Seemingly simple, honest and altruistic, Google’s unofficial motto “Don’t Be Evil” may not be telling the whole story. Doing no evil––while measured on the highest standards of ethical business conduct––cannot always be guaranteed in all application and practice, particularly in the political arena. With a business model based upon giving others a platform to speak, Google is not always able to control what people say or who is going to get the most attention. Google not only welcomes the public into the political discourse, but also allows others to lead the conversation. It carries the power to inform and educate, but it also maintains the power of influence, which can sway an audience in any particular direction. By having only ten spots available on the coveted first page, Google also holds the power to injure. Even with the 2016 presidential primaries only a distant murmur, Google’s influence has already begun.
Let me set the stage: this April, thirteen of Maryland’s correctional officers were accused of colluding with the incarcerated leader of one of Baltimore’s most notorious gangs, The Black Guerilla Family. The evidence? Two of the officers tattooed the leader’s name on their bodies, while four female guards were found impregnated with his offspring. At the center of it all: my former boss, Maryland’s Governor and 2016 presidential hopeful, Martin O’Malley. Now how’s that for scandal?
As a former Governor’s intern, I was alarmed to find that this Democratic leader was in the midst of such controversy. Besides the personal benefit of having a presidential nominee listed on my résumé, I admire O’Malley and his renowned program, StateStat, which emphasizes accountability and transparency in state government. While many Democrats are hoping it’ll all blow over, I can’t help but think, Google never forgets.
But Martin O’Malley is no stranger to scandal. In 2004, HBO’s hit show, The Wire, introduced the fictional Baltimore Councilman turned Mayor, Tommy Carcetti, who showed an undeniable resemblance to Maryland’s real life leading man. Charismatic, ambitious and attractive, O’Malley was a clear muse for HBO’s writers; but the trail of influence didn’t stop there. Carcetti’s fictional affair in 2006 sparked real rumors of it’s own that almost lost O’Malley his first gubernatorial election. His speech at the 2012 DNC even had twitter buzzing with references to “Carcetti’s Speech”.
With the massive prison scandal brewing in O’Malley’s own backyard, his resemblance to Carcetti isn’t helping matters. HBO’s fictional mayor started as a man with an impressive ambition––of keeping crime off the streets and eliminating corruption––but eventually succumbed to running for a more ambitious office without fulfilling his promises. Whether irony or serious foreshadowing, Google results are now filled to the brim with speculation regarding
Carcetti’s O’Malley’s ability to clean up crime in his city––the storyline The Wire wrote years ago.
Has The Wire determined O’Malley’s fate or will Google help him re-write it?
Journalist Ben Jacobs notes that for The Wire’s allusion to truly tarnish O’Malley’s Presidential ambition, those in the key states of Iowa and New Hampshire will have to be familiar with the show and its parallels. He writes, “And at least in Iowa, it’s not clear just how sizeable those numbers are. Carl Wiederaenders, a longtime Iowa Democratic operative, had never even heard of the show…” But I need to ask, Mr. Jacobs, have people in Iowa heard of Google? Just the name Martin O’Malley suggests search queries of “affair”, “The Wire”, and the “latest prison scandal”. The dark cloud that often follows the media’s coverage of politics is only furthered by Google, which doesn’t screen for bias but rather domain authority.
In the era of social media, it’s a wonder SEO hasn’t become as commonplace as filibuster in the political sphere. In this game for power, it only takes one photo or one leaked video to ruin a career. Controlling a digital legacy has become a tightrope walk where one can be knocked off at any moment. While the Internet serves as a podium for anyone to speak, it also enables unfounded opinions to spiral out of control. Despite Google’s motto of “Don’t Be Evil”, they may have the power to do just that. As Google continues to gain authority as a resource for political inquires, candidates’ chances will only remain as strong as their digital reputations.