Nearly 4,000 US communities have higher rates of lead poisoning than Flint

By Jerry White
16 November 2017

In an updated study, Reuters news agency has identified 3,810 neighborhoods where recently recorded child lead poisoning rates are at least double those found in Flint, Michigan during the height of that city’s water crisis in 2014 and 2015. In some 1,300 of these “hotspot” communities, the percentage of children six and under with elevated lead levels was at least four times the percentage in Flint during the peak of the crisis.

In pockets of Baltimore, Cleveland and Philadelphia, where lead poisoning has spanned generations, Reuters reported that the rate of elevated tests over the last decade was 50 percent or higher. An interactive map released with the study shows one census tract in Buffalo, New York—a former steel and auto center that, like Flint, has suffered decades of deindustrialization—where 68 percent of the children had high levels of lead.

Map of lead concentrations in the United States

The ingestion of any amount of the heavy metal, whether through tainted water, lead-based paint, contaminated soil or fumes and dust, can do irreparable harm to children. This includes impeding the development of the brain and nervous system, lowered IQ, memory loss, hearing and speech problems, and behavioral and attention-related problems. The toxin, which remains in the body and can be passed on for generations, is also responsible for a host of adult health problems, including decreased kidney function, high blood pressure, tremors and infertility.

In the year following the switchover of Flint to water from the polluted Flint River, which caused leaching from the city’s antiquated lead pipe system, five percent of the children who had their blood tested showed lead levels in excess of five micrograms per deciliter. This is the threshold requiring immediate public health intervention, according to the US government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which acknowledges that there is no safe level of exposure to lead.

Reuters used data collected by the CDC based on neighborhood-level blood testing results for 34 states and the District of Columbia. As devastating as the results are, they do not provide a full picture. The CDC funds 35 state and local health departments for lead surveillance. Reporting is voluntary in the remaining states, many of which do not have staff to collect data. Despite the well-known public health hazard, the US government does not require reporting and does not oversee the systematic collection and analysis of data on lead poisoning.

Dr. Kim Cecil of the Cincinnati Lead Study shows how the brain isdamaged by lead poisoning

Reuters says this is the first look at data broken down by census tracts, which are small county subdivisions averaging 4,000 citizens, or by zip codes, with average populations of 7,500. In December, Reuters noted that far from being the exception, Flint did not even rank among the most toxic cities in America. It pointed to Warren, Pennsylvania, a town on the Allegheny River, where 36 percent of the children tested had high lead levels, to a zip code on Goat Island, Texas, where a quarter of tests showed poisoning.

The newest map includes additional data collected this year by Reuters from Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont, North Carolina, New York City and Washington, D.C. The newly identified areas with high levels of child lead poisoning include a historic district in Savannah, Georgia, areas in Rutland, Vermont near a popular skiing area, and a largely Hasidic Jewish area in Brooklyn, New York.

Like Flint, which has acres of land polluted by General Motors and other industrial firms, impoverished homes with peeling paint, and underground lead water mains and service lines, the areas throughout the US with the worst lead poisoning are invariably working class and poor.

There has been a sharp decline in poisoning since lead was removed from paint in 1976 and gasoline in 1995, the latter after more than a decade of resistance by the oil industry. The elimination of lead poisoning, however, is not possible due to lead pipes, residual lead paint in poor urban and rural areas, and former or current industrial sites polluted with lead.

T
he Flint River

“The dramatic decline in blood lead over the last several decades in the US is a public health triumph, resulting from control of lead in gasoline, paint, food, water, soil, consumer products and other sources,” said Marc Edwards, a professor of environmental and water resources engineering at Virginia Tech University, who was instrumental in exposing the lies of state and local officials who claimed that Flint’s water was safe.

He continued: “Before the increased use of lead in paint and gasoline, lead in water was once the dominant source of human lead exposure in the United States, and it was generally acknowledged to cause widespread lead poisoning, fatalities and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Flint is yet another reminder that we must remain vigilant to harm caused by all lead sources, especially lead pipes, which are out of sight and out of mind. It is also the only government-owned source of lead, which directly affects potable water, a product intended for human consumption. Flint is just the most recent example of how this inherent conflict has harmed people.”

The poisoning of Flint was brought into the national and international spotlight only due to the courageous efforts of the city’s working class residents and science professionals like Edwards and pediatrician and public health advocate Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. She was denounced by Governor Rick Snyder’s office for “slicing and dicing” the results of blood samples.

Flint became a symbol of everything that was wrong in America: corporate and political criminality and the indifference of both the Democrats and Republicans to the plight of working people. The media, celebrities and politicians from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders poured into the town and legal proceedings were initiated against several lesser figures involved in the crime and cover-up. More than three years since the switch to the Flint River, however, nothing has been done to make the residents whole.

The new report from Reuters has been largely ignored by the rest of the corporate-controlled media, which originally presented the Flint crisis as an anomaly, until it was unable to deny the massive and nationwide scale of the problem. Far from committing the necessary resources, including an estimated $500 billion to $1 trillion to replace the nation’s lead pipes, the Obama and Trump administrations have failed to provide any significant funding to address this public health care threat, even as they have squandered trillions on bank bailouts, military spending and tax cuts for the wealthy.

Trump’s 2018 budget request includes a $1.2 billion, or 17 percent, cut to the CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/16/lead-n16.html

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Google Is Boosting All Manner of Fake News About the Texas Church Massacre

MEDIA
A search finds the site has been supplying ads to right-wing conspiracy theorists.

Photo Credit: turtix / Shutterstock.com

Google is continuing to allow the monetization of fake news via its advertising network AdSense, this time surrounding the November 5 mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, TX. Advertising networks Revcontent and content.ad are also featuring advertisements on fake news stories about the attack.

On November 5, a gunman opened fire and killed at least 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, TX. The alleged gunman, Devin Patrick Kelly, was court martialed while in the Air Force in 2012 on charges of “assaulting his wife and child” and has been accused of stalking ex-girlfriends. Law enforcement officers are now saying that the shooting was related to “a domestic situation.”

Media Matters search found that Google’s AdSense supplied advertisements for many websites pushing the fake news that Kelly was a member of the antifascist group antifa, with many seeming to base their pieces on a fake news article from prominent fake news website YourNewsWire. Those websites included Real FarmacyUSN Politicsmyinfonews.netClear PoliticsSBVNewsRedStateWatcher, and TruthFeed.

Some of these websites that were using AdSense, such as Clear Politics and SBVNews, also carried advertisements from content.ad, while TruthFeed also featured advertisements from Revcontent. Other websites not using AdSense that pushed the baseless claim, such as Conservative FightersThe Conservative Truth, and borntoberight.com, featured advertisements from Revcontent or content.ad instead, including the YourNewsWire piece (that article went viral, drawing at least 235,000 Facebook engagementswithin almost 24 hours of the attack, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo, and was shared on gun parts manufacturer Molon Labe Industries’ Facebook page).

Another false claim about the shooting came from Freedum Junkshun, a “satire” website run by a man whose made-up stories have been used by fake news websites to misinform. It claimed that the shooter “was an atheist” on the payroll of the Democratic National Committee. That article was funded via advertisements from both AdSense and content.ad. And fake news website Freedom Daily, which has repeatedly violated AdSense’s rules against race-based incitement of hatred, published the false claim that the shooter was a Muslim convert named Samir Al-Hajeed. AdSense advertisements funded that article.

It isn’t just Google’s advertising service that is struggling with how to handle fake news; among the top Google search results of Kelly’s name following the attack were tweets and a video that also baselessly claimed he was a member of antifa. YouTube, which Google owns, also prominently featured a video pushing the false claim as one of the top results for the alleged shooter’s name.

In early November, a Google senior executive testified before Congress that the company had “taken steps” to demonetize misrepresentative websites. Yet the fact that multiple websites are using AdSense to monetize misinformation about the Texas mass shooting via AdSense signals otherwise. Indeed, AdSense, along with Revcontent and content.ad, have generally become the advertising networks of choice for those who push fake news. And this comes amid continuing criticism of Google’s inability to not feature misinformation during or after crisis events. These companies clearly have a long way to go to fix their misinformation problem.

https://www.alternet.org/media/google-boosting-all-manner-fake-news-about-texas-church-massacre?akid=16330.265072.T3oS4c&rd=1&src=newsletter1084951&t=14

The Democrats’ McCarthyite witch hunt

3 November 2017

This week’s congressional hearings on “extremist content” on the Internet mark a new stage in the McCarthyite witch hunt by congressional Democrats, working with the intelligence agencies and leading media outlets, to legitimize censorship and attack free speech on the Internet.

One after another, congressmen and senators goaded representatives of Google, Twitter and Facebook to admit that their platforms were used to sow “social divisions” and “extremist” political opinions. The aim of this campaign is to claim that social conflict within the United States arises not from the scale of social inequality in America, greater than in any other country in the developed world, but rather from the actions of “outside agitators” working in the service of the Kremlin.

The hearings revolved around claims that Russia sought to “weaponize” the Internet by harnessing social anger within the United States. “Russia,” said Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, promoted “discord in the US by inflaming passions on a range of divisive issues.” It sought to “mobilize real Americans to sign online petitions and join rallies and protests.”

The McCarthyite witch hunts of the 1950s sought to suppress left-wing thought and label all forms of dissent as illegitimate and treasonous. Those who led them worked to purge left-wing opinion from Hollywood, the trade unions and the universities.

Likewise, the new McCarthyism is aimed at creating a political climate in which left-wing organizations and figures are demonized as agents of the Kremlin who are essentially engaged in treasonous activity deserving of criminal prosecution.

To this end, the congressional witch-hunters released a series of “Russia-linked” social media posts expressing opposition to police violence and social inequality. These were meant to serve as “smoking gun” examples of how Russia worked to sow social divisions within the US.

The argument that it takes a Vladimir Putin to divide the United States is, frankly, laughable. So far this year there have been 273 mass shootings in which four or more people were killed. More than 1,000 people are killed by police every year.

The United States is bursting at the seams with social discontent. Inequality, war, the pressures caused by poverty-wage jobs—all are sources of enormous social anger.

The Democrats’ absurd narrative stems from their attempt to rationalize away their disastrous defeat in the 2016 election, blaming it on a Kremlin-backed conspiracy instead of their own indifference to the social misery that pervades the country.

At Wednesday’s hearings, Schiff declared that the problem is “not just foreign” and complained that the algorithms used by social media companies “tend to accentuate content that is fear-based or anger-based.”

“That helps it pick up an audience and go viral and be amplified,” he said, with the consequence of “widening divisions among our society.”

When was the last time Schiff or any of his colleagues held a hearing on the real sources of division and social discontent in America? Are they holding hearings on the soaring wealth of the financial elite, on the criminal conduct of the wars in Afghanistan or Syria? No, Schiff’s concern is to prevent the people from learning anything that would fuel their “anger.”

To this end, he asked representatives of Facebook, Twitter and Google what “societal obligation” they have to change the fact that “what ends up percolating to the top of our feeds tends to be things we were looking for.”

In this statement, Schiff makes clear the real content of the Democratic Party’s furor about “fake news” and “Russian meddling.” What concerns Schiff and his colleagues is not “fake news,” but true news that goes “viral” and gets “amplified” because it reflects popular anger.

The problem, according to Schiff and his fellow congressional witch-hunters, is that people looking for politically critical viewpoints can actually find them on the Internet, as opposed to what they find in the corporate-controlled newspapers and TV broadcasters.

Amid soaring social inequality, a spiraling political crisis and the continuous threat of nuclear war, millions of people have grown justifiably hostile to the capitalist system and the political establishment. The immense popularity of the Internet reflects the fact that it provides people with the chance to obtain information that news outlets such as the New York Times, working with the intelligence agencies, seek to keep from them.

The ruling elite sees the combination of social disaffection and the unlimited access to information provided by the Internet as an existential threat that must be combated through censorship. As Clint Watts, a former US Army officer and FBI agent, put it at Tuesday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee: “Civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words. America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions… Stopping the false information artillery barrage landing on social media users comes only when those outlets distributing bogus stories are silenced—silence the guns and the barrage will end.”

The fact that censorship is spoken of so openly means that a major intensification is coming. The American ruling elite, to use the words of Watts, believes it is already engaged in a civil war with its own population and is more than willing to use censorship to “silence” sources of “rebellion.”

Google, Facebook and Twitter are already engaged in censorship, each of them announcing that they are hiring “thousands” of people to moderate and review content. Earlier this month, Google removed from its list of “preferred” channels on YouTube the Russian-sponsored TV station and online news outlet RT, which reports stories largely censored by the mainstream press. Twitter likewise blocked RT from using its advertising service.

In April, Google implemented a change to its search algorithm that slashed traffic to left-wing, antiwar and progressive websites by more than 55 percent. Last month, it removed almost all pages from the World Socialist Web Sitefrom its news service, Google News, together with articles from leading left-wing journalists such as Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges.

This drive to destroy freedom of speech must be opposed! It is the spearhead for the dismantling of democratic rights not just in the United States, but all over the world.

Andre Damon

WSWS

Google and Facebook’s Congressional Testimony

NEWS & POLITICS

…Reveals a Deep Hypocrisy at the Heart of the Mission of These Tech Titans

The companies don’t care about their consumers anymore.

By Liz Posner / AlterNet

November 1, 2017, 1:02 PM GMT

Photo Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9u8MQlPsk4

The House and Senate intelligence committees probed legal representatives from Google, Facebook and Twitter this week over their role in Russian hacking of the 2016 election. While the three corporate reps played along, claiming ignorance of the extent of the Russian involvement and outrage over it happening, their behavior during the testimony revealed a deep and underlying rot within their companies — one we all could have seen coming since we first discovered these companies were spying on us.

The Google, Facebook, and Twitter congressional hearings this week confirmed that the Russian infiltration of the American election wasn’t just a problem of oversight on behalf of those companies. It also revealed that the companies have, to some extent, abandoned their fundamental mission.

Of the three that gave testimony on Capitol Hill Tuesday and Wednesday, Facebook is under the most heat at the moment. In September, Facebook admitted that Russian accounts had spent $100,000 on 3,000 ads during the election, and claimed the ads reached just 10 million people. On Monday, Facebook revealed that the Russian ads reached a far greater number of Facebook users than it had previously predicted: 126 million American users. It topped that number again on Wednesday when it announced 146 million Facebook users saw the ads. It’s highly likely that the ads held more sway over the voters they reached than any other political propaganda during the election. CNN reporter Dylan Byers captured the Facebook backtracking well.

FACEBOOK timeline:
– didn’t happen
– happened, but was small
– ok, semi-big
– ok, it reached 126 million, but no evidence it influenced them https://t.co/U84JdHjvF5

— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) October 30, 2017

While Google’s technology is much further-reaching than Facebook’s, the company claims it hasn’t facilitated the same kind of political damage Facebook probably has through its Russian ads, though Russian agents also bought ads on Google platforms like YouTube.

“We did observe that links to these videos were frequently posted to other social media platforms,” said Richard Salgado, Google’s representative at the hearing, deferring blame to Facebook and Twitter. “Google’s products also don’t lend themselves to the kind of targeting or viral dissemination these actors seem to prefer.”

Both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are bringing their agendas into the hearings, though it’s easy to see which side is using truth and fact to make their case. Republicans urged the tech companies to confirm that Russia only sought to sow discord among Americans through its political ads, whereas Democrats reminded the audience that the ads were intended to bolster Trump’s election, a fact confirmed by multiple intelligence agencies.

“During the election, they were trying to create discord between Americans, most of it directed against Clinton,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said to Facebook representative Colin Stretch. “After the election, you saw Russian-tied groups and organizations trying to undermine President Trump’s legitimacy. Is that what you saw on Facebook?”

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, echoed a similar line.

Russia does not have loyalty to a political party in the United States,” he said in blatant dismissal of the facts. “Their goal is to divide us and discredit our democracy.”

The ads themselves, it was revealed in the hearings, are highly emotional in nature and clearly skewed toward targeting right-wing voters (some, for example, depict Hillary Clinton as a friend to Satan and an enemy of the American military).

For what it’s worth, the tech titans have been relatively cooperative. Twitter announced last week that it would ban all ads from RT and Sputnik, two news sites with ties to the Russian government. And all three built sympathetic lines into their testimony on Capitol Hill.

“The foreign interference we saw was reprehensible,” Facebook’s Stretch told senators. But their promises are weak-willed. As Tim Wu, a professor of law at Columbia University, told the New York Times, “I like that they are contrite, but these issues are existential and they aren’t taking any structural changes. These are Band-Aids.”

Therein lies the key issue: only structural changes—in particular, to the way these companies make vast sums of ad revenue—will stop political interference like what we saw boil over in the 2016 election. It would take a complete structural overhaul to stop this kind of infiltration. Both large- and small-scale advertisers have been flocking to Google and Facebook ads for years. The advertising process is automated and difficult to monitor. And boosting the visibility of viral content is built into the very heart of the companies’ business models: on Facebook, you’re more likely to see ads your friends “liked.” Google rewards websites that adhere to its vast and ever-changing SEO rules (and arbitrarily punishes independent voices like AlterNet at a whim), and on Google Ads, a competitive marketplace for advertisers, companies need only bid a few dollars higher than their competitors in order to push their ads to the top of a search result page.

Google and Facebook were supposed to help people make connections and access information, but as they scaled, they employed technology and attracted advertisers that undercut this mission. The backbone of Facebook’s technology is a machine learning-fueled algorithm, which feeds users content they’re more likely to respond to based on its popularity and similarity to posts they’ve engaged with before. It’s a creation of genius that advertisers love: the longer you spend on Facebook, scanning through photos and articles and posts that fit into the bubble the algorithm thinks you live in, the more targeted ads it is likely to feed you. It’s made the company billions of dollars, so why would it stop now just because of a few million possibly influenced American voters and one measly presidential election?

As Michael Carpenter, a former policy adviser for Joe Biden, wrote in the Hill, these companies have consistently downplayed the impact Russian bots had on the 2016 election, and disappointingly, they continued in this vein on Capitol Hill this week. It’s a dangerous underestimation of how far Russia will go, and for how long, to infiltrate and weaken American democracy. The companies claim to democratize the internet—that’s the whole basis behind boosting certain popular posts or rewarding well-done SEO. It’s supposed to create an internet for the everyman. They claim to want to forge friendships and make it easier to find answers to questions, but the Russian interference shows that their business model is, in many ways, doing just the opposite. Scaling up has endangered the missions of these companies, as automated ads and the massive scale at which Facebook and Google have grown made their best-laid plans unmanageable. Now, instead of being transparent about their problems, they’re issuing lie after lie in the hopes of skirting punitive legislation, and refusing to do anything concrete about their Russia problem until the government forces them to.

It’s somewhat ironic that Russia took advantage of a classic capitalist problem: when a company with the best of intentions is successful and scales up, in the process of trying to crush all competition, it sacrifices its soul and exacerbates the societal problems it sought to solve in the first place. Lindsey Graham summed up the situation accurately this week when he said, “It’s Russia today; it could be Iran and North Korea tomorrow. What we need to do is sit down and find ways to bring some of the controls we have on over-the-air broadcast to social media to protect the consumer.”

But it’s been a long time since Facebook, Google or Twitter cared about their consumers, or their missions to better the world. As long as ad revenue allows these companies to increase their reach at such fast scales, it will be up to government legislation to rein in their influence, which will require a deep restructuring of the way these companies make their money. If this week’s hearing showed anything, they’re not likely to hand over that power quietly.

Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.

Alternet

 

 

 

Former FBI agent says tech companies must “silence” sources of “rebellion”

US Congressional hearing:

By Andre Damon
1 November 2017

Top legal and security officials for Facebook, Twitter and Google appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, in a hearing targeting “Extremist Content and Russian Disinformation Online.”

Over the course of four hours, senators argued that “foreign infiltration” is the root of social opposition within the United States, in order to justify the censorship of oppositional viewpoints.

Russia “sought to sow discord and amplify racial and social divisions among American voters,” said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. It “exploited hot button topics…to target both conservative and progressive audiences.”

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said Russia helped promote protests against police violence in Ferguson, Baltimore and Cleveland. Russia, he said, “spread stories about abuse of black Americans by law enforcement. These ads are clearly intended to worsen racial tensions and possibly violence in those cities.”

Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii demanded, for her part, that the companies adopt a “mission statement” expressing their commitment “to prevent the fomenting of discord.”

The most substantial portion of the testimony took place in the second part of the hearing, during which most of the Senators had left and two representatives of the US intelligence agencies testified before a room of mostly empty chairs.

Clint Watts addresses a nearly-empty hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee

Clint Watts, a former U.S. Army officer, former FBI agent, and member of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, made the following apocalyptic proclamation: “Civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words. America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.”

He added, “Stopping the false information artillery barrage landing on social media users comes only when those outlets distributing bogus stories are silenced—silence the guns and the barrage will end.”

As this “civil war” rages on, he said, “our country remains stalled in observation, halted by deliberation and with each day more divided by manipulative forces coming from afar.”

The implications of these statements are staggering. The United States is in the midst of a civil war, and the necessary response of the government is censorship, together with the abolition of all other fundamental democratic rights. The “rebellion” must be put down by silencing the news outlets that advocate it.

That such a statement could be made in a congressional hearing, entirely without objection, is an expression of the terminal decay of American democracy. There is no faction of the ruling class that maintains any commitment to basic democratic rights.

None of the Democrats in the committee raised any of the constitutional issues involved in asking massive technology companies to censor political speech on the Internet. Only one Republican raised concerns over censorship, but only to allege that Google had a liberal bias.

The Democrats focused their remarks on demands that the Internet companies take even more aggressive steps to censor content. In one particularly noxious exchange, Feinstein pressed Google’s legal counsel on why it took so long for YouTube (which is owned by Google) to revoke the status of Russia Today as a “preferred” broadcaster. She demanded, “Why did Google give preferred status to Russia Today, a Russian propaganda arm, on YouTube? … It took you until September of 2017 to do it.”

Despite the fact that Feinstein and other Democrats were clearly pressuring the company to take that step, the senators allowed Richard Salgado, Google’s Law Enforcement and Information Security Director, to present what was by all appearances a bald-faced lie before Congress. “The removal of RT from the program was actually a result of…is a result of some of the drop in viewership, not as a result of any action otherwise. So there was … there was nothing about RT or its content that meant that it stayed in or stayed out,” Salgado stammered, in the only time he appeared to lose his composure during the hearing.

Salgado’s apparently false statement is of a piece with Google’s other actions to censor the Internet. These include changes to its search algorithm, which, behind the backs of the public, have slashed search traffic to left-wing websites by some 55 percent, with the World Socialist Web Site losing some 74 percent of its search traffic.

Stressing the transformation of the major US technology companies into massive censorship operations, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island asked the representatives of the firms, “I gather that all of your companies have moved beyond any notion that your job is only to provide a platform, and whatever goes across it is not your affair,” to which all answered in the affirmative.

When pressed by lawmakers to state how many people were employed by Facebook to moderate content, Colin Stretch, the company’s general counsel, said that Facebook employed “thousands” of such moderators, and was in the process of adding “thousands more.”

While the senators and technology companies largely presented a show of unity, just how far the companies were willing to go in censoring users’ content and helping the government create blacklists of dissidents was no doubt a subject of contentious debate in the background.

On Friday, Feinstein sent a letter to Twitter’s CEO demanding that the company hand over profile information—possibly including full names, email addresses, and phone numbers—related to “divisive” “organic content” promoted by “Russia-linked” accounts.

Although the senators largely steered away from the issue of “organic content” in their questions, a remark by Sean Edgett, Twitter’s acting general counsel, made clear that the “organic content” Feinstein’s letter was referring to included the social media posts of US-based organizations and individuals. Edgett said “organic tweets,” include “those that you or I or anyone here today can tweet from their phone or computer.”

The New York Times reported over the weekend, however, that Facebook has already begun turning lists of such “organic content” over to congressional investigators. Given that Facebook has said that just one “Russia-linked” company had posted some 80,000 pieces of “divisive” content, including reposts from other users, it is reasonable to assume Facebook and Twitter are being pressured to turn over information on a substantial portion of political dissidents within the United States.

WSWS

Google escalates blacklisting of left-wing web sites and journalists

By Andre Damon
20 October 2017

In a sweeping expansion of its moves to censor the Internet, Google has removed leading left-wing websites and journalists from its popular news aggregation platform, Google News.

At the time of publication, a search for “World Socialist Web Site” on news.google.com does not return a single article published on the WSWS. A search for the exact title of any of the articles published during that period likewise returns no results.

Over the past seven days, news.google.com has referred only 53 people to the World Socialist Web Site, a 92 percent decline from the weekly average of over 650 during the past year.

A Google News search for an article from Thursday’s edition of the WSWS returns no results

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Chris Hedges informed the WSWS Wednesday that his articles had ceased appearing on Google News. Hedges said the change occurred after the publication of his interview with the World Socialist Web Site in which he spoke out against Google’s censorship of left-wing sites.

“Sometime after I gave that interview, they blacklisted me,” said Hedges. “If you go into Google News and type my name, there are six stories, none of which have anything to do with me.”

A Google News search for Chris Hedges returns no relevant results

“I write constantly. Previously, Google News listed my columns for Truthdig and my contributions to Common Dreams and Alternet, as well as references to my books,” Hedges said. “But now it’s all gone. And I’m certain it’s because I spoke out against the Google censorship.”

Google appears to have kept an older version of its news aggregator available online, accessible by visiting google.com and clicking the “news” link below the search bar. That version of the news aggregator, which appears to be in the process of being phased out, lists 254,000 results for the search “World Socialist Web Site.”

A similar search returns 89,600 entries for “Chris Hedges.”

The changes to Google News mark a new stage in a systematic campaign of censorship and blacklisting that has been underway at least since April, when Ben Gomes, the company’s VP of engineering, said Google was seeking to promote “authoritative” news outlets over “alternative” news sources.

Since then, thirteen leading left-wing web sites have had their search traffic from Google collapse by 55 percent, with the World Socialist Web Site having had its search traffic plunge by 74 percent.

“Just speaking as a journalist, it’s terrifying,” Hedges said. “Those people who still try and do journalism, they’re the ones getting hit; especially those journalists that attempt to grapple with issues of power and the corporate state.

“This shows not only how bankrupt the state is, but how frightened it is,” Hedges said.

“Google is developing ever more intensive methods of targeting, aimed at blocking any dissenting critical voices,” said David North, the chairperson of the International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Site.

“This is an unprecedented attack on free speech. In the history of the United States, censorship on this scale has never been imposed outside of wartime,” he added, pointing to the blocking of Trotskyist publications during World War II.

Hedges noted the precedent of political repression during World War I. “In the name of national security, for the duration of the war they shut down The Masses,” a left-wing, antiwar journal.

The intensification of Google’s crackdown on left-wing sites takes place against the backdrop of a sharp acceleration of the anti-Russian campaign led by congressional Democrats, together with sections of the Republican Party, the US intelligence agencies and leading news outlets.

On Thursday, Democratic Party senators Mark Warner and Amy Klobuchar introduced the first piece of legislation to come out of the campaign surrounding the claim that Russia sought to “meddle” in the 2016 election by “sowing divisions” within American society, an unproven conspiracy theory aimed at creating a justification for Internet censorship.

A summary of the bill obtained by Axios stated that it requires “online platforms to make reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate,” and to maintain a database of political advertisements supposedly bought by foreigners.

In his remarks announcing the bill, Warner made clear that his aim was to use it as the starting point for more aggressive restrictions on free speech on the Internet. “What we want to try to do is start with a light touch,” Warner said.

Commenting on the step-by-step nature of the censorship regime being created in the United States, Hedges said, “If you look at any totalitarian system, their assault on the press is incremental. So even in Nazi Germany, when Hitler took power, he would ban the Social Democrats’ publications for a week and then let them get back up. He wouldn’t go in and shut it all down at once.”

“Google is involved in an out-and-out political conspiracy, in coordination with the government,” North said. “A secret censorship program has been created that is directed against opponents of American foreign policy. This is an illegal assault on constitutionally protected rights.”

Hedges added, “I can tell you from having lived in and covered despotic regimes, I think we’ve got to ring all of the alarm bells while we still have the chance, because they’re not going to stop.”

WSWS

The conspiracy to censor the Internet

18 October 2017

The political representatives of the American ruling class are engaged in a conspiracy to suppress free speech. Under the guise of combating “trolls” and “fake news” supposedly controlled by Russia, the most basic constitutional rights enumerated in the First Amendment are under direct attack.

The leading political force in this campaign is the Democratic Party, working in collaboration with sections of the Republican Party, the mass media and the military-intelligence establishment.

The Trump administration is threatening nuclear war against North Korea, escalating the assault on health care, demanding new tax cuts for the rich, waging war on immigrant workers, and eviscerating corporate and environmental regulations. This reactionary agenda is not, however, the focus of the Democratic Party. It is concentrating instead on increasingly hysterical claims that Russia is “sowing divisions” within the United States.

In the media, one report follows another, each more ludicrous than the last. The claim that Russia shifted the US election by means of $100,000 in advertisements on Facebook and Twitter has been followed by breathless reports of the Putin government’s manipulation of other forms of communication.

An “exclusive” report from CNN last week proclaimed that one organization, “Don’t Shoot Us,” which it alleges without substantiation is connected to Russia, sought to “exploit racial tensions and sow discord” on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr and even Pokémon Go, a reality game played on cell phones.

Another report from CNN on Monday asserted that a Russian “troll factory” was involved in posting comments critical of Hillary Clinton as “part of President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to influence the 2016 election.” All of the negative commentary in news media and other publications directed at Clinton, it implied, were the product of Russian agents or people duped by Russian agents.

As during the period of Cold War McCarthyism, the absurdity of the charges goes unchallenged. They are picked up and repeated by other media outlets and by politicians to demonstrate just how far-reaching the actions of the nefarious “foreign enemy” really are.

While one aim has been to continue and escalate an anti-Russia foreign policy, the more basic purpose is emerging ever more clearly: to criminalize political dissent within the United States.

The most direct expression to date of this conspiracy against free speech was given by the anticommunist ideologue Anne Applebaum in a column published Monday in the Washington Post, “If Russia can create fake ‘Black Lives Matter’ accounts, who will next?”

Her answer: the American people. “I can imagine multiple groups, many of them proudly American, who might well want to manipulate a range of fake accounts during a riot or disaster to increase anxiety or fear,” she writes. She warns that “political groups—on the left, the right, you name it—will quickly figure out” how to use social media to spread “disinformation” and “demoralization.”

Applebaum rails against all those who seek to hide their identity online. “There is a better case than ever against anonymity, at least against anonymity in the public forums of social media and comment sections,” she writes. She continues: “The right to free speech is something that is granted to humans, not bits of computer code.” Her target, however, is not “bots” operating “fake accounts,” but anyone who seeks, fearing state repression or unjust punishment by his or her employer, to make an anonymous statement online. And that is only the opening shot in a drive to silence political dissent.

Applebaum is closely connected to the highest echelons of the capitalist state. She is a member of key foreign policy think tanks and sits on the board of directors of the CIA-linked National Endowment for Democracy. Married to the former foreign minister of Poland, she is a ferocious war hawk. Following the Russian annexation of Crimea, she authored a column in the Washington Postin which she called for “total war” against nuclear-armed Russia. She embodies the connection between militarism and political repression.

The implications of Applebaum’s arguments are made clear in an extraordinary article published on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times, “As US Confronts Internet’s Disruptions, China Feels Vindicated,” which takes a favorable view of China’s aggressive censorship of the Internet and implies that the United States is moving toward just such a regime.

“For years, the United States and others saw” China’s “heavy-handed censorship as a sign of political vulnerability and a barrier to China’s economic development,” the Times writes. “But as countries in the West discuss potential Internet restrictions and wring their hands over fake news, hacking and foreign meddling, some in China see a powerful affirmation of the country’s vision for the internet.”

The article goes on to assert that while “few would argue that China’s Internet control serves as a model for democratic societies… At the same time, China anticipated many of the questions now flummoxing governments from the United States to Germany to Indonesia.”

Glaringly absent from the Times article, Applebaum’s commentary and all of the endless demands for a crackdown on social media is any reference to democratic rights, free speech or the First Amendment.

The First Amendment, which asserts that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech,” is the broadest amendment in the US Constitution. Contrary to Applebaum, there is no caveat exempting anonymous speech from Constitutional protection. It is a historical fact that leaders of the American Revolution and drafters of the Constitution wrote articles under pseudonyms to avoid repression by the British authorities.

The Constitution does not give the government or powerful corporations the right to proclaim what is “fake” and what is not, what is a “conspiracy theory” and what is “authoritative.” The same arguments now being employed to crack down on social media could just as well have been used to suppress books and mass circulation newspapers that emerged with the development of the printing press.

The drive toward Internet censorship in the United States is already far advanced. Since Google announced plans to bury “alternative viewpoints” in search results earlier this year, leading left-wing sites have seen their search traffic plunge by more than 50 percent. The World Socialist Web Site’s search traffic from Google has fallen by 75 percent.

Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have introduced similar measures. The campaign being whipped up over Russian online activity will be used to justify even more far-reaching measures.

This is taking place as universities implement policies to give police the authority to vet campus events. There are ongoing efforts to abolish “net neutrality” so as to give giant corporations the ability to regulate Internet traffic. The intelligence agencies have demanded the ability to circumvent encryption after having been exposed for illegally monitoring the phone communications and Internet activity of the entire population.

In one “democratic” country after another governments are turning to police-state forms of rule, from France, with its permanent state of emergency, to Germany, which last month shut down a subsidiary of the left-wing political site Indymedia, to Spain, with its violent crackdown on the separatist referendum in Catalonia and arrest of separatist leaders.

The destruction of democratic rights is the political response of the corporate and financial aristocracy to the growth of working class discontent bound up with record levels of social inequality. It is intimately linked to preparations for a major escalation of imperialist violence around the world. The greatest concern of the ruling elite is the emergence of an independent movement of the working class, and the state is taking actions to prevent it.

Andre Damon and Joseph Kishore

WSWS