The Internet was alive with the sound of indignation on Tuesday, when NBC reporters tweeted out a report that Google had cut off two media sites, The Federalist and ZeroHedge, from using Google Ads to generate revenue.
— Adele-Momoko Fraser (@AMFraserNBC) June 16, 2020
The story went back and forth throughout the day, and in Federalist’s case ultimately seemed to be resolved when The Federalist reportedly removed a reader comment, which Google said did not comply with their standards. The outside world has yet to see what the comment was. Google tweeted a statement that The Federalist had not lost Google Ads access. The Federalist has not made a statement.
The larger story is that The Federalist was targeted specifically by NBC in conjunction with a project called Stop Funding Fake News (SFFN) – the @SFFakeNews cited in the NBC reporter’s tweet above. SFFN has a current project to “defund” – i.e., demonetize – a list of 10 U.S. websites, including The Federalist, Breitbart, American Thinker, and American Greatness, among others (all high-profile, with broad reach).
SFFN calls the list a “blacklist,” and currently depicts both ZeroHedge and The Federalist as “defunded.”
SFFN’s may seem like just another list of websites published by angry cranks with no stature or credentials. NBC teaming up with SFFN to target online new-media sites is of course a reprehensible tactic, and the timing is suspicious, with so many events making tensions and drama spiral in America, including the widespread protests and the presidential election campaign. But how big a deal is this, really?
It seems to be a pretty big one to someone, because it turns out that the SFFN project is run out of the UK, by a group with academic and political connections and completely hidden funding.
The UK basing became evident when its “Give” page was revealed to be a British GoFundMe site at which donations are made in pounds.
SFFN describes itself as a project of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which gives a business address in London. The business address is one used by hundreds of virtually incorporated entities (the address is Langley House, Park Road, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom, N2 8EY).
The Center for Countering Digital Hate Ltd is incorporated in the UK, and its CEO and board of directors are UK citizens. Its latest corporate summary lists net assets of about £63,000, suggesting that as a business entity, CCDH is a repository for a limited set of operating expenses. Given the names and connections associated with it, and the scope of what it aspires to do, it seems unlikely that it’s a stand-alone entity having an impact on a shoestring.
Interestingly, CCDH spells the word “Center” in its name by the U.S. English convention, as opposed to the British “Centre.”
Whatever that may suggest to unwary Americans perusing the site, the “Donate” link at the CCDH website brings up a Paypal page which, like SFFN’s, accepts its donations in British pounds.
If you’re going to give to CCDH and its SFFN project, you’re doing business in the UK. But the targets listed at the tendentiously named SFFN “Defund Racism” page are all American political media sites.
Meanwhile, on its “successes” page, SFFN has a list of businesses and other entities (universities and NGOs) that have signed on to be guided by SFFN in avoiding advertising with supposed “fake news” sites. Most of them are in the UK, with a few in other European countries. A handful are American companies, including eBay and Adobe.
CCDH, for its part, has a major takedown on its sheet in the person of British pundit Katie Hopkins, whom CCDH got suspended from Twitter in January 2020.
The AltNewsMedia article about the anti-Hopkins campaign provides background on some of CCDH’s key personalities (screen caps from the CCDH website).
CEO Imran Ahmed … is political advisor to Hilary Benn, Labour MP, a position taken after a number of years as a Labour activist, which included working on Andy Slaughter’s 2010 election campaign with communications and targeting.
Siobhan Marie McAndrew – University Lecturer at Bristol University. McAndrew lectures on Politics. One of her papers, published in 2015 was entitled ‘Mosques and Political Engagement in Britain’. Her work has been commissioned by the Home Office.
Kirsty Jean McNeill – Executive at ‘Save The Children’ and 3 years as a ‘special advisor’ to Number 10.
A former director (who resigned in April 2020):
Morgan James McSweeney – Director at ‘Labourlist’ and formerly a director of ‘Dr Majeed’ in partnership with Iraqi Hayder Majeed.
The general character of the list here is similar to the American Democratic operatives who form consulting and lobbying firms when they’re not campaigning or working policy for elected officials. These are not starry-eyed amateur watchdogs. Having them gang up on U.S. media sites is like having Daniel Jones, Ben Rhodes, and Jake Sullivan gang up on British media sites and work to get them demonetized.
It would no doubt bear fruit to research the other current CCDH directors (Simon Clark, Lord Jonny Oates, and Ayesha Saran), but my concern is to get this posted tonight. The reason: I want to get the title question out there.
Why is this UK-incorporated group of Brits targeting the ad revenues of a set of American political media sites? What’s their interest in the enterprise? Where do they get off doing that?
Who provides their funding (something they are perfectly opaque about)? I’m not sure which is worse: the possibility that it’s British or other foreign funders, or the possibility that it’s Americans hiding their activities behind a corporation in the UK.
How is it OK for NBC to team up with them for the attacks just made on The Federalist and ZeroHedge?
It’s one thing if an American group asserts a political interest in the character of commentary at an American site. A Yanks-on-Yanks anti-media scrum doesn’t justify this particular behavior, but at least it’s not a matter of foreign interference.
This, however, is a matter of foreign interference. This isn’t Brits being hired openly to work for some American’s political campaign or consulting firm; that has happened across international borders for quite a while now, going in multiple directions, and as long as it’s done transparently, I don’t see a problem with it.
A politically connected UK NGO with opaque funding, trying to kill off American media sites by attacking their advertising revenues, acting behind a thin layer of NBC cooperation — that’s something else altogether. White House? Congress? FCC?