Last week, we received an email from Google telling us to take down one of our articles. That article was from 2016 and reported on the anti-Semitism scandal in the Oxford University Labour Society. It quoted a statement from the Oxford University Jewish Society, which detailed the racism that their members had witnessed within the university’s left wing societies. The article ended by calling for the Labour party to do more to tackle the growing menace of anti-Semitism in student societies before it becomes an institutional issue.
This article by Andrew Collins, which I have re-published in its entirety on Twitter here, was flagged by google as it apparently:
- Threatens or advocates for harm on oneself or others;
- Harasses, intimidates or bullies an individual or group of individuals; or
- Incites hatred against, promotes discrimination of, or disparages an individual or group on the basis of their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or other characteristic that is associated with systemic discrimination or marginalization.
In Great British Politics’ early years, I wrote about how hard it was to avoid Google in the modern world. Since 2013, their monopoly on internet users has become even stronger. A fight with Google means you lose, and you go out of business. Adverts run through Google’s Adsense programme represent the majority of our revenue. And, should things escalate further, a manual penalty from Google effectively takes you off the internet so far as anyone who isn’t already a regular reader knows. There is no right to reply, or mechanism to reply, should Google flag a website’s content in this way.
The article in question is a year old and is largely out of date, but for its use for historic reference. The article was written before Labour launched an inquiry into anti-Semitism in the OULS, and talks of the need for such an inquiry to take place. That inquiry has since concluded, been suppressed, and the punishments it recommended have both been handed out and overturned by Labour’s NEC.
Considering the implications of failing to comply with Google’s order, and the relevancy of the article, we decided to comply and take the piece down this time.
It appears that this has been caused by our insistence on publishing the Oxford University Jewish Society’s statement in the original article. That statement went into graphic depth describing specific incidents of abuse, which included quotes of the anti-Semitic taunts and insults that they had endured. We will not shy away from publishing such statements in future.
If we are going to report on racism, we must be able to report what actually happened. We must be able to provide readers with direct accounts of abuse, and we must be able to publish direct quotes when racism is verbal or written. It is impossible to adequately report on racism without doing so; leaving any ambiguity whatsoever about the facts helps those who wish to justify racism, and stops others from understanding or condemning it.
Google’s use of algorithms may help spot extreme content in personal blogs, message-boards or file sharing sites. Their system may work well for spotting racism in YouTube videos. It does not work when applied to news reports for this very reason.
As such, should a similar situation present itself with an article that is not out of date, our editorial team will not delete it.
Nb. Interestingly, Breitbart is not only still able to use Google’s Adsense to serve ads, they are also included in the Google News functionality which is supposed to highlight trusted news content sources. Take from that what you will.