Censorship of the Alternative Media on the Internet
Hey, you editors —
I thought you might want to be on board with this. Les Blough has done a good job here of outlining a very real and dangerous threat to our ability to get out an alternative message and proposing some ways to deal with it.
Please circulate this to others of like mind.
Date: February 22, 2005
To: Editors and Writers – Alternative Media
From: Les Blough, Editor
Axis of Logic
161 Harvard Avenue
Boston, MA (USA)
Dear Editors and Writers in the Alternative Media:
I am writing to ask your thoughts about what appear to be government/corporate tactics to harness the free flow of information on the Internet. Many of you may have heard that Google News recently stopped indexing Uruknet, only to reinstate them - following many complaints sent in by those of us who are trying to protect the Internet from corporate/government control. The response by those who support Uruknet was apparently powerful enough to make the managers of Google News think twice about removing a website as a news source.
Another website editor recently told me that Google News also discontinued indexing of their website. It was only following a long and tedious process - that he was able to achieve reinstatement. That particular website was one that is based in the United States and primarily publishes material in support of Venezuelan sovereignty.
Another example is the use of corporations like Norton Security. Norton Security places selected, alternative media on high risk status, making them inaccessible to readers, depending upon the user’s security settings. Norton Security has placed a number of sites out of reach by cataloguing them as having explicit sexual material, etc. which would place children at risk. My examination of a number of those sites shows otherwise. On a number of occasions, I have attempted to access a number of websites containing sensitive political commentary, for example - only to find the Norton Corporation blocking the site because they had it catalogued, “Cult/New Age”! Upon examination, I found no offensive material on these sites … nothing that could conceivably pose a threat to children. Of course I could disable my Norton “Parental Control” setting and access these sites. However, we must ask ourselves how many people would feel safe disabling the setting or how many even know how to do so. Is it fair to say that millions of “household users” of the Internet would be reluctant to be so persistent as to disable the settings in order to access the site? Norton invites the user to write to them if he or she thinks a site should be catagorised differently. But the letters go unanswered and seem to disappear into a black hole. A great deal has been written about federal legislation opposing censorship, but the treat may not come from the government per se. AOL attempted to ban the use of Spanish in their chat rooms but it later withdrew the ban under threat of a law suit. Read how firewalls and filtering software can be used for censorship at: reviews-zdnet.com.com/4520-6033_16-4207713.html
Jared Feuer wrote for the ACLU:
“Corporate censorship represents a significant potential threat to online free speech. Now is the time to ensure that cable companies open their wires to the most robust content possible.”
Another tactic of corporate media has been to offer selected material only by paid subscription. We subscribed to The Independent (UK) for several years and posted reprints of Robert Fisk’s articles on Axis of Logic. Last year, The Independent canceled our subscription, with no explanation and has refused renew the subscription or to reply to emails. The number of people reading Fisk’s work must have been greatly diminished when The Independent began requiring subscriptions for reading his reports.
Google News may be censoring specific writers. On a personal note, I wrote to Google News inquiring about why they have stopped distributing articles authored by me specifically. While they continue to index Axis of Logic, the last 4 articles I personally have authored have been skipped over. In each case, they distributed the articles published immediately before and after my own. They have not yet replied to my letter of inquiry. Their passing over my articles began immediately following a letter received by Google News, which complained about one of my critiques of the Bush Inauguration (published on Google News on January 21, 2005).
The following quote is from a lengthy letter written to me by a reader on the same day (January 21):
“I am writing to GoogleNews to complain about your organization posing as a legitimate news service. You have a right to your opinion, but opinion is all it is. While scrolling Google I’m looking for facts and find it perturbing to have my time wasted by websites such as yours cynically posing as a legitimate news source.”
None of the articles which I authored were picked up by the Google crawler following this complaint, even those published immediately before and after were picked up and distributed. The most recent article passed over by Google News was “Touching the Revolution” (www.axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/article_15785.shtml). However, it was picked up on other websites which published reprints of the article.
Cause for Alarm? We may be realising the government’s first, concrete steps to control the Internet. But they are not using legal strategies. Of course the government sees its limitations imposed by guarantees of free speech. Instead, it appears the government may be using back-handed methods for controlling the flow of information through corporations. The attempt to discontinue coverage of Uruknet may be just the beginning of the hacking away at the Internet’s free press.
I don’t know if you as an editor or writer think these anecdotal occurences are cause for alarm. Obviously, I do. I think it is important that we as editors and writers counter-attack these attempts to censure the alternative, Internet media. We have a combined power base that includes hundreds of millions of readers. I wonder if and/or how we might be able to use that power base to prevent censorship? Individually, we complain to services like Google News at the risk of having them completely remove our work from their index of news sources, as they did Uruknet. But together, we may be able to mount a counter-offensive or at least to take preventative measures.
Our power base: It is my hope that we as editors and writers will combine our power and our efforts. This message is being sent to over 70 website editors and more than 40 writers.
Build a database: We might consider reporting events of censorship and other methods being used by corporatons and governments to censor. These could be reported to a central location to begin building a database which could be useful to all of us.
Joint Letters: We might also consider writing a joint-letter to corporations who attempt censorship as they did with Uruknet.
Whatever we do, I am asking if you think it’s strategically important that we take aggressive measures to respond to and prevent further censorship of free speech via the Internet. Any suggestions you might have for strategies would be greatly appreciated.
For information on what is already being done about software censorship, go to: www.eff.org/Censorship/Censorware/
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Thank you for your time and consideration.
Dear Google News,
I have received a report that Google News will no longer be indexing uruknet.info/ as a source of news and commentary, due to a demand/complaint received by Google News from one Michelle Malkin. Malkin’s letter to Google News is reported as follows:
“On February 5 2005, Michelle Malkin wrote: (…) ‘uruknet.info, the nutball news outlet that labeled Alberto Gonzales a ‘war criminal’ and that publishes propaganda reports from Saddam Hussein’s legal team, gets top Google News headline treatment’.”
As an editor of a website who has high regard for Uruknet.info, I implore you to continue covering all the material published on their site.
Until now, I have come to respect Google News’ coverage of news and commentary across a broad spectrum of opinion. To remove Uruknet, in my opinion, would be the equivalent to Google’s surrender of journalistic integrity and would reflect Google News’ alignment with the rest of the corporate media and their blackout of selected news and commentary.
The editors of alternative Internet media provide a valuable service to many millions of readers worldwide. Unless Google News continues to cover all news and information websites, regardless of their content, the editors of alternative media and their readers can only conclude that Google News offers little more than their local newspaper. I believe the thousands of editors in the alternative media would take very seriously any discontinuation of indexing Uruknet as a source.
Thank you very much for your consideration and I would also very much appreciate your reply regarding the accuracy of this Uruknet/Malkin report.