It seems the unofficial Minitrue we predicted in yesterday’s piece is already here. Google’s “Quality raters” will, from Tuesday, be combing the net with fresh vigour looking for “upsetting-offensive” things and making sure we never get to see them.
The article in the Guardian covering this new development highlights its use against the usual suspect – “Holocaust denial”, which is of course the thinnest and most entirely acceptable end of the wedge. The one they always use as a poster child for censorship of any kind. But we would have to be cosmically naive to believe Google’s anonymous and entirely unaccountable “10,000-strong army of independent contractors” will stop there. We should also remain a little sceptical about Google’s vaguely worded claim that these new guidelines will not effectively remove certain opinions from the web. The only way the quality control can work is through promoting some sites while suppressing others.
We might not be concerned when white supremacists sites are being targeted for such suppression, but what about alternative health sites? Truther sites? Or indeed alt news sites such as ours? How will Google’s busy crusaders for “quality” deal with them?
Alex Hern, in the Guardian, predictably thinks Google isn’t going far enough, and that:
Google’s failure to keep fake news and propaganda off the top of search results is broader than simply promoting upsetting or offensive content.
He illustrates this with Google’s “snippets in search” feature quoting “questionable sites”, leading to “the search engine claiming in its own voice that “Obama may be planning a communist coup d’état”, and – even worse – the same feature once:
lied to users about the time required to caramelise onions
Hern does rather grudgingly admit that “shortly after each of these stories were published, the search results in question were updated to fix the errors,” but that apparently doesn’t mitigate the indictment.
So, be warned. Google may be showing us the way to a simpler and safer world where upset and offence will just be a distant and fading memory, but that’s only a beginning. If the Graun and other neoliberal opinion-makers have their way there will be a time in the not too distant future when merely referencing any “controversy” from debatable optimum cooking times to the alleged funding of ISIS will be about as socially unacceptable as urinating in public.