Documents and emails that were stolen have revealed how Xandr used a secret blacklist used to defund alternative news by targeting unpopular speech and blocking conservative websites.
According to documents and advertising industry insiders, a Microsoft-owned advertising firm has been flagging right-leaning websites internally and taking steps to defund and de-platform them. The company subscribes to a left-leaning “disinformation” group’s secret blacklist for conservative media outlets.
The Global Disinformation Index, a British organization with two affiliated U.S. nonprofit organizations, provides ad networks like Xandr with top-secret blacklists with the aim of shutting down websites that purport to sell “disinformation.” Now, sets of documents and emails that were stolen reveal how Xandr, which Microsoft acquired in 2021 for $1 billion, has targeted unpopular speech and prevented conservative websites from raking in significant advertising revenue.
“Xandr’s use of politically motivated flags on this blacklist stands outside of the norm in advertising,” said a senior executive at an ad company, noting that the real purpose of blacklisting should be to protect brands from advertising “on content that is illegal, fraudulent, [or] low-quality.”
“In this case, Xandr prevented us from talking to our voters in the critical days leading up to Election Day,” said the executive, who was granted anonymity to discuss confidential company matters. “Our audience reads the Examiner, Daily Wire, Townhall, etc. Voters go to these news & opinion sites [to] inform their decisions. And if Microsoft is using their technology to block us from showing ads on these websites, they’re actively preventing us from talking to voters on the public squares where their decisions are being informed.”
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According to a second source close to Microsoft, GDI’s “dynamic exclusion list” has at least 2,000 domains, many of which are “foreign state-sponsored news and opinion sites, forums that deal in disinformation, and openly sanctioned websites.” According to the source, GDI gives Xandr a list of the websites on this blacklist once a month.
An advertising business executive who works with conservative media outlets was given access to private Xandr data outlining which websites the company has penalised financially. The Washington Examiner posted these statistics to a spreadsheet, which you may examine below..
The list includes 39 domains. While Breitbart, 37 of them have been classified as “false/misleading.” The defunct domain TV was marked as containing “hate speech.” The statistics showed that Townhall was marked as “reprehensible/offensive.”
The Washington Examiner, the Daily Wire, RealClearPolitics, Newsmax, Breitbart, the Blaze, the Washington Times, Judicial Watch, and MRC.TV, which is run by the Media Research Center, was among the websites labeled as “false/misleading.” Also labeled “false/misleading” is the Drudge Report.
GDI is not cited in the statistics. Emails show that in September 2022, Xandr notified publishers that it would begin using the GDI exclusion list to punish content that was deemed “morally reprehensible or patently offensive,” lacked “redeeming social value,” or that “could include false or misleading information.”
According to emails newly obtained “Xandr is adopting GDI’s exclusion list,” a senior Xandr employee wrote to ad groups in 2022.
“Domains or apps that GDI has classified as a disinformation site will be added to Xandr’s global blocklist, preventing spend on those domains or apps,” the employee wrote in the email. “Creatives that have domains or apps assigned to them from the blocklist will not pass Audit. This is the same process that exists today for domains or apps that Xandr and our partners have deemed as not passing our existing inventory quality standards (e.g. violence, malware, porn, etc).”
The ten websites that GDI considers to be the ten “least dangerous” have been made public. According to a 27-page GDI document (pdf below), these publications—all of which lean left—include the Wall Street Journal, NPR, ProPublica, the Associated Press, Insider, the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, Buzzfeed News, and HuffPost.
These websites have been “approved” for adverts through Xandr, with the exception of Buzzfeed News and ProPublica, which are not included in the dataset.
“What we see going on is not new,” said Dan Schneider, vice president of the Media Research Center’s Free Speech Alliance group. “We saw redlining efforts to prevent blacks from buying homes in certain communities. We saw blacklists in Hollywood to prevent people with different political beliefs from appearing in movies and getting writing contracts.”
“This blacklisting is un-American and specifically designed to upend the values of America and to silence the majority of our citizens,” he added. “It is what authoritarian thugs do.”
The Washington Examiner previously reported that the State Department gave GDI a $330,000 grant, and now it has been revealed that Xandr has its own blacklist of conservative websites.
In order to “counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining or influencing the policies, security, or stability of the United States, its allies, and partner nations,” the Global Engagement Center of the State Department gave $100,000 to GDI.
This funding came from a $230,000 grant that GDI and two other organizations received through the U.S.-Paris Tech Challenge in September 2021. According to the documents, the competition aimed to “advance the development of promising and innovative technologies against disinformation and propaganda” overseas.
The US government has tried to sway online conversation behind closed doors and through pressure on commercial sites. Leaked documents exposed a DHS plan to police disinformation.
Records show that $250,000 was given to GDI by the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit organization authorized by Congress and given $300 million by the State Department in 2021. According to the NED’s website, its 23-member board “controls” how appropriations are used. Notably, this board consists of Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY).
“Any outfit like that engaged in censorship shouldn’t have any contact with the government because they’re tainted by association with a group that is doing something fundamentally against American values,” said Jeffrey Clark, the former acting head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The government or any private entity shouldn’t be involved with this entity that’s engaged in conduct that is either legally questionable or at least morally questionable.”
Read the document given below: