Like many people today I have my home web log hosted by Blogger.com. Since it is owned by the good people over at Google that means we’re all just part of one big happy family. What started as a simple search engine has already expanded to include more Internet services that see it beginning to challenge traditional giants like Yahoo! and Microsoft.
With the announcement this week of a second share offering worth more than $4 billion U. S. it looks like Google is getting set for another buying spree. It’s influence, power, and control of the Internet is already substantial; it will be interesting to see where Google stands in another year’s time in relation to the other two.
I’m sure that most of you, and for good reason, are quite happy to see anyone challenge the authority of Uber Gates. Control of the dissemination of information and the means people communicate information, in the hands of one company or individual, has implications that would have given Joseph Goebbels reason to celebrate.
But before we start adorning Google in shining white armour and blindly welcome them as a saviour, maybe now’s the time we give them a careful once over. Aside from a few accusations of high-handedness from the publishing world, at first glance Google seems pretty clean. Recently something has happened which has led me to question this assessment.
Circumstances of the past few days have made me examine a feature of its blog sites and made me question its appropriateness and potential for misuse and exploitation. In no way should the following be taken as an accusation of censorship against Google personally. The problem is that Google has allowed that potential to exist.
Recently I conducted an extensive interview with the Indian writer Ashok Banker. I posted it on my Blogger home site, at Blogcritics.org, and at the Blogging News Network. In this interview, Mr. Banker was open and frank about expressing his opinions on a variety of subjects, which to my mind made it all the more interesting.
But it seems there is a chance other people may not have agreed with my assessment and have taken steps to silence Mr. Banker. The day after the interview appeared Mr. Banker’s access to publishing at his weblog has been denied. There are no discernable technical reasons to be found; his server and his ISP are working fine, no one else in India, or anywhere else, is having trouble posting to Blogger.com; some other reason must be postulated.
Go to any Blogger.com web log and across the top you will see a few buttons. Two of them are directional; go to previous and go to next log; but one is marked Flag. According to
Blogger Help this allows readers the opportunity to notify the administration that they find this site offensive.
Well that all sounds perfectly O.K. on the surface. You can’t expect the people who run Blogger to check each site personally, and there has to be a method of monitoring content. The problem is that the manner in which a web log’s fate is decided is not through an objective study of its content by the administrators, but through the number of times it’s flagged as objectionable.
While they may cite a book calledThe Wisdom Of Crowds (see the link in the blogger help file) to justify this as creating community standards, they have overlooked two things. One, there is little separating that concept from the mentality of mob rule and lynch mobs; two, there is the potential for abusing this system.
How hard would it be for some group to organize themselves to generate enough votes by individual members to effectively block a person’s web site? If special interest groups can organize to flood the switchboards of the F.C.C. over Janet Jackson’s nipple, why couldn’t they manipulate results here in the same manner?
Let me reiterate that I’m not blaming Google for directly censoring anybody, only that they have created a situation where it is possible. Blogs are supposed to provide people the means of free and open expression. Obviously, there has to be some method of monitoring that ensures things like hate literature or incitement to illegal activities are prevented. The system of mob rule that Google uses currently is not the answer.
As Google’s presence continues to grow, and it gains even more influence in cyberspace, its responsibility to ensure the integrity of their services must match its expansion. As it stands, Google is falling short of that goal now. Hopefully, in its rush to expand, the quality of its product is not diminished.