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Censorship & big tech is scary.

Not so much of a digital marketing theme this week folks, rather I wanted to touch on my strong belief in free speech, and particularly Internet free speech. I’ve been an advocate for many years and recent events conducted by some of the tech giants have me worried. They are wielding power like I hoped they never would, filtering what the public sees, and enforcing my belief that you should always protect your privacy.

  • Why I’ve always stood up for free speech
  • Why censoring the Internet won’t work
  • Big tech is picking sides
  • Where does censorship end?
  • Protect your privacy


Hey, welcome back Rankers. Sorry, I didn’t do a show last week. Short week in Melbourne. And I’ve been struggling with this topic actually, because it’s something that I’m very passionate about and that is free speech. And over the last 20 years, I’ve stood up on two occasions to fight for Internet free speech. The first was in 1999 against the Liberal Party, then the Federal Liberal Party. The second time was in 2008, 2009 against the Federal Labour Party. It seems the politicians always want to limit speech that might affect them, or if they can use that to leverage a deal with someone else, they’ll do it. If you’ve been watching the show for any length of time, you’ll know that I think most politicians are crooks. Cynical, I know. But I’m old. I just want to show you this.

A censorship flashback

Who do the testing on TV, radio, and books, and magazines now.

Stephen, let me interrupt you there because so we’ve actually got a video comment and a question from Jim Stewart of Melbourne that addresses one of the points about this blacklist. Let’s hear from him.

Senator Conroy, quick question for you. What makes you think your government can possibly censor the internet when the whole industry has told you it’s a bit like trying to use chicken wire for a dam wall. To give you a quick example of that. WikiLeaks, this is a search on Google for the word WikiLeaks over the last month. Just for the Australian pages, we find there are 11,200 pages talking about WikiLeaks in the last month. Now I’ve been on the Internet for the last 17 years, and I’d never even heard about WikiLeaks, the whistle-blower site, until last week until your government blacklisted it. So my point is, every time you blacklist one of these sites, you’re going to have thousands and thousands and thousands of other sites talking about it and linking to it. The only course of action that a government should be taking here is helping its citizens become good digital citizens.

Okay, well, that’s clearly the most technically adept question we’ve ever had coming over video. You can see what you’re dealing with.

The reason I’m showing you that, that was 2009. Sadly, I don’t think that’s the case with Google anymore. I don’t think that it’s going to necessarily search the surface things that might be unpopular. In fact, it feels these days like it is only surfacing information that is popular, meaning that information that people know about and they’re looking for. And I’ve given multiple examples of this. It’s nothing to do with politics, just old red phones, things like that. We’ve been through this. But then during the week, something really, really disturbing happened and I’ve never seen this happen before online. And that was Twitter censoring a story from the New York Post, which is a mainstream newspaper in the US.

Now everyone knows I’ve given News Limited, News Corp, a hell of a kicking over the years. And way back even before I was doing this show, before I was doing another show in 1998. I think it was Rupert Murdoch who said the internet was just a fact. Now I’ve been giving them a kicking for a long time. And even a few weeks ago, when they said that Google and Facebook should pay them for the content. I said, “This is ridiculous. You’re mad. Your business model doesn’t work.” And I don’t shy away from those things, but I’m not about to silence them. That is incredibly disturbing. So regardless, I’m not even going to go into the story of the politics of it, but regardless of what you might think of that story or that information, it is a reputable publication whether you like the publisher or not.

Reputable, meaning it’s been around a very, very long time. So forget about the politics for a second because whatever team you’re on, red team or blue team, blue team thinks red team bad, and red team thinks blue team’s bad. We need to have open discussions and the internet has always been a forum or the ability to discover new ideas, discover new thoughts. I mean I myself have discovered many new journalists through Twitter that happened actually to be News Limited journalists, because they were talking about what was going on in our state and they were reporting things that I wanted to know about. Specifically, the corruption likely at our state government level, because we lost a family member. So I know everybody’s happy in Victoria because the shops are open again, we’re still limited to 25 kilometre radius, but this is the second time we’ve been at zero cases.

And when Twitter censors things or information like that, where does it stop? The other disturbing thing that happened during the week, and I’ll show you this one, was that Danny Sullivan who’s been great for the search industry for a very, very long time is now Google, has been Google’s search liaison for a while now. And he tweeted out during the week, something about search suggestions because, and I think this may have, I don’t know, but last US election, there was a story about search suggestions and that Google was somehow favouring search suggestions for Hillary Clinton because it was hiding a certain phrase. Now I did a story about it at the time. And I said, “I don’t understand Google’s explanation. It doesn’t make sense based on what I’ve seen.” But I’m not saying they’re biased. Google’s been struggling with trying to get ads on content that their advertisers aren’t going to get very, very upset about.

And so a lot of that has come from this filtering and massaging of results. And the search liaison said during the week, one of the reasons why a search suggestion may not appear, even if it’s popular, is because it might be dangerous. And I said at the time, “Can you define dangerous in that context, please?” I didn’t get a response, but during the week I was on Google Trends, I’m on Google Trends 20 times a day. And I’ve just been researching what’s happening with the US election. Because many of you know, last time I predicted Trump based on the data that I was seeing in Google Trends. And I saw a phrase which was “bad decisions, the Joe Biden story”. And so what I did, I thought, “Oh, I wonder what that’s about? I’ll go and have a look.”

It was trending at the time. And so I just went and did this search. I went bad decisions, Joe. I thought, “Hang on. There’s no suggested search.” So I hit the Back button. The suggested search is up until I put “the”. And I thought, “Well, why don’t I just test every letter? Maybe this is normal not to have a suggested search for a particular sentence.” But when you go through the alphabet, like I did here, and you type in “bad decisions the” every letter except J gets a suggested search. And that did not make a lot of sense to me. And I’ll go through, all the way through, all the way up to Z. And there were suggested searches for everything but not the search I was looking for. Now, of course, you go to Bing, you go to DuckDuckGo and you type in “bad decisions the”, the only suggested search that I got, and maybe that’s just me, was “bad decisions the Joe Biden story.”

Now I’ve got no idea what it’s about. I know it’s a video, but that’s it. That’s all I know. And I know it’s produced by Newsmax and I don’t know anything about that publisher. Obviously, they’re probably a right-wing publisher because they’re publishing something presumably damaging about the other side. So you can see right up to Z. And then we go to DuckDuckGo, and we’ll just wait for that to come up. But you can see it live. You can go and do the search yourself. I don’t know if it’s changed in Google. I haven’t done it since I’ve done this, but I reached out again to Danny Sullivan search liaison on Twitter. And I asked him, I said, “Well, what’s going on here? Is this considered dangerous? Is that why it’s not being shown as a suggested search in Google?”

And his response was it probably has something to do with their election claims policy, which states “Remove predictions that could be interpreted as claims for or against candidate or political party.” It’s very vague. I don’t know. And I said, “Look, it just feels like a filter.” Now it could just be a filter gone bad. I’m not saying there’s a deliberate act here to censor that story or that video, whatever it is. But I’m saying, well, Danny said it could be part of this. So there is some filter in place. So that’s why I don’t think when I said to them 10 years ago, when you censor something, well, it just blows up and it’s all over Google. You can go and find these things. That’s not the case anymore. And then this week, we had an antitrust case begin against Google. And I know a lot of people at Google and they’re awesome.

How do you break up a giant?

The individuals are awesome, but we’re in a very, very, very disturbing time now when a Twitter tech giant can immediately censor a major news outlet. Now I’ve always said that, “Oh, well, it’s their platform. They can do what they like. If you don’t like it, move.” The problem is, is that it becomes so big and it becomes such huge monopolies that they still have a lot of power and they can wield that power in their favour to get the outcome, the political outcome. I’m not saying they are, but they could wield that power to get the political outcome that suits them. That’s dangerous. So when people talk about antitrust and back when I was talking about the News Limited and ACCC versus Google and Facebook here in Australia, I did say there are plenty of reasons to complain about Google.

We can talk about the advertising practises, where someone can bid against your brand that you’ve spent years building, and you have to pay more to surface your own brand in their search results. So there’s just things like that. And News Limited said, “Well, Google should be broken up and we should have advertising and search.” It’s like, yeah, well, who takes the advertising piece, News Limited? Come on. Now we’ve also had this week, in the last 10 days anyway, organic shopping launch in Victoria, or launched in Australia. I’m Victoria focused, sorry, the last six months. And with that, there is a, it seems like a push for Google almost to become a marketplace where you pay from Google and you buy from Google and you never leave Google. If anything, I’d probably just farm all that stuff off the shopping marketplace side of things and leave generic search alone.

Because I spend a lot of time now in DuckDuckGo. And you can go and do this yourself. You can go to Google Trends, you can type in DuckDuckGo, and you can see the volume of search increasing. It’s nothing compared to what Google and Bing have. But as I’ve shown before, the results are less popular. For instance, with that is the word shave, the Dollar Shave Club, was always number one for the word shave worldwide, which didn’t make a lot of sense until you went to Google Trends and you worked out that the Dollar Shave Club is what people are usually looking for when they’re looking for the word shave.
So you go to DuckDuckGo, you type in shave, it’s Merriam-Webster is number one or something like that. It makes a lot more sense. It’s a dumb search. No one does it. But it shows you how different these search engines are. One is purely surfacing information. And we could talk about, we’ve talked before about keyword search versus entity search, which is what Google is going to. But Google’s become so big now, it’s getting pretty scary. And so is Facebook. But I guess I’m not as worried about Facebook because I did a story during the week and I explained, it was in the Sydney Morning Herald. And you’ve heard me talk about scary, creepy, good before. Let’s see if it’s up there. And scary, creepy, good was referenced to Facebook advertising and this article in the Fairfax news during the week, and what I was saying in there was I’ve deleted it off my phone. I don’t want those apps on my phone anymore.

I will never get a Google Home. Sorry, Google. I will never get an Amazon Alexa. I’m not having them in my home. I’m not having more spying on me. I use a Brave browser and I know what data is available and what data we choose to give away to these platforms. And we’re making them rich. And now in turn, the content that we’re getting back from them, or the information that we’re getting back from them tends to be filtered by them. It’s their platform. They can do what they like, but where else can we go? And so with this antitrust case, I don’t know how it’s going to end up, and I don’t presume to know how you can break up such a monolith, but I don’t think having ad companies over here or an ad service over here and search over here, unless it’s some open source, blockchain-based, easy-to-use, we can protect our own privacy and we should be protecting our own privacy.

So I use Brave browser a lot. I use Chrome for what I need it for, for work. And I still use Facebook on the desktop, but I only have it on my own computer. Because as we know, if you’ve watched The Social Dilemma and other programmes like that, you will know it’s set up for conflict and that’s not great for our society. And it’s been demonstrated quite incredibly over the last 10 days. And I would encourage you when you’re researching anything to not take a journalist’s word for it, not take a major media publication’s word for it, but research, research yourself. Go and find the information that interests you and find the trust agents, as Chris Brogan once said, that mean something to you.

Hopefully, that’s helpful. I know it’s not necessarily about digital marketing, but the world is changing right now. And I’m very, very concerned about people being able to make an informed decision based on the information they have available to them. So remember just because it’s number one in Google doesn’t mean it’s the truth. Hopefully, that’s helpful. And we’ll see you next week, post US election.

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