[Marxism] Big Tech, a Conservative Provocateur and the Fight Over Disinformation

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 22 08:02:57 MDT 2019

(Don't look at Russian interference as an explanation for Trump's 
victory in 2016 and possibly upcoming in 2020. It is sinister AMERICAN 
operations like this acting in combination with "legitimate" news 
outlets like Fox News, combined with Democratic Party ineptitude, that 
accounts for it.)

NY Times, August 22, 2019
Big Tech, a Conservative Provocateur and the Fight Over Disinformation
By Nicholas Confessore and Justin Bank

Each day, in an office outside Phoenix, a team of young writers and 
editors curates reality.

In the America presented on their news and opinion website, 
WesternJournal.com, tradition-minded patriots face ceaseless assault by 
anti-Christian bigots, diseased migrants and race hustlers concocting 
hate crimes. Danger and outrages loom. A Mexican politician threatens 
the “takeover” of several American states. Police officers are kicked 
out of an Arizona Starbucks. Kamala Harris, the Democratic presidential 
candidate, proposes a “$100 billion handout” for black families.

The Western Journal is not quite a household name. Until recently, some 
of its most prolific writers used pseudonyms. Though it publishes scores 
of stories each week about national politics, the company has no 
Washington bureau, or any other bureaus. Indeed, it rarely dispatches 
reporters into the world to gather news firsthand.

In the parallel universe of Facebook, though, The Western Journal has 
been among the most popular and influential publications in America, 
shaping the political beliefs of more than 36 million deeply loyal 
readers and followers. In the three years ending in March, according to 
a New York Times analysis, Western Journal’s Facebook posts earned 
three-quarters of a billion shares, likes and comments, almost as many 
as the combined tally of 10 leading American news organizations that 
together employ thousands of reporters and editors.

But in the last year, as Facebook and Google tried to rein in their own 
freewheeling, largely unregulated information ecosystems, The Western 
Journal’s publishers have been thrust into a high-stakes clash between 
the tech industry and Washington.

The Western Journal rose on the forces that have remade — and warped — 
American politics, as activists, publishers and politicians harnessed 
social media’s power and reach to serve fine-tuned ideological content 
to an ever-agitated audience. Founded by the veteran conservative 
provocateur Floyd G. Brown, who began his career with the race-baiting 
“Willie Horton” ad during the 1988 presidential campaign, and run by his 
younger son, Patrick, The Western Journal used misleading headlines and 
sensationalized stories to attract partisans, then profit from their anger.

But Silicon Valley’s efforts to crack down on clickbait and 
disinformation have pummeled traffic to The Western Journal and other 
partisan news sites. Some leading far-right figures have been kicked off 
social media platforms entirely, after violating rules against hate 
speech and incitement. Republican politicians and activists have alleged 
that the tech companies are unfairly censoring the right, threatening 
conservatives’ ability to sway public opinion and win elections.

Those attacks have been led by President Trump. While he and his aides 
once credited his 2016 upset victory to the power of Facebook and 
Twitter, they now routinely accuse the same companies of bias.

In July, Mr. Trump hosted a “social media summit” featuring conservative 
activists who claim to have been censored online. His administration is 
drafting an executive order that would impose federal oversight of the 
platforms’ content-moderation policies, a startling departure from 
decades of deregulatory orthodoxy on the right.

Now The Western Journal — like Mr. Trump — is battling the very 
technology firms that enabled its rise. Its Facebook traffic has 
declined sharply. Google News blacklisted the publication last year for 
what Google ruled were deceptive business practices. Apple News followed 
suit in June, saying one or more Western Journal stories had advocated 
“views overwhelmingly rejected by the scientific community.”

“Facebook has determined to put The Western Journal out of business,” 
Floyd Brown wrote in a June email to many of the site’s 1.6 million 
newsletter subscribers.

The Western Journal’s parent company has hired a Washington lobbyist to 
push back against digital censorship, and the website has published a 
series of stories and in-house studies claiming that Silicon Valley’s 
new rules have discriminated against conservative publishers and 
politicians. The Browns have also sought to join Mr. Trump’s 
anti-Silicon Valley crusade, dispatching Herman Cain, the onetime 
presidential candidate and a prominent Western Journal contributor, to 
represent it at the White House summit in July.

“We are committed to the truth,” said Patrick Brown. “We are real 
people. We are a digital media company,” he continued. “We are not 

Both Facebook and Google have denied that they systematically censor 
conservative views. Many instances of alleged censorship have been 
traced to user behavior that triggered the platforms’ automated 
safeguards against spam and impersonation.

“We enforce our policies vigorously, consistently and without 
consideration of any perceived political leanings of any site,” said 
Maggie Shiels, a Google spokeswoman.

On Tuesday, Facebook released preliminary findings from an outside 
review of censorship complaints. Although the report provided no new 
evidence to support the allegations, Facebook said it would make its 
content-moderation policies more transparent, a sign of the pressure 
from Washington.

Lauren Svensson, a Facebook spokeswoman, said the company had worked 
aggressively to cut back on false news, but that suppressing content on 
the basis of political viewpoint “would be directly contrary to our 

The censorship debate underscores the vast power tech platforms have 
amassed, and the sometimes unnerving opacity with which they exercise 
it. Silicon Valley’s ever-evolving rule books and secretive enforcement 
procedures determine how news flows to billions of people. The 
industry’s efforts at reform have disrupted political strategies and 
business models alike, particularly on the right.

Highly partisan news sites on the right far outnumber those on the left, 
according to a tally published last fall by NewsWhip, an analytics 
company. Conservative readers rely significantly more on hyperpartisan 
sites for news than liberal ones, and Facebook itself remains a major 
source of news for older Americans, who will be central to Republicans’ 
electoral fortunes next year.

“These are tactics that some people have been using for a long time,” 
said Camille François, a former disinformation researcher at Google who 
is now chief innovation officer at Graphika, a social media data firm. 
“This is how they structured their campaigns. This is how they built 
their businesses.”

The Browns did both: For decades, the family’s enterprises have blended 
political campaigns and partisan journalism, helping reshape American 
politics and earning tens of millions of dollars along the way. Mr. 
Trump’s movement was the family’s most lucrative opportunity yet. Now, 
it may save the Browns — or ruin them.

A Platform Unlike Any Other

Patrick Brown presents as an unlikely merchant of outrage. He is 
six-foot-three, but stoop-shouldered and soft-spoken. When expressing a 
thought that might draw dispute, he often shrugs uncomfortably and 
spreads his hands, as if to cushion the blow. Mr. Brown attended a small 
Christian college in Pennsylvania, and his first company, a site called 
Liftable.com, featured viral, often religious-themed stories meant to 
inspire readers rather than enrage them: Good Samaritans who saved the 
life of an accident victim, for example, or the actor Johnny Depp 
visiting a children’s hospital.

Floyd Brown promoted conspiracy theories about Bill Clinton during the 
1992 presidential campaign.CreditBarry Thumma/Associated Press
His exposure to politics came through his father, a larger-than-life 
veteran of Washington’s partisan wars. Floyd G. Brown reveled in the 
infamy surrounding his successful Horton ads, which featured mug shots 
of a black convicted murderer to stoke fears that the Democratic 
candidate, Michael Dukakis, was soft on crime. Over the following 
decades, Mr. Brown would start political organizations employing the 
same basic formula: Apocalyptic direct-mail appeals to raise money, 
innuendo-laden ads to thrash Democrats and outrageous claims to draw 
mainstream news interest.

During the 1990s, Mr. Brown ran a tax-exempt group, Citizens United, and 
a subscription newsletter, Clintonwatch, that peddled opposition 
research and outright conspiracy theories about Bill Clinton. When 
Barack Obama first ran for president, Mr. Brown helped form a network of 
political action committees that made anti-Obama attack ads, including 
one questioning whether Mr. Obama might secretly be Muslim. (The PACs 
raised millions of dollars — and paid out hundreds of thousands to 
companies controlled by Mr. Brown or his associates.)

After Mr. Obama won, Mr. Brown revived a defunct conservative journalism 
nonprofit, now called the Western Center for Journalism.

“I’m essentially a political activist,” he said in an interview. He 
focused on writing, he said, after realizing that “the safest venue for 
the advocacy of ideas in the United States of America was as a publisher 
and writer.”

Mr. Brown relocated his family to Anthem, an exurb of Phoenix, and began 
blogging at WesternJournalism.com, a precursor to today’s Western 
Journal site. At the height of the Tea Party movement, he worked the 
right-wing conference circuit. (“Obama hates Christianity,” Mr. Brown 
declared at a 2010 event, according to a recording published by Media 
Matters, the liberal watchdog group. “He is a Muslim.”) 
WesternJournalism.com ran stories exploring whether Eric Holder, then 
the United States attorney general, had covered up a murder, and 
promoting the lie that Mr. Obama was not an American citizen. One 
direct-mail piece accused Mr. Obama of pledging to ban criticism of 
Islam to “please his jihadist ‘masters.’”

But social media provided Mr. Brown with a platform unlike any other. He 
discovered he could use Facebook ads to find alienated, angry 
conservative users. “I really built Western Journalism with one really 
unique ad,” he said at a 2016 conference in Las Vegas, speaking on a 
panel titled “How to Change the World and Get Rich Through Social 
Media.” As Mr. Brown recounted: “I went in and I wrote an ad that just 
said, ‘Click “like” if you think Barack Obama should be impeached.’”

By May 2014, over four million people a month were visiting the Western 
Journalism site, which delivered steady attacks on the mainstream media 
and Democrats, and headlines like “Florida Democrats Just Voted to 
Impose Sharia Law on Women.” WesternJournalism.com took in $1.9 million 
that year, almost three-quarters of the center’s revenue.

At first, Floyd Brown’s son worked behind the scenes. During summers 
home from college, Patrick Brown built websites for his father’s PACs, 
like ExposeObama.com, and taught himself coding and social media 
marketing. After graduating, he ran the Western Center’s marketing 
department, posting its stories on Facebook and studying what made 
people click the “like” button.

While Floyd Brown credits his son with WesternJournalism.com’s rapid 
growth — “it was his technology,” he said — Patrick Brown described the 
period with some misgiving. He disliked working on the PACs, he said in 
a recent interview, and did not share his father’s views about Mr. 
Obama’s faith. (“My perspective is that if he says he’s a Christian, 
he’s a Christian.”) In 2012, Patrick and his wife moved to Vietnam to 
help start an elementary school. When they returned, he worked again 
briefly at the Western Center, then quit. In summer 2014, with financial 
backing from his parents, he started Liftable Media, working the sunny 
end of the Facebook clickbait spectrum.

In an interview, Patrick Brown described his motivation as “wanting to 
be in charge of my own company, wanting to do something my way that I 
can really feel at the end of the day very proud of.”

But within months, he returned to the family business. In January 2015, 
Liftable acquired WesternJournalism.com from the tax-exempt nonprofit 
run by his father. The transaction was highly favorable to the Browns: 
Liftable paid $626,157, according to federal tax records, a fraction of 
the site’s annual advertising revenue. The sale effectively stripped the 
Western Center of its most valuable asset, built with tax-exempt 
contributions, and transferred it to a for-profit company owned by the 
Browns. Not long after, according to corporate records, Mr. Brown’s 
parents joined Liftable’s board.

“I came to the realization that politics is not in and of itself a bad 
thing,” Patrick Brown said.

Over the next two years, he built one of the most influential political 
sites in America. With Floyd Brown as chairman, Liftable bought up a 
slew of rival publishers, such as Conservative Tribune and Liberty 
Alliance. The acquisitions brought the Browns millions of email 
addresses and increased to close to 60 their stable of popular 
conservative Facebook pages with names like Saving Our Future and Trump 

To expand their reach, the Browns struck deals with dozens of 
conservative politicians and celebrities, including Joe Arpaio, the 
anti-immigrant Arizona sheriff. The politicians posted Western 
Journalism and Conservative Tribune stories to their own widely followed 
Facebook pages in return for a cut of the ad revenue. (Facebook has 
since banned this practice, which violates Federal Trade Commission 
rules against undisclosed sponsorships.)

Coursing through the Browns’ Facebook empire was a torrent of 
sensationalized, misleading, or entirely made-up stories, often aimed at 
Muslims and immigrants, and pumped out through dozens of seemingly 
unconnected Facebook pages that in practice functioned as part of a 
single publication. Liftable’s sites were cited more than a dozen times 
by fact-checking watchdogs like Snopes.com and FactCheck.org. In a 
report titled “Bloodlust,” The Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights 
group, charged WesternJournalism and other fringe web publishers with 
engaging in “the monetizing of digital mobs.”

Liftable’s political content lived alongside more lighthearted fare — a 
sports website; stories about cancer survivors; “Dancing with the Stars” 
recaps — in a full-spectrum assault on the viral news market. Liftable 
soared. Its sites reached nearly a billion page views in the run-up to 
the 2016 election, according to SimilarWeb, an analytics company. By the 
time Mr. Trump was sworn in, more than 12 million people were arriving 
on the sites each month through Facebook or other social media, driving 
a torrent of advertising revenue. In 2016, the company took in more than 
$16 million. Instead of leaving the family business, Mr. Brown had 
supercharged it.

“It’s as if these publishers discovered — or created, or radicalized — a 
huge market niche that simply had not been tapped before,” said Paul 
Quigley, the chief executive of NewsWhip.

Blacklisted, Then Resurrected

But by 2017, tech companies were coming under enormous pressure from 
regulators and lawmakers. Media and government investigations had 
revealed how Russian agents used Facebook and Twitter to help Mr. Trump 
get elected, in part by targeting voters with divisive or misleading 

Facebook had begun incorporating fact-checking ratings into its 
algorithm, eventually down-ranking content flagged as misleading or 
false. Both Twitter and Facebook began rooting out networks of secretly 
coordinated social accounts and web domains, aiming at both state 
actors, like Russia, and publishers of spam. Facebook also began asking 
users which publications they trusted most, and ranked content accordingly.

The cumulative changes slowed Facebook traffic to media outlets across 
the publishing industry. But for some, including The Western Journal, it 
was devastating. The accumulation of “false” ratings from fact-checking 
sites meant that Western Journal and Conservative Tribune stories were 
less likely to pop up in users’ feeds. The company — hidden behind its 
own blizzard of Facebook pages, little-known as a news brand in its own 
right — ranked poorly on Facebook’s trust surveys, hurting their reach 
still more.

In fall 2017, Facebook traffic to Liftable’s properties began to drop. 
By early last year, it was nearly zero.

Patrick Brown’s team scrambled. In 2018, Mr. Brown resurrected his site 
as WesternJournal.com, a new domain that had never been blacklisted by 
advertising networks or flagged by fact checkers. He began working with 
Facebook to rename most of his company’s stable of Facebook pages to tie 
them more closely to The Western Journal. (A page once called Donald 
Trump Is the Man, for example, is now called Donald Trump News by WJ.) 
Others were shut down.

Mr. Brown also introduced a corrections page and hired copy editors with 
traditional journalism training. He published editorial standards that 
stated, among other things, that The Western Journal’s “first value as a 
company is truth.” Thousands of old WesternJournalism.com stories, 
including most of Floyd Brown’s columns, were removed.

In February, Patrick Brown greeted two reporters at the Liftable offices 
in Anthem, wearing jeans and a faded T-shirt. “I’d say we’re backing 
into something that looks more like a traditional media company,” he 
said in his small office with sweeping views of the Sonoran Desert.

Over a series of conversations, Mr. Brown answered detailed questions 
about his business and Liftable’s efforts to navigate social media’s 
fast-changing landscape. “Our goal is to show you who we are and be 
transparent,” he said. “We haven’t done this before, so we’re nervous.”

While Facebook’s algorithm changes had knocked around his business, Mr. 
Brown acknowledged, most of them were about “protecting the user — and 
you know, we support that.”

His father had little involvement with the company day to day, Mr. Brown 
said, and served mostly as a sounding board on business and management 
issues. When asked whether Liftable had anything in common with his 
father’s PACs, Mr. Brown demurred.

“I would never want to do what he did,” Mr. Brown said. “When you make 
an ad or something, you are — your whole goal is to just convince 
someone of something, right? I mean, our goal is not that. Our No. 1 
goal is to inform — truthfully.”

Yet the reborn Western Journal functions almost like a news outlet in 
reverse. In interviews, the website’s editors spoke often about 
narratives — narratives in the mainstream media, narratives they wanted 
to counter, narratives they were seeking. Each workday, a small team of 
editors, known as “story finders,” scours social media data and 
newswires. “They’re looking for information, narratives that will inform 
and equip and motivate our audience,” said Shaun Hair, a former 
litigator who is The Western Journal’s executive editor.

The message comes first, then facts carefully selected to support it. 
Only after editors decide the framing of a story, and write the 
headline, is it handed off to a pool of contract writers, most working 
remotely. Deadlines are tight: A typical story must be filed within 30 

Western Journal editors stressed that headlines and frames were often 
adjusted later to ensure accuracy, and that writers were encouraged to 
pitch ideas. But as with stories from some other ideological media 
outlets, those from Western Journal often feel tailored to the daily 
political needs of one faction. Mr. Brown describes the intended 
audience as the “forgotten people” of heartland America — a staple of 
Mr. Trump’s speeches — and The Western Journal’s narratives often echo 
and amplify those spun by the president.

Mr. Trump’s targets, too, reliably become The Western Journal’s: the CNN 
reporter Jim Acosta, Joy Behar of “The View,” Representative Alexandria 
Ocasio-Cortez. Last fall, when Mr. Trump sought to mobilize Republican 
voters by campaigning against the caravan of Central Americans headed 
toward the United States, The Western Journal published more than 150 
stories about the migrants. Most complemented Mr. Trump’s message, for 
example by likening the caravan to a "mob" or “an army,” and emphasizing 
instances of violence.

Mr. Brown and his colleagues argue that, unlike mainstream outlets, they 
are at least transparent about the values that color their content.

“We’re conservative,” Mr. Hair said. “And our news is both curated and 
approached from a conservative reality.”

As Big Tech cracked down, the Browns promoted another emerging 
narrative: that platforms like Google and Facebook were biased against 
the right.

In March 2018, Floyd Brown declared on Fox News that Facebook had been 
“optimized to the thought police.” The same month, The Western Journal 
published an in-house study concluding that Facebook’s algorithm changes 
disproportionately favored liberal news outlets. (Cameron Hickey, a 
disinformation researcher at Harvard, told The Times he considered the 
study’s methodology flawed, since it did not assess the quality or 
reliability of the news sources, merely their purported ideological tilt.)

A few months later, another Western Journal study asserted that the 
changes had cost Republican members of Congress more Facebook reach than 
their Democratic counterparts. The company also hired a Republican 
lobbyist in Washington, Alex Shively, to arrange meetings with lawmakers.

The claim of censorship was not only a political battle cry. It was a 
business imperative. As Liftable’s Facebook traffic declined, it had 
moved more aggressively into direct marketing, pitching its reader data 
and email lists as tool for conservative politicians and political 
organizations to reach voters. In spring 2018, Liftable hired Gabriel S. 
Joseph III, a Washington-based operative and a longtime friend of Floyd 
Brown, to spearhead the business. It was later spun off into a company 
called Firefly Engagement. Like the elder Mr. Brown, Mr. Joseph has a 
knack for brass-knuckle political marketing. He is currently appealing a 
$32 million judgment for a class-action claim that his company illegally 
spammed millions of people to promote a video about the so-called War on 

The new business was critical for Liftable. Even after The Western 
Journal’s reinvention, the site drew only about half the traffic it had 
during the 2016 campaign. Although it still had some of the highest 
Facebook engagement rates of any publication, total traffic referred 
from the social media network had declined catastrophically, according 
to SimilarWeb data. By the end of 2018, only about two million readers a 
month were coming to the website from Facebook. After Google News 
blacklisted the site, the publication lost two-thirds of its traffic 
from Google’s search engine — and with it, ad revenue.

Correspondence that Patrick Brown shared with The Times shows that, at 
first, a Google representative blamed the drop on a technical error.

In a later email, a Google representative offered Mr. Brown a new, 
different reason: The Western Journal had engaged in practices that “can 
be reasonably construed by users as deceptive behavior.”

Ms. Shiels, the Google spokeswoman, said that Google News, which 
includes roughly 80,000 news sources, had blocked about 800 sites for 
policy violations. She declined to name the sites, but said they spanned 
the political spectrum.

Google’s decision to blacklist The Western Journal was informed in part 
by the work of an outside security firm, CounterAction, according to a 
person briefed on the matter. The person, who spoke on the condition of 
anonymity because of contractual agreements around CounterAction’s work, 
said the firm was one of several that Google worked with to detect and 
deter disinformation campaigns.

But Patrick viewed the blacklisting as further evidence of bias. His 
staff spent weeks vetting their content and procedures against Google 
News’s rules for publishers, even hiring a consultant to audit their 
practices. “There was no reason that he could see why we would be 
removed, except for political bias,” Mr. Brown said. The financial 
crunch became so severe, he said, that he and his father temporarily 
gave up their salaries.

“What is happening to Liftable Media isn’t important in and of itself,” 
Mr. Brown added. “Except in the way that it’s reflecting a clampdown on 
speech in general in America.”

‘Who Controls the Microphones’

A few months ago, Floyd Brown and Mr. Joseph helped organize a new 
group, the Coalition for Standardized Digital Media and IT, to call 
attention to supposed tech censorship.

In May, Mr. Joseph oversaw the coalition’s launch event at the National 
Press Club in Washington. The gathering featured Laura Loomer, an 
anti-Muslim activist whom Facebook banned for posts inciting violence 
against the Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar as well as more 
credentialed conservatives with Trump ties, such as Mr. Cain and Kenneth 
T. Cuccinelli II, now acting director of the United States Citizenship 
and Immigration Services.

“There are a lot of folks who depended on Facebook and Google,” Mr. Cain 
said in an interview. “And then, all of a sudden, they begin trying to 
decide what is ‘appropriate.’” He emphasized the last word skeptically, 
with air quotes.

Independent experts have largely dismissed the claim that platforms are 
systematically discriminating against conservative content. (The most 
successful publisher on Facebook in 2019 is FoxNews.com.) But the 
complaints echo longstanding conservative attacks on the mainstream 
media, a onetime gatekeeper whose powers have long since been diminished 
by openly ideological outlets.

“This is an argument that is very familiar through history — the idea of 
one faction being shut out from public debate because of who controls 
the microphones,” said Ms. François, the former Google disinformation 

To prevent publishers from gaming their rules, platforms like Facebook 
and Google News typically do not identify precisely what content or 
action will result in a penalty.

But a review of Liftable’s operations showed a range of potential 
violations of Google’s policies against spam, misrepresentation and 
overreliance on other outlets’ content — activities that, taken 
together, would help explain the company’s suspension.

Almost none of The Western Journal’s news coverage arises from original 
reporting, for example. Almost all of it is “aggregated” — borrowed and 
rewritten, with attribution — from stories on other sites, ranging from 
Breitbart and Daily Caller to traditional news organizations like the 
The Times and The Washington Post. For much of this year, The Western 
Journal’s home page was dominated by headlines that linked to other 
media outlets, such as Fox News or CNN, without clearly indicating that 
the stories had not originated on The Western Journal.

Western Journal authors do not always use their real names, another 
violation of Google News policies. In late 2018, when Western Journal 
was suspended, a search for some of the site’s most prominent bylines 
yielded no digital fingerprints beyond Liftable. A few of the writers, 
Mr. Brown explained at the time, used pseudonyms or middle names. After 
The Times asked about the practice, those authors began using their real 
names. But some Western Journal bylines are still pseudonyms, like an 
author named C. O. Jones (i.e., “Cojones.”)

Mr. Brown also appears to have used frowned-upon techniques to game 
Google’s algorithms. At The Times’s request, Matthew Hindman, a 
professor at George Washington University and author of “The Internet 
Trap,” found at least 50 domains linked to the Browns that appeared to 
be promoting The Western Journal.

Those domains, which included ExposeObama.com, the former website of 
Floyd Brown’s anti-Obama PAC, have posted nearly 150,000 links to 
Western Journal articles since 2017, a technique known as “spammy 
backlinking.” Some are still configured as “doorway sites,” with little 
more than a rotating collection of Western Journal headlines and links, 
a tactic to create the appearance of popularity but explicitly banned by 

“This is not a new technique,” Mr. Hindman said. “And they can’t have 
been surprised that Google thought it was cheating.”

Most striking, the Browns’ company also has unusually close ties with a 
pro-Trump PAC, America Fighting Back. The PAC was co-founded last 
September by Mr. Cain, shortly before The Western Journal absorbed his 
personal website and began hosting his internet radio show. The PAC’s 
chief strategist, Todd Ceferrati, is also a consultant to Liftable. 
Floyd Brown is the PAC’s chairman.

Almost every post on the PAC’s Facebook page is a link to a Western 
Journal story or commentary. Most of the PAC’s email solicitations are 
sent out over Liftable-owned domains, according to a Times review, and 
feature Western Journal stories. A welcome message on the America 
Fighting Back site celebrates the PAC’s “amazing group of marketing and 
social media and grass-roots experts dedicated to our nation, President 
Trump and his agenda.”

Liftable appears to have shut down its backlinking network sometime this 
year; most of the sites now merely direct readers to WesternJournal.com. 
Executives said this summer that they had made further changes to the 
site to hew more closely to Google’s public policies, and appealed the 

But the PAC appears to be a sticking point: In July, shortly after the 
White House summit, a Google representative told Mr. Brown’s team that 
The Western Journal was not adequately disclosing to readers its 
relationship with the political organization. It was hard to tell, the 
representative seemed to suggest, where The Western Journal ended and 
the PAC began.

Liftable editors said it had no formal connection to the PAC; the group 
simply employed Liftable and Firefly as vendors. In an email to The 
Times, Mr. Brown accused Google of a double standard.

“I challenge Google to remove The Washington Post from Google News 
because of the political contributions and political activities of Jeff 
Bezos,” Mr. Brown said. “Americans of all political persuasions used to 
be allowed their personal political beliefs, but Google punishes our 
entire company because of my personal giving and activities. All we have 
ever asked for is to be treated with equality.”

A Direct Line

In mid-August, Patrick Brown told Liftable’s staff he was stepping down 
as chief executive to take a medical leave. The elder Mr. Brown now runs 
the family business once again, right as Liftable is fighting for its 
life. The company has parted ways with some freelancers and left some 
openings unfilled. Today, according to Floyd Brown, Liftable Media is 
half its former size.

But the Browns have always adapted. Later this year, a new company 
started by the Browns and Mr. Ceferrati will release a smartphone app 
called Feedme. Created by Patrick Brown, the app is designed to neuter 
Silicon Valley’s control over its own platforms. Feedme will allow users 
to import public content from Facebook, Twitter and other social 
platforms, but decide which of the content they see, instead of letting 
those companies’ algorithms decide. In theory, it could allow the Browns 
to broadcast anything to their Facebook followers, without interference.

A marketing email sent to Western Journal readers in July presented 
Feedme as a solution to “Silicon Valley’s theft of the First Amendment.” 
The message — political and commercial — will be bolstered by Floyd 
Brown’s next book, due out in September: “Big Tech Tyrants: How Silicon 
Valley’s Stealth Practices Addict Teens, Silence Speech, and Steal Your 

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