Tuesday, May 14, 2019

An idea to address censorship by Google and Facebook without excessive government intrusion

This letter to the Wall Street Journal (by Emeritus Adjunct Prof. Stephen M. Maurer) suggests a way for government to do something about Google's censorship (which could also be applied to Facebook's censorship), in a way that would seem to get around the typical line of "they're a private company, they can censor whoever they want and government can't do anything about it":

Google’s suppression of [conservative think tank] Claremont Institute ads for speech that Google’s own employees couldn’t identify is terrifying. The problem is what to do about it. Asking government to look over Google’s shoulder would likely be worse.

There is an easier way. Before inviting regulators to intervene, Congress should first ask how a search engine that suppresses such organizations can exist at all. Why haven’t consumers demanded better? The answer, as [Claremont Institute President Ryan P. Williams] explains, is that nobody—apparently including Google itself—has any clear idea of when and how censorship occurs.

But that suggests a simple fix: Require platforms to generate an automated record each time their employees suppress speech, along with the in-house rule(s) they purportedly relied on. Then make the data widely available to regulators, congressmen, scholars and (especially) any competitor who promises to do better.

The cynics will say that Google will go on censoring regardless. Perhaps, but Silicon Valley monopolies are surprisingly sensitive to competition that might unseat them.