Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft’s Bing are the three most influential and powerful search engines in the world. Each month, billions of people use these sites to conduct research, read the news, and to look up that perfect Thanksgiving recipe. The Internet is the greatest invention in human history; and without search engines, it would be virtually impossible to find new and important information. Although many people use these websites with the best of intentions, countless individuals also use search engines to promote horrific content much of the world never had access to in the past.
Perhaps the absolute worst material widely available today are videos of women being raped that appear across the Internet, including through the most powerful search engines. Hundreds of videos—possibly even thousands—showing women being raped, sometimes violently or in public places, are easy to find on websites such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Many of the women in the videos are young, and almost all are incapacitated from drugs or alcohol.
This isn’t a small problem. In just one hour of cataloguing, I was able to identify more than 40 unique and disturbing videos of women being sexually abused using the search terms “passed out girl abused” in Google’s “Videos” section. Those videos, which make up only a small fraction of the total number of rape videos available on Google, have been viewed a combined total of 21 million times. While I saw many videos in the search results that appeared to be staged using actors, the 40 I catalogued all claim to be real rape videos in their written descriptions; and there was no evidence in the videos themselves a reasonable person could use to support the claim that actors were used.
Videos such as these are often posted anonymously or using online aliases by criminals to user-populated pornography websites. The pornography websites ensure all of their material gets indexed by popular search engines; and within just a few short hours, rape videos are made accessible to millions of people around the world.
Not only is the decision to display these videos morally repugnant, it may be in violation of federal law. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), “Federal law prohibits the possession with intent to sell or distribute obscenity, to send, ship, or receive obscenity, to import obscenity, and to transport obscenity across state boarders for purposes of distribution.”
According to DOJ, “obscene” material has been defined by the U.S. Supreme Court in landmark cases, such as Miller v. California (1973). DOJ says on its website that obscene material is, in part, “sexual conduct [presented] in a patently offensive [way]” according to “contemporary adult community standards.” There’s no denying showing videos of women being raped is “patently offensive” according to all modern societal standards, and it’s hard to understand how displaying images and videos on one’s website does not constitute “distribution.”
Regardless of whether or not search engines are breaking the law by providing millions of people with access to these horrific videos, there is no denying the severe lack of decency and poor judgment on the part of the search engines.
Since July, I’ve contacted Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft about this problem on more than one occasion; but I still have not received an official response from any of their representatives. Further, all of the videos I discovered four months ago still appear in all three sites’ search results.
If these powerful search engines do not self-regulate and act responsibly, it’s only a matter of time before federal authorities, using this and other egregious behavior as an excuse, step in and increase the government’s regulatory authority of the Internet—a notion neither I nor the search engines want.
People and businesses should generally be free to operate without stringent government controls, but no one has the right to harm others; and that’s exactly what happens when videos of women being raped are displayed online millions upon millions of times. Pornography sites, their users, and the criminals involved in the creation of these videos are ultimately the parties that deserve the most blame; but because most of the users who upload videos do so anonymously, and because many porn sites operate using servers overseas, search engines are the only ones that can offer a solution to this problem.
The American people have traditionally stood up for those people in society who are victimized; but if we continue to turn our backs on suffering women, we are all partly to blame for this tragedy. It’s time we as a nation demand Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft change their policies and act with compassion. If they don’t change, we ought to find search engines that will stand up for the rights of women everywhere.
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