A set of slides, outlining Google's internal struggle between protecting the freedom of speech and censoring content to make the Internet a more pleasant experience, leaked Wednesday, revealing that the massive tech company is laboring under internal disputes over how to handle challenging speech.
The presentation, ominously titled, "The Good Censor," leaked to Breitbart News earlier this week. You can view the full slide deck below.
The presentation is made to “reassure the world that [Google] protects users from harmful conduct while still supporting free speech," but it's not entirely clear from the slide deck that Google is entirely focused on maintaining the Internet, its search products, and sites like YouTube as hands-off platforms free of censorship.
The introductory slides try to paint Google as at the forefront of free speech, and the company acknowledges that the Internet is founded on "utopian principles of free speech." Recent developments in the real world, though, have led Google, it seems, to question whether free speech is really all that great.
"From elections and political propaganda, trolls and gendered bigotry, to hate speech and religious extremism, debates about who can and should be heard on the internet rage like never before. As governments struggle to apply existing legislation to the Wild West online, users are asking if the openness of the internet should be celebrated after all," they say (note the term, "gendered bigotry," which is by no means a politically neutral concept).
"Is it possible," Google asks, " to have an open and inclusive internet while simultaneously limiting political oppression and despotism, hate, violence and harassment?"
Google admits that open platforms have done good, particularly in regions where information is purposely suppressed by the powerful, but then the deck takes a very weird turn, describing a series of events — from "Ferguson unrest," to a harassment campaign organized against Leslie Jones, to YouTube superstar Logan Paul, to the "rise of the Alt-Right," to the 2016 elections — as evidence that free speech has "gone awry."
Among the most amazing parts is the section where they talk about the utopian promise of the internet gone awry. among their examples Google lists "Logan Paul" alongside things like "The Rise of The Alt Right" !! pic.twitter.com/8WqupuAgWJ— Charlie Warzel (@cwarzel) October 10, 2018
Google claims not to want to give over sections of its platforms to censorship, but also says that segments of the Internet have been taken over by "users behaving badly," "governments behaving bady," and "tech companies behaving badly," and that it behooves the tech company to take action when free speech is just a little too ... free, because that's essentially what users want.
It eventually concludes that there is no level of censorship that will ever be "good," but that there might be a level of censorship that is necessary, and that they are "performing a balancing act between two incompatible positions."
Google responded to the leak by saying that the deck represented a "research project" and not, by any means, a set of clear standards they intend to employ to handle conflict on their various products and platforms, telling tech reporting site The Verge that "Google is committed to free expression — supporting the free flow of ideas is core to our mission. Where we have developed our own content policies, we enforce them in a politically neutral way. Giving preference to content of one political ideology over another would fundamentally conflict with our goal of providing services that work for everyone.”
That may be hard for consumers to swallow, though, particularly in light of news that Google may be cooperating with the Chinese government to create a China-only search engine, Dragonfly, to keep Chinese citizens in the dark about news from the rest of the world and unable to communicate with anyone outside of China.
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