Floyd Abrams is the author of “The Soul of the First Amendment.”
President Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, announced Tuesday that the administration is “taking a look” at regulating Google’s conduct, given Trump’s complaints earlier in the day that the company’s search results suppress conservative views. Kudlow’s statement raises First Amendment concerns of the highest magnitude.
According to the president’s predawn tweets, Google’s supposed bias is revealed by the too “prominent” role it affords to “Fake CNN” while shutting out “Republican/Conservative & Fair Media.” Responding to the criticism, Google said: “When users type queries into the Google Search bar, our goal is to make sure they receive the most relevant answers in a matter of seconds. Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology.”
Google’s fairness is not only an apt topic for public debate but also an essential one. If it were true, as the president claims, that with biased search results the company is “hiding information and news that is good” about his administration, Google would deserve harsh criticism. And if, on the contrary, the president’s tweets were themselves not only unsubstantiated but simply a reflection of the fact that more critical than supportive articles appear in major media, so would he.
That sort of debate is healthy. What is potentially dangerous is the assertion in the president’s tweets that “This is a very serious situation – will be addresses!” and Kudlow’s intimation that a regulatory response was actually being considered. Of course, Trump and Kudlow may not mean it. Or they may mean it and will not pursue it further. But one cannot tell, and so when such statements are made, it is worth responding immediately: any such government action would constitute a particularly egregious violation of the First Amendment.
Source: Washington Post
Published: August 20, 2019