Commentary

Verizon's Tech News Site Faces Censorship Accusations

Verizon's move to get into the tech news business doesn't appear to be off to a great start.

This week, the Daily Dot reported that the telecom's news site, SugarString, is banning stories relating to two of the most significant tech policy issues of the year -- net neutrality and surveillance by the U.S. government.

The Daily Dot's Patrick Howell O'Neill reports that he was contacted about working for SugarString by Cole Stryker, the site's editor in chief. "The premise and rules behind the site were explained to me in a series of messages throughout the day. I declined the job offer,” O'Neill writes.

The report has raised eyebrows throughout the Web, spurring company watchers to accuse Verizon of censorship.

For its part, Verizon issued what the Verge called a “non-denial denial.” The company reportedly told the Verge that SugarString is a “pilot project” aimed at addressing tech trends. “Unlike the characterization by its new editor, SugarString is open to all topics that fit its mission and elevate the conversation around technology,” Verizon reportedly stated.

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Either way, it's hardly unprecedented for a company that owns a news organization to try to direct editorial operations. One famous example involving a tech site occurred two years ago, when CBS refused to allow CNET -- the tech news site purchased by the broadcaster in 2008 -- to award Dish's ad-skipping DVR, Hopper, “Best in Show” at the Consumer Electronics Show.

As of today, SugarString doesn't appear to have any articles about the battle over net neutrality currently underway in the U.S. But the Verizon-backed site obviously could still evolve to cover a broader range of issues.

Verizon itself has made no secret of its dislike for net neutrality regulations. When the FCC passed neutrality rules in 2010, Verizon responded by suing the agency. Earlier this year, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Verizon and invalidated rules prohibiting broadband providers from blocking or degrading sites.

Ironically, however, those rules protect sites like SugarString. After all, without neutrality, Verizon's rival broadband providers could prevent Web users from accessing the new venture.

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