Monday, April 23, 2007

Is Google Enabling Cultural Genocide?

The Cult of the Dead Cow's Oxblood Ruffin has posted an article on how Google is enabling "cultural genocide" in Tibet. He argues that Google is using its filtering algorithms, not only to censor parts of the Internet for all Chinese users, but also specifically to filter out traces of the Tibetan history and culture.

This appears to be a strategy of drawing public outrage against Google - as much against the company's censorship filters as for a call to support the plight of the Tibetan people. The scrutinizing eye might perceive that after the initial criticism directed at Google after it agreed to censor search results for Chinese users had subsided without much effect, opponents are now seeking to frame the issue in a way that will overcome public apathy. In other words, simply arguing that Google censors Internet speech hasn't seemed to work, so now opponents are pointing to, not censorship, but genocide as the issue.

How can we define corporate responsibility in this case? Ruffin is correct that Google's "when in Rome" argument is hardly a moral stance, and the company ought to do what is clearly right. However, the cultural genocide of Tibet is certainly not caused - and possibly not even exacerbated - by Google. One could even reasonably argue that Google does more to support Tibet than it does to damage its cause, as the search giant helps proliferate pro-Tibet messages throughout the rest of the world on a scale of distribution which has never before been seen.

Of course Google should follow Spike Lee's advice and do the right thing. But if Google was the biggest problem facing the Tibetan people, then they wouldn't be nearly so bad off.


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