Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft’s Bing are three of the world’s most powerful websites. Billions of people use their services throughout the world to find valuable news, information, and analyses. But while much that is found using search engines is useful, a great deal of material is harmful.
Perhaps the most dangerous media currently available through Internet search engines are videos of women being raped, sometimes violently. Hundreds of these videos exist—possibly thousands—and a massive and disturbing number of people watch and actively seek them using sites such as Google or Yahoo. In just one hour of searching through Google’s “Videos” section using the terms “passed out girl abused,” I was able to identify more than 40 videos, which together had been viewed more than 21 million times. The videos I found all claim to be legitimate in their descriptions and there are no signs actors were used or that the women consented to sex.
These videos make their way onto the Internet after criminals videotape themselves or others sexually abusing women. Many of the women in these videos are young and unconscious from drug or alcohol use, and it’s very possible the victims in myriad cases never find out they were raped.
The videos are uploaded by criminals to user-populated pornography sites, many of whom claim to ban “illegal” videos but appear to do nothing to stop them from being posted. Porn sites ensure their material gets indexed by search engines, and the rape videos then become, almost instantly, available to millions of people who seek out these kinds of pornographic media.
Search engines earn advertising revenue by having as many people as possible using their site and services and clicking on paid-per-click advertisements. Search engines have historically been reluctant to filter out any material because of increased costs and lost revenue.
Search engines don’t only provide links to rape videos, which are easy to find using a variety of simple search terms, they also show “preview” images of the videos in the search results to entice users to click on the links displayed. These images often show the young female victims naked and in horrific circumstances. On Yahoo’s website, users can even watch previews of the video within the search results section. This means in many cases users never have to leave search engines to see repugnant images and videos of women being raped.
Since July, I’ve reached out to Google, Yahoo, and Bing multiple times for a comment on these videos and to inform them of their serious nature. None of these three prominent search engines have agreed to go on the record about these videos, and the videos I discovered four months ago are still available for anyone to watch.
The decision to display and distribute this material is not only morally wrong, it may also be illegal.According to the Department of Justice,“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.”
Michael Whisonant, an attorney with the Jaffe, Hanle, Whisonant & Knight law firm, which is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, says search engines that show pictures or videos of women being raped are at risk of violating federal law and should consider revising their policies to ensure they don’t find themselves in legal trouble.
Few would argue videos and images of women being raped are not “obscene” according to the legal formula established by the U.S. Supreme Court in famous court cases such asMillerv.California(1973), so why is nothing being done to stop the spread of this material? Without pressure from the public, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft will continue to ignore this very serious problem.
The long-term effects of such a decision could be disastrous for both the rape victims and the search engines. Not only will the public’s distrust of search engines continue to grow as people learn about the lack of standards at these organizations, government agencies may eventually get further involved in the regulation of the Internet—something neither I nor the search engines want.
Individuals and organizations should have as much freedom as possible to operate, even if actions may be considered morally objectionable by others. However, no one should be above the law, and in this case, the people who are suffering the most—the victims of sexual abuse—are the ones who have lost their liberty.
Search engines have been given a tremendous amount of power, and with that power comes a great responsibility to act with decency. If search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing are unwilling to act with integrity, perhaps it’s time Americans find and utilize other Internet search engines that will.
Justin Haskins(Jhaskins@heartland.org)is editor of The Heartland Institute, a national nonprofit think tank headquartered in Arlington Heights, Ill. You can follow him @TheNewRevere.