Here we go again, on the Google Train! Destination: Flip-flop Central by way of Hypocrite Parkway!
This time, blogging platform Blogger came under fire — and for good reason. Its content policy bangs on about Blogger being a “free service for communication, self-expression and freedom of speech,” and that it is “our belief that censoring this content is contrary to a service that bases itself on freedom of expression”. A bit of a surprise, then, to discover Blogger planned to do just that.
On March 23, 2015, Blogger’s stance on adult content was to shift ever so slightly, in that such content would have effectively been banned from public view. Your choices would have been: remove any sexually explicit images or video, or mark your blog as private, meaning only people with Google accounts ‘on the list’ (as in, manually added) could gain entry. Rather unsubtly, the support article Blogger originally posted helpfully added you could export your blog and bugger off elsewhere.
Exceptions were to have been granted for content with “artistic, educational, documentary or scientific” merit that offered a “substantial public benefit,” (although what these things meant wasn’t defined). Zoe Margolis, whose ‘Girl With A One Track Mind’ has pulled in over eight million readers in its 11 years on Blogger, quite rightly argued on The Guardian that Google’s decision would break the internet, along with potentially affecting people’s incomes, while simultaneously banging the censorship drum.
Meanwhile, sometimes cesspit Reddit simply cleaned up a bit, saying it will now remove unauthorised content upon request of the wronged party, although The Telegraph calling this a clampdown on explicit images was a bit rich, as was Reddit’s self-congratulatory tone, given how it did almost nothing to remove clearly unauthorised imagery of celebrities posted by unfeeling cretins during 2014.
Naturally, anyone with a shred of empathy will agree Reddit is (finally) doing things right, but Google? As the years go on, its claims to be open and censorship-free are too often looking hollow. Presumably Google itself came to the same conclusion, with a hasty climbdown, explaining Blogger would still be fine for “individuals who post sexually explicit content to express their identities”; nonetheless, the organisation would “step up enforcement around our existing policy prohibiting commercial porn”.
So: hurrah, then! Well, no. First, this incident once again highlights the importance of owning your own space online. Yes, it’s easy to post everything to TwitFace or some random blogging platform, but at that point you’re playing by their ever-changing rules, and they can kick you off without a moment’s notice. So if you can afford it, get your own domain and hosting space, and use that for communicating with the world, be it through exciting photos of baking or flashing your bits for all and sundry to see.
Secondly, Blogger’s initial decision reeked of the kind of rubbish that’s increasingly infecting modern-day arguments surrounding the web (and its about-face leaves commercial porn — including entirely legal content — in much the same space), seeking to drag its default state to something that would make people who scream THINK OF THE CHILDREN at the top of their lungs very happy. And as we know, such people can never be happy. They’ve already got the UK government conflating illegal and legal content, and had ISPs talk about default-blocking such terrible things as ‘forums’ and ‘esoteric content’. We must resist, before the entire internet shrinks to become only a single giant smiling Emoji with the chilling caption “EVERYTHING IS OK”.
Google should be an ally, as (in theory) an advocate of openness, and a company determined to only censor content that is illegal and abhorrent. But with the Blogger mess, Google may have greased the slippery slope one time too many, and left itself in an untenable position.
After all, if it came to the conclusion explicit content should be banned from Blogger, and that commercial equivalents still should be, why not take that a step further and eradicate it from Google entirely? And if you think that sounds alarmist, THINK OF THE PEOPLE WHO THINK OF THE CHILDREN. They’ll be thinking of Google, and rubbing their hands with glee at the new and restrictive rules they’ll be determined to force on the company.