If we’re not supposed to shoot the messenger for bad news, neither are we supposed to give him credit for the message when it’s good news. As the two-year anniversary of the defeat of SOPA approaches, the folks at Google not only want you to remember the date, but they want to double-down on their arrogance and take more than a little credit for preserving creativity itself. This is certainly consistent with the recent Google/New Year’s TV spot — and admittedly it’s the one I’d produce — that depicts scene after scene of people all over the world doing extraordinary things, mostly captured in videos we can watch on YouTube. And it’s good marketing to align one’s brand with great acts of charity, kindness, and ingenuity, but it’s also just a little bit bullshit, no? I mean if Google consistently states that its platforms are just a neutral highway, and we can’t blame that highway for any of the trash, theft, or promotion of criminal activity we find on it, then certainly the same neutral highway doesn’t get credit for creating or accomplishing the good stuff, right? Surely that’s fair. Not if you want to be the landlord of the digital future and also have the serfs thank you for the privilege of their humble residence, it seems.
Never wanting to lose an opportunity to be bizarrely two-faced, Google is sending around a little graphic today to all you GMail users implying that stopping SOPA in January of 2012 actually enabled creativity to continue to thrive on the Web. Never mind that nothing in SOPA could have stopped you or me or any other would-be creator from uploading our works, ideas, or captured events to the Web; that’s just pesky reality. But Google isn’t satisfied just to effect public policy in its own interests, it also wants to behave like the abusive and negligent father, who creepily shows up with a smile and a hug when his kid wins an award or becomes famous. After all, this week isn’t just the anniversary of SOPA Blackout Day, it’s also the week Google received its 100 millionth takedown notice from recording artists who would rather not have their works exploited without permission or compensation. So, the whole, “we protected creativity together” message just kinda makes the skin crawl. Y’know?
Believe what you want about SOPA Blackout Day. Propose it as a national holiday, and watch what happens when the majority of American adults ask, “What’s SOPA?” But while Google wants us to mark the day with reverence and forget what a boon it was to their $300+ billion market cap, we should remember also that these web companies don’t create artists, human rights activists, social reformers, great athletes, virtuoso performers, or just cool kids who do things that rekindle our faith in human capacity. At best, these companies build tools that enable us to more easily see and share all this activity with one another, and it’s no trivial thing; but it’s important to maintain perspective as to whether we need these companies or they need us.
ADDENDUM: On a related theme, Justin Moyer asks interesting questions about those Google Doodles. See story in Washington Post.