Cometh the censor. Sort of.
My site, Fredoneverythig.org, has, or had until a few minutes ago, several Google ads, which served to bring in a modest amount of money, perhaps $200 a month. Many sites carry Google ads to make beer change, and some depend on them. Recently (so far as I know) Google has begun censoring sites in a curious way. This raises non-trivial questions.
This morning I got the following email from Google AdSense, after which I removed the Google ad-code. I write this column. Google does not. Anyway:
Google AdSense: Action required to comply with AdSense program policies.
This is a warning message to alert you that there is action required to bring your AdSense account into compliance with our AdSense program policies. We’ve provided additional details below, along with the actions to be taken on your part.
Affected website: fredoneverything.org
Example page where violation occurred: http://fredoneverything.org/a-grand-adventure-except-it-isnt/
Action required: Please make changes immediately to your site to follow AdSense program policies.
Current account status: Active
VIOLENCE: As stated in our program policies, AdSense publishers are not permitted to place Google ads on pages with violent content. This includes sites with content related to breaking bones, getting hit by trains or cars, or people receiving serious injuries. More information about this policy can be found in our help center (https://support.google.com/adsense/answer/1348688?utm_source=crs&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=notificationhl=en&answer=105954 ). How to resolve:
If you received a notification in regard to page content, we request that you immediately remove Google ads from the violating pages. If you are unable to, or unsure of how to remove the ads from these pages, or would like to continue monetizing the page with Google ads, please modify or remove the violating content to meet our AdSense policies.
If you received a notification in regards to the way ads are implemented on your site, please make the necessary changes to your implementation.
You do not need to contact us if you make changes. Please be aware that if additional violations are accrued, ad serving may be disabled to the website listed above. You should immediately take time to review your pages with Google ads to ensure that they comply with our policies.…..
To reduce the likelihood of future warnings from us, we suggest that you review all your sites for compliance. Here are some useful resources you might be interested in.….
We thank you in advance for your cooperation.
The Google AdSense Team
What should one make of this? To begin, I suspect that it is simply fraudulent. Much of the news involves violence: Princess Diana’s death, the Rodney King beating, the bombing of Gaza, the riots in Baltimore and Ferguson. So sites have ads removed for covering these?
If Fred On Everything dealt in gore-porn, in grotesque photos of dismembered bodies, Google’s behavior might make sense. However, in over 700 posts spanning more than a decade, FOE has one shocking photo, of a victim of American torture at Abu Ghraib.
The picture is there to make a legitimate political point, that the government of the United States was behaving barbarically, torturing prisoners and turning female soldiers into sadists in the mold of Ilsa Koch. This is a matter of importance to citizens in whose name this is done, and to the parents of soldiers. It is something that cannot be nicetized. Prettying it up would–not incidentally, I begin to suspect–serve only to hide the government’s behavior from the public.
Why did Google object to the picture? Was it just mindless automated political correctness? The tone of the writing in the email—it is prissy high-school prose—suggests a recent and censorious female graduate of one of our dismalized universities. So maybe only reflexive sophomorism is involved.
However, there is a pattern in the pulling of ads. In all three cases that I know of, the content of the sites has been of a sort objectionable to the government. Start with FOE, which has been highly critical of Washington’s wars and racial policies.
Earlier, Antiwar.com had its ads pulled by Google, again for posting a photo of an Abu Ghraib victim.
Hmmmm. The endless wars are important to Washington and fill a lot of rice bowls. The feds cannot be happy with an articulate site of large circulation that opposes military adventurism. Since Antiwar depends (I think) on contributions from angels and its readers to stay afloat, pulling ads plausibly seems an attempt to cripple it.
The third site to have ads pulled was American Renaissance, another political site. It opposes mass immigration from the Third World and the sorts of misbehavior by blacks that is reported daily on Drudge, Breitbart, Worldnet Daily News, and European papers.
It is here worth noting that American Renaissance, though invariably painted as a site of extremists, isn’t. For example, the explosive popularity of Donald Trump’s opposition to immigration attests to the very large numbers of Americans who agree with him, and thus with American Renaissance. AmRen is not the home of some fringe. It represents the views of a large number of people whose politics are not acceptable to the politically correct.
Now, it may be that Google with its huge numbers of clients does not really know that FOE exists (though I find this shocking). I’m lucky if I get as many as a combined couple of hundred thousand visitors a month on my home site, fredoneverything.org, plus sites that sometimes or always pick the column. (E.g., The Unz Review and Lew Rockwell.) Maybe the thought-management department at Google has fallen into the hands of huffy and marginally literate Berkeley girls, and one of them stumbled cross FOE and didn’t like it. This happens.
But AntiWar.com is another thing. It is a big site, and enough noise was made over the pulling of its ads that higher-ups a Google must have known about it. Further, AntiWar never says anything about the usual forbidden categories of race, feminism, homosexuality, and such. Since I cannot readily imagine that Larry Page and Sergey Brin would on their own want to protect the endless wars, it is perhaps not unreasonable to suspect Washington’s hand. Companies like Google become de de fact quasi-governmental entities. Google’s policies look an awful lot like political censorship disguised as protecting the public from disturbing photos.
But I don’t know.
Since Google is not actually altering the content of these sites, it is not, technically speaking, engaging in censorship. Yet if a site makes $200 a month from Google ads, pulling them amounts to charging the site $200 a month for keeping its content and, if the site depends for survival on the income, it amounts to shutting it down.
In effect, Google is a gigantic ad agency. It is as if one or two big agencies controlled the advertising in all the newspapers in the United States. When you know that Google is watching everything you write, and you need the ads, you per force find yourself thinking “Will Google like this?” You may not admit that you think it, but you do thihk it.
Which raises interesting questions. Google started as the project of a couple of kids in grad school at Stanford. It has become one of the most important organizations on the planet. If France disappeared, it would be of interest chiefly to venders of exotic cheeses. Tourists would look at the hole where it had been. If Google disappeared, chaos would result.
Google is essential. It is the card catalog of the world library, more powerful than the governments of many nations. It is virtually the only game in a very important town. It can subtly, or not so subtly, determine what entire populations can easily know. France cannot do this.
To me it is unnerving that such a phenomenally powerful entity should be unsupervised, unaccountable, and probably deeply in bed with Washington. But there’s not a damned thing anyone can do about it. Except remove their code.