ASKER, Norway — A Norwegian media outlet that actively covers news on cryptocurrency is being forced to suspend their operations due to censorship from Big Tech.
Capital & Celeb News, better known as CCN, would release a blog post on Wednesday night alerting loyal readers of their situation. The announcement would come from founder and director Jonas Borchgrevink.
“We are in a difficult period,” states Borchgrevink. “Not due to Coronavirus, but due to Google and Google’s power over us as a minor independent news organization.”
He would specify a May 2020 Google core update that would result in an 80% to 90% decline in regular search traffic from the platform. (EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve noticed this as well for Heartland Newsfeed, but more on a decline of 50%. So we can definitely relate. And this is without being on )
Unfortunately, this isn’t the independent outlet’s first battle with the tech giant. A core update in June 2019 would impact their search traffic as well.
“We are not the only publisher where Google thwarts search traffic without warning or explanation,” Borchgrevink adds. “This has happened with many of the major news sites, and probably more often with smaller independent news organizations like ours.” (EDITOR’S NOTE: Absolutely true.)
Brief commentary on this issue:
I’ve learned firsthand what CCN is going through. Heartland Newsfeed was, at several points in time, on the top 100,000 websites across the U.K., about 20 European countries, Australia, the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and English-speaking regions across South America.
These core updates have impacted our search traffic, but not as severely. This is why we heavily promote on the other platforms and really need to push more on search platforms like DuckDuckGo.
The statement calls out the Google News Initiative (GNI), which claims they are building a stronger future for journalism. GNI, as Google/Alphabet claims, “is our effort to work with the news industry to help journalism thrive in the digital age.
As Borchgrevink has soon realized, GNI is actually doing the exact opposite.
The contributor to the ongoing problem leading to Google censorship
A hearing of the House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee would release findings Tuesday as a result of a 16-month investigation regarding the state of competitiveness in the digital economy. In this investigation, it would reveal challenges presented by the dominance of Big Tech firms like Apple, Amazon, Google/Alphabet, and Facebook, as well as their business practices.
Borchgrevink would highlight some points from their report.
In submissions and interviews with Subcommittee staff, businesses noted that higher advertising costs come at the expense of investments in innovation and consumer benefits. One vertical search provider stated:
If the search market were fair, the internet would have four times more content on it, dramatically improving the web for consumers. Google’s gatekeeper power allows it to show more advertisements for search queries with higher commercial intent. . . . The harm to consumers is not necessarily a lack of content, but a lack of quality content (requiring money to produce).
Internal data shown by one market participant to the Subcommittee demonstrates that “organic search listings have been pushed down over time, and ‘click-throughs’ (clicking to visit a site) on the first organic results have decreased by two-thirds over the past 3 years.”
The natural result of Google’s decision to blur the distinction between paid ads and organic listings is that users click on more ads and less organic search results. This misleading practice has likely contributed to the growth of paid click-through rates on Google. One study found that over 59% of consumers were not aware of the difference between organic results and paid ads on Google, and that one third of those who did recognize paid ads said they would deliberately avoid clicking on them.1213 The Federal Trade Commission has recognized that search engines that fail to “prominently distinguish” paid ads from organic listings could be liable for deceiving consumers under Section 5 of the FTC Act.1214
The implications of smaller news publishers like CCN
So, what does this mean as a result of this investigation? The answer will be unsettling for many independent news outlets. News publishers will likely receive less traffic while Google continues to push for larger cuts of ad revenue. They will also likely demand more ad clicks than organic clicks.
Borchgrevink poses the question, “How can they state that they want journalism to thrive in the digital age?”
Google controls most of the online search in the western world. This means they can decide which site will gain traffic and which site will lose traffic. There are no regulations in regard to the platform’s search algorithm changes. A multi-billion dollar tech company can essentially decide how they want the world to be portrayed to its users. It’s something that clearly doesn’t add up.
The June 2019 core update would result in CCN losing 70% in search traffic. However, seven months later in January, a new core update would result in a 1,000% search traffic hike. In May, the new update would result in losing nearly all of their search traffic.
How this impacts CCN and their call for action
Borchgrevink states that they have over thirty employees, freelancers, and full-time staffers at CCN.
“We take pride in delivering our readers news and op-eds to get discussions going,” he adds. “We take pride in that we are an international and independent news organization working without borders, prejudice, and discrimination.”
Borchgrevink is making a call for action towards the search engine and tech giant.
“Google must help publishers who have been severely de-ranked to understand why,” he states. “Why can news sites experience growth of 1,000% than a drop of 80% to 90% within the time span of four months?”
He also questions why there wasn’t a single warning or explanation within Google’s Webmaster Console. He additionally questions why this is happening with no major changes to the site or from the editorial team.
News operation indefinitely on hold
Borchgrevink concludes to state that the website’s news operations will be on hold until Google makes another core update. He is optimistic that they will be able to resume operations soon.
In the meantime, the CCN team will be working on their new venture at Hacked. Hacked is a cybersecurity company whose aim is to protect customers from online abuse and hacking attempts.
The website is owned by Norwegian-based media company Hawkfish AS. The company has regional offices in the U.S., Canada, and India.
We will continue to follow up on this story as more developments become available.
Jake Leonard, a broadcast media and journalism veteran, is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed. Leonard is also GM and program director of Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network, wrestling editor and contributing writer for Ambush Sports, a contributing writer for My Sports Vote and Midwest Sports Network, and a former contributor to Bleacher Report and Overtime Heroics. He resides at home in Nokomis, Ill. with his dog Buster.