back to article Revealed: Facebook, Google's soft-money 'blackmail' to stall Euro fake news crackdown

Facebook and Google used grants and other funding to academics and journalistic organizations to pressure a group of experts in Europe to water down proposals on fake news, it was claimed yesterday. Despite being required to sign an agreement that included a confidentiality clause not to discuss what occurred, a number of …

  1. Blockchain commentard Silver badge

    Surely this is just what 'lobbyists' do in Washington - here's some cash, do what we say. It's the American way !!!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes, but some people were under the illusion that such would not work in Europe.

      It is Brussels we're talking about. I suspect you will be hard pressed to find a place in Europe that's more heaving with politics and double dealing.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Right now, I can't help thinking of London for the top place. I wonder, why could that be?...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          How much were the DUP "paid" for their support?

  2. Olivier2553 Silver badge

    And that's why research should be funded by government grants

    To be free from the influence of the business.

    1. Commswonk Silver badge

      Re: And that's why research should be funded by government grants

      That might work were it not for the fact that governments themselves are all too easily swayed by soft words being whispered in their ears by big biz.

      The cynic* in me wonders if they actually encourage it...

      * Or should that be "realist"?

    2. Claptrap314 Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: And that's why research should be funded by government grants

      You forgot the troll icon.

      Here in Seattle, the city funded research to show what wonderful benefits were resulting from raising the minimum wage. Oops. The preliminary research came back saying nope. Funding instantly terminated. This was within the last year.

      What is the difference between a government and a big corporation?

      If you want to stop doing business with a government, you MUST move, either yourself or your job.

      Companies (except for FIFA) cannot put you in jail.

      Companies don't try to command where you live, how you should travel, what you should eat.

      Companies don't demand that you hand over large portions of your income so that they can "invest" it for you.

      Should I go on?

      1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

        Re: And that's why research should be funded by government grants

        Preliminary research said there were no benefits to raising the minimum wage? Not even to those who would receive it?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: benefits of raising minimum wage

          It depends on how you quantify the "benefits", but in general if you give something to someone you have to take it away from someone else first. For each person helped another is disadvantaged, and for those who reap the advantage the help can be largely short-lived because the price floor raises to compensate for the increased supply.

          If the person being disadvantaged was previously "privileged" then the effect would be a leveling, perhaps great in socialistic theory but in practice many of those being increasingly disadvantaged are those already at the bottom of the scale.

          So increasing minimum wage also brings with it things like increased unemployment, increased inflation, and increased homelessness. You have to have a plan to mitigate those side effects too or things get even worse. Thus, the "no net benefits" conclusion.

          Additionally, If you rob Peter to pay Paul then Peter is eventually going to get upset with you enough to do something about it - either by retaliating against you in some fashion or at the least take actions to protect themselves.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: benefits of raising minimum wage

            Yeah, the money for those wage increases has to come from somewhere. And of course it’s not only those at the minimum wage, the people earning slightly more will also demand an increase otherwise they’ll find themselves earning the same amount as those with less skill/experience/responsibility. So costs charged have to increase including the fact that the costs of goods purchased by the company also increase since their suppliers are in the same situation, and finally the cost of day to day consumer items goes up.

            After a while you find your weekly shop now costs x% more, while your take home pay has increased by y%. So there’s only a benefit if y ends up larger than x, and presumably the research suggests it doesn’t.

      2. ratfox Silver badge

        Re: And that's why research should be funded by government grants

        Companies don't build roads and infrastructure that they let you use for free

        Companies don't guarantee your rights or your freedom

        Companies don't protect you from criminals

        ...

  3. Paul 195
    Flame

    Don't be evil

    Unless it interferes with making shed loads of money.

    1. LDS Silver badge
      Devil

      "Be evil..."

      "... but hide it well enough people don't notice it..."

  4. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    The only surprise is...

    The only surprise with this story is if anyone is actually surprised by it. Why anyone would believe that ANY American owned corporation would act with respect, integrity, or with any honour is baffling considering the shennanigans that they have been pulling over the last 10 or so years.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again, and I think this as backed up by facts - that there is no scum covered barrel bottom low enough, underhand enough or sleazy enough that it wouldn't be scraped by an American businessman if they thought they could make a quick couple of bucks.

    1. NATTtrash

      Re: The only surprise is...

      Although I'm tempted to agree with you on your description of American entrepreneurialism, I'm afraid I also have to remind you that this happens all over the world. Indeed, maybe it's that the US offers easier and more opportunities for this kind of business strategies, but I'm willing to bet a round of beers that it's more a human characteristic than an exclusive American one...

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: The only surprise is...

      It's not only the yanks, most mining companies from all over the world including civilised Canada and French Nestle have appalling track records for low or no morality and ethics.

      One good example would be Union Carbide at Bhopal in India, now Dow owns the problem and over thirty years on still refuses to clean the site which is still incredibly toxic, although money was paid, most of it never reached the victims.

    3. M7S

      Re: The only surprise is...

      "ANY American owned corporation".

      Rather a broad brush statement. I've dealt with a few small US entitiies and found them to be courteous and AFAIK honest. Perhaps size, with the attendant large sums of money at stake, is the real problem here.

    4. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: The only surprise is...

      It's not just in America. Look to the pharmaceutical companies and the way they "influence" research and testing worldwide, for exampe. Except some very tiny and very poor countries*, the corporates worldwide own us all. You obviously haven't looked closely at your own country.

      *Then again, they might be owned also.

    5. Great Bu

      Re: The only surprise is...

      I think the only reason people tend to label this as a characteristic of American companies is that ironically they are far more "honest" about doing it.

      Exactly the same thing happens elsewhere but the techniques are usually more subtle e.g. US lobbyists can give money directly to politicians in real time to influence their decisions whereas in the UK they have to promise them juicy directorships after they have ended their career in politics.

    6. TheMeerkat

      Re: The only surprise is...

      But why would anybody trust that euro bureaucracy can do something useful?

      Check the existing rules - the reason we have to agree with cookies on every bloody website. How stupid that is?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Welcome to the new world corporate oligarchy, the cynic and realist in me says it's always been here.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh the irony,,,

    Pot, meet kettle. The EU, complaining about fake news? After the lies they have peddled about what could/should have happened when the UK left the Federated States of Socialist Europe (or whatever they are going to call it when the Lisbon Treaty comes into full effect)?

    Although, since they got to dictate terms for Brexit, at lest there is partial truth behind the threats they made. It's not as if they ever had any intention of negotiating in good faith, is it?

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Oh the irony,,,

      That's always the problem with 'fake news'. So who sets the rules and decides what's fake, or not?

      But this is an age old problem, ie biased (or just inaccurate) reporting. In traditional print and online in the UK, we have the Daily Mail on the right, the Guardian on the left, the BBC supposedly neutral and various other news sources across a political spectrum.

      Brexit makes for some interesting examples. So today, British Steel entered liquidation. Reasons are varied, but stem from political decisions. It's a large energy user, so needs carbon 'credits' that should have been allocated by the EU. They weren't, so BS would need to try to buy them on the open market, or pay a large fine to the EU. But British Steel's woes are largely due to EU (and UK) policy. The BBC may be reluctant to say this given it's extremely pro-EU, and pro-global warming.

      The BBC's reporting on global warming is similarly catastrophic with a report that sea level rises might be worse than they thought.. Based on a publication that simply assumed events happening outside the 95th percentile used in regular IPCC reports. So if extremely unlikely events happened, then the results would be catastrophic.. Although there'd be a pretty much equal probability that the opposite occurred. Due to the BBC's bias, or just scientific ignorance, it gave the report undue prominence.

      1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Oh the irony,,,

        British Steel , irony? was that intentional? ;-)

        but you wrote:

        Brexit makes for some interesting examples. So today, British Steel entered liquidation. Reasons are varied, but stem from political decisions. It's a large energy user, so needs carbon 'credits' that should have been allocated by the EU. They weren't, so BS would need to try to buy them on the open market, or pay a large fine to the EU. But British Steel's woes are largely due to EU (and UK) policy. The BBC may be reluctant to say this given it's extremely pro-EU, and pro-global warming.

        This is why several billionaires in the US are against Trump.

        Trump put a freeze on a carbon tax.

        Styer and others would have profited from both selling carbon credits and for running an exchange making many millions more.

        Why else do you think he bet big on renewables. Both he and Al Gore are posers. I mean when was the last time you saw Ed Gore fly commercial?

        Sorry to see your post down voted. Too many people don't think about what is being said.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Oh the irony,,,

          Sorry to see your post down voted. Too many people don't think about what is being said.

          This is the danger, ie having vested or biased interests determing 'fake' news, and acting as gatekeepers. In the good'ol days, we could switch newspapers. Or spend a lazy Sunday reading something from the left, something from the right, and maybe News of the World for the pictures. Now we've got an enormous range of news sources, and a bigger challenge figuring out bias. Or just wondering why you can't find a story on Google.

          The ice story is an interesting example. Front page story, and you have to read it to understand the spin-

          "When you start to look at these lower likelihood but still plausible values, then the experts believe that there is a small but statistically significant probability that West Antarctica will transition to a very unstable state and parts of East Antarctica will start contributing as well," said Prof Bamber.

          "But it’s only at these higher probabilities for 5C that we see those type of behaviours kicking in."

          Which assumes the reader understands 'statistical significance'. Or one of the BBC's news editors does. Or what the probability of hitting 5C is, which according to the IPCC, is highly unlikely. But this kind of spin is pretty common across 'science' reporting. For the BBC, a potential catastrophe is just their version of 'if it bleeds, it leads'. That example's not strictly 'fake' news, just highly improbable. The British Steel one is simpler because that's a clear consequence of EU and UK environmental & energy policy.

    2. John H Woods

      Re: Oh the irony,,,

      No, the (tragically unsurprising) irony is that, despite it being central to your somewhat off-topic argument, you don't know that the Lisbon Treaty "came into full effect" nearly a decade ago, on 2009-12-01.

  7. Palpy

    Of course it's not surprising.

    From the world-historical view, capitalism has never had a reason to develop a code of moral or ethical behaviour. Businesses do business to make money. Nothing else.

    Yes, it is efficient for businesses to operate honestly, because it facilitates customer relations and contractual trust -- both good for making money. But other than such policies, which help make money, there is no incentive for capitalism to be altruistic.

    Ideally, societies create non-capitalist structures which are then empowered to work for the common good. Yeah, you already know what I'll write next: Ideally, one of the major functions of governments in the capitalist world is to regulate capitalism itself. To enforce the common good, ie, to make sure that businesses to adhere to moral and ethical standards. Stuff like consumer and workplace safety, pollution mitigation, so forth. Yadda yadda. Oh, yeah, and slavery is a great capitalistic boon, but it's so morally repugnant that we regulated it out of existence. In most countries, anyway...

    Naturally, it's exactly the same in socialist or communist worlds -- governments regulate communist or socialist structures too. But it turns out that: 1) Pure planned economies are awfully clunky, and mostly don't work; and 2) The leadership in communist and socialist governments tends toward authoritarianism, totalitarianism, and dictatorship.

    So much for that.

    But of course it's not surprising that Google and Facebook have developed ways to evade scrutiny and regulation. Including strong-arm tactics with grants, lobbyists, and political money. That is capitalism par excellence: do anything and everything in the service of making more money.

    The real problems here are that governments are so easily corrupted, that researchers are so easily hobbled, and that the public are so easily duped.

    This ought to be ironic for libertarians and knee-jerk deregulators, I would think. This flap with Google and Facebook demonstrates, yet again, that businesses are very, very good at evading and degrading regulation. They will find a way to make money even in the face of stringent regulation. So societies -- thou and I, actually -- would be better off always pushing for more regulation, and never for less.

    Rather like the virus that causes HIV, businesses will adapt and proliferate. No need to worry about that. What we do need to worry about -- in re Google, Facebook, et al -- is that without stringent regulation, capitalism becomes a social disease. No, not that kind of social disease! Put away the condom. I mean, a disease which afflicts society.

    1. TheMeerkat

      Re: Of course it's not surprising.

      So far societies with “non-capitalistic structures” proved to be much worse.

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