Increasingly what we see on the web is chosen for us, search results and category listings are filtered by algorithms, “Artificial Intelligence” as some insist on calling it. One of the things it is being used for is to fill our newsfeeds with content ‘based on your interests,’ that does not present us with controversial ideas to consider, and silences certain voices and certain opinions.
Post an article critical of the ‘open doors’ uncontrolled immigration policies operated by many nations in the developed world and if it is not removed by search or hosting companies as ‘hate speech’ the chances of it showing up in search results on Google, Bing or Yahoo, or in a users newsfeed on facebook or any of the bigger social media sites are slim and will soon become anorexic as politicians and left wing activists demand constant narrowing of what is considered acceptable within the definition of free speech.
Use DuckDockGo or Dogpile and you will see much more diverse results at the top of your listing. Wolfram Alpha is not exactly a search engine but as the owners put it, “a computational knowledge engine.” Pretentious maybe, but their product is good. One of the main attractions of DuckDuckGo is it does not track users, which is ideal for privacy nerds like myself.
Bing and Yahoo are still around and while they share many of the drawbacks of Google, they are not so inclined to take liberties with our privacy.
One rather unusual choice many are making is to use the Internet ArchiveAlternative (also known as Wayback Machine,) as their search tool of choice. But it’s not my intention to name the best alternatives, a search for “Alternative search engines to google will offer you plenty to choose from.” I did my search on DuckDuckGo and obtained many listings a user could browse.
One of the excuses for the clampdown on diversity of ideas (which comes from those who screech the loudest about diversity of skin colour,) is that it is necessary to prevent the spread of ‘fake news.’
If we do not push back the danger is, we will be left with officially generated and sanctioned fake news and “approved” dissent. Which would be rather like the public debate, such as it is, in Russia, a place the people screeching about the threat posed by fake news to democracy seem to spend a lot of time demonizing.
We’ve all heard a the problem of fake news, i.e. unsubstantiated or erroneous content that’s designed to mislead or sow confusion, on the web, in fact many of the reports about it would leave one thinking it is a new phenomenon, which makes these reports themselves fake news.
Until the mid 1970s my dear old Dad worked for the right wing British newspaper, The Daily Express. This might lead contemporary readers to conclude he was a right wing conservative. On the contrary, like most of his colleagues on the Express news staff he was very liberal in his politics.
“Why did they work for a right wing newspaper then?” modern liberals might well ask. It’s very simple really, they had families to feed and clothe, they had to pay rent or mortgage to keep a roof over their heads and they had to keep themselves supplied with rather disreputable looking raincoats and trilby hats.
Dad told me in the early 1960s, when I was becoming old enough to understand, that everything in newspapers or on television or radio news should be questioned. “It is not fabricated,” he’d say, it just represents a point of view the editor thinks will appeal to people who buy the paper.
Most of the news community in the area he covered, like Dad, had as younger men supported The Laour Party, Britain’s socialist party but being in the news industry were aware that many of the party’s senior figures had, in the 1930s, thought Britain should be making alliance with a certain German gentleman, Herr Hitler. It was a dirty little secret the party did not want not widely known among the public. And as newsmen depend on information from sources with inside knowledge they could not afford to alienate the fast rising left wing party.
I mention this to illustrate how silly the current obsession with fake news is. While I suspect that what is written or said about election meddling by Russia or whoever is nothing but propaganda, most of what is labelled ‘fake news’ is simply news reported from a perspective that people of a certain political position disagree with. It applies to both sides.
But as Dad taught me news publishers and broadcasters are in business to make a profit and sensation sells. And in Britain where the traditional wrapping for our traditional fast food, fish and chips, was a sheet of greaseproof paper for cleanliness and a sheet of newspaper for insulation, there was a saying, “Todays news is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper.”
The problem isn’t just fake news of course -it’s the threat to free speech, one of the foundations of a democratic society, by the homogenization of the web, and the elimination or marginalization of independent voices of skepticism and dissent.
There are four political drivers of this push to control information:
The suppression of free speech under the guise of ridding the web of ‘hate speech’ propaganda and mischievous falsehood (aka humour and satire), when diversity of thought is labeled fake news as a cover for silencing critics of the orthodoxy and skeptics who question such dogmas as climate change.
The rapid decline of sales due to the trivial and anodyne nature of published content and the sharp fall in advertising revenues as budgets have been reallocated to web publishers, both major traffic gatherers and small independent publishers like Of Two Minds.
Thanks to a lot of help from governments, the majority of advert revenues now flow into the coffers of the quasi-monopolies Facebook and Google rather than to small publishers representing the true diversity of ideas current in society.
With progressively less diversity in the search market and social media, small publishers have been made increasingly dependent for readers and visibility on these quasi-monopolies most of which share a commitment to the politically correct thinking of parties which though described as left wing or liberal by mainstream media, are in fact illiberal and authoritarian. Thus any publisher who runs incurs the wrath of automatic moderation software used by Facebook and Google, is sent to a digital equivalent of The Chateau d’If, and like the man in the iron mask of Alexander Dumas’ novel, effectively vanishes.
The reason why publishers’ advert incomes are plummeting are four-fold:
Most advertising revenues in the digital market are skimmed by Facebook and Google, whose ‘Artificial Intelligence’ software favours their own business model. This skimming is achieved by the simple expedient of forcing business clients to pay for traffic, no pay, no display.
As the web became more corporate, and the global advertising agencies muscled in on the web market, the ad servers directed increasingly intrusive adverts to web users desktops. Users responded by becoming increasingly ad blind.
Ad blockers have become ubiquitous.
Few people who actually see the ads will click on the display panels that are the standard in desktop web publishing; in other words, these ads are simply not effective, and much of the revenue (up to 60% according to estimates,) is being generated is from bots, software which follows every link on a page, or click fraud, people clicking on adverts not but to generate revenue for the adverstiser. As a result, advertisers are pulling away from these type of ads as they search for advert models that aren’t so vulnerable to click-fraud.
The web is increasingly shifting to mobile, a development I’m not part of as I can’t stand Smart Phones, when I’m not in I am out, end of conversation,) but obviously a phone a smaller display area and responsive page design will move ads out of sight in favour of content.
This systemic loss revenues for everyone other than FB and Google is increassingly evident from the smallest publisher to the giants: Buzzfeed, which attracts millions of page views per day was reported by WSJ to be Set to Miss Revenue Target, Signaling Turbulence in Media. Prospects for a 2018 initial public offering by the high-profile publisher now look likely to be deferred.
BuzzFeed’s troubles are the latest sign that the online-ad business is in trouble, making it tough for new-media startups to live up to expectations and ludicrously inflated stock valuations of recent years.
As a result of this censorship of dissenting views (and sensation which according to my Dad is what sells news,) under the excuse of limiting fake news, and the erosion of advert income reaching independent publishers, those sites that try to offer an accurate and thoughtful news service are losing ground. While private individuals who post on on Facebook and other social media sites have little expectation of monetizing their content, many web publishers have in the past made enough income off adverts or affiliated income (from YouTube channels, for example) to justify the enormous time and effort they expended keeping their channel/site going.
One of the changes now happening in the world of online content is that income generation is switching from advertising to sponsorship vial small donations. PayPal and other systems for processing small transactions make this possible for individials publishing online, services like Paetreon act as collectors for small donations, and there are signs that users are coming round to the idea that if they want to read well written content with well chosen graphics, hear decent music or talks, see well put together video, and all of it well presented, then the people who create such content deserve to be paid.
People who do not agree are welcome to the piano playing cats, sad eyed puppies and selfies on Facebook.
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No Advertising – No Government Grants – This Is Independent Media
As advert income has dwindled, there are only two other revenue models available to publishers: a subscription service or donations button, i.e. the direct financial support of users/readers/viewers. Major publishers are struggling to build a subscription base large enough to fund their operations, a task made more difficult by the expectation that all content is free or should be free.
Patreon has been a boon for thousands of independent writers, journalists, cartoonists, filmmakers and other creators of content. The Patreon model (as I understand it, and yes I have a Patreon campaign) is not based on content that’s behind a paywall available to subscribers only, but on providing incentives in the form of content or other rewards to those who choose to contribute.
The Patreon model only works if enough users/readers/viewers step up to support content creators they value. I think the success of Patreon suggests that many people are willing to support the content creators they value. But like all voluntary revenue models, there’s the free-rider issue: people who may have the income to pay a bit for content choose not to, and in essence free-ride on those few who do contribute/pay for content.
Some people have advanced the model of micropayments as the solution to the problem of compensating content creators fairly. While this model has some obvious benefits–pennies charged for access to content might add up to a living for content creators if their audience was large enough–it would still be a voluntary system, and thus it would have the same free-rider issue as every other voluntary payment-for-content idea.
Posting “free” content on social media ends up driving advert revenues to the social media and search monopolies, leaving nothing for the content creators. There is only so much serious content that can be created for free.
If what we’re left with is “free” content (i.e. the creator gets no income for creating and posting content), Facebook, Google and click-bait link farms of sensationalist headlines, we’ll end up with a thoroughly homogenized web of “approved content” underwritten by lobbyists, the entertainment industry and elitist foundations/think tanks, and little in the way of real dissent or diversity of independent analysis.
In other words, we’ll be left with officially generated and sanctioned fake news and “approved” dissent: unemployment is at record lows, inflation is near zero, the “recovery” is alive and well, Russia is the enemy and any suggestion to the contrary is propaganda that must be eradicated as fake news, etc.
Simply put, the web is becoming Orwellian. There’s plenty of approved “diversity of opinion,” but dissent is being sidelined to the fringes as a risk to the perfection of managed content.
Charles Hugh Smith – Check out both of his new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege ($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform ($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print, $5.95 audiobook) For more, please visit the OTM essentials website. –>