As a commercial entity, the popular search engine Google has joined the esteemed ranks of media and academic organizations that have a responsibility to be objective but instead choose to manage information based upon an apparent ingrained partisan and socio-ideological bias.
Early this past summer, Accuracy In Media’s Conservative Mall offered Jason Fodeman’s book, How to Destroy a Village: What the Clintons Taught a Seventeen Year Old . Soon after our marketing staff placed it into Google’s ‘sponsored links’ [pay-per-click Internet advertising], their staff informed us that they suspended the ad campaign.
A Google ‘AdWords Team’ e-mail explained that they rejected the book promotion because of “unacceptable content,” citing a policy that “does not permit the advertisement of websites that contain ‘language that advocates against an individual, group, or organization.’” -- unless the target is conservative, patriotic, Republican, heterosexual, Christian etc. More on this later…
Our marketing staff initially attributed this to a common squeamishness among sales people to political controversy -- it doesn’t increase sales and provokes complaints. Fair enough -- there would be no ‘anti-anybody’ merchandise ads. Given previous success promoting G. W. Bush-oriented items, AIM decided to try a new campaign marketing our Ronald Reagan books and memorabilia.
Imagine our surprise when Google suspended this campaign as well. The Ronald Reagan merchandise did not offend, however. After rehashing their policy proscribing ‘advocacy against’ anyone, Google informed us that they had browsed other items offered for sale in AIM’s website -- but NOT promoted on Google. Google wrote that such items as the “‘Bill Lied,’ ‘Impeach Hillary’ and ‘Forget Buddy, Neuter Clinton ’ bumper Stickers as well as other shirts, buttons and books on your site are not acceptable.”
Reviewing the original message, any of AIM’s Web content could be interpreted as subject to Google’s approval -- including the articles. Thus when AIM’s Notra Trulock ‘advocates against’ America’s “most trusted journalist” Walter Cronkite for denouncing Operation Iraqi Freedom and echoing the Left’s tacit support of Saddam – Google could conceivably find such material ‘unacceptable’ as well.
Being an organization offering political commentary/analysis and selling political merchandise -- there seems to be no way that AIM can utilize such a powerful marketing tool under such strictures. Out of frustration [and to AIM management’s disapproval after the fact], this writer sent Google’s AdWords Team an e-mail inviting them to browse all of our merchandise and articles. They should then let us know which they would like us to remove. Afterward we would ‘get back to them.’
We have recently found, however, that there are some notable exceptions to Google’s no ‘advocacy against’ policy.
A Google search on such keywords as ‘t-shirt,’ ‘bumpersticker’ and ‘Bush’ revealed some interesting products offered in the resultant ‘Sponsored Links’ boxes. [The vendors in question will NOT be given any free advertising in this space.] Examples include t-shirts, bumperstickers and buttons sporting such slogans as ‘Gröpenfüerer Schwarzenegger,’ ‘Flush Rush,’ ‘different Bush, same bu** sh**.’ Some items disparage religious conservatives: ‘the Christian Right is neither.’ Others mock those who hold to any faith whatsoever: ‘religion is a crutch for people who can’t think for themselves .’
Google staff found AIM’s merchandise lampooning the Clintons and Democrats offensive, but saw no reason to suspend the vendor offering, ‘I’m bi-partisan, I’ll hug your elephant if you kiss my a**.’ Neither have they stopped selling ad space to the merchant hawking bathroom tissue printed with your choice of these smiling faces: the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Vice-President, and of course, the President of the United States [labeled ‘Bush Wipe’].
Immediately upon discovering this, AIM informed Google of these and other similar items (providing links and pictures), saying in part, “we certainly do not want you to stop allowing the vendors of [such] merchandise to participate in the Google AdWords program. Our position is if they are allowed to do so, then so should we. The only difference between our merchandise and theirs is WHICH SIDE we are on.”
Google responded by digging in their heels: They reminded us that “a different set of laws and regulations apply to commercial speech (advertising) than to the search results we show when you do a Google search. As a business, Google must make decisions about where we draw the line in regards [sic ] to the advertising we accept, both from a legal and company values perspective.”
Further, “ad text, site content, or keywords should not be anti related.” Google offered no reaction to the above-described ‘anti-related’ items, however. Continuing, they wrote, “In order for us to allow your ad to run, you have to remove all apparel, books, bumper stickers, buttons, merchandise, collectibles, CD's, videos, etc. that in any way advocate against any individual, group or organization.”
This means that these items – whether they are directly promoted on Google or not – must no longer be offered for sale to the public online. The Internet is the major means by which these items are sold. Many of them are very popular and comprise a significant proportion of our inventory.
Providing a link, Google advised us to review their ‘AdWords Editorial Guidelines.’ The pertinent statement in its entirety: “Your ad cannot contain offensive or inappropriate language.” And how does Google define ‘offensive or inappropriate?’ “As noted in our advertising terms and conditions, we reserve the right to exercise editorial discretion when it comes to the advertising we accept on our site.”
Google’s AdWords Team may not consciously be discriminating against AIM because of our political perspective. It is entirely possible that items such as those clearly anti-Bush, may provoke chuckles for Google’s staff, but when confronted with products poking fun at THEIR sacred cows... well THAT'S ‘offensive.’
We have later found that Google is not even being consistent. There are some anti-Ted Kennedy, Daschle and liberal items as well as pro-gun merchandise slipping through the cracks of Google’s stated policies. Deliberate or not, BIAS is still BIAS.
Even leaving politics aside, Google is arrogant in its current position. It bullies the little guy and punishes those who don’t tow the line. It is always dangerous for any singular entity to have so much power. Many of Google’s foibles are simply borne out of a laziness and carelessness that always attends perceived immunity.
According to GoogleWatch, Google provides about 75 percent of the web’s “external referrals.” Google is also moving into webhosting as well. GoogleWatch warns if sufficient competition does not arise soon, Google’s growing web supremacy could “mean the end of the web as we know it.”
EmnmE.com found itself getting good results in a Google AdWords campaign until one of Google’s “major paying sponsors” found out about a recall petition concerning one of its products. EmnmE’s search result placement quickly plummeted into oblivion. Some webmasters found their rankings inexplicably dropped because of ill-conceived Google experiments aimed at reducing ‘key-phrase’ abuse.
In an Internet marketer’s message board, an affiliate marketer told of complaining to Google about a competitor costing him thousands by artificially raising ‘click-through rates’ using a ‘hitbot’ program. An “unsurprisingly incompetent customer service rep” told the marketer that an investigation would take three weeks. Three months have passed with no word from Google. The marketer continues: “It is obvious that Google doesn't care about click fraud or its customers.”
Internet directory networker SearchKing is suing Google for “deliberately… squelching competition” by favoring larger companies over smaller ones with manipulated search results.
We certainly understand that the First Amendment prohibits only governmental free speech restriction. It does not obligate a private entity to provide a forum for another’s free speech. However, Google must be impartial in order to retain credibility as the premier gateway to the Internet.
William R Alford is a Government & International
Politics/Electronic Journalism student at George Mason University in