IMPEACH GEORGE BUSH!! The Meaning of Blogger's Flag


Blogger is not a business like other businesses

If this is your first visit, please note that this whole blog -- not just this single post -- is about overt and covert Blogger censorship. Please first take a look at the previous posts and comments, and then come back to this post. And please read the posts before making any judgments about the overall argument of this blog. (The previous posts are much shorter than this one.)

In this post, I want to try to draw out the wider implications of the issues raised in this blog so far, as well as their connections to some other important issues.

Please note that although in the current blog I have talked about the de-indexing of my main blog, the de-indexing of that blog was not the reason I put the current blog together. As Ross Perot (the third-party candidate in a couple of US presidential elections) used to say, "It's not about me." My only concern is that censorship has raised its ugly head. In any case, neither that blog nor this blog is at the moment subject to de-indexing. So I have no personal beef with Blogger whatsoever.

To people who say Blogger's flag is a good thing, because it helps them fight spam and porn sites and so on, I would say: (1) as I have explained in this blog, Blogger has developed specific tools to fight spam; the flag has nothing to do with spam; and (2) the best way to fight porn sites is to send your complaint directly to .

In early August I came to the conclusion, possibly wrongly, that Blogger had de-indexed my main blog. I didn't do or say anything about it just then, because it didn't matter. There were thousands of blogs far better than mine out there, and the apparent de-indexing of my blog wasn't important.

But then Blogger's flag thing came along, which seemed to be Blogger's way of "contracting out" and, more significantly, normalizing the suppression of individual blogs. As I interpreted it, people's hatred of spam had made Blogger bold enough to openly propose censorship. That's when I got involved, because it was no longer just about me. It had become a political issue.

As I want to keep this discussion "bipartisan," I won't get into the parallels with the general decline in civil rights in the last few years and the declared reasons for them. I will just say that I feel the general political environment is what has emboldened Blogger (and many other larger and smaller organizations) to commit such breaches of common law, and possibly of statutory law. Many people have become so obsessed with protecting "their own" that they have grown careless of the social goods that are being taking taken away from them.

We simply do not know how many non-spam and non-porn blogs had already been de-indexed as objectionable prior to the flag's introduction. Blogger has provided no information on this issue, other than general declarations of principle.

I am sure the average blogger is as opposed to censorship of ideas as I am. And I think the main reason that people haven't flooded Blogger with complaints about the "flag," apart from the usual apathy caused by a sense of disempowerment, is that people think the flag has something to do with spam/porn. A lot of people have complained, but apparently not enough of them, as shown by the fact that the flag is still there.
I am at least as opposed to spam and porn blogs as the next person. But, as I have explained several times in the other posts, this is not primarily about spam. Blogger has developed much more effective tools to fight spam. The flag is about "objectionable content," which can include anything whatsoever.

I have stated as follows:

Google's Blogger is simply a service-provider. In the same way that the electricity company has no right to tell you and me what to do with the electricity it provides, Blogger has no similar right either. Some commenters have pointed out that Blogger is a free service, and so we have no rights against it. But there is no such thing as a free service (unless it is provided by a charity). For example, some newspapers are distributed free of charge in order to be able to collect advertising revenue. Blogger is one of the many ways for the Google conglomerate to make a name for itself and sell other products and services through that reputation. It is not free.

In their comments, some of this blog's readers have made various objections to the above position, including the following two:

1 "Blogger owns the blogs even if you write them. Blogger doesn't have to justify what blogs it includes or doesn't in its traffic generating mechanisms. Only government censorship (at least in the USA) is unconstitutional. Otherwise, freedom of the press belongs to those who own the presses. And, here, Blogger owns the press we're all using. It can make whatever rules it wants about what appears here."

2 "Well, I agree that the writing on our blogs doesn't belong to Blogger/Google, but to us. However, the servers where the blogs live do not belong to us, but to Blogger/Google. Google has allowed people, including us, to share our ideas with the world (at no cost to us beyond our labors). They clearly believe they receive value in return for doing this, and we're happy with the arrangement as well. Now if either party to this arrangement wants to end it, they have the right to do so. This is the way it should be. We have no right to force Google to continue to host our writings, no matter how wonderful we think they are. Google has no right to force us to keep our work there, either, if we decide to move it or delete it entirely. You seem to believe that Google has some permanent obligation to host our blogs even if it decides doing so is harmful to its interests. I have some server space available through my ISP. If I let you put your blog there and later change my mind, have I lost the rights to that space to you? If I want to change my ISP do I have to keep this one, too, so I can keep hosting your blog? If I were hosting your blog as a business instead of as a friend, why would that be different?"

I appreciate these thoughtful objections, but they leave me unconvinced, perhaps because our starting points are different. I never take the rights that powerful groups in society have arrogated to themselves for granted. Of course, not everyone sees things that way.

As to the first objection, I would say Blogger and blogging are not a part of the "free press," and therefore arguments based on the meaning and extent of freedom of the press are irrelevant here. When you buy a newspaper or watch a TV program, you are aware that their content is dictated by their owners. They are the ones who hire and pay the writers, and who can dictate what is acceptable or not acceptable within their organization. This is not something peculiar to the press. Rather, it is simply a part of the usual lack of democracy within any capitalist business enterprise. When we accept employment, we implicitly give up certain rights and freedoms that we (theoretically) enjoy as citizens of a democratic society. The blogging community at large are not, however, employees of Google or Blogger, and have not given up such freedoms. In other words, Blogger has created the appearance of providing a forum for our opinions that is free of the usual undemocratic constraints within a capitalist enterprise. If Blogger fails to deliver such a forum, it can legitimately be accused of misrepresentation.

Another aspect of the issue is brought up by the second objection above, which compares the relationship between blog writers and Blogger to (1) person A providing some space to person B for person B's website, and then taking it back, and (2) an Internet service provider (ISP) selling space and then, in its sole discretion, taking it back. The commenter suggests that the two cases are parallel. I don't think they are. Individual rights are not the same as civil rights. That is to say, I agree that no conditions can be attached to person A in case number (1) taking his/her space back, unless otherwise provided for in a contract. The same does not apply to case number (2), because an ISP can only take the space back if the person using it has breached some term of the contract, or if the ISP has been authorized by a court decision to suspend the service, or else due to circumstances beyond the ISP's control, such as bankruptcy. Otherwise, the ISP cannot suspend the service, and if it does, it would potentially be subject to legal action.

In any case, the example of the ISP is not really relevant to the current case, because Blogger is not an ISP. Blogger is a minor part of the Google empire. It is in the business of providing a soap box for people, that is, a place where people can share their ideas, opinions, and interests. The entire emphasis is on its not being a business arrangement. The spam and splog (spam blog) problem is a good illustration of this. The primary reason that splogs are seen as illegitimate is that they are purely and simply about making money. They have nothing to do with sharing ideas, opinions, and interests. Had Blogger been an ISP, though, it would have had no problem with any kind of business site (with the possible exception of pornographic sites and so on). So it is pretty clear that Blogger is not an ISP.

But to get back to the "flag." The flag is based on the assumption that Blogger's staff are qualified to judge what is objectionable. That is very much open to question. But it is also based on the assumption that we, that is, the blog readers, are qualified to judge what is objectionable. Most of us agree, at an abstract level, that pornography and violence are objectionable. But are we qualified to distinguish between pornography and artistic expression? Are we qualified to distinguish between gratuitous depictions of violence, on one hand, and such depictions in the form of political statements, on the other? We are all opposed to spam, but do we all know exactly what spam is? If you think you do, take a look at this blog that I came across by accident today: . It has all the usual hallmarks of a spam blog, but when you take a closer look, it turns out to be someone's fairly legitimate business-oriented blog. Are all blogs with business content objectionable? Then perhaps all the thousands of blogs that carry ads should be banned as well. Not only are we, as blog readers, unqualified to judge what is and what is not objectionable, but Blogger's staff themselves need guidelines that specify exactly what sort of thing they can de-index or ban.

When a small business becomes a big business, its actions and decisions move from the private realm into the public realm. As far as I know, Google's Blogger is now the largest provider of blogging services. A great deal of responsibility that has nothing to do with purely business decisions goes along with that position. Blogging has allowed vox populi to be heard fearlessly and without censorship for the very first time in history. Also, placing technological restrictions, such as de-indexing, on the dissemination of ideas tends to work to the disadvantage of people with less technical know-how. The more technically knowledgeable will generally find ways around such obstacles. One result of the flag and de-indexing, then, is that voices that have already become weakened by the technological revolution will become weaker still.

Blogger is not a business like other businesses. Ideas that appear on a blog have not been subjected to purchase or sale, and therefore do not belong to Blogger to do with as it wishes.


Just letting the regular visitors know that I'll be updating this blog from time to time, so please continue to check it out once in a while. The nature of this issue (and my understanding of it) has changed, but pursuing it remains as important as ever. Thanks.


Just the facts, please...

If anyone has access to any facts, rather than unsubstantiated opinions, on this issue, I would love to hear from them. Specifically:

Have Blogger’s staff been given specific guidelines as to what to remove and what not to remove, or what kinds of blogs to de-index and what kinds not to de-index? Does whether a particular blog gets de-indexed depend on the mood that Blogger’s reviewer might be in on any particular day? I am sure most people would agree that the dissemination of information and opinion in society should not be subject to how the Blogger's reviewer feels on each particular day.

Blogger has announced the Flag and de-indexing are for the purpose of fighting "objectionable content," but a lot of people think the purpose is in fact to fight spam. Who is right?

I continue to feel that the Flag makes us complicit in efforts to remove blogs that contain troublesome ideas.

At the same time, I am no longer certain whether the de-indexing of legitimate blogs has been deliberate or accidental (or rather, incidental to Blogger's efforts to fight spam). Blogger staff's refusal to be clear on this issue only serves to increase the uncertainty. There has to be a way to give clear answers to these legitimate concerns without putting new weapons in the hands of the spammers. Even if the technical secret is such that no hint of it can be divulged, surely they can at least tell us so, instead of answering our serious questions with patronizing misdirections.


Hidden Censorship on Google's Blogger is now Official Policy

If you have a Blogspot blog, you may have noticed a drop in your blog's traffic since mid-August or so. The reason may have to do with the fact that Blogger staff have decided to “de-list” your blog. Although your blog is still available on the Internet, far fewer people will actually get to see it, as I'll explain below.

A considerable amount of your readership and traffic usually come from random visitors who accidentally arrive at your blog by hitting the "next blog" button, or by clicking on the name of your blog under "Recently Updated" blogs on Blogger's home page. The way it works is that when you publish a new post, it enters a queue, which means two things:

1/ Your blog may appear, albeit briefly, on the Blogger's "dashboard" (home page) within the list of "Recently Updated" blogs. This way, anyone who visits Blogger's home page may end up visiting your site.

2/ At least as importantly, some of the people who click on the "next blog" button at the top right corner of most Blogspot blogs will end up at your site. In other words, the "next blog" button leads only to blogs that have recently published.

For a long time, Blogger has been quietly taking away both of the above "privileges" from some blogs. In other words, when such a delisted or "de-indexed" blog publishes new posts, they don't enter the queue of newly published posts, and so they have no chance of receiving traffic through either of the two above avenues.

Now the procedure has become an officially announced part of Blogger's policy. On August 17, Blogger introduced a new feature called "flag as objectionable." This meant that if a blog reader came across a blog that he/she disliked, for any reason whatsoever, he/she could communicate his/her displeasure to the Blogger staff by clicking on the new "flag" button on the “navbar” at the top of the offending blog. Then, if there are enough objections, Blogger staff block that particular site, that is, make it impossible for that blog to receive traffic through the above two avenues. Removing them from these lists means that far fewer people, if any, will ever see these blogs.

Blogger has made no attempt to define what constitutes "objectionable." I am all for blocking pornography and violence (and spam blogs, for that matter), but this obviously goes much further. For instance, I have no doubt that most Republicans find every criticism of Bush's policies to be "objectionable." And I have no doubt that they have been merrily visiting critical blogs and flagging them as objectionable.

This poses no problem if you see your blog as a way to communicate with your friends and family, because they would already know where to find you blog. But if your reason for blogging is to communicate your thoughts and concerns to a wider audience, Blogger's censorship, in both its old hidden form and its new open form, poses a big problem. It keeps new readers from finding your blog.

An even more insidious issue is that Blogger gives itself the authority to judge and remove blogs from circulation on arbitrary grounds, without making any attempt to discuss the issue with the particular blogger involved. Is this what blogging has come to? I urge you to write Blogger at and let them know what you think.

For the sake of full disclosure, I should add that, as far as I know, my own main blog at was "de-indexed" for some time. I believe the reason was that many Right-wing types were angry at the content of my blog and, as they told me, complained to Blogger that it was "anti-American." The de-indexing of my main blog appears to have been lifted since my recent protests.

By the way, there is a simple way to remove the whole navbar from your blog to stop these types from subjecting it to censorship. This method, and much else, has been discussed in the posts listed below.

[This post was also published on the Progressive Blog Alliance website at ]


Nazi cultural festival (book burning) in 1933

Nazi storm troopers "flagging" a Jewish store in 1933
(both pictures taken from

Other people's recent posts on this topic


My futile correspondence with Blogger's staff

Please click below to read the full text of my correspondence with Blogger's staff about the issues raised in this blog.

If you are as vehemently opposed to censorship of ideas as I am, please write Blogger at and tell them.

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