Verizon-Backed Site Bans Stories on US Spying, Net Neutrality
A Verizon-sponsored news site is making headlines of its own as critics accuse it of censoring news about US spying and government neutrality.
With a discreet "Presented by Verizon" tag at the bottom of the page, SugarString looks like a lot of other geeky news sites. It has articles on serious subjects ("Can GPS Tracking Empower Victims of Domestic Abuse?"), silly subjects ("'Libraries in Videogames' Proves There's a Blog for Everything") and serious subjects with a silly spin ("Legendary Drag Queen lady Bunny Weighs In On Controversial Facebook Policy").
What you won't find: Articles about US spying or net neutrality, according to a report on a competitor website, The Daily Dot, by a journalist who says he was informed of the ban when he received a recruiting letter for the site. The reporter, Patrick Howell O'Neill, includes a scan of the recruitment letter he received.
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) has come under fire for cooperating with US government intelligence activities, dating back to the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Verizon also vociferously opposes net neutrality.
Verizon has a troubling history with free speech issues, according to Timothy Karr, senior director of strategy for Free Press, a media reform group, writing at the Huffington Post. Verizon claims it has a Constitutional right to filter Internet content, and it has censored text messages from a pro-choice advocacy group to its own members, Karr says.
Beyond what does and does not appear on the site is the question about Verizon's motivation and its chances of making any impact on public perceptions by using funds that would otherwise be used for more traditional marketing and public relations activities: Many companies in the communications sector have their own blogs and develop their own industry news on their corporate websites, but this takes content creation by a communications service provider to a different level.