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Official: Google wants to tell you what to think

Anoints Google-approved writers

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File this one under spectacular and hubristic PR own goals.

Google has anointed an "approved list" of writers it thinks you should read. But not only is Google's choice far from "Neutral" - there's no libertarians, merely one (shrieky and not very representative) conservative, and a preponderance of Greens - there isn't a Google critic amongst them. Well, there goes "neutrality".

This seems to be a mistake on several counts. Google is a company whose sprawling media influence is under increasing scrutiny from antitrust regulators in the US and the EU. It's defence is that it's an algorithm company - it doesn't editorialise. But it just has, and the results are revealing.

The tech pundits Google chooses are safe, flavourless, humourless, and uniformly Google-friendly - it's a list of Google's trusted pals, really. If you locked them in a room with some drugs, by the end of the evening you'd have heard no new original insight or wit - and the drugs would be untouched. For example, Chris "Long Tail" Anderson tops the list. Do you need to know more?

Power Readers is fascinating, because the message Google is conveying is that the world is no more interesting than a Google search. The writers are dull, and link to each other in a closed feedback loop.

Yet the internet brings all kind of interesting views to you, things you didn't know before, and new ways of looking at the world. Is this Google expressing Frankenstein's remorse? Implicit in the selection is that you, dear reader, can't be trusted with stuff that might make you think.

The internet wasn't supposed to be like this, of course. As Bruce Page wrote, American journalists acquired a specific characteristic: "An almost pedantic collating of alternative viewpoints with estimates of their relative values forbidden, which resulted in a mechanistic 'objectivity' almost steganographic in character, with sheets of editorial boilerplate obscuring any gleam of judgement". Considering what is available to them, Google's Power Readers selection is even worse.

For a company that swears it isn't a media company, Google is awful fond of being a media company - with many of the same vanities. Chief of which is it wants to guide you like sheep to a safe and banal conclusion. ®

Andrew warmly welcomes your comments.

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