As such an indispensable tool for searching the Internet, Google is sometimes mistaken for a public utility -- albeit one that works extraordinarily well. The reality is that Google is a private company, with one important caveat: Google's success depends on search neutrality, meaning that a user will find what he's looking for, not what Google wants him to find. Which is why recent reports, documented by Newsbusters.org, a sister site of the Media Research Center, that Google is censoring political sites on account of "hate speech" threaten the company's vigorously cultivated standing with the public.
As Newsbusters reports, in March 2005, Rusty Shackleford, who runs the conservative blog the Jawa Report, received an e-mail message from Google informing him that: "Upon recent review, we've found that your site contains hate speech, and we will no longer be including it in Google News." A year later, Jim Sesi, who runs the conservative MichNews.com, received a similar e-mail from Google: "We have received numerous reports about hate content on your site, and after reviewing these reports, decided to remove your site from Google news." Two weeks ago, Frank Salvato, who runs the conservative New Media Journal, also heard from Google that his site was being removed, again because of "hate content."
Aside from each of these three sites being largely conservative in outlook, the offending material cited by Google were articles criticizing radical Islam and Islamists. Upon review, the articles contain language no more -- in some cases far less -- inflammatory than the numerous Muslim Web sites a user can find when searching Google News. So, at least on the surface, it's reasonable to assume that it is Muslims who are complaining to Google, which then chooses to avoid further criticism by simply expelling the sites. It should also be noted that Google has since restored the Jawa Report to Google News status, apparently after readers complained.
But that doesn't mean Google's bowing to Islamists is any less cowardly and, as we've seen in Europe, dangerous to a free society. Google News is the fifth most popular news Web site behind Yahoo, CNN, the Weather Channel and MSNBC, meaning that it controls access to information for millions of users. That's a tremendous power, which users trust Google will not abuse or allow to be abused. That Google even considers arbitrary standards like "hate speech" as beyond the pale betrays the very trust it has strived so hard to maintain with users.
And here is where the caveat of search neutrality becomes so important. Islamists have exploited Google's seemingly well-intentioned business practices to silence critics. Because if you can't find it using Google, chances are you won't find it all.