March 15, 2007 2:00 PM PDT

Google grapples with increasingly political Web

WASHINGTON--With the Internet poised to be the "epicenter" of the 2008 elections, Google is contemplating how best to keep candidate information readily accessible without allowing the Web to transform into a giant tabloid.

One major question the company faces is how to "provide a platform for free expression without exacerbating the ugliness," Elliot Schrage, the company's vice president of global communications, said at the annual Politics Online Conference here Thursday afternoon.

Elliot Schrage Elliot Schrage

Schrage pointed to what he called a "disturbing" video posted by a YouTube user that featured the late son of presidential hopeful John Edwards. He said the company, after much contemplation, ultimately decided it was not in a position to remove it.

"We are redefining boundaries when it comes to the personal lives of candidates and their families," Schrage said in his conference keynote speech at George Washington University. "We all have to be more vigilant about protecting the truth."

As more and more candidates and voters use the Web as a soapbox, the public-relations chief acknowledged that the search giant is left in an awkward place. He said he believes that "self-policing" is the best way to prevent online mudslinging.

"We're not in the business of assessing truth or falsity," he said in response to an audience member's follow-up question. "That's not a path we want to take, or we think is appropriate, or our users would expect."

Schrage was also quick to point out the unprecedented democratizing benefits he believes the Web has brought to candidates and voters. He said the Internet has led to easier interaction between politicians and constituents, greater accountability for politicians who make missteps and a broader fundraising base.

Google hopes to promote that exchange by creating a special sales team to handle ad requests from political campaigns. It has also invited all of the 2008 presidential candidates to journey to the Googleplex to "talk tech and policy and maybe even grab lunch," Schrage said.

If the candidates agree to it, Google hopes to film some of the visit and put the videos they produce online, he added. YouTube recently launched a site called YouChoose '08 that provides an official platform for the presidential candidates to post videos.

Other concerns range from so-called Google bombing--that is, manipulating search rankings to render artificial results--to what Schrage deemed the very real possibility of political spyware planting itself on unsuspecting users' computers.

For the company that likes to say its mission is organizing the world's information, it will remain a challenge to give voters the information they need without overwhelming them, Schrage said.

"I defy anyone here to search for 'Hillary 2008' and read all the results without passing out," he quipped, adding: "not because of the content, mind you, but because of the volume."

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4 comments

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Obviously search technology needs to evolve...
Google has great search technology as far as it goes, but we still need to be able to classify content. It would be great to have some standard meta tags that allow sites to classify content beyond the limited use of keywords now. It would be great to see some simple classification of web content. E.g.:

- Result page is:
- news provider
- blog
- user forum post
- corporate/vendor site
- personal site
- government site
- political party site
- lobby/interest group
- social networking site
- education site
- standards organization

- For blogs and user forum posts, are user's identities verified or not?

- Is the information posted by the vendor or "owner", or is it third party information or opinions?

- Does the search result actually contain the requested information, or does it attempt to sell a product?

I would like to be able to include or exclude results based on classification.

I would like to be able to maintain a list of blacklisted sites that are always <u>excluded</u> from my search results.

I would also like to be able to whitelist sites for which I would like to see search results prioritized.

I would like to be able to report sites that are misclassified or otherwise misleadingly listed in search results.
Posted by fcekuahd (244 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Free speech and America won, John Edwards lost
This is a great story.

It shows how ordinary citizens are bypassing the old media and
are getting involved in the political process and that when folks
like John Edwards and his followers don't like the videos being
posted and try to get them removed - companies like Google/
YouTube stand up for free speech and allow the video to remain.


The Constitution is still alive.

Shame on Edwards hiding in his mansion and his followers
trying to stifle dissent in America.
Posted by RandyLado (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Free Speech
You're welcome to your opinion.

As far as I'm concerned, Google is a company with no ethics
whatsoever.

When Google talks about "redefining" bounds, all they really
mean is that they'll let anybody post anything they want, true or
not, demeaning or not, and they'll show it. That's how they're
"redefining" bounds.

John Edward's "late" Son? I won't even bother to go looking for
that video. I can only assume it's something very hurtful to the
Edwards family and they probably have reason for not wanting it
to be shown.

Yet for some reason, you feel this falls under "free speech".

Guess what, if it's ever YOUR late Son, and I hope that never
happens, I doubt you'll be praising Google. If it's ever Google's
resources being used to destroy your life, or the life of
somebody you care about, I doubt you'll be praising them in that
circumstance either. But for the time being, go right ahead and
talk about how great Google is for posting unflattering videos of
a candidates LATE Son.

Now why don't you tell me how an (undoubtedly) unflattering
video of a candidate's LATE Son has anything at all to do with
that candidate CURRENTLY running for office?

Freedom of speech has it's bounds. As far as I'm concerned,
Google is not only criminal in the way it violates those bounds,
but in the way it's twisted people's definition of "free speech".
Posted by chuck_whealton (521 comments )
Link Flag
Google needs to be watched
Google needs to be watched.

The head honchos at Google all contribute heavily to the Democrat party, the new "party of the rich".
Posted by fafafooey (171 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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