Google And Censorship: Warning Signs

(Let me preface my article with the note that I am not a Holocaust denier, nor am I anti-Semitic in any fashion.)

Google is the world’s most used search engine. As such, what it does and says can be big news in the world of information. For example, Google just decided to manipulate its search algorithms to have holocaust-denying results be removed. This was relevant because it was found recently that they were the first results of a Google search.

Initially, Google denied that it would change the algorithms. Now, though, they seem ready and willing to do so in order to avoid the “fake news” crisis Facebook is undergoing currently. So, welcome to the world of information censorship. The internet has had a good run as a place of freedom, but now it will be grappling with this issue for years and decades to come. Granted, Google is not the entire internet, but such a massive and powerful company will surely have ripples in the information and business realms for a long time to come. This issue may also become political, as Trump has made comments about what he would like to do with the internet. (http://money.cnn.com/2015/12/08/technology/donald-trump-internet/index.html)

Comments like “Somebody will say, ‘Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people.” from Donald Trump show how politicians may seek to use the discussion over internet augmentation that Google has brought to the table.

Two main takeaways become evident from this story.

First, Google claimed that they don’t change search result content except in extreme cases or when illegal activity is involved. Then they pulled a 180 and started changing the results. This kind of makes one wonder if they have before, and if they did, what did they change? If they hadn’t changed things, no one would have to wonder about the integrity of their company on this topic (or at least would have had much less to base it on…).

Second, Google is now willing to silence information it deems distasteful or it deems incorrect. This says a few things about Google. It says that Google is going to use its power in a political and ideological fashion now, and that it is morally and ethically okay with limiting knowledge of points of view it disagrees with. It also says that Google is basically patronizing its users. The implication of Google blocking free movement of information (and consequently, misinformation.) is that its users are not smart enough to sort through it themselves and come to their own conclusions.

As for the effectiveness of Google and their censorship attempts, searching for “holocaust denial” provides only wikipedia results and methods for refuting or combating holocaust deniers. However, the kinks don’t seem to have been worked out entirely, as searching for “Holocaust Denial Evidence” or numerous other similar searches provide several Holocaust-denier links including the white nationalist Stormfront forum post that sparked the controversy in the first place.

I expect that we will soon be seeing significant conversation in the political sphere on the topic of internet censorship. Some people will say “Well, we’ve always had internet censorship. I mean, child porn and drug dealers aren’t going to show up in a quick Google search, dude.” And they’d be correct to a degree. That is censorship in cooperation with the government to enforce specific laws. Debate those laws if you wish, they are known quantities that citizens can potentially influence. When we cross the line into political or opinion-based censorship, you cross into an infinitely more dangerous realm.

Other articles used as reference:

1. http://www.nbcnews.com/tech/internet/google-changes-algorithm-scrubs-neo-nazi-site-disputing-holocaust-top-n700506?cid=sm_fb

2. http://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/google-alters-algorithm-to-remove-holocaust-denial-search-results-4446974/

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