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10 Oct, 2018 04:30

Google now plays 'Good Censor' for civility's sake, leaked internal briefing confirms

Google now plays 'Good Censor' for civility's sake, leaked internal briefing confirms

Internal research commissioned by Google confirms Orwellian-scale censorship powers enjoyed by tech giants. It says free speech is a “utopian idea,” and creating “ordered spaces for safety and civility” is Google's new mission.

The name of the briefing, leaked to Breitbart, says it all. ‘The Good Censor,’ prepared by a host of prominent industry researchers and "cultural leaders," states that Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been moving away from the "American tradition," which protects free speech from any encroachment, towards the European one, which prefers "dignity over liberty and civility over freedom."

Tech firms have gradually shifted away from unmediated free speech and towards censorship and moderation.

Google’s mission, as well as that of other social media platforms, has become "to create well ordered spaces for safety and civility," the briefing states. For this purpose, the platforms assume new roles of "publisher" and "editor," rather than a mere distributor of content.

This creates potential grounds for a legal conflict, since Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act exempts tech platforms from legal responsibility for the content they distribute – a privilege they would have to abandon should they openly admit to censoring content.

The document outlines several reasons for tech firms to embrace the shift, such as to "appease" disgruntled users, address regulatory demands in countries like China, to make more money from the content, and to avoid losing advertisers that shun controversy. 

The Google briefing, which was co-authored by Jason Pontin, a tech journalist and former editor in chief of MIT Technology Review, blames users, governments and the tech firms themselves for undermining the "utopian idea."

The briefing cites Pontin, pointing to the bias by online platforms in the way they are handling political content.

[Richard] Spencer doesn't get to be a verified speaker; Milo gets kicked off, but I know plenty of pretty abusive feminist users or left wing users, expressing themselves in exactly the same way that the right is being penalized for, who are permitted to perform certain kinds of speech.

The journalist warns that such a politicized approach by Twitter is going to get it "into trouble."

The accusation echoes the repeated attacks on Silicon Valley by US President Donald Trump, who claimed that Google was promoting Obama speeches while censoring his own, as well as sidelining content by Republicans in general.

The briefing names several global events that have undermined the concept of free speech, including the 2016 US presidential election. The document refers in particular to the claim that thousands of Russia-linked accounts attempted to "sow discord in the American society" by posting divisive messages on Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms. These are juxtaposed against an image of a smiling Trump.

Allegations that accounts linked to a Russian propaganda firm somehow swayed the vote in favor of Donald Trump have still not been substantiated by facts, however. The final House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence report asserted in March that the malicious cyber activity did not favor any of the candidates and there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Earlier this year, Facebook's vice president for advertising said that, while he saw all of the Russia-linked political “ads,” they were “definitely”not aimed at propelling Donald Trump to the presidency.

A May report by the US Senate Intelligence Committee found that although ‘Russian’ hackers had the ability to affect the elections in some states, they didn’t use it, and there has been no evidence that the vote tally was altered.

The Google briefing was leaked to Breitbart on Tuesday. Google has since reportedly distanced itself from the research, with 'an official Google source' telling the publication that the document was an internal briefing and is not something the company’s policy is guided by.

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