Google's Threat to Democracy Continues to Hit Alternative Media

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Editor’s note: This piece comes from AlterNet’s editorial team. We are reposting it as Truthdig is facing the same struggle. Like AlterNet, Truthdig has experienced a drop in traffic from Google search engines since the company made changes in its algorithm this year.

A few weeks ago, AlterNet put out an SOS. We were getting slammed by Google’s new algorithm intended to fight “fake news.” We were losing millions of monthly visitors, and so was much of the progressive news media. Lost readership goes directly to the bottom line.

Our readers responded magnificently—beyond our expectations—making this the most successful fundraising effort in recent years.

We are very, very appreciative. More than 2,000 donors have joined the fight for independent journalism.

That’s the start of what we will need to make sure indy media voices are heard and read by large numbers of people.

We are fighting an inaccessible behemoth, with a complete lack of transparency. Sometimes it feels like we are David fighting Goliath, but we don’t have a slingshot.

So we have to find one.

As one of the search engine optimization (SEO) experts we consulted said, “It looks like you guys are the dolphin that got caught in the tuna net.”

Well, a lot of progressive dolphins have been snagged in the net, including Democracy Now, the Nation, Media Matters, the Intercept, Salon, Truthout, the ACLU, and even WikiLeaks.

The more we dig, the more we learn about Google’s cozy relationship with corporate media and traditional forms of journalism. It appears that Google has pushed popular, high-traffic progressive websites to the margins and embraced corporate media, a move that seriously questions its fairness. Some speculate Google is trying to protect itself from critics of fake news at the expense of the valid independent outlets.

The progressive news media fights fake news every day. We support efforts to weed out the propaganda, false stories and disinformation. But the irony is, while searches to progressive site are getting buried, Google is not doing a good job of fighting fake news. Immediately after the Las Vegas shooting, Google featured 4chan, one of the worst purveyors of fake news and propaganda on the web, at the top of its search.

As USA Today reports:

“False information about the Las Vegas mass shooting from 4chan was a top story on Google before it was debunked… The episode marked yet another illustration of how quickly misinformation can spread during major breaking news events… But in this case, Google amplified the false information as millions searched for information about the gunman in the hours after the attack.

“Links to the 4chan website falsely identified the shooter as Geary Danley, calling him a leftist and Democratic supporter. The misinformation gained traction after Internet sleuths scoured social media to identify the gunman faster than police…”

So again, thank you to our readers for helping us stay solvent, for now. But in the next stage, we see it as important to inform and organize. The AlterNet team, working with the Media Consortium and progressive news sites, aims to raise consciousness and hopefully mobilize progressives in a way that we can have some impact.

But we have not budgeted for this work, so we need the financial support to help our organizing and outreach. If you can, we appreciate any support.


Don Hazen, Executive Editor, AlterNet


Don Hazen / AlterNet

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