I gave some quotes to the Project yesterday about hate speech on Youtube. As an online civil libertarian I’m always very, very skeptical of any attempts at the censorship of the internet, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that I would have a go at Youtube for censoring jihadi videos. In this case, I was talking about the impracticality of policing all the content that is uploaded to Youtube, but I did say it’s their right as a business to decide where to set the balance between neutral platform provider and curators of content. When government wants to step in and set the rules, there I take issue (sometimes after having a chuckle); but I’m not about to tell any business, even Google, that they must be forced to pay for the bandwidth and storage space for ISIL. (I actually think they should, within reason; but I respect their decision.)
One of the many dilemmas for any operator of a site with user-generated content (or any site with users, really) is that the more policing you do – removing ads, spam, copyright infringements – the more responsibility you are forced to take for everything else, whether it slips through the net or was simply not dreamed up when the terms of service were written. This is a real headache for Google’s search business. Since they have demonstrated that they can and do take links down in certain circumstances, it’s getting harder and harder for them to make the case to law enforcement and courts in dozens of countries around the world that PageRank is king and not to be interfered with on a case-by-case basis. I can only imagine that there are lots of resources, human and lines of code, policing the search results in dozens of jurisdictions around the world already. Many would argue that the power to remove content from a site or index implies endorsement of content that remains – a sort of Google theodicy.
As always, my conclusion is this: free communication on the internet brings with it benefits so enormous that it’s changed every aspect of our lives. We can’t keep those benefits and at the same time stop horrible people using it to say evil things. The price of admission for the internet we enjoy and take for granted is that sometimes these things are going to happen.