By now we know that Google+ takes itself a little more seriously than other social networks. Since the site’s beginning, it has taken the path less traveled and held itself to a different standard than competitor applications. It took an anti-alias stance (which has since been reformed), heavily policed celebrity profiles, and kept out anyone under 18.
Google+ has also tried to keep things PC. The site has made no qualms about keeping the environment clear of less than desirable behavior and comments. There have been a myriad of examples of this content patrolling, but it’s come to a head in the case of a middle finger.
Tech pundit MG Siegler reported earlier this week that his Google profile picture had vanished. The photo was of Siegler looking away from the camera and giving the photographer the middle finger. There’s nothing shocking about the picture, save for the mildly lewd gesture (which many wouldn’t label shocking at all). However, Google felt the need to pull the photo.
A Googler explained the decision to Siegler. “As the first point of interaction with a user’s profile, all profile photos on Google+ are reviewed to make sure they are in line with our User Content and Conduct Policy,” he wrote. “Our policy page states, ‘Your Profile Picture cannot include mature or offensive content.’ Your profile photo was taken down as a violation of this policy.”
So it seems as if Google+ is treading on the very thin line we’ve worried about all along. Censorship is a slippery slope and the site’s conservative take on what is and isn’t okay has been an issue since day one. Originally it was about making you use your real name, and now we’re seeing it extended further. What’s considered offensive is, obviously, subject to interpretation. But user interpretation isn’t what matters: Google’s interpretation is.
Google’s been in this spot many times, not only regarding Google+. The site’s secretive search algorithm and page rank policies have gathered criticism, largely in the form of “who died and made Google king?” On one hand, the platform has earned its prestige. On the other, the Internet community has plenty of reasons to raise their eyebrows at Google’s formulas.
Google+ is only the latest victim of Google’s heavy-handed tactics on what goes and what doesn’t on the Web. And maybe users will generally appreciate this: the site’s membership is climbing, and perhaps a conservative, mature community is what it’s trying to cultivate. So clean up your profiles—because it looks like dissension will not be tolerated.