Google annual meeting debates COVID censorship

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Unsplash/Pathum Danthanarayana

Alphabet, formerly known as Google, recently held its annual meeting on Wednesday, June 1st, and the shareholder proposal section dealt extensively with issues having to do with cancellation and censorship, especially of dissenting views concerning COVID and vaccines. The National Legal and Policy Center submitted a proposal to be voted on by shareholders:

"RESOLVED: The shareholders request that Alphabet Inc…. provide a report, published on the company’s website…that specifies the Company’s policy in responding to requests to remove or take down material from its platforms by the Executive Office of the President, Centers for Disease Control, or any other agency or entity of the United States Government."

The proponent in this case is a conservative think tank, and the discussion accompanying the proposal, with a reference to the CDC, makes it clear what the chief concerns are. Further, the statement of support which the conservative think tank included describes a specific incident suggestive that government has been pressuring social media platforms to suppress certain content about the pandemic.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked “Can you talk a little bit more about this request for tech companies to be more aggressive in policing misinformation? Has the administration been in touch with any of these companies and are there any actions that the federal government can take to ensure their cooperation, because we’ve seen, from the start, there’s not a lot of action on some of these platforms."

She replied: “Sure. Well, first, we are in regular touch with these social media platforms, and those engagements typically happen through members of our senior staff, but also members of our COVID-19 team, given, as (Surgeon General) Dr. (Vivek) Murthy conveyed, this is a big issue of misinformation, specifically on the pandemic.”

There are numerous reasons for this to be a concern, including a letter to the Surgeon General signed by several ranking members of relevant congressional committees.

Shockingly, the largest proxy service (the businesses to which many investment funds delegate research and even voting of their shares) recommended that shareholders vote against the resolution based on the claim that the company "has not faced significant controversies from its U.S. content takedowns." However, there have been numerous controversies about such content takedowns, or demonetizations. PragerU, a conservative video creator, was demonetized by YouTube (which is part of Alphabet) and there was not just controversy over this, but a lawsuit. One of the issues in the treatment of PragerU was that it posted views which dissented from the CDC point of view on the pandemic. In addition, the company's CEO has faced serious questioning before congressional committees over the issue.

Anyone familiar with conservative media knows well that YouTube is perceived as politically biased, and that includes suppression of discussion about masks and about alternate treatments for COVID, such as supplements and off-label uses of other medications. One not need to be vaccine-hesitant, or a conspiracy theorist, or an advocate of other remedies, to be concerned about the suppression of the debate.

Alphabet successfully opposed the resolution, which is the typical outcome. It is rare for management to support shareholder resolutions and it is rare for them to pass. However, the issue is unlikely to go away, especially if there are any shifts in power in the next two elections.

In addition, there were three other proposals by left-of-center activists which seemed designed to push for more suppression of content, based on claims about the social cost of “disinformation and misinformation” and classifying the publication of such views as a “human rights” violation. They also voiced concerns about “conservative radicalization” and called for Alphabet to take measures against content which is alleged to create this radicalization. Those proposals, also, were defeated.

Jerry Bowyer is financial economist, president of Bowyer Research, and author of “The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics.”

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