Monday, March 2, 2015

Google Reverses Blogger's Censorship Policy

Last Monday, Google sent an email to Blogger users who had blogs with adult content saying that there would be a change in policy on March 23, effectively banning any adult content blogs. Last Thursday,  I wrote about Blogger's new censorship policy.  Now, Google has reversed that decision, allowing people running adult blogs to continue.

On Friday, a rep from the Blogger team posted to the support page:
This week, we announced a change to Blogger’s porn policy. We’ve had a ton of feedback, in particular about the introduction of a retroactive change (some people have had accounts for 10+ years), but also about the negative impact on individuals who post sexually explicit content to express their identities. Blog owners should continue to mark any blogs containing sexually explicit content as “adult” so that they can be placed behind an ‘adult content’ warning page.
This message was also given to bloggers who had written into the Blogger support page seeking help with what to do with their accounts. A rep for Google confirmed the change in policy to BuzzFeed News.

I thought the ban was a terrible idea — it meant that people who had devoted huge amounts of time, labor, and love into their blogs would have that taken away (adult blogs wouldn’t have been technically deleted, they’d be turned “private,” which means they’d be invisible to readers). While porn spam on Blogger may be an issue, there are myriad other types of blogs that contain adult content. Their now reversed policy was vague and left many bloggers with a lot of questions.

An early employee of Blogger, Jason Shellen, told BuzzFeed News earlier this week that he thought the new policy may have been a result of Google’s shifting priorities. The original Blogger team had staunchly believed in it as a platform for free expression, and he was disappointed to hear about the change. Ironically, former Blogger founder Ev Williams, who went on later to found Twitter and then Medium, posted on Monday about new changes on Medium that would make the platform even more blogging-friendly for users and readers.

Turning all adult blogs private would have been a devastating blow for the fabric of the internet. What was likely meant to be an anti-spam measure would’ve taken away not only people’s beloved works of art and communities of readership, but also would’ve deleted incomprehensible amounts of internet history. Google is a big company with deep pockets, and to remove who knows how many (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of the works that its users had been making for more than a decade just because of some pesky spam seemed like a massive overreaction.

I’m glad that Google listened and did the right thing by reversing this decision. I hope that whatever weird interdepartmental power struggle that led to the bad idea in the first place won’t be revisited.

Owning Blogger means being the steward of millions of people’s deepest creative thoughts and feelings and art. As that steward, Google has an ethical responsibility preserve that for the internet. This is a happy day for the internet.


Michael Dodd said...

This is a reminder that sometimes we can make a change by speaking up. One thing I found frustrating about the Google/Blogger threat was that they already post warnings on blogs they consider adult-only. And many of the gay blogs I read that carry the warning NEVER show full nudity or pornographic images. They were tagged because some unknown accuser, some time somewhere, registered a complaint. Absurd!

Jay M. said...

They will still nuke you for no apparent reason, or a minimally "valid" one. That's why I now run my own blogserver, using Wordpress. Yes, my ISP has terms of service, but they prohibit illegal content, that's all.

I get the whole "commercial" porn problem on Blogger, they're giving you space, so they get a little say in what it's used for. But I agree with your excellent post wholeheartedly, and also wondered where that silly dictum came from.

At least they listened.

Here's a good one for you: Google has decided to encrypt all searches. HTTPS/SSL/Port 443 encryption. As an Internet filter administrator for a large public school system (55K student population, 28K have a 1:1 school issued laptop 24/7, the others are 2:1 - but stay at school), I am responsible for what "gets through" to student computers so we stay in compliance with the federal Childrens Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Compliance means federal dollars. But now we can no longer see search strings that students are using. Those alert us to students who may be actively searching for porn, drugs, weapons, suicide, harm to others, etc. But no more. According to G00gl3, it's more important to protect citizens in totalitarian regimes than our own school kids. Too bad Google isn't concerned about that. My job just became exponentially more difficult. Thank you G00l3.

Peace <3

SteveXS said...

Clear and coherent statement of the issues and dangers to free expression. Thanks, Joe!