Apparently this middle finger thing has touched a nerve.
I honestly didn’t intend all of this to be some free speech debate, or a discussion about why Google still doesn’t understand social. I was just mildly annoyed and found it a bit ridiculous. But these things tend to take on lives of their own. So it goes.
Before I shut up about this and attempt to get actual work done, I did want to respond to what Tom Anderson (the artist formerly known as “MySpace Tom”) wrote. To be clear, Tom reached out to me with what he was going to write beforehand, to make sure I was cool with him posting it. I obviously was. I will never have a problem with someone disagreeing with me as long as they’re not total asshats about it — and Tom is anything but.
But I still think he’s wrong.
Tom basically argues that Google has to remove content like my middle finger image just as Facebook and Twitter and MySpace have had to throughout the years. If they don’t, “it turns into a cesspool that no one wants to visit… sorta like MySpace was,” he writes. (And how fucking awesome is it that he is willing to be that brutally honest about his former company?)
Further, he sees it as no different from mall security escorting me out of the building if I wear a shirt that reads “Fuck You” or “I Hate White People” — the latter, of course, is ridiculous. As my friend Frank Barbieri writes on Twitter, “Equating middle finger to white supremacy is the 11th hr winner fr most ridiculous thing said in ‘11.”
So does Jeff Jarvis, noting that Tom’s response was “oiling the slope”. You should read his whole Google+ post, but this excerpt is key:
Google does not want — and we should not want — it to be in the position of the world’s censor. When governments — from Iran to India now — demand that Google take down links to allegedly offensive content, I among many protest.
So should Google censor societies? Why is Google+ different from search. It is a platform that people use to communicate as they use the web and Google provides the means for people and what they say to be found.
His last part there plays well into something else going around today. On MarketingLand, Danny Sullivan notes that Google may have to delete my middle finger because that image will now show up on Google searches thanks to the social features Google has added to their search engine this year.
But that’s crap. As Aaron Brazell rightly notes on Twitter, “So Google+ will remove @parislemon’s avatar but will allow their SERPs to include highly offensive anti-Semitic and homophobic results?”
So it’s broadly crap, but it’s also narrowly crap. As my CrunchFund partner Mike Arrington notes in a comment on Sullivan’s posting here:
Google doesn’t care about search results as far as I can tell - link. That was a joke picture taken by Joi Ito and he shouldn’t have uploaded it to Flickr, but it’s now the default picture for me. yay.
Sure enough, a simple Google search for “Michael Arrington” brings up *gasp* him giving the finger. It’s the first image for him and it’s shown on the first result page — whether you’re logged in or not. It has been like this for years — and Mike actually hates it.
So the rules seems to be that if you want a middle finger picture to be the image associated with you, too bad. Or if you don’t want a middle finger picture to be associated with you, too bad. Heads, Google wins. Tails, Google wins.
We’re seeing some of the problems with Google’s expansion to do everything on the web. Some of their policies in certain places seem to directly contradict their policies elsewhere. And there’s no easy solution. As a result, these types of debates will continue.
But maybe that’s what Google wants. There have been no shortage of people the past couple of days wondering if Google isn’t actively trolling me to drum up more Google+ interest and usage. Or if I’m trolling them for self-promotion. Or if we’re trolling each other. Hard to say. I’m not ruling out anything.
As always, I’ll let Steve Jobs have the final word on the matter (an image which, incidentally, Andy Hertzfeld just posted to Google+).