A few weeks ago, Nazis and white supremacists weren’t high on the list of priorities for Silicon Valley. However, after President Trump’s confusing rhetoric as to who was to blame for the chaos in Charlottesville, search engines and tech groups are having to discuss what constitutes free speech and if and how that differs from hate speech.
Both Google and GoDaddy have taken action against far right groups who, in their opinion, promoted hatred and demonised certain parts of society. However, tech lobbyists have argued that banning certain groups online is a slippery slope and a dangerous precedent to set. Sadly, they have a point.
By banning extreme right wing groups, and making it part of a businesses online policies, an argument can be made to ban other groups that are seen to instill hatred. And it’s at this point, that hatred becomes just as much about perspective than it does about caring for your fellow man.
A white nationalist can rightly see an anti-Nazi protestor as instilling hatred against them. Of course, most reasonable people would consider hatred against hatred to be justified, but this argument predicates that white nationalists are not entitled to their opinion, and according to the Declaration of Human Rights and the American Constitution, everyone is entitled to their opinion.
The argument is being made by Google and GoDaddy that these groups are not expressing their opinion, but inciting violence which of course is something entirely different but that’s a difficult argument to prove. Not all the sites were directly encouraging violence, and because of this, an obvious bias becomes apparent. In Google’s case, this is an absolutely crucial argument to get right. Critics are quick to say that if the search engine is biased against white nationalists, does it have an inherent left-wing agenda or is this in reaction to populist views on Charlottesville? The vast majority of Americans – if you believe mainstream news polls – were horrified at what they saw in Charlottesville, and the question then becomes whether Google has a right to side with anyone.
The major tech businesses are already under attack for creating virtual monopolies, and it is vital that the likes of Google and Facebook, if they want to remain in untenable positions of control and not be subject to stringent regulation, aren’t seen to be attempting to pander to parts of the community or to have their own political agenda, no matter how tasteful.
The slippery slope argument is being used – the political angle that if one thing happens, then another thing will happen and before we know it the world will have fallen apart – and while it’s nonsense (Google is unlikely to ban political parties) it has struck a chord with certain members of the community, and in all likelihood will become an important political football.
With Donald Trump’s business councils being dissolved, and CEOs electing to walk away from the embattled White House, Google, Facebook and other technology businesses must be seen to be above the fray and not have an element of Big Brother about them.