When a company becomes as big and commonplace as Google (and all its subsidiaries) it can expect that scrutiny will follow. In an era in which being offended by everything has been cultivated by the culture, we can also expect that somewhere along the line someone is going to be offended by something. Google fell under fire this week from advertisers for placing advertisements next to content that ‘was not aligned with their (the advertisers) values.” Several companies even went so far as to pull their ads with Google as a result, while others simply raised their voices of concern. The response from Google was first to apologize and then implement greater systems to prevent this from happening in the future. What exactly took place and what does that mean for the future?
It’s hard to say exactly what took place as details are minimal. According to Google’s own statement, the companies’ values did not align with the content on the page. The story about it says they appeared to ‘extremist content.’ At one point there is specification that the ads appeared with content that anti-semitic and terrorist-oriented. Beyond that level of information, we have little to go by. Therefore it profits nothing to speculate and criticize what has taken place. Instead, Google’s response is worth noting.
The advertisers for Google drive their company, allowing them to invest heavily in different technological realms, so they are going to seek to appease them as much as they can. Through an online post by Chief Business Officer Phillip Schindler, Google states “. . we’re taking a tougher stance on hateful, offensive, and derogatory content. . . This includes removing adds more effectively from content that is attacking or harassing people based on their race, religion, gender, or similar categories.” At a fundamental level this response is commendable, however, upon examination there is reason to be concerned by these new changes.
As a result of Google’s implementation of new standards, we are left with some basic questions like what are the guidelines for what is considered hate speech and who decides if content meets that criteria or not? While there is talk of increasing use of more people and artificial intelligence to assess content, the questions are still left unanswered. Combined with the recent accusations against companies like Facebook and YouTube (a Google-owned company) there is a great concern about what impact policies will have on one’s right to free speech.
For Christians there is an added level of fear here because history has already stipulated a great bias against Christians for their beliefs in Scripture as the ultimate authority of Truth. Therefore, policies like those at Google further society’s ability to label Christians as haters resulting an an increased opportunity for censuring Christian beliefs. Even more, it means a restriction in Christian’s participation in society (because companies can now direct their ads away from sites they don’t agree with, like Christian sites, and so limit their ability to generate income).
With the increased hostility and antagonism towards Christians, concerns about new actions and guidelines is rightly placed. That leaves many questioning about how to respond. Right now that answer is quite simple: we don’t respond to the world, we rejoice in Christ. First off, until we see the results of Google’s practices, there is no appropriate response because it is based upon speculation. Secondly, we rejoice in Christ because if any suppression of Christian ideas increases, it only acts as a confirmation of Scripture, which tells us that people will reject truth and try to suppress it out of their own unwillingness to be confronted with sin. Even more, we rejoice because it creates yet another opportunity for us to demonstrate truth that is permeated with truth and judgment but tempered with grace and mercy. Such a combination results in the revealing of the completeness of God’s love and thus points beyond us and back to him. Thus, we use every circumstance to look beyond its impact upon us and as an opportunity to point to God.
To read the original new story about the circumstances that lead to Google’s information this week, please click here.
Photo “Google” courtesy of user Trevor Devine and Flickr.