This article was published on January 18, 2010

The Real Story in the Google – Encyclopedia Dramatica Censorship Saga

The Real Story in the Google – Encyclopedia Dramatica Censorship Saga
Kim Heras
Story by

Kim Heras

Kim Heras is a Sydney-based technology writer and entrepreneur. His passions include the Australian startup industry, innovation and the Kim Heras is a Sydney-based technology writer and entrepreneur. His passions include the Australian startup industry, innovation and the web as an enabler of change. You can follow Kim on twitter - @kimheras

censorshipSeems to be a bit of hype growing about the recent Google unlinking to pages on US-based Encyclopedia Dramatica(ED), a satirical version of Wikipedia.

The gist of the story is that a particular ED entry contained racist comments about Aboriginal Australians. An Aboriginal man took his complaint with the page to the Australian Human Rights Commission asking for the page to be blocked. Google Australia responded by removing the allegedly discriminatory content from their search engine.

At first there were stories on the SMH saying the site had been banned. There were other posts that covered the topic and now there’s a post on Google Blogoscoped that  has made it onto the front page of Techmeme .

In any case, the best take on the whole affair comes from Duncan Riley over at the Inquisitr, who wrote about it a couple of days ago when the story first popped up.

First – Google did not block ED. It didn’t even block or remove references to ED from sites outside of Australia. All they did was remove links to the articles in question when searching using

Does this amount to censorship by Google? No. Google Australia was following what it believed were its obligations under Australian law.

I can see the press wanting to make a Google story about this (maybe in light of the whole China row), but there’s nothing really here from a Google story POV.

Where there might be a story, of course, is in relation to the Government’s proposed mandatory ISP filtering, The “Cleanfeed”.

At first glance there would appear to be differences between the two stories.

In the Google/ED case only pages (as opposed to the site) are being targeted and the de-linking has been requested as a result of a citizen complaint, in-line with transparent processes provided by legislation. Also, all that is being done here is the de-linking of search results. It seems that the goal here is to stop people falling over and easily accessing the content in question (you can still access it in any number of other ways).

That sounds kind of fair.

The Cleanfeed, on the other hand, is to be mandatory filtering of sites by ISPs based on a list compiled by Government. The result, in the case of the Cleanfeed, would seem to be that anyone in Australia would be incapable of easily accessing the whole of ED. (once again there are work arounds, so it’s not a complete solution).

That sounds kind of dumb.

Then again, because the vast majority of information search in Australia goes through Google you could easily argue that while there is a difference between the two processes, there is little difference between the two outcomes i.e. no easy finding/viewing of a particular page because a higher authority has deemed that you shouldn’t be able to.

And that is at the heart of the arguments I’ve been running about the Cleanfeed for quite some time.

I don’t believe people have a problem with the high-level desired outcomes of the Cleanfeed (protect the kids etc.). I believe people have a problem with the process, yet few people, if any, have offered up genuine alternatives.

I say ‘genuine’ because the argument for non-censorship as an alternative is nonsensical. Censorship across all forms of media, and life more generally, has happened in the past, happens now and will always happen.

What needs to be presented are alternate ways for the Government to achieve its outcomes. I think it’s clear that the Government doesn’t understand the nature of the Internet. If they did, they would not have proposed the current Cleanfeed process. But they have.

Past efforts, while creating a lot of noise, did little to stop the Cleanfeed from marching on. They were akin to yelling at a deaf-person. Lots of people heard what we were shouting, but not the intended target.

I suggest that our job as a community is to find new ways to communicate with Government. To educate, to explain there are alternatives and to ensure that as decision-makers they’ll choose one of our options, rather than the options that are being positioned by other lobbying groups.

Or don’t.

The point is we have options for how we engage with Government and we have to bet on one way or another, now.

The possible outcomes are a direct result of the choice we make and the choice we make ought to be a direct result of rational contemplation of the facts, not of some emotional reaction to the thought that censorship is the unique domain of the Cleanfeed.

So, for those who think that working with Government might be an option, once again I ask, does anyone have at least one genuine alternative to what the Government is proposing?

I suspect the answer is no, or at least, not yet,  and that is the real story here.

Let the flaming begin…

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