It is almost believable to be that some one is actually suggesting this kind of thinly veiled move toward censorship, but that is exactly what Evgeny Morozov is proposing. Morozov is a writer of a book and researcher that focuses on how the use of technology tends to affect the social aspects of society at large, so his opinion piece recently suggesting such a move of labeling websites that may be based more on pseudo science as such has gotten a lot of attention. Now to be sure, after reading his opinion and listening to parts of his recent interview Q, his actual idea is to label the sites actually based on science or even move them up in the page rankings.
His side is best illustrated with the controversy that surrounds vaccines for a small percentage of the population. That small group believes the vaccines cause problems of various types and object to having their children vaccinated. And of course, as a general rule this kind of objecting group tends to be very vocal about their viewpoint, especially on media such as the internet. So when a parent that is kind of on the fence about the vaccine issue goes to a Google to find additional information, they enter a search question like “It it risking to vaccinate your child?”
Of course to someone technical like myself, I immediately see the problems with the search itself worded that way. Regardless though, such a search is apt to turn up mostly sites that do take the stance of it is a risk – and most of those would place higher than any actual scientific based sites.
Morozov suggestion is that for any kind of searches that meet two criteria, controversy and public concern, that the search engines, like Google, should flag that sites that are actually based on science (in his words easily determined based on science being peer-reviewed) as being more reliable information then something that may be based on loose scientific principle or even less credible informational sources.
While I will quickly agree with Morozov in regards to the amount of false and misleading information out there on this big all internet (look to on of my favorites, the disputing of the scientific ideas behind global climate change), to move this way borders on censorship and certainly a slippery slope to such. As I have said before, the power of the internet is in part, that I have almost as much opportunity to get my message out there and heard as anyone else, including someone with a LOT more money. By moving in this direction, someone, maybe Google, maybe other search engines, or maybe a government agency is going to be deciding first what issues meet the two criteria and then second what sites are more valid and which are not.
In that mere instant right there, someone is decided what is more accurate, someone who is not me is where the problem begins. I would expect someone Morozov credentials and background to have thought such a proposition through further before make such a suggestion. Yes, there are short comings such a system in the allowance of misinformation to flourish, but I would rather the choices on what is opinions be left up to me to make such for myself rather than someone else.
** – Image is cover of Morozov’s book, from the Amazon website.