A group of Chinese speaking pro-democracy activists sued Baidu when it became clear that the search engine was not showing their publications on the results pages. They believed that Baidu was infringing their civil liberties by censoring what was shown on the site.
To any Westerner the knee jerk reaction would be to imagine a US judge would come down hard on any state controlled censorship, but this was not the case for US District Judge Jesse Furman.
In his dismissal of the case, the Judge said that Baidu had the right to publish or censor anything it likes.
“There is no irony in holding that Baidu’s alleged decision to disfavour speech concerning democracy is in itself protected by the democratic ideal of free speech,” Furman argued.
Basing his decision on the First Amendment, which protects free speech from governmental interference, and literature by internet law experts, Furman stated that Baidu and other search engines had the right to publish, or discard, their own content. Search engines should be able to exercise “editorial judgement” when choosing what it publishes, even if that involves censoring pro-democracy sites.
Law Professor Stuart Benjamin, author of Algorithms and Speech, stated: “When it comes to free speech there’s no difference between Reddit, Google or Baidu. They all make decisions, some aided by algorithms, on the information that is shown to the internet user.”