Google, through its popular search listings, has the power to promote or bury speech. And, Google stresses that its arrangement of search results are not based on accuracy or completeness, but based on its own editorial judgment. A recent decision, at the behest of abortion-rights groups, to exclude from its search engine advertisements for crisis pregnancy centers is a testament to this power.
Bowing to pressure from abortion-rights groups, Google is removing advertisements from its site for “crisis pregnancy centers” that discourage people from having abortions.
NARAL Pro-Choice America had pushed for Google to take down the ads, arguing they violated the Web giant’s advertising policy.
“Anyone looking for abortion services should be able to depend on their search engine to provide them with accurate resources,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement. “Anything less is aiding and abetting ideologically driven groups with a calculated campaign to lie to and shame women making one of the most important decisions of our lives.”
Abortion-rights groups say that the crisis centers, which advertise free counseling, operate under innocuous names in order to convince women not to have an abortion.
According to NARAL, people using Google to search for “abortion clinics” got ads advertising the crisis centers about 79 percent of the time.
“Google’s leadership in removing the majority of these ads is a victory for truth in advertising and for the women who have been targeted by a deliberate misinformation campaign by crisis pregnancy centers,” Hogue said.
“The action taken by Google to address this pressing problem raises the bar for other search engines to monitor and enforce their own advertising policies.”
Think about this for a moment, regardless of your views on abortion of crisis pregnancy centers. NARAL and other groups pressured Google to disappear their opponents from the internet down the memory hole. And Google complied.
Now, you may say that the advertisements are different from search results. You are absolutely right. But what we don’t know is what goes on in Google’s black search box. They sure as hell won’t tell us. And there’s reason to think similar political decisions will not enter the algorithms, at some juncture. Pro-abortion groups are bumped up, and pro-life groups are bumped down. And we will never know why that information is missing.
For more thoughts, see generally my essay, What Happens if Data is Speech?
Consider this dynamic charitably. If Google’s algorithms choose not to include a person or piece of information in its search results—even due to legitimate page-rank concerns, such as RapGenius—in the world of tomor- row, the person in many respects will be invisible. Now, consider this dy- namic less charitably. Google profits from endorsing certain partners.37 Those in Google’s good graces can rest assured that they will remain with- in the core of Google’s all-seeing search robots. Everyone else may fade outside Google’s algorithmic penumbras. Without Google’s binary bless- ing, information may exist on the Internet, but will invariably be demoted into obscurity.