What is NewsGuard?Posted 10 months ago under Bias, Fake News, Technology, Truth, Truth Activists
NewsGuard is a non-partisan news-rating system launched by longtime journalists and media entrepreneurs Steven Brill and Louis Gordon Crovitz. The $6 million project was created to address the “fake news crisis” by hiring 40-60 trained journalists to review various news sites that are most accessed and shared in the United States. Following a questionable arbitration process, news sites will be given a reliability rating, warning viewers of any potential deceit.
The ratings — green, yellow, or red — will serve as “nutrition labels” that will assess the trustworthiness of online news sources.
Websites are rated as a whole, not from individual stories
Brill, co-founder of NewsGuard, has stressed that this new project will be entirely run by humans, not computers or algorithms. This, he says, is to ensure that the ratings being given are analyzed correctly and factually. The entirely human team will be able to discern right from wrong, and be completely removed from any personal bias when judging the “health” of a website.
Nevertheless, when blacklisted websites — such as Breitbart — asked NewsGuard officials to defend their markings of “credible” proven hoaxes, NewsGuard replied that their “credibility and transparency practices of websites [are rated] as a whole, *not* individual stories.” They further clarified that “a green icon means that the website has not failed enough of our nine journalistic criteria to get a red rating, but does not mean that [a] specific article is ‘verified’ (emphasis added).”
A profound example of this exemplar journalism would be giving a green “verified” icon to a Rolling Stones news report about a rape in campus — which the website itself retracted and said was a hoax.
It is important to note that NewsGuard has stated that their green rating may not be completely accurate either. As seen on their website, the only thing “green” websites have in common is that they did not “fail.” This means that not all sites rated green are equal. Justifying this nuance, NewsGuard writes that its “mission is not to make granular judgments but to establish and communicate adherence to basic standards in order to give readers information they need to assess their sources of information online.”
There are questions as to the true nature of NewsGuard. The initial roll-out of the project immediately gave a “green” icon to websites that were anti-Trump and extreme Left, such as NBC News, The Washington Post, CNN, Buzzfeed, etc. Conversely, deeply conservative sites such as Gateway Pundit, Judicial Watch, Drudge, and the like, were blacklisted.
A browser extension that advises advertisers to withdraw their business from unreliable news websites
NewsGuard plans on licensing the browser extension to help advertisers know which websites are safe or not. As written on their official website:
“Ad tech companies have software to keep brands safe from hate speech and pornography. But artificial intelligence cannot root out false news because false news is designed to look like real news. NewsGuard adds an extra layer of protection as the only process that involves human beings—trained journalists—reviewing every website.”
One of NewsGuard’s major investors include Publicis Groupe, one of the “big four” multinational advertising agencies, whose subsidiaries include a number of high-profile advertising firms such as Saatchi & Saatchi and Leo Burnett Worldwide. By controlling where advertisements are placed, NewsGuard would, inevitably, have a large say into the marketability of a website. News sites that are deemed “unreliable” due to their deviance from “trustworthiness” could soon find themselves without any financial backing or support.
Controversially, one of Publicis Groupe’s other subsidiaries is Qorvis, a Washington, D.C.-based PR and crisis management firm that has represented the nation of Saudi Arabia since the September 11 attack. Qorvis launched an aggressive media campaign in the U.S. that defended Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The “charm offensive,” as the campaign was called, was questioned by many to be a smoke-and-mirrors tactic to hide the true horror of the situation in Yemen. As Publicis Groupe is Qorvis’ parent company, and one of the main sources of funds of NewsGuard, this is presumably considered responsible journalism.
Unreliable news sites, as deemed by the non-partisan team at NewsGuard, may suffer from financial blacklisting, wherein “false news” websites will be completely unprofitable.
NewsGuard is likewise seeking to partner with European Union bureaucracy to pressure social media and tech companies to pay a licensing fee for use of its unbiased ranking system.
Plans to expand the system worldwide
Currently, NewsGuard has just 30,000 active installations, including installation at libraries across the country that have signed up for the service. However, there are plans to have the news rating project applied all over the world. Brill spoke to the EU last January in Brussels, and announced that NewsGuard would be fully operational in four EU countries — U.K., Italy, France, and Germany — by April 2019. In the same speech, Brill lobbied the EU to “force the hand” of major U.S.-based tech companies to integrate the browser extension into their social media platforms and search engines.
Many companies got cold feet after concerns were raised about NewsGuard’s browser plug-in collection. Independent tech experts found that there was a code in NewsGuard’s plug-in that collected the location and browsing history of its users. NewsGuard has publicly denied this, despite the code being quite apparent. Backtracking, NewsGuard officials have now stated that they will not share or store the information it collects (found in their “Trust Us” response). Nevertheless, privacy advocates have stated that collecting such information was a choice the company made, not a technical requirement for the stated purpose of the plug-in.
It is interesting to note that Crovitz, co-CEO of the browser extension – who has repeatedly defended illegal NSA surveillance – placed Michael Hayden, the man who oversaw that surveillance operation for several years and former NSA and CIA director, as part of NewsGuard’s board of advisers.
Prominent privacy activists and technologists, such as Mozilla co-founder and former CEO Brendan Eich, have voiced their hesitation about integrating NewsGuard across all platforms, stating that it is a “bad operation all around.”
Will Oremus, a senior technology writer at Slate, wrote that the dithering of other tech giants on NewsGuard has not dampened the spirits of Brill and Crovitz. In fact, it was noted that both Brill and Crovitz have been “making regular trips to Brussels to try and persuade these platforms that adopting NewsGuard is their best path.”
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