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Search engines allowed to block political websites in the name of 'freedom of speech'

Sharif Sakr

When a search engine is hauled before a judge, it's often because somebody, somewhere, objects to a particular search result. However, in the case of eight New Yorkers who tried (and failed) to sue China's biggest search engine, Baidu, it was the exact opposite: The plaintiffs were pro-democracy activists who accused Baidu of de-listing their articles and videos for political reasons. They argued that this censorship breached their civil and equal protection rights, because American users of Baidu were unfairly blocked from accessing their work. After three years of wrangling, a US District Court judge has now dismissed the case on the basis that no owner of a search engine should be forced to list specific websites, because this would breach the owner's right to freedom of speech.

In the words of US District Court Judge Jesse Furman:

"The First Amendment protects Baidu's right to advocate for systems of government other than democracy (in China or elsewhere) just as surely as it protects plaintiffs' rights to advocate for democracy."

The judge further argued that all search engines should be immune to most kinds of civil liability and government regulation, and should instead be treated more like news outlets, which are free to exercise their own "editorial judgment." Meanwhile, the plaintiffs' lawyer has promised to appeal, claiming it's a "paradox" to "allow the suppression of free speech, in the name of free speech."

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