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NewsGuard and Uncle Sam: The Nutrition Label

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According to its vision statement, NewsGuard Technologies provides “transparent tools to counter misinformation for readers, brands and democracies.”[1] But while the firm portrays itself as Captain America resisting the enemies of democracy, it’s named in two federal lawsuits that reveal how its tools are being used in pervasive assaults on basic American civil liberties.

In December 2023, the publishers of the right-of-center Federalist and Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire, along with the state of Texas, sued the U.S. State Department, alleging the government had promoted and funded “blacklists” created separately by NewsGuard and the Global Disinformation Index, a transnational nonprofit.[2] The complaint proclaims the scheme is “one of the most egregious government operations to censor the American press in the history of the nation.”

In October 2023, a similar lawsuit filed by the left-leaning Consortium News named NewsGuard as a co-defendant, alleging in part that “NewsGuard and the United States have not only violated the First Amendment but they have defamed Consortium News, casting it in a false light by impugning the patriotism and loyalty of CN and its many writers and contributors.”[3]

The undisputed facts now known regarding NewsGuard’s tools and the federal government’s endorsement of them paint a disturbing picture of the government’s willingness to trample on free expression. Regardless of how these current legal disputes resolve, and especially if the government prevails, they prove censorship has become official regime policy.

The Nutrition Label

Both lawsuits cite government funding of NewsGuard and the firm’s “Nutrition Label.”[4] This ranking of nearly every well-trafficked news and information source on the internet is done by what NewsGuard claims is a team of “trained journalists” who assign a rating of zero to 100 based on “apolitical criteria of journalistic practice.” (The Consortium News lawsuit targets the use of a related tool, NewsGuard’s “Misinformation Fingerprints).”[5]

In addition to its government support, NewsGuard makes money by producing reports for corporations who wish to “avoid ad placements on misinformation, disinformation, and untrustworthy news sources inconsistent with their brand safety standards.”[6]

This alone should have frightened away anyone with responsibility for tax dollars and respect for the First Amendment. The U.S. Constitution empowers Americans to decide what is “misinformation.” Their government isn’t supposed to do it for them. Nor is government supposed to enrich private firms hoping to capture a market for speech policing that NewsGuard has estimated could reach $1.74 billion, according to a report on the Twitter Files by Lee Fang.[7] But with credibility gained by government contracts—including, NewsGuard hopes, widespread use in government-run libraries, schools, and universities as “media literacy” courses become compulsory—the company foresees additional business from marketing firms that oversee most online ads around the world.

No wonder NewsGuard’s largest investor is Publicis Groupe, which Fang reports is “the biggest conglomerate of marketing agencies in the world.” The company has already “integrated NewsGuard’s technology into its fleet of subsidiaries that place online advertising.” Fang adds that just as NewsGuard’s government clients can use it to suppress information the regime dislikes, so can a business like Publicis use NewsGuard’s services to protect its client Pfizer. Another investor Fang identifies is a DC lobbyist for the parent company of the “much-criticized Chinese-owned social media platform Tik Tok,” which no doubt also appreciates NewsGuard’s ability to assist some sites and harm others.[8]

The supposed “nutrition” being labeled by NewsGuard raises yet more red flags.

The NewsGuard app is free to download for individuals. It adds itself to your internet browser’s search function. Once loaded, the nutrition labels attach to most of your news and information search results. Everything produced by the Daily Wire or Consortium News has a conspicuous “Proceed with Caution” warning label. All content from The Federalist receives the harshest ranking: “Proceed with Maximum Caution.”[9]

Well before this obvious advertiser blacklisting became the target of two federal censorship lawsuits, these nutrition label warnings had already become embedded in far too many web browsers, millions of which are being used by your children and grandchildren at government schools.

In January 2022, the firm inked a partnership with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).[10] In a triumphant press release, NewsGuard co-founder Steven Brill claimed that the “news reliability ratings” were already being used by “800 public libraries” and “dozens of public schools and universities.”

Looking forward, Brill claimed a “social studies teacher recently told us that his students use NewsGuard as a verb, meaning that when they see something online, they ‘NewsGuard’ it.” Then he predicted that “millions more of America’s students will also be ‘NewsGuarding’ it” because of the AFT agreement.

NewsGuard has also boasted of partnerships with entities such as the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. State Department, Google, Microsoft, the World Health Organization, and the University of Michigan.[11]


In the next installment, the scoring of NewsGuard nutrition labels appears heavily biased in favor of the big regime media blue bloods, such as the Washington Post.


Notes

[1] NewsGuard Technologies, website, https://www.newsguardtech.com/.

[2] Nate Raymond, “Texas Claims US State Department Funds Tech That Censors Conservative News,” Reuters, December 6, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/legal/government/texas-claims-us-state-department-funds-tech-that-censors-conservative-news-2023-12-06/; and Daily Wire v. U.S. Department of State, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, December 5, 2023, https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/legaldocs/gkplxnbrdpb/DailyWire-v-State-final-1.pdf.

[3] Consortium for Independent Journalism v. U.S., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, October 12, 2023, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1mmMTpNSN4PavJe6dv64HYuBuLY4T2iBn/view?pli=1.

[4] NewsGuard Technologies, “NewsGuard Ratings,” https://www.newsguardtech.com/solutions/newsguard/.

[5] NewsGuard Technologies, “Misinformation Fingerprints,” https://www.newsguardtech.com/solutions/misinformation-fingerprints/.

[6] NewsGuard Technologies, “Do You Read Every News Site Where Your Ads Appear? We Do,” https://www.newsguardtech.com/solutions/newsguard-for-advertising/.

[7] Lee Fang, “NewsGuard’s For-Profit Censorship Model Merges Government and Corporate Power,” LeeFang.com, November 15, 2023, https://www.leefang.com/p/newsguards-for-profit-censorship.

[8] Ibid.

[9] NewsGuard Technologies, “Website Rating Process and Criteria,” https://www.newsguardtech.com/ratings/rating-process-criteria/.

[10] American Federation of Teachers, “AFT Partners with NewsGuard to Combat Misinformation Online,” January 25, 2022, https://www.aft.org/press-release/aft-partners-newsguard-combat-misinformation-online.

[11] NewsGuard Technologies, “Partners,” https://www.newsguardtech.com/#:~:text=false%20narratives%20online-,Partners,-


Source: https://capitalresearch.org/article/newsguard-and-uncle-sam-part-1/


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