The New York Times Magazine has a long article about Google’s censors. It’s not just China; Google also censors the Internet on behalf of the governments of Turkey, France, Germany, and Thailand.
The article’s attitude toward censorship is oddly positive, viewing Google’s censorship as a theoretical problem:
“To love Google, you have to be a little bit of a monarchist, you have to have faith in the way people traditionally felt about the king,” Tim Wu, a Columbia law professor and a former scholar in residence at Google, told me recently. “One reason they’re good at the moment is they live and die on trust, and as soon as you lose trust in Google, it’s over for them.” Google’s claim on our trust is a fragile thing. After all, it’s hard to be a company whose mission is to give people all the information they want and to insist at the same time on deciding what information they get. . .
“Right now, we’re trusting Google because it’s good, but of course, we run the risk that the day will come when Google goes bad,” Wu told me.
But many would argue that the day has already come. Google’s record includes censorship not only in foreign countries for foreign goverments, but in America for political correctness. The article notes an infamous incident in which Google deleted a Michelle Malkin video and then deleted her protest:
Malkin became something of a cause célèbre among YouTube critics in 2006, when she created a two-minute movie called “First, They Came” in the wake of the violent response to the Danish anti-Muhammad cartoons. . .
Nearly seven months after she posted the video, Malkin told me she was “flabbergasted” to receive an e-mail message from YouTube saying the video had been removed for its “inappropriate content.” When Malkin asked why the video was removed, she received no response, and when she posted a video appealing to YouTube to reinstate it, that video, too, was deleted with what she calls the “false claim” that it had been removed at her request. . .
I watched the “First, They Came” video, which struck me as powerful political commentary that contains neither hate speech nor graphic violence, and I asked why it was taken down. According to a YouTube spokesman, the takedown was a routine one that hadn’t been reviewed by higher-ups. The spokesman said he couldn’t comment on particular cases, but he forwarded a link to Malkin’s current YouTube channel, noting that it contains 55 anti-jihadist videos similar to “First, They Came,” none of which have been taken down. . .
The removal of Malkin’s video may have been an innocent mistake. But it serves as a reminder that one person’s principled political protest is another person’s hate speech, and distinguishing between the two in hard cases is a lot to ask of a low-level YouTube reviewer. In addition, the publicity that attended the removal of Malkin’s video only underscores the fact that in the vast majority of cases in which material is taken down, the decision to do so is never explained or contested. The video goes down, and that’s the end of it.
Google’s defense is bizarre. First they claim that they never looked at Malkin’s video, which hardly seems possible given all the negative publicity the incident generated, and which is not a defense in any case. Then they point out all the Malkin videos they haven’t censored, as if that forgives them for the ones they did censor. And they give no explanation at all for why they would delete Malkin’s protest and claim she asked for it.
The New York Times’s attitude is also bizarre. They forgive Google’s enforcement of political correctness on the grounds that it’s really hard to tell what is and isn’t hate speech. Ordinarily, the NYT could tell you that that is an argument against censorship, or at the very least, for erring on the side of free speech. But in this case, the NYT’s main concern is that Google might start to cooperate with the US government. (Assisting Chinese repression is one thing, but the US government? Now that would be bad.)
To be clear, the First Amendment does not come into play here. Google is a private company and on their property they can censor whatever they want. But they shouldn’t then ask us to trust them.