How Google is impacting journalism though the fact it funds most online publications through ads, but also through being the biggest provider of hosted email and the maker of the most popular browser.
Very specifically, the article is about how Google’s arbitrary “no hate speech” rules impacted TMP’s reporting on white supremacist violence. Basically, TMP were censured for articles about Dylan Roof’s mass murder in Charleston, with the account rep they tried to contact apparently, “not really understanding the distinction and cheerily telling us to try to operate within the no hate speech rules.” It’s worth noting “censured” in this context means TMP couldn’t run advertising on the articles in question. Small in the scheme of things, maybe, but each warning of that nature goes against the account as a whole, with the net result that, after n-number of incidents (no one seems to know how many, exactly) Google could pull advertising entirely. Which would be disastrous for TMP. Existentially so.
The point here isn’t to criticize Google’s well-intentioned attempt to stop funding hate sites with ad revenue. It is to warn that Google has so much power, thanks to it advertising and big data ecosystems, that even small misjudgments in policy application can be catastrophic for downstream players. Which is, yanno. Pretty much literally everyone who isn’t Google.
Or, as the article points out:
One thing I’ve observed with Google over the years is that it is institutionally so used to its ‘customers’ actually being its products that when it gets into businesses where it actually has customers it really has little sense of how to deal with them.
(See also this.)
The big question: is Google’s ecosystem monopolistic and, if so, why doesn’t the government step in? Well, it’s been pointed out before the US antitrust laws are mostly geared to constantly lowering prices for consumers; they’re not actually designed to foster market competition, and they’re certainly not geared towards… however you’d describe the relationship Google has with its ad customers. Because Google’s services are (largely) “free”, in other words, US antitrust laws don’t apply.1
(To anyone who’s currently thinking, “They’re not ‘free’, the law is just bad at quantifying the value of the personal data Google extracts in exchange for its services.” Well… yes. That’s the point.)
Google isn’t the only one of the “new monopolies” poorly controlled by US law, of course–Amazon’s in the same boat, as is Facebook, for one–but it’s arguably the one with the most far-reaching impact for online services in general, and journalism in particular. Sadly, I don’t think there’ll be any kind of resolution to the issues any time soon, either. Hell, people are barely beginning to understand the problem. Or that there even is one to start with…