In chapter one of Siva Vaidhyanathan’s book, The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry), the author discusses Google’s domination of the World Wide Web. Vaidhyanathan puts it blatantly saying, “no single state, firm or institution in the world has as much power over Web-based activity as Google.” Google’s web authority arises in part from their power to decide what websites get noticed by users, and therefore visited.
Vaidhynathan goes on to point out that Google also gains power through the trust of its users. Google has earned a reputation of “cleaning up” the web. For example, it limits access to websites that could give a user computer viruses. Google also weakens pornography websites’ status in response to certain search terms so that a user doesn’t accidentally come upon explicit content. As Vaidhynathan says, “Google has ensured that the Web is a calmer, friendlier, less controversial and frightening medium—as long as one uses Google to navigate it.” Google gained more power when it bought YouTube in 2006, the leading site that complies users’ short videos, which as the author says, “is where politics and culture happen online.”
Due to all of Google’s power, some have called into question whether the company might actually have too much control and could possibly even be considered a monopoly. Google regulations YouTube more than the general Web. Because of this there have been some controversies associated with the company and its actions.
For example, when radical right-wing American columnist Michelle Malkin posted a video of acts taken by Muslim extremists, YouTube editors deemed in inappropriate and took it down. Malkin was quick to point out that violent videos are everywhere on YouTube and that it didn’t seem fair that her video was taken down when so many others were still allowed to be posted. Vaidhynathan refers to this particular example as author-based rather than content-based editing.
Examples like this pose an issue for free speech on the Internet. This would not be so problematic if it wasn’t for Google and YouTube’s dominance in the video website world. If a user cannot post their video on YouTube they are guaranteed to have lower viewership than if they had been able to. In this way, Google and YouTube could be seen as having too much power and influence, and could potentially be hurting the democratic notion of free speech with their subjective censorship policies.
Google and Youtube, undoubtedly, should be able to regulate the content that appears on their site. However, there is a very fine line between what is protecting users and keeping the Web “safe” and what is censorship. Google and YouTube’s dominant position on the Web will most likely grow even more so in the future. However, Google must keep in mind: with great power comes great responsibility.
Vaidhyanathan, Siva. The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry) Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011.
Zeller, Tom. “A Slippery Slop of Censorship at YouTube,” The New York Times, October 9, 2006.