Google once again has found itself in a bit of controversy over allegations that it is censoring some sources while favoring others. The website Prison Planet, which is run by right-wing talk show host Alex Jones, claims that Google has banned Prison Planet’s articles from appearing on Google News searches. Indeed, a simple search shows that Google is still producing links to Prison Planet pieces on its general search platform (including the one slamming Google), but evidently no Prison Planet articles were deemed worthy of the “news” search, according to the Google corporation.
Much of what is written on Prison Planet is controversial, which may have led to Google’s decision. Jones claims that the 9/11 attacks may have been an “inside job” and that the government is currently organizing FEMA camps, where large numbers of citizens will be detained in the future. Often the stories on Prison Planet rely on anonymous sources, unverified documents, or merely some “fuzzy logic.”
Having said that, the Prison Planet website does have a very large following. As “out there” as many of Jones’ conspiracy theories may be, there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who find the stories to be of interest. This fact alone would seem to warrant Prison Planet’s articles’ being included as “news.” Google is now the dominant medium through which many people find their information. As such, Google has a significant amount of power in determining what will qualify as “news” for the millions of people who use Google’s search engine.
There would seem to be no harm in including Prison Planet articles, as long as Google News also includes articles that debunk or criticize the claims made by Jones. In the market place of ideas, Prison Planet articles should be exposed as untrue if they are forced to compete with other articles. By blacklisting Prison Planet, Google may only be feeding into the “conspiracy theory” reasoning of Jones. Google now essentially becomes part of the alleged government plot to “cover up the truth” of Prison Planet.
Jones has responded by calling Google “evil” and accusing it of censorship. Google is a private corporation, and, as such, it can decide what links it wants to feature. Google has never hidden the fact that it will feature some links from companies that pay Google to do so. The First Amendment restrictions apply to government, not private corporations, so Google can decide not to feature Prison Planet, just like Fox News decides not to host Keith Olbmermann. Google likely was making a business decision in this case, deeming Prison Planet as a danger to the credibility of the “news” segment of its website. Ironically, Jones may have been a victim of the very capitalist philosophy he espouses.