Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said Google and its parent company, Alphabet, pose a “threat to a free and fair press in America” in a letter sent Sunday to U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr.
The Department of Justice is currently investigating Google in an antitrust probe, but a recent report from The Daily Caller found that investigators do not appear to be examining claims of bias in the company’s search engine.
“As your antitrust investigation of Google intensifies, I urge you to thoroughly scrutinize how the company’s anticompetitive practices could lead to the crippling of journalistic freedom. I also ask that your probe examine abuses in both the online advertising and online search markets, and to take enforcement action swiftly before further economic harm results,” said Blackburn.
As she notes in her letter, Google took action last week towards demonetizing two conservative news outlets on its ad platform based on “third-party user comments” on the websites.
“A NBC article incorrectly reported that The Federalist and ZeroHedge were being banned from the GoogleAds platform for publishing racist articles, and a Google representative claimed that the punishment was for the publication of ‘derogatory content that promotes hatred, intolerance, violence or discrimination based on race.’ In reality, the takedown pretext was based on user comments and not on news content. While The Federalist was allowed to remain on GoogleAds after suspending the user comment function, ZeroHedge’s entire site was blocked,” Blackburn explained in her letter.
She said Google “hold clients’ livelihoods in the palms of its hands” because publishers have “no meaningful choice to generate ad revenue.”
“Google has no qualms falsely labeling news publishers as racist as a convenient way to turn off their sites and scare writers from debating controversial ideas. These two illustrations exemplify how Google arbitrarily flexes its control of online advertising to stifle speech that does not align with the company’s social agenda,” the Republican senator continued.
Blackburn claimed Google uses the power of its search algorithm to suppress the “search result rankings for right-leaning media voices.”
She praised the Department of Justice for issuing a proposal last week to “roll back liability shields” for Google and other online platforms under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. These reforms alone, however, won’t stop “Google’s encroachment on competitors and grip on public discourse,” said Blackburn.
“Google must be held accountable for such anticompetitive conduct. Both the American free market and the openness of our democracy are presently at stake,” she concluded her letter. “As the Department decides which actions to pursue, I urge mounting a full investigation that examines the company’s control over vast sectors of the Internet economy, from online advertising to online search. Lastly, I encourage you to speak to the representatives of the news publishers mentioned in this letter.”
Google’s behavior could lead to the crippling of our free press.
— Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) June 22, 2020
– – –