Google forbids political speech

Allow me to be clear: Google will still index your site, but you may not advertise using AdWords if your site has anything negative to say about George Bush. In response to my question about why I was “disapproved” I received the following:

<snip>
I have reviewed your website and would like to explain the reason for this
disapproval. As an example of language that advocates against an
individual, group, or organization, in the entry entitled ‘NOT-SO-GLAD
TIDINGS’ all the excerpts from the letter you received would be fall under
this category advocating against women, liberals and homosexuals.
Additionally, you go on in your commentary to use language that advocates
against President Bush. All of this sort of material would need to be
removed before we would approve the ad to run on Google.
</snip>

It seems you are allowed to “advocate against” poverty. And you can advocate for bush in interesting ways. You can even run pretty clear political ads in favor of George Bush and get AdWords for those. But if you speak against Bush, or quote someone who speaks in a particular way, you are no longer acceptable to Google. Am I the only one who sees this as a problem?

My emailed response is below.

Ketzel,

Thank you for your response.

I am troubled not so much by the lines you have drawn, but by an unequal application of those lines. For example, you accept direct links to campaign ads in *favor* of the president (i.e., “republicangear.com”), but are discontinuing my advertisement. You note that I “use language that advocates against president Bush.” I’m not sure how you gathered this from the entry. At no point do I specifically say anything about George Bush, except to note that a following excerpt is in regards to his election.

Allowing some political speech while not allowing other speech would suggest that your company has taken an editorial position on the topic. Censorship is a strange business to get into. Naturally, as a consultant, I would like to avail myself of Google’s advertising. But if that advertising is specifically in favor of a particular political party, I–along with many other advertisers, I assume–am not interested.

Please refund my my AdWords payment. The contracted service was not delivered. Nowhere in the application did it suggest that speech against George Bush was against the rules.

Thank you,

Alex Halavais

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7 Comments

  1. Posted 3/16/2004 at 2:01 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the update. Of course, the bigger any organization or company gets, the more byzantine its rules and regulations get and the weirder the requests it starts to make… but this is really not good news. What’s next? Censor^H^H^H^H^H^H Tweaking their search algorithms even further to promote or demote particular results? Google also owns Blogger and I wonder if we can expect a change in the TOS there.

    Paranoid speculation aside, they have a right to _not_ offer their Adwords service to certain sites, but the criteria they offer really damage the image of Google as a (mostly) neutral and “we don’t do evil things” company.

    If this is the sort of thing that can creep up in the company from the bottom, then the management is starting to have a big problem. If this is the sort of thing that is instituted by the management, then I think the company has broken down beyond repair. Let’s hope this is just one Google employee making a really bad decision.

    Mostly though, I’m surprised that an actual person would review your site (and read specific posts) when you apply for the Adwords service. Do they have automatic queries spitting back every Adwords request whose site contains the word “Bush”? I wonder if they do the same thing with, for instance, the Dutch Prime Minister’s name…

  2. Posted 3/16/2004 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    Hello Alexander,

    Thank you for your reply.

    I have escalated your website for review by our AdWords Policy
    Specialists. They have overturned the previous disapproval. Your ad is now
    active and running on Google.

    Please feel free to email us at adwords-support@google.com if you have
    additional questions or concerns.

    We look forward to providing you with the most effective advertising
    available.

    Sincerely,

    Ketzel
    The Google AdWords Team

    I am happy that this was the resolution. I’m not sure where this puts me though. On the one hand, it worked out fine, on the other, I wonder how many others find themselves in a similar position. A bit of googling, for example, shows that anti-Scientologists and those who sell guns and knives have also run afoul of Google’s regs.

    I guess just a tempest in a teapot, but it was a strange thing to happen.

  3. Alex
    Posted 3/16/2004 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    PS: At least Google seems to be a fan of due process :).

  4. Posted 3/22/2004 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    My AdWords advertising was suspended because I sell products that express anti-Bush sentiment. I can understand why a company would not want to allow advertising that promoted violence, but it doesn’t seem as though political editorializing through controlling it’s advertising is something that the company can do and still claim that “Google believes strongly in freedom of expression and therefore offers broad access to content across the web without censoring search results.” It seems to me that the search-targeted ads they display fall within the definition of “search results”.

  5. Posted 12/9/2005 at 9:13 am | Permalink
  6. Posted 12/9/2005 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    hello there!

  7. jonjo
    Posted 12/2/2006 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    I’ve just tried created an anti-bush adwords campaign and it won’t run. Sound like Google are still preventing this kind of thing – stifling free speech like this isn’t on.

One Trackback

  1. By Fragments on 3/16/2004 at 2:18 am

    Google starting to turn evil?
    Alex Halavais has had a nasty run in with Google when he applied for the Google Adwords service and was “disproved” for, amongst other, I…

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