by Allum Bokhari
An internal company briefing
and leaked exclusively to
argues that due to a variety of factors,
including the election of President Trump,
the "American tradition"
of free speech
on the Internet
is no longer
Despite leaked video footage showing top executives declaring their
intention to ensure that the rise of Trump and the populist movement
is just a "blip" in history, Google has repeatedly denied that the
political bias of its employees filter into its products.
But the 85-page briefing, titled "The
Good Censor - A Google Leak," admits that Google and other tech platforms
now "control the majority of online conversations" and have
undertaken a "shift towards censorship" in response to unwelcome
political events around the world.
Examples cited in the document include the
2016 election and the
rise of Alternative for Deutschland (AfD)
Responding to the leak, an official Google source said the document
should be considered internal research, and not an official company
The briefing labels the ideal of unfettered free speech on the
Internet a "utopian narrative" that has been "undermined" by recent
global events as well as "bad behavior" on the part of users.
It acknowledges that major tech platforms, including Google,
Facebook and Twitter initially
promised free speech to consumers.
"This free speech
ideal was instilled in the DNA of the Silicon Valley startups
that now control the majority of our online conversations," says
The briefing argues that
Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are caught between two
incompatible positions, the,
marketplace of ideas" vs. "well-ordered spaces for safety and
The first approach is
described as a product of the,
which "prioritizes free speech for democracy, not civility."
The second is described
as a product of the,
which "favors dignity over liberty and civility over freedom."
The briefing claims that
all tech platforms are now moving toward the European tradition.
The briefing associates Google's new role as the guarantor of
"civility" with the categories of "editor" and "publisher."
This is significant,
given that Google, YouTube, and other tech giants publicly claim
they are not publishers but rather neutral platforms - a
categorization that grants them special legal immunities under
Section 230 of the
Communications Decency Act.
Elsewhere in the
document, Google admits that Section 230 was designed to ensure they
can remain neutral platforms for free expression.
One of the reasons Google identifies for allegedly widespread public
disillusionment with Internet free speech is that it "breeds
The example Google uses?
A 2016 tweet from then-candidate
Donald Trump, alleging that
Google search suppressed negative results about
At the time, Google said that it suppressed negative autocomplete
suggestions about everybody, not just Clinton. But it was
comparatively easy to find such autocomplete results when searching
for Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump.
Independent research from
psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein also shows that Google search
results (if not autocomplete results) did indeed favor Clinton in
Twice in the document, Google juxtaposes a factoid about "Russian
interference" in American elections with pictures of Donald Trump.
At one point, the document admits that tech platforms are changing
their policies to pre-empt congressional action on foreign
The document did not address the fact that, according to leading
psychologists, the impact of foreign "bots" and propaganda on social
media has a negligible impact on voters.
Suggestions to Company Policy
It is unclear for whom the "Good Censor" was intended. What is
clear, however, is that Google spent (or paid someone to spend)
significant time and effort to produce it.
According to the briefing itself, it was the product of an extensive
process involving "several layers of research," including expert
35 cultural observers and
7 cultural leaders from seven countries on five continents were also
consulted to produce it.
What is also clear is
that many of the briefing's recommendations are now reflected in the
policy of Google and its sibling companies.
For example, the briefing argues that tech companies will have to
censor their platforms if they want to "expand globally." Google is
now constructing a censored search engine to gain access to the
The document also bemoans that the Internet allows "have a go
commenters" (in other words, ordinary people) to compete on a level
playing field with "authoritative sources" like the New York
Google-owned YouTube now
promotes so-called "authoritative sources" in its algorithm. The
company did not specifically name which sources it would promote.
Key points in the briefing can be found at the following page
numbers of "The
P2 - The briefing
states that "users are asking if the openness of the
Internet should be celebrated after all" and that "free
speech has become a social, economic, and political weapon."
P11 - The
briefing identifies Breitbart News as the media publication
most interested in the topic of free speech.
P12 - The
briefing says the early free-speech ideals of the Internet
P14 - The
briefing admits that Google, along with Twitter and Facebook,
now "control the majority of online conversations."
P15 - Section 230
of the Communications Decency Act is linked to Google's
position as a platform for free expression. Elsewhere in the
document (p68), Google and other platforms' move towards
moderation and censorship is associated with the role of
"publisher" - which would not be subject to Section 230's
PP19-21 - The
briefing identifies several factors that allegedly eroded
faith in free speech. The election of Donald Trump and
alleged Russian involvement is identified as one such
The rise of the
populist Alternative fur Deutschland (Alternative for
Germany) party in Germany - which the briefing falsely
smears as "alt-right" - is another.
PP26-34 - The
briefing explains how "users behaving badly" undermines free
speech on the Internet and allows "crummy politicians to
expand their influence."
bemoans that "racists, misogynists, and oppressors" are
allowed a voice alongside "revolutionaries, whistleblowers,
and campaigners." It warns that users are "keener to
transgress moral norms" behind the protection of anonymity.
P37 - The
briefing acknowledges that China - for which Google has
developed a censored search engine - has the worst track
record on Internet freedom.
P45 - After
warning about the rise of online hate speech, the briefing
approvingly cites Sarah Jeong, infamous for her hate speech
against white males (Google is currently facing a lawsuit
alleging it discriminates against white males, among other
P45 - The
briefing bemoans the fact that the Internet has until
recently been a level playing field, warning that "rational
debate is damaged when authoritative voices and 'have a go'
commentators receive equal weighting."
P49 - The
document accuses President Trump of spreading the
"conspiracy theory" that Google autocomplete suggestions
unfairly favored Hillary Clinton in 2016. (Trump's
suspicions were actually correct - independent research has
shown that Google did favor Clinton in 2016).
P53 - Free speech
platform Gab is identified as a major destination for users
who are dissatisfied with censorship on other platforms.
P54 - After
warning about "harassment" earlier in the document, the
briefing approvingly describes a 27,000-strong left-wing
social media campaign as a "digital flash mob" engaged in
P57 - The
document juxtaposes a factoid about Russian election
interference with a picture of Donald Trump.
P63 - The
briefing admits that when Google, GoDaddy and CloudFlare
simultaneously withdrew service from website The Daily
Stormer, they were "effectively booting it off the
Internet," a point also made by the Electronic Frontier
Foundation and the FCC in their subsequent warnings about
P66-68 - The
briefing argues that Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter
are caught between two incompatible positions, the
"unmediated marketplace of ideas" vs. "well-ordered spaces
for safety and civility":
is described as a product of the "American
tradition" which "prioritizes free speech for
democracy, not civility."
second is described as a product of the "European
tradition," which "favors dignity over liberty and
civility over freedom."
claims that all tech platforms are now moving toward the
P70 - The
briefing sums up the reasons for big tech's "shift towards
censorship," including the need to respond to regulatory
demands and "expand globally" to,
content through its organization," and to "protect
advertisers from controversial content, [and] increase