This week we learned that Google is banning sexually explicit content from its blogging platform, Blogger. As a private company Google can have any rules, terms and conditions they want for their services. And they should and must have that right. Even so, this is problematic.
My Swedish blog is on Blogger. And I must ask myself — if Google introduce rules against sex and nudity, what will come next? Will it be OK to criticise or mock religion? Will it be OK to argue for legalisation of certain drugs? Will it be OK to use the blog to make information from “illegal” whistleblowers public?
In Bloggers terms and conditions Google states that you cannot blog on certain topics / in certain ways. Among other things they mention hate speech (a tricky definition, depending on who you ask), crude content (what about proof of war crimes?), copyright infringements (often used to curb inconvenient information) and illegal activities (a tricky one when governments are trying to keep their dirty little secrets under wraps by going after the messenger).
This is not just about Blogger / Google. Similar T&C can be found at most social networks, in agreements with internet service providers and others. This is problematic in several ways…
- When a platform is dominant (like Google, Facebook and Twitter) their corporate policy against certain content can lead to a de facto censorship –as banned information will have difficulties reaching a wide audience by other channels.
- It gets really scary when private companies value their relations with the government so high that they are willing to assist in going after people that officials have difficulties in blocking by legal means. (E.g. when Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and Bank of America decided to give the US government a hand in cutting the funding to Wikileaks.)
- As a user, I’m uncomfortable with having moral (and other) standards decided for me by corporate lawyers and board members personal values and hang-ups. This will give rise to self-censorship and it will inhibit creativity. And such standard may often be overly anxious and uptight as the companies tries to please everybody.
But I’m not sure what to do about this. Saying that social net platforms should accept everything that’s legal doesn’t work — as this will vary from country to country and as many jurisdictions have absurd bans on free speech. And as a blogger your purpose often is to dispute what is deemed illegal.
In the words of HL Mencken…
The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
Another idea might be to start alternatives to Facebook, Google & Co. A huge project, for sure. Without any guarantee for success. I fear most people simply don’t care.
This blog is a privately hosted WordPress blog, which is a solution when it comes to blogging. But the threat against free speech online goes far beyond just blogging.
This is a discussion to be continued.
On a final note: It’s puzzling that Google bans sexually explicit content from Blogger — when a simple Google picture search on such matters will produce the most esoteric results.