I get bent out of shape when people start throwing the word censorship around lightly. You often find that those who complain about some form of censorship act as if something they want is being made completely unavailable to them, when in fact, its only not being made available conveniently for them.
Several years back many complained that Wal-Mart (the current political whipping boy) was “censoring” their favorite music CDs. See, Wal-Mart is very cautious about maintaining its family friendly status and refused to sell any music CDs containing explicit lyrics. This gave the record labels two options a) either don’t distribute artists with explicit lyrics to Wal-Mart stores (the nations largest retailer of music CDs, or b) re-mix the songs to edit out the explicit lyrics (much the way they already to do get the songs on the radio). Most record labels choose the latter.
This created an outcry of censorship by fans of artists that routinely used explicit lyrics in their songs. The truth, however is that Wal-Mart was not censoring anything. They simply decided not to sell certain forms of music and allowed the record labels to find a different way to get their music into the Wal-Mart stores (and there is the key) if they wanted to.
Before I get to my point, let me give another example. ESPN recently took a popular original show off the air because the NFL objected to the content of the show. I can’t remember the name of the show, however it often portrayed the football league and its players in a negative light. The NFL flexed its substantial muscle and told ESPN to take the show off the air or lose their contract. WOW!
Censorship, right? Well, no. ESPN was not forced to take their show off the air, they were simply forced to make a business decision. The NFL has a right to choose who has the rights to broadcast games (assuming an agreement has been reached between the parties) and ESPN has a right to air any program it wants. In this case, however, it was simply a good business decision to stop airing a certain program in order to keep one of their cash cows happy. That’s business! It’s not censorship.
So, what does this have to do with search? Google News recently removed a “news source” from their feed that they deemed not to be worthy of Google. What was the source? Well, it doesn’t really matter because Google has a right to include or exclude any sources it wishes from its new site. In fact, Google is under no obligation to use ANY particular news source at all.
This move has caused some to scream… that’s right… “censorship”. Complaints range from the argument that since Google is so big it has an obligation to index every news source possible and should not exclude any based on disagreement with content, to if they censor this, what will keep them from censoring that?
The second argument is a more logical one and also one that Google must determine for itself. Google is not the government so they are free to print, reprint or allow to be made available any information they choose. If they stop over certain lines they will likely face a consumer backlash.
But that’s they way it should be. Let the market decide. When the government gets involved with censorship, rarely are the results good (the laws of unintended consequences usually swing into effect), but companies should be subject to their customers. If you can’t get your CD at Wal-Mart or your preferred news at Google, well, go to Tower records or Yahoo! News, or any other avenue where that information is available.
True censorship is eliminating all (legal) access to certain materials, information or opinions. What censorship is NOT, however is making materials, information or opinions less accessible or less convenient to get a hold of.
You can read a fairly interesting conversation on this topic over at Search Engine Watch.