The New York Times’ massive campaign to pressure social media giants into restricting freedom of information — particularly dissemination from sources other than mainstream outlets — has now kicked into high gear. Tech columnist Kevin Roose warned the Times readership earlier this year that they should “buckle up for another Facebook election,” in which the platform will supposedly be “overrun with hyperpartisan misinformation” like the kind that “proved to be a decisive force in 2016.” Roose isn’t the only voice at the Times promoting the notion that Facebook’s role in allowing free flow of information results in election corruption. Contributing opinion writer Kara Swisher has devoted outsized attention to the supposed problem of Facebook’s unwillingness to crack down on those she deems insufficiently woke. The goal here is obvious: force Facebook to restrict content, thus re-establishing the monopoly on information the mainstream media lost with the rise of the internet.
But while the Times has been one of the most significant drivers of this pressure campaign to force Facebook to censor more content — particularly paid advertising — the Times has taken advantage of rules crafted to its benefit and has dumped tens of millions of dollars into marketing its most radical content via Facebook. As it turns out, the Times isn’t worried about money and politics on Facebook. They’re simply trying to dominate the system themselves, barring all others.
The Times Establishes A Money Monopoly
The Times’ opinion page has routinely and repeatedly criticized Facebook for the supposed sin of utilizing openness toward speech as a guise for profit-making. This, of course, ignores the fact that Facebook makes a tiny fraction of its income from political ads. But facts have never stopped the Times. In January, propaganda-donor George Soros wrote an editorial for the Times in which he accused Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg of colluding with Donald Trump toward Trump’s re-election, because the two “realize that their interests are aligned — the president’s in winning elections, Mr. Zuckerberg’s in making money.”
Yet when it comes to utilizing Facebook as a marketing tool for its own propaganda, the Times is more than willing to pour in money. According to estimates from marketing intelligence platform Pathmatics, the Times spent around $65 million over the course of the last twelve months in Facebook advertising for all of its various promotional campaigns. A review of just three ads promoting the 1619 Project over the course of about two months in Fall 2019 estimates a spend of around $3 million. For three ads. Is it any wonder that the 1619 Project became one of the most talked-about pieces of pseudo-history in American history?
The Times has every right to advertise on Facebook. Indeed, The Daily Wire advertises on the platform, as do most publishers. But the Times’ crusade to shut down dissenting opinions on Facebook, to avoid scrutiny for its own ad spending, and to overwhelm the system with its own marketing money demonstrates nothing so much as perverse self-interest.
How The Times Rigged The Rules
But the Times‘ manipulation of the system doesn’t stop with mere spending. The Times takes full advantage of rules written specifically to its advantage, while other outlets are left out in the cold.
In response to blowback from progressive politicians and establishment media outlets following Trump’s stunning upset victory in 2016, Facebook launched a new effort to promote transparency on its site regarding “ads about social issues, elections or politics.” The program requires any ads addressing political or social issues to be included in the platform’s political ads archive, which allows users to see important information about them, including demographical information about the ad’s audience, geographical regions to which it was promoted, and ranges of spend. Ads labeled non-political avoid such accountability and transparency.
Non-profits and universities are often required to list even seemingly non-political ads, like ads promoting free history courses by Hillsdale College, as promoting political and social messages, and thus include them in Facebook’s archive. But the Times is able to have its cake and eat it too, hiding behind a policy meant to protect their journalistic efforts while engaging in activism more akin to a partisan think tank.
As The Wall Street Journal reported in November 2018, many in the news media were unhappy with Facebook’s new transparency effort because they were “seeing their journalism classified as if it were paid partisan advocacy.” Facebook agreed, with the director of product management, Rob Leathern, acknowledging that classifying ads promoting news pieces as “political ads” was “problematic for a number of news organizations.”
In response, Facebook announced that ads promoting news articles would be exempt from being listed in its political ads archive, thus also exempting news publishers from the transparency required of other advertisers addressing “social issues, elections, or politics.”
The Times promptly used its exemption to press forward the most openly propagandistic project in its history, all without facing any scrutiny or accountability in its marketing practices. In August 2019, the Times launched its most ambitious, transformative project to date: the 1619 Project. Its goal: to “reframe the country’s history” in a way that indelibly ties its founding and its enduring identity to the darkest, most shameful aspect of its past — slavery. Among its “reframing” assertions was the foundational (and ultimately “clarified”) claim by its lead author that “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.”
Since its launch, the Times has directed massive resources to the project, given the project its own section in the paper, created curriculum materials so teachers can promote its “reframing” of American history in the classroom, and produced a podcast, a book series and live events based around the project.
The 1619 Project was never news. It was always advocacy — an attempt to undermine Trump’s winning message — Make America Great Again — by rewriting our history in a way that suggests America was founded on the evil of slavery and not the aspiration of the Declaration of Independence, and was therefore never great. Yet, because of the Times’ exemption for its status as a news entity, not a single ad for the 1619 Project — into which it appears to have poured millions in advertising dollars in an election year — is included in Facebook’s political ads archive. As a result, the public does not know precisely how much the Times spent, to whom the project was marketed, or in what states it was promoted — for example, electoral swing states.
That the ads clearly promote “social issues, elections, or politics” is undeniable. Here’s the text of an initial ad promoting the project posted Aug. 15 that ran for weeks which seeks to undermine the very claim that the country was founded on the transcendent 1776 assertion that “all men are created equal”:
The New York Times is launching the #1619Project, a collection of essays, criticism and art about how the America we know today didn’t start in 1776 — it started in August 1619, when a ship carrying enslaved Africans landed in Virginia.
The New York Times is launching the #1619Project, a collection of essays, criticism and art about how the America we…
Another ad promoted in fall 2019 targets one of the essential aspects of America that has made it “great,” capitalism:
In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation, writes Matthew Desmond for the #1619Project. “Given the choice between modernity and barbarism, prosperity and poverty, lawfulness and cruelty, democracy and totalitarianism, America chose all of the above.”
In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation, writes Matthew Desmond…
Despite the overtly political nature of the ads, the Times has not been required to list them like so many other outlets under Facebook’s “social issues, elections or politics” designation. The result is the Times gets to enjoy exemption from public accountability in the disclosure of significant details about the ad campaign — all while promoting a “hyperpartisan” activist message that could very well prove to be “a decisive force” in 2020.
In the end, the Times is a business. As a business, they’re perfectly willing to press forward an anti-speech agenda that harms their competitors while taking advantage of their monetary power to own the narrative. The notion that the Times stands either for free speech or for removing money from politics is the most obvious brand of fake news.