Not just another Google mistake

All this week we are featuring outstanding reviews and essays from the flagship publication of the Claremont Institute, the Claremont Review of Books. We are featuring one such essay in the adjacent post. It is one of the best magazines in the United States.

I should probably add that I am a proud fellow of the Claremont Institute. In my case the fellowship is a purely honorific designation that I occasionally used with John when we first began to publish opinion columns in newspapers and magazines back in the early 1990’s. The designation, by the way, goes back to the presidency of Larry Arnn.

I always found the mission of the institute consistent with my own thoughts. That is not a coincidence; we were both inspired by Harry Jaffa’s work on Lincoln.

It is the mission of the institute “to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life.” In pursuit of its mission, the institute has opposed discrimination by race from the time of its own founding.

The institute’s opposition to discrimination by race has placed the institute deeply at odds with our political and cultural arbiters. That is the lesson I draw from “Claremont’s brush with Google censorship,” as the headline on Claremont President Ryan Williams’s column in the Wall Street Journal has it this morning. Ryan writes:

Google wasn’t represented at a Senate hearing last month on political censorship. But it assured lawmakers in a written statement that “our products serve users of all viewpoints and remain politically neutral” while acknowledging that “sometimes our content moderation systems do make mistakes.” This week my organization was hit by one such “mistake.”

On our American Mind website, the Claremont Institute recently launched a campaign to engage citizens in debate about what it means to be an American. We are warning about the danger to the republic posed by multiculturalism, identity politics and politically correct speech restrictions. Google decided that our writings violated the company’s policy on “race and ethnicity in personalized advertising” and prevented us from advertising to our own readers about our 40th-anniversary gala dinner this Saturday.

The relevant section of Google’s policy lists “racially or ethnically oriented publications, racially or ethnically oriented universities, racial or ethnic dating” as examples of violations. Either Google’s algorithm, an employee or a combination must have designated the American Mind a “racially or ethnically oriented” publication. That’s ironic. For its 40-year history, the Claremont Institute’s animating principle has been the proposition that all human beings are created equal.

We spent hours on the phone with Google only to be told there would be no appeal and that the only remedy would be to remove the content. We asked which language violated the policy, and Google’s representative responded that it could be any number of our pieces dealing with multiculturalism.

Then, after we raised the issue publicly, Google’s Washington office contacted us, told us it was a mistake, and restored our advertising rights. We appreciate their responsiveness and professionalism. But the company’s explanation raises far more questions than it answers:

• Why do Google’s censorship “mistakes” always seem to cut against conservative speech? Google should release in full its internal instructions and guidelines that were followed by the representatives with whom we interacted.

• Google employees initially concluded the censorship decision was correct. But if the original “mistake” was indeed algorithmic, what search terms and phrases does Google police? Google should release them in full.

• Why did Google’s representatives tell Claremont that there was no appeal? And how many speakers end up being suppressed because they lack our bullhorn?

What is happening here? What is really happening here? Why the repeated actions inconsistent with public statements?

Annoy Google! Access Claremont’s American Mind site here, at which Ryan has more to say in his American Mind column “Algorithms of suppression.”

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