- Under the guise of stopping "fake news," internet watchdogs are burying alternative news that threatens mainstream financial interests
- The internet watchdog Snopes has been beset by scandals and widely discredited
- Major media companies have pharmaceutical leaders on their boards and their reporting is shaped by revenue from their many drug ads. Medical news outlets also bury news that would harm commercial drug products
- Google is pursuing academic, medical, artificial intelligence, military and other ventures that enlarge its already massive footprint
- NewsGuard, an internet watchdog that sells a browser plugin has received funding from the Publicis Groupe, a giant global communications group serving Pharma clients
What if you were in the middle of a phone conversation and the line suddenly went dead because you mentioned a topic like vaccine injury that the service provider considered to be misinformation? You would probably have two immediate questions: “How does a business know what's true better than I know myself (especially if I do my own research)?" and "What's to keep the service from self-dealing — using its influence to push its own agenda?"
As fake news has become a national concern in the U.S., internet watchdogs are emerging to weed out and flag incorrect, falsified and nonsourced stories. Most have websites that people can visit, and one has a plugin that can be downloaded from Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Microsoft’s desktop and mobile Edge.
Certainly, websites with odd names and strange domains that end in “.com.co” and websites that carry non-bylined, nonsourced stories that are found nowhere else on the internet should raise your suspicion meter. But internet watchdogs may not be ethical or virtuous either.
The "protection" these organizations offer sounds like a great idea since everyone wants the news and information sites they visit to be trustworthy. The problem is, who is checking the checkers? Who finances them? Do they have an agenda? Are some watchdogs calling news "fake" just because it threatens their backers' products, as we have seen with pro-GMO and pro-chemical voices? Sadly, the answer is often yes.
In fact, the conflicts of interest with many internet watchdogs are so blatant it brings to mind the joke about how a sleazy lawyer tells his client "go to hell" — he says "trust me."
The Rise and Fall of SnopesOne of the calling cards of a fake news site according to Forbes writer Kalev Leetaru1 is that it appears as a “'wilderness of mirrors' — creating a chaotic information environment that so perfectly blends truth, half-truth and fiction that even the best can no longer tell what’s real and what’s not."
So, when Britain's Daily Mail ran a scathing exposé on the fact-checking site Snopes in 2016,2 the exposé itself looked like fake news. It included claims that Snopes was founded by a husband-and-wife team, Barbara and David Mikkelson, who fabricated a nonexistent society. After their divorce, said the Mail, the husband embezzled $98,000 to use for prostitutes and hired his new wife, Elyssa Young, a former escort and porn actress as website administrator.
But, writes Leetaru, after reaching out to David Mikkelson for his comments, he discovered the Daily Mail exposé was not fake news after all.3
"It was with incredible surprise therefore that I received David’s one-sentence response which read in its entirety 'I'd be happy to speak with you, but I can only address some aspects in general because I'm precluded by the terms of a binding settlement agreement from discussing details of my divorce.'
This absolutely astounded me. Here was the one of the world’s most respected fact-checking organizations, soon to be an ultimate arbitrator of 'truth’ on Facebook, saying that it cannot respond to a fact-checking request because of a secrecy agreement.
In short, when someone attempted to fact-check the fact-checker, the response was the equivalent of 'it's secret.'
It is impossible to understate how antithetical this is to the fact-checking world, in which absolute openness and transparency are necessary prerequisites for trust. How can fact-checking organization like Snopes expect the public to place trust in them if when they themselves are called into question, their response is that they can’t respond.”
Do the Internet Watchdogs Have Political Leanings?It is bad enough that Snopes had many secrets and nontransparencies, but it also had political leanings. Young, Mikkelson's new-wife-turned-Snopes-administrator, had run for Congress in Hawaii as a Libertarian in 2004 on a "Dump Bush" platform.
Over recent years we have heard a lot of compelling evidence that mainstream news aggregators suppress conservative news and views. "Like handicapping a horse, Google appears to weigh down conservative news sites," says Alan Gray, publisher of NewsBlaze, an alternative business and world news newspaper. "More liberal sites take all the first page positions and conservative news is pushed back to Page 2, 3 or nowhere at all. This makes conservative news financially unviable."
Progressive and alternative websites that challenge the status quo are, of course, also sidelined and unable to achieve financial viability. "Before the war against alternative media, OpEdNews.com came out at the top of Google search results for progressive news," says publisher Rob Kall.
"After Google changed its algorithm, we along with most alternative, non-mainstream news sites, were buried pages deep. This has had a huge effect on our traffic." Clearly biased news selection can be as dangerous as fake news. This is how Leetaru puts it:4
"Think about it this way — what if there was a fact-checking organization whose fact-checkers were all drawn from the ranks of Breitbart and Infowars? Most liberals would likely dismiss such an organization as partisan and biased. Similarly, an organization whose fact-checkers were all drawn from Occupy Democrats and Huffington Post might be dismissed by conservatives as partisan and biased ...
In fact, this is one of the reasons that fact-checking organizations must be transparent and open.
If an organization like Snopes feels it is OK to hire partisan employees who have run for public office on behalf of a particular political party and employ them as fact-checkers where they have a high likelihood of being asked to weigh in on material aligned with or contrary to their views, how can they reasonably be expected to act as neutral arbitrators of the truth?"
Big Media Companies Have Big Conflicts of InterestHave you ever noticed how many news shows and news magazines are anchored by drug ads? Since direct-to-consumer drug advertising began 20 years ago, drug ads with their dangerous side effects famously superimposed with images of puppies and sunsets have arguably become TV's greatest form of ad revenue.
No wonder mainstream news doesn't report on the jaw bone death and esophageal cancer associated with the bone drugs bisphonsphates. No wonder it doesn't expose how TNF-alpha inhibitors like Humira, Enbrel and Remicade invite infection, cancer and even Hansen's disease (once known as leprosy) according to a recent report.5,6
In addition to ad revenue, representatives of Pharma sit on the actual boards of major TV and print news outlets further censoring reporting about drug safety and effectiveness. The New York Times has had on its board Schering-Plough and Eli Lilly affiliates, and The Washington Post has had Johnson & Johnson affiliates.7 Even so-called “public” media like PBS and NPR have accepted money from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), UnitedHealthcare and the Koch brothers.8
Medical News Is Especially at Risk of CensorshipIt should surprise no one that news which threatens Big Food and Big Drug products is especially censored. Paroxetine (Paxil) was a top selling SSRI antidepressant drug for GSK. But in 2004, soon after its approval, the New York attorney general charged that Paxil research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry buried the drug’s true risks of suicide in adolescents.9
More than 10 years later, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a reanalysis that "unburied" the hidden data and amounted to a reversal of the original study. The new research demonstrated that Paxil indeed increases risks of suicide in young people and adolescents.
In 2015, Scientific American magazine shockingly partnered with Johnson & Johnson and GMO Answers for a conference at the National Press Club in Washington.10 GMO Answers is funded by BASF, Bayer, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Syngenta and Monsanto.
And sites that would question almost all other corporation machinations give Big Vax a pass. Last year, Jezebel ran the headline: "Robert De Niro and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Call Vaccines Dangerous, Which They Are Not." An Atlantic 2015 article sneered, "Vaccines Are Profitable, So What?"11 The otherwise liberal Daily Beast has gone so far as to publish pro-vax pieces penned by Paul Offit, perhaps the nation’s most extreme vaccine promoter.12,13
Google Is Everywhere and That Can Be a ProblemAside from monopolizing the internet, Google has strong presences in childhood education, health care and even the food industry of which few are aware. It is also engaged in social engineering pursuits, artificial intelligence, military applications and Biomedical/Pharma ventures.
Few, for example, know about Google Life Sciences (now called Verily) or Google's subsidiary Calico, focused on "health, well-being and longevity," according to Google founder Larry Page.14 In 2014, Calico partnered with Humira-maker AbbVie to open an R&D facility focused on aging and age-related diseases, such as neurodegeneration and cancer. It has since joined with other drug developers.
In a chilling demonstration of the partnerships between government, Pharma and internet giants, in 2017 Dr. Thomas R. Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, left government to join Google Life Sciences (now Verily),15 which develops technologies for early detection and treatment of health problems, though he left soon after.16
Early detection of disease "risks" is a primary Pharma marketing push. Such partnerships might explain why an exposé17 on the alleged illegal marketing of Genentech/Novartis asthma dug Xolair was virtually buried on the internet in 2016.
Google Is Training a Whole New GenerationGoogle's internet monopoly, which centers around personal information tracking and sharing, is just the beginning. The technology giant is also involved in childhood education, developing brand loyalty and a future customer base among children through product placements in schools.
This happens quickly because many schools have abandoned books in favor of tablets and computers equipped with aps like Google Classroom, Google Docs and Gmail. Just as Pharma enlists doctor support, Google has enlisted teachers and administrators to promote Google's products.
Today, more than half of U.S. primary and secondary school students, more than 30 million children, use Gmail and Google Docs and Google-powered laptops like Chromebook. Once the children are out of school, they're encouraged to convert their school accounts to personal accounts — a move that allows Google to build incredibly powerful personality and marketing profiles of each individual from a very early age and, of course, profits.
This is similar to the Pharma push to keep kids on ADHD drugs once they leave home in order to not lose the market share of a captive audience. ADHD drug marketers worry the 5 million young people they have managed to get on ADHD meds might discontinue the drugs when they leave home.
"I remember being the kid with ADHD. Truth is, I still have it," said an ad from ADHD drugmaker Shire with a photo of Adam Levine, the lead singer of Maroon 5, in the Northwestern University student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, a few years ago.
The disease mongering tag line was, "It's Your ADHD. Own It."18 In a conference call about its earnings, Shire bemoaned that it loses many of its college age ADHD customers "as they kind of fall out of the system based on the fact that they no longer go to a pediatrician and they move on to a primary care physician.19
The Brave New World Business Model of NewsGuardAnother internet watchdog entrant is NewsGuard, a plugin that promises to rate websites on nine criteria of credibility and transparency. Once installed, the NewsGuard rating will appear on all Google and Bing searches and on articles in your social media news feeds. Marketing plans include getting librarians to help patrons download the plugin on their personal computers, tablets and cellphones.
NewsGuard assigns a color coded "Nutrition Label" to sites that considers the publication of false content and deceptive headlines, ownership and financing disclosures and more.20 It has partnered with tech giant Microsoft for a Defending Democracy Program that addresses hacking, increasing transparency and warding against political disinformation campaigns.
As soon as I saw this ambitious venture I wondered who funds it. I did not have to look far. NewsGuard received much of its startup funds from Publicis Groupe, a giant global communications group with divisions that brand imaging, design of digital business platforms, media relations and health care.
It is so huge it has eight advertising/public relations subsidiaries, including the well-known Saatchi & Saatchi and Leo Burnett.21 Here is how Recode describes NewsGuard's business model:22
"One thing that makes NewsGuard stand out from many other non-tech journalism initiatives is that it’s for-profit — it has received $6 million in venture funding from its founders and other investors — so it doesn’t need to rely on philanthropic donations. It has also enjoyed plenty of positive press."As I expected, Publicis Groupe’s health subsidiary, Publicis Health, names Lilly, Abbot, Roche, Amgen, Genentech, Celgene, Gilead, Biogen, Astra Zeneca, Sanofi, Bayer and other Pharma giants as clients. Does anyone imagine that news about healthy alternatives to Pharma drugs won't be censored?
And, as far as the transparency NewsGuard is pledged to protect, its own transparency is murky. On NewsGuard's United States Securities and Exchange Commission Form D filed March 5, 2018, there is an option for disclosing the size of its revenue, but that box was checked, "Decline to disclose."
In your search for the truthful health news, always follow your own guiding light and your skepticism. Internet watchdogs like Snopes and NewsGuard have their own agenda — and it’s not public health.
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