The Google Capitulation

Google will censor itself to comply with demands of the Chinese government. This is a symptom of the biggest shift in our lifetimes, something we can’t help seeing but don’t see. It is a new stage in propaganda.

The Google capitulation is significant because it marks a new stage in the development of propaganda. We have evidence of propaganda since the time of the ancient Sumerians. Governments and other powerful groups have been doing ever since the invention of writing because, despite our protestations to the contrary, it works. The weakness in propaganda comes when it is detected, so skilled propagandists try to hide it. The mask didn't always work .

In communist Eastern Europe, people talked about three kinds of news : true, possible and lies. True (usually) were the death notices; possible was the weather; all else were lies. To deal with this, people developed complex methods of passing information among trusted correspondents. you could remain reasonably well informed through the mediation of trusted individuals, a community of information.

The information community is now heavily dependent on the Internet. If you look at the source above, you will find confirmation of what you already know. People make important decisions, including how to vote, through the mediation of the Internet. Many of us trust the Internet more than other media because we think we are searching ourselves and finding a cross section of information. But what if this is not true?

Propagandists have long understood that playwrights have unique propaganda value because they can embed ideas within their plays and since they control all the characters and situations, they can make the results seem self evident (i.e. not seem propaganda.) A video game is a contemporary example. Programmers embed their ideology in the game. Imagine a simulation game where if you raise taxes, your economy collapses or conversely if you raise taxes you have more resources to win. Both the playwright and the programmer lead you to believe that you are making choices and coming to your own conclusions, when in fact you are being guided to an inevitable result. But at least in these cases you know you are watching a play or playing a game.

Search engines are sneakier. They guide you to particular information, but you think you have found it on your own. You have the illusion of free choice, so when you find something (maybe something wrong) you stop looking.

Search engine manipulation is a new and bigger threat than any previous type of information management. Everybody knew there was no truth in "Pravda "or no news in "Izvestia" (For my post cold war readers, "Pravda" and "Izvestia" were leading Soviet newspapers. The Russian word for truth is pravda and the word for news is izvestia, so it was a joke.) Search engine manipulation is invisible and co-opting.

So while we fret over FISA and obsess about surveillance, we ignore a gathering fog coming on little cat's feet. After a while, we won't know what we won't know and maybe we won't care. Maybe we will enjoy living in a search engine matrix.

Posted by Jack at January 29, 2006 11:28 AM
Comments
Comment #118189

You forgot to add Yahoo and Microsoft in your little diatribe. You also forgot the Yahoo/Microsoft capitulation in giving data to the government. One thing I know: Today’s Child Porn is Tommorrow’s Tax Evasion/Murder/Terrorism/etc…

Welcome to 1984. Where everyday is a War on Terror forever.

Posted by: Aldous at January 29, 2006 12:25 PM
Comment #118195

Aldous

Why do people use the diminutive “little”? Is this shorter than the usual diatribe? Maybe the print is smaller on your machine.

This time I can’t even figure out what your point is supposed to be.

Posted by: Jack at January 29, 2006 12:44 PM
Comment #118197

Jack,

From the link provided;

“In order to operate from China, we have removed some content from the search results available on Google.cn, in response to local law, regulation or policy,” a Google statement said.

“While removing search results is inconsistent with Google’s mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission.”

How is this inconsistent with the all out capitalistic view you espouse?
Corporations in doing business in America follow the laws of America (mostly), or they don’t do business.
In order to do business in China, Google has chosen to agree to follow the laws of China.

Your debate would be better served by questioning the laws of China, not Google’s tightrope walk to do business there.

Posted by: Rocky at January 29, 2006 12:45 PM
Comment #118198

Jack,

I agree with you that search engines (Google, really) are gaining a lot of power over the information we have access too. I have already read the comment that academics shouldn’t bother themselves about writing books, because the content doesn’t show up on Google (whereas for articles at least the abstracts do).

To be fair to Google, however, they have always maintained that their page rankings are determined automatically according to which pages get the most links (barring the paid ads that are clearly marked.) And I have never heard any serious claims that they were lying. So at least what we see in the US is the fruit of a quasi-democratic process. If they were ever tempted to manipulate results, of course, it could get pretty scary…

One thing that scares me at least as much as that kind of manipulation is the tendency for people to use the Internet only to read media sources they agree with. It was striking during the Terri Schiavo affair, for example, how people on different sides had pretty different understandings of the facts. It is sort of like segregation, only with ideas.

Posted by: Woody Mena at January 29, 2006 12:47 PM
Comment #118201

Don’t discount the FISA thing. It was the NY Times that kept that story out of public eye and off the internet for almost a year. In fact, were it not for an author’s book coming out 3 weeks later exposing what NY Times had been sitting on, the NY Times would have had no incentive to publish the NASA spy taps when they did.

Propaganda is alive and well in the US political party system every bit as it is in China. The lies and distortions and spin our political parties engage in would make George Orwell proud of his depictions of propaganda. Even some folks on the right have written books about how their propaganda machines brought Republicans to this one party power state we witness today.

The only difference between China and the US is that in China if you breach the propaganda agreements and speak the truth, you will be arrested. In the US, that has not been the case. However, given the Republican’s bent to prosecute whistleblowers of the NSA spy tap story, there may be no difference at all in the very near future.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 29, 2006 12:50 PM
Comment #118206

Jack:

I call it “little” because you minimize the extent of the Truth. The TRUTH is that ALL Corporations, US and others, must follow the dictates of Red China. Be it censorship or whatever.

I call it “little” because while you mention Google in China, you forget Google in the US of A. You forget Google giving our data to the Goverment. You forget Microsoft and Yahoo doing the same.

The most important reason I call it “little” is that you forgot to link the similarities of the Chinese Government with the US Government. FYI, China also requires Corporations to hand over data it wants. Deja vu, eh?

Posted by: Aldous at January 29, 2006 1:07 PM
Comment #118207

As has already been pointed out, this article leaves out the fact that MSN and Yahoo do the same thing. More importantly, Google is not removing the knowledge of censored information from the search results. Google is replacing the information with a page that tells the user they cannot access the information.

I still think it is terrible; I have never had more mixed feelings towards google as I have this past week. However, if Google’s fall seems more tragic, it is only because they seemed to hold themselves higher than others. Google has not made itself any worse than MSN and Yahoo, but it certainly has fallen further.

Posted by: Erika at January 29, 2006 1:09 PM
Comment #118213

Rocky

I understand why Google would do what it did. It is the same reason firms continue to do business in places like Zimbabwe, Iran or Venezuela. And China is such a big potential market that it is hard to ignore. That is one of the points.

We Americans are used to having everything our way. Others adjust to our practices. So far all we have had to adapt to were those wierd Japanese cartoons and video games. With the growth of China, maybe the practices will flow the other way more often.

Techno people used proudly claim that the free flow of information on Internet would overcome or bypass attempts to manipulate it. The Chinese are proving this assumption is incorrect AND they are doing it in a diabolically clever way. They are not stopping information so much as channeling it. People will find what they think they are looking for and will stop looking. They won’t know they have been stopped or manipulated. Imagine you are buying a car and you don’t know much about it. Every time you look for information, all you find is stuff on GM products. There are lots of GM models, so you think you have a full choice. You are vaguely aware of things like Toyotas or Hondas, but the sources imply that these are not very good. You are happy with your suboptimal choice.

Woody

Take a look at the link about manipulation Google. This could be made a science and used by governments.

You are right about people practicing information hygiene by reading only their own points of view. But at least people have the options to check other things. They may stumble over the truth, dust themselves off and keep on their way, but at least they CAN find it.

Aldous

Thanks for the editing advice. It is “little” because it doesn”t include all the details you like. I try to keep to about 500 words and I prefer my judgment to yours as to what I should include. I also don’t dislike the U.S. so that I feel everything has to have an anti-American slant.

You have the option of commenting. Feel free to write your pieces if you have the time and inclination to be proactive instead of reactive. I am sure we will all follow the link to your site.

Posted by: Jack at January 29, 2006 1:20 PM
Comment #118218

Jack,

“Imagine you are buying a car and you don’t know much about it. Every time you look for information, all you find is stuff on GM products. There are lots of GM models, so you think you have a full choice. You are vaguely aware of things like Toyotas or Hondas, but the sources imply that these are not very good. You are happy with your suboptimal choice.”

Perhaps they aren’t asking the right question. Those that want the information bad enough will find a way to get it.

That said you can’t stick your thumb into the dragon’s eye very often, and expect to get away with it.

I have been to China three times, and twice to Hong Kong. One of the trips to Hong Kong was to work on the handover celebration in ‘97, China was “The Client” for that trip.
The feeling I got from the regular folks I worked with about the handover was that China isn’t stupid, and that China realizes that there couldn’t be a mass crackdown or there wouldn’t be any business.

It hasn’t been that many years since Mao took over and even fewer years since Nixon’s visit. Strangely enough, in that short time, China has now become a economic threat. And it did so by dragging a mostly stone-age populace into the present in fits and spurts.
America, on the other hand, has had a gradual evolution to become what we are. Sooner or later China will get it’s act together.

Posted by: Rocky at January 29, 2006 1:43 PM
Comment #118219

Jack,

I looked at the link. Have heard of the optimizers before. It is true that search engine results, like markets and elections, can be manipulated. That’s why they are only quasi-democratic.

Posted by: Woody Mena at January 29, 2006 1:46 PM
Comment #118228

David, if you look up ether spying, or secret, or war, or treason in the dictionary you might get an idea about why your so-called whistleblowers are in great need a being prosecuted, and then hung! It is unbeleivable how much of a game “you pepole” think this war is.

Posted by: G A PHILLIPS at January 29, 2006 2:01 PM
Comment #118233

Rocky

Yes, they can find it if they look hard enough. The insidious thing is that they will probably stop looking when they have found SUFFICIENT information. It is not only China. It can be done here too. That might be the future of manipulation.

Posted by: jack at January 29, 2006 2:09 PM
Comment #118234

G A,

Your remarks sound more like the Chinese government, rather than what the American government is supposed to stand for.

Posted by: Rocky at January 29, 2006 2:09 PM
Comment #118241

Jack,

“The insidious thing is that they will probably stop looking when they have found SUFFICIENT information”

The Chinese folks I met were a curious lot. In my travels I met quite a few that were educated at American universities. Most of those were educated in physics. Two of the gentlemen were entrepreneurs that owned a huge fireworks company. Both of these men were highly educated and spoke perfect English (better than some of the Americans I have met).
There is a park in Bejing that is frequented by English speaking Chinese, and only English is spoken there.
As the Chinese population becomes more educated (as they must for China to compete), China will have to open up access to the information, or it will stagnate.

Posted by: Rocky at January 29, 2006 2:28 PM
Comment #118242

I do think that doing business in a country means you should comply with its laws. Would we like businesses to come into the US and offer wife beating lessons? I think not. It’s the same thing here, except with something we as Americans disagree with.

It does not mean we cannot promote democracy of them, but is that really Google’s job?

Posted by: Ethan Poole at January 29, 2006 2:29 PM
Comment #118246

Ethan, we cannot expect a company not to comply with the laws of the countries it operates in, but we can expect companies to stay out of countries whose values run counter to their values. Google is by far not the worst offender in this arena. Every American company that buys cheap Chinese goods is also an offender.

Posted by: Erika at January 29, 2006 2:43 PM
Comment #118247

Ethan

I am not saying that we need to attack a firm that does business in a country and follows the rules on the ground. I am a little surprised that people are jumping to the defense of Google for doing the same sorts of the things (working with the local government) that we commonly excoriate other firms for doing AND defending a practice done in China while attacking a much milder and more legitimate version of the same practice by the same company in the U.S.

I don’t object to Google’s cooperation with the Chinese authorities so much as I just want to point out how this is a new direction in propaganda manipulation.

Rocky

I understand your point. I really do. But a reasonable person will seek information only until he thinks he has found it and will implicitly figure the cost (in time and trouble) of seeking more against its usefulness.

For most of us, our biggest investment is our house and we have a lot at riding on getting it right. When buying a house, did you really check out all the possible houses and all the possible neighborhoods, not to mention all the possible cities? We have so much information to choose from that we can’t check it all out.

People search for information on the internet like a dog follows a scent. We will follow a stronger scent for a longer distance, but (like the dog) we stop looking when we find a decent bone. If a propagandist can strengthen or weaken the scent or place particular bones closer, he can get the dog to eat what he wants him to eat - and the dog will be none the wiser. Sometimes we are no wiser than a basset hound.

Posted by: Jack at January 29, 2006 2:48 PM
Comment #118249

Erika,

“but we can expect companies to stay out of countries whose values run counter to their values. Google is by far not the worst offender in this arena. Every American company that buys cheap Chinese goods is also an offender.”

You’re expecting principles?

Posted by: Rocky at January 29, 2006 2:50 PM
Comment #118250

Rocky, yes I do.

Posted by: Erika at January 29, 2006 2:59 PM
Comment #118271

Erika,

Every American company that buys cheap Chinese goods is also an offender.

I do not understand this? Do you realize that almost every good in the US is made in China? It is close to impossible not to buy something from China. This means you could not shop at Wal-Mart, Gap (Banana Republic + Old Navy), Target, Nike, Adias, Rebok, Sears, JCPenny’s, Dillard’s, Macy’s/Burdines, Levis, Disney, Tommy Hilfiger, and Kohl’s just to name a few.

- Ethan

Posted by: Ethan at January 29, 2006 5:39 PM
Comment #118275

Google working with the Chinese gov’t = bad.

Google working with the American go’vt = good.

Watching the right wing double-standard in action = priceless.

Posted by: ElliottBay at January 29, 2006 6:26 PM
Comment #118279

Elliott

I am just talking about the nature of how propaganda is propagated. What China is asking Google to do and what the U.S. is asking are very different. China is trying to use Google to enhance its propaganda and information program. The U.S. is trying to use it for law enforcement. We can argue about the merits, but I did not. I am just talking about the new and subtle danger of propaganda.

As for cooperation with the authorities, it depends. There is no particular morality in the act without reference to the goal and the type of authorities involved.

Posted by: Jack at January 29, 2006 6:39 PM
Comment #118295

Jack:

Actually, it’s not really so different.

The American government is asking google to hand over data that they will use in a court case to attempt to revive a law calling for the censoring of pornography on the internet.

The chinese government is asking google to comply with its own censoring of the internet.

What they are censoring (pornography vs political opinions) is different, but in both cases government censorship of the internet is being promoted. And calling one “law enforcement” while calling the other a “propaganda and information program” is simply dishonest.

Posted by: Jarandhel at January 29, 2006 8:11 PM
Comment #118302

Jarandhel

I don’t agree. Pornography bans are not the same as information bans or attempts to manipulate political information. Banning Hustler is not the same a banning the NYT.

Beyond, as I understand it the U.S. is going after kiddy porn. I support the banning of that and would be willing to defend that position. Are you willing to defend kiddy porn? On the other hand, if the Chinese are trying to keep out information about dissenting opinions, I am very willing to argue against that. Do you want to argue for it?

You see, when we stop playing games and don’t believe in our rhetoric what we don’t believe in our hearts, we can see the difference.

Kiddy porn should be against the law. Political dissent should not. Therefore, it is a differnee between law enforcement and propaganda. There are gray areas. This is not one of them.

Posted by: Jack at January 29, 2006 8:44 PM
Comment #118308

Jack:

That’s pretty good spin. Thing is China has a good reason to ban some political activities. Remember the Gas Attack on Japan by that Religious group? That could happen to China too.

Posted by: Aldous at January 29, 2006 9:01 PM
Comment #118316

Jack,

I amy be confused, but I think that this is the law that they are talking about.

http://www.ftc.gov/ogc/coppa1.htm

Posted by: Rocky at January 29, 2006 9:23 PM
Comment #118319

All of these editorial comments keep forgetting that Google waged this “moralistic war” against the US government in that it would not help the government find people using a search engine for “nuclear” + “WMD” + “easy target” + “lotsa dead Americans”.

But, voila’, as soon as Communist China makes a stand and there’s a fear of losing a buck or two … well, they have to give in for the “good of information”. Here’s something to ponder Google: “One sided information is not information at all.”

Posted by: K. Cooper at January 29, 2006 9:36 PM
Comment #118321

Aldous

It depends on what they are trying to ban. That is the whole point. You can make an argument about banning porn, exploitation or incitement to violence. If all the Chinese want to do is that, we have no gripe. But they block a lot more. For example, they routinely block critical human rights reports and also reports about problems in China itself. You will recall the problem with SARS for example. Do you support that?

I have not aggressively attacked the Chinese in this post or anywhere else. I am only talking about a new and more dangerous form of censorship that the Chinese seem to be pioneering. Why do you feel so constrained to defend China when it has not really been attacked?

Rocky

I think that is the law. That is really tangental to my post. Ethan has written on that next door.

Posted by: Jack at January 29, 2006 9:40 PM
Comment #118325

Jack,

“I am only talking about a new and more dangerous form of censorship that the Chinese seem to be pioneering.”

The Chinese could have chose not to allow Google or other search engines at all.
We could spin this either way.

Posted by: Rocky at January 29, 2006 10:05 PM
Comment #118326

They don’t seem to be defending China as much as they are attacking the U.S., the country where they live and prosper.

Posted by: andy at January 29, 2006 10:13 PM
Comment #118327

They are not defending China as much as attacking the U.S., the country in which they live and prosper or at least have the best opportunity to prosper.

Posted by: andy at January 29, 2006 10:17 PM
Comment #118335

Rocky

I am not sure which is worse. If you keep out ALL search engines people know they are not getting information. If you manage to doctor the results so that people think they have found the truth, you may have hit on a more effective way to create propaganda.

I don’t think I am making clear why I feel this is such a threat.Propaganda is older than the written word. I understand propaganda. This is a new development and it is as significant as the invention of movies in the world of propaganda.

How does it work. If I am trying to trick you, the best thing I can do is not prevent you from finding the information you want. The real effective deceiver manages to convince you of something that is in fact false. Just like the really good car salesman convinces you that you ripped HIM off an got too good a deal. In both cases, it makes for a docile mark.

Posted by: Jack at January 29, 2006 10:36 PM
Comment #118341

Jack,

The fact that China is allowing any information at all is stunning.
China has only been open to outsiders for 150 years and how much of that was under Mao’s closed policies.

When I was in Asia there were outside sources for news only if you understood English, and that was only if you owned a TV and had a satellite dish, both very expencive items for a laborer, for instance, that made only the equivelent of 2.00 a day.

Do I agree that China should be more open? Absolutely!
But by the same token, China has made great strides to become part of the global marketplace, and propaganda or not, they are racing towards freedoms unthinkable only 20 years ago.

Posted by: Rocky at January 29, 2006 10:56 PM
Comment #118356

Rocky

I am not trying to trash the Chinese. I admire the progress they have made. But what they have been very good at is blocking and manipulating Internet. They are proving wrong the idea that many of us had that technology could overcome government efforts to control information. The “good” thing about old line socialists and communist like the Soviets is that they were screw ups.

If the Chinese have managed to combine economic effectiveness and information manipulation with authoritarian control over a large country it does not bode well for the future of freedom.

So while I wish the Chinese good fortune in making themselves rich, I don’t want their political system to continue as it is. I had always believed that a free market was incompatible with authoritarianism in the long run. Now I am not sure how far we will have to run in China.

Posted by: Jack at January 29, 2006 11:24 PM
Comment #118357

Jack,

“I had always believed that a free market was incompatible with authoritarianism in the long run. Now I am not sure how far we will have to run in China.”

Sooner or later it will be inevetable. With education comes knowledge of the outside world.
If the US survives the coming economic onslaught from China, the world will soon be a very different place.
And probably for the better.

Posted by: Rocky at January 29, 2006 11:29 PM
Comment #118363

Jack,

I agree with you that this is an insidious form of propoganda, but in some respects, isn’t this like the Dutch boy and the Dyke synopsis. How long will this info ban really last? Then to what end does full knowledge have? Are we, of those most informed or searching for information, that much happier than the average farmer in China?

Generally speaking, we have plenty of Information, choice and freedom-plus we have broken homes, systemic drug abuse, bastardized children, etc. In some ways-Ignorance is Bliss. Multiplicity of choice and freedom of information does not necessarily make happiness. Are we happy because we can choose some part of our destiny or life, or are we happy becuase of the multiplicity of choices and freedoms in our life? Stand in front of a Rake Isle at the local box store and decide which of the ten choices will best suit you? A rake is a rake and was most likely made in China.

I want the pedophiles, terrorists and other malicious information passers caught. Plus I do not buy the theory that a teaspoon, tablespoon or Ice cream scooper of sensorship or wire tapping will lead to the 1984 Orwell premis.

Simply because, there is critical mass of concern involved. Once that concern reaches it’s level of potential energy discharge, things change. Until something really significant happens to change the entire way of life seemingly overnight in my life, I will stay busy with little league, work, classroom volunteering, gardening, and mentoring my children, and occassionaly ranting on blogs in my free time.

At least I am not hiding under my dining room table afraid of the U.S. like Aldous.

Posted by: Scott P. at January 29, 2006 11:48 PM
Comment #118366
The Google capitulation is significant because it marks a new stage in the development of propaganda.

Jack, this is ridiculous. Al Gore didn’t invent the internet yesterday. China has never allowed uncensored internet access.

So while we fret over FISA and obsess about surveillance, we ignore a gathering fog coming on little cat’s feet.

No, let’s talk about President Bush’s illegal sidestepping of the law a little more. And lets throw in some discussion of his contempt for the United States Constitution while we’re at it.

What’s coming in on little cat’s feet is an executive branch arguing it should have the right to secretly spy on, seize, and indefinitely detain American citizens with no warrant, legal recourse, or oversight.

Posted by: American Pundit at January 29, 2006 11:52 PM
Comment #118381
Jarandhel

I don’t agree. Pornography bans are not the same as information bans or attempts to manipulate political information. Banning Hustler is not the same a banning the NYT.

Isn’t it? In both cases, information that the government is uncomfortable with are being banned. Porn is being banned because it is considered inappropriate or immoral. But there are other countries with different moral codes. Let’s take Iran or the new Iraq as two examples. There, according to their beliefs, women wearing less than full burquas are considered scandalous or even pornographic. Quick, ban all images that do not meet that standard! How long before the NYT would be banned, under those statutes? If you justify banning communication on such flimsy grounds, it’s easy to find yourself sliding down a slippery slope.

Beyond, as I understand it the U.S. is going after kiddy porn. I support the banning of that and would be willing to defend that position. Are you willing to defend kiddy porn? On the other hand, if the Chinese are trying to keep out information about dissenting opinions, I am very willing to argue against that. Do you want to argue for it?

Jack, you appear to be misinformed about a very basic aspect of this case. It does not involve kiddy porn, or prosecuting those who engage in child pornography. The law in question is called the “Child Online Protection Act”, but what it does is order commercial Web sites to “shield minors from materials that may be harmful to them”. In the plain terms possible, it makes it the responsibility of website owners to make sure children cannot access adult materials through their site (generally by forcing their visitors to register, and usually requiring the use of a credit card as a form of age verification), rather than making it the responsibility of the children’s parents to control what sites they visit. It has nothing, NOTHING, to do with kiddy porn.

You see, when we stop playing games and don’t believe in our rhetoric what we don’t believe in our hearts, we can see the difference.

I’d appreciate it, Jack, if you’d stop talking down to me. I’m stating my position quite plainly, and there is no basis for assuming that my rhetoric and my beliefs differ, despite the straw men you have attempted to create. Both cases, pure and simple, are about censorship. You apparently see a difference between censoring porn and censoring political opinions. I find that position absurdly naive in the modern world. Especially considering that material on “gay rights” is viewed by some groups as pornographic rather than political. Censorship is a very slippery slope. And isn’t it a republican concept that giving the government the power to censor one thing will lead to it censoring other things? Or does the rhetoric against big government only apply when you want it to?

Kiddy porn should be against the law. Political dissent should not. Therefore, it is a differnee between law enforcement and propaganda. There are gray areas. This is not one of them.

Sorry, but you’re playing word games. “Should be against the law” = “law enforcement”? Sorry, no. Law enforcement involves upholding the law, whatever that law is. “Should be” does not enter into it. In the US, we are talking about trying to revive a law that has already been struck down by the courts. This is not law enforcement, by definition it is an attempt at censorship. China’s law, on the other hand, is a law on the books there. Thus, by definition, there is more claim to “law enforcment” in google complying with that law.

Where should be enters into this scenario is the observation that both laws involve censorship, and both should be taken off the books. A case could certainly be made that google should fight China on this, as it’s been fighting the United States. However, since its major competitors are already operating in the growing business market that is China, that would likely be a fatal business move. By inserting itself into China at this stage and operating at the bare minimum level of censorship required to legally exist in China, Google is actually put itself in a better position to put pressure on China in the future, I’d say. Not to mention the fact that the way it’s going about meeting its censorship requirement is absolutely brilliant, since it TELLS people when access has been restricted on certain search terms. This is hardly the transparent manipulation of search results that you have portrayed it as.

Posted by: Jarandhel at January 30, 2006 1:35 AM
Comment #118399

Jarandhel

I am not talking down to you. I am merely employing a pragmatic approach to beliefs. I think it is theoretically possible to equate banning searches for words like democracy and banning searches for pornographic terms, and I can see the practical problem of defining pornography, but I think if we can’t make such distinctions we cant run a civilization.

Pragmatically, I accept some censorship. When I say “should be against the law.” I am making a value judgment. Most of us would exclude under age people form being the objects of pornography and we would exclude those who disagree from making that decision.

I apologize if I was wrong about what you were trying to say and/or what I was trying to communicate. The Google - U.S. problem was not the subject of my post, so I address it only as a tangent. I don’t see the two situations analogous, except to the extent that Google and its defenders are standing on their hind legs to howl about the request of a democracy to enforce a law aimed at protecting its citizens, while almost joyfully contending that the giving in to demands of a dictatorship to defend its prerogatives is a wise and just decision.

I am sorry if this puts words in your mouth, but I have never believed that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and we very comfortably have been sitting on many slippery slopes for a long time. In other words, I reject most of the relativism we see today. I don’t believe that China protecting its citizens by not allowing them to search for words like democracy is the equivalent of the U.S. doing so with pornographic terms. BTW speaking of gay porn, my pragmatic approach is the same for both sexes. If you are selling it to under age people, it should be illegal. Otherwise not.

So coming around to the original point, I was paraphrasing the pragmatist William James who complained that academic philosophers often argued in their philosophy what they did not believe in their hearts. I couldn’ find the exact reference, but I recall he was criticizing Rene Descartes who had to go through the process of proving that he existed, when pragmatically he must have understood it was a useless exercise. So I was not talking down to you any more than William James would have been talking down to the followers of Rene Descartes.

Maybe that is playing word games, however.

Re my original post, I am fascinated by the new way of propaganda. I respect and fear it, while at the same time I admire its elegance. If you can manipulate searches and give the illusion that people are finding what they are looking for themselves, it adds another dimension. As someone who enjoys the art of persuasion, I am trying to figure out a way to take advantage of some variation of it myself.

Posted by: Jack at January 30, 2006 3:08 AM
Comment #118412

Internet the so-called “free flow of information” is way larger than just the one you can today find via Google.
Before Google, other search engines were considered as the One Search Engine. One day something better than Google will replace it. Maybe a distributed/p2p search engine, powered by every people’s computer, who know?

Anyway, information, even freely flowing ones, should not be confused with facts. Whatever the media, none comes with better “trustness” level than others. It’s when you stop checking here and there even the information sources you trust the most that you should start to worry.
Don’t be lazy, cross-check every information that really matters to you. Otherwise, you should consider it no more true than any other rumour…

Relative to censorship, a funny way to bypass Chinese firewalls is/was the Google Mirror:

http://elgoog.rb-hosting.de/index.cgi

“Was” because I dunno if it still works. I have a friend who had worked one year long in china around 2002-2003. He did sometimes that trick to bypass the .cn firewalls.

Enjoy.

(Notice: you must type your query in reverse order and click manually the search button as your favorite browser will select automatically the first one he had encountered which is “I’m feelink lucky” in this mirrored case ;-) )

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at January 30, 2006 5:28 AM
Comment #118484

Jack - when you say “I have never believed that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”, does that include groups like the Stern Gang (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stern_gang), Hamas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamas), and the KLA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosovo_Liberation_Army) ? It seems pretty clear that there are people who regard each of those groups exactly the way you describe.

About search companies agreeing to censor information in order to do business in China - let’s look at the larger point, of a company (presumably in this case a US company) agreeing to do things in non-US country that are considered repugnant or even illegal if done in the US in order to do business elsewhere - for example, contract for manufacturing using a process that violates US labor or environmental laws.

Challenging and debating the morality and legality of that kind of double-standard is, in my opinion, a good thing - perhaps we (the US) should penalize people and companies who engage in practices in other countries that would be illegal here - of course we would have to pay higher prices for oil, clothing, etc. but some things are worth paying more for, including justice. If we all bear the burden collectively there is value in sacrifice for a good cause.

Posted by: Matisse Enzer at January 30, 2006 11:13 AM
Comment #118501

Matisse

I guess I am not making my point clear. I am not seeking to punish Google or even censure them. What I am concerned about it is a leap in the way propaganda is done. Unlike the traditional information management, this not only blocks some things but guides users to other sources. If done right, the user may not even know (or care about) the manipulation. It probably will be very effective in guiding searches and convincing people that they have found good information.

Since Philippe is on the line, I will add something I noticed in Encarta. I don’t think this was done under pressure or for propaganda purposes. French and Brazilian versions of Encarta say that Santos Dumont was the first to fly, while others (correctly :)) credit the Wright Brothers. I understand that there is some disagreement. A well running manipulate search could make sure you found the evidence for only one side.

Posted by: Jack at January 30, 2006 12:03 PM
Comment #119465

Hi Jack,

Since Philippe is on the line, I will add something I noticed in Encarta. I don’t think this was done under pressure or for propaganda purposes. French and Brazilian versions of Encarta say that Santos Dumont was the first to fly, while others (correctly :)) credit the Wright Brothers. I understand that there is some disagreement. A well running manipulate search could make sure you found the evidence for only one side.

Indeed. But Encarta is a one-side source of information. Hardly the best encyclopedia available too, IMHO.
Internet, on the other side, already provides multiple source of information to cross-checked about the quite controversed first flying machine but also about many others topics. And, from China, you don’t need an uncensored Google search engine to find others web sources of information.

It’s why one should *always* be suspicious about any one sided story. One version is never enough. Due to human nature, by definition nothing could be told only in a single way.
Never trust one side only.
Such warning should be printed on stickers!
;-)

Back to Google censorship, here a very visual example: compare Google China’s replies:
http://images.google.cn/images?q=tiananmen
…to ROTW’s Google replies:
http://images.google.com/images?q=tiananmen.
Last but not least, just introduce a spell error to bypass Google China results censorship:
http://images.google.cn/images?q=tienanmen.

Never underestimate what a small error can do :-p

Your frenchly.

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at February 2, 2006 6:30 AM
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