The news of Tulsi Gabbard’s lawsuit against the Google corporation for a cool $50 million arrives in the American media market with a thud. This thudding ought not to be read as proof of the suit’s irrelevance; on the contrary, this could be the most important tale of techno-politics this year. Yet, the ungrateful American within my spirit yearns to fold his arms, purse his lips, and scoff, “What took you so long?” In these restless times of perpetual distraction, it’s hard to believe that shadow blocking, the action at the crux of Gabbard’s lawsuit, has been a conspicuous problem for less than three years, but, as The New York Times observed, this “is believed to be the first time a presidential candidate has sued a major technology firm”. You can read the New York Times piece, which was written with more than incidental scorn, yourself at the link below:
If you are already familiar with the Orwellian practice of shadow blocking, then at least we might take comfort in knowing that the practice has not been perfectly successful . . . not yet, anyway. If you are not, then you are probably a victim of the practice, as is Gabbard. Come to think of it, the story of her lawsuit has been shadow blocked, as well: none of the major media conglomerates are granting this story any meaningful attention, and as I said, the New York Times piece, cursory as it was, appears to have been written to criticize the suit. With the corporate media looking the other way, and with the Federal Trade Commission fining Facebook $5 billion for unrelated offenses, it may be that Google wishes to discretely settle out of court, rather risk the exposure of more specific evidence.
Please understand that, when we speak of evidence, we are not speaking of the methods and means whereby Google steers you away from certain sources of information and towards certain others. At this point, the algorithms employed in Google’s search engines could probably be understood by a high-school student. No, the real evidence, the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge, is the reason why Google chooses these algorithms instead of others. What’s in it for them? Why is it so important for them that I go to CNN instead of, say, RT? What is going on here?
In filing this lawsuit, Tulsi Gabbard is taking us one step closer to the answers to these questions, and to many others. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, as we sometimes do here. Let’s furnish a working definition of shadow blocking, lest we lose our newcomers at the starting point.
Ironically, a Google search for “shadow blocking” leads one to a definition of “shadow banning”, which is a very different thing—it’s a relevant thing, and something we should know about in the modern digital age, but it isn’t shadow blocking. Shadow blocking is the deliberate attempt by an electronic media company to steer you away from certain sources of information, even what those sources of information are relevant to your interest or inquiry. It’s probably easier to demonstrate the practice than it is to define it, so why don’t we take a little field trip to provide an illustration?
I want you to go to YouTube and search, “Trump can’t WIN!”. Your search results should look exactly like this:
If you scroll down to the sixty-eighth result, you will find a video titled “Trump can’t WIN!” You will notice that none of the preceding sixty-seven videos matched our search precisely, so why did we have to bore through so much data in order to find the single video that did? It can’t be because the video is obscure: it’s been viewed almost three million times, eclipsing all but five of the sixty-seven videos that precede it. Then again, perhaps we ought not to mince words. This is not a matter of sixty-seven videos preceding another by their own volition; this is a matter of people at YouTube deciding that the sixty-eighth video will be the sixty-eighth video, buried beneath so many others.
Now, to be fair, I should point out that, if one makes the same search on Google, then the very first result is the video that is of such interest to me—or, perhaps more accurately, of such concern to YouTube. Our first question, then, is why this video is so . . . problematic. Well, let’s take a look.
As you can see, it’s nothing impressive; just a mildly amusing montage of shills for the corporate media smugly predicting Trump’s political demise, over and over, until, at the climax, he wins the general election. It’s entirely unremarkable, even totally inflammatory, so why has YouTube gone out of its way to hide it? Well, that’s the thing: we don’t know, and YouTube won’t be willing to offer more than an evasive anti-answer about “miscellaneous factors”. So, in our ignorance, all we can do is speculate . . . but something tells me that the truth isn’t quite as esoteric as it appears.
What is this “Trump can’t WIN!” video, exactly? It’s a self-congratulatory victory lap for the sixty-three million people who voted for Trump, an opportunity for them to stick their collective middle finger in the face of everyone who told them that Hillary had the election in the bag. Personally, I doubt that YouTube is terribly worried about that; no, I think the problem is that the video provides indisputable evidence of the corporate media’s embarrassing incompetence, an incompetence that surpasses any single issue, including its forecast of a particular election.
Now, probably that is not what the producer of the video intended. Fairly or unfairly, the producer strikes me as a quotidian right-winger, one who believes that “the mainstream media” is really “the liberal media”, and that this entity is distinct from “the conservative media”. Our friend appears to be trapped in that illusory dichotomy, the first myth to be abandoned by a media skeptic. YouTube may support that dichotomy, but it cannot support this video, because everyone who sees it runs a risk, however slight, of seeing through the corporate media’s perfidy, abandoning these false idols, and becoming enlightened. This video is not the red pill, per see, but it might inspire somebody to take the red pill in the future, and YouTube can’t have that, not when so much of its traffic is owed to the corporate media outlets, many of whose videos, including those of Fox News, appear ahead of “Trump can’t WIN!” on the list of search results.
In my interview with Tulsi Gabbard, I referred to her as “the red pill candidate”. She exposes the false dichotomy in Washington, the artificial differences between Republicans and Democrats on the subject of war, which is the most important issue of all. She reveals that the two parties seldom disagree on the question of invading foreign countries, of engineering coups in foreign countries, of racking up trillions of dollars in debt to finance these ridiculous military conquests, and so on. She tears down the veil between the two parties, hence why the Democratic Party loathes her so. It’s not that she is alone is in this endeavor, or even this line of thinking: the grumpy old man down the street will colorfully inform you that ain’t no difference twixt the two major parties. However, she supports this argument not with cynical bluster, but with a mountain of evidence, and that is very dangerous to people who benefit and profit by a perpetuation of the game, of the illusion, of the false dichotomy.
Accordingly, it is the instinctual obligation of those Washington hoodwinkers, and the corporate media that relies on their presence, to squash Gabbard out. The first trick is to besmirch her public image, to accuse her of all sorts of moral offenses, none of them legitimate. We’re all familiar with the foolishness. We’ve all taken Tulsi Media Slander 101. We all know that she is wrongly accused of homophobia and falsely portrayed as a concubine to tyrants, but every now and then, the claptrap goes off the rails and dives nose-first into a fantastical abyss. Rewire News, a company that prides itself on being “fearless” and “independent”, published a work of fiction back in January, wherein Gabbard was described as a “war hawk”. Yes, you read that right. She was also accused of having an apocalyptic “vision” wherein she would be “bombing countries and killing civilians in the name of fighting extremism …” I don’t know what good it would do you, but here’s the link.
Might help you laugh yourself to sleep, I suppose. Seriously, though: the problem with propaganda such as this is that it can be discredited, even by someone as stupid as I am. Once we’ve exposed the author of that folderol as a fibber, we will never trust another word she types. That’s a terrible risk for a writer to take, so a much safer strategy is for every serpent in the nest to turn away when Tulsi Gabbard approaches. Just ignore her and you won’t have to waste your brainpower making up lies or worrying about what will happen when the truth comes to surface. You’re omitting her story and you’re omitting her, and that in itself is a form of shadow blocking.
The corporate media has been perfecting this practice of shadow blocking. While we were getting addicted to our smartphones, the powerbrokers were setting up the battlefield to ensure that a rogue truthteller like Gabbard would never make it to the other side. She ain’t the first player to lose this rigged game, either: you may recall that WikiLeaks informed the world that the Democratic Party stacked the deck against Bernie Sanders, and Julian Assange’s punishment for exposing the cheat will likely be life in solitary confinement. Meanwhile, Mr. Sanders has learned to play by the rules: he is granted media coverage and a chance at the White House, provided he doesn’t challenge the military-industrial complex, like Gabbard.
Even before the Trumpish Age, shadow blocking was standard operating procedure. In 2011, we called it “the media blackout” in reference to Ron Paul’s minimal, meager press coverage. As the only Republican candidate to offer a substantive ideological alternative to President Obama—not to mention his thoughtful critique of American imperialism—Ron Paul was naturally anathema to the corporate media, and so, the commentators mentioned him as seldom as possible. On the rare occasion when he was mentioned, he was almost invariably misrepresented as an isolationist—an emotionally charged term that is often applied to Gabbard, too—or as a racist, on evidence that is just as porous as that which is used to accuse Gabbard of homophobia.
Noticeably, though, Paul was never accused of supporting foreign dictators. It seems oxymoronic, this label of “isolationist who supports foreign dictators”, but perhaps the oversees of the corporate media are putting in less effort even as they perfect their methods of shadow blocking. Maybe this is why Gabbard is polling at less than 3% in every national poll, whereas Paul was polling closer to 15%, and sometimes as high as 20%, in most instances. But, to be fair, Paul had been in Congress for much longer than Gabbard, and his presidential campaign in 2012 brought his political career to a close. I’m hopeful that Gabbard will someday reach a similar degree of countercultural clout, but she’s facing a steeper uphill climb than Paul, who didn’t have to slay the hydra of digital media.
To kill this beast, Gabbard wields the sword of a $50 million lawsuit against Google, but we must note that she fights in self-defense. You may have heard that Gabbard became an Internet sensation in the days after the first presidential debate, which should have been bloody predictable to anyone who knew about the shadow blocking: why wouldn’t the public be interested in a “new” candidate, especially one who bushwhacked her opponent, Tim Ryan, and in particular one who—come on, let’s just be honest—is pretty easy on the eyes? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that she has four-quadrant appeal, so don’t stop the presses just because the people responded as soon as they were given a chance.
Remember that we live in a free society, with unimpeded access to information, and therefore, the only rational thing for a technological conglomerate like Google to do would be to halt the Gabbard campaign in its attempt to spread its message. Google suspended the Gabbard campaign’s access to its omnipresent platform, and the company still hasn’t offered a coherent explanation for what seems to me to be a pretty straightforward case of media censorship at best, or a shocking operation of political field-tilting at worst. The company appears to claim that it panicked—and suspected spam, or something; as I said, their counterargument is pretty ambiguous—because Gabbard was “trending” after the debate, as if anything else should have happened in the immediate aftermath of a televised debate. Are they really going to claim that Gabbard was the only name to be searched after the debate? Don’t make this so easy, guys!
If my prediction is true, and Google attempts to settle out of court, I hope Gabbard pushes forward with the lawsuit—not because I think Google will miss that $50 million, but because I want to see the media try to shadow block this case. I want to see this practice of shadow blocking brought out into the open, to see it exposed as the fascistic brain drain that it is. I understand that Google is a private corporation, not a public library, and that we shouldn’t expect any basic moral integrity out of it, but then again, its depiction in the media is anything but critical; quite the contrary, Google is the beneficiary of a preternatural lauding that surpasses the boundaries of reason and good taste. There is never any questioning of that company’s standards, so even if Gabbard is mistaken in the particulars of her claim, so be it: at the very least, this increases the possibility of some of Google’s bad behaviors being exposed, and I can’t think of anything more appealing at this point in time.
All right, we’re running out of time. I would advise everyone to check out this interview between Chris Hedges and Helen Buyniski, wherein they discuss similar shenanigans taking place on Wikipedia. I haven’t trusted a word of Wikipedia since I watched this video, and I hope you will join me in the great divorcing: