A complaint that searching Google for "Did the holocaust happen?" leads to, as its first result, something from Stormfront. Deluded idiots that they are they deny that it did. This is, apparently, an outrage. That we live in a society which has freedom of speech to the extent that people are allowed to say things which are wrong.
And, according to Google, it’s the most authoritative source on the internet on the “question” of whether or not the Holocaust actually happened. Sceptical, educated people will of course look for other evidence. These are the searches that Google lists at the bottom of the page as suggestions for what to search next: “Holocaust never happened theory” “proof the Holocaust happened” “Holocaust fake proof” “Holocaust never happened movie” “Holocaust didn’t happen conspiracy” “did the Holocaust happen during ww2.”
On our search, to replicate this outrage, we found that the second entry was the BBC explaining why the holocaust did happen, the third Wikipedia's entry on holocaust denial, the fourth and fifth from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (not known to be a hot bed of deniers) and so on.
We're not overjoyed about Stormfront's placing either but that line from the play about Voltaire comes to mind, we disagree with what they say but we're damn certain that they should be allowed to say it - we are though ambivalent about whether we would put our lives on the line for that particular grouping even though it is traditional that we should claim we would.
A search for Fidel Castro produces the BBC on Cuba's revolutionary leader, The Guardian on how he corrected Gabriel Garcia Marquez's manuscripts, the NYT on some called him a hero, some a despot. A search for Mao Tse Tung gives us the History channel which notes that people died under his rule but is remarkably coy about apportioning any blame.
And no doubt further investigation will find more such "errors" in such search results. All of which is, we would maintain, the price of that liberty and freedom we have. That people are not only allowed to say, subject only to the laws of libel and incitement to violence, what they believe to be true, but even if it is wrong. And to prevent the presentation of this, these views, by the law is indeed censorship.
And that, of course, is where this is going:
This is hate speech. It’s lies. It’s racist propaganda. And Google is disseminating it. It is what the data scientist Cathy O’Neil calls a “co-conspirator”. And so are we. Because what happens next is entirely down to us. This is our internet. And we need to make a decision: do we believe it’s acceptable to spread hate speech, to promulgate lies as the world becomes a darker, murkier place?
Because Google is only beyond the reach of the law if it we allow it to be.
The case is very simple indeed. Do you believe in freedom of speech or not? If you do then Stormfront gets to have a website detailing whatever it is that it misunderstands about the world. As does every other vile and hateful group from left and right. There is no shortage of sites insisting that Stalin had nothing to do with the Holodomor, that it was disease not starvation, that the starvation was just bad weather, that there was no campaign against Ukrainians and anyway, it never happened did it?
There is amusement here as well though:
Our problem too: because do we let these multinational corporations own us and all aspects of our lives? Is that the plan? The Google Transparency Project has documented how the company has become one of the biggest spenders on government lobbyists in the US.
Traditionally the Silicon Valley firms spent little to nothing on lobbying. They just got on with life and business. Then politicians noted that there was lots of money out there. So, they started to regulate the sector - a Danegeld, pay the political process or we'll regulate some more. Which is why they all now have lobbying operations because people are trying to use the political system to gain what they cannot through the normal market processes, control of those Silicon Valley giants.
And it is amusing that the very people arguing for political control use the evidence of resistance to said political control as the reason why control must be imposed.
Let's face it here, wouldn't you send someone to Washington DC to explain to politicians why Carole Cadwalladr should not gain political control over the free speech of billions? Yet that you have done so is evidence to Ms. Cadwalladr that she must have that power. And if you can't laugh about that then why not cry instead?