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Google rejects AdWords critical of Scientology.
March 27, 2002 7:07 AM   Subscribe

Google rejects AdWords critical of Scientology. I hate this topic but I can't leave it alone. Google is being accused of being overly cautious in all its dealings with Scientology. A Google rep is quoted to say that they are under no pressure from Scientology to reject the ads. (more inside)
posted by maudlin (25 comments total)

 
I can't really blame Google for being cautious. The Church of Scientology is notoriously litigious, and would not hesitate to file a defamation lawsuit against Google (you can be liable for defamation simply by "publishing" the defamatory words of others). Whether or not the suit would ultimately win, simply defending against it would be difficult for an organization without deep pockets.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:15 AM on March 27, 2002


(pardonyou? already said this much more succinctly, but I have a little more here. Damn me for searching out yet another link for my comment!)

I think one analogy developed in the article, however, isn't accurate. A letter from Google states that "Anti-scientology ads are disapproved per our policy of no ads that advertise 'sites that advocate against any individual, group, or organization.' " A few paragraphs later, an ad Google accepted for a site that counsels teenage girls to carry unwanted pregnancies to term is described as anti-abortion.

John Hiler then states: "It's not immediately clear to Microcontent News how the anti-abortion ad is substantially different than an anti-Scientology ad." I see the difference right here: the standupgirl.com ad does not advocate against any "individual, group, or organization". If these ads claimed, for example, that Planned Parenthood was a nefarious organization with a hidden agenda, then I think there would be a true parallel with the anti-Scientology ads.

I think Google is between a rock and a hard place. I would *love* to see it accept all kinds of provocative ads, but as long as it's an American business facing an intensely litigious organization, then I agree with Fred von Lohmann of the EFF: "It is well within Google's rights to only sell ads that don't generate lawsuits."

I've seen a few posts elsewhere chastising Google for its cowardice, but keep in mind that the xenu.net site is hosted in Europe. Should we also accuse the people running that site of cowardice for a) failing to host it in the States and face down the Scientologists and b) failing to counter the Google/DMCA copyright violation claims and face the Scientologists in American courts?

I don't think they're cowards, and I don't think Google are cowards either.

(Final disclaimer: yes, I've mentioned ab*rtion. I really hope this topic doesn't become a focus of this thread).
posted by maudlin at 7:23 AM on March 27, 2002


What I find disquieting is that if Scientology "wins" this war, by burying critical pieces of information with massive linking, stamped-out homepages and litigation, history will be rewritten. CoS members already believe some outrageous lies about Hubbard. If history and facts are censored/cleansed out of collective knowledge, a few decades down the road CoS may end up being a "legitimate" church along the Catholic one, for example --never mind the Church of Christ Scientist which at some point provoked as much controversy...

Historically, religions for some reason have managed to engage in acts of censorship that no other organization --at least one not backed by military force-- could dream of. One easy example for this Greek is the "cleansed" statues of ancient Greece that survived centuries of corrosion but not the censorship of the (then Unified) Christian Church --that's why most ancient sculptures lack male genitalia.

There, "genitalia" and "abortion" in the same thread as "scientology"... is this the trifecta?
posted by costas at 7:46 AM on March 27, 2002


You all realise with all this hoopla that Xenu has gotten it's message across far more effectively than they could ever have hoped for without the scientologist sticking in their oar.
posted by zeoslap at 7:56 AM on March 27, 2002


once afghanistan and the axis of evil countries are flattened - THEN the dubyameister and dj chain-ee, assisted by the ashcroft-inator will see to it that those scientologists get theirs. but for right now, there is a war on guys! you don't want the terrorists to win, do you?!
posted by quonsar at 8:01 AM on March 27, 2002


Google's behaviour throughout the course of this controversy appears to be consistent with that of any commercial entity carefully trying to avoid getting sued. As much as some may hope that Google might have become the next anti-$cientology champion, it isn't going to happen. They, sensibly, don't seem to see it as their fight.

$cientology has deep pockets and has repeatedly and consistently demonstrated its relish of long and expensive legal processes in the application of its 'fair game' doctrine. Even if Google were ultimately to win a legal wrangle with the $cientologists, it would be an unprofitable victory.
posted by normy at 8:01 AM on March 27, 2002


Now that Google has put up the deja.com archives, has there been any censorship of certain posts from alt.religion.scientology? (I recall that there was a big stink about the posting of some of $cieno's "religious texts" some time ago.) Personally, I think that goes hand-in-hand with this ad thing, but I wonder if the newsgroup archive deal has it's own particulars that makes censorship of newsgroup posts more/less difficult.

$cientology has deep pockets

The reason why it does, of course, is that they're the only "religion" that charges its members to see their materials. That said...I wonder if John Travolta gets his brainwashing...er, services for free, or if he gets charged more?
posted by PeteyStock at 8:41 AM on March 27, 2002


Entities that sell advertising space have the right to accept or refuse any ad they want to, for any reason they see fit. I don't see why Google should be any different. Advertising is not 'free speech' and you just don't have the right to buy advertising space anywhere you want for anything you want. If Google doesn't want to do something, they don't have to. Why should they have to justify their decisions to outsiders? I don't see the controversy here.
posted by spilon at 8:50 AM on March 27, 2002


Should we also accuse the people running that site of cowardice for a) failing to host it in the States and face down the Scientologists and b) failing to counter the Google/DMCA copyright violation claims and face the Scientologists in American courts?

I agree with your conclusions, but raising these points shows that there's a bigger struggle going on right now for jurisdiction over the net. You've got the legal outreach of the DMCA and possibly the SSSCA, combined with the move by ICANN to reject grassroots opinion in favour of governments and corporations. It's an odd mongrel situation, with the least palatable elements of First Amendment freedoms (Yahoo's Nazi gear auctions vs France's prohibition) and corporatised Congressional restrictions. And it suggests that the next few years will prove whether govts and corporations dictate content and access, either by controlling the sources, or legislating against perceived threats.
posted by riviera at 8:53 AM on March 27, 2002


I don't understand why someone can't advertise a book. What is the legal basis of that? If a publisher and a retailer are happy to present a book, then why shouldn't Google allow it to be advertised?

I accept that they are on dodgy ground in respect to carrying advertising for certain sites, but censoring advertising for a publisher book is surely not acceptable. Unless I'm missing something that is.
posted by RobertLoch at 8:58 AM on March 27, 2002


...raising these points shows that there's a bigger struggle going on right now for jurisdiction over the net.

I definitely agree. As a Canadian, I can't bring much pressure to bear on Congress about the DMCA, although I am keeping track of what's happening with similar ventures here.
posted by maudlin at 9:00 AM on March 27, 2002


Can't much blame the Google folk for not wanting their family homes picketed, their dogs drowned, their reputations tainted as whacked-out Scieno robots spread lies about pedophilia about them.

Scientology is a bully organization. And, unfortunately, it works: no one in their right mind would willingly put themselves in the Scieno spotlight.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:36 AM on March 27, 2002


I definitely agree. As a Canadian, I can't bring much pressure to bear on Congress about the DMCA

neither can americans... err, poor americans i mean!
posted by rhyax at 10:22 AM on March 27, 2002


I see the difference right here: the standupgirl.com ad does not advocate against any "individual, group, or organization". If these ads claimed, for example, that Planned Parenthood was a nefarious organization with a hidden agenda, then I think there would be a true parallel with the anti-Scientology ads.

Yes, you're right. But if the ads were anti-scientology (rather than anti-church of scientology) that distinction kind of disappears.
posted by jnthnjng at 10:33 AM on March 27, 2002


Suppressive Acts are covert or overt acts calculated to reduce the influence of Scientology As persons or groups that would do such a thing act out of self interest only to the detriment of all others, they cannot be granted the rights and beingness ordinarily accorded rational beings and so place themselves beyond any consideration for their feelings or well being. This person or group then becomes a Suppressive person. Once you are a Suppressive person, you become eligible for 'fair game', which means you can be 'tricked, cheated, lied to, sued, or destroyed.'

"The law can be used very easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway... will generally be sufficient to cause his professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly." - L. Ron Hubbard

Scientology is a cult and disease. I understand Google's position of not wanting to be sued. However most people have nice warm fuzzies about Google, and this action reminds us, that they are Company making money. Ultimately, I think this might hurt google, by decreasing customer loyalty. I mean what will they stand up for?
posted by patrickje at 10:43 AM on March 27, 2002


Yes, you're right. But if the ads were anti-scientology (rather than anti-church of scientology) that distinction kind of disappears.

yes, but from the first question in the xenu.net FAQ:

People should be free to believe whatever they want, including Scientology. What I have against CoS is its deceitfulness, its lack of compassion for its members (especially the hard-working staff), its aggressive hard sell, its arrogance, its attack on free speech, its litigiousness, its harassment of its critics, its lack of concern for families, its gross neglect and abuse of children, etc.

so since the entire anti-scientology argument is against the actions of the church, it's impossible to not direct the ads at an individual or group without giving up the argument you're trying to advertise.
posted by chrisege at 11:15 AM on March 27, 2002


...most people have nice warm fuzzies about Google, and this action reminds us, that they are Company making money. Ultimately, I think this might hurt google, by decreasing customer loyalty. I mean what will they stand up for?

I see nothing wrong with a company fairly and honestly earning a profit while delivering a useful product. My major concern with Google over the past couple of weeks has been the integrity of its database and page ranking algorithm. If Scientology has indeed created a dogpile of sites to keep the first few pages of results for its puppet sites, I'd lilke to see Google do something to correct that. Google has returned the xenu.net home page to its database and the site ranks at #4 in a search on scientology. It has not returned the xenu.net subsidiary pages that are claimed to violate copyright, but as xenu.net isn't coming forward to deal with the nasty, lengthy and very expensive litigation required to beat back Scientology, why should Google be *required* to fight xenu.net's battles for it?

I'd hate to see Google become Scentology's bitch. But it ain't your momma either. If anyone out there thinks Google gives up all moral standing if it refuses to accept ads that will probably lead it into a expensive lawsuit -- even if it finally wins -- then you go first. Do you have a site or a blog? Are you disappointed in Google? Then solicit your own set of ads against Scientology, or post your own detailed research and statements against the church. (Be careful not to even appear to violate copyright if you're in the U.S., of course, as the current laws put you at a disadvantage).

Then come back here and tell us all about it.
posted by maudlin at 12:01 PM on March 27, 2002


If you look at this, you will note some of the language used in the $cieno's letter to Google. Also, Reuters interview with Andreas this past Friday is here. I don't blame him for wanting to avoid a suit in the US, although it IS curious why Co$ fails to pursue anything legal-wise in Norway.

I continue to find it interesting that Co$'s legal beagles (and that's all they are, is yappy, annoying dogs) like to carpet-bomb these DMCA complaints on the ISPs (and, now, portals). However, you think they would've learned by now that Clambake is hosted in Norway, and has mirrors all over the place? Personally I would like to see some sort of legal precendent about the applicability of DMCA to sites hosted/administered in other countries.
posted by PeteyStock at 12:34 PM on March 27, 2002


Then come back here and tell us all about it.

Yep

It's been done.
posted by NsJen at 6:20 PM on March 27, 2002


Google's rejecting all ads that might disparage someone. I'm currently running a silly little online poll to find the most annoying person in Boston. Today I created a Google ad that read "Mike Barnicle vs. Alan Dershowitz. Who's more annoying? Vote!" It ran for a couple of hours before Google stopped it and sent me a note that said:

"At this time, we are not running ads for sites that advocate against any individual, group or organization. We review ads on a case-by-case basis and reserve the right to not run certain ads, or certain categories of ads. Due to our current ads policy, we are unable to run your ad on Google.

"Google believes strongly in freedom of expression and therefore offers broad access to content across the web without censoring results. At the same time, we reserve the right to exercise editorial discretion when it comes to the advertising we accept on our site, as noted in our advertising terms and conditions. Please note that the decisions we make concerning advertising in no way affect the search results we deliver."
posted by agaffin at 8:57 PM on March 27, 2002


I was curious to see if there were any pro-choice ads for the search word "abortion", so I did a Google search and found that the first search result listed was for Ardent Communications, a company that seems to have absolutely _nothing_ to do with abortion.

What the heck? Maybe they got Googlebombed? Or perhaps a really savvy hack or something?

(Yes, I sent Google a little feedback note that my search result was "Off Topic").
posted by beth at 11:45 PM on March 27, 2002


The other funny thing about beth's search was the "Need Term Papers?" ad. Something about the "abortion demographic" having lots of students?
posted by rodii at 7:00 AM on March 28, 2002


Interesting angle, rodii. The first thing that popped into my head when I saw the term papers ad was that lots of students choose abortion as a topic to write papers about, that's all.

More like the student demographic being likely to do a search on "abortion" as a first step to writing a paper about it.
posted by beth at 12:12 PM on March 28, 2002


Of course, duh. Still it's weird that it's a pronounced enough thing to be worth advertising term papers on.
posted by rodii at 5:07 PM on March 28, 2002


I've seen a few posts elsewhere chastising Google for its cowardice, but keep in mind that the xenu.net site is hosted in Europe.

Also note that Scientologists exist in Europe and aren't afraid to use local laws. Also, Andreas Heldal-Lund didn't just change his name so he sounds Norwegian, he is Norwegian. The assumption that he's some exile is false. The implication that Scientologists are powerless outside the red, white, and blue is equally false. I'd normally say do a google search, but I'm not so sure now.


You all realise with all this hoopla that Xenu has gotten it's message across far more effectively than they could ever have hoped for without the scientologist sticking in their oar.

For the moment, yes. Wonderful. In a year from now ask the very same people what xenu.net is after discoving it last week. I'd much rather see xenu be able to buy a few ads now and again than get 15 minutes of fame like a broken mp3 looping on 'eye of the tiger.'

Advertising is not 'free speech' and you just don't have the right to buy advertising space anywhere you want for anything you want.

What? What happened to the tradition of negative political ads, consumer targeted advertising that borders on lies, Joe Camel, etc? They're around in one form or another. Money is speech in so many ways in the US, its not even funny.

I see two distinct problems here - google has too much to lose by doing anything provocative because of its big-time status. Smart strategy until it pissess off your customers but while google holds the best hand in the search engine game no one is leaving. They could flash banner ads calling Mike Skallas an idiot and a common thief and I would still use it.

Secondly, they are a *HUGE* target because of their legally wishy-washy cache. They just don't index the web, they become it. While the Sword of Damocles hangs over them over massive copyright infringement they're going to do what they're told when it comes to secrets, copyrights, patents, tonics, etc.

Lastly, google's policy is pretty common, but after their DMCA freakout they're going to look bad for a long time and this isn't going to help.
posted by skallas at 5:38 PM on March 28, 2002


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