lukegilman.com : The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

Icon
Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at www.lukegilman.com

Google’s Gatekeepers

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
Go to Comments | Be the First to Comment

George Washington Law Prof Jeffrey Rosen has a fantastic piece in the New York Times today on Google’s Gatekeepers, chronicling the central role the company is playing, voluntarily or not, in setting a kind of global free speech policy.

In March of last year, Nicole Wong, the deputy general counsel of Google, was notified that there had been a precipitous drop in activity on YouTube in Turkey, and that the press was reporting that the Turkish government was blocking access to YouTube for virtually all Turkish Internet users. Apparently unaware that Google owns YouTube, Turkish officials didn’t tell Google about the situation: a Turkish judge had ordered the nation’s telecom providers to block access to the site in response to videos that insulted the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which is a crime under Turkish law. Wong scrambled to figure out which videos provoked the court order and made the first in a series of tense telephone calls to Google’s counsel in London and Turkey, as angry protesters gathered in Istanbul. Eventually, Wong and several colleagues concluded that the video that sparked the controversy was a parody news broadcast that declared, “Today’s news: Kamal Ataturk was gay!” The clip was posted by Greek football fans looking to taunt their Turkish rivals.

Wong and her colleagues asked the Turkish authorities to reconsider their decision, pointing out that the original offending video had already been voluntarily removed by YouTube users. But after the video was taken down, Turkish prosecutors objected to dozens of other YouTube videos that they claimed insulted either Ataturk or “Turkishness.” These clips ranged from Kurdish-militia recruitment videos and Kurdish morality plays to additional videos speculating about the sexual orientation of Ataturk, including one superimposing his image on characters from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” “I remember one night, I was looking at 67 different Turkish videos at home,” Wong told me recently.

After having many of the videos translated into English, Wong and her colleagues set out to determine which ones were, in fact, illegal in Turkey; which violated YouTube’s terms of service prohibiting hate speech but allowing political speech; and which constituted expression that Google and YouTube would try to protect. There was a vigorous internal debate among Wong and her colleagues at the top of Google’s legal pyramid. Andrew McLaughlin, Google’s director of global public policy, took an aggressive civil-libertarian position, arguing that the company should protect as much speech as possible. Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel, took a more pragmatic approach, expressing concern for the safety of the dozen or so employees at Google’s Turkish office. The responsibility for balancing these and other competing concerns about the controversial content fell to Wong, whose colleagues jokingly call her “the Decider,” after George W. Bush’s folksy self-description.

Google is clearly a victim of its success in the sense that we no longer care what Altavista’s free speech policies are. Google policies matter because of the de facto monopoly power its overwhelming market share gives it. I suspect we’ll continue to see some very interesting case law in this arena, particularly internationally.

Jeffrey Rosen, Google’s Gatekeepers, New York Times, November 28, 2008

Bookmark this Page:
  • del.icio.us
  • digg
  • Furl
  • Ma.gnolia
  • Reddit
  • YahooMyWeb
  • e-mail
  • Facebook
  • Live
  • Slashdot
  • StumbleUpon

No related posts.

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

Category: constitutional law, law & the internet, technology law

Tagged:

Leave a Reply

Categories