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Photo: USA Really

One, Two, Microsoft and NewsGuard are Coming for You

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OHIO – January 22, 2019

Microsoft together with its partner NewsGuard continues to spread its “news-rating app” across the US.

Last week, “The Toledo Lucas County Public Library System teamed up with NewsGuard to provide library patrons with a news literacy tool to help them assess the reliability of the news and information websites they see online,” according to NewsGuard press service.

The Toledo Lucas County Public Library (TLCPL) is the oldest public library system founded in 1838 with tax funds in the state of Ohio.

“Our goal in providing NewsGuard is to equip our Lucas County community and customers with the training and tools needed in order to recognize credible information online, whether it is for lifelong learning or entertainment,” adds Andy Lechlak, digital strategist for the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.

With its free browser extension, NewsGuard displays its “ratings” next to links on search engines and social media feeds. By installing the extension onto hundreds of computers at its 20 branches, Toledo Library “is giving patrons more context for the news they encounter online and helping them build critical news literacy skills,” NewsGuard said.

“By making NewsGuard available on approximately 800 library computers at branches across Lucas County, Toledo Library is acknowledging that news literacy is a lifelong skill that should be taught to adults and students alike,” said Sarah Brandt, Vice President of News Literacy Outreach for NewsGuard.

As USA Really reported in December, NewsGuard has already installed the extension on 700 computers at 51 branches of the Hawaii State Public Library System on six islands, in order “to spread news literacy to library patrons state-wide.”

Dozens of libraries nationwide have already installed NewsGuard’s extension on patron computers. NewsGuard expects this year to add hundreds of public libraries across the country to its list of news literacy partners, as well as middle schools, high schools, universities, and other educational organizations.

“Giving readers information about sources of information is what librarians have been doing since the invention of libraries,” added NewsGuard co-CEO Steven Brill. “That’s why these NewsGuard-library partnerships make so much sense and why they are now happening so quickly.”

In addition to the news literacy program, NewsGuard expects social media and search companies to license its ratings and reviews and integrate them into their news feeds and search results.

Microsoft Corporation, is sponsoring the installation through its Defending Democracy Program, USA Really wrote in December.

NewsGuard was co-founded by veteran journalist Steven Brill, who also founded the American Lawyer magazine, and Louis Gordon Crovitz who was previously the executive vice president of Dow Jones and has edited books for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Heritage Foundation — two neoconservative think tanks that were heavily involved in promoting the Iraq war.

Heritage and the AEI, are linked to the US defense industry and have also been involved in pushing for the expansion of US military action in countries like Syria and Libya, according to The Intercept.

It is worth pointing out that AEI is one of the most influential neoconservative think tanks in the country and its “scholars,” directors and fellows have included neoconservative figures like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, John Bolton and Frederick Kagan.

During the George W. Bush administration, AEI was instrumental in promoting the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq and has since advocated for militaristic solutions to U.S. foreign policy objectives and the expansion of the U.S.’ military empire as well as the “War on Terror.” During the Bush years, AEI was also closely associated with the now defunct and controversial neoconservative organization known as the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), which presciently called, four years before 9/11, for a “new Pearl Harbor” as needed to rally support behind American military adventurism.

The Heritage Foundation, like AEI, was also supportive of the war in Iraq and has pushed for the expansion of the War on Terror and U.S. missile defense and military empire. Its corporate donors over the years have included Procter & Gamble, Chase Manhattan Bank, Dow Chemical, and Exxon Mobil, among others.

Crovitz himself, as noted by MintPress, has been accused of “repeatedly getting his facts wrong” or, in another words, spreading disinformation in his Wall Street Journal articles and even his own sources have taken him to task over “fantastically false claims,” according to TechDirt.

In his article “Who Really Invented the Internet?” Crovitz cast doubt on the assertion that the U.S. government deserved credit for helping create the internet. He described the claim as an urban myth.

“Almost everyone he sourced or credited to support his argument that the internet was invented entirely privately at Xerox PARC and when Vint Cerf helped create TCP/IP, has spoken out to say he's wrong. And that list includes both Vint Cerf, himself, and Xerox.

Vint Cerf, whose work with Robert Kahn led to the development of the TCP/IP networking protocols, which would underpin the Internet, told CNET: “The U.S. government, including ARPA, NSF, DOE, NASA among others absolutely facilitated, underwrote, and pioneered the development of the Internet.”

“I would happily fertilize my tomatoes with Crovitz' assertion,” added Cerf.

Other sources, including Robert Taylor (who was there when the internet was invented) and Michael Hiltzik, have rejected Crovitz's spinning of their own stories,” TechDirt wrote.

“Articles like Crovitz' distort history for political purposes and I hope people who want to know the real story will discount this kind of revisionist interpretation,” Cerf concluded.

“Given the widespread discussion online about these errors - both in blogs and in traditional media, it seems like the company's silence about the whole thing is just making the problem worse. Why won't the WSJ step up and issue a real correction on all of the errors?” asks TechDirt.

Crovitz was also caught “repeatedly getting his facts wrong about NSA surveillance” without providing corrections even after his own fakes had been exposed.

However, the organization still describes its staff as “the nation’s most credentialed editors”.

NewsGuard also has a number of “advisors” which leaves no room for any uncertainty. Among them are Tom Ridge, a former Secretary of Homeland Security under George W. Bush, former CIA director, former Director of the National Security Agency and former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence (George W. Bush administration) Michael Hayden and Richard Stengel.

Stengel is a former editor of Time magazine, a “distinguished fellow” at the Atlantic Council and Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy under President Barack Obama. At a panel discussion hosted last May by the Council on Foreign Relations, Stengel described his past position at the State Department as “chief propagandist” and also stated that he is “not against propaganda. Every country does it and they have to do it to their own population and I don’t necessarily think it’s that awful.”

Other NewsGuard advisors include Don Baer, former White House communications director and advisor to Bill Clinton and current chairman of both PBS and the influential PR firm Burson Cohn & Wolfe as well as Elise Jordan, former communications director for the National Security Council and former speech writer for Condoleezza Rice, as well as the widow of slain journalist Michael Hastings — who was writing an exposé on former CIA director John Brennan at the time of his suspicious death.

All these “media professionals, advisors, trained journalists” are now running a global program of sorting out news websites and adding color 'trust rankings'.

According to NewsGuard, these ratings by “trained journalists” (calling themselves a ‘SWAT team’ by the way) are based on nine “journalistic criteria” of credibility and transparency, applied equally to all news websites.

To attain a green rating, a site must gather and present information "responsibly," must not publish "false content," and must clarify and correct errors. Avoiding “misleading headlines” and disclosing “ownership and financing” can also help secure a green rating, or “nutrition label” as NewsGuard refers to its assessments.

NewsGuard has also announced that all users of Microsoft Edge mobile apps on iOS and Android can now access NewsGuard’s Green and Red ratings, even without downloading the app, users simply need enable the feature in settings by selecting the "News Rating" option.

In addition to the Green or Red rating, Microsoft Edge mobile users can also access a NewsGuard “Nutrition Label” write up about each website, explaining why the NewsGuard analysts rated the site “generally reliable” if it is rated Green or advise readers to “proceed with caution” if it is rated Red.

Now, as you browse the news, you’ll see the NewsGuard icon next to news links on search engines and social media feeds, such as Google, Bing, Facebook and Twitter. The “truth-checking” plugin works with Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or Apple Safari browsers.

However, the NewsGuard website has also provided highly controversial information about its own methods, giving a totally different number of sites that they “review”, USA Really wrote.

In addition to that, despite one of its criteria for trustworthy sources being whether or not they are transparent about their funding, the specifics of NewsGuard’s financing are kept secret.

Newsguard’s actual revenues and financing have not been disclosed despite the fact that it requires the sites it ranks to disclose their funding. Newsguard’s United States Securities and Exchange Commission Form D — which was filed March 5, 2018 — states that the company “declined to disclose” the size of its total revenue.

Obviously, that NewsGuard website would fail by each of its own nine criteria: it repeatedly publishes false content about others, it does not gather and present information responsibly, it does not correct or clarify errors, it does not handle the difference between news and opinion responsibly, and it uses deceptive headlines and language.

As we can see, the website does not fully disclose ownership and financing, and its claimed owners and advisory board members clearly have multiple conflicts of interest. The site does not provide information about the gender identity of the content creators. It also does not provide its official position on LGBTQ+ rights, or its attitude towards animals, migrants, or people of color.

Moreover, NewsGuard’s managing board consists of mostly men (7 men and 4 women), representing an example of gender inequality. It is also evident that women and non-binary persons have little decision-making power inside this organization.

The lesser-paid general staff, contributors and interns are also divided disproportionally, 76% of them have women’s names. There’s absolutely no indication about their gender identity and color. Quick research shows that most of the staff (Macaela J. Bennett, Stéphanie Fillion, Karin Halperin, Stephanie Gutmann, Katharina Harling, Grace Niewijk, Pamela Weber-Leaf, Crystal Yednak, Rachel Treisman, Nina Zweig and others) are white, which also raises great concerns about ethnic and racial disparities in NewsGuard.

Skeptics of the NewsGuard app and its intentions have pointed out that, while it rates US government-funded websites with a ‘green’ label, it rates sites like USA Really, RT or WikiLeaks with a ‘red’ label.

But when RT asked NewsGuard to provide examples of the so-called “false content” published by them, they were simply referred to the public “nutrition label” where no clear examples of false content are available.

No wonder USA Really was one of the first news websites to receive a “black mark” from the “Ministry of Truth.”

“USAReally regularly publishes false and unproven conspiracy theories about U.S. politics. From our RED rating NewsGuard has determined that USAReally regularly publishes false content and political conspiracy theories, does not gather and present information responsibly," NewsGuard wrote while providing no proof for their phony accusations.

Microsoft Corp is pushing state governments hard to spread its browser extension onto entire state public library systems, even though its website suggests that individual public libraries are welcome to install the extension if they so choose.

A Boston Globe article on NewsGuard from this past October makes their plan even more clear:

Microsoft has already agreed to make NewsGuard a built-in feature in future products, and [Newsguard co-CEO] Brill said he’s in talks with other online titans. The goal is to have NewsGuard running by default on our computers and phones whenever we scan the Web for news,the Globe wrote at the time.

In August, 2018 Microsoft Corp was already being investigated by U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission over potential bribery and corruption related to software sales in Hungary, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The alleged arrangement was that Microsoft sold its software to middleman companies at a discount, which in turn marked them up closer to full price to sell to the Hungarian government. Part of that difference was then paid to government officials. Microsoft has faced probes in recent years over sales arrangement in several countries, mostly developing nations. In 2013, reports indicated U.S. authorities had looked into deals in China, Italy, and Romania, and Pakistan and Russia for bribery.

It’s worth reminding, that the very same month, “Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) successfully executed a court order to disrupt and transfer control of six internet domains created by a group widely associated with the Russian government and known as Strontium, or alternatively Fancy Bear or APT28,“ according to Microsoft’s blog.

“We have now used this approach 12 times in two years to shut down 84 fake websites associated with this group. Attackers want their attacks to look as realistic as possible and they therefore create websites and URLs that look like sites their targeted victims would expect to receive email from or visit. The sites involved in last week’s order fit this description,” Microsoft’s President Brad Smith wrote.

“Today we are expanding Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program with a new initiative called Microsoft AccountGuard. This initiative will provide state-of-the-art cybersecurity protection at no extra cost to all candidates and campaign offices at the federal, state and local level, as well as think tanks and political organizations we now believe are under attack. The technology is free of charge to candidates, campaigns and related political institutions using Office 365,” Smith continues.

“Together with our industry partners, we’ve launched the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, now endorsed by 44 leading tech companies to protect and empower civilians online and to improve the security, stability and resilience of cyberspace,” said Smith.

It won’t be a surprise at all, if behind those six internet domain names (my-iri.org; hudsonorg-my-sharepoint.com; senate.group; adfs-senate.services; adfs-senate.email; office365-onedrive.com) one would find a classic example of fabricated evidence for another planted story about the “election meddling” or a good cause for another one “whateverGuard”.

Indeed, in November Brill and Crovitz launched the new ‘Human Intelligence’ BrandGuard service “to help advertisers keep their brands off of ‘fake news’ websites”, claimed a company’s press release. Now the “internet watchdogs” are also seeking to harm independent media financially by targeting their revenue generated from online advertisements.

NewsGuard has received wide praise from MSNBC, CNBC, CBS, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, Wired, Bloomberg, The Hill, Politico, The Boston Globe, Axios and many other mainstream outlets in recent months, however Facebook users have provided their own feedback about NewsGuard, giving NewsGuard Technologies's a rating as low as 2 out of 5.

“While it repeatedly claims on its website that its employees ‘have no political axes to grind’ and ‘care deeply about reliable journalism’s pivotal role in democracy,’ a quick look at its co-founders, top funders and advisory board make it clear that Newsguard is aimed at curbing voices that hold the powerful — in both government and the private sector — to account,” wrote one NewsGuard visitor.

“Please quit harassing our local news pages! The Scoop and The Scoop News Group have thousands of supporters/followers and they are one of the only places we get raw/unbiased news about local news. DO NOT report them as FAKE news because they are not....they offer a community service for so many of us!” another outraged visitor wrote.

NewsGuard is nothing more than just another concerted effort by the U.S. government and powerful corporations like Microsoft to silence online dissent within the United States and beyond.

Author: USA Really