What Exactly is Your Problem? The Pointlessness of Attempting to Regulate Free Speech

Good morning. We awake to the president of the United States grousing that Google search results about him are full of negative news stories. Well, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, etc. certainly had their share of bad press.

Before looking at Google, let’s be clear: the role of a press in a free country is not to sing the praises of elected officials. The job of those covering government is to find out what it is doing, what its challenges are, who its opponents are, how it is spending taxpayer money, how it is keeping us safe, what is its efficacy, etc. The Founding Fathers were clear-eyed about ensuring the people and the press could not only question the government, but freely complain about it.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

OK, back to a regularly scheduled POTUS Twitter feed. After the rant, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow, who previously earned a living as a CNBC financial news commentator, said that “we’re taking a look” at regulating Google.

Google is a search engine and does not pretend to be an Oracle or the Gospel. The search results are based on an algorithm that captures, in part, what sites are the most visited. The term of art in search engine optimization is “authority.” It stands to reason that news sites, including Fox or the New York Times or Yahoo, are going to rise to the top of the search engine results page (SERP) because they all received a lot of visitors, which gives them “authority” for the algorithm to recognize them.

Well, at the moment, if you search “Trump news” on Google, the top results are news stories about his complaint about Google’s search results being “rigged” against him. The next set of stories relate to the legal entanglements spinning out from the special counsel’s investigation, including Michael Cohen’s lawyer backtracking on an allegation against Trump, which certainly could be construed as positive for Trump. Of course, another prominent story in the results is about the Trump Organization’s top financial executive being granted immunity to testify about Michael Cohen, who is Trump’s former lawyer.Screenshot of Google SERP

The next set of stories is about Trump looking to replace NAFTA and his tentative agreement with Mexico on a new trade deal. That is surely what he wanted to be the top story yesterday, but his talk with Mexico was overshadowed by his own flub: raising the American flag over the White House ahead of John McCain’s burial. He was chided by the Senate leadership and the American Legion. He now has no leg to stand on when criticizing NFL players for kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner.

If he did not enjoy the criticism, he should avoid appearing to disrespect the military. The news stories that covered the criticism are certainly negative, but they are simply holding up a mirror to reality.

Reality cannot be regulated.