How free are we on Google?

We live in an internet age so people might think that we live in an age where censorship is limited to the corporate media and that what is said on the internet is fair game (legally speaking, i.e don’t slander). Unfortunately that is not the case as the internet is dominated by search engines that are linked to larger corporations.

Look at Google. The internet is rather fond of the search engine. Google has become such a dominant part of the internet age that the search engine is used as a verb. “Go Google it.” While Google tends to be the search engine of choice, it could be argued that it has too much power.

In 2008 Google cut the Inner City Press’s news stories from their Google News page. Why were the stories buried? The Inner City Press was reporting upon corruption in the United Nations. Matthew Lee, founder of the website said, “I think they said, ‘If we can’t get this guy out of the U.N., let’s disappear him from the Internet.” The Fox News story that published the Inner City Press story said Lee received a letter from Google that the search engine would no longer include Lee’s stories in Google News due to complaints they received about the website.

That same year Google China removed Guo Quan’s name from Google search results. He is a Chinese professor who often writes critically about the Communist government in China. After realizing he was being blocked from Google and Yahoo’s search engine results he decided to sue both search engines for denying him his rights.

Mr Guo said that he could not sue Google or Yahoo! in China since they have no formal legal identity, but he would press his lawsuits against the parent companies in the United States. “They have infringed my right to my name, and also the rights of anyone called Guo Quan because you can find no information for this name.

“They have violated my political rights. I am opposed to violence and dictatorship but these sites have blocked me.”

In 2010 Google came under fire again for agreeing to obey the Chinese government’s censorship demands. In accordance with these laws, Google China cannot link to any material that could be deemed a threat to national or social security.

So what aren’t we finding when we type in a quick search to Google? Should we be utilizing multiple search engines to optimize our results the same way we should rely on multiple news outlets to get a fuller picture of what is happening?

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Who defines the media

With the rise of the internet and the blogosphere how can we determine who is and isn’t a journalist? Should every person clickity clacking away on a keyboard be given press credentials?

In 2008 Oregon sought to create parameters for who is considered to be a member of the media after the Lake Oswego City Council refused to admit a local blogger to their executive proceedings. Blogger, Mark Bunster’s story kicked up a controversy on what was considered to be journalism.

According to The Oregonian article, Lake Oswego was looking to define media outlets as “institutionalized,” “well-established” and producing at least 25 percent news content. Well look at that! Who determines what is well-established? Does anybody else have that dark tingling of censorship looming over their shoulder?

This definition of course led to a flurry of concern in the journalistic community seeing as the definition was primarily excluding members of independent media and preventing the presence of new media outlets from attending these sessions. If the outlet is brand new how can it gain any level of “established” when the government is trying to block them from covering the news?

In 2010 iMediaEthic’s updated the story by explaining the formal guidelines put in place by Lake Oswego. The article said official media membership was defined as ”

  • A blogger can be included “As long as he is a part of an institution and committed to compliance with the law.”
  • Media is “any organization that has been previously recognized as eligible to attend executive sessions.”
  • Members of two Oregon media organizations — the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association and the Oregon Association of Broadcasters — and the Associated Press are allowed.
  • “Non-traditional media” must pass a “two-part test” including regular publication and institutionalization (defined as having “multiple personnel” and a methodology for corrections)”

According to these guidelines solo bloggers would not be able to attend these proceedings because they fail to meet the “multiple personnel” criteria. It does prompt the question, what is Lake Oswego afraid the media will uncover if they did allow solo bloggers to attend their meetings? Are they afraid that the next John Marshall (the founder of Talking Points Memo, originally a solo blogger operation) is going to unearth an important story about the city? What is going on in Lake Oswego?