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Should Google Manipulate Search Results to Protect Islam’s Image?

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Google's logo at a conference in Germany.
Google’s logo at a conference in Germany. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

 

In a an article published by the HuffPost, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has called on Google to act against what it regards as online hate speech.

Their goal is to persuade Google itself to intervene in the battle of ideas by censoring material that it does not like. These activists justify this goal based on the precedent set by Google itself, in which the tech giant pledged to counter extremist ideas by burying YouTube videos which it feels promote offensive ideas but which do not violate YouTube’s rules. In addition, they will deny these videos the option to promote themselves with paid adverts, or be recommended or commented on by other users.

“That means these videos will have less engagement and be harder to find,” Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel and senior vice president, wrote in a company blog post on the change. “We think this strikes the right balance between free expression and access to information without promoting extremely offensive viewpoints.”

Google is also teaming up with Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter to tackle extremist content online.

Clarion disagrees with the approach of the tech giants with regard to extremist content. We share the Islamic State’s magazines on our website. We do this to expose in all its horror the true ideology of this murderous cult in order that it cannot be misrepresented in the genteel press, but seen and challenged for what it really is. Only then, we believe, will we be able to effectively combat it.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a formerly great civil rights organization which now makes unsubstantiated and biased smears against activists who are attempting to tackle extremist Islam, has tried to pressure Google into clamping down on what it deems hateful content.

This is a suppressionist tactic made by cowards who are fearful that they cannot win in the intellectual struggle. Unable to stand on their own two feet, they look to protection from an outside source.

The question that everyone should be asking about this censorship is simple: Who decides what to censor? Who decides what counts as hateful or extremist? And who benefits when a specific video or article or report is censored?

Any way you slice it, voices are going to be unfairly silenced once you begin the path down the censorship route. Machine-learning robots will blindly follow their algorithms to reflect the biases of those who designed them. They should not be trusted with control of our intellectual space. Unelected, unaccountable tech executives, who will in all likelihood have almost no understanding of the issues they are deciding whether or not to censor, can also not be trusted.

Neither can the government, which swings from left to right and back again with each election cycle. Today’s censor may soon become tomorrow’s censored.

Even if society could agree on an appropriate censor (which we feel they cannot), attitudes change. What is considered regressive conservativism today was considered unthinkable progressivism just a few short decades ago. You never know in which direction the tide will turn next and if you will be the next target.

As the founding fathers understood, the only way to guarantee a free society is to guarantee freedom of speech. If you are worried about the rabble falling prey to extremist rhetoric and to facile demagoguery, that’s not a problem of free speech. It’s a problem of education. If critical thinking is effectively taught in schools, if effective mental health support is provided to those who are emotionally vulnerable, then that — and not censorship — will assure that the public has the intellectual and psychological skills to assess incoming information and filter the good from the bad.

You may think this too high-minded, to expect such sophistication from the common man. But what is civilization itself if not the desperate high-minded attempt to drag man out of his bestial abode in the gutter and launch him, inch by bloody inch, into the stars. We will not give in to those who have such a low opinion of humanity as to expect them not to think for themselves, instead to have elites dictate from on high what a person can or cannot read, hear or watch.

No, we do not think so lowly of the common man as that. We will continue to fight for liberty.

And, “if liberty means anything at all,” as Orwell said, “it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

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Elliot Friedland

Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.