One of the challenges that comes with being an independent, political blogger is that, if one’s story picks up enough attention, it’s the equivalent of painting a giant target on said blogger. In the case of journalist Matthew Lee, who one day in 2008 discovered that his website Inner City Press had disappeared from Google search results, experience censorship from the U.N. After posting several critical blog posts courtesy of numerous U.N. whistleblowers Lee became a major target for the U.N. He received the news that his website had been taken off of Google News in the form of an e-mail saying that his website violated policy.
As soon as he read it, Lee immediately suspected one thing: That someone at the UNDP had pressured Google into “de-listing” him from Google News — essentially preventing Inner City Press from being classified on Google News as a legitimate news source and from having its stories pop up when someone conducts a Google News search.
– Fox News
In time Google restored ICP’s status on search engines, but never revealed who had filed a complaint against the site due to “privacy concerns.” It is cases like this that speak volumes about the overall feeling of untrustworthiness that surrounds sites like Google. The amount of power it holds when it comes to which sites receive attention and clicks is massive, which also means its’ ability to silent and censor certain voices is also very powerful.
On Phakyul.com’s article titled “Dissident Chinese professor to sue Yahoo! and Google for erasing his name” a similar incident happened with former Chinese professor Guo Quan. Quan alleged that Chinese Yahoo and Google had blocked his name from search results after he founded a democratic opposition party.
He told The Times that he had now found that the Chinese Yahoo! site had also blocked his name and he planned to bring actions against both companies. Mr Guo said: “Since January 1 a lot of friends told me that websites with my name had been closed. They told me it’s impossible to search for my information on Google and Yahoo!”
– Guo Quan
After reading about this story I was immediately reminded of a similar situation where BBC visited an independent candidate in China’s 2016 election and the reporters were prevented from physically seeing and speaking to the person.
In both instances the force China’s one-party system manifested itself as a block against information against those they labeled as a threat. In the previous article Quan said that foreign companies like Google should not bend to the will of China as the internet should be free and open to everyone. In the case of the above video from BBC the reporter returned to the home of the candidate a week later after the election and, when asked a question about how she felt about being censored, refused to comment on it due to fear of increased backlash from the government.
Quan wrote in an open letter, “To make money, Google has become a servile Pekinese dog wagging its tail at the heels of the Chinese communists.”
This is not what the internet should be. Access to information should not be reliant on shadowy, government figures who block facts to protect their image. The suppression of political ideologies and criticisms of higher powers is not normal in any society and should no longer be tolerated or brushed aside. Search engines like Google and Yahoo need to be held accountable for their actions, but it is doubtful that that will truly happen. The most one can hope for as an independent journalist under attack is that other reporters will come to one’s aide and bring attention to the issue. After all nothing can change is no one knows about the issue.