This is a story of how Google has chosen to brutally punish a small news publisher like Janta Ka Reporter for our decision to carry out fearless journalism and hold the ruling party to account. We’ve been forced to go public after suffering for more than one year.
After our expose on #RafaleScam in 2019, our monthly traffic began to soar exponentially as our Google ranking improved significantly. By early 2020, we were clocking more than 10 million (one crore) page views with our user base reached more than 6 million.
The phenomenal increase in web traffic translated into an increase in revenue. This allowed us to pay off our debt and work on plans to boost our newsgathering efforts. But our world came crashing down in November 2020 when Google told us it had penalised us with ‘manual action’.
Google said some of our promotional posts carried web links that it considered ‘unnatural. It said, “Pages affected by manual actions can see reduced display features, lower-ranking, or even removal from Google Search results.” This has had catastrophic impact on our page views.
Not only did it mean that our stories disappeared from the Google trending page (Google discover on mobile app), but we lost our ranking from search results as well. Alarmed by Google’s action, we identified at least 20 promotional articles that had ‘unnatural links’ and took them down.
We followed Google’s instructions (from this video ) and submitted what’s called ‘reconsideration request.’ We informed them about actions we had taken to correct the oversight. (Link here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cA5I3HHApYk)
Not only did we take down all affected links but also added features preventing users from posting third-party’s links in the comments section. We also made our website secure by adding SSL certificate. We submitted our first ‘reconsideration request in December 2020.
We reached out to contacts in Google and referred to the above video. All of them said it took just a few weeks for Google to respond to ‘reconsideration request.’ Even in the above YouTube video, the gentleman from Google said it was ‘not normal’ for one to not hear back from Google for two months.
We reached out to Google executives Danny Sullivan and John Mueller on 27 January 2020 with our request to expedite. Danny was kind enough to respond saying that John Mueller is the man to speak to. we directed my request to John on Twitter, but never received a response.
Both Rifat Jawaid and Lubna Usman-Rifat tried to reach out to John Mueller on countless occasions, but he simply ignored our requests. Meanwhile, he did respond to similar requests by other individuals, who later said their issues had been resolved after intervention by Google execs.
We resubmitted our reconsideration requests at least dozen times since then, but have not heard anything from Google. More than 400 days have passed since we first submitted our reconsideration request, but Google has chosen to look the other way even though it takes them just 15 days to respond to such requests.
Some of our Google contacts describe treatment meted out to our website as ‘bizarre’ and ‘extraordinary.’ It’s worth mentioning that in February 2020, we faced intense pressure from Reliance’s PR team, wanting certain stories on Ambanis’ children to be taken down.
Our stories on Mukesh Ambani and his children since their weddings were a big hit on Google and they often trended. We refused to take them down. Sometime in July-August same year, Google made a $ 4.5 billion investment. Three months later, Google decided to punish us.
Not too long ago, Mukesh Ambani-owned moneycontrol made copyright appeal on one of our original videos. The only person present in that video was Rifat Jawaid. Yet, moneycontrol made a copyright claim. We appealed and won. But the penalty imposed by Facebook was never restored.
A few weeks ago, Facebook now known as @Meta sensationally told us that moneycontrol website had made copyright claim in a video blog of mine reacting to Narendra Modi’s address to nation on farm laws. Am not joking, Mukesh Ambani’s website made copyright claim on MY selfie video pic.twitter.com/DIyFg2B5zI
— Rifat Jawaid (@RifatJawaid) November 27, 2021
We are now bleeding and on the verge of a shutdown. We would perhaps be the first small news publisher to be punished by Google simply because we showcased honest and fearless journalism. We have no idea who to contact to. Going public is our last resort Sundar Pichai
We fail to understand what mistake we’ve committed for Google to be so brutal. Ours is not a porn or gambling site. All we did with our limited resources was to showcase bold and fearless journalism by holding politicians to account.
We are asking Sundar Pichai if honest journalism is a crime for Google. We are also asking organisations such as U.S. Agency for Global Media – USAGM, Open Rights Group, Competition and Markets Authority, The United States Department of Justice for help since all our efforts to get a response from Google have been futile.
From today, we will be sharing a daily update on inaction by Google in a bid to punish us for honest and fearless journalism. I sincerely hope that Sundar Pichai takes note of this bullying by his colleagues and restores our page ranking etc by revoking manual action. Thank you!