Hate Speech — and Google’s Public Relations “Death Wish”

I’ve been writing publicly for a long time. Sometimes it feels like my earliest articles and posts were composed in runic alphabets inscribed on stone tablets. I’ve always had a rule that I’ve tried to abide by: “Never write when you’re angry!”

Today I’ll violate that self-imposed prohibition. I’m in a vile mood, and I’m here at the keyboard anyway.

Those of you who have followed my writings (and have still somehow managed to maintain a semblance of sanity) know that I frequently deal with Google-related issues. I started doing that shortly after Google first appeared on the Net, and here we are now almost 20 years later. 

I was pretty tough on Google back then. I was unhappy with their privacy practices at the time and some other related issues, and I was not reluctant to present my feelings about such matters. Similarly, as Google evolved over the years into a world-class example of privacy and security best practices and has done so much other good work, I’ve enthusiastically pointed out the efforts of the Google teams involved. And when I feel that Google has screwed up regarding something these days, I point that out directly as well.

My policy of always trying to honestly write about issues using a “call ’em as I see ’em” philosophy has left a lot of partisans unhappy on both sides of the political spectrum, who view any variance from “the party line” on any given matter to be both dangerous and intolerable.

This has been a reality to one extent or another since the earliest ARPANET days when I first began publicly posting, but has in recent years blown up into an orders of magnitude more vicious state of affairs.

For example, late last week I spoke about Google on a national radio venue where I very frequently guest, and pushed  back against the false claims of some national GOP politicians, who were again parroting the Big Lie that Google purposely suppressed and undermined conservative viewpoints (the trigger this time was a search results Knowledge Panel error due to a defaced Wikipedia source page).

I’m usually happy to do this — I get paid nuthin’ for these appearances — I value the opportunity to speak some truth before these very large audiences that all too often are trapped in propagandistic, anti-technology filter bubbles where outright lies about firms like Google are common currency.

It’s gratifying to so frequently the next day get emails that say variations of “Thanks for that — nobody ever explained it to me that way before!”

But over time, and especially since the 2016 elections, the worst aspects of our toxic political environment have been contaminating more and more of these discussions, to the extent that my on-air comments supporting Google last week — perhaps because Donald Trump, Jr. was involved — have triggered a hate speech campaign that is rather sickening to behold. 

This has happened before — and I have a pretty thick skin.

Yet this time it feels different. I find myself wondering why the blazes I keep sticking my neck out this way. This isn’t my job. I don’t get paid for anything I write or say these days — I’m long term unemployed and try to get by with whatever sporadic and limited consulting I can dredge up from time to time.

More to the point, one wonders — especially with so much at stake — why Google isn’t taking a more proactive stance to protect the company, their employees, and the global community that depends on them — from the ongoing torrent of politically-motivated lies and attacks that are clearly designed to set the stage for broad censorship and government micromanagement of data for political purposes! Why doesn’t Google have employees out there doing what I’m doing? Why does Google continue to create a vacuum through their silence, a vacuum that haters fill with outright lies that most onlookers have no simple way to differentiate from the truth?

Of course we already know part of the answer. Google is famously terrified of the so-called “Streisand Effect” — the fear that even retorting lies will lend credence and more attention to them.

20 or even arguably 10 years ago, this might on balance have been a reasonable philosophy for Google to practice as a cautious firm.

But today, I’m increasingly convinced that Google’s not fighting back against these lies in every possible legitimate way amounts to a kind of corporate “death wish” that is ultimately putting everything good that Google has built and stands for at terrible risk.

And if Google loses this war, we all lose.

Governments, politicians, and other entities (including not only the alt-right but also many elements of more conventional left and right-wing politics as well), are using Google’s reticence for battle as a green light for the acceleration of anti-Google efforts to push intolerant information-control agendas on national, transnational, and global scales.

If such forces succeed in decimating Google in the manners that are being postulated, the results could be catastrophic for free speech around the planet.

Knowing Googlers as I do, it seems certain that most of them see these dangers very clearly from the inside — yet the “death wish” in terms of how Google actually communicates with the outside world seems more encompassing than ever.

This makes me very sad — and as I said above very angry as well.

The deep, dank pit looms before us, and the razor sharp blade of the pendulum descends closer with every tick of the clock. Either we deal with these issues seriously and effectively now, or very soon we’ll find that our wonderful hoped-for tomorrows have turned into nothing but a putrid, rotting pile of wasted yesterdays.

And that’s the truth.