Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) demanded in a Wednesday letter that Google CEO Sundar Pichai explain why the platform threatened to demonetize the right wing news website The Federalist over comments on articles related to recent Black Lives Matter protests.
“As evidence by its actions yesterday, Google seems more than happy to play this censorship role by trying to break the financial back of a media publication it disagrees with,” wrote Cruz, who serves as chairman of the Senate Judiciary’s Constitution Subcommittee. Attorney General Bill Barr and Federal Trade Commission chairman Joseph Simons were also copied on the letter.
Cruz pointed to other liberal outlets and YouTube, a subsidiary company completely owned by Google that has “thousands of profane, racist, and indefensible comments posted” daily, as proof of a double standard.
“Google’s decision to target The Federalist is transparently politically motivated,” Cruz stated. “ . . . any objective review would no doubt demonstrate at least as many profane or indefensible user comments on these other sites that would equally violate Google’s alleged standards.”
He also challenged Google over its “deeply ironic” defense of Section 230, which grants it liability immunity for third-party content published on its platform.
“While Google demands that it cannot be held financially accountable for unlawful speech on its own platform, it is all too willing to use its market power to hold a conservative media outlet financially responsible for allowing disfavored speech on its platform,” Cruz argued.
After NBC News published a story quoting a Google spokesperson that said the platform had “removed” The Federalist’s “ability to monetize with Google,” the company clarified that it had not, in fact, demonetized the outlet, and had worked with The Federalist to address policy violations “related to the comments section.”
“As the comment section has now been removed, we consider this matter resolved and no action will be taken,” Google said.
We worked with them to address issues on their site related to the comments section.
— Google Communications (@Google_Comms) June 16, 2020
Cruz ended his letter by requesting answers from Google over whether it was tipped off by NBC News or the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) that the Federalist had violated its policies.
The NBC “Verification Center” reporter who broke the initial story wrote that the demonetization came after NBC flagged a CCDH report on hate speech that implicated The Federalist. The reporter then congratulated the CCDH and its subsidiary project “Stop Funding Fake News” on the action and wrote that they had “collaborated” to get The Federalist demonetized.