Google became a part of another controversy last week as they deleted the Activist Post blog, a popular alternative news blog with a libertarian angle, from their Blogger service without any prior warning. After much public outrage, the blog was soon restored. A Blogger administrator explained that “the removal was caused by an automated process.” Like we’re supposed to believe that Google has bots going around just deleting blogs at random. Sure.
This is not the first time Google has been involved in removing potentially controversial content from its services. YouTube, in particular, is notorious for deleting and manipulating counters on videos espousing anti-establishment or otherwise politically incorrect views (just make a search for “youtube censorship”). Of course, when questioned about it, they can always point to a violation of the terms of service, copyright infringement, an “automated process” or any other convenient excuse to cover the fact that there’s an actual human agent behind these decisions.
Now I’m not suggesting that Google has some secret political agenda enforced by the board on all their employees. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I’m thinking more along the lines of Leopold Kohr‘s “power theory of aggression”¹ which stipulates that once a social organism reaches a critical amount of power, abuse of that power will result spontaneously, regardless of the original intentions of the individuals involved. This critical amount of power is reached whenever it’s possessors start to believe that they’re immune to all retaliation. In other words, Google has gotten way too big. They have reached their tentacles into nearly everything we do on the Internet, and this has given them so much power over our lives that they cannot help but abuse it.
All free market advocates will now, of course, point out that as a private enterprise Google has every right to decide what content they allow on their services and what they don’t. And they are right. But the problem is that we’ve become so dependent on these services that few of us can even perceive any alternatives. So, in practice, there’s little difference between Google censoring its services and the government doing it. That’s why we desperately need viable services that are based on Free software and owned and administered by their users. And what’s more, we need a whole ecosystem of these services with lots of duplication of features so that we’ll never end up being dependent on any one service provider again.
In the meanwhile, just don’t forget to keep local backups.
¹ From his book The Breakdown of Nations (1957)