We have been discussing the rising support for corporate censorship among leading Democratic politicians, academics, and writers. Social media and Internet companies now actively respond to calls from government officials to silence those with opposing views. The latest such example is Google-owned YouTube removing videos of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny before Russia’s parliamentary elections. Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Apple Inc. also pulled a voting app from Navalny ahead of the election. Nevertheless, CEO Susan Wojcicki bizarrely claimed in a Bloomberg interview Bloomberg Television that free speech remains a “core value” for the company.
Wojcicki explained that “[w]hen we work with governments, there are many things that we have to take in consideration, whether it’s local laws or what’s happening on the ground.” There is an alternative. You could simply protect free speech as the defining value of your company, particularly when “what’s happening on the ground” is an authoritarian crackdown against reformers and democratic change.
Russia banned Navalny’s groups as “extremist” organizations before the election to rig the election and YouTube carried out the orders of the Kremlin in the anti-democratic crackdown.
This is not the first such example of these companies carrying out the censorship directives from political figures. We have previously discussed Twitter’s robust censorship program that repeatedly has been denounced for bias in taking sides on scientific, social, and political controversies. Twitter admitted to censoring criticism of India’s government and the company later flagged a critic of the Chinese government.
This is also a concern in the United States where politicians have demanded greater corporate censorship. Members of Congress are now pushing for public and private censorship on the internet and in other forums. They are being joined by an unprecedented alliance of academics, writers and activists calling for everything from censorship to incarceration to blacklists. For example, an article published in The Atlantic by Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith and University of Arizona law professor Andrew Keane Woods called for Chinese-style censorship of the internet, stating that “in the great debate of the past two decades about freedom versus control of the network, China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong.”
Companies like YouTube are now acting as effective state medias in managing a massive system of censorship and speech controls. The action taken in Russia makes a mockery of claims that such censorship is meant to protect democracy. The only core value revealed in YouTube’s action is profit at any cost.