The past month’s events provided no shortage of opinions on what is – or isn’t – free speech. Setting aside the opinions of the President and the NFL, let’s look at what constitutes “free” speech online.
No one loves The Google more than we do, but if we really think about it, is Google dictating the content you consume? The short answer is – duh – of course it is! We all as consumers understand how ad dollars and SEO works on a basic level. The more dollars a company pays, the higher up they will appear in relevant searches. Simple.
But when we read this in The New York Times from September 2017, we were struck by just how much control Google has over the world’s information. Reporter Daisuke Wakabayashi highlights how Google (and others) are now in the business of deciding who is – and who is not – a trustworthy source of information. He writes:
“Most people have little understanding of how Google’s search engine ranks different sites, what it chooses to include or exclude, and how it picks the top results among hundreds of billions of pages. And Google tightly guards the mathematical equations behind it all – the rest of the world has to take their word that it is done in an unbiased manner.”
The power concentrated in the hands of one company is dangerous. But this is uncharted territory and because Google is a behemoth, they are getting to write the rules.
Look, fake news is bad. Russians meddling in our elections using electronic media is bad. All of that needs to be resolved. But it shouldn’t be resolved by stepping on the First Amendment. We won’t pretend to have all of the answers, but putting the power of discovery and the power of search into the hands of the people is a step in the right direction. As we can see, democracy is messy, and we won’t promise that nefarious content isn’t out there. It is. But are we willing to take away the rights of the many for the few truly “bad apples” – or are we willing to trust people to decide for themselves what is trustworthy. We may not always get it right, but at least we are not leaving it up to the $660 billion Google-shaped elephant in the room.
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" – Evelyn Beatrice Hall