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I Disagree, Google

By - January 24, 2008

Google has come out with a policy around political ads on its sites, and I commend it for transparency and setting a level playing field. But I disagree with the policy. Why? Well, to quote a portion of its post on the policy:

No attacks on an individual’s personal life. Stating disagreement with or campaigning against a candidate for public office, a political party, or public administration is generally permissible. However, political ads must not include accusations or attacks relating to an individual’s personal life, nor can they advocate against a protected group. So, “Crime rates are up under Police Commissioner Gordon” is okay, but “Police Commissioner Gordon had an affair” is not.

I understand why Google took this course, but I have to say, it’s part of an ongoing sanitization of our political life that, in the end, pushes all of politics toward whitewashing and dishonesty. It’s far easier to say “no personal attacks” than it is to say “no false statements”. But in my mind, accuracy is far more important in public debate than some subjective sense of what constitutes a personal attack. These are public figures, after all, and let’s be honest: we vote for folks we feel we can trust. How will we know them if we don’t know the truth? Sure, scandalous stuff is often scurrilous, but the first amendment is clear on speech: all speech, in particular, all public speech, must be allowed, so that the real truth can be assessed by an informed public. We don’t need Google, or anyone else, sanitizing it for us.

Just my two cents.

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14 thoughts on “I Disagree, Google

  1. M says:

    You must also be the kind of person that goes into a coffee shop and says “I disagree with this business, because it’s not selling juice, and it’s sanitizing society of healthy drinks”.

    Google is sells advertising, and it sets standards for that advertising – if you don’t like it, go advertise or publicise elsewhere. Google isn’t sanitizing anything (have you checked the dictionary definition for that term?), it’s merely setting some standards and terms of service up front.

    No one is stopping you from publishing personal attacks in blogs, websites and have it findable through search results or otherwise.

    For many people, personal attacks are offensive and off topic to the issue at hand. If someone’s personal behaviour has direct relevance to their job function, that’s fine, it is relevant. But as far as I know, in most areas of employment, irrelevant personal attacks are considered harrassment, bullying or discrimination.

  2. John Battelle says:

    You make a fine point, M. But Google is not an option for politicians (or public discourse) these days, it’s a requirement. And as such, it’s not a coffee shop, it’s a public square of sorts. And in public squares, I prefer to hear whatever folks have to say, and judge for myself if they are offbase, slanderous, etc.

  3. Hiroko says:

    It can’t be a public square unless Google has a legal safe harbor against liability for what ads people publish. Given the current state of US law, they don’t have that safe harbor. If someone takes out a slanderous ad and it appears on one of Google’s sites (such as a search results page), who is liable? Under libel law, it’s the publisher (i.e., Google), not the author of the ad. Since Google doesn’t just blindly accept every ad, they don’t get the distributor safe harbor, and the telcos got rid of the common carrier safe harbor a few years ago when they lobbied to exempt information services from common carrier regulation.

  4. sponsored-links.net says:

    I wonder if it really even matters — isn’t it a well known “fact” that only morons pay attention to sponsored links? So anyone advertising on Google must be fishing for morons, right?

    What should give pause, though, is how “miserable failure” shows that the algorithmic results are also cleansed, sanitized, or whatever (and here there isn’t even any lip service to policy — on the contrary, they have even said in courts that the so-called “engine” is only Google’s “opinion”).

    There’s a clothing store that has run the commercial pitch that “an educated consumer is our best customer” for several decades. I wonder if Google could adapt that (since the “do no evil” seems to be wearing thin) — maybe they could go with “Google — we get rich from imbeciles”

    :D nmw

  5. Bertil says:

    Someone can make an ad saying: “Commissioner Gordon is not trustworthy.” and link to a site where his affair is detailed, along less juicy stuff. I don’t think Free Speech applies to ad: it applies to conversations & journals, not sponsored media—but I should check with a legal scholar.

  6. Trogdor says:

    This causes a chilling effect on discourse, and is an attack on free speech. Countless times I’ve seen people spread true facts about a politician, only to be blamed by that politician for making a character attack.

    Frankly, political speech is *exactly* what the 1st amendment was trying to protect, since it’s what the politicians would obviously love to be able to control.

    Her Royal Highness (would-be queen Rodham) is well-known for calling it a character attack, when people bring up her own (inconvenient) quotes later on.

    I think Google is mistaken in this policy, because at some point, it comes down to a human editor to figure out if something is an attack or not, and as we’ve seen from the censorship on YouTube (i.e. Nick Gisburne’s video about the Quran *), Google algorithms don’t always respond fairly when there’s enough complaints – whether something is breaking the rules or not.

    * (in case you’d forgotten about that incident, it happens to be the last thing the Xooglers posted about: http://xooglers.blogspot.com/2007/02/long-time-no-blog.html)

  7. Trogdor says:

    (sorry, I hosed the URL in the previous comment … try http://xooglers.blogspot.com/2007/02/long-time-no-blog.html )

  8. Jake says:

    GOOG is definitely on dicey ground here, to say the least.

    I agree that one’s personal life should be kept out of politics, but only to a point. And I’ll admit, that’s a problem (of logic on my part).

    When a person drives over the speed limit and gets caught doing so they are indeed untrustworthy: holding a license implicitly means you will follow the rules of the road. Dishonesty to the laws of the road does not, however, imply a propensity to be dishonest when it comes to upholding the constitution any more than honesty to your spouse insures honesty when it comes to upholding the constitution.

    Unfortunately, the greatest country in the world blew (sorry, couldn’t resist) our impeachment card over a personal matter and we’ve been screwed every since.

    I’m in favor of goog standing up for decorum where the politicians and the media refuse to do so.

  9. JG says:

    So, “Crime rates are up under Police Commissioner Gordon” is okay, but “Police Commissioner Gordon had an affair” is not.

    Can’t we all just get along? I suggest the following compromise:

    Affair rates are up under Police Commissioner Gordon“.

    See? It’s not personal. It just says that, since Commissioner Gordon took office, more people are having affairs. Or at least one more person is having an affair. Reader draw your own conclusions.

    [/snark] :-)

  10. LeeRich says:

    Absolutely, Google shouldn’t be acting as a gatekeeper for this or any other type of information. It seems incredibly hypocritical for Google to act as a beacon of Internet openness yet try to restrict political speech and decide what the voters should think is important

  11. shawn says:

    John,

    I’m pleased to have you as a new friend on my Facebook page. I look forward to networking with you in the near future online…:-)

    Shawn Drewry

    http://www.Drewryonline.net

  12. Rodrigo says:

    They’re manipulating information through ads or in the searches?

  13. about-information.info says:

    Both.

  14. Tslipnbang says:

    Bullshit! Remain free and autonomous US!

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