At Reason this week, Elizabeth Nolan Brown reports on a disturbing move by Senate Democrats to try to pressure Google to act as a “filter” that would prevent searches for information on abortion and pregnancy services from returning links to crisis pregnancy centers. In theory, Google is just supposed to return the most relevant search results and let the chips fall where they may. (Of course, we all know by now that Google doesn’t really work that way, but it’s supposed to in theory.) The fact that such results were showing up prompted 21 Democratic senators, including Dianne Feinstein, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar to send a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, asking him to block links to crisis pregnancy centers when users search on terms including “abortion center” or just “abortion.” As Nolan Brown points out, this form of suppression should not be undertaken by Google in any sort of free-market system.
In the latest iteration of this phenomenon, 21 senators have sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai complaining that people who search for information about abortions may be led to websites for crisis pregnancy centers…
In their letter to Google, the senators—including Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), and Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.)—give the impression that all crisis pregnancy centers falsely represent themselves as abortion clinics. “We write today regarding disturbing new reports that Google has been directing users who search for abortion services towards anti-abortion ‘fake clinics,’ also known as ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ or ‘pregnancy resource centers,'” they state.
They call on Google to “limit the appearance of anti-abortion fake clinics or so-called ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ in Google search results, Google Ads, and on Google maps when users search for ‘abortion clinic,’ ‘abortion pill,’ or similar terms.” They ask that Google attach disclaimers to crisis pregnancy center websites that appear in search results.
Most of you are probably already familiar with crisis pregnancy centers, if only because liberal, pro-abortion activists have been firebombing some of them lately as a way to protest the Supreme Court. Those centers are typically operated by religious or faith-based groups and they encourage women to reject abortion when they unexpectedly become pregnant, instead offering them resources to get through the process and consider adoption as an alternative. Reason describes crisis pregnancy centers in fairly accusatory terms, but still concedes their right to exist and operate.
We already know that Google, along with Twitter and Facebook, engages in “shadow banning” of people with opinions or information that is unpopular on the left. Sadly, as private companies, they are largely able to operate as they please in this regard. But that’s only when Google is making the decision to do that on its own. Since only the Government can violate the free speech clause of the First Amendment, private companies such as Google cannot generally have that sort of charge levied against them.
The situation changes entirely when the government involves itself in this process, either directly or indirectly. The government blocking access to such information for women seeking resources when they become pregnant should be viewed as being blatantly unconstitutional. If members of Congress are pressuring social media platforms to act in this way, the result is the same. And make no mistake about this. Congress is in the process of considering proposals that would regulate the actions and operation of social media platforms. Google is no doubt aware of this and could feel pressure from these Senators because they might be in a position to vote on measures that would directly impact Google.
While not all crisis pregnancy centers are created equal, the fact is that most of them operate fairly and offer pro-life alternatives to women who may feel trapped and believe that abortion is their only option. To block access to information about these centers is simply wrong, in addition to being a free speech violation. And as Nolan Brown points out, this could backfire for Democrats in a significant way when the shoe is eventually on the other foot.
The best way to counter bad information is to get people good information, not to strong-arm private actors into spreading only your preferred messages. A government powerful enough to bully tech companies into obscuring information about anti-abortion centers is also one powerful enough to bully tech companies into hiding info about how to obtain an abortion—and about a whole lot else.
Well said. And this applies to so many other things in American politics, ranging from the filibuster to the budget.