Bad news for people who think Robert DeNiro is on the right track with his vaccination skepticism. Google has reportedly blacklisted the website Natural News from its search engine, a move that speaks to the company’s growing discomfort with companies and websites connected to fake news, illegal products and misleading or offensive material.
Natural News, a pseudoscience and conspiracy website run by self-proclaimed “health ranger” Mike Adams, has apparently had 140,000 of its pages delisted from Google and the Natural News website currently does not show up in Google searches for the topics the site covers, the products it sells nor in organic searches for the website itself.
The action has been interpreted by Adams as part of a wider agenda to censor particular voices of what has become known as the alt-right media, ostensibly, those like Adams who disparage established forms of media and journalism. “You are witnessing a modern-day book burning by the internet Gestapo that now decides what knowledge you’re never allowed to access… especially because much of that knowledge can help set humanity free,” says Adams in a blog post.
Reportedly, Google is not speaking to the Natural News blacklist itself, telling Gizmodo, “We don’t comment on individual sites, but if we find that a site violates one or more of these guidelines we may take manual action against it. Once a site has remedied the problem, the webmaster can submit the site for reconsideration.”
The rules referred to are Google’s own quality guidelines which point out certain types of website behaviour that can cause a site to be removed from the Google index, such as promoting pages with automatically generated or non-original content, link schemes and, generally, practices intended to deceive users. “Webmasters who spend their energies upholding the spirit of the basic principles will provide a much better user experience and subsequently enjoy better ranking than those who spend their time looking for loopholes they can exploit,” read the Google guidelines.
Yet the ban of Natural News may be more than just a matter of technical violations by the site’s algorithms and be rooted in Google’s newer fight against fake news, scams and fake products, an agenda which came more into the public eye after the 2016 US presidential election.
Google’s attempt to clean up the internet grew in earnest last November when it announced it would be targeting certain sites that promote false and unverified news stories and those that masqueraded as legitimate news sources and preventing them from having access to Google’s digital ads, thereby depriving them of their sources of revenue. “Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose of the web property,” Google spokeswoman Andrea
Along with attacking their ad revenue, though, Google has also been cutting out the search-ability of shady websites. A report released last month by the company spoke of its expanded policies to protect internet users from “misleading and predatory offers,” which led to the removal in 2016 of thousands of websites which, Google says, sold or promoted illegal or misleading products or services. Examples of so-called “bad sites” that were removed included 47,000 sites related to weight-loss scams, 8,000 sites offering payday loans and 6,000 sites advertising counterfeit goods such as imitation designer watches.
By some estimates, a Google blacklisting means that a site’s organic traffic — people who search for a topic or site rather than manually typing in an address — is diminished by up to 95 per cent, making it extremely difficult to reach new audiences or turn a profit.
This week, Google also announced it has released for wider use its Jigsaw anti-harassment AI tool, a so-called troll-fighting system which gives companies and websites the ability to automatically detect and remove insulting and abusive speech online.