Your Guide to Avoiding Internet Censorship of Independent News Journalism

There are lots of good strategies for beating both corporate and government Internet censors and snoops. These range from alternatives to Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter — to direct subscriptions to authors and pubs — to setting up your own VPN. All are worth the effort.

By Whitney Webb. Published 8-24-2017 by MintPress News

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While Google’s Information Age dominance has long been recognized to have some unsavory consequences, the massive technology corporation has, in recent months, taken to directly censoring content and traffic to a variety of independent media outlets across the political spectrum — essentially muting the voices of any site or author who does not toe the establishment line.

This new offensive has coincided with Google efforts to clamp down on “fake news” and “extremist” content, which – on its subsidiary, YouTube – led to the categorical blocking of videos portraying war crimes and other disturbing events of the Syrian conflict and Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Other independent media figures, such as Luke Rudowski and Carey Wedler, on the popular video streaming service, saw many of their videos demonetized.

Though the crackdown on YouTube was more obvious, the Google search engine – the most popular in the world – is now burying or blocking independent media sites from its search results.

Conservatives have long claimed that Google was selectively targeting their content due to the personal political bias of the company’s executives — but now, since Google announced its new guidelines, numerous progressive, transparency, and anti-war websites that act as watchdogs to the establishment have seen their traffic diminish substantially.

Counterpunch, World Socialist Website, MintPress News, Democracy Now, American Civil Liberties Union and Wikileaks are just a handful of the sites that have seen massive drops in their returns from Google searches. The World Socialist Website alone experienced a 67 percent decrease in returns from Google following the implementation of Google’s new algorithm targeting so-called “fake news.” MintPress News, however, has suffered the steepest decline, having seen a 76 percent decrease in traffic from Google since the new algorithm was put into effect.

Google has its reasons for choosing to censor viewpoints that clash with or even raise questions about the official narrative. Google shares deep connections with the U.S.’ political powerbrokers, notably with the CIA, which originally helped fund Google into existence with the intention of controlling the flow of information.

Understandably — in light of its deep connections to those who stand the most to lose from the actual free flow of information — Google has emerged as a leader of the “fight” against so-called “fake news.” The concept of “fake news” took on sudden weight following last November’s U.S. presidential election: in the tweets and rants of newly-elected President Donald Trump, media predictions of a Clinton victory were ridiculed as “FAKE NEWS,” while Clinton supporters also wound up blaming “fake news” for Clinton’s loss in the election.

In short order, the term became a term of derision and dismissal applied to any and all disagreeable reporting. With the “fake news” net cast so wide, the ground was fertile for a campaign against the official story-challenging work of independent media — dependent for its reach, to a far greater extent than its mainstream media counterparts, upon the good graces of monster Internet traffic cops such as Google.

The following guide offers a variety of solutions and options for those concerned with Google’s overreach and its decision to become the Internet’s unelected “Ministry of Truth.”

Dumping Google Search

Illustration by Anders Nienstaedt for MintPress News.

Dominating over 80% of global searches made on the Internet, Google’s chokehold on the flow of information is undeniable. Now that its algorithm has been shown to target news sites critical of the establishment on both sides of the aisle, finding an alternative becomes an essential task irrespective of one’s political leaning.

However, don’t expect other brand name search engines like Microsoft’s Bing or Yahoo to come to the rescue, as these too have been caught censoring search results in the past. Microsoft, in particular, is very untrustworthy, given its eager participation in the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program — where it illegally shared the Internet user data, including search queries, of U.S. citizens without their knowledge. Given its willingness to cooperate with the government against the interest of American citizens, Microsoft would be perhaps more willing even than Google to censor access to so-called “fake news.”

Yahoo is little better, as it too was an early adopter of the PRISM surveillance program, second only to Microsoft. Like Microsoft, they willingly cooperate with government censorship efforts – as well as the outing of dissidents – in other countries.

Thankfully, as far as search engines go, there are other options available that not only respect your privacy but also offer fairer searches, including some features that even Google doesn’t offer.

DuckDuckGo

Of all the viable Google alternatives, DuckDuckGo is the most well-known, having been promoted by PCMag.com, the Guardian, and The New York Times as a “long-term” threat to Google’s search dominance. It was even one of the top 50 sites of 2011, according to Time magazine.

However, the “mainstream” accolades are, in this case, well-deserved. DuckDuckGo is best known for its motto “the search engine that doesn’t track you,” complete with Tor browser functionality.While this is a clear boon for privacy enthusiasts – or anyone concerned about illegal NSA spying – it also results in search results that are not filtered based on your search history. In other words, users are more likely to be presented with search results that challenge their existing ideas.

DuckDuckGo also boasts an impressive search algorithm that excludes Google results but includes results from other well-known search engines, mixed with the data obtained by DuckDuckGo’s own web crawler bot. The results are filtered for spam and re-ordered using its trademark “Instant Answers” platform, which places high-quality answers above other results and advertisements. The “Instant Answers” platform gathers answers provided by top popular websites, like Wikipedia, in addition to community-built answers.

For those tech-savvy users who don’t trust the spam filtering or even the “Instant Answer” platform, these functions — as well as DuckDuckGo itself — is open-source and also offers DuckDuckHack, where users can create their own plug-ins for use in DuckDuckGo and even help improve the search engine overall.

For less savvy tech users, DuckDuckGo conveniently functions like any other search engine, in addition to providing several features even Google doesn’t offer. It also has a search app for both iPhone and Android, as well as plug-ins for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, and offers support in several languages.

Ixquick/StartPage

Ixquick is an American/Dutch meta-search engine, meaning it simultaneously searches multiple databases and other search engines, including Google, across the Internet. It uses a “star system” to rank search results, placing a star next to each result for every search engine that ranks that result as one of its 10 best for a given search. A five-star result, for example, means that five search engines considered that result to be among the 10 most relevant.

Ixquick — which has now merged with its subsidiary, StartPage — also tackles the issue of privacy by not storing user-specific details such as cookies or past search results. Like DuckDuckGo, Ixquick offers unfiltered search results generated by Google’s “personalized” searches. Privacy enthusiasts may recognize Ixquick as the default search engine for the Tor browser.

Ixquick is supported in 17 languages and offers a plug-in for Mozilla Firefox. They also offer a privacy-minded, encrypted email server called StartMail.

Gibiru

Gibiru, like the aforementioned search engines, prides itself on offering maximum privacy. It avoids tracking its users by providing anonymous and encrypted searches. It describes itself as “the preferred Search Engine for Patriots” and offers non-personalized, anonymous web results while emphasizing the disdain of its developers for the NSA. Part of what sets Gibiru apart is its claim to offer “uncensored” searches, as their web crawlers intentionally include pages that Google has blocked or buried in its search results.

Gibiru also has a unique feature called “Uncensored News.” In addition to aggregating results from other search engines, Gibiru adds its own algorithm that specifically looks for results from independent media outlets, particularly those that tend to “promote ‘alternative’ views from the mainstream.” Recognizing that mainstream media results are picked up by Google and Bing, Gibiru does not use its bandwidth searching through these results. Even up-and-coming independent media sites can gain inclusion in Uncensored News results by communicating with the Gibiru team.

Gibiru offers both a toolbar and a plugin for Mozilla Firefox.

Subscribe directly to your favorite pages

Though the above search engines can assist in more accurate and less censored internet searches, the best way to get news you trust is directly from the source. Anyone who reads independent media eventually develops preferences for certain sites and authors whose content they consistently find reliable and interesting.

If you are concerned with Google’s clampdown on independent media, the most surefire way to ensure your access to the sites you enjoy is by subscribing directly to them via email. Most independent media pages offer you the option to subscribe to their mailing lists, where you receive their top stories on a daily basis. Some pages charge for subscriptions, but most – such as MintPress News’ Daily Digest – are free and allow you to unsubscribe at any time. Some websites, including MintPress, also offer apps for Android or iPhone, which allow users direct and convenient access to the content of those pages.

If you are concerned that all of the newsletters and stories of the pages you want to follow will clutter your email, there are several good options. Some mail servers allow you to label certain types of incoming mail, and creating a specific label for “news” can streamline the process of following all of your favorite pages in one place. Alternatively, you can create an email account dedicated to news in order to keep it separate from email accounts more focused on work or socializing.

In some cases, however, your favorite writers may not regularly publish in the same place, making their work difficult to follow via email subscription. Many authors have either their own web pages dedicated to their work or publish on websites such as Medium — a site offering both free and premium membership options, that hosts the writings of many big names in independent news from across the political spectrum.

Signing up for Medium allows you to follow any writer you like, even mainstream ones – a boon, for instance, if you like a certain writer at, say, The Wall Street Journal but don’t trust the paper as a whole. Certain popular writers in independent media — such Nafeez Ahmed’s Insurge Intelligence — even publish some of their biggest stories exclusively on Medium.

Dump social media for news

Though some may value their Facebook account for keeping in touch with friends and family, the social media giant is quickly becoming unreliable for receiving news content posted by your friends as well as the people or pages you follow. Facebook and Twitter have each been caught censoring on several occasions and both now openly patrol for “fake news” and “hate speech” — burying stories that users would otherwise see, based on the recommendations of Facebook or Twitter-approved flaggers. Many of these flaggers have been found to publish “fake news” themselves or have a strong bias against particular viewpoints, particularly those critical of conservative politics.

Just as with Google, Facebook and Twitter users can no longer be sure that their newsfeeds contain the news they want to read, just as content creators and publishers can no longer expect the same scope and reach they once enjoyed on social media.

Unfortunately, the alternatives to Facebook and Twitter are few and lack the large user communities that make a social network successful. However, there are two notable sites that are attempting to change that.

One of those sites is Steemit. Steemit is a social media platform that runs a blogging and social network website built on top of a blockchain database. Steemit now boasts a decently sized community, though it hardly compares to Facebook in terms of daily users. Part of its success has been due to the site’s commitment to paying users for creating and curating popular content on the site. Per the site’s system, users receive digital points (“Steem”) depending on the success of their posts, which they can exchange for more tangible rewards or payment via online exchanges. With $1 of Steem now worth just over $4 USD, some people have found using Steemit to be both socially and economically beneficial.

Another potential Facebook competitor is Minds — an open source, encrypted, and community-owned social network site that values free speech and doesn’t bow to government or advertiser pressure. It hosts individual user profiles and blogs and creates an unfiltered newsfeed for its users. Members can even be paid for posting their content if it garners a significant number of views and upvotes. Although at present the Minds community is tiny compared to that of Facebook, it may in years to come become a more popular alternative, as Facebook continues to disappoint.

Avoiding outright censorship if and when It happens

While censorship has long been a reality in countries like China, Western governments like to tout themselves as being the guardians of freedom and the free flow of information. But many of these governments, particularly the United States, have come to realize in recent years that they are on the losing side of the “information war,” as trust in the corporate-owned media and the government itself has sunk to historic lows.

Though Western governments have, so far, outsourced censorship to technology companies like Google and Facebook, there is little reason to believe that these governments will refrain from demanding the outright censorship of information that doesn’t toe the official line.

Take, for example, the recent rhetoric of U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May who, in the wake of the Manchester bombing, has pushed for censoring “extremist propaganda” online. May’s assertion concerned internet watchdog groups, who likened her proposals to China’s widespread censorship of the Internet.

If official government censorship comes to your country – or if you suspect that it is already there – the easiest workaround is setting up a virtual private network, or VPN. A VPN allows you to use your computer as though it were connected to a network other than the one you actually use. In the event of government censorship in your country, a VPN allows you to virtually connect to a network set up in another country where such censorship is not in effect. Using a VPN has the added bonus of greater Internet privacy — as effective VPN protocols encrypt your traffic, helping to protect you from government surveillance as well as censorship.

VPNs are provided by VPN service providers, not all of whom are created equal. VPN providers with good reputations include Strong VPN, SurfEasy, and TunnelBear.  Of these, TunnelBear is the least expensive – offering a free service – and SurfEasy the most expensive at $11.99 per month. However, the Opera browser now includes SurfEasy’s VPN services for free. A comprehensive guide on how to choose the best VPN service provider for your needs can be found here.

This article is republished under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

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