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Why Did Google Ads Ban LewRockwell.com?

One thing struck me as especially odd about Google’s ban of LewRockwell.com from its advertising program. This was the claim that articles on this site could “undermine participation or trust in electoral or democratic process.” I suppose what is meant is that the site has published articles that suggest there was substance to President Trump’s claim that the election was stolen from him. If people believe this, they are less likely than they would otherwise be to support the electoral process. Why support a process you regard as rigged?

Is this argument sound? I do not think so. Those who say the presidential election was rigged usually do not want to end elections. Their complaint is that the proper election procedures weren’t followed, e.g., that people were counted as voters who didn’t have proper identification and that in some states, electoral rules weren’t enacted by the state legislatures, as the constitutions of those states required. It hardly seems reasonable to say that people with views of this kind don’t support the electoral process. Rather, they wish to enforce the existing electoral rules that were violated. The widespread activities these people have engaged in to publicize their charges suggest that they are committed to the electoral process, not that they oppose it. To the extent that articles on LewRockwell.com have led people to hold these opinions, then, it is wrong to blame the site for undermining participation in the electoral process.

Perhaps, though, those on Google who banned the site mean something else, and here the word “trust” comes to the fore. They may mean that the articles lead people to distrust the electoral process as currently constituted. People ought to reject the protests of Trump’s supporters and accept that Biden’s election conformed to the rules. But why ought they to do so? Isn’t the question of the election’s legitimacy subject to debate? If it is Google’s position that, regardless of whether the election conformed to the rules, people ought to accept it, because otherwise they will lose trust in the electoral process, that is an extraordinary thing to say. Why should we trust an improper election? That is a foolish thing to do. Surely those who support “democratic process” should favor elections that conform to the rules.

But there is yet another way of understanding Google’s complaint. The complaint may be that, as Google sees the issue, the electoral protests are so manifestly wrong that they don’t deserve discussion. If that were the case, though, there would be little reason to fear public debate about the issue, as the absurdities of the protests could easily be exposed. If that is so, it seems more likely that Google recognizes that the complaints have substance, or at least cannot be readily dispatched, but wants these complaints suppressed. That calls into question its own commitment to the electoral process.

To what I have said, it might be objected that Google has an escape. Suppose that the electoral protests are manifestly wrong and their defects readily exposed. Google may fear that readers of the site will, owing to “confirmation bias,” have the tendency unreasonably to discount evidence that goes against one’s opinions, fail to read the refutations or, if they do look at them, put them aside without proper consideration. But given the great control of Google over channels of communication, it is unlikely that even those who strongly support the electoral protests could ignore the points against their claims, and, if these claims are that absurd, it does not seem likely that confirmation bias would prevail.

There is yet another problem with Google’s accusation. It seems likely that most people who find the articles on LewRockwell.com convincing will, even before reading them, be favorable to that point of view. Most readers of the site, it seems safe to say, share its general outlook. If that is so, the site cannot be accused of undermining trust in the current electoral process, as the readers already lacked such trust. Google might then say that at least a few people who did not do so before might come to distrust the electoral process and others might find their already existing beliefs strengthened. But, even if that is true, the marginal increase in distrust does not suffice to constitute undermining trust in the electoral process, so the accusation once more fails.

What I have so far said, though, isn’t my main reason for finding Google’s charge odd. That reason is this: if one speaks of undermining trust in the electoral process, this presupposes that most people do trust the process. If trust is lacking, there is nothing to undermine. But in fact, most people already view the process with grave suspicion. True enough, Biden’s supporters don’t accept the claims of President Trump’s supporters, but they don’t trust the electoral process either. They accuse Republicans of trying to restrict access to the ballot to their own advantage. It is a cliché of the analysis of American politics, but true, for all that, that our country is polarized. Practically no one is satisfied with the existing electoral arrangements. If such satisfaction were the criterion of being able to use the Google Ads program, Google would have to ban nearly all sites that discuss political issues.

Google has another complaint, namely that LewRockwell.com is promoting “harmful health claims.” Here I take it that Google’s target is articles that oppose covid-19 vaccinations on the grounds that they are unsafe and ineffective. My response to this is on similar lines to what I have already said about the electoral process, so I can be brief. If the assertions on the site are manifestly wrong, shouldn’t they be easy to refute? If you read the articles on LewRockwell.com, you will see that they raise important points that deserve careful consideration rather than dismissal. This is not the place to consider how best to deal with covid-19, but I shall venture one comment. When the vaccines were introduced, their supporters said that they were highly efficient in preventing people from getting the disease—in some instances it was averred that they were 99 percent effective—and that they were completely safe. Now, it is “a truth universally acknowledged,” in Jane Austen’s phrase, that the immunity wears off and that that many have died after taking the vaccines. Surely this is not the time to block discussion of this vital issue.