Over the past few days, I’ve written a few posts about the efforts to criminalize revenge porn, led by Miami Lawprof Mary Anne Franks. This won’t be another post on the subject, so don’t make a face. Rather, this is a post about the efficacy and legitimacy of searching.
Shortly after publishing this post, where Franks is named in the title, I searched Google to see what, if anything, else had been written on the subject. My post was there in the results, on the first page, about midway down. After Kaimipono Wenger posted the faux interview of Franks at Concurring Opinions, I heard from commenter “AP” who told me the weird story of how his comment to Wenger’s post included a link back to mine. He did what any normal person would do, cut and pasted the link into the comment. And yet, it somehow morphed:
AP – October 10, 2013
Sorry Mary Anne but Scott Greenfield’s post was filled with many arguments against your law. People should take a look for themselves here: http://blog.simplejustice.com/2013/10/08/new-york-to-revenge-porn-any-selfies-of-lawprof-mary-anne-franks/
Tricky stuff. Note how the URL is blog.simplejustice.com? Except the URL here is blog.simplejustice.us, and not .com. The implication, since it would be impossible for the link to change on its own, is that somebody went in there and altered the link to kill it. Another commenter there, ClarkB, reposted the link noting the error. AP tried to post some additional comments, but they were never approved.
So this amounted to a curious, but ultimately uneventful, attempt to conceal the existence of a dispute. Frankly, Co-Op has no duty to be fair to anyone else, including me, and if they want to put on a play about the glory of one of their own, so be it. Concealing disagreement is a time-honored tradition of academics, and this happened on their turf. I have mine. They have theirs. That’s how stuff happens.
But then I googled again to see whether there was anything new on the internets, and that’s when things got weird. A Google search of Mary Anne Franks no longer had my post on the first page. Or the second, third, fourth or fifth. It wasn’t there at all. Go ahead, check for yourself.
You will see the phony Co-Op interview there. If you go to the second page, you will see Mark Bennett’s post about Franks’ phony interview. But my post is nowhere to be found.
Now, it’s not that I harbor any belief that what is written here is so critical to the existence of the internets that it must be found, particularly given Franks’ comment that I’m “really just not that important.” But Simple Justice has some pretty good Google juice and, for better or worse, usually is found, and usually pretty high up in search results. And when the search term used happened to be part of the title of a post, it tends to be even higher in the search results. In this case, the name “Mary Anne Franks” was in the name of the post.
As I said, weird. Being less knowledgeable about technology than some other people I know, I asked them why this would be. They didn’t know either. It made no sense to them. I hesitate to allow my head to go toward paranoid theories, but I wondered whether there was some Google Magic Disappearing Post trick about which I was unaware. Did Google have some horse in this race that caused it to take sides?
Then it occurred to me that there were also two words in the title of my post that might indeed be the root of the problem. The title included the words “revenge porn,” and maybe Google, because it’s trying to be a good internet citizen, downplayed results that include those words. So I googled them, but found that there were tons of results relating to news stories and commentary about the evils of revenge porn. So the words alone weren’t the problem.
But the results for the two words, revenge porn, seemed to have one common theme; they were calling for its elimination and criminalization. Now that could be because most people agree that revenge porn is a horrible blight on the internet, and lots of people agree that we should eliminate bad things online. I certainly didn’t anticipate that there would be many of us who, while agreeing that a particular course of conduct was disgusting, were reluctant to create new crimes that could trample constitutional rights. This is a lawyerly concern, and most commentary is from non-lawyers who don’t understand the unintended and collateral consequences of whatever they’re screaming about.
Yet, my question remained unanswered. It struck me that if a legislator was to do a Google search, under the auspices of his intern perhaps, he would find only voices screaming to criminalize this blight on the internets. He would not find anyone cautioning that a new law would impair free speech and sweep the innocent into the same net as the guilty.
If they were to query whether the model law drafted by Mary Anne Franks had any detractors, say by googling her name, they would find nothing but love, admiration and applause. And if Google says so, it must be.
So why is it that Simple Justice doesn’t appear anywhere in the Google search for the name “Mary Anne Franks”? Beats me.