US District Court Sets Dangerous Precedent in Baidu Ruling

Published on Author Asher

US Southern District of New York Judge Jesse Furman yesterday dismissed a lawsuit against Chinese search-engine service Baidu, the fifth most visited website in the world, which hosts an English-language service in the United States. The lawsuit alleged that, by hiding content considered anti-China from search results, Baidu was engaging in unconstitutional censorship. The lawsuit was brought by a group of content editors in New York proclaiming themselves supporters of democracy in China seeking USD 16 million in damages, and upon the ruling their lawyer Stephen Preziosi stated that “the court has laid out a perfect paradox: that it will allow the suppression of free speech, in the name of free speech.”

Google, Inc. has previously defended the right of search-engine companies to selectively present content, or present content based on their own standards, commissioning UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh in 2012 to write a report arguing that this practice of “editorial oversight” is covered under the First Amendment. Mr. Furman, in dismissing the suit, seemed to agree with this analysis, writing that “the First Amendment protects Baidu’s right to advocate for systems of government other than democracy (in China or elsewhere) just as surely as it protects plaintiffs’ rights to advocate for democracy.” Regardless of one’s opinion on this ruling, in the context of the hegemony and monopolization of the global media, this sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens to increase the “echo-chamber” effect of tailored search results. Perhaps the best remedy is greater transparency in how search results are displayed, but this is unlikely to be forthcoming without consumer demand.

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5 Responses to US District Court Sets Dangerous Precedent in Baidu Ruling

  1. This is just a thought. Maybe… Baidu is funded by the Chinese government. Do you know if these “content editors in New York” use the website or is it because they think it is against democracy for the users?

    • I doubt highly that these content editors use the website themselves–in fact the English version of the site is still in beta testing and only available to developers. Instead, they wish that their published findings would be available to Chinese speaking Baidu-users.

  2. I don’t believe that it matters if sites are filtered by the company as long as they aren’t advertising that they do the opposite. But in terms of the US being able to make a ruling on this is interesting. Who rules the internet? It doesn’t seem as if the US would have jurisdiction to make a ruling over the Chinese web site. Similar issues have occurred over often foreign owned torrenting, and pirating websites.

    • If Baidu wants to filter out anti-China results, it should have the right to so. But how does Baidu expected to operate within the US, where there are other search engines that don’t filter its results?

  3. If I understand this, Baidu provides content of its own, and provides top lists to its Chinese base. Surely it can choose what it publishes, and can set guidelines, whether we like them or not. People aren’t forced to use Baidu