Is Google violating a company’s First Amendment rights when they block the company from search results if Google believes the company is engaging in search engine manipulation?
Google’s definitions of search engine optimization and search engine manipulation are similar and vague, but if it is true that search engine manipulation applies to spam with fraudulent intent, then Google is preventing criminal behavior (CAN-SPAM Act), not engaging in it. Google, its lawyers, and (ultimately) Judge Paul Magnuson argue that Google has the right to choose which results to display and in which order, just as an editor of a newspaper or magazine can choose which stories to publish and which ones to put on the front page. Some also argue that since Google is a private company, the question of First Amendment rights is irrelevant. Blocked companies aren’t being prosecuted or restricted by the government and therefore their rights are not being infringed upon.
However, if Google is, for some reason, unfairly using their search engine manipulation rules to prevent a company’s message from showing up in search results, then Google is infringing on that company’s First Amendment rights of freedom of speech. Google doesn’t get to pick and choose who gets to spread messages without a legal reason. Although there are other search engines, Google is by far the most widely used. With how widespread the internet now is, many people rely almost exclusively on Google for access to information. If Google blocks that access, a company may lose its only viable way of expressing that information. Likewise, you could argue that Google is infringing your First Amendment rights by denying you access to accurate information.
As many directions as this can be argued, courts tend to side with Google in recent years.
Google, Facebook, and Twitter are social media companies that have people express their free speech on accounts or in search results. To contrast, Google has been struggling with free speech since 2006 from companies that expecting to see their websites at the top of the results instead wound up a few spots or are on the second page. So, the companies are filing antitrust lawsuits arguing that Google was manipulating its results to favor certain companies and stifle competition. But, Google been on a winning streak with the conventional wisdom around the notion that search results count as free speech. To add, Harvard Law School’s Noah Feldman added about Twitter, “there’s no right to free speech on Twitter and the only rule that Twitter Inc. gets to decide who speaks and listens–which is right under the First Amendment”. To agree with Noah on this many people post, tweet, and snap their opinion all the time, but whatever social media site people are on those companies can influence on what you hear and listen to. An example is Facebook, they explicitly ban hate speech and they delete about 66,000 hate speech posts a month worldwide.
Caplan, L., Simonite, T., Griffith, E., Thompson, N., Matsakis, L., Matsakis, L. and Matsakis, L. Caplan, Lincoln et al. “Should Facebook And Twitter Be Regulated Under The First Amendment?.” WIRED, 2018, https://www.wired.com/story/should-facebook-and-twitter-be-regulated-under-the-first-amendment/.
Recently free speech in the workplace has become a bigger concern among the public after a Google employee was fired for sending out a memo criticizing the company’s policy. Many were defending the former employee, explaining that the information he provided was something that should be exposed so a change can be made, and he was within his free speech rights. So, the question is are employees protected by the freedom of speech clause of the First Amendment? Generally the First Amendment only protects a citizens rights from the government. Private workplaces are allowed to create their own policies on the matter, and employees are required to follow them. An employee of a private corporation will not be protected by the first amendment if they were to say something the company considers defamatory. I agree that if something slanderous or defamatory is said towards an employer or company by an employee, the employer is well within their rights to fire them for it. However if someone has religious, political beliefs, etc, that differ from their employer, I feel the employees should be fully protected by the first amendment from losing their job for that reason. For example, in 2004, Lynne Gobbell was fired from her job simply for having a John Kerry bumper sticker, which her employer disapproved of. This is just one of many examples that puts Jeanette Cox’s quote, “to keep your job, you often can’t say what you like.”, into context. So in conclusion, Are employees protected? Generally speaking, no. There are basic things employees are allowed to discuss and still be protected, such as wages and hours, however the employers still will have final say in what is considered acceptable while under their employment.
- Find Law. “Freedom Of Speech In The Workplace: The First Amendment Revisited.”Findlaw, corporate.findlaw.com/law-library/freedom-of-speech-in-the-workplace-the-first-amendment-revisited.html.
- Staff, Marketplace. “The First Amendment Won’t Protect You from Saying Something Your Company Doesn’t Like.” Marketplace, Marketplace, 8 Aug. 2017, www.marketplace.org/2017/08/08/business/speaking-out-workplace.
- Cox, Jeannette. “A Chill Around the Water Cooler: First Amendment in the Workplace.” A Chill Around the Water Cooler: First Amendment in the Workplace, www.americanbar.org/publications/insights_on_law_andsociety/15/winter-2015/chill-around-the-water-cooler.html.
- Isidore, Chris. “Free Speech on the Job, and What That Means.” CNNMoney, Cable News Network, money.cnn.com/2017/08/08/technology/google-workplace-free-speech/index.html.