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[ NNSquad ] Google, The Smothers Brothers, and "The Freedom to Hear"

          Google, The Smothers Brothers, and "The Freedom to Hear"


When you go to do a news interview for CBS in L.A. (at least the last
time I did so) you're directed to the Artists' Entrance at CBS'
historic "Television City" in the Fairfax district.  Just a few steps
from the famous Farmers Market, the massive TV City complex, built in
1952, still looks futuristic even today.

You carefully snake your way from the parking lot through the bizarre,
happy crowd waiting to get into Studio 33 (now named the "Bob Barker
Studio") for the "The Price is Right," pass through a glass door,
and find yourself standing at what was once "ground zero" for much of
television history.

The list of shows that have filmed or taped under the "From Television
City in Hollywood!" announcement is long indeed, but one particular
series that only ran from 1967 to 1969 is of special relevance today,
as arguments rage about freedom of speech as applied to Google and
other search engines.

Tom and Dick Smothers began performing as a comedy folk-singing duo in
1959.  While he was actually the leader of the duo (and, as the world
would learn, the initially more politically and socially sensitized of
the pair), Tommy's constructed on-stage persona was of a friendly
fool, constantly being chided by his brother.  When CBS hired them to
do "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" they thought they'd be getting
a simple music, comedy, variety show hosted by a couple of clean-cut,
noncontroversial performers.  CBS was wrong.  Very wrong.

The tale of the show's rise and fall is legendary, as is the manner in
which the brothers increasingly pushed CBS' boundaries to criticize
the Vietnam War, spotlight then controversial performers such as Harry
Belafonte and Pete Seeger, and in general give CBS a perpetual
headache, especially as government pressure to muzzle the brothers
came first from the Lyndon Johnson and then even more forcefully from
the Nixon presidential administrations ( http://j.mp/OfxtDo [NPR]).

In the decades since the show's cancellation, Tom and Dick have
continued to be outspoken proponents of free speech.

But especially notable as we view attempts to throttle the speech
rights associated with search engine results -- which after all are
essentially displaying the algorithmically processed opinions and
values of the human beings who have created them -- is a concept that
Tom Smothers calls "The freedom to hear."

Tom puts it quite succinctly: "What good is freedom of speech if you
don't have the freedom to hear?" ( http://j.mp/OfxB5V [YouTube] ) 
Like a tree falling in a forest with nobody to perceive it, the rights of
listeners are an all too often forgotten aspect of the equation.

When outside parties attempt to censor, micromanage, or dictate the
results generated by search engines, they are doing much more than
trampling the rights of those search engines to publish their search
results.  Those outside parties also want to control what persons who
have chosen to use those search engines or other sites will be
permitted to see, to hear, to read.

There is a popular misconception that search engines exist primarily
to serve the websites that they index.  I would assert that this is
actually a secondary purpose.

The primary purpose of search engines is (or at least always should be) 
to provide useful results for searchers, those persons who have
chosen to use those search engines and who value the opinions and
judgments that go into generating those search results.

Damaging concepts such as the EU's dangerous "right to be forgotten" 
( http://j.mp/AatI0J [Lauren's Blog] ) are object examples of how
Orwellian attempts to selectively edit slices of history out of
existence may serve the desires of parties who wish certain events had
never happened, but can catastrophically disrupt the public's right to
search and know history as it actually occurred.

Search engine users can freely and easily choose between Google, Bing,
Yahoo, and numerous other search services, each with their own take on
how to best order search results and present information in useful

Whether governments interfere with the traditional press such as
newspapers, newer technologies such as search results, or with the
editorial decisions of sites in general --- absent some sort of
immediate, truly serious clear and present danger to life or limb --
they are doing much more than unacceptably violating the speech rights
of those sites.

The government is also directly interfering with our own "right to
hear" -- our right to make our own decisions about which services we
choose to use, and our freedom to learn what those services have to
say, without courts and bureaucrats forcing their own parochial views
down our throats.

The concept of governments trying to plug up our ears is at least as
abominable and unacceptable as their trying to cover our mouths.

Tommy Smothers was right all along.

Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com): http://www.vortex.com/lauren 
Co-Founder: People For Internet Responsibility: http://www.pfir.org 
 - Data Wisdom Explorers League: http://www.dwel.org
 - Network Neutrality Squad: http://www.nnsquad.org 
 - Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance: http://www.gctip.org
 - PRIVACY Forum: http://www.vortex.com 
Member: ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com
Google+: http://vortex.com/g+lauren / Twitter: http://vortex.com/t-lauren 
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800 / Skype: vortex.com

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