Google, Facebook Censorship ‘A Mistake’

Last week Google told the Claremont Institute that the Institute’s advertisements for its annual conference were banned. This act of censorship by the internet giant followed Facebook’s announcement that it was banning Milo Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones, Louis Farrakhan, and Paul Watson. Ryan P. Williams, the president of the Claremont Institute, posted his account of what happened, “Algorithms of Suppression,” on The American Mind.

Google has now backed down and said the ban was “a mistake.” Google didn’t discern an error when Claremont first protested, but then it had a Boeing-like epiphany. Maybe banning the advertisements of one of the leading intellectual bodies in the United States was not the best idea.

Facebook’s decision to ban Yiannopoulos and other individuals who were engaged in lawful exercises of free speech was itself alarming. Google’s assault on the Claremont Institute was something more than alarming. It suggests that Google is ready and willing to suppress the free expression of anyone who challenges the dogmas of the political left. Stanley Kurtz, writing in The National Review, Google’s Attack on the Claremont Institute Must Not Stand, gave full cry to these implications. He wrote: “To prevent conservatives from defending constitutional principles as they understand them is to ban America itself.”

But Google now says it was all a mistake.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Algorithms, however, don’t write themselves, and low-level employees don’t wield power to blot out the free expression of one of the nation’s most respected think tanks. Google’s misadventure with banning Claremont’s advertisements deserves more attention and deeper reflection.

[The Looming Danger for Dissident Professors]

Here’s a start. Google, founded in 1998, is a publicly traded company, but the majority of its shares are owned by Larry Page (27 percent) and Sergey Brin (26.9 percent). Alphabet, its parent company, is valued at $739 billion. If Google were a nation, it would be among the twenty wealthiest in the world, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Switzerland. Google operates almost everywhere and dominates the search engine marketplace with a thoroughness that would have been the envy of Standard Oil in the days of the robber barons. Literally: Before the trustbusters divided Standard Oil, it controlled 64 percent of the refining industry. Google’s market share is 90.46 percent worldwide. People perform about 5.6 billion Google searches per day.

Which is just a reminder that Google is immensely wealthy, immensely powerful, and at this point in our history, indispensable to developed economies and to most of us who work in those economies. Some of those details may not be in your active memory, but surely you know the general picture. Google has the power to exert far-reaching influence over the social and political order—and Google knows it. As Larry Page writes: “As Sergey and I wrote in the original founder’s letter 11 years ago, ‘Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.’”

Unconventionality might be a good thing. But is that unconventional in the manner of Nikola Tesla or unconventional in the spirit of Captain Nemo, Dr. Doom, and other utopians who came to believe that they could impose their own brands of social justice on humanity? Note that I cite fictional versions of the would-be world conquerors. Let’s not be in a hurry to say that Page and Brin have planted themselves in any particular world-conquering ideology. Rather, they have so far shown themselves thoroughly conventional in their tastes for feminism, environmentalism, multiculturalism, and profits.

Google’s headquarters outside San Francisco is an hour and twenty minutes flight to the Claremont Institute outside Los Angeles. The Claremont Institute, founded in 1979, has a staff of about twenty and publishes the Claremont Review of Books. It sponsors debates and symposia, runs three fellowship programs. Its annual expenses run about $5 million.

At one level, it is understandable that Google might mistake the Claremont Institute for a grain of sand in its sandal. But that would indeed be a mistake. The Claremont Institute is the principal voice of a large branch of conservative thought in America. It is the branch that takes the Declaration of Independence and the idea that “All men are created equal” as the founding concept of our nation. Claremont conservatism can be contrasted to other varieties that emphasize individual liberty or that prioritize the creation of wealth.

[How ‘Social Justice’ Undermines True Diversity]

The Claremont vision, which owes a great deal to President Lincoln, finds the greatest peril to the nation in the rise of post-national doctrines. At the center of these post-national ideas is multiculturalism, that congeries of identity groups and victim narratives that have found their political home in the current Democratic Party. The Claremont folks have spent decades trying to address the philosophical predicates of politics rather than allying themselves to a party, and they resist the rising tide of multiculturalism and identity politics.

To the extent that Google can be said to have an ideology, multiculturalism is it. Google fired engineer James Damore for his essay, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” which the company rated a violation of its Code of Conduct. Generally, what Damore did was express doubts about multiculturalism.

No need to belabor this. One of the world’s most powerful companies dislikes the expressions of doubts about multiculturalism. One of America’s most intellectually sophisticated think tanks has such doubts. Google decided to exercise a little of its power to put that think tank in its place. Or the Google algorithm did. Or some Google factotum operating out of a Damore-proof safe space did. Chances are we will never know. But we have all been warned: if you have some doubts about multiculturalism, maybe you should keep them to yourself.

Too late for me. I have a lot of such doubts.

Peter Wood

Peter Wood

Peter Wood is president of the National Association of Scholars and author of “Diversity: the Invention of a Concept.”

2 thoughts on “Google, Facebook Censorship ‘A Mistake’

  1. I just started using duckduckgo today. YouTube is banned at my house and if I had this information sooner, I would have made a different phone purchase as well..

  2. “Algorithms, however, don’t write themselves, and low-level employees don’t wield power to blot out the free expression of one of the nation’s most respected think tanks.”

    I think that the situation is simpler — and far more sinister — than even this…..

    I’m reminded of what happened to America OnLine (AOL) nearly three decades ago now. Back then it was a dial-in (text-only) bulletin board service — people wrote stuff for other people to read and comment on — and AOL sought to “keep it clean” by banning anything containing certain words.

    Much to the chagrin of women who wished to discuss breast cancer and the various options they had for treatment — this was before WebMD and the rest…

    Even more indignant were the church-going grandmothers who couldn’t possibly understand what was wrong with sharing their recipes for cooking chicken breasts….

    The men running AOL had never even thought of this, and my guess is that Google confused the Claremont institute with Claremont, a New Hampshire city of 13,000 on the Vermont border. I once made the same mistake because Claremont is known to those of us in the K-12 field for the Clairmont Decision, a legal mandate that the state subsidize the K-12 budgets of less prosperous municipalities. It led to the McDuffy Decision in Massachusetts and the 1994 Massachusetts School Reform Act — to some of us, “Clairmont” means “K-12 financing”, but I digress.

    Clairmont means “racism” to others because of an ugly 2017 incident in which an 8-year old bi-racial boy, playing with other children, was injured in some sort of mock hanging. My guess is Google was aware of this, churned it around with random other factoids and concluded that the Claremont Institute should be banned without ever even knowing what it was….

    Kinda like putting the late US Senator Ted Kennedy on the “No-Fly List — he’d only been a US Senator for some 40+ years at the time… I once ran into considerable grief at UMass because, apparently, no one in the administration knew that the Book of Exodus was also part of the Christian Bible. In both cases it was the simple mind-numbing ignorance of those unable to see outside of the little box in which they live.

    Personnel is Policy, and as Dr. Wood points out, Google’s firing of James Damore clearly shows Google’s approach to both. So, yes, I really do believe that it was the algorithms and low-level employees that did this, and worse they didn’t even know what they were doing — it’s easy enough to think this was malicious, but I think it was just cultural. It’s not even censorship as making us into nonpersons and that is why the 1978 case of United States v AT&T is so relevant today.

    One rationale for breaking up the nationwide telephone monopoly was that it had the power to maliciously censor viewpoints that it didn’t like, that it had the ability to prevent people from sharing political opinions with others. Not that it ever had, but that at some point in the future it could. Well, Google (Farcebook, Twitter, et al) ARE doing this — and that’s restraint of trade. While both Google and the Clairmont Institute are both in California, there’s precedent (from the AOL days) that all internet traffic is interstate in nature because there is no way of knowing how the packets are routed.

    So while we can argue commerce in ideas, Clairmont was advertising in an attempt to sell a product and arguably can show fiscal damages from even a few days of being denied the ability to purchase advertising, i.e. they theoretically would have been able to sell more tickets from which they would have profited. Now I’m not an attorney but I remember something from my Business Law class about an independent right of action under the Sherman Act, and maybe Clairmont should sue Google….

    Seriously, as Dr. Wood points out, Google has a 90.46% marketshare and it used that to harm a business (Clairmont) — that’s a textbook Sherman Act violation, isn’t it?

    And become one of the 9.54% — I highly recommend duckduckgo.com for searches.

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