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Debate Topic: Are Search Engine Results "Speech"

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  • Debate Topic: Are Search Engine Results "Speech"

    You type in a question to Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. and the engine returns a set of results based on an algorithm that the company has designed.

    The company has manipulated the results. People who have paid them money, get their results at the top of the list. If the company's own products and pages get high priority. Certain websites get deprioritized. All of these choices are done by tweaking the rules behind the scenes that the algorithm follows. Some of the changes (such as the paid results) are obvious. Others, like the de-prioritization or the self-promotions, are more subtle, and may pass under the radar. The search engines have the power to subtlety or overtly promote one side of an issue and suppress the other. They can hide positive representations of one candidate while promoting positive representations of another, they can shift the ratio of good to bad, and they can be as overt or covert about it as they want.

    So the question is, should search engine results be treated as "speech"?
    Last edited by CivilDiscourse; 06-18-2021, 06:30 AM.

  • #2
    Why speech? They are generated by a computer not a person. And even then it is just quoting bits of web sites and displaying ads. It is not creating anything original.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Sparko View Post
      Why speech? They are generated by a computer not a person. And even then it is just quoting bits of web sites and displaying ads. It is not creating anything original.
      When you quote someone it isn't anything original and yet it is still speech.

      I'm always still in trouble again

      "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
      "Of course, human life begins at fertilization thatís not the argument." --Tassman

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by rogue06 View Post
        When you quote someone it isn't anything original and yet it is still speech.
        But you are a human being. "Speech" usually refers to a person expressing a position or opinion, not merely listing the results of a database search by a computer, no matter how manipulated it is.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Sparko View Post
          But you are a human being.
          Sources?

          Originally posted by Sparko View Post
          "Speech" usually refers to a person expressing a position or opinion, not merely listing the results of a database search by a computer, no matter how manipulated it is.
          SCOTUS decided awhile back that "speech" includes a slogan on a T-shirt. What is and is not "speech" has been expanded.

          I'm always still in trouble again

          "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
          "Of course, human life begins at fertilization thatís not the argument." --Tassman

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by CivilDiscourse View Post
            So the question is, should search engine results be treated as "speech"?
            Nah, private companies. If it was a matter of a monopoly, like Bell Telephone, manipulating services based on speech then I would expect the monopoly to be broken up. But there are lots of search engines out there.

            I feel the same way about Facebook and Twitter. If these companies are actively trying to crush competition (and have the ability to do so) then they need to be addressed. It is less about them regulating speech as it is about their customers being too dumb to realize what they're doing. There is a severe common-sense shortage in the world today.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Ronson View Post

              Nah, private companies. If it was a matter of a monopoly, like Bell Telephone, manipulating services based on speech then I would expect the monopoly to be broken up. But there are lots of search engines out there.

              I feel the same way about Facebook and Twitter. If these companies are actively trying to crush competition (and have the ability to do so) then they need to be addressed. It is less about them regulating speech as it is about their customers being too dumb to realize what they're doing. There is a severe common-sense shortage in the world today.
              SCOTUS decided a few years ago that companies also have the right to free speech

              I'm always still in trouble again

              "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
              "Of course, human life begins at fertilization thatís not the argument." --Tassman

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by rogue06 View Post
                Sources?
                You got me there.

                SCOTUS decided awhile back that "speech" includes a slogan on a T-shirt. What is and is not "speech" has been expanded.
                But a tshirt was designed and written by a human being. It is just a published version of their speech. Just like a book would be. Or this post.


                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by rogue06 View Post
                  SCOTUS decided a few years ago that companies also have the right to free speech
                  True.

                  Question: What does the Constitution mean by "freedom of speech"?

                  The 1st Amendment says it will pass no law abridging it, and one would assume the government should not persecute citizens based on their exercise of free speech. But if I work for Ford and I actively badmouth Ford online, they have the right to fire me. I am only protected against repercussions from the government, and not the government protecting me from repercussions based on my free speech. Right?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I honestly think, overall this is a thorny issue, and one I don't have an answer two. This is why I put it up as a debate topic.

                    Are search results "speech"? I'm personally uncertain. I can see arguments going either way.

                    On one hand, a search result is not the actual conveyance of an idea. A search company is not endorsing, speaking, or making a statement with it's search results. If you search for "German Chocolate Cake", the search engine is not returning recipes it endorses as the best, or even good recipes. It's returning pages that have recipes. It's like going to the grocery store and asking for "soup". They'll carry any number of brands of soup, but the store does not explicitly guarantee the quality, taste, etc. of the soup. Using this standard it would be easy to say that the results of a search engine are not speech, and as such can be regulated.

                    On the other hand, I can see the problem of the government compelling a search result be placed at the top of the list whenever certain terms are searched. Imagine a corrupt government mandating that any search for election "20XX" place "reasons to vote for candidate A" website at the top of the results. It could be argued that by requiring that result the government is compelling speech on the part of search companies. The opposite could also be true. Mandating that certain search results be suppressed could be considered an infringement on the companies free speech.

                    I don't have an answer.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Sparko View Post
                      You got me there.


                      But a tshirt was designed and written by a human being. It is just a published version of their speech. Just like a book would be. Or this post.
                      All of them?

                      IMages_Are_Hopefully_in_Your_head_since_1982_shirt.jpg

                      I'm always still in trouble again

                      "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
                      "Of course, human life begins at fertilization thatís not the argument." --Tassman

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by CivilDiscourse View Post
                        I honestly think, overall this is a thorny issue, and one I don't have an answer two. This is why I put it up as a debate topic.

                        Are search results "speech"? I'm personally uncertain. I can see arguments going either way.

                        On one hand, a search result is not the actual conveyance of an idea. A search company is not endorsing, speaking, or making a statement with it's search results. If you search for "German Chocolate Cake", the search engine is not returning recipes it endorses as the best, or even good recipes. It's returning pages that have recipes. It's like going to the grocery store and asking for "soup". They'll carry any number of brands of soup, but the store does not explicitly guarantee the quality, taste, etc. of the soup. Using this standard it would be easy to say that the results of a search engine are not speech, and as such can be regulated.

                        On the other hand, I can see the problem of the government compelling a search result be placed at the top of the list whenever certain terms are searched. Imagine a corrupt government mandating that any search for election "20XX" place "reasons to vote for candidate A" website at the top of the results. It could be argued that by requiring that result the government is compelling speech on the part of search companies. The opposite could also be true. Mandating that certain search results be suppressed could be considered an infringement on the companies free speech.

                        I don't have an answer.
                        Neither do I. And my posts raise just a few of the issues that make it difficult to make any sort of determination.

                        I'm always still in trouble again

                        "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
                        "Of course, human life begins at fertilization thatís not the argument." --Tassman

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by rogue06 View Post
                          Neither do I. And my posts raise just a few of the issues that make it difficult to make any sort of determination.
                          I think one way of stating the problem is this:

                          Search results SHOULD NOT be speech in an ideal world. However, the engine and the government can end up taking steps that end up MAKING THEM speech.
                          Last edited by CivilDiscourse; 06-18-2021, 10:48 AM.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by CivilDiscourse View Post

                            I think one way of stating the problem is this:

                            Search results SHOULD NOT be speech in an ideal world. However, the engine and the government can end up taking steps that end up MAKING THEM speech.
                            I think the word you are looking for is "biased" but I wouldn't call it speech.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Sparko View Post

                              I think the word you are looking for is "biased" but I wouldn't call it speech.
                              No. But the act of making it biased could theoretically make it speech.

                              Comment

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