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Google AI Threatens Website with Demonetization. What's Next?

By Thomas Neuburger

This is a combo of subjects, none of them good: AI, eager big Tech censorship of political writing, and the heavy hammer of Google demonetization used against alternate-news and discussion sites.

This comes on top of the recent TikTok bill passing the House, a bill that gives the government vast new power of control over … wait for it … websites, not just social media apps.

Bet you didn’t hear that explained on MSNBC.

If you’re one who believes that the modern American State is a public-private partnership, a tech-media-finance-NatSec-pol party mashup, your world view just got darker. And vindicated.

Google AI Threatens Site with Demonetization by Mis-Categorizing Posts

We can start here, with Yves Smith’s economics site Naked Capitalism. (Disclosure: Smith frequently picks up posts from yours truly for publication there.)

Here’s the original demand. It came on March 7 from the site’s ad service in response to a complaint from Google. This is believed to be Google’s complaint threatening demonetization (emphasis added):

Hope you are doing well!We noticed that Google has flagged your site for Policy violation and ad serving is restricted on most of the pages with the below strikes:
1. VIOLENT_EXTREMISM, 2. HATEFUL_CONTENT, 3. HARMFUL_HEALTH_CLAIMS, 4. ANTI_VACCINATION 5. Here are few Google support articles that should be handy: a. Google Publisher restrictions b. Policy issues and Ad serving statuses c. Program policies
I’ve listed the page URLs in a report and attached it to the email. I request you to review the page content and fix the existing policy issues flagged. If Google identifies the flags consistently and if the content is not fixed, then the ads will be disabled completely to serve on the site.  Also, please ensure that the new content is in compliance with the Google policies.Let me know if you have any questions.
Thanks & Regards,

See above for the spreadsheet that shows which posts Google has questioned, and why.

If you compare the spreadsheet to the list of “violations” above, you’ll see some are missing, including DEMONSTRABLY_FALSE_DEMOCRATIC_PROCESS.

About the final entry in the spreadsheet, which was tagged as having Harmful Health Claims, Anti-Vaccination information, and Demonstrably False Democratic Process information, Smith commented at the time:

The URL is for a cross-post from Tom Engelhardt about Chalmers Johnson, Blowback for the Twenty-First Century, Remembering Chalmers Johnson. Johnson was a mild critic of US foreign policy, and has nothing whatsoever to do with health or health care policy. That creates the appearance that Google regards “anti-vaxx” as a showstopper, and is for some reason desperately applying it to this site, which is not vaccine hostile. Google has blatantly mislabeled unrelated content to try to make that bogus charge.

Anyone who knows Johnson’s work knows that Blowback is in no way about vaccination. In further support of Smith’s point, if you search the post for “vaccination,” you do find one reference — in the comments. Plus a couple of comments about Covid. That’s all there is.

In a later post on this subject (March 21), Smith wrote:

We consulted several experts. All are confident that Google relied on algorithms to single out these posts. As we will explain, they also stressed that whatever Google is doing here, it is not for advertisers.
Given the gravity of Google’s threat, it is shocking that the AI results are plainly and systematically flawed. The algos did not even accurately identify unique posts that had advertising on them, which is presumably the first screen in this process. Google actually fingered only 14 posts in its spreadsheet, and not 16 as shown, for a false positive rate merely on identifying posts accurately, of 12.5%.
Those 14 posts are out of 33,000 over the history of the site and approximately 20,000 over the time frame Google apparently used, 2018 to now. So we are faced with an ad embargo over posts that at best are less than 0.1% of our total content.
And of those 14, Google stated objections for only 8. Of those 8, nearly all, as we will explain, look nonsensical on their face.

And she adds:

For those new to Naked Capitalism, the publication is regularly included in lists of best economics and finance websites. Our content, including comments, is archived every month by the Library of Congress. Our major original reporting has been picked up by major publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Bloomberg, and the New York Times. We have articles included by academic databases such as the Proquest news database. Our comments section has been taught as a case study of reader engagement in the Sulzberger Program at the Columbia School of Journalism, a year-long course for mid-career media professionals.
So it seems peculiar with this site having a reputation for high-caliber analysis and original reporting, and a “best of the Web” level comments section, for Google to single us out for potentially its most extreme punishment after not voicing any objection since we started running ads, more than 16 years ago.

There’s a full exegesis (in this case, a takedown) from Smith of the massive and numerous errors in this obvious AI sweep through early and recent posts in the March 21 response. Please do read it. I’m shocked by what she discovered.

About Those Covid Complaints

Those of you worried about the spread of vaxx misinformation (more about that later perhaps) may wonder about the Harmful Health Information and Anti-Vaccination flags. Here’s Matt Taibbi’s analysis of those posts (emphasis mine):

1. A Barnard College professor, Rajiv Sethi, evaluated Robert F. Kennedy’s candidacy and wrote, “The claim… is not that the vaccine is ineffective in preventing death from COVID-19, but that these reduced risks are outweighed by an increased risk of death from other factors. I believe that the claim is false (for reasons discussed below), but it is not outrageous.” This earned the judgment, “[AntiVaccination].” Sethi wrote his own explanation here, but this is a common feature of moderation machines; they can’t distinguish between advocacy and criticism.
2. A link to “Evaluation of Waning of SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine–Induced Immunity” a peer-reviewed article by the Journal of the American Medical Association, was deemed “[AntiVaccination].”
3. An entry critical of vaccine mandates, which linked to the American Journal of Public Health article SARS-CoV-2 Infection, Hospitalization, and Death in Vaccinated and Infected Individuals by Age Groups in Indiana, 2021‒2022, earned [HARMFUL_HEALTH_CLAIMS, ANTI_VACCINATION, HATEFUL_CONTENT] tag.

So, an anti-vaxx criticism post, a peer-review post from the Journal of the AMA, and an article from the American Journal of Public Health were deemed too harmful to be allowed to be monetized. That’s a pretty dumb AI bot they’re growing in there.

What’s Going on Here?

Taibbi makes the point that most people will make — this is a well-meant effort gone badly wrong, thanks to AI:

Technologists are in love with new AI tools, but they don’t always know how they work. Machines may be given a review task and access to data, but how the task is achieved is sometimes mysterious. In the case of Naked Capitalism, a site where even comments are monitored in an effort to pre-empt exactly these sorts of accusations, it’s only occasionally clear how or why Google came to tie certain content to categories like “Violent Extremism.” Worse, the company may be tasking its review bots with politically charged instructions even in the absence of complaints from advertisers.

But why are they doing this at all? Taibbi’s partial answer: “Companies (and governments) have learned that the best way to control content is by attacking revenue sources, either through NewsGuard- or GDI-style “nutrition” or “dynamic exclusion” lists, or advertiser boycotts.”

The rest of that paragraph talks about AI’s dumbness and the lack of human involvement in the process. But what is the process about? Taibbi hits it without expanding further: “The best way to control content.”

You have to admit, whether you’re on the strongly-for-free-speech side, or the side that says “We can’t trust people not to fall for more Trump,” the crux of the issue revolves around … control.

So answer our headline question, “What’s next?”

More control, of course. These people will never want less.

About That TikTok Law

Here’s a highlighted version of the House-passed TikTok law, the well-named RESTRICT Act:

Note, at the top, that websites are subject to this law. Lots of things are website. You’re reading a website.

Now consider “controlled by a foreign adversary.” Taibbi’s comment: “A ‘foreign adversary controlled application,’ in other words, can be any company founded or run by someone living at the wrong foreign address, or containing a small minority ownership stake. Or it can be any company run by someone ‘subject to the direction’ of either of those entities. Or, it’s anything the president says it is. Vague enough?”

Is this a cynical view? Of course it it. Perhaps that’s not yours. If that’s true, I refer you to Bush II years.

‘Collect it all, tag it, store it’

Is a cynical view warranted, a fear that the NatSec state is now using the latest fear to cover a power grab?

When would they ever do that? Perhaps when they did this in response to the Twin Towers attack:

About that response, the Washington Post wrote this, and meant it as praise of a feature, not blame for an unconstitutional transfer of power (emphasis mine):

"Rather than look for a single needle in the haystack, [NSA director, Gen. Keith Alexander’s] approach was, 'Let's collect the whole haystack,' " said one former senior U.S. intelligence official who tracked the plan's implementation. "Collect it all, tag it, store it. . . . And whatever it is you want, you go searching for it."

So where are we today? More free? More secure?

Perhaps the only people more free and secure … are our corporate state masters, whose freedom to act was acquired at the expense of our own, and who keep their places secure by acts like those described here.


Mar 27

hater, I don't have to imagine anything. You, your voters and your party do all the proving anyone who can think could ever need. And then some. If you weren't so worried that I am correct and you all are so wrong, you might not be so reflexively hateful. You might even ponder the points I make... and you and your ilk keep making for me. But if there is one thing that is in very short supply among americans who vote, it is sentience. And, again, YOU ALL keep proving this. I don't have to.


barrem, you are spot on. I have made the same point to the guestcrapper in the past but he is not mentally equipped to absorb anything that gets in the way of him being able to think of himself as superior to everyone else in the entire human race. It's more important to him to constantly assert his imagined superiority and if he gave into the insecurity about that that he buries even for a second, he would crumble. I'll leave it to you to decide where that puts him on the sociopath or psychopath scales.

More specifically to this post, his misunderstanding of the use of "perhaps" has again displayed his inability to understand when a writer is using…


Mar 26

"Perhaps the only people more free and secure … are our corporate state masters, whose freedom to act was acquired at the expense of our own, and who keep their places secure by acts like those described here."

No 'perhaps' about it. Read the bill of rights and then consider that the ONLY free and secure in this sociopolitical shithole ARE the monied and their state appendages which they purchase.

Yes, that was all acquired at our expense... but also BY OUR OWN STUPIDITY via dumber than shit voting since the '60s. The money didn't take our freedom and security so much as we just gave it to them at the election booth for the past 28 cycles.

Censorship isn't…

Mar 28
Replying to

if abuse was the line, hatewatt would never have anything survive. And I'm not the only one who uses profanity. They don't get censored.

And to prove my thesis again and still, one of my better lambastings under the 'turn out the vote' thing was censored quickly. It wasn't calling you guys morons or dumber than shit, since sometimes they are allowed. It was a very factual takedown of the entire idea of turning out more idiots to vote as the money tells them to.

The key idea is that FDR showed you all everything you need to know. But you all refuse to learn it and do it. gotv efforts solve themselves when you all elect a party th…

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