Politicians Whining About Censorship Are All Just Trying To Dictate The Terms Of Debate
from the just-knock-it-off-already dept
So, we just had a post mocking the Democrats for whining about Hulu refusing their issue ads, and falsely calling it “censorship.” And now we have Republicans issuing a bullshit blustery threat letter to Google not to limit searches for sketchy fake abortion centers.
If you’re unaware, malicious anti-abortion folks have set up fake abortion centers, which they call “crisis pregnancy centers,” that are masquerading as actual abortion providers, but which are only there to lie to vulnerable patients about their options, and push them to give birth. Last month, Democrats (again, deeply questionably) told Google that it should demote search results pointing to these misleading centers when people are searching for abortions. As I’ve argued for years, politicians have no rights trying to dictate anything about search results or content moderation. Coming from politicians there is always an implied threat that if these search results don’t come out the way the politicians want, they may take action in the form of legislation.
And, now, a bunch of Republican Attorneys General have sent this ridiculous threat letter to Google with the opposite type of threat, saying that they will take action if Google does limit the search results to these centers. The letter is hilarious in that it whines about politicians seeking “to wield Google’s immense market power by pressuring the company to discriminate against pro-life crisis pregnancy centers in Google search results…” when these Republicans are doing the exact same thing just in the other direction.
Unfortunately, several national politicians now seek to wield Google’s immense market power by pressuring the company to discriminate against pro-life crisis pregnancy centers in Google search results, in online advertising, and in its other products, such as Google Maps. As the chief legal officers of our respective States, we the undersigned Attorneys General are extremely troubled by this gallingly un-American political pressure. We wish to make this very clear to Google and the other market participants that it dwarfs: If you fail to resist this political pressure, we will act swiftly to protect American consumers from this dangerous axis of corporate and government power.
Note that the letter from Republicans is much more explicit in the threat (and it’s coming from Attorneys General, so actual law enforcement agents, rather than elected legislature members who have much less power to act on their own).
The letter is chock full of nonsense.
Complying with these demands would constitute a grave assault on the principle of free speech. “Unbiased access to information,” while no longer a component of Google’s corporate creed, is still what Americans expect from your company.
That’s bullshit. It’s a search engine. The entire point is bias. It is literally ranking the search result to try to bring up the most relevant, and that, inherently, means bias. The attacks on free speech are not from Google trying to serve up more relevant search results, but from politicians of both parties sending these competing threat letters to try to pressure Google into modifying search results to get their own preferred search results shown.
This is what people are talking about when they say that all this politician jawboning and grandstanding is “working the refs.” As we noted last year, the bipartisan attacks on the internet are really all about trying to control the flow of information in their favor, and leaning on powerful companies to try to get their own side more prominence.
And, of course, Google itself has contributed to this somewhat. For years it took a completely hands-off approach to directly modifying its search results, noting that the algorithm returned what the algorithm returned. Yet almost exactly a decade ago, we noted that, for the first time, Google was caving to outside pressure to modify its search results when it promised the MPAA that it would start demoting websites based on DMCA notices.
We warned that this would open the floodgates of others pressuring Google to make modifications to demote sites they disliked, but now it’s reaching new and ever more ridiculous levels, with politicians of both major political parties screaming “take it down” from one side and “leave it up” from the other, with both sides threatening to take some form of punitive action if they’re not obeyed.
All of this is dangerous. All of this is government interfering with the 1st Amendment rights of sites to display information, content, and expression how they best see fit. Both the Democrats and Republicans need to stop this ridiculousness. Stop demanding how sites operate.