Google makes case against online free speech in 85-page ‘Good Censor’ briefing
October 10, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Internet giant Google sees itself as “The Good Censor” upholding “safety” on the internet against totally-unfettered speech, according to a leaked internal briefing of the same name obtained by Breitbart.
On Tuesday, Breitbart revealed the 85-page document, dated March 2018 and billed as a presentation on how the company can “reassure the world that it protects users from harmful content while still supporting free speech,” identifies Google, Facebook, and Twitter as “control(ling) the majority of online conversations.”
Its intended audience is unknown, but substantial production values are apparent in its graphics and visual aids, as well as its self-declared “several layers of research.” The briefing says Google consulted 35 “cultural observers” and seven “cultural leaders” from seven countries on five continents, and interviewed MIT Tech Review editor-in-chief Jason Pontin, Atlantic staff writer Franklin Foer, and George Washington University cybersecurity expert Kalev Leetaru.
The briefing, which can be read in its entirety here, opens by discussing how “free speech” has “become a social, economic, and political weapon,” leading internet users to ask “if the openness of the internet should be celebrated after all.” Recent global events such as online “fake news” in the United States’ 2016 presidential election and the “rise of the alt-right” have “undermined” the original “utopian narrative” of the internet as a place for unfettered competition of ideas.
It identifies the ease, accessibility, and anonymity of online communication, as well as the ease of joining like-minded communities as wearing down social norms, reinforcing groupthink, and all-but eliminating consequences for hostile and dishonest behavior.
“The ‘little guys and girls’ can now be heard - emerging talent, revolutionaries, whistleblowers and campaigners. But ‘everyone else’ can shout loudly too - including terrorists, racists, misogynists and oppressors,” the document says. “And because ‘everything looks like the New York Times’ on the net, it’s harder to separate fact from fiction, legitimacy from illegitimacy, novelty from history, and positivity from destructivity.”
Notably, it identifies several ways tech firms have been “behaving badly,” such as “incubating fake news,” letting automated review systems innocently censor legitimate content, insufficiently explaining how their algorithms work, selective enforcement, and agreeing to help foreign governments censor their people.
But while superficially conceding several common grievances, conservatives doubt Google’s “inadvertent error” explanations in light of previous leaks of top Google insiders’ political biases, and argue that social media’s concern with selectively-defined “fake news” is a pretext for silencing truthful dissenters from conventional wisdom. Additionally, Google cites Facebook’s complicity in Turkish and Pakistani censorship, but omits its own cooperation with Chinese state censors.
Other hints of the company’s partisan leanings include listing President Donald Trump’s 2016 claim that Google searches were biased toward his competitor Hillary Clinton as a “conspiracy theory,” and placing a picture of a Trump campaign above a passage about Russian election interference.
“Tech firms are performing a balancing act between two incompatible positions,” the presentation claims: an “unmediated ‘marketplace of ideas,’” and “well-ordered spaces for safety and civility.” It admits that tech companies have “gradually shifted” toward “censorship and moderation, a more “European tradition” that “favors dignity over liberty and civility over freedom.”
Notably, it admits that Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter have shifted away from their roles as “aggregators” in favor of acting more like “editors” and “publishers.” It does not, however, address the fact that the Congressionally-granted immunity tech firms currently enjoy from liability for the content they allow – something hailed as a key to their growth early in the document – is predicated on behaving like the former instead of the later.
Ultimately, the document doesn’t decide whether companies should continue toward the European model or reverse course, but simply calls for greater transparency, better communications, and clearer rules, as well as for policing “tone instead of content” without “tak(ing) sides.”
A Google spokesperson told Breitbart the document is mere “internal research” rather than any official position, but such assurances come as little comfort to those who accuse Google, Facebook, and Twitter of discriminating against conservatives on their platforms and services.
"This story confirms our worst fear,” responded Media Research Center president Brent Bozell, who has been working to organize conservatives against online censorship. “Contrary to Google's public statements and what they have said to us in private discussions, Google is in the censorship business and apparently the lying business as well. We're going to be meeting with our coalition partners immediately and we will announce next moves very soon."
Bozell’s coalition argues that tensions between speech and abuse can be resolved by simply mirroring the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as currently interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court. “That standard, the result of centuries of American jurisprudence, would enable the rightful blocking of content that threatens violence or spews obscenity, without trampling on free speech liberties that have long made the United States a beacon for freedom,” the coalition says.