You might have heard in the past few months about how Google, Twitter, and Facebook were working with the military-intelligence industrial complex to censor internet news and media websites like RT, Sputnik Radio, CounterPunch, and others who seem to threaten American ideological hegemony, usually by tarring them as “Russian influenced” and “pro-Kremlin.”
Bruce Dixon, managing editor at Black Agenda Report, wrote in early August “Conclusive evidence exists that Google is suppressing public access to socialist and left wing websites, almost certainly including Black Agenda Report.” His co-editor, the Green Party’s 2016 vice presidential nominee Ajamu Baraka, wrote elsewhere “It is absurd and an insult to argue that Russian propaganda efforts ‘deepen political and racial tensions in the United States,’ as proposed by Julia Ioffe in a recent article in The Atlantic.”
World Socialist Web Site recently wrote that data it had compiled “with the assistance of other Internet-based news outlets and search technology experts, proves that a massive loss of readership observed by socialist, anti-war and progressive web sites over the past three months has been caused by a cumulative 45 percent decrease in traffic from Google searches.” [Emphasis added]
All of this is familiar and disturbing to anyone who has an even rudimentary understanding of the Red Scare and McCarthyism.
But there is one thing which is truly different from the McCarthy era that bears a more thorough examination, namely the advent of intellectual property law under the auspices of our contemporary neoliberal legal system and how that interacts with contract laws online.
For those of you who need that translated, let’s put it this way. As your loyal Managing Editor and “Why Hollywood Sucks” columnist at Washington Babylon (in charge of everything from tech issues to the ever-present question of full frontal septuagenarian panda bear nudity), I have occasionally paid for Facebook to place Washington Babylon‘s posts in the feeds of our readers, which is known as Boosting. Here’s a quick video that explains it all:
Now let’s suppose that you are one of those aforementioned websites and that you’ve paid at some point or another for your posts to be Boosted.
If that be the case, what you have there is perhaps a pretty basic and clear-cut case of sales contract violation. Boosting is a service that is sold to Facebook Business Page users for a definite and real amount of money. Posts are put through a review process, which the user-consumer is informed of, and within the hour they get approved or rejected.
Ergo, if any of those aforementioned publications ever paid for a post to be Boosted and then learned that their paid service had been negated by Facebook’s algorithm modification, you could have the preliminary elements of a lawsuit against Facebook.
To discover if algorithm modification had resulted in a user-consumer website essentially paying Facebook to do something it was intentionally not doing after payment, which is known as consumer fraud (pronounced fraw-wud), would be pretty easy work with the help of a second year Computer Science major.
If such were the case, these publications would have the ability to argue under intellectual property law that their intellectual property — what they publish and Boost — was demonstrably infringed upon and damaged because it was blocked from reaching their full potential audience. That potential audience would be defined as the readership that the sites were getting before the sudden drop occurred, for example, that operative 45 percent decrease that the Trots over at WSWS found earlier.
Did I mention Google and Twitter also have similar advertising services? Furthermore, did I mention that intellectual property law has been the bane of the existence of progressives since, well, when it became a weapon to protect the wealthy?
David Harvey writes in A Brief History of Neoliberalism, “The establishment of intellectual property rights (patents), furthermore, encourages ‘rent seeking.’ Those who hold the patent rights use their monopoly power to set monopoly prices and to prevent technology transfers except at a very high cost. Asymmetric power relations tend, therefore, to increase rather than diminish over time unless the state steps in to counteract them.”
In other words, this would actually turn the tables on the 1% if properly maneuvered through the courts in a bigly way.