Success, money, and the sort of competence that looks effortless Google, the company behind the world’s best search engine, has it all. It was therefore only a matter of time before ideologues, cretins, and government regulators or do I repeat myself? conspired to bring it down. Last week, they crawled out of the woodwork to launch their attack on several fronts.
In order to operate in China, Google has had to agree to censor search engine results. This piece by Declan McCullagh pretty much lays out the specifics, which amount to blocking sites that contain references to unconventional sexual practices, the Falun Gong cult, and the West’s favored renditions of what happened at Tiananmen Square. What makes this so irrelevant is that Web surfers in China will still have the option of going to the U.S.-based Google site where they can get access to such "subversive" sites as collegehumor.com, falunasia.info, and catholiclesbians.org.
What’s more, when results are censored on Google.cn, a notice appears informing the researcher that a specific item has been omitted due to Chinese government regulations which is arguably far more subversive than the censored links. In effect, Chinese readers are being told, in so many politely understated words, that their government is frightened to death of its own people. That is likely to do far more to delegitimize the sclerotic dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party than collegehumor.com not to mention the mystical ravings of a Chinese martial arts guru who believes he has telekinetically installed what he calls "the Dharma Wheel” inside the bodies of his adherents, which, according to one source, "rotates in alternating directions, throwing off bad karma and gathering qi. Many Falun Gong adherents say they can feel the wheel turning in their bellies."
None of this matters to Google’s political and corporate enemies a not quite accidental confluence of corporate competitors, congressional blowhards, China-hating neocons, and China-hating labor unions who are now getting up on their high horses and demanding that Google be dragged before the "Human Rights Caucus" of Congress, with Tom Lantos, world-class hypocrite and champion warmonger, bloviating on behalf of the Democrats. Lantos, along with Republicans Sen. John Kyl and former Rep. Christopher Cox, sponsored legislation that would establish a brand new U.S. government agency: the Office of Global Internet Freedom.
This from a government that spies on its own citizens’ e-mail, shuts down Web sites it doesn’t like, has lately targeted the Internet as an "enemy weapons system," and has launched a covert program to "fight the net"!
In a piece for National Review, Lantos, Kyl, and Cox go on at great length about how allegedly essential the entire U.S. government propaganda apparatus, including Radio Free Europe and the National Endowment for Democracy, was in freeing the captive nations of the Soviet Empire from Commie tyrants although, since they also complain that the Commies were jamming our broadcasts, this seems highly unlikely as well as unduly self-regarding. They seem to be arguing that the Chinese people can’t possibly get along without ready access to U.S. government propaganda. They also claim Beijing is blocking access to the BBC, the New York Times, and Voice of America which, as anyone can see by the results of this Google.cn search, as well as this one, and this one, is an out-and-out lie.
On another front, the European Union is trying to censor Google searches in the name of political correctness: if pending legislation in the EU Parliament passes, as expected, so-called hate-sites as characterized by the Eurocrats are to be blocked and their visitors reported to the authorities. Google won’t cooperate. Yet we hear not a word of praise for Google in resisting this brazen act of censorship from Lantos, Kyl, and/or Cox. Their silence is deafening.
While the U.S. government tries to seize search records maintained by Google supposedly related to pornography, Lantos, Kyl, and Cox stand mute. Apparently the desire of many Americans to be left alone by the government is not recognized as a "human right" by their "caucus."
Why do they hate Google? Much of it is Google-envy hatred of success, particularly of the spectacular sort enjoyed by Google’s stockholders. The media frenzy around this smear campaign is rooted in the Old Media’s hatred, contempt, and fear of the Internet: they know they’re being displaced, and Google as the embodiment of everything that makes the net superior to the Gutenbergian universe the oldsters are stuck in is the perfect target of their ire. Google-envy is also generated by sheer ignorance, as exhibited by John Lanchester in the Times of London:
"Is Google a good thing? The geek in me wants to say yes. It has certainly made finding information incomparably easier. Some of the information is even true. Actually, that’s not fair, but a lot of what is on the net is false and the Google-derived mistake is something you now notice. One example occurred on the death of Hunter S. Thompson when several newspapers shared with us President Richard Nixon’s opinion that ‘Hunter S. Thompson represented the dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character.’ Except Nixon didn’t say that about Thompson; Thompson said it about Nixon. But a site giving the line the wrong way round was the first one up on Google."
This business about the Hunter Thompson quote says more about Lanchester and his old-media brethren than it does about Google. Does he really mean to confess that he and his fellow "journalists" don’t look beyond the first Google hit when they research a subject? Don’t these big-media conglomerates employ so much as a single fact-checker between them? The fact that an article containing an error appeared at the top of a Google search means only that more people researching a given subject have clicked on that site than any other. It is passing strange that Lanchester is astonished to discover not everything on the Internet is true. Is every book in the library, or every periodical at the corner news vendor, vetted for truthfulness? As they say on Eastenders: "Oh, do me a favor!"
The anti-Google crusade’s not-very-well-hidden agenda is to stifle a company that is dedicated to providing us with the complete record of global thought on any and every topic: on the Internet, your crimes live forever, and the governments of the world are not too keen on that. They can erase files, block Web sites, and try to filter out the emerging global consciousness that is invading every godforsaken backwater, but they can’t stem the free flow of information any more than King Canute could command the tides or the Commies could keep out Western cultural influences that defied every effort at containment. The Chinese government’s actions only underscore the pathetic weakness of their position: material from one Web site can easily be mirrored on another. Would-be Internet censors will spend their days chasing down endlessly proliferating Web sites in a cybernetic hall of mirrors.
Technology, not the pompous pulpit-pounding of hypocrites like Lantos (who uttered not a peep when the government of "liberated" Iraq threw al-Jazeera out of the country), will turn the tide of freedom in China. If his "Human Rights Caucus" is so worried about the parlous condition of media freedom overseas, let them take up the matter of George W. Bush’s apparently strong desire to bomb al-Jazeera’s headquarters (which is presently located in the Gulf state of Qatar, a loyal U.S. ally). At the very least, they ought to send a "Thank You" card to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who apparently talked Two-Gun George out of it.
The campaign against Google is nothing new. As the bad news on the Iraq war front began to dominate the headlines, neocon bloggers Glenn Reynolds, Little Green Footballs, and their amen corner started screaming that Google is "biased." How dare they carry Antiwar.com, brayed Charles Johnson, the net’s premier Arab-hater, and not his cut-and-paste editorials consisting mostly of quotes from other sources interspersed with brief bouts of sneering and cat-calling. Google, the neocon bloggers declared, deliberately ignores their no-talent ill-written diatribes, and instead promotes antiwar, "anti-American," and even "anti-Semitic" propaganda (all three being pretty much equivalent in their minds).
In going after Google in the name of opposing the company’s alleged complicity with "censorship," the legions of political correctness on both the Right and the Left have another agenda. The China-bashers simply want to whip up another of their periodic hate campaigns against Beijing, for purely economic reasons. Chinese workers are flooding U.S. markets with inexpensive and well-made products that Americans are eager to buy leaving U.S.-made goods to gather dust on the store shelves. This is China’s real "crime."
Powerful corporate interests, who are being beaten on the field of the market economy, are turning to the U.S. government to rein Google in and bring down their share price. In tandem with American demagogues like Lantos and his Republican allies, a bunch of Eurocrats who seem to be modeling their regime on the Soviet model, and neocons frothing about Google’s alleged "anti-American" "bias," they hope to bring down a company that seems devoted to applying essentially libertarian values to an imperfect world while still managing to run rings around their rivals.
Hatred of capitalism also motivates the get-Google campaign: they’ve made "too much" money and aren’t being "socially responsible," wail the liberal-lefties in their whiniest, most self-righteous tones. These types glory in what they hope is the company’s comeuppance. Allied with these charming folks are the literary types, with their tweed jackets, smelly pipes, and elbow patches, who take great pride in their ignorance of and disdain for computers, technology, and modernity in general, and see themselves as the Guardians of Lost Standards. In reality, they are Luddites who would sabotage the enormous advances the Internet has made possible in the field of journalism, for one.
The Internet has completely changed the consciousness of the reader: it challenges him to be more critical, less willing to take an author at his or her word. You’ll notice that this column has what we call "links" references to material that is supposed to illustrate, describe, and/or explain the broader and more detailed meaning of a word or statement. If you want more information, if you have a question about the source of what is given as fact, then you click on the link, and voila! Your question is answered (or not, which can be just as revealing). Readers, then, distrust any piece of writing on the Internet that is bereft of links, because that means the author is asking you to take what he or she says on faith.
Without Google, this column could not be written: oh, sure, there are other search engines, but they are mere shadows of the Real Thing, which as everyone knows, is Google. No search engine is more comprehensive, none so efficient and their e-mail system ain’t bad, either. It’s ten times better than Yahoo’s, for example: faster, easier to organize, and innovative in its continuous scroll record of e-mail conversations rather than scattered individual e-mails. Google, by the way, isn’t offering their Gmail services in China, where the government like our own is insisting that they have a right to spy on the private Internet communications of their citizens.
Ignore the Google-bashers, or, better yet, tell them to shut the f*ck up: instead, let us thank the gods for Google, which is pushing the frontiers of computer science and throwing a scare into governments worldwide.