Late last month, former Forbes writer Kashmir Hill published an article on Gizmodo.com discussing an experience she had with Google a few years back, whereby the search engine giant censored an article that was critical of the way in which the company operates.
Hill describes a meeting she attended with Google salespeople regarding Google’s social media network, Plus. Allegedly, the salespeople were trying to get Forbes to add a “+1” social button to their website, which is similar to the “like” button on Facebook. They told Hill that adding the +1 button was important because its presence would play a significant role in how much traffic would be directed to the site.
“I asked the Google people if I understood correctly: If a publisher didn’t put a +1 button on the page, its search results would suffer? The answer was yes,” Hill wrote. “After the meeting, I approached Google’s public relations team as a reporter, told them I’d been in the meeting, and asked if I understood correctly. The press office confirmed it, though they preferred to say the Plus button ‘influences the ranking.’ They didn’t deny what their sales people told me: If you don’t feature the +1 button, your stories will be harder to find with Google.”
Hill went on to explain that she ultimately made the decision to write about her experience in a Forbes article entitled, “Stick Google Plus buttons on your pages, or your search traffic suffers.” While Google never explicitly stated that the information included in Hill’s article was inaccurate, the tech giant claimed that the meeting was confidential, and therefore Hill didn’t have a right to discuss it in public. After intense pressure from Google and her higher-ups at Forbes, Hill eventually decided to take the article down.
But what’s even more disturbing is what Google decided to do next. In an extremely short amount of time, the cached version of Hill’s article was completely erased from Google’s search results, which normally doesn’t happen that quickly after an article is taken down. Needless to say, if Google really did delete this cached version just because it was critical of how their company operates, it would be an extreme abuse of power. (Related: If Google isn't regulated, their politically-motivated censorship will tear America apart.)
Google did something similar just a few weeks ago when they fired now-former employee James Damore after he published a 10-page manifesto on the company’s progressive work environment. Damore claimed that Google focused most of its time on social justice issues, and criticized the search engine giant for blaming the gender wage gap on bias and sexism. This critique was apparently too much for Google to handle, so in the end, they just decided to let Damore go.
Given how much power and influence Google has over what information is spread across the Internet and what isn’t, it should be concerning to all Americans that the company is now engaged in widespread censorship. If the freedom of speech disappears on the Internet, then it is very unlikely that it will ever return.