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Stephen Langdon, a Winter Park, Fla., resident who operates www.ncjusticefraud.com, which purports to expose fraud by North Carolina government officials, and www.chinaisevil.com, which is meant to highlight alleged atrocities committed by the Chinese government.
...ruled that when it comes to advertising, search engines are not bound by the First Amendment's free-speech guarantees. Based on that, the judge then ruled that search engines do indeed have a right to filter what each deems to be objectionable content.
Media companies are private companies. It is a long-held tradition that a print magazine, for example, is allowed to be selective, so that burger ads don't run inside of high end fashion content. Ads are a part of the fabric of the medium and of each media vehicle, and the seller should have the right to choose what ads it accepts. Perhaps more relevant, ads are part of a commerical exchange that involves a buyer and seller, with both parties seeking to make a profit from their endeavors. This has nothing to do with free speech.
This case, OTOH, is quite different to the questions about whether the SE's should censor listings out of their organic SERP's. The bar for censorship should be (and is) much, much higher in that arena. Though personally, I don't think it's high enough, given the arbitrary nauture of some of the decisions from the major SE's WRT listings they are unwilling to display, relating to both content and region.
...when it comes to advertising, search engines are not bound by the First Amendment's free-speech guarantees.
I agree with the decision to a point, but some aspects of this that might limit advocacy on the web make me uneasy.
To cite some parallels in other media... Suppose all TV networks decided not to run campaign ads for the party not in power. Advocacy ads in newspapers have from time to time been a significant part of political reform.
Any constitutional lawyers around to tell us how that line is drawn?
The First Amendment has never required TV stations or networks to grant "equal time," either.
Restrictions on advertising, the now-defunct "equal time" provision, etc. have been the result of specific laws, not of the First Amendment. (Indeed, one could argue that at least some of those laws have been in conflict with the First Amendment.)