We’ve had our differences with Google in the past, and we have ongoing concerns about tech-industry dominance, but everyone who cares about freedom of speech should resist President Trump’s latest broadside against the search engine. He issued a set of tweets Tuesday complaining that Google is “RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD.” He claimed that nearly all results were from “National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous.”
What Trump considers the dangerous press includes every mainstream news organization: The New York Times, The Washington Post, and every television network except Fox. It’s tempting to dismiss these Twitter rants as impulsive and careless, but the White House economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, followed by saying publicly that the administration was looking into regulation of Google searches.
Google responded that its algorithms are politically neutral. “Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology… We never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment.” Any attempt by the government to suppress political criticism is a step on a dangerous road.
We continue to believe that the First Amendment protects not only the news organizations that Trump attacks as dangerous but also the search engines that disseminate their news. We endorse this analysis by the legal scholar Cass Sunstein, who reminds us what James Madison wrote in 1798: that the exercise of government power to restrict the press ought
more than any other, to produce universal alarm; because it is levelled against that right of freely examining public characters and measures, and of free communication among the people thereon, which has ever been justly deemed the only effectual guardian of every other right.
And lest we forget, Trump reminded us in another tweet Thursday that authors as well as journalists are, in his vile phrase, the “Enemy of the People.”
Enemy of the People, as we’ve noted before, is a term with a dark history. Stalin, Hitler, and Mao used it to delegitimize their political opposition and to incite violence. Within hours of Trump’s latest tweet, an FBI swat team arrested a man with multiple firearms on a charge of threatening to murder journalists at the Boston Globe. In a series of phone calls, he repeatedly called them “the enemy of the people.” The president must surely be aware, too, that earlier this summer five journalists were shot and killed at the Capital Gazette in Maryland.
His escalating rhetoric is irresponsible, and it must be stopped.