January 14, 2007

Sex And The Missing PBS Link

The PBS MediaShift blog has an article discussing the Google / Sex Blogs incident. More interesting than the main article (summary: Bug. Fixed, they say. Google has lots of power.) is the controversy that erupted because of a decision not to link to the sex blogs quoted and discussed in the story.

A number of people have asked why there aren't links to the sex blogs mentioned in this post. If Google had been blocking the blogs, then there would have been links included. But because anyone can easily find the blogs through a search on Google, PBS.org felt it was not necessary to include the links here and risk offending some readers who might not expect to find links to explicit sites on PBS.org.

I ask that you as MediaShift readers please leave comments below explaining what you think the link policy should be here and elsewhere on mainstream media sites and blogs. Should we link to explicit material and how should that be handled? Should we include a warning before the links? Which links are OK and which are not? Your thoughts would be appreciated and I hope to return to this issue in a more in-depth way on the blog. PBS editors, who are involved in this issue, tell me they are very much open to your suggestions.

Now, as a statement of fact, "search on Google" is a cop-out here. Most of the time people don't even click on links right in front of them, much less do a search. And given that the article itself discusses the power that Google has over people being able to find sites, it's very ironic to be deferring to it after a long column about the consequences of a glitch.

Moreover, in the thread, people are pointing out examples where PBS.org did link to sexually explicit sites in other cases.

Look, if you didn't want to take the flak from right-wingers, that's understandable. Maybe not laudable, but comprehensible. Otherwise, I'd say standard web practice is unequivocal on the issue, that readers should be immediately referred to the sites discussed. I don't see any reason to override that convention - for sites that are trolling for traffic and manufacturing controversy, maybe you don't want to give it to them (but any real guilty parties in this case wouldn't care about a link from PBS.org). So put a warning about content next to the link if you must (though I think context makes it very clear). But otherwise, well, I'm now left with a lot of sympathy for why the sex bloggers tended to think Google was deliberately removing them.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on January 14, 2007 08:56 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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"Now, as a statement of fact, "search on Google" is a cop-out here. Most of the time people don't even click on links right in front of them, much less do a search."

Yes, but I can understand their POV, independent of the larger censorship issue. Back when I did phone support for a local ISP, I once fielded a call from an angry caller who demanded (!) that "we" stop showing ads on web sites. "We pay enough for our service that we shouldn't be subjected to advertising," the caller reasoned.

Fair enough, I supposed, but was the caller seeing these ads at [isp].com?

"No, CNN. Stop putting ads all over the internet!"

I "made a note of it" and thanked the caller.

So yeah, some people will blame the linker for the content of the link, regardless. As for the larger censorship issue, sounds indeed like a cop-out. I'm betting there was a way to issue a "clean" link if they really wanted to make the effort.

Posted by: Ethan at January 14, 2007 11:19 PM

Thanks for your comments about this, Seth. For some reason a lot of people seem to have no trouble assigning an ultior and unscrupulous motive to my simply wanting to be treated with the same respect as Boing or SearchEngineLand, yet people easily look past the fact that everyone at PBS got a paycheck in exchange for the time they spent on the Google/sexblog story.

The ultimate irony (for me at least) is that while my and other's initial fears that this might have been some sort of erotophobic purge at Google were unfounded, only to have PBS do exactly what we had worried Google might have been doing.

In light of this, can you blame people like for being suspicous?

Thanks again,

Posted by: Tony Comstock at January 15, 2007 02:44 PM