Following Expressen’s investigation: American Simon Wiesenthal Center criticises Google – and wants to see Swedish politicians take action.
The Nazi hunters want to investigate Google for antisemitic content in their search tool.
Google has been the subject of some harsh criticism over the past week, after Expressen and Dagens Nyheter revealed that the dissemination of extremist right-wing and antisemitic material has been permitted on both YouTube and Google.
After initially having avoided responding to the criticism, Google's European Director addressed the criticism in a blog post:
“This week we have been asked a number of difficult questions relating to particular channels and activities on YouTube. We hear the frustration and criticism from those of you who want to see faster actions or other decisions made,” writes Ben McOwens in the blog post.
“We firmly believe that YouTube should not be a place where harassment, hateful content or bullying belong, and we remove content and comments that violate our policies.”
Several experts now feel that this week's discoveries and the harsh criticism could determine the company’s fate.
One of these is the Simon Wiesenthal Center, based in the US, which issues an annual rating of the tech giants on how well they are counteracting Nazism, antisemitism, terrorism and extremism on their platforms. The organisation, known for hunting Nazi war criminals, rate the companies according to five questions, explains Rabbi Abraham Cooper, 68, Director of the organisation’s Social Action Agenda department.
• How the companies deal with issues of hate or hate speech.
• How they deal with what we call the food chain of terrorism.
• What rules, if any, do the companies have?
• Are they transparent?
• Are they putting enough human and other resources into the efforts to degrade the capability of extremists’ leverage on these very powerful platforms.
In this year’s Digital terrorism and hate report card, which was issued this week, Google only received a C+ on a scale going up to A at highest.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, one of the founders of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles, is therefore not surprised to hear about the past week's news reports about Google in Expressen and Dagens Nyheter.
Expressen has revealed, in several articles and reports, how US tech giant Google helps to spread material with undertones of hatred and which might even contain criminal content. YouTube, which is owned by Google, has among other things continued to share a video in which politician Bo Nilsson of the neo-Nazi NMR wears a symbol from Nazi Germany.
Bo Nilsson was convicted, despite his objections, in both the district court and court of appeals for minor incitement against an ethnic group. Yet despite the convictions and media coverage of the case, the video remained available on YouTube. It was not until Expressen published details about it that the clip was taken down.
This is not the only time that NMR has used YouTube to broadcast antisemitic messages. Their official channel shows video footage of Hitler and videos of their own lectures about Nazi Germany. One clip declares that action is being taken to “enlighten the public that the Holocaust is a bluff”.
NMR’s videos on YouTube come with a warning:
”The following content has been identified by YouTube’s users as inappropriate or offensive to some viewers.”
Certain functions, like comments, sharing and suggested videos, have also been inactivated for the videos, as they ”contain material that could be inappropriate or offensive to some viewers”.
YouTube writes in their guidelines:
”If your account receives three Community Guidelines strikes within a three-month period, your account will be terminated.”
Nevertheless, NMR’s channel remains online and has, since it began, accumulated more than six million page views.
When Expressen asked Google if it was consistent with their policy that NMR is permitted to share videos on their YouTube channel, Google’s chief press officer Farshad Shadloo writes in an email:
”We remove videos in cases where they violate our policies or local legislation. In certain cases, where videos are not illegal or breaking our terms and conditions, but still contain extremist and hateful content that has been flagged by users as potentially violating YouTube’s policies, we implement a tougher standard. Some of the functions have been inactivated for the clips, but they are still there, behind a window showing a warning text, is not recommended, cannot earn money from, and will not have key functions like comments, recommended clips and liking.”
Until now NMR’s own website Nordfront has been presented in a similar way as established media when searched on Google. Under the search term of the organization, the ”top news for nordfront.se” has been shown in the same way as for established media – something that has now been adjusted by Google.
ANTISEMITIC LIST OF SWEDISH JEWS
A few simple searches were enough to wind up on a blog with an antisemitic list charting Swedish debaters, journalists, authors, television personalities and politicians among the top Google hits. Anyone who clicks their way into the blog could read about “Jewish supremacy” and the fact that a certain Jewish family is a “threat”.
The blog charts almost 80 people, with names, photographs and often derogatory descriptions. In the list’s description of Holocaust survivors like Emerich Roth and Ferenc Göndör, their experiences are set within quotation marks, to imply that the Holocaust never happened. Göndör, who in articles and talks has dedicated much of his life to recounting his Holocaust experiences, is quoted on the site as being dedicated to “eternal nagging about Jewish suffering,” the purpose of which is to make it “unacceptable to criticise Jewish supremacy.” Göndör passed away in 2010.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Abraham Cooper takes these reports so seriously that he now wishes to investigate the material. He regularly meets with Google’s executive team in the US about the work to eliminate hatred, threats and antisemitism from the platform.
“We would like to look at this material on the Swedish end where Google has failed to act, and if we agree, we will add our voice directly to those companies,” says Cooper.
He takes the list that charts Swedish Jews very seriously. Several people on the list have, via legal representatives, demanded that the website not be shown in Google’s search results. But in nine cases out of ten their requests were rejected by Google, on the grounds that the site is related to people’s work and “is therefore of public interest.”
Journalist Willy Silberstein, Editor-in-Chief Helle Klein and former CEO of TV4 Jan Scherman are some of the Swedish Jews on the antisemitic list on the internet.
For more than a month, their legal representatives have been reporting the list to Google, with the aim of preventing the list from appearing in search results for their name. Only – after Expressen and DN’s investigations – on Friday evening did Google start to back down and promised that they would remove 24 people on the list from their search results. And Sunday evening, Google finally removed the list from it’s search result in Sweden.
“The Simon Wiesenthal Center takes very seriously the implications of the online publishing of the Jewish list,” says Abraham Cooper. “It is a clear attempt to intimidate and perhaps inspire worse.”
Cooper also urges Sweden’s politicians to take action where Google is not.
“It might also be time for [Sweden’s] parliament to consider legislation to protect the innocent and provide legal mechanisms [with which] to defend themselves,” he says.
Cooper is not surprised that the Holocaust is set within quotation marks on the list. He has witnessed similar language. It’s part of a new tactic within antisemitism that he believes Google needs to be aware of.
“The internet gives them the possibility to develop a coded language. It’s no longer just about flashing the swastika, words and symbols that might initially scare away a young person or an adult. They use a language that makes the embrace of these extremist ideologies more palatable. And it’s extremely worrying,” says Cooper.
Dagens Nyheter has previously revealed that Google had repeatedly sold advertising space and, as a result, profited from the page. According to the newspaper, the advertisers had not been aware of the context and are very concerned. On Friday, the Swedish committee against antisemitism also released an official statement:
“The fact that Google wishes to be associated with the type of list used by Nazis and neo-Nazis to locate Jews prior to and following the Second World War is as incomprehensible as it is repulsive. In an EU agreement together with Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft, Google has committed to counteract racism and treat each complaint relating to racism within 24 hours and quickly remove the content if it violates that country’s laws.”
Meanwhile, industry organisation the Association of Swedish Advertisers summoned Google for an emergency meeting.
“That's obviously not good. As an advertiser, obviously you want to advertise on safe sites,” says Tero Marjamäki, chief press officer.
On Saturday, Google Sweden’s head of communications Fashad Shadloo responded to the criticism.
“We certainly agree that this is offensive content, and not the kind of result most people would like to see. But the WordPress blog in question, however repulsive, does not appear to be illegal under Swedish law. If a court of law were to find it illegal, we would of course remove it from our search results straight away. In recent years we have made improvements to our system that enable us to display more authentic and qualitative results for search strings that could potentially lead to problematic content. These systems are not yet available in Swedish, but we have made it a top priority for our teams to roll out the Swedish version as soon as we can,” he writes.
THREAT OF AN ADVERTISING BOYCOTT
Last year, criticism flared up against YouTube. Several major corporations in the US and UK announced that they intended to stop advertising on YouTube as all too often the adverts ended up alongside offensive, hateful and racist material.
“You don’t really have the same sort of control as when you’re buying newspaper advertising space. There is a risk that you’ll end up alongside inappropriate content and it can rub off on your own brand image,” Tero Marjamäki, press officer at the Association of Swedish Advertisers, said to Expressen earlier in the week.
In a recent speech, major multinational corporation Unilever’s marketing director Keith Weed also threatened to boycott both Google and Facebook. Weed has accused the world’s tech giants of creating a “swamp” of fake news and criminal content.
The question is not just about advertisers being seen alongside things they do not wish to be associated with. They also run the risk of financing organisations that spread hatred, racism and terrorist propaganda, as YouTube shares the advertising revenues with its users.
The debate about advertisers ending up alongside hate material also flared up in Sweden last spring. At the time, in March last year, Expressen had revealed that Fabian Fjälling was the man behind the pseudonym Erik Johansson on xenophobic network Granskning Sverige (Investigate Sweden). The investigation resulted in the, at the time newly formed, right-wing extremist online project “Megafonerna” (the Megaphones), of which an editor from right-wing extremist newspaper Nya Tider (New Times) was part, visiting Expressen’s Editor-in-Chief Thomas Mattsson’s home as well as the home of the reporter who wrote about Fjälling. The clip urged people to systematically visit journalists in their homes: “Imagine just one visit, how they will panic. Imagine if ten, twenty each visit them daily, seven days a week. I promise, they’ll think again before exposing people.”
The house calls to Expressen’s employees were published on YouTube and alongside the videos were several well-established major advertisers. This was pointed out by Patrik Oksanen, editorial writer at Hela Hälsingland, who also demonstrated that companies and organisations like Svenska Spel, Coop, Kavli, Ica, the Swedish Childhood Cancer Foundation and Folkuniversitetet showed up above “Megafonerna’s” video.
Oksanen pointed out that the British government had retreated and ceased all advertising on YouTube after adverts from the Home Office, BBC and Transport for London had shown up alongside various hate videos. He suggested that, in particular, state-owned gambling company Svenska Spel were responsible for the context in which their adverts were displayed, and thereby the type of organisations being financed:
“The fact that state-owned Svenska Spel advertises on messages that undermine the Swedish political system is not a game or experience, but rather in the long run a very serious democratic survival issue. It is time for Sweden to stop being naive. This also applies to state-owned companies who act like useful idiots,” wrote Oksanen.
After the media attention surrounding “Megafonerna’s” attempt to intimidate journalists investigating right-wing extremism, Svenska Spel chose to re-evaluate its YouTube advertising. Only after they received confirmation from Google about certain improvements to the site’s algorithms were they confident about advertising again.
The New York Times’ Dai Wakabayashi is familiar with Sweden’s criticism of Google and YouTube. He can see how it is gaining momentum, even in the US. Google and YouTube have recently come under harsh criticism after allowing a video in which right-wing extremist organisation Infowars, known for launching conspiracy theories, claims that survivors from the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting were actors. They call them things like “crisis actors”. 17 people died in the attack.
“For YouTube this is the number one issue facing them right now,” says Dai Wakabayashi. “It goes on many levels. One is the reputation risk, that people start thinking that you can’t go on YouTube without being inundated with conspiracy theories or hate speech, that hurts the number of people that are coming to YouTube. And on top of that, if there’s a risk that companies are advertising next to videos where there is extremist content or hate speech again and again, no I don’t think there are any companies that want to be associated with that. This is a huge issue for YouTube right now,” says the New York Times’ tech expert.
He argues that YouTube’s algorithms are a problem. The problem being that they result in visitors being shown conspiracy theory suggestions.
“One of the things we’ve seen, and that YouTube is working with, is that conspiracy theory videos tend to have very high levels of engagement. And YouTube tends to optimise its recommendations for high engagement videos at the moment. So if, for example, you do a search on President Barack Obama and you follow the recommended videos from YouTube, there’s a good chance that you’ll be shown and recommended a conspiracy theory video. And if you watch one, they might start recommending more and more. It’s a cycle that starts. If I do a search for basketball highlights, I’m not sure they will recommend conspiracy theory videos for me. But if it’s a subject that’s ripe for conspiracy theories, often these videos will show up in recommendations,” says Dai Wakabayashi.
Not far from Dai Wakabayashi’s office is Dagens Industri’s Andreas Cervenka, who is covering the tech giants on location in Silicon Valley.
He describes the ongoing crisis as a ticking bomb. He is not surprised that Google has been criticised for reacting so late and so slowly in Sweden.
“This has been going on for years,” he says. “Again and again, it’s the same thing. It’s inappropriate material. YouTube and Google say, ‘We’ll deal with it’ and then it shows up again. It coming to Sweden was highly anticipated, but it’s typical that investigative journalism is necessary for this to come out,” he says.
Cervenka believes that we are seeing the dawn of change in the way Google handles this kind of material.
“I definitely believe that this is the dawn of change. What other company would get away with it? If DN or Expressen published the material that YouTube publishes, then the newspapers would be over by tomorrow. But Facebook, YouTube and Google have always refused to admit that they’re in the media industry. They say, ‘We’re not in the media industry, we’re not in the content industry,’ despite the fact that they purchase and publish content for billions of dollars a year. They are in the content industry! Youtube is the world’s largest television channel, but they don’t want to take responsibility for what they’re showing. That’s what's odd about it, and that position is getting harder and harder.”
Cervenka compares it to a scenario in which SVT Play was broadcasting similar content.
“Imagine if SVT were to broadcast a few documentaries that suggested what happened on Drottninggatan was simply fake. And this was available online, being shown several hundred thousand times, and they simply said, ‘Yes, we’re looking into it. We take what’s shown on our platform seriously.’ It just wouldn’t ever happen. But that’s exactly what’s happening on YouTube. They say things like ‘Oh! Really? Are there things like that on our platform? That’s terrible!’ And all the while they’re making advertising revenues from it.”
However, Cervenka can see a shift in opinion taking place in the US.
“Here in the US there has been an enormously rapid shift in attitude towards these companies. It’s only going to escalate. You can even sense a much tougher attitude among the politicians. It’s especially noticeable in the questions about their involvement in Russia’s attempts to influence the presidential election. We don’t know what will come out of that process, but it is perfectly clear that public opinion has changed dramatically,” he says and continues:
“They’ve gone under the radar for quite a while. Google has said, ‘We’re working on autonomous cars. We’ve got seven amazing smart speakers and we are fantastic because we have different labs and stuff!’ But really they’re just a gigantic advertising machine. And the world’s biggest publicist. This is what they don’t want to be associated with. Because then people will ask: ‘What are your actual responsibilities regarding what is being shown?’ I think that if they don’t really demonstrate that they can handle this, there’s a risk of something pretty drastic happening. In the US, there’s a law that makes them an exception, so they have no responsibility for what they publish. There’s a loophole in the law basically. That loophole can theoretically be shut down and that would pull the rug right out from under their entire business model.”
GOOGLE AND GRANSKNING SVERIGE
Last weekend, Expressen was able to reveal that, on several occasions recently, Google has neglected to act against xenophobic network Granskning Sverige, despite both Expressen and Dagens Nyheter informing Google about suspected violations of the law on the network’s various accounts.
In their videos, Granskning Sverige has used stolen images from Expressen and Dagens Nyheter. Via law firm Danowsky & Partners, the newspapers have reported Granskning Sverige to Google for copyright infringement. The observations reported to Google led to Granskning Sverige visiting the home of a Danowsky & Partners lawyer. The lawyer’s family were contacted with details about their home and the lawyer’s family. The incident has been reported to the police. The law firm had also been subjected to attempts to access privileged client/lawyer information, via a fake Gmail address. That incident was also reported to the police. Also in their videos on YouTube, which is owned by Google, and in their Twitter posts, Granskning Sverige had called the law firm and its staff “mentally ill” as well as declaring that, “DN, Expressen and Danowsky want to eradicate free journalism.” Granskning Sverige have themselves set up systems for spreading xenophobia by tricking politicians, influencers and journalists into giving “interviews”. The results - the clipped together sound bites - have then been posted on YouTube and shared on social media. In February last year, the local newspaper Eskilstuna-Kuriren uncovered the system behind Granskning Sverige’s operation - how they offer money and instructions to the people making the calls. During the investigation, one of the leading voices behind the network, Fabian Fjälling, revealed his true identity. Shortly after he had revealed his own identity, Fjälling was involved in the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement’s online publication Nordfront in which he said, for example, that he believed race was part of the essence of being Swedish. At the same time, anti-racism publication Expo were able to confirm that Fabian Fjälling had openly spread racism and denied the Holocaust. In a Granskning Sverige article, Fjälling interviewed Holocaust denier Lars Wilhelmson. Throughout the interview, Fjälling agreed with Wilhelmson while, using antisemitic terms, he talked about a Jewish “global conspiracy.” He also joined in on the conversation and called the Holocaust a lie.
“I’ve actually become religious through studying the Jews’ evil influence on the world. (...) at first it was 9/11 and I thought that it’s absolutely crazy that this lie can pass as truth for so many. What else is there? So I started widening my scope and then I saw the Second World War and the Holocaust, and then oh God, this is also a lie! What else is there? The Russian Revolution, yes it’s the same here. And you keep finding the same ethnic group on the side of evil in every tragedy that’s happened throughout history,” Fjälling is to have said, according to anti-racism publication Expo.
Fjälling has also been active in the comments fields of extremist right-wing websites, including Realisten, which belonged to the now defunct neo-Nazi political party, Party of the Swedes (Svenskarnas parti):
“I believe that the national movement would benefit far more from being expressly non-violent... Just like Hitler was,” he wrote in 2013, according to Expo.
Granskning Sverige also has ties with Fria Tider, which is one of the most influential hate websites, which Expressen could reveal in March last year, together with the Eskilstuna Courier. The ties with the hate site were through Jim Olsson. Olsson was one of the people who, in December 2013, Expressen exposed as one of the most active commenters on hate sites like Avpixlat, Exponerat and in particular Fria Tider. Associate professor Jim Olsson has been referred to as a ‘private individual’ on hate sites, but Expressen's investigation revealed that in actual fact he has been responsible for the mass distribution of xenophobia from an anonymous account. Among Olsson’s comments are allegations about Muslims being “considered as potential blackmailers, claim machines and generally troublesome,” about “mass immigration of illiterates, Islamists and criminals,” and that “defrauders are streaming into Sweden.” He also described political opposition as “Quislings” (referring to Vidkun Quisling), i.e. traitors to be hunted down. Expressen and the Eskilstuna Courier could reveal that website granskningsverige.se, through which Granskning Sverige had been begging for money and assembling their “interviews,” was first registered by Jim Olsson’s company Arealia in March 2014. Olsson was also registered as the official contact for the domain. In December 2015, Olsson transferred ownership of the domain to hate site Fria Tider’s parent company, FT News Group OU, registered in Tallinn, Estonia. The new contact person was Widar Nord, who is also the man behind Fria Tider.
What role or function does Fria Tider have for Granskning Sverige?
“We have no role whatsoever. The only thing we’ve had to do with them is that we were the owners of this domain and we purchased images from them, which they had, and we’ve transcribed some of their better interviews. But I know just as little about them as anyone. I don’t know who they are except that guy whose name you dug out,” Widar Nord said at the time. Google only this week shut down Granskning Sverige’s main channel on YouTube for having violated Google’s terms and conditions, after massive criticism from, among others, industry organisations like Utgivarna (Publishers), the Swedish Union of Journalists and the Swedish Media Publishers’ Association (TU), but also from politicians like the Liberals’ party leader Jan Björklund who demanded that Google take action against content from, for example, Granskning Sverige. Their Facebook page was also shut down. On Thursday evening, pilot Fabian Fjälling from Granskning Sverige posted his “final post” on his own YouTube account. In a video, Fjälling declared that he was going to stop making videos. In a statement on Youtube, Fabian Fjälling says that his family has received hate mail.
“I cannot subject my family to this unfortunately,” he says on YouTube.
In the video he strongly criticises Expressen, DN, Bonnier and SVT.
Expressen has tried to contact Fabian Fjälling, without success.
Google’s Sweden Director Anna Wikland has not been willing to comment on the criticism against the company during the week. Her influence in the company is however limited, even if the title Sweden Director sounds important.
“As far as I understand it, the Sweden Director is mainly a local manager for Stockholm,” says Sydsvenskan’s journalist Andreas Ekström, author of acclaimed Swedish book The Google Code.
“Her most important job is to manage advertising sales. This type of political and journalistic strategic decision that we are talking about now is something that Google deals with on a global level, and although Anna Wikland is of course able to talk to Larry Page (CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc.) or Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google) if she wants, her influence there is probably not huge.”
How serious do you think Google believes the articles and criticism over the past few days are?
“They spend more money on lobbying than any other company in the US. They are incredibly aware of how serious the criticism is. And it’s nothing new either. These kinds of arguments have been going on for almost a decade,” says Ekström.
Does Google deal with this kind of thing any differently to other companies?
“Major software corporations want to continue ‘just’ working with technology at all costs. So I say, congratulations, you were so good at producing technology that you managed to make yourselves into the entire world’s super editorial media. As you haven’t managed to create an algorithm for human judgement and experience, yet, then you’ll have to explain which ethical principles apply.”
How would you describe the corporate climate/corporate culture?
“Technology comes first, in all situations,” says Ekström.
“Google employing thousands of editors is highly unlikely in my opinion. In that case, they would rather employ thousands of new programmers.”
The New York Times’ man in the Silicon Valley, Dai Wakabayashi, is critical of how slowly the world’s tech giants react to hatred and threats.
“I don't think they’ve reacted quick enough. What we’ve seen over the last year is that all these companies have been caught off guard the way their platforms can be manipulated by people, whether it’s the Russian government, Isis, or extremist groups. These platforms have created a way for people to express themselves and these groups have figured out that it’s an incredibly powerful way. The companies have always talked about the power of these platforms but have not appreciated how they could be used in a way that hurts the broader society,” says the New York Times’ expert reporter.
He believes that the staff, primarily at YouTube, are part of the problem.
“The senior management of YouTube come from a business background. They are not traditional media types. Google is a tech company, so it makes sense that their executives come from a technology or business background. But the questions they are being confronted with are what we would consider more traditional media questions, like making a call on whether some content is appropriate or not.”
“They are not easy questions by any means, but the people running these companies are not people with experience of answering those kinds of questions.”
The New York Times’ expert Dai Wakabayashi is however optimistic about the future. He believes that Google will be different in five years.
“They’ll look more like a traditional media company. You can already see that a lot, the most popular channels on YouTube, generate the majority of views, so a single-digit number of channels represent 90 percent of the usage. That’s roughly how traditional media works. There is a wide selection, but most people gravitate towards the most popular items. I believe that YouTube will optimise that way. Extremists with few followers will be harder and harder to find on this platform.”
Dagens industri’s Andreas Cervenka sees a Google executive team that’s unaccustomed to having to take responsibility.
“They’re not out being interviewed here either. I haven’t seen a single interview with Google's CEO during this entire six-month period when there’s been criticism of Google every day. These companies are not used to being investigated. They’re used to being praised as fantastic tech saviours and global reformers. They’re not at all used to having to take responsibility for what they have. I don’t think they really know how to handle this.”
Andreas Cervenka continues:
“I actually believe that the truth about Google and Facebook is that they don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t seem to have understood what they're doing, that they are publicists and have a responsibility and that their platforms can be used for a wide range of detrimental uses that destroy democracy, to threaten and harass. Either they haven’t understood this, which is pretty serious, or it’s intentional, that they don’t want to understand. Neither is good,” he says.
Cervenka points out how much power has fallen to the tech giants in the Silicon Valley town of Mountain View.
“I don’t believe that these companies are evil. However, for a long time they’ve been allowed to abide by different rules than other companies. If an engineering industry company were to start dumping toxic waste in some body of water, naturally the CEO would be held accountable. They would resign, they would pay damages and they would clean up after themselves. Naturally. No-one would consider that unusual. But when everything happens digitally, they dump a load of rubbish on their own digital lands and then shrug their shoulders saying, ‘I don't know what this is, we’re a platform, we’ll have to take a look at this’.”
“It is possible that there are no easy quick fixes, but what I find interesting in the reports, regardless of whether it’s about removing content or whatever it might be, is that everything boils down to a few people in a conference room in Mountain View making the decisions. They get to decide who gets to say something, who doesn’t get to say anything, when they get to say it, and so on. Whatever your opinion. Some may think that the material is important and that it’s about freedom of speech, and we can discuss that. But some turns out to be illegal and in those cases there shouldn’t be a discussion, because illegal is illegal. And although it’s against the law, there’s someone at a conference table in Mountain View making the decisions, and that demonstrates the power of these corporations. It’s like we’ve outsourced a portion of the power over democracy to a few tech companies and not everyone may think that’s a good thing.”
He describes drowsy politicians who have not realised how quickly the world has changed.
“I’ve written about this a lot of times, about the finance industry primarily. It’s been clear that the politicians never kept up with developments in the finance industry and were then forced to wake up after the financial crisis and think, ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! Hasn’t this grown! We’ll have to look at this.’ It feels like exactly the same thing is happening with this industry.”
How Google handles the criticism could determine their fate.
“I think a lot of people don’t realise that they’re being manipulated by algorithms being controlled from here,” says Cervenka. “These companies are not interested in being your buddy. They are interested in making money from you. It hasn’t occurred to that many people. The root of their entire existence is to sort all this out. Which parent wants their child to suddenly be served clips about a school massacre being a conspiracy? And which companies want their adverts to be seen there?”
He feels that Google needs to be more proactive.
“The approach is always: If you find anything inappropriate then let us know. That’s not enough. That’s like Scandinavian Airlines saying, ‘If you see a big crack in the wing while we’re flying, send an email to customer services and we’ll take a look at it’.”
A WEEK OF CRITICISM AGAINST GOOGLE
SUNDAY 4 MARCH
Expressen reveals that Google allows extremist right-wing network Granskning Sverige to, via video service YouTube, spread harassment and copyrighted material.
A lawyer who asked Google to stop the infringements has been approached in their private home by Granskning Sverige - who in addition spied on the lawyer’s children.
But Google allows Granskning Sverige to continue using YouTube.
MONDAY 5 MARCH
Neo-Nazi Bo Nilsson from NMR has been convicted for spreading neo-Nazi propaganda on YouTube.
Expressen reveals that the video - in which he wears a symbol associated with Nazi Germany’s war crimes - is nevertheless still available on the American tech giant’s YouTube platform. “If it turns out that the content violates our policies or local legislation then we will act,” writes Farshad Shadloo on Google, who owns YouTube, in a comment to Expressen.
Justice Minister Morgan Johansson, Social Democrats, comments on Expressen’s articles about Google allowing extremist right-wing network Granskning Sverige to, via video service YouTube, spread harassment and copyrighted material. He wants to increase the pressure on the corporations:
“If someone is committing a crime it should be reported to the police. Naturally this also applies to crimes committed on the internet and on social media,” he says.
TUESDAY 6 MARCH
Expressen’s David Baas reveals that with a few simple search words, Google helps its users to find an antsemitic list charting Swedish Jews.
The list describes the people in derogatory terms, one family is called “a threat” and Holocaust survivors are ridiculed.
Both Expressen and Dagens Nyheter have, via law firm Danowsky & Partners, reported Granskning Sverige to Google for copyright infringement, as they have used images illegally. After Expressen and DN’s complaint, Google now decides to remove Granskning Sverige’s YouTube channel, which is the network’s main account. By 4.30 pm on Tuesday, the account was gone.
WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH
After Expressen and Dagens Nyheter had reported the fact that copyrighted material was being spread via the YouTube account, the tech giant reacted and shut down the reported account – but at the same time, similar material and other hate propaganda continues to be spread via other accounts.
The problem has been reported to Google repeatedly and politicians have demanded that the tech giant explains itself.
But Google consistently refuses to comment on the issue. On Wednesday evening, Expressen once again attempts to question the company’s Sweden Director Anna Wikland while she was attending the “Most powerful woman in business celebrates 20 years” gala dinner at historic venue Berns Salonger in Stockholm.
But Google’s ballgown-wearing Sweden Director elects to dodge the questions.
THURSDAY 8 MARCH
On Thursday evening, pilot Fabian Fjälling from Granskning Sverige declares that he has posted his “final post” on his own YouTube account. In a video, Fjälling declared that he was going to stop making videos.
He survived the Holocaust. Now Max Safir, 92, is reacting to how, with a few simple search words, Google helps its users to find an antisemitic list that describes people in derogatory terms, and in which one family is called “a threat” and Holocaust survivors are ridiculed.
“It’s reminiscent of the time before Nazism and of Nazism... I’m so disappointed. And angry,” says Max Safir.
Google’s Sweden Director Anna Wikland comments on the week’s articles:
“It’s very complex, we’re working on it. There is a big team at YouTube working on it,” she says to Expressen and DN’s reporters.
FRIDAY 9 MARCH
“After the harsh criticism, Google now continues to shut down YouTube channels that have spread extremist right-wing material,” reports Dagens Nyheter.
At the same time, Google’s European Director Ben McOwens responds to the criticism in a blog post:
“We are removing content and comments that violate our policies,” he writes.
Journalist Willy Silberstein, Editor-in-Chief Helle Klein and former CEO of TV4 Jan Scherman are some of the Swedish Jews on the antisemitic list on the internet.
For more than a month, their legal representatives have been reporting the list to Google to prevent the list from appearing in search results for their name. Only – after Expressen and DN’s investigations – on Friday evening did Google start to back down and promised that they would remove 24 people on the list from their search results.
Earlier on Friday, the Association of Swedish Advertisers convened an emergency meeting with Google. And the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism likened the list to those of the Nazis.
SATURDAY 10 MARCH
Google Sweden’s head of communications Fashad Shadloo responds to the criticism about allowing an antisemitic list that charts Swedish Jews.
“We certainly agree that this is offensive content, and not the kind of result most people would like to see. But the WordPress blog in question, however repulsive, does not appear to be illegal under Swedish law. If a court of law were to find it illegal, we would of course remove it from our search results straight away,” he writes.