the broad and amorphous category of fake news, the aim of the change to Google’s search system is to restrict access to alternative web sites, whose coverage and interpretation of events conflict with those of such establishment media outlets as the New York Times and the Washington Post.

By flagging content in such a way that it does not appear in the first one or two pages of a search result, Google is able to effectively block users’ access to it. Given the fact that vast amounts of web traffic are influenced by search results, Google is able to effectively conceal or bury content to which it objects through the manipulation of search rankings.

Just last month, the European Commission fined the company $2.7 billion for manipulating search results to inappropriately direct users to its own comparison shopping service, Google Shopping. Now, it appears that Google is using these criminal methods to block users from accessing political viewpoints the company deems objectionable.

The WSWS has been targeted by Google’s new “evaluation methods.” While in April 2017, 422,460 visits to the WSWS originated from Google searches, the figure has dropped to an estimated 120,000 this month, a fall of more than 70 percent.

Even when using search terms such as “socialist” and “socialism,” readers have informed us that they find it increasingly difficult to locate the World Socialist Web Site in Google searches.

Referals from Google searches to the WSWS have fallen by about 70 percent

According to Google’s webmaster tools service, the number of searches resulting in users seeing content from the World Socialist Web Site (that is, a WSWS article appeared in a Google search) fell from 467,890 a day to 138,275 over the past three months. The average position of articles in searches, meanwhile, fell from 15.9 to 37.2 over the same period.

David North, chairperson of the International Editorial Board of the WSWS, stated that Google is engaged in political censorship.

“The World Socialist Web Site has been in existence for nearly 20 years,” he said, “and it has developed a large international audience. During this past spring, the number of individual visits to the WSWS each month exceeded 900,000.

“While a significant percentage of our readers enter the WSWS directly, many web users access the site through search engines, of which Google is the most widely used. There is no innocent explanation for the extraordinarily sharp fall in readers, virtually overnight, coming from Google searches.

“Google’s claim that it is protecting readers from ‘fake news’ is a politically motivated lie. Google, a massive monopoly, with the closest ties to the state and intelligence agencies, is blocking access to the WSWS and other left and progressive web sites through a system of rigged searches.”

In the three months since Google implemented the changes to its search engine, fewer people have accessed left-wing and anti-war news sites. Based on information available on Alexa analytics, other sites that have experienced sharp drops in ranking include WikiLeaks, Alternet, Counterpunch, Global Research, Consortium News and Truthout. Even prominent democratic rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International appear to have been hit.

A broad range of left-wing, progressive, and anti-war sites have had their traffic rankings fall in recent months

According to Google Trends, the term “fake news” roughly quadrupled in popularity in early November, around the time of the US election, as Democrats, establishment media outlets and intelligence agencies sought to blame “false information” for the electoral victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.

On November 14, the New York Times proclaimed that Google and Facebook “faced mounting criticism over how fake news on their sites may have influenced the presidential election’s outcome,” and they would be taking measures to combat “fake news.”

Ten days later, the Washington Post published an article, “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” which cited an anonymous group known as PropOrNot that compiled a list of “fake news” sites spreading “Russian propaganda.”

The list included several sites categorized by the group as “left-wing.” Significantly, it targeted, which often reposts articles from the World Socialist Web Site.

After widespread criticism of what was little more than a blacklist of anti-war and anti-establishment sites, the Washington Post was forced to publish a retraction, declaring, “The Post, which did not name any of the sites, does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings.”

On April 7, Bloomberg News reported that Google was working directly with the Washington Post and the New York Times to “fact-check” articles and eliminate “fake news.” This was followed by Google’s new search methodology.

Three months later, out of the 17 sites declared to be “fake news” by the Washington Post ’s discredited blacklist, 14 had their global ranking fall. The average decline of the global reach of all of these sites is 25 percent, and some sites saw their global reach fall by as much as 60 percent.

“The actions of Google constitute political censorship and are a blatant attack on free speech,” North stated. “At a time when public distrust of establishment media is widespread, this corporate giant is exploiting its monopolistic position to restrict public access to a broad spectrum of news and critical analysis.”


We Shot John Lennon



In December 1969 on the steps of the Apple building in London, John and Yoko protest the Vietnam War. (Photo by Frank Barratt/Keystone/Getty Images)



50 years ago, the Beatles ran afoul of America’s pathologies.

BY Susan J. Douglas


Yes, America loved the Beatles. But John Lennon, despite his great spirit, was no match for the subterranean recesses of hatred and paranoia here.

Fifty years ago this month, on Feb. 7, 1964, the Beatles stepped off a Pan Am jet at Kennedy airport to thousands of screaming fans and some 200 reporters and photographers. Two days later, they performed on The Ed Sullivan Show as an estimated 73 million viewers—38 percent of America’s population—watched and tried to hear the music over the deafening screams of the 1,200 fans in the studio audience. The Beatles’ “conquest” of the United States had begun.

Sexist dismissals of “Beatlemania” were instantaneous. As David Dempsey, writing for the New York Times Magazine, put it, “The Beatles … resemble in manner the witch doctors who put their spell on hundreds of shuffling and stamping natives … the female members of this cult go berserk.” But this derision of baby boom girls as crazed hysterics completely missed what the Beatles meant to us. The Beatles arrived in the United States a mere 11 weeks after President Kennedy was killed, when many grief-stricken young people felt that optimism itself had been gunned down in Dealey Plaza. And then here were these irreverent, charismatic young men bantering with reporters: witty, just like JFK, making fun of convention and authority, and performing on stage with utterly contagious joy. They were optimism reborn. On top of this, in their lyrics, their clothes, their hair, their heeled boots, the Beatles fused masculine and feminine styles and sensibilities, suggesting that gender roles might not have to be quite so rigid. Because they were clean-cut (in their Edwardian suits and ties), yet sexy, and British to boot, they gave permission to girls to unleash their sublimated sexual energies at a time when a sexual double standard and condemnatory attitudes toward female agency still held sway. This finessing of gender roles, this empowering address to young women, all, however improbably, fed into the incipient energy of the women’s movement. For all this, of course, we screamed in gratitude.

Yes, America loved the Beatles. But John Lennon, despite his great spirit, was no match for the subterranean recesses of hatred and paranoia here. As we look back from the nostalgic vantage point of half a century, will this truth be swept aside in mediated memories of Beatlemania? Will the sunny-side celebrations of the “mop tops” and the ridicule of swooning female fans eclipse the darker pathologies that Lennon, especially, triggered—religious fanaticism, government paranoia and gun violence?

Religious fanaticism was the first American pathology the Beatles tripped over. In 1966, just before the band’s summer tour, the teen magazine Datebook published a quote John Lennon had made in the British press: “We’re more popular than Jesus now.” The comment had evoked no controversy in the U.K., but in the U.S. Bible Belt, the denunciations were virulent: The KKK sponsored record burnings (and nailed one album to a cross), radio stations banned Beatles songs, religious extremists held demonstrations outside their concerts, and the band received death threats. After this miserable experience, the Beatles stopped touring altogether.

Then when John Lennon moved to New York City with Yoko Ono in 1971, he confronted pathology number two: government paranoia about dissidents. His anti-war stance and progressive politics prompted the FBI and the Nixon administration to spy on him and seek to silence him. Nixon was especially keen to have him deported, as he felt Lennon’s activism might cost him the 1972 election. After a protracted battle, the deportation order was overturned in 1975.

And the final pathology: gun violence, with, as we all know, John Lennon murdered on Dec. 8, 1980, by a mentally unstable person with a handgun.

The demons that John Lennon fell victim to haunt us still. We see them in the religious Right’s ongoing grip on public policy, the NSA scandal and the dispiriting fact that, since the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook, most new gun laws have loosened rather than tightened restrictions. These demons still very much need to be exorcised—yeah, yeah, yeah.


Susan J. Douglas is a professor of communications at the University of Michigan and an In These Times columnist. Her latest book is Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done (2010).