Google revisits policy on hate sites

Search engine to reconsider labeling in response to Jewish group upset by anti-Semitic content

Google, the leading Internet search engine, is considering more clearly identifying offensive Web sites in its search results, such as those of anti-Semitic groups, as hate sites. The possible change follows complaints by a Jewish group.

The company may classify racist sites in their own category and perhaps offer additional information, including an explanatory note about why the potentially offensive sites appear at all.

The policy would be part of a broader change at Google to bring back category labels to all search results, not just for Web sites that some people find offensive. Until a Web site redesign a few weeks ago, the company included such labels for everything from cars to cats to camping. It stopped because of quality issues, according to David Krane, a Google spokesman.

Google’s review comes a couple weeks after the Anti-Defamation League and online petitioners expressed concern over an anti-Semitic Web site, Jew Watch, showing up among the top results for the search term “Jew.” It is currently the top result.

Google, based in Mountain View, initially responded by emphasizing that its search results are generated automatically, based on a mathematical algorithm. The company refused to omit the Jew Watch Web site but added that it in no way endorses its views.

Shortly thereafter, Google took the unusual step of including a link above the Jew Watch search result that labeled it as offensive. Users who clicked on the link got an explanation about why the Web site was given a top ranking.

Google said that unlike the terms “Judaism” and “Jewish,” “Jew” is often used in an anti-Semitic context. Most mainstream Web sites don’t use the term, Google said, thereby skewing the results.

What Google is considering would broaden the policy of simply attaching an explanation to Jew Watch, for the query “Jew.” Krane said that his company is open to including explanatory notes with other search results, though he said no decisions have been made about when or for what words.

Krane drew a distinction between searches for the term “Jew,” which some people may enter looking for innocuous information. But people who enter the query “KKK” are indeed probably seeking the Ku Klux Klan Web site and therefore may not need an explanatory note, he said.

Google’s potential change in policy came to light Thursday after the Anti- Defamation League released a letter it received from Google’s co-president, Sergey Brin. In the letter, Brin explained some possible “technical modifications” his company was looking at, including displaying category tags with search results and “other auxiliary information.”

“This is clearly an issue that we care deeply about, and we plan to explore additional ways of addressing it in the future,” Brin wrote.

Brian Marcus, director of Internet monitoring for the Anti-Defamation League, based in New York, said he was pleased with Google’s response.

“We understood that Google was not going to change how they were going to do the results, but we wondered whether they could put up a flag or notice that this is a hate site, like they had until a few weeks ago.”

Google says it has never omitted a Web site from its results without being required to do so by authorities.

In Germany, for example, Google is required to remove all pro-Nazi sites.

In 2002, Google was required to remove links to a handful of Web sites that were critical of the Church of Scientology after the church said those Web sites were violating its copyrights.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
San Francisco Chronicle, USA
Apr. 23, 2004
Verne Kopytoff, Chronicle Staff Writer
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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday April 23, 2004.
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