Twitter Files investigations uncovered biased ratings firm NewsGuard’s pitch bragging of government ties.
Journalist Lee Fang explained in collaboration with RealClearInvestigations Nov. 15 that the Twitter Files unearthed a pitch from NewsGuard CEO L. Gordon Crovitz to Twitter in 2021. In the pitch, Crovitz described NewsGuard as a “Vaccine Against Misinformation” that largely drew from government sources, particularly the very government agencies that contracted with NewsGuard! These disturbing findings come after MRC Free Speech America twice exposed NewsGuard’s anti-right bias.
Indeed, this year, long after his pitch to Twitter, Crovitz again boasted of government ties in an email to Matt Taibbi: “For example, as is public, our work for the Pentagon’s Cyber Command is focused on the identification and analysis of information operations targeting the U.S. and its allies conducted by hostile governments, including Russia and China. Our analysts alert officials in the U.S. and in other democracies, including Ukraine, about new false narratives targeting America and its allies, and we provide an understanding of how this disinformation spreads online.”
In the Twitter pitch, Crovitz promised NewsGuard’s algorithms powering artificial intelligence (AI) to screen content quickly, Fang explained. NewsGuard could also determine websites’ “overall reliability” and even censor preemptively by “’prebunk[ing]’ COVID-19 misinformation from hundreds of popular websites.” NewsGuard would direct Twitter users to government agencies — and “reputation management providers” and “intelligence and national security officials,” Fang quoted Crovitz’s pitch. The pitch to Twitter did not succeed.
The government pays private entities like influential NewsGuard “to coerce speech through government contracts,” Fang wrote. The NewsGuard pitch from Crovitz noted that the business of policing free speech was a $1.74 billion industry, one which NewsGuard seemingly seeks to dominate.
NewsGuard’s “nutrition labels” arbitrarily rating dozens of sites in multiple languages and its reports on specific regions have garnered praise from the likes of CNN and are moving into schools, libraries, and internet service providers. Crovitz markets “BrandGuard” for advertisers, too, Fang wrote. NewsGuard’s investors include the firm that represents pharma giant Pfizer and an individual tied to ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, in which the Chinese Communist Party government owns a board seat and maintains a financial stake.
Internal documents, Fang stated, confirm the ratings firm censoring on behalf of government and business. “NewsGuard has faced mounting criticism that rather than serving as a neutral public service against online propaganda, it instead acts as an opaque proxy for its government and corporate clients to stifle views that simply run counter to their own interests,” Fang reported.
Consortium News, an alleged target of NewsGuard pressure and bad ratings, is suing NewsGuard, alleging the firm was incentivized to target content about Ukraine and Russia through a 2021 $749,387 Defense Department contract. UK-based site The Daily Skeptic was another target of NewsGuard’s demands for conforming to leftist narratives or be slapped with negative labels, Fang noted.
MRC Free Speech America previously found that Chinese state media outlets received higher scores than some U.S. conservative and pro-life websites. MRC found NewsGuard’s ratings in January skewed almost as heavily with anti-right bias as they did in 2021, with left-leaning outlets (as determined by AllSides) receiving an average score of 91/100 and right-leaning sites on average 66/100.
This article has been updated.
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