The Internet company Baidu Inc., which is based in China, won a lawsuit brought by US pro-democracy activists on Thursday. The activists claimed that Baidu was intentionally suppressing political speech on China’s most popular search engines. Unlike other search engines such as Google and Bing, Baidu was purposely limiting the access that users had to political content.
Among these activists, most were New York writers and video producers. They claimed that Baidu had created online algorithms on their search engines that blocked users in the US from accessing certain content on the Internet. They also claimed that this was done at the behest of the Chinese government.
However not all political content was blocked. It was noted that articles or videos which particularly talked about higher democracy in China were banned or blocked from user access.
Net neutrality is already a topic of great discussion due to the Netflix-Comcast incident. A majority of the population believes that Internet providers should not make distinctions in online content and that everything available online should be treated equally. The same group believes that the rules that apply to Internet providers apply to the companies that operate the search engines.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit said that Baidu kept users from accessing their content. They also demanded that the company should pay $16 million in damages for violating the civil and equal protection rights of the writers and producers. They stated that everyone has an equal right to freedom of speech and should not be restricted from information based on content. It would seem however that the judge overseeing the case did not agree with these New York writers. Ultimately, the China-based Internet company ended up winning the US lawsuit.
Us District Judge Jesse Furman, from Manhattan, concluded that results produced by Baidu’s search engine in no way violated the US constitution of free speech. Furman added that Baidu’s editorial judgment was the same as that of an editor of a newspaper. The editor reserves the right to scrap an article is they feel it fails to meet the standard. Baidu similarly has the right to advocate for systems of government if they doubt the credibility of any content.
Furham also said that plaintiffs should not be allowed to hold companies such as Baidu responsible for maintaining an editorial judgement. This could possibly violate the very principle of each person having the right to decide for themselves the ideas that are worthy of expression or consideration.
While Baidu was nodding along to what Furham has to say, the activists who filed the case were less than pleased. A lawyer for the activists, Stephen Preziosi, said that his clients will appeal the ruling. Preziosi said that the court’s decision has created a perfect paradox. They have allowed the suppression of free speech, in the name of free speech.
It certainly is a paradox with no certain solution. While writers have the right to express their ideas in any manner they desire, companies such as Baidu reserve the right to limit content due to their editorial rights. Restricting one may violate the right of the other. Many might dispute the decision of Judge Furman, the fact that the China-based Internet company has won the US lawsuit without a doubt remains undisputed.
By Hammad Ali