By: +David Herron; Date: October 19, 2017
Fake News constitutes a war on Truth, in that the more fake news is bandied about, the more confused we all are, making our collective decisions worse than they should be. The election of our dear President Donald Trump is an example of a horrible collective decision based on fake news. Other examples include the continued dependence on harmful fossil fuel consumption, and the fake news campaigns combatting the truth that fossil fuels poison everything around us, causes climate change, etc. To combat Fake News, Google, Facebook, and other search engines or social media websites, are working on their ranking algorithms to detect and supress fake news. Unfortunately many legitimate news sources are being harmed in the process.
Google is the 8-million-pound-gorilla in both search engines and online video. As cool as DuckDuckGo is, it doesn't bring as many organic search visitors as does Google's search engine. Website publishers, online authors, and video content creators alike are all dependent on Google's search ranking algorithms to bring visitors. For years Google has been fighting against spammers (a form of fake news) by tweaking its search results algorithms. Those tweaks have dramatic results on search traffic going to a given website, or viewing a given video, or the advertising revenue from a video. Hopefully it's having the desired effect, in that fake news sites are losing prominence. Indications are that several prominent legitimate news sources are being harmed either from lost traffic or lost ad revenue.
No website author nor video producer "deserves" the traffic they receive. We all must work to earn that traffic, and keep working to keep it coming. We earn our traffic by producing good quality writings or videos. By serving our audience with good information, our audience should respond by continuing to read or view what we produce.
The search engines made a promise (whether explicit or implicit I don't remember) that search engine ranking algorithms would help bubble good quality content to the top. That's the core purpose of search engines is to help bring good stuff to the surface. The people are helped by being shown good quality information, while the web publishers are helped by the flow of traffic.
A Big Issue currently is the "Fake News" websites and social media channels that Russia-connected agents used to manipulate the 2016 USA elections. Never mind that USA intelligence services have manipulated elections around the world, it's a big problem when it's our elections being manipulated. Oh, and Russia has been working on other elections in recent years, not use the USA elections. It's being widely reported that Russians connected to the Russian intelligence services operate organizations that operate dozens of websites publishing false information as if its news, and operate thousands or millions of social media accounts to spread false information. Further information: Using Social Media channels and the Internet in Government-Government warfare
Bottom line is that the win-win-win situation, we publish good content that's rewarded by search engines, doesn't play out in practice. There are plenty of publishers creating content of questionable value, not always for political goals. The same techniques used by the Russians are used by online marketers to sell all kinds of products.
“Fake news” or free speech: Is Google cracking down on left media?
Salon just published an article “Fake news” or free speech: Is Google cracking down on left media? The article goes over the above situation and asks why are liberal/progressive websites suffering due to search engine algorithm changes.
In April, Google's VP of Engineering, Ben Gomes, announced search algorithm changes meant to combat fake news. He talked about changes to Search Quality Rater guidelines, meaning the "real people" hired by Google to "assess the quality of Google’s search results—give us feedback on our experiments". The guidelines changes give a better description of low-quality news sites, hoaxes, etc. He also talked about Ranking changes, meaning tweaks to the search algorithms.
For their part, Salon described Gomes' statement as suspicious since Gomes did not "specify just what adjusting signals meant in regards to political content". We presume that Salon's reporters haven't followed previous Google algorithm changes, and aren't aware that Google is always this obtuse about the algorithmic tweaks.
Google must be this obtuse, because if the spammers knew the algorithm they could game their way around and still gain top rankings for poor quality content by exploiting search ranking bugs. There's a whole subculture of Search Engine Optimization specialists who track Google's every move. Every time Google tweaks the algorithms, these SEO specialists spring to work figuring out what changed, and how they must tweak their content to reclaim their search engine ranking.
In any case, Salon's article points to evidence that a long list of prominent, excellent quality, liberal/progressive websites have had a dramatic loss of traffic since last Spring.
The graphic comes from a piece posted on AlterNet, a leading progressive news website, and their plea for donations because of the falloff in revenue. At the point marked with the red arrow -- their traffic plummetted and as a result income would have fallen at the same time.
Having a voice when Google et al controls the game
The Salon article included a quote from one journalist saying: "Mainstream media’s message remains clear: Only the corporate-sponsored center can be trusted." It's implied that Google, Facebook, et al, are in cahoots with the mainstream media in promoting the messages produced by the mainstream media.
These high profile search engines and social media websites have ended up with the role of determining what the rest of us see's. Those algorithms were created with a laudible goal, helping good quality stuff bubble to the top. But the practical impact is those algorithms determine what we see or find when searching out information.
One of the websites discussed, the World Socialist Web, covers news from a Socialist viewpoint. The owner of that site is quoted saying “We would think that the WSWS would be an authority on socialism, but apparently that’s not what Google thinks." They, too, are suffering from Google's algorithm changes.
One version of this problem occurred in August when The Daily Stormer website was "siezed" by Google (actually, it's domain registration was canceled due to terms of service violations). As I noted at the time, [web freedom took a blow that day](/blog/2017/08/web-freedom-attacked.html, because even though The Daily Stormer was publishing wholly despicable content, "freedom of speech means freedom of speech".
The idea is that denying freedom of speech to one group denies freedom of speech to us all. The principle is that we all have equal freedom of speech.
Last week, Facebook COO Sheryl Sanberg made that exact argument while defending the idea that Facebook would have sold fake news advertising to a "Legitimate" Russian organization. The problem Facebook discovered is that illegitimate accounts had bought fake news advertising, and those accounts were banned.
Unfortunately we are in the middle of a War on Truth, where the objective is to distort what we all accept as accepted wisdom. In other words, if we all accept the idea that Whites are Superior to all other races, and not just Whites but the select Whites lacking genetic defects, then those Select Whites get to beat up on everyone else. Making that case is obviously a distortion based on lies. That exact distortion has caused lots of bloodshed over the centuries.
Making a living when Google et al controls the game
Another issue is the simple act of making a living while publishing information on websites.
For 20+ years a dream has infected many of us -- that the World Wide Web grants to ALL of us the ability to become a Publisher. Anybody can stand on their digital soapbox and publish what we see fit.
Some of us who do so are producing information as good as or sometimes better than the mainstream media.
Producing that material can be a full time activity, and in order to survive we must earn income from that activity. The common way is by running advertising of some kind on the website.
That's Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield who has for years been writing news articles and producing video's about electric vehicles and clean energy technologies. She has worked independently the last few years, producing her own website and her own video channel. The information she publishes is excellent, well researched, comprehensive, and so on.
Her complaint is that a few months ago that YouTube stopped automatically enabling her videos for monetization. Which means that often her Transport Evolved videos are shown with no monetization, in other words no advertising, and she is earning less revenue than before.
In order to keep up this work she needs the income to keep paying for food and shelter and whatnot.
It's not just Nikki, I've noted some others complaining about what they call the YouTube Adpocalypse. See:
- A look into the YouTube Adpocalypse - Video Blogger shows how his revenue has dried up
- Non-censorable video platform DTube offers possible adpocalypse solution
- As Google commercializes YouTube, individual "creators" may be squeezed out
I have been publishing information on my own websites, and websites owned/controlled by others, since 1994-5. One site, The Reiki Page, was begun in 1995 and for a long time was the primary search result for the word "Reiki". The page still ranks highly for a long list of search terms, and the site gets lots of traffic, but very little advertising revenue.
In the early 2000's that site earned as much as $1200 a month from Google Adsense advertising. Today it's maybe $10 a month.
In part that's my fault because I haven't done much to update the site. Even so, if you look over the history of that site, certain days in certain years marked points where the traffic fell off dramatically. Obviously there was an algorithm change on such days where The Reiki Page fell afoul of something that Google didn't like. That site is well researched good quality information that deserves its high ranking.
Instead of doing what I know needs to be done for The Reiki Page, I've been working on this website, on The Long Tailpipe (a site about electric vehicles), Green Transportation (another site about electric vehicles), and some other work.
While I haven't been able to earn enough from this work to live on the revenue, I do have the dream of achieving that status. But it gets harder each year and it seems that the big companies are stacking the deck against us.