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Googling Freedom

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Document pages: 47 pages

Abstract: While GM and GE are rushing in to China, why are so many Americans cheering the possibility of Google pulling out? The answer to this puzzle lies in Google’s special role as new media. Television once moved the free speech paradigm from the local street corner to the national platform of CBS; the Internet has shifted it further to the global stage offered by Google and its peers. Free speech theory – and Western media corporations – must now grapple with the reach of this media into unfree societies. While a growing chorus has denounced Western new media enterprises for betraying their obligations to the people of China and other authoritarian regimes, no one has yet explained what those obligations are or why these companies might have them. Corporate social responsibility theory has focused largely on the risks of a global supply chain in goods, neglecting the questions raised by the rise of global information services. The notion of corporate obligations to people around the world seems especially perplexing in juxtaposition with the familiar mandate to maximize shareholder wealth at home. Drawing from theories of Foucault and Habermas and the history of the underground press, I argue that information service providers bear a special responsibility to unfree people. What might have been mutually beneficial transactions in a free society can become, in an unfree society, predicate offenses leading to years of hard labor. New media can either help give voice to dissidents or help perfect totalitarianism.

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