Breitbart has revealed a leaked internal briefing from tech giant Google that brings the spotlight on internet censorship and free speech.
The 85-page document, titled “The Good Censor,” is dated March 2018. It is billed as a presentation on the actions that Google can undertake to reassure internet users that the company shields them from harmful content while still supporting free speech.
The briefing, exclusively obtained by Breitbart, identifies Google, Twitter and Facebook as major actors that have control over the majority of online conversations.
It argues that the American tradition of online free speech is no longer viable in light of current events including the election of President Donald Trump.
The document states that the search engine giant and other tech platforms could be leaning towards censorship as a result of unwelcome global political events.
An example of this is the rise of far-right political groups and institutions such as Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) in Germany, Britain First and Unite the Right, which the document cites. According to the documents, these and other recent global events have undermined the free online speech utopian narrative.
Contents of the Briefing
The Good Censor [PDF] reads much like a commentary of sorts on the social role of tech firms, as free speech becomes a social, political and economic weapon.
The intended audience of the briefing is currently unknown. However, even a brief glance over the document reveals that the company took its time to invest in its production.
The Good Censor’s production values are substantial. This is very clear in the visual and graphical aids and the several layers of research that Google claims to have resulted in its production. According to the briefing, Google enlisted the help of 35 cultural observers and seven cultural leaders.
The research also involved three expert interviews, desk research as well as cultural trends and narrative analysis. The cultural leaders whom Google consulted include:
- Academic Peter Chan from Australia
- Entrepreneur Bia Granja from Brazil
- Anthropologist Joana Breidenbach from Germany
- Journalist Nobuyuki Hayashi from Japan
- Anthropologist Grant McCracken from the U.S.
- Entrepreneur Nikhil Pahwa from India
- Futurist Richard Watson from the U.K.
- Journalist and Former MIT Technology Review Editor-in-Chief Jason Pontin
- Author Franklin Foer
- Academic Dr. Kalev Leetaru
Broader Implications for Google & Other Tech Companies
The briefing states that the general mission of Google and other social media platforms is to create ordered spaces that are safe and civil. As such, these platforms play the roles of publisher and editor as opposed to mere content distributors.
This leads to the possibility of legal conflict due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. It states that tech platforms do not have legal responsibility for distributed content. In case Google openly admits to actively censoring content, the company would have to abandon this privilege.
The Good Censor puts forth a number of reasons why tech firms should embrace this shift. These include appeasing disgruntled internet users, addressing regulatory issues in countries such as China, making more money from content and keeping the advertisers who do not like controversy.
According to the briefing, internet users, governments and even the tech firms themselves are to blame for undermining the free online speech utopian idea. It’s worth noting that the document does not take away from the positive aspects of the idea.
It does identify the accessibility, ease and anonymity of online communication. The ease of being part of like-minded communities wears down social norms and reinforces groupthink.
However, it does not eliminate the possibility of dishonest or hostile behavior. The document argues that since everybody can now be heard, it is more difficult to separate fact from fiction, legitimately from illegitimacy and positivity from destruction.
It adds that tech firms have fueled the flames by incubating fake news, censoring legitimate content via automated systems and helping foreign governments with censorship, something that Google itself has been associated with.
Breitbart reported that a Google spokesperson stated that the document does not indicate an official position and is merely internal research.
This comes in the midst of accusations that Google, Twitter and Facebook discriminate against conservatives on their services and platforms.