Blown To Bits

“Google Violates Its ‘Don’t Be Evil’ Motto”

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

Last night a team consisting of myself, Siva Vaidhyanathan (of UVa, author of Copyrights and Copyrwrongs and The Anarchist in the Library), and Randy Picker (of Chicago Law School) debated a team of Esther Dyson (author of Release 2.0), Jeff Jarvis (author of the forthcoming What Would Google Do?), and Jim Harper¬†(director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute). It was fun for everyone, I think. I could have argued either side, but I was recruited for the affirmative. I focused my argument strictly on Google cooperating with the Chinese government by producing a censored version of its search engine, which I rather too dramatically also referred to as an “instrument of thought control” and likened to a “brainwashing serum” that no responsible American pharma company would make for a foreign government. It was an Oxford-style debate; I took it as my job to sway the crowd and win the argument, without lying but perhaps by exaggerating if the other side would let me get away with it. I think several of the other participants took it rather more as an actual religious war.

In the pre-debate poll, the voting was very much against the motion; when the poll was repeated, it was a dead tie, 47%-47%, with 6% undecided. By the debate rules — winner whoever changes the most minds — our team won. Fitting, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Harvard’s great comeback 29-29 win over Yale in football!

The debate is in the Intelligence Squared series. A bouquet to the sponsors and staff of the series; it’s a great thing to do. Last night’s will be up on Youtube by the end of the week and in an NPR one-hour edited version shortly thereafter.

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